My ACPA Presidency officially began after the Business Meeting at the ACPA Convention in Nashville in March of 2020. I returned home to Washington, DC excited to serve the association and ready for the challenge – or so I thought. I then flew to Myrtle Beach, SC to speak at the South Carolina College Personnel Association (SCCPA) annual meeting. At that conference, attendees began to receive texts from their campuses as our country was realizing that “something was coming”. After my keynote, an attendee asked the question: “How do you feel this thing called COVID will affect us on our campuses?” My response: “I have no earthly idea – however, what I do know is that student affairs professionals are problem solvers and we will figure this out . . .together.” On my flight back to DC, a flight attendant passed me a note that said: “We hope to see you soon.”
So much has happened in our world and our country since March of 2020. The first Governing Board meeting after the convention was held on April 10, 2020. I remember being weirdly nervous. With so much going on, would people show up? Would they ask us to reschedule? As I logged onto Zoom, I watched my computer screen populate with boxes of smiling faces. One by one, they came. They all came. I believe that folks felt that with everything going on, our time together could be a time to re-center and support each other. It became an oasis of calm in a very chaotic time. Each month, your Governing Board met to conduct the business of the association. With many associations (us included) fearing the impact of multiple pandemics on our existence, we knew that our task was an important one. I am so proud of what we accomplished – offering virtual professional development opportunities for our members, advancing our strategic priorities, continuing to be fiscally sound and offering an outstanding virtual convention (thanks Bernie Liang!) to name just a few. None of this would have happened with the tremendous support of our incredible International Office.
As I reflect on my time as Vice President, President & Immediate Past President, there are 5 takeaways that I’d like to share:
- During my presidency, I limited the use of the word “resilient”. While I understand the intent of this word when used in the context of student affairs professionals on campus, I also know that professionals from historically marginalized groups might not resonate with word as readily. “If there weren’t barriers and systems of oppression on campus, we wouldn’t have to be resilient.” ACPA must continue to listen to the voices and stories of our members.
- Student Affairs professionals have a history of being problem solvers on campus and we proved once again that we can and will rise to the challenge. Your creativity and flexibility (all with a consistent thread of support for students) did not go unnoticed. ACPA must continue to provide professional development opportunities to assist members in navigating what is to come as universities look to what campus life looks like as we live with COVID.
- Constant problem solving comes at a cost. I know that many of you are just exhausted. Much has been written lately about the “Great Resignation” – however, I have reframed this phenomenon to the “Great Re-evaluation”. As a profession, there have been times throughout the years when people have left our profession for various reasons. What is important for us to evaluate is how does the current context of our campus culture contribute to this dynamic? How do we support each other as we navigate our career challenges? ACPA must use its member data to assist in this examination and provide additional research to further strengthen student affairs and higher education as profession.
- Senior Leaders on college campuses do not see “equity and inclusion” as a skill that they must develop. Similar to supervision, budgeting, counseling, cultivating alumni and working with constituents we must all examine the areas that we need to grow in as we continue to develop campuses that are welcoming to all. ACPA must continue to provide resources for members to operationalize the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice & Decolonization on their campuses.
- Students look to us more than ever. If the last two years or so have taught us anything it is that our work is crucial to the success of the college experience. As students grappled with the complexities of virtual and hybrid learning; as students responded to moments of hate on campus, in our country and in our world; as students felt alone and unheard; we were there – as always. ACPA must never forget that student development and support is at the core of who we are as an association and as a profession.
In her song “All I know so far”, singer and songwriter Pink speaks of strength through struggle:
And when the storm’s out, you run in the rain
Put your sword down, dive right into the pain
Stay unfiltered and loud, you’ll be proud of that skin full of scars
That’s all I know so far
It has been an honor to serve the association. Be well.
Vernon A. Wall
2020 – 2021 ACPA President