Collaborating with Neighborhoods


Collaborating with Neighborhoods

Tracey Walterbusch
Ezra Baker

Ohio State University


In this article, we highlight why collaboration was integral to the improvement of Ohio State’s annual Community Commitment event and how it aided two departments to meet their goals. First, we provide overviews of the Community Commitment event, the two key collaborators, and the theoretical framework that guided this work. Then we reflect on the effectiveness of the event including assessment, provide key information about the collaboration, and discuss implications for the future.


Pay it Forward is a student cohort comprised of approximately 20 students. The goal of the program is to expose students to avenues of civic engagement through co-curricular service experiences (Pay it Forward, 2016). One of Pay It Forward’s flagship programs is Community Commitment, a single-day of service during the first week of classes in which over 1,000 students serve at more than 50 nonprofit organizations in the greater Columbus, Ohio area. Community Commitment is one of the largest single day service events on a college campus (Community Commitment, 2016).

Community Ambassadors are students who work in the off-campus area at Ohio State. The program was originally developed in January 2003 (OCSS Community Ambassadors, 2016). The goal of the program is to foster community in the off-campus neighborhoods at Ohio State. The university defines “off-campus” as the housing areas immediately adjacent to the university, where many students live within walking distance to campus. This off-campus area is 2.83 square miles, with 43,996 residents, 1,227 businesses, human service agencies, and institutions, and is comprised of apartments and houses where students, renters, and permanent residents live (The City of Columbus, 2016; University District Organization, 2016). Ohio State is home to a large, diverse population of students who represent many different backgrounds and perspectives. In order to effectively serve the needs of the community, the Community Ambassador program utilizes the Social Change Model of Leadership Development (Astin & Astin, 1996) because of the model’s emphasis on working as a group toward a societal common good.

Theoretical Background

The Community Ambassador program relies upon the Social Change Model of Leadership Development in all collaboration and program development. The goal of the Social Change Model is to integrate previously established leadership models to create a framework for social change in individuals or the community (Astin & Astin, 1996). The model outlines student’s self-knowledge and leadership competence and examines leadership from three different perspectives: individual, group, and community (Astin & Astin, 1996). Individual development is defined as self-awareness and establishment of personal values; group development is defined with an emphasis on collaboration; and societal development focuses on the common good (Astin & Astin, 1996). Individual values include consciousness of self, congruence and commitment; group values include collaboration, common purpose and controversy with civility; and societal values focus on citizenship. The group values of collaboration and common purpose were of particular importance for the Community Commitment event. These values are also collectively referred to as the “7 C’s.”

On- and Off-campus Partners

In order to increase the reach of the Community Ambassador program, the Program Manager of Student Life’s Off-Campus and Commuter Student Engagement (OCCSE) department sought to work with colleagues across campus. One of these partners was the Program Coordinator of Service and Outreach within Ohio State’s Student Activities Department. During the summer of 2014, the OCCSE Program Manager and the Program Coordinator of Service and Outreach met to discuss avenues for potential collaboration. Since the goal of the Community Ambassadors is to reach students living off-campus and the goal of Community Commitment is to create service opportunities, each department saw an opportunity to work together.

The Program Coordinator for Service and Outreach shared that one of the most difficult parts of Community Commitment is accommodating a large number of Ohio State volunteers while not overwhelming community partners. Providing a one-day service event can be difficult because organizations may not have enough service opportunities to complete in just one day. Additionally, it can be difficult to provide a meaningful opportunity for reflection with each service opportunity.

Since community service within the off-campus area is in line with the Community Ambassadors’ mission, the two departments discussed adding an off-campus clean-up to Community Commitment. The goals of the clean-up included the following: to provide a service opportunity to all students who attend community commitment; to clean up the off-campus area; and to educate future student residents about the importance of maintaining a clean neighborhood. Additionally, the event allowed an opportunity for the Community Ambassadors to develop as a group and reflect on the problems of the off-campus area. The collaboration was most effective because it was mutually beneficial to both the Community Ambassador and Pay it Forward programs.

The two departments also invited community partners, campus partners, and students to discuss the prospective addition to Community Commitment. This one meeting provided an opportunity for all members of the community and neighborhood to provide feedback, insight, and offer services for the event. Many collaborators attended the meeting, including: Keep Columbus Beautiful, a community improvement plan and national affiliate of Keep America Beautiful; the University District Organization, a non-profit organization sponsored by Ohio State and the city to bring organizations together; Neighborhood Services and Collaboration, an Ohio State Student Life Department that worked with landlords in the off-campus community; and the Community Ambassadors themselves.

In this meeting, the Program Manager and Program Coordinator asked the partnering organizations and departments to share concerns about this day of service. One of these concerns was that the students were only serving their community for one day. During this meeting, the Program Manager and Program Coordinator emphasized the importance of empowering students to continue serving their communities after the Community Commitment event. A key part of the Social Change Model is citizenship, which demands that students are actively engaged in their community.

Making the Event Happen

In addition to the normal preparation for Community Commitment, the Program Coordinator of Service and Outreach worked with community partners, Community Ambassadors, and Pay it Forward Cohort members to develop the logistical framework for the event. Community Ambassadors worked to map out routes in the off-campus area and collaborated with partners such as Keep Columbus Beautiful to get materials for the off-campus clean-up including trash bags, gloves, and litter grabbers. During the Community Ambassador training, the Program Coordinator and members of the Pay It Forward Cohort provided training for the Community Ambassadors on the logistics of the event, key outcomes, and directions for running a guided reflection.  

On the day of the event, student volunteers attended pre-service training on the importance of keeping the off-campus community clean. The session provided student volunteers with logistical information and risk management information about the event. In addition, in this training students were provided space for pre-service reflection and learned about opportunities to continue their service involvement in the future. One of the Community Ambassadors spoke about his own experience as a resident in the off-campus community and the importance of taking care of one’s neighborhood. The Community Ambassadors each went to assigned streets with a group of three to five student volunteers.

The Community Ambassadors were encouraged to share their stories and their passion for the off-campus neighborhoods with their group during the clean-up. In this way, the event allowed each Community Ambassador to implement every domain of the Social Change Model: they used their own individual leadership, came together as a group, and provided service to the greater society.

Assessment and Reflection

After the clean-up, the Community Ambassadors led the students back to the Ohio Union. Over lunch, the students and Community Ambassadors reflected on their experiences in the off-campus neighborhoods. This allowed the students to discuss the common purpose by encouraging them to collectively evaluate the service project they completed and discuss working as a group to make change in society (Astin & Astin, 1996). As mentioned earlier, common purpose is one of the seven C’s defined within the Social Change Model (Astin & Astin, 1996). When the volunteers left, the Community Ambassadors met for the end of their training, which included a reflection for the Community Ambassadors. One volunteer commented, “it wasn’t until I was walking to campus this morning did I realize how much trash there was on the street.” The Community Ambassadors shared that they were more likely to pick up their own trash and recycling.

Generally, the volunteers for Community Commitment are first-year undergraduate students. Most of these students have not even walked to the off-campus area. At Ohio State, students generally move off campus after their second year living in the residence halls. Therefore, one of the outcomes of the events was increased awareness of the community in the off-campus area and the importance of caring for the neighborhood. Of the 21 students who attended the off- campus clean-up, 15 said they were more likely to pick up after themselves when they lived in the off-campus area.

Recommendations for Collaborations

The University District Organization and Keep Columbus Beautiful were specifically interested in this project and encouraged future collaboration on other off-campus clean-ups. This collaboration between university and city departments was integral to the success of this event. Collaboration can be tricky to navigate, and so the authors would like to provide some insight for future partnerships.

The Program Manager met with leaders across campus and created a collaborative framework that asked departments to reflect on the missions of both their own departments and their potential partnering office. After common goals of each office were identified, they then evaluated which programs in each department needed improvement. Many times departments felt that they must create a new event in order to collaborate with a different department. However, sometimes the best collaborations are adaptations and improvements to preexisting programs.

Second, it was important to invite all of the community partners to the table. Although it sometimes seemed overwhelming to have all members of the community join the meeting, it was important that they all had opportunities to give input and provide feedback. For example, one community partner recommended inviting permanent residents from the neighborhood to attend the Community Commitment event. Since it was the first year of the event, we chose to delay the invitation of neighborhood residents. However, we would recommend that it is always important to invite potential short-term and long-term partners to the planning stages of events and programs to get everyone on the same page.

Finally, a key part of this collaboration was the integration of student leaders. The Community Ambassadors and Pay it Forward student cohort members were given a chance to train one another and lead the development of this event. By integrating not just the professional staff but also the student leaders, the event ran more smoothly, provided professional development for the students, and led to future collaborations. Therefore, it was a benefit for all members involved; the event was more efficient and effective and the students received valuable leadership experience.

The event provided student leaders with an opportunity to engage with the Social Change Model of Leadership Development (Astin & Astin, 1996) at every stage. Student leaders reflected on their personal connection to the off-campus neighborhoods, rallied their small groups around a common purpose and helped society by cleaning up the neighborhoods inhabited by many of their peers. The Community Commitment collaboration has now continued for two years and the current staff in each department expect to continue the collaboration, which has grown to include a similar project on the Martin Luther King Day of Service which delivers winter wellness packages to residents of the off-campus area.

Discussion Questions

  1. With what office or neighborhood partners could your office create a partnership?  
  2. How do you start a conversation with an off campus partner?
  3. How could increased student involvement in programing aid in your success?

Astin, H. S., & Astin. A. (1996). Social change model of leadership development. College Park, MD: The National Clearinghouse of Leadership Programs.

Community Commitment (2016). The Ohio State University. Retrieved from Programs/community_commitment

OCCSS Community Ambassadors (2016). The Ohio State University. Retrieved from

Pay it Forward (2016). The Ohio State University. Retrieved from

The City of Columbus. (2016). Keep Columbus Beautiful. Retrieved September 7, 2016, from

University District Organization. (2016). Discover: University District. Retrieved September 7, 2016, from

About the Authors

Tracey Walterbusch is currently a Ph.D. student in the College of Education and Human Ecology with a concentration in Higher Education and Student Affairs at Ohio State University. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Economics from Ohio State University and her master’s degree in Counseling and Personnel Services from the University of Louisville. She has experience working at four higher education institutions within a variety of departments such as student activities, residence life, off campus and commuter services, and career counseling. During the time of this event, Tracey oversaw Off-Campus and Commuter Student Engagement, a department serving 80% of the student population including both commuters and off campus students.

Ezra Baker earned his bachelor’s degree in Economics and French from The Ohio State University in 2016. As an undergraduate student, Ezra also worked for three years for Off-Campus and Commuter Student Services (OCCSS, formerly Off-Campus and Commuter Student Engagement). He served in multiple roles in OCCSS including as a Community Ambassador and a Student Supervisor of the Community Ambassadors. As a Student Supervisor, Ezra played a critical role in planning and overseeing Community Commitment and other related service events. 

Please e-mail inquiries to Tracey Walterbusch or Ezra Baker.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

How Social Identities Affect Students with Autism for Transition to College


How Social Identities Affect Students with Autism for Transition to College

Edlyn Vallejo Peña
Jodie Kocur
California Lutheran University

In 2009, the United States Government Accountability Office reported that students with disabilities now comprise one in 10 college students. A more recent survey of four-year colleges and universities reported that nearly 15% of enrolled first-year students reported a disability (HERI, 2011). The enrollment of college students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in particular is projected to increase with growing diagnostic rates and more robust educational supports in the K-12 system. ASD is a developmental disability that can cause college students to experience challenges in communication, socialization, sensory processing, and restrictive and repetitive behaviors (Peña & Kocur, 2013). Today, 30% of students with ASD who complete high school attend college (Roux, Shattuck, Rast, Rava, & Anderson, 2015), rightfully making their way into postsecondary institutions. In 2008-2009, approximately 78% of four-year public institutions enrolled students with ASD (Raue & Lewis, 2011), though that percentage is presumed to be higher today. Additionally, because many students do not disclose their disability once in college, these findings likely under-report the presence of students with ASD (Newman, Wagner, Cameto, & Knokey, 2009).

While access to college is improving for students with ASD, they are less likely to transition to college, compared to students without disabilities and even students with other kinds of disabilities (Roux et al., 2015). Further, the data disaggregated by other demographic factors suggest inequitable educational opportunities among students with ASD across different social identities, such as race/ethnicity and educational background. White students with ASD enter college at greater rates than their racial and ethnic minority peers; 41% of White students with ASD attend college compared to 23% of Black and 29% of Latino students with ASD. Furthermore, over 75% of students with ASD who enrolled in college had at least one parent with a college education. Students with ASD whose parents went to college were three times more likely to transition to college. This is likely because students with ASD must rely more heavily on parent knowledge, support and guidance to prepare for, transition into, and succeed in college than their peers without disabilities (Peña & Kocur, 2013).

Scholars are just beginning to understand the ways in which demographics and social identities shape the experiences of college and college-bound students with disabilities that produce cumulative disadvantages (Peña, Stapleton, & Schaffer, 2016). In one of the few research studies that reports first-hand experiences of college students with ASD, MacLeod, Lewis, and Robertson (2013) report in their findings that, “it is likely that some or all [participants] came from relatively privileged backgrounds. In gaining entry to higher education, they are a minority within the autistic community” (p. 46). What is not yet understood is how the identities of families of students with ASD enable the students to prepare for and transition into college. Because students with ASD typically require greater parental support during these life events (Peña & Kocur, 2013), we qualitatively examined the experiences of 29 parents and caregivers of students with ASD who prepared for and/or transitioned into college life. The research question that guided this particular analysis is: What role do family social identities play in supporting students with ASD to prepare for and transition into college?  


We engaged in a secondary analysis of interview transcripts from a larger study exploring the experiences of parents of college-bound and college students with ASD. The methodological approach of the larger study involved a case study to concentrate on an in-depth analysis of an entity or bounded system (Patton, 2014). Case studies are useful in studying temporal processes to trace experiences, events, and changes over time. This approach allowed us to capture and analyze rich stories and experiences of an unknown phenomenon—the ways in which families as critical support systems play a role in supporting students with ASD to prepare for and transition into college. We employed purposeful sampling (Merriam & Tisdell, 2014) by identifying 29 parents in California whose students with ASD were either engaged in transition planning (while a high school junior or senior) or attending a 2- or 4-year post-secondary institution. To recruit participants, we emailed college disability support offices, clinicians who work with ASD clients, autism support group listservs, and posted on social networking sites.

Parent participants completed a demographic questionnaire and interview, lasting approximately one hour. The semi-structured nature of the interviews allowed us both the structure and flexibility to follow the parents’ lead when their recollections were rich and relevant. All 29 interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. In our data analysis of the interview transcripts, we first conducted a within-case content analysis of individual participant transcripts in which we engaged in coding of text. We identified significant statements and core meanings about the role social identities played in supporting the postsecondary transition and development of each student with ASD. We then engaged in a cross-case analysis, enabling us to review and revise the codes across participants, grouping them into over-arching themes that answered the research question.


This section begins with a description of demographic information and privileged identities of the families who participated in the study. We then present themes that represent the experiences which contributed to supporting the transition of students with ASD to attend college.

Privileged Identities

Important demographic trends emerged in terms of race, parental education, and household income of participants. Of the 29 participants, 24 participants identified as White. Three participants identified as Latina/o and two as multiracial. As far as parental education, only one student with ASD, of the 29 represented in the study, lived in a household in which neither parent had ever enrolled in postsecondary education. Two participants indicated that at least one parent in the household had experienced some college or postsecondary education. The overwhelming majority of parents had either graduated from a four-year college (n=11) or earned a graduate degree (n=15).

The majority of the parents in this study came from middle to high-income households. Of the 28 participants who answered the question about household income, 23 indicated that the household income was over $90,000 per year. This is at least $30,000 more than the median income for families in the state of California (where the study was conducted), and about $26,000 more than the median income for families in the United States at the time of the study (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). Noting the household income of the participants is important because it signals access to critical therapies and supports that insurance companies and school districts may not cover or offer. At least 22 of the 29 parents reported spending hundreds to thousands of dollars annually on one or more of the following: speech therapy, social skills sessions, an attorney or advocate, tutoring, occupational therapy, an educational aide or tutor, college preparation program, and a psychiatrist or psychologist. One parent noted, “he went through the Fast Forward [reading] program, which totally is the best $3000 worth I spent.” This level of collective wealth, educational status, and racial privilege among participants likely provided advantageous opportunities for transition into college; this is supported by the existing literature on cultural capital, social capital, and student success (Bourdieu, 1986), as explored in the sections that follow.

High Parental Aspirations

Given that nearly all of the students with ASD lived in a household that had at least one parent with some college education, the majority of students grew up with parents who communicated high aspirations for their children to attend college. When asked about the time in which parents began thinking about college as a possibility for their child’s future, 18 of the 29 parents responded with “always,” “it was never a question,” or “it was never not considered.” In contrast, only five participants considered college a possibility when their child was in high school and the rest thought about it somewhere in between “always” and high school. Even when low expectations were communicated by high schools during the transition process, parents presumed competence in their students and developed high levels of aspirations for their educational futures. One parent said that transition planning “was discussed in IEP meetings, but [the school] really didn’t have or provide direction,” echoing the experiences of other students with ASD who experienced low expectations from teachers and administrators. In spite of such structural barriers to transitioning into postsecondary education, parents advocate and coach their students through the transition (Peña & Kocur, 2013), as confirmed in this study.

Exercising Cultural Capital

Parents exercised cultural capital to assist their students with ASD to navigate transitioning into higher education. Cultural capital is known as accumulated cultural knowledge that brings about social mobility, status, and power (Bourdieu, 1986). Individuals who come from privileged identities and experiences tend to accumulate cultural capital to navigate complicated processes, structures, and systems like the transition into and persistence in higher education. The overwhelming majority of the parents in the study employed cultural knowledge and tools to guide students with ASD in three ways. They used their cultural capital to research postsecondary options, navigate policies for transition and admission, and advocate for access to resources to support their college success and retention. One proactive parent explained:

You’ve got to get online. You’ve got to look at books. I think you have to connect with a
professional who has the clinical experience to be able to evaluate if your kid can make it
academically. And then I think it’s a matter of going [to the campus] and researching.

Another parent explained that she “had always talked about [college] because I went to college.” She demanded transition planning from her son’s high school and took her son to her college campus to familiarize him with college life. Other parents guided students in selecting academic majors and degrees—from a “math major and a screenwriting minor” to an associate degree in veterinary technology—in order to maximize their future career opportunities and mobility.

Employing Social Capital

Social capital involves the development of networks and relationships to others in order to gain access to important resources for social mobility (Bourdieu, 1986). Social networks tend to benefit people in privileged positions by enabling them to maintain their power through acquiring critical resources and opportunities. Parents in the study generated and tapped into extensive social networks within and outside of the schools and colleges in which the students attended. Parents generated social capital through relationships with educational advocates, psychologists, and educators to access opportunities, information, and resources to prepare students with ASD for access and transition into postsecondary education. Parents then advocated fiercely to make sure students received appropriate supports as they transitioned into college. This involved generating relationships with key institutional agents at the students’ colleges—from disability coordinators to academic advisors. While parents encouraged the students to develop these relationships, the parents themselves often stepped in. One parent told her son to “just go to [the disability services] office,” but she worried that her son was not yet equipped to exercise his self-advocacy skills. The next day, the parent took it upon herself to email the disability services coordinator to request assistance for her son. By tapping into this institutional agent, the student gained access to accommodations through the disability services office that were critical to college persistence.


The findings of this study document the ways in which parents of privileged social identities—mostly White, college educated, and upper-middle class—mobilized to navigate and support their children with ASD through the transition process. By cultivating and employing high aspirations, cultural capital, and social capital, parents were advantageously equipped with knowledge, social networks, and the ability to tap into resources necessary for preparing students with ASD for college.

The results of the study suggest a number of implications for preparing, recruiting, and enrolling college students with ASD. The activities and practices in which families of privileged backgrounds engaged to mobilize their children’s access and transition into college can be instructive to other families who desire similar outcomes for their children. First, parents should develop high aspirations for their children to achieve a higher education. While students with disabilities typically experience additional educational challenges compared to students without disabilities, they have great potential to access postsecondary settings when high expectations and appropriate supports are in place (Cawthon, Garberoglio, Caemmerer, Bond, & Wendel, 2015). Second, families can make efforts to develop cultural and social capital to access resources important to transitioning to college. Toward this end, families can cultivate relationships with individuals who have college knowledge, visit and read about institutions of higher education, and participate in programs or services that provide access to transition resources.

Prior research has identified inequitable access to postsecondary education across race/ethnicity and parental education backgrounds for students with ASD (Roux et al., 2015). High schools and colleges must reconsider the ways in which they reach out to students with ASD and their parents, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, to prepare them for the transition to college. Educators must involve parents and their students with ASD from marginalized backgrounds to develop college aspirations, advocacy skills, and social networks that will enable students to access and succeed in postsecondary environments. Federally-funded TRiO programs, for example, support first-generation, low-income students, and, in certain programs, students with disabilities specifically. High schools and postsecondary institutions can work with structured programs like these to reach historically underrepresented students with ASD earlier in the education pipeline. The findings of this study add another layer to our understanding of working with the broad backgrounds of students with ASD and provide contextual information about the experiences that lead to increased access and transition for these students.


Two obvious limitations to our findings center on the study’s sample of participants. First, the participants lacked diversity in terms of race/ethnicity, educational background, and family income status. Thus, the participants are not necessarily representative of families in the United States who successfully support their children with ASD to transition to college, though these kinds of national statistics are not yet available. Second, we did not interview college students with ASD themselves. Without their voices, an incomplete body of knowledge about college opportunity, access, and choice is constructed. Adding the voices of students with ASD to future research will enrich our conceptions about transition experiences to college. In addition, future studies should consider studying experiences of students with ASD from an intersectionality framework. Intersectionality provides an appropriate lens from which to examine the ways multiple social identities—race/ethnicity, first-generation status, socioeconomic status—intersect along a continuum of (dis)advantage and (dis)empowerment for people with disabilities of all backgrounds (Peña, Stapleton, & Shaffer, 2016). Lastly, future studies should also include an exploration of institutional practices and cultures in supporting students with ASD to transition to college. Identifying patterns of systemic behaviors and policies will uncover enabling and disabling structures for the growing number of students with ASD entering our colleges and universities.

Discussion Questions

  1. Describe ways in which postsecondary institutions, particularly programs focused on outreach and recruitment of students, can reach out to historically underserved students with ASD and other disabilities.
  2. In what ways can institutions of higher education work with the K-12 system to develop college aspirations, advocacy skills, and social networks among students with ASD to enable them to access and succeed in postsecondary environments?


Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. G. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory research for the sociology of education (pp. 241-258). New York, NY: Greenwood Press.

Cawthon, S. W., Garberoglio, C. L., Caemmerer, J. M., Bond, M., & Wendel, E. (2015). Effect of parent involvement and parent expectations on postsecondary outcomes for individuals who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing. Exceptionality, 23(2), 73-99.

Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) (2011). College students with “hidden” disabilities: The freshman survey fall 2010. Retrieved from

MacLeod, A., Lewis, A. & Robertson, C. (2013). “Why should I be like bloody Rain Man?!” Navigating the autistic identity. British Journal of Special Education, 40(1), 41-49.

Merriam, S. B., & Tisdell, E. J. (2014). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Newman, L., Wagner, M., Cameto, R., & Knokey, A. M. (2009). The post-high school outcomes of youth with disabilities up to 4 years after high school. A report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 (NLTS-2), Prepared for the U.S. Department of Education (NCSER2009-3017). Retrieved from

Patton, M. Q. (2014). Qualitative research & evaluation methods integrating theory and practice (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Peña, E. V., &  Kocur, J. (2013). Parenting experiences in supporting the transition of students with autism spectrum disorders into community college. Journal of Applied Research in Community Colleges, 20(2), 5-12.

Peña, E. V., Stapleton, L. D., Schaffer, L. M. (2016). Diverse and critical perspectives on disability identity. In E. S. Abes (Ed.), Critical Perspectives on Student Development Theory (pp. 85-96). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Raue, K., & Lewis, L. (2011). Students with disabilities at degree-granting postsecondary institutions.(NCES 2011-018). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Roux, A. M., Shattuck, P. T., Rast, J. E., Rava, J. A., and Anderson, K. A. (2015). National autism Indicators report: Transition into young adulthood. Philadelphia, PA: Drexel University.

U.S. Census Bureau (2013). Median income in the past 12 months (in 2013 inflation-adjusted dollars) by veteran status by sex for the civilian population 18 years and over with income. Retrieved from

About the Authors

Edlyn Peña is an associate professor and director of Doctoral Studies in Higher Education Leadership at California Lutheran University.  She is an award-winning researcher who studies social justice issues for students with disabilities, particularly autism, in the preschool through higher education pipeline. As the Co-Director of the Autism and Communication Center and member of the federal Intergency Autism Coordinating Committee, Peña is best known for her service to the autism community at the state and national level.

Jodie Kocur is an associate professor in the psychology department at California Lutheran University.  Dr. Kocur’s research interests include the transition to postsecondary education for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and the developmental origins of the experience and expression of anger in intimate relationships.  

Please e-mail inquiries to Edlyn Peña.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Mattering, Healing, and Sharing in the Process:  Working through the Trauma of Losing Black Lives (Part II)


Mattering, Healing, and Sharing in the Process:  Working through the Trauma of Losing Black Lives (Part II)

Mahauganee D. Shaw
Shamika N.  Karikari
Miami University of Ohio

In the last edition of Developments, the first part of this two-part article appeared, sharing our personal experiences working through visceral reactions to news of Black lives lost at the hands of police officers.  We focused in on the deaths of Michael Brown, Jr. in Ferguson, MO and Samuel DuBose in Cincinnati, OH. These particular deaths are connected to our respective hometowns and thus provoked deep emotional responses from us. Oddly, it was the experience of feeling the impacts of these deaths on a deeper level that connected us to one another on the journey toward healing. In this second installment, we focus in on the lessons learned from our experiences of journeying from feelings of hurt, sadness, unease, and anger toward engaging in connection, processing, and healing. We encourage readers to read the first part of this article, but also believe that you can gain useful insight from beginning here, with part two.

The Importance of Reflection and Processing

Both of our stories shared in part one highlight the need to reflect on current events and process the impact of those events on one’s life. The importance of taking time to individually and collectively reflect cannot be overlooked. Reflection should not be only seen as an exercise that sounds helpful but one that also provides an opportunity to be honest with yourself, sort out your thoughts and feelings, process with others, and allow some of the “stuff” to be put down (even if only briefly). Taking time to pause and sit with one’s feelings can be difficult. It is much easier to stay busy and active. However, if we do not take the proper time to stop and deal with our feelings in a productive and healing way, those emotions will eventually come tumbling out in a less healthy and more unproductive manner. Acknowledging emotions does not have to be a drawn out process taking several hours. Below are some strategies to consider as productive approaches to personal reflection and processing with peers:

  • Google document: Mika keeps a google document that is an ongoing journal of her thoughts and feelings. Some entries are just a few sentences, while others are pages long. This allows her to jot down thoughts when she has them but not feel the pressure to spend lots of time writing and expressing feelings if she is physically, mentally or emotionally exhausted.  

  • Take 5: Whether you close your office door or leave your office, take five minutes to yourself. Mika may shut her office door for five minutes to breathe and sit in silence, while Mahauganee will shut her office door to either listen to inspirational music or have a small dance party. We both will sometimes leave to walk outside to get fresh air, reflect, and refresh. Those 5 minutes allow us to come back and give in the ways needed.

  • Find your people: Each of us has a few people we trust and can always go to. Reach out to them.  Allow folks to walk with you and process together. It can be helpful for both parties. Additionally, consider reaching out to new folks who might be feeling similarly and could be helpful. It could feel risky initially, but we have found strength and community results from vulnerability.  

For each person, what will work best and what is needed will be different; however, finding out what that is and then acting on it is imperative for well-being. Taking an active role in personal healing may inspire others to do the same.  

Interactions with Colleagues

Time does not have to be a barrier to processing what is happening around us. Rather than creating new spaces, use existing environments to process and promote healing. Meetings are an easy place for that to occur. Instead of adding extra meetings to your schedule, professionals can utilize recurring meetings to promote healing. Below are some examples of what this could look like:

  • Beginning meetings by asking “How are you really doing?”: This might be the only time someone has asked a colleague or student that question and really took the time to listen. You could have people first write their thoughts down and then open it up for anyone who want to share. You could follow it up by asking “How do you need or want support?” or “How are you taking care of yourself?”

  • Weekly Student and/or Staff Meetings: Spend the first 15-30 minutes discussing what is happening on campus and in the world. We might not always know what events are impacting the people around us, but providing a space where people can speak up and share is helpful. Sharing can be freeing, and it allows us to validate the experiences and emotions of our colleagues, thus demonstrating care and concern.

  • 1:1 meetings: Consider using some of your 1:1 meeting time to check in on one another. For this technique to be fully productive, trust must be built; however, if the supervisor continues to ask and show care, trust can be cultivated. As well, the supervisee should feel empowered to request time during those 1:1 meetings to be used to process.  

  • Lunch: Whether one eats lunch with colleagues or alone, this time can be used to be in community.  Consider inviting a colleague to walk around campus together or eat together rather than alone.  

  • Sharing your feelings authentically: Our colleagues and students are always taking cues from us.  Although this is not without risk, when we are vulnerable, we invite those around us to do the same.  That might look like being the first to share how you are doing or reaching out to a colleague to let them know you are struggling (like Mika’s original email reaching out to Mahauganee). When we share authentically, we are healing ourselves and perhaps inviting those around us to do the same.  

Whatever the case, using a time you have already to take care of yourself is important for your healing.  Connecting with colleagues is easier than sometimes imagined, and we have found that most people are willing to connect if we just ask. Mika discovered this when she was struggling with her feelings regarding DuBose being killed:

It was so close to home that I could not shake my feelings.  I reached out to one of my colleagues who did just what I needed; listened. She listened to what I had to say, validated my feelings, and affirmed me for reaching out. It was just what I needed. I did not need to be told how to feel or what to do; instead, I needed to be heard. Reaching out to a colleague can be helpful.  

Working with Graduate Students

Within Student Affairs, many of our colleagues are graduate students. As campus professionals we may be assigned as supervisors, instructors, or advisors to graduate students who are enrolled in higher education/student affairs professional preparation programs. Working with these students is arguably the most important part of our positions, as we help students to prepare for full-time employment in the field. One of the largest mistakes we can make is to not provide space and opportunity for graduate students to process events happening in the world outside of our campus.  Although this article is focused specifically on incidents surrounding the loss of Black lives and the criminal justice system, there are other incidents that also warrant processing. Some examples from the recent past include: White supremacist rallies in Charlottesville and other cities, student activism at the University of Missouri and other campuses, the ongoing Flint water crisis, active shooter incidents at multiple institutions and the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the flurry of targeted executive orders in the Trump administration’s first 100 days, terrorist attacks in various countries, and the Boston Marathon bombing.  

There does not need to be a constant focus on current events in one’s interactions with graduate students, but there should be acknowledgement of impactful events in our relationships with students.  The suggestions in the previous section can be adapted to supervisory relationships with graduate students. In the same way that space can be provided at the beginning of a class meeting or a 1:1 supervisory meeting, similar space can be provided in advising sessions with students. Whether one meets individually with advisees or hold group advising sessions, there should always be time to check on students’ well-being. This check-in may lead to processing current events. If one is uncomfortable with processing, an alternative is to direct the conversation toward understanding how an event may impact a student’s ability to focus on their work. This understanding is helpful in better directing the student toward other people or resources that may be more helpful than discussing their feelings with their advisor.  

While advising and supervisory meetings may provide one-on-one space to discuss current events, the classroom provides a group processing space. Given that courses usually begin with a plan for how time will be spent throughout the semester, it is easy to approach course structures as rigid and unchanging.  However, minor adjustments to weekly course meetings can provide the space needed to process impactful events. Because graduate-level courses usually have longer meeting times, there are more options in terms of how to adjust in-class time to incorporate current events:

  • Intersperse current events into discussion of pre-planned course topics: For example, the incidents surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown, Jr. and Sam DuBose can be used as pedagogical material in course meetings that focus on several different topics: counseling, institutional governance, leadership, diversity, race, equity, emergency management, campus environments, or ethics. Many courses in student affairs professional preparation programs incorporate such topics. Using a current event to digest a pre-planned topic can advance students toward learning outcomes by helping to make deeper connections to the material.  

  • Include time at the beginning of a course meeting to acknowledge current events: Depending on how much time can be set aside for the conversation, this time may also be used as space for processing people’s thoughts and experiences around those events.

  • Devote a complete class session to the topic: Sometimes, there are events that are so impactful that there may be a need or desire to redirect an entire course session to focus on the event.

An event on our campus in 2015 provides an example of how to incorporate current events. There was a tragic student death that occurred in the local community (Aughagen, 2015); the available details around the death left many with questions regarding campus safety, domestic violence, and emergency counseling services. Upon learning of the student’s death, on a Sunday afternoon, Mahauganee decided to act on that information:

I immediately reached out via email to my graduate student advisees who I was able to identify as living in the area of town where the deceased student also lived. My message noted that I was aware of the incident, wanted to check on their safety, and wanted to know if they were in need of additional support. In my class that week, at the request of students, I provided time at the beginning of class to process the incident and the resulting details that had emerged since the initial reports. I began with a general processing question and allowed the conversation to develop from there. We left that conversation with action items and plans to check-in with various campus offices and administrators to compile a list of the resources in place to assist people within the campus community. Finally, I alerted the other faculty in my program to the conversation in my course. Some chose to provide similar space in their courses, but notifying the students ahead of time that the conversation would occur at the beginning of class. I did have an advisee who excused themself from the conversation in a course; instead, this student spent time in my office processing their thoughts and rejoined their class for the remainder of the course meeting.

What you decide to do in providing space for students to process will likely vary based on your own comfort level with the topics at hand. However, acknowledging that students may be impacted by recent events is essential.

Why Does this Matter?

We are living and working in a time where tragic incidents are commonplace. Self-reflection, care, and healing are important and necessary actions for those of us in helping professions. We cannot fulfill our responsibilities as student affairs educators if we are not working to be healthy and whole. This article is a result of our shared journey toward mattering and healing. This journey has led us to embrace and apply three familiar lessons: trauma is real, healing is necessary, and individual stories matter.

Trauma is Real

News events carry the power to traumatize. We see this time and again. When residents of New Orleans, Louisiana were forced to evacuate their homes and city for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, several recalled the 1965 evacuation from Hurricane Betsy and the resultant destruction. When nine Black parishioners lost their lives inside of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015, people who regularly gather in houses of worship were alarmed for their own safety, and many who were following the media trail of Black lives unnecessarily lost in 2014, 2015, and 2016 were left weary and burdened with sadness. In this same manner, the July 2015 events surrounding the death of Sam DuBose awakened memories for Cincinnati residents, like Mika, of the disarray and trauma that followed a similar incident in 2001.  

The reactions described in the preceding paragraph, as well as our personal narratives described in part one, are reflective of people who have experienced trauma. In particular, Mahauganee’s experience of drawing inward may trigger mental health concerns for some readers and Mika’s style of recalling (e.g., “I remember…I remember…I remember….”) her reactions to small incidents following Sam DuBose’s death is reminiscent of how people often retell traumatic experiences. Even the exercise of writing this article together had the risk of resulting in a re-traumatization based on racialized experiences (Lowe, Okubo, & Reilly, 2012). While Mahauganee was able to recognize her emotional downward spiral in retelling her experience, she did not recognize it when it originally began. On the other hand, Mika recognized her ability to spiral and reached out for support. It is important for each of us to have the ability to recognize when we are in a traumatic experience, and to identify methods or strategies to heal from that experience. The first step is acknowledging that trauma is real. The information we consume on a consistent basis, whether through the news, social media, or our acquaintances, has the power to traumatize us. Being aware of the power that information consumption holds empowers us to more diligently monitor where, when, and how we consume.

Healing is Necessary

Healing is a process; we hope this is evident in our stories. We cannot ignore the importance of taking the time to heal. Healing is important to do individually and collectively. As individuals, we have found healing to be a necessary and hard process. It does not happen overnight and requires intentionality. For us, individual healing has looked like journaling, meditation, prayer, taking moments to go outside, and being alone, to name a few. Each of these actions has provided us the space and means to go through the healing process.

Healing can also occur collectively. In attempting to heal, we have sought others to come alongside us and relied on community. One of the most powerful ways this has occurred for us was through the Mobilizing Anger Collective (MAC), a group whose members strive to create space and community in which to process instances of injustice, organize actions that make literal and symbolic statements about their shared commitment to social justice, and to galvanize their collective power. Three faculty members (Mahauganee being one of them) organized this group. The first time MAC came together was in December 2014. The faculty members provided a space where the campus community (staff, students and faculty) could come together and start to heal (Quaye, Shaw, & Hill, in press). The two-hour event was filled with honest dialogue, authentic feelings, and vulnerable reflections on how people were really doing. The space was powerful; the energy and sense of community left people wanting more opportunities to connect. MAC continued to meet after this first event and continues to provide a space for people to heal collectively.  

Your Story Matters

We began this journey of writing as a way to help ourselves process our experiences working through racialized incidents that triggered in each of us a flurry of emotions. The journey only began, however, because Mika sent an email when she was at the height of emotional turmoil, seeking someone with whom her experience would resonate. We have shared our stories as authentically and vulnerably as possible, hoping that they will help someone else to gain the courage to share their own.  

Whether one plans to heal individually or collectively, taking the time and space to heal is essential and powerful. When others see us engaging topics that are happening around us, they can feel empowered to do the same. We are all human. In this series of articles, we have allowed our humanity to show, and we invite you to reciprocate.  

Discussion Questions

We want this manuscript to be the impetus for conversation.  Below, are reflection questions that may assist readers in moving forward with beginning conversations with others.

  1. How can you recognize when the information you are consuming is likely to lead to trauma, and what strategies do/could you employ to assist in your healing?
  2. What ways has your institution assisted you or others in the healing process, and what are some ways your institution or your colleagues can do better?
  3. How can you advocate, within your current sphere of influence, for space and time for healing?

As you reflect on these questions, and other topics raised in this article, we invite you to engage in conversation with us in the twitter-sphere. If you are willing, please share your thoughts, responses, and comments with us using the hashtag #BLMhealing. Our personal healing processes were aided by sharing it with one another. We hope the opportunity for a larger conversation can help you to reflect, share, heal, connect, and ultimately claim that your experience matters.


Lowe, S. M., Okubo, Y., & Reilly, M. F. (2012). A qualitative inquiry into racism, trauma, and coping: Implications for supporting victims of racism. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 43(3), 190-198.

Quaye, S. J., Shaw, M. D., & Hill, D. C. (in press). Blending scholar and activist identities: Establishing the need for scholar activism. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. Advance online publication:

About the Authors

Mahauganee D. Shaw is an independent scholar whose research focuses on moments of crisis and tragedy that impact campus communities, how institutions respond to such incidents, and the process of recovery and healing that follows.

Shamika N. Karikari is a doctoral student in the Student Affairs in Higher Education program at Miami University of Ohio. Shamika’s developing research agenda is focused on the experiences of Black women in student affairs leadership roles.

Please e-mail inquiries to Mahauganee D. Shaw or Shamika N. Karikari.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Inclusive Excellence: What’s Missing


Inclusive Excellence: What’s Missing

Matt Cabrera
California State University, Long Beach


Since my undergraduate years, I have seen and believed that the ideas of diversity and inclusion have been the foci of colleges and universities. More recently, as a student affairs professional, I have been pleased to see these ideas packaged into what is now called “Inclusive Excellence”, a concept that has come to be woven into the work of our many professional associations. It is refreshing to also see many campuses begin to re-envision their mission, purpose, and core values with more intentional efforts towards inclusive excellence.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) (Williams, Berger, & McClendon, 2005) defines inclusive excellence as a compilation of four primary foci: student intellectual and social development; development and implementation of resources to enhance student learning; attention to cultural differences students bring to campuses and that enhance the academic experience; development of a welcoming community engaging all diversity in the service of students and learning (p. vi). Williams et al. (2005) also state that inclusive excellence is “where educational excellence cannot be envisioned, discussed, or enacted without close attention paid to inclusion” (p. 29).

However, I see a hole in our work around inclusive excellence, a hole that has continued to be overlooked. This hole is the absence of discussions about the role of spirituality and religion into the rhetoric of inclusive excellence. In the discourse of inclusive excellence, the terms diversity, culture, and inclusion do not seem to include spirituality and religion. Mutakabbir and Nuriddin (2016) have noted that the term “diversity” is a higher education buzzword but “primarily conjures dialogue on race, gender, or LGBTQ issues” (p. xii). Additionally, the four primary elements in the definition of inclusive excellence, according to AACU (Williams et al., 2005), include a list of what to include in the broad category of cultural difference. More specifically, the term “cultural differences” includes “race/ethnicity (e.g. Latino, Caucasian, Asian/Pacific Islander, African American, American Indian), class, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, first language, physical and learning ability, and learning styles” (Williams et al., 2005, vi). However, the list does not include spirituality and religion. AACU (Williams et al., 2005) has stated that there will be a reworking of inclusive excellence “as campus leaders juxtapose the definition against institutional mission, policies, and practices” (p. vi). It seems that this juxtaposing and reworking of inclusive excellence is beginning to take place as AACU (2017) and other institutions are starting to include religion as part of their lists regarding inclusive excellence work. Still, when multicultural or diversity issues are discussed on campus, the focus is usually on race, gender, or sexual orientation. (Mutakabbir & Nuriddin, 2016).

The ethical considerations of our profession call us to serve all students and to address all student needs. Not addressing spirituality and religion in higher education flows against our roles as ethical practitioners/leaders and as educators focused on developing students for successful personal and professional lives, which includes developing their ability to be ethical leaders themselves. How are we being ethical practitioners if we neglect to address and meet the needs of students coming from various religious/spiritual lenses and expose students to the worldviews of religion and spirituality? Also, as educators, we strive to prepare and develop students to become successful in their personal and professional lives. Our students are and will face ethical dilemmas in their lives. It is our hope as educators to prepare and develop our students to become ethical leaders. Providing opportunities for students to explore spirituality and religion will assist in their self-understanding (Astin, Astin, & Lindholm, 2011). Astin, Astin, and Lindolm (2011) pose a relevant question: “If students lack self-understanding – the capacity to see themselves clearly and honestly and to understand why they feel and act as they do – then how can we expect them to become responsible parents, professionals, and citizens?” (p. 2). Exploration of religion and spirituality can facilitate such self-understanding.

In the following sections, I will provide some ideas on the importance of including spirituality and religion in the discourse of inclusive excellence and suggestions on how to address spirituality and religion on your institutions.

Terms and Definitions  

I would like to take a moment to provide some definitions on relevant terms that have historically been used interchangeably and sometimes difficult to define. I focus this article on the ideas of religion and spirituality. But what do these terms mean and how are they different from one another?

Religion is probably the easiest to explain and is simply the beliefs and practices of an organized established denominational institution (Frame, 2003; Stamm, 2006). Spirituality, on the other hand, can be difficult to find agreement among various authors and researchers. However, for the purposes of this article, we will use the definition used in Astin, Astin, and Lindholm’s (2011) seven-year longitudinal study on spirituality in higher education. Spirituality, as they define it, is a multifaceted concept that encompasses and involves our inner lives, affective experiences, the values that we hold important to our lives, our sense of who we are, where we come from, our beliefs of why we exist, our life meaning, our life purpose, our sense of connectedness to others and to the world. Astin et al. (2011) also note that spiritual persons manifest personal qualities such as love, compassion, and equanimity.

The Importance of Spirituality and Religion

Why should we even include spirituality and religion into the discourse of inclusive excellence? According to Williams (2006), real inclusive excellence needs to be measured by how well the campus as a whole meets the “needs of all students, regardless of socioeconomic, racial, gender, or other characteristics” (p. 17). Religion and spirituality are identities or characteristics that are part of the student body that institutions serve. The Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey (IDEALS) indicates that of the 20,436 first-term students in a 2015 cohort from 122 participating institutions (a mixture of public and private institutions), 41% identify as “both religious and spiritual,” 26% identify as “spiritual, but not religious,” 22% identify as “neither religious nor spiritual,” and 11% identify as “religious but not spiritual” (Mayhew, Rockenbach, Correia, Crandall, & Lo, 2016). Thus, there are a sizeable percentage of students on our campuses for whom religion and/or spirituality play an important role in their identity and their college experience.

Student development, intercultural competencies, and global citizenship have also been desired outcomes of inclusive excellence (Whitehead, 2015; Williams et al., 2005). Various researchers have indicated the attainment of many of the same desired outcomes when spirituality is addressed during a student’s collegiate years. More specifically, improved self-esteem, civic responsibility, empathy, cultural awareness, life satisfaction, commitment, community service, and self-knowledge are positively affected when spirituality is addressed (Astin et al., 2011; Geroy, 2005; Sikula & Sikula, 2005; Hoppe, 2005; Capeheart-Meningall, 2005).

Additionally, there is a link between spirituality and mental health. Astin et al. (2011) reveal the negative correlation between a student’s psychological well-being and the increased demands of college/academic work paired with the stress of finding life balance. Also, the American College Health Association (2017) cited depression and anxiety as among the top obstacles to academic performance. Astin et al. (2011), however, indicate that psychological well-being is positively affected through a student’s spiritual growth. I hope that through this short discussion, we can start to see the importance of including spirituality and religion into the conversion of inclusive excellence. How then might institutions and higher education professionals include spirituality and religion into their focus of inclusive excellence?

Approaches on How to Address and Support Spirituality and Religion

Step 1: Know Your Students

In 2015, AACU published a document entitled “Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence: A Campus Guide for Self-Study and Planning.” Part One of this document provides a list of guiding questions for higher education leaders to ask as part of their foundational work towards inclusive excellence at their campuses. The first question in Part One of this document is to know who your students are and will be. This is a critical step in also addressing spirituality and religion into a campus’ commitment towards Inclusive Excellence. Aside from the age, ethnicity, gender, and other typical data points that are collected about students through departments of institutional research, what other data points are missing to truly know who students are at our institutions? As already stated, a majority of students nationally are already identifying with specific religious and/or spiritual traditions. Are questions asked about their religious/spirituality background and/or viewpoints? Are questions asked about their dietary needs, which may be part of their religious/spirituality adherence?

In addition to the students who affiliate with traditional forms of religion and spirituality (i.e. Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, etc.), it is also important to acknowledge that there may be another group of students on your campus that are part of an unaffiliated group known as the “nones” or the “unaffiliated millennials.” The “nones” or “unaffiliated millenials” refer to persons who identify as atheist, agnostic, those who state that their “religion is nothing in particular” (Lipka, 2015, p.1), or those who “are less able to articulate their sense of spirituality” (Thurston & ter Kuile, 2016, p. 4). It is important to be aware of this other group of students to avoid marginalizing them when addressing spirituality and religion for the common groupings of students who specifically affiliate with a religious and/or spiritual tradition. Knowing and understanding your campus community is an important first step.

Step 2: Do Additional Research and Develop a Framework

The next step is to develop a framework based on the theory and research to better serve your students and the campus community. In my own research focused on addressing spirituality in public higher education, I used the five measures of spirituality developed by Astin et al. (2011) as my theoretical framework. Through their seven-year longitudinal study, Astin et al. (2011) identified the following five measures of spirituality as five aspects of students’ spirituality – Spiritual Quest, Equanimity, Ethic of Care, Charitable Involvement, and Ecumenical Worldview. For the purposes of this conversation on inclusive excellence, I focus on the measures of Ecumenical Worldview and Spiritual Quest.

Ecumenical Worldview focuses on understanding other countries, cultures, and different religions, developing a strong connection to others, belief in the goodness of others, acceptance of others for who they are, and an understanding that life is interconnected (Astin et al., 2011). Spiritual Quest focuses on the processes of searching for meaning and purpose, attaining inner harmony, and developing a meaningful philosophy of life (Astin et al., 2011).

Through my research, I found at least three viable options that addressed these aspects of spirituality and could be utilized in both public and private institutions – a reflection room, an interfaith center, and student organizations. The reflection room that I studied was a room within the university’s student union, which was open to all persons for the purposes of reflection, meditation, prayer, and/or silence. The interfaith center was a non-proselytizing space that was managed by volunteers from local religious institutions, including Hillel (Jewish community), African Methodist Episcopalian, and the Cooperative Protestant Campus Ministry (CPCM), which represents Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and Church of the Brethren. The interfaith center was open to all students from different faith, religious, and spiritual traditions. With regard to student organizations, the university I studied had over 200 student organizations. Of the 200, approximate 30 student organizations had a focus on a specific religion, faith, or spiritual tradition.

Step 3: Figure Out Options

The next step is to identify options to address spirituality at your campus. The following sections provide detail from my research as to how a reflection room, interfaith center, and student organizations can be vehicles for campuses to address spirituality and religion.

Reflection Room.

The reflection room examined in my study was a resource advocated for by students from various backgrounds and supported by the board of trustees of the student union that it occupied. As stated on the sign outside the reflection room, the room was designed as a space for individuals looking for a quiet space for their individual purposes. My interviewees all benefited in many ways from their use of this reflection room. With regard to developing an Ecumenical Worldview, one participant (a Muslim) stated that she had met a number of other students through the reflection room: “I’ve met a lot of people in [the reflection room]. It’s interesting. Not just Muslims, too, non-Muslims. Christians and others come to pray.”

As a vehicle for Spiritual Quest, the reflection room became a place for this student and others to develop a connection with other Muslim students and the desire to become a better person. Specifically she stated: “[Praying] helps me. Just reminding me, you know, being with [other Muslims]. It makes me want to become better and the reflection room helps me go and pray.” Another student summarized the importance of the reflection room as “a place to reflect. It’s a place to grow, it’s a space to, you know, practice whatever it is, you know, you’re practicing. So yeah it’s important.”

Interfaith Center.

Interfaith Centers vary from institution to institution. For some, the Interfaith Center or interfaith programs are integrated and funded through the institution; such an approach is more likely at private institutions. Other institutions house Interfaith Centers through off-campus entities that pay rent for the use of university space. The Interfaith Center in my study reflected the latter approach, housed clergy from various traditions, and was a space for various religious student organizations to utilize. Agreements of Interfaith Center users and signage at the Interfaith Center clearly stated that the space was a non-proselytizing space for the purposes of spiritual exploration.

One student explained that her participation in the Interfaith Center helped to open the bubble that she was in. Reflecting on her experiences before using the Interfaith Center, she stated, “I was…in this bubble of being Catholic, and I wasn’t experiencing or encountering people who were of different faiths.” An Interfaith Center staff member explained the variety of students served through the center: “Some are strong in faith, some are searching, some are non-believers, some are seeking a family atmosphere.” This staff member hoped that the Interfaith Center would help each student “grow spiritually, grow in understanding of those who are different from themselves, encounter and build trust in those who offer caring interests.”

Student Organizations.

Student organizations can be seen as one of the most impactful ways students can find community and support from their peers in addition to self-development. All campuses house a long list of student organizations with eclectic varieties, including political, academic, career, social, and cultural. In my research, participants benefited greatly from the religious student organizations of which they were a part. One student explained that through his religious student organization he learned: “how to talk to people. Knowing how to be sensitive to their situation. Understanding, knowing how to take care of a person, and …. just even practical human skills like you know.”

Talking about her Muslim student organization, another participant stated:  “You don’t have to be a Muslim. We don’t just like preach the religion. We do fun things.” One specific activity that this Muslim student organization organized is the annual Islam Awareness Week, which is a week of events that was focused on increasing the visibility and understanding of the Muslim community. From this activity, the Muslim student organization members worked together to provide the campus community opportunities to learn more about the Muslim faith. This came about through students tabling on campus and answering questions about Islam and also hosting special presentations, such as a lecture on the history of Muslims in the U.S.

I hope that the three examples provided new ideas for addressing spirituality and religion at your campuses. There are many innovative options that other campuses are beginning to implement. Also, your campus might already be offering opportunities that just need to be expanded and/or institutionalized.


Addressing spirituality and religion with students during their collegiate years provides many positive benefits to the development of a student’s life, including community building, intercultural competencies, ethics, care for others, and mental health (American College Health Association, 2017; Astin et al., 2011; Capeheart-Meningall, 2005; Hoppe, 2005; Geroy, 2005; Sikula & Sikula, 2005). With regard to ethical considerations, addressing spirituality and religion helps to fulfill our roles as educators who serve all students and all their needs. Additionally, addressing and exposing students to spirituality and religion affects their personal and professional development that influences their own ethical viewpoints. Take for example three of the spiritual measures proposed by Astin et al. (2011): Ethic of Care, Ecumenical Worldview, and Charitable Involvement which are not only positively correlated with each other but also stress a sense of caring about and for others and discovering a sense of connectedness with others. Addressing spirituality and religion in our campuses (public or private) need not be complicated. This work might already be happening on your campuses – subtly or explicitly. Focusing on options that address spirituality and religion adds to the engaging and developing movement of inclusive excellence. How well is your campus meeting the holistic needs of all your students, which includes all the intersections of identities that they bring with and that which they are seeking to develop?

Reflection Questions

  1. As educators, what are our ethical obligations to support and engage students coming from all backgrounds (including religious, spiritual, secular, atheist, agnostic, etc.) and to expose students to all worldviews (including religious, spiritual, secular, atheist, agnostic, etc.)?
  2. How well do those on your campus know students’ spiritual and religious characteristics and needs?
  3. What already exists at your institutions related to spirituality and religion for students, and how could you make it more transparent and connected to inclusive excellence?
  4. What does not exist at your institutions related to spirituality and religion for students?
  5. Who on campus do you need to connect with to make spirituality and religion a part of your institution’s focus on inclusive excellence?
  6. Are there students, faculty, staff, and/or other colleagues already engaging in the research of spirituality and religion? What advice or help can they provide?


American College Health Association (2017). American College Health Association-National college health assessment II: Reference group executive summary Fall 2016. Hanover, MD: American College Health Association.

Association of American Colleges & Universities (2015). Committing to equity and inclusive excellence: A campus guide for self-study and planning. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Association of American Colleges & Universities (2017). Making excellence inclusive. Retrieved from:

Astin, A.W., Astin, H.S., & Lindholm, J.A. (2011). Cultivating the spirit: How college can enhance students’ inner lives. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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Frame, M. W. (2003). Integrating religion and spirituality into counseling: A comprehensive approach. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole – Thomson Learning.

Geroy, G. D. (2005). Preparing students for spirituality in the workplace. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 104, 67-74.

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Mutakabbir, Y. T., & Nuriddin, T. A. (2016). Religious minority students in higher education. New York, NY: Routledge.

Sikula, A. & Sikula, A. (2005). Spirituality and service learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 104, 31 – 36.

Stamm, L. (2006). The dynamics of spirituality and the religious experience. In A. W. Chickering, J. C. Dalton, & L. Stamm (Eds.), Encouraging authenticity and spirituality in higher education (pp. 37 – 65). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc.

Thurston, A. & ter Kuile, C. (2016). How we gather. Retrieved from:

Whitehead, D. M. (2015). Global learning: Key to making excellence inclusive. Liberal Education101(3), n3.

Williams, D. A. (2006). Inclusive excellence: UConn builds capacity for diversity and  change. Connection: The Journal of the New England Board of Higher Education21(1), 17-19.

Williams, D. A., Berger, J. B., & McLendon, S. A. (2005). Toward a model of inclusive excellence and change in postsecondary institutions. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

About the Author

Dr. Matt Cabrera is an assistant director for the Office of Student Life and Development and coordinates the Leadership Academy program at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). Dr. Cabrera is also serving as a post-doc fellow for the Educational Leadership Department at CSULB. He has co-taught Organizational Management for the M.S. Student Development in Higher Education program and has taught Ethnic Studies for the CSULB/LBUSD joint program for high school students.

Please e-mail inquiries to Matt Cabrera.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

From the President


Stephen John Quaye
ACPA President

In late September 2017, the ACPA Governing Board and Assembly Leadership introduced our six Operational Truths regarding the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization (SIRJD). As an Association, ACPA – College Student Educators International believes:

  1.  All forms of oppression are linked.
  2.  Racism and colonization are real, present, enduring, intersectional, and systemic forms of oppression.
  3.  Racism and colonization have informed the experience of all of us in higher education.
  4.  Advocacy and social change require us to work to dismantle racism and colonization in higher education.
  5.  Our collective education, research and scholarship, advocacy, and capacity will create positive change in higher education.
  6. We believe in and have hope for our individual capacity, desire, and drive to grow, learn, and change.

These operational truths guide our work as student affairs/services professionals. We enter this work believing that racism and colonization are everyday realities and that people, ultimately, can grow, change, and learn.

Since we launched this Strategic Imperative, many of you have wondered: what does this look like in practice? Let me share three ways that it looks like for me, as ACPA president.

First, it means unlearning internalized oppression. As a black cisgender man, I have internalized so many negative messages about what it means to live in my black body. I am a thug. I am a gangster. I come from a single-parent household. I am unintelligent. So much of my life has been spent trying to counter these messages and unlearn the dire impact on my life. SIRJD means unlearning internalized dominance and how that plays out in my life.

Second, it means learning. When the ACPA Governing Board introduced the Strategic Imperative, we centered racial justice. In the process, we received feedback from the Native, Aboriginal, and Indigenous Network that the Imperative was not inclusive of their politicized experiences with colonization. Learning this was painful, as it meant admitting that I did not know this reality and working to address it. Learning is not always joyous. Sometimes it comes through pain, frustration, and embarrassment. And yet, we still must learn.

Finally, it means embracing the messiness and moving forward even when we do not know exactly how. Although the International Office will be sharing more resources in the coming months about how to concretize SIRJD, I encourage you to not treat these resources as the sole answer for moving forward. Think of the connection between SIRJD and your work. Where do racism and colonization show up? What structures are in place that reinforce hierarchical decision-making? Whose voices and experiences do you privilege the most in your organization? How do you make decisions about who is important based on what they are wearing? Does your office reinforce “professional” dress? “Professional” for whom? Who decides that?

Reflecting on these questions enables you to think of what racial justice and decolonization look like in your practice without needing to get it “right” before acting. I look forward to engaging with you about the Strategic Imperative, as we work to make our world more just.


The Strength of Us


The Strength of Us

Cynthia H. Love
Executive Director

Separately we are as fragile as reeds and as easily broken.  But together we are as strong as reeds tied in a bundle.
Inspired by the Talmud

I want to talk about the strength of us—as individuals, as a community of people dedicated to student learning and development and as ACPA—College Student Educators International, a long-tenured member of the Higher Education Secretariat in Washington D.C. I also want to talk about our fragility.  

For some of our members, our tenure as an Association (95th Anniversary 2019), our legacy as scholar practitioners (Journal of College Student Development since 1954) and our place at the Secretariat table denote strength, continuity, and strategic influence. For some of our members, these same attributes denote selling out to a capitalist system, complicity with white supremacy and alignment with institutions where racism and colonization seem intractable. As hard as it is to admit, both are true.

The facts are that ACPA – College Student Educators International is a not-for-profit corporation (part of a larger dominant capitalist order) (Incite, 2017), almost 100 years old (within the life cycle of Jim Crow) and, as part of higher education writ large, complicit in the influence of Whiteness on relationships, campus climate, culture, ecology, policy and scholarship (Cabrera, Franklin, & Watson, 2017). We have internalized the idea that power—the ability to create change—equals money. We have been and remain part of the structural mechanism facilitating the marginalization of people of color, colonized people, and others.

John Dugan (2011) describes our balancing act as an Association chartered as a non-profit and social justice educators and activists:

Historically, we have held an activist orientation because that compass is a powerful guide and catalyst for transformation of structures, organizational and administration practices. An organization can provide structural evidence that it values learning centered and inclusive practices, but individual actors must also embrace these practices for them to manifest in meaningful ways. Until organizations begin uniquely targeting both structures and behaviors, it will be difficult to fully integrate learning-centered and inclusive practices. (p. 399)

I am excited about the progress we have made over the past three years to work on both structures and behaviors within ACPA. Yet, as Astin and Astin (2015) suggest, “equity is our unfinished agenda” in higher education. There is so much yet to do. I believe much of the major organizational shift towards the realization of justice within our own organization began in the 2011-2012 time frame. This was a soul-searching moment when ACPA had to dig deep into its own identity during the attempted NASPA/ACPA consolidation.

In 2011, Peter and Marcia Baxter Magdola described ACPA in this way:

We are applying post conventional organizational theories within our “own house” at ACPA to support continuing reduction of functional silos and to disrupt traditional structural features that reinforce unequal power dynamics.

To persist and succeed in the Magdola’s vision, I have identified five needs that I believe we must meet. I spoke about the first need in my opening remarks to ACPA as the new Executive Director more than three years ago. I said that we need more crown fires, also known as agents of change, to catalyze organizational shifts. We need to let them do what they do best, get rid of old wood and make room for new growth.  

Second, we need iterative, organization wide assessment of every operation and every aspect of what we offer to members for valid evidence of diversity, equity and inclusion plans and progress. We started this process in 2014 with an organizational audit using the Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks (GDIB). In three areas: Vision, Strategy, and Business Case; Leadership and Accountability; and Structure and Implementation, we scored lower than any of us could have thought possible.  This was a wake up call.  

Since that time, we assembled a working group that published Developmental Pathways to Trans Inclusion on College Campuses, completed the Leadership Pathways process and still have many of the recommendations of that team to implement. We then repeated the GDIB one year later.  Our scores improved slightly.  Frustrating, but true.

Past-President Donna Lee convened a Governing Board and Assembly retreat in November 2016 and at its conclusion, the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice was adopted and updated to include Decolonization in July 2017. Launching this Imperative has not been a seamless process for any of us and there is a creative tension in our midst that can serve us well if we bring our whole and willing selves to the work.

Third, we need leadership throughout every part of our Association—Governing Board, Assembly, Commissions, Coalitions, Communities of Practice, States, Networks to buy in to changing the paradigm from where we are to one where diversity, equity and inclusion are hard-wired into the business case of our Association.  

Last year, ACPA was invited to provide input to the AGB Board of Directors’ Statement on Campus Climate, Inclusion, and Civility, and I am proud of several of the key questions we were able to bring forward. Most important, “Are diversity and inclusion initiatives directly tied to the mission and strategic goals of the institution?”  I am also proud of the fact that ACPA has asked itself this question and responded affirmatively.  Now we have to “put meat on the bones.”

Fourth, we need the ability to talk openly and directly (not via social media) with one another about high stakes, emotional, controversial topics as a means to increase our resiliency and strength.  

Fifth, and finally, we need the central organizing principle of everything we do to be the realization of human dignity.  This will take mutual respect, civility, mercy and grace.

I know of very few organizations as willing as ACPA – College Student Educators International to call out what is not working within our own organization as well as higher education, to do the rigorous research required to identify ways to improve, to translate that scholarship into practice, to share and mentor students. These are our strengths.  

Our fragility emerges when we do all of these things and fail to extend civility, mercy and grace to one another. We are not alone in this failure, perhaps comforting to some and a complete frustration to others. This difference in perception can become another way in which we silo ourselves and I believe this is what we must avoid if we really want to bring our vision to fruition.


Astin, A. W., & Astin, H. S. (2015). Achieving equity in higher education: The unfinished agenda. Journal of College and Character, 16(2), 65-74.

Cabrera, N. L., Franklin, J. D., & Watson, J. S. (2017). Whiteness in higher education: The invisible missing link in diversity and racial analyses. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Dugan, J. P. (2011). Advancing inclusive and learning-centered practice: Redesigning student affairs work. In P. Magolda, & M. B. Baxter Magolda (Eds.), Contested issues in student affairs: Diverse perspectives and respectful dialogue (pp. 394-406). Sterling, VA: Stylus

Incite. (Eds.). (2017). The revolution will not be funded: Beyond the nonprofit industrial complex. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Magolda, P. M., & Baxter Magolda, M. B. (2011). Contested issues in student affairs: Diverse perspectives and respectful dialogue. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Ethics and the University: Connecting the Dots

Ethics and the University: Connecting the Dots

Anne M. Hornak
Central Michigan University

For this column I had the great pleasure of interviewing Father James Keenan (Jim). Father Jim is an ordained Jesuit Priest and Canisius Professor Director of The Jesuit Institute at Boston College. Additionally, he holds faculty status in the Theology Department at Boston College. I was first introduced to Father Jim when I read his book, University Ethics: How Colleges can Build and Benefit from a Culture of Ethics (Keenan, 2015). The book offers discussion about the role of ethics in higher education and very much serves as a call to the higher education and student affairs communities that we need to be doing more to focus on ethics in our work, from both a practical and scholarly perspective.

Anne: Much of your work has been focused on ethics and theology framed within the church. What was the catalyst for the university ethics book?

Father Jim: Honestly, it was the sex abuse scandal within the Catholic Church. I live in Boston and it was in the newspaper every day for 17 months. We were living the scandal in our lives and the newspaper every day and we could not escape it. I am an ethicist and priest and began asking certain questions.  I started to ask questions about how the church, as an institution, practices ethics. I was concerned with the scandals impact on the church as an institution; the issue was not just about the individuals within the church, i.e. the priests involved, but the ethics within the church as an institution. I was concerned with the professional harm to all those involved and those affiliated with the church.

In 2002-03, I was in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University teaching for the summer. All of the American Cardinals were summoned by the Pope to address the issues happening in the United States with the scandal. Well, the media found out that I was in Rome and was from Boston. A reporter thought that interviewing a Jesuit Priest affiliated with Boston, teaching ethics in Rome, was worthy of an interview and discussion. I remember clearly walking on a rooftop piazza with the reporter and she asked me if I was afraid.  I said, I was afraid. She then asked why I was doing what I was doing? I said, “I am a Priest teaching ethics in Boston; I need to speak out.” It comes with the territory of my work and affiliation with the church. This is about more than the scandal but my profession and the greater good of the church in the modern day.

We need to address the issues; the summons to ask tough questions about the sex abuse scandal was larger and dealt with what is going on socially all around us. As higher education professionals we are all employees within an institution and have an interest in the success and ethics of the institution. If you do not that is a big problem. It is a big problem if you do not care about the success and ethics of the institution in which you work.  It was natural to move from the church as a teaching institution for ethics to the university as a teaching institution for ethics. The news media focused on church scandal, but what is going on at the universities is just as problematic.

My focus on ethics at the university really came to life in my living community. I live in a community with 5-6 other priests, and 4 are also ethicists. One day I told them I had a hunch that we should pay attention to ethics and the university. From that statement each morning I would come down for breakfast and they would say, “you have to read this,” “you have to read this.” It was truly one scandal after another. My colleagues just kept egging me to truly identify and explore these issues. I had a lot of support because we had survived the sex scandal in our own institution.


Some people believe ethics is boring. However, you need to be aware; very aware. Being in Boston in the height of the scandal, in the church as a teaching institution, and personally as a priest, I had a responsibility. I had the ethical responsibility to write the book due in part to my position.  Being in Boston in the height of the scandal coupled with the fact our church was a teaching institution, I felt compelled to attempt to impact the situation.  I had a responsibility to direct discussion to the university and the focus on what is going on at the university. For example, professionals working in development and advancement know more about ethics because they got caught taking gifts they never should have.

Think about who we are hiring to be vice presidents at our universities. More and more they are coming from business and industry. They do not come into the university and take an ethics course, nor do many understand higher education as an organization, which is very different from business and industry. They most likely had an ethics course in their discipline, but it is different to take an ethics course that focuses on the issues related directly to the work of the university. One must wonder how much they truly understand the university, as they are more interested in successful management than an ethical ethos and culture. Oftentimes, if administrators see a problem, they are more apt to bring in a lawyer than an ethicist. Leaders need to understand ethics is integral for the future of the institution. It can only be successful if it is truth bearing and reliable.

For example, Harvard had a huge cheating scandal and as part of their reaction they focused on teaching and how faculty were teaching. They missed a huge opportunity to understand what it means to be a university with high ethical standards and to truly understand who they wanted to be. What does it mean to be at Harvard and as an institution what does it mean to be part of this community? That is the conversation that was missed in focusing on what was going on in the teaching realm and stopping the cheating. In this case the lack of addressing this problem from an ethical perspective was the constraint. Understanding the role of ethics is not to constrain but to develop and help an institution become who they want to be.

Anne: Whose responsibility is it to create a culture of ethics?

Father Jim:  People want to fix it right away. Many who are doing this work have been doing it for a very long time.  However, we have failed to connect the dots. We need to take issues and truly connect across the institution, connect the dots! We need to be talking across the board, all units, academic and student affairs, faculty and staff, leaders at every level. Here at Boston College we have created a conference and put folks talking about different topics on the same panel so they can hear each other talk. It is about connecting the dots and talking to one another about how we are connected and how many of these issues have similar elements. We are not talking to each other enough. We have become organizations that work in silos.

I would argue that sexual assault on campus is deeply connected to how we treat adjunct faculty on campus. The neglect of ethics for adjunct faculty is related to the neglect our students have in how they treat one another, which can lead to sexual assaults on campuses. We are not inclusive with our adjunct faculty; we often do not include them in any governance decisions. They are limited in how much access they have to departmental resources, faculty, and the university more broadly, yet they are bearing much of the workload related to teaching. In terms of sexual assault we are not giving voice to victims or survivors. Many times sexual assaults on campuses are going unreported and victims are unsure where they go for support and justice. This is a problem on our campuses and one that we are not doing a good job addressing.

Originally university faculty were deeply connected to students, but over time, faculty gave connecting with students over to student affairs officials.  In my opinion faculty feel that the only place they belong is in the classroom and in a sense have lost a bit of the university. This is a great example of how faculty and student affairs can work together to reclaim the university and in that, reclaim ethics.  

I became an acting chair of the department and found out some of the shenanigans of faculty. We have created autonomous spaces and we do not want any horizontal accountability. We do not hold each other to higher levels of ethical behavior. Many deans are horrified by the behavior of faculty at the university, but are unwilling to address the behavior.  The reporting lines within the university are very medieval and unlike any other professions we are very autonomous.  In no other field do you find that people rarely come to campus and lack a larger sense of community. Many within the academy are academic nerds and their social skills are pretty low. We treat our students singularly; the very nature of our vocation is not collegial. We are singular professors who do work and believe our accountability is to write for an audience outside the university. We are seeing more and more collaboration among researchers, but it is still a novelty within institutions. This is also a lesson faculty could take from student affairs professionals who often work collaboratively.

Office hours are interesting as well, as the advertised times they are available are to their own making. There is no other place where a professional has this much autonomy over their work hours. Administrators do not even have this freedom.  We need to take a closer look at some of these issues and work to create a more horizontally accountable community. Beginning to look at these issues from a bigger picture would begin to connect some of these dots across institutions.

Anne: How do you help new professionals create a professional ethical identity?

Father Jim: New professionals need to go out and meet all sorts of individuals across the university. I run a center on faith and culture. Part of the work of the center is to run professional development for the university community. For many years the seminars were just for tenure track faculty. It has changed and now we have more adjunct faculty attending and one of the trends the faculty attending realize is that others across the university are feeling the same way they are: isolated, disconnected, and that folks at the university are more focused on their own discipline rather than betterment of the university.

At Boston College we have what are called professors of the practice. They are permanent faculty, not tenured or tenure track, but with long-term employment. I invited these faculty to dinner and they could not get over meeting one another. For the 6 months they were very excited to just get to know one another, then it turned into a book club meeting, and now they host a conference. The relationships have evolved and turned into a conversation about ethics and the moral responsibility of the university, which is what we address at the yearly conference.

People need to start realizing they know nothing about the university. We need to have folks meet one another and get out of their spaces.  Many faculty do not even know the names of the residence halls on campus. They are hard pressed to name one residence hall or even buildings on the other side of campus. Additionally many have no idea what goes on for students outside the classroom and who does that work. They are not involved in a student’s life outside of the classroom. We need to get to know one another and what we do to support the university together.  The more we collectively work the closer we get to making good ethical decisions and being able to identify ethical issues within our institutions.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s the medical profession underwent a radical transformation in how they deliver medical news to patients. Previously, it was the role of the nurse to deliver medical news to the patient and doctors would talk to family members and others involved in the decision, but not the patient. In conversations at their professional associations they began to internally investigate the practice and have debates at multiple levels. The decision ultimately was that patients should own their medical decisions and it was the ethical responsibility of doctors to give full information to patients and help them make the best decision for their situation. This is a great example of a collaborative discussion that resulted in changing an entire profession, but the decision was not made in a vacuum, but rather in a way that everyone had an opportunity to feel they had voice in the changes. I would like to challenge higher education to let the public examine their practice and decide if the institution is acting in ethical ways.


This interview was such a pleasure to conduct. The wisdom and insights of Father Jim can really aid in helping us think more deeply about ethics and how we address the very complex issues we are facing in higher education and student affairs. We have a moral responsibility to our students and those that call the academy their home. We have a moral obligation to do the hard work it takes to address these complex issues. We should be bold and brave in facilitating the tough conversations, as Father Jim challenges us to do.

Discussion Questions

  1. Ethics does not happen by taking a course but rather having conversation in the public and with the public.  How do you begin to facilitate those conversations?
  2. As student affairs professionals, how do you help create environments that embody the ethics of compassion, confidence, and accountability?
  3. Part of the difficult work around the identification of ethical issues is asking the right questions and then presenting choices. What are some ways you begin asking the right questions to be able to present the most ethical choices to the community being impacted?


Keenan, J. F. (2015). University ethics: How colleges can build and benefit from a culture of ethics.

Lanham, MD: Roman & Littlefield.

About the Author

Anne M. Hornak is a Professor and Chairperson of Educational Leadership at Central Michigan University. She teaches courses in student affairs and higher education administration, ethics, and social justice. Her research interests include ethical decision-making, transformational learning and international education, and community college students. She has been involved with ACPA as a Directorate member of the Professional Preparation Commission, where she coordinated with the ethics committee. Her most recent book is entitled, “A Day in the Life of a Student Affairs Educator: Competencies and Case Studies for Early Career Professionals” [Stylus, 2014] co-authored with Sarah Marshall.

Please e-mail inquiries to Anne M. Hornak.

The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Student Affairs Practices in the Arabian Gulf: the Good, the Bad and the Foreign

Student Affairs Practices in the Arabian Gulf: the Good, the Bad and the Foreign

Tadd Kruse
Abdulwahab Al-Khaldi
American University of Kuwait

Evan Witt
University of Auckland – City Campus


American higher education has quickly become one of our country’s greatest imports/exports with the Institute for International Education (IIE) estimating that international students in the United States generate over $20 billion annually (Chow & Bhandari, 2011). While this is a staggering number, this does not take into consideration colleges and universities around the world that use the American model of education or United States institutions that operate international branch campuses. We represent these types of institutions.

So why should we as administrators and practitioners be concerned with this? Our students, whether they are international students studying in the United States or students studying at a university internationally, represent a diversity of nations, cultures, values, and beliefs that do not necessarily align with the values and ideals of United States higher education. United States higher education is founded on democracy, individuality, and academic freedom. Yet, across the world, students study at institutions in countries that are autocratic, value collectivism, and limit freedom of speech.

As the model of American education is distributed around the world, student affairs has seen unparalleled growth in supporting the missions of these academic institutions. As we see the continued expansion of United States education into the global market we ask the question, “how can we adapt the student affairs model to fit a global context?”

To answer that question we will provide accounts from our work as practitioners and administrators in the Arabian Gulf region. These accounts cover new ideas being introduced, the challenges in implementation, the great work being done to support students, as well as new perspectives for working in the international context.  This contributes to the conversation of how to improve the work others and we are doing outside of the United States.  In the end we will make suggestions to encourage our fellow professionals as we all strive to support the success and development of our students regardless of the borders that define our realities.

Our Context

In the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, well over one hundred postsecondary institutions exist and vary greatly in models, size, purpose, and governance. This article’s context is related to institutions in the GCC and we use examples from our institutions to highlight issues.  

Education City in Doha, Qatar is an initiative of the Qatar Foundation dating back to the 1990s.  It is an effort to bring a collection of international branch campus institutions to Qatar and has recently added the newly emerging research institution, Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU).  Education City serves approximately 2,500 total enrolled students from 9 different institutions each offering a targeted degree program. For example, Texas A&M University in Qatar focuses on engineering degrees. Education City serves a mix of graduate and undergraduate students in addition to having a predominantly commuter student population.   

The American University of Kuwait (AUK), established in 2003, is a private liberal arts institution of higher education based on an American model.  Located in Salmiya, Kuwait, AUK has a population of approximately 2,500 students and is an urban commuter campus.  The institution provides English language instruction and undergraduate education through the College of Arts & Sciences and the College of Business & Economics.

We must illustrate a greater context under which campuses in this region operate by further sharing with readers how each category is applied.  Even though our title states “the Good, the Bad, and the Foreign,” in order to provide greater perspective we will address these in reverse order, highlighting the Foreign (not right or wrong, but different), the Bad (challenges), and the Good (successes).     

The Foreign

Within the United States, the field of student affairs has been evolving over the years with landmark publications, including the 1937 Student Personnel Point of View (American Council on Education, 1937), the 1996 Learning Imperative (Calhoun, 1996), and the 2004 first version of Learning Reconsidered (Keeling, 2004). In the international context this process of professionalizing the field of student affairs is just starting but has seen significant highlights with documents such as the 2002 UNESCO report on the Role of Student Affairs and Services in Higher Education and organizations such as the International Association of Student Affairs and Services (IASAS). Recognition and value for the field of student affairs is a daily struggle in our context of the GCC (UNESCO, 2002).

Education within the Gulf is viewed more as a transactional process. This is reflected in many public K-12 systems that focus more on rote memorization than critical thinking and the processing of information. When students arrive at a foreign model institution in the Gulf it is not only a new style of learning, but the idea of learning outside the classroom is also a new concept. The overall understanding and value of student affairs for many of these students and their families does not exist, resulting in professionals educating others and advocating for its importance. The lack of awareness of student affairs in the general population is to an extent that people are not aware that positions aside from faculty posts exist in higher education institutions.

There are two levels to how this impacts our work here; the student level and the staff level. For students, they may have little interest in student affairs because, “what’s in it for me?” We spend a lot of time trying to demonstrate the importance of holistic education and skills that can be developed through involvement. Because of the academic focus of the culture and prior public education, most students see the college experience as strictly earning the degree, nothing more.

From the staff side, the values and purpose of student affairs is also a new concept. Many professionals in the GCC do not have a formal background in student affairs or education, for that matter. In order to better serve students, many staff members engage in regular training to develop skills such as advising and counseling as they familiarize themselves with the field of higher education. It takes time for professionals to both learn the job and act as a practitioner but it is a long-term investment in making a sustainable profession.

The role of religion and family are at the very core of society in the GCC.   As a result families of many students often do not see the value in experiential learning.  State laws and governance in Gulf nations is largely influenced by religious doctrine. This in turn encompasses rules and regulations pertaining to the establishment and operation of state and private universities.  Subsequently, student affairs practices must adhere to a strict social etiquette based on religion and cultural norms.  The importance of family and image is paramount.  Most campuses have a high proportion of commuter students. All students at AUK and more than half at HBKU are expected to reside at home and may have limited access to campus after classes.  The collectivist culture also makes it difficult for programs such as personal counseling to make a successful impact on students, as there is still a stigma behind seeking guidance/psychological help in the region. Unfortunately, this leads most help-seekers to prioritize reputation and image over counseling.

The Bad

When we say the bad, what we really mean is challenges. As we stated earlier, we are writing to offer our experiences in implementing a student affairs model in a non-United States context. One of the biggest challenges in the GCC is understanding the experiences of our students. Student development theory is a pillar in the field of student affairs, yet we know that it comes with limitations. With incredibly diverse student bodies it becomes difficult to generalize these theories to our students. There is little to no research about the development of Gulf students. The backgrounds, experiences, and outcomes for these students are fundamentally different than those students from whom most developmental theories were developed and based.

For example, Baxter Magolda’s (1999) theory of self-authorship, based on a North American student population, posits that students will go through four stages in their process of developing the capacity to define their own beliefs and identities. These stages are non-linear and begin with following formulas, crossroads, becoming the author of one’s life, and an internal foundation. During the crossroads phase, students will struggle with questions such as “how do I know” and “who am I?” They will often look for external approval as they move towards becoming the authors of their own lives with a strong internal concept (Baxter Magolda, 1999).

In Education City, advising students attending an international service-learning opportunity often elicits questions that include, “Can my family member travel with me?” or “Will I be able to call my family every day?” While the self-authorship model might suggest supporting students through a crossroads as they seek support and approval, it is less of a developmental challenge and more of a life reality that needs to be addressed. Family is at the center of the lives of many students in the Gulf and without their support they are not able to participate in many campus based programs As a new professional in the Gulf one might attempt to support students along a developmental continuum towards more independence and decision making. It would take some time before realizing that the desired outcome was not independence but an ability to gather family support through demonstrating the benefits of involvement.

Another challenge in the planning, execution, and participation in student affairs programs in the GCC is government intervention. Gender segregation is a key social and legal issue in the GCC and impacts our work in student affairs. Some GCC institutions provide separate campuses for male and female students or have designated single gender sections of campus. Under Kuwaiti laws, universities must operate their buildings to ensure gender segregation in all departments and student activities. Due to space limitations, AUK does not offer separate gender campuses but assigns specific usage to communal spaces by allocation of space or time. The common area called “The Hangout,” which contains lounge areas, game consoles, table tennis, and billiards, is arranged to be available on alternating days for male and female students. The Office of Student Life oversees this area and due to the alternating days it limits the interaction the office is able to have with students. Gender becomes a focal point of many programming efforts as the office looks for creative ways to serve both student bodies equally.

The Good

When it comes to the internationalization of higher education, there is incredible work being done all over the world. There are many aspects where United States higher education serves as an example of good practice, and others where the United States stands to learn a lot from our overseas colleagues. Here in the Gulf institutions provide many of the same services as United States counterparts, however these are provided as influenced by the campus infrastructure, and the local/campus cultures.  For instance, some government requirements are designed to provide balance and protect national interests, yet in others infrastructures and systems are not fully developed within expanding higher education systems.  

Regardless of the challenges, excellent services and programs are being provided by professionals in the region amongst the gaps in theory, infrastructure, and resources.  Kuwait, with approximately ten operational institutions and more under development, sees institutions built on models from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia. Each institution provides varying but similar services related to advising, counseling, and sports, each within the local context. For instance in Kuwait and in Qatar, advising must take into consideration government requirements placed upon students on government scholarships; counseling is conducted in settings with limited external resources off-campus and lacking more developed laws like FERPA; and sports program competitions and guidelines exist without a national governing body providing oversight

In planning programs we make cultural considerations that capture our local context, the backgrounds of our students, and general diversity. Our goal is to respect all and create spaces in which students feel comfortable to participate and actively engage. We constantly discuss how we can recognize native Arabic speakers in an English medium academic environment. We have conversations about the benefits of single gender programs while in a co-gender education environment. Finally, we plan schedules that work around prayer times, family commitments, and student lifestyles.  There is deep complexity in this kind of environment. At its best, students have an incredibly rich learning experience from the diversity of backgrounds and varied services. At its worst, students feel marginalized and disengage. It is an ongoing challenge for professionals, both in the GCC and further abroad, to create an inclusive campus environment.

In the United States we see diversity growing in our student bodies.  In the international context many campuses already contain incredibly diverse student populations. Education City has over 60 nationalities on campus, and the American University of Kuwait’s student body represent over 45 nationalities, with faculty/staff further expanding these figures.  Within campus communities such as these, diversity goes well beyond race and ethnicity. This diversity provides an incredible learning opportunity as we seek to develop global citizens. During the average day for one of our students they may eat breakfast with friends from Egypt and Syria while speaking in Arabic. They then go to a class, taught in English, with a professor from Britain. Later, when they go to their on-campus job they check in with their Qatari/Kuwaiti supervisor before assisting students from six different countries and multiple university programs.  This serves as a small example of the global exchange that students develop on campuses such as ours in Qatar and Kuwait. Is this the only place in the world like this? Not necessarily, but it is an example of an environment that is rare in the United States, yet commonplace here in the GCC.

New Approaches within the American Model

In our experience we too often see administrators from the United States believing that our model of education is “right” and that international students or professionals need to accept and conform to a United States system. What we believe is that for the American education system to be adapted properly we must be willing to deconstruct it, incorporate local cultures and values, and reconstruct it as a strong more impactful model that resonates with students.

In the examples provided we have shown how theory, governmental interventions, and academic cultures may not align with United States student affairs practice, but that successful services are making a positive impact. For practitioners working internationally, we challenge you to throw away general stereotypes about students, and embrace the surrounding diversity of the global community as you develop operational theories to guide your work. For practitioners in the United States, be patient with your students, international and domestic, as they navigate an often-foreign set of educational and cultural values.  The internationalization of higher education presents an exciting and challenging period that is here to stay.  We encourage you to reflect, review, reach out and engage in the ongoing conversation on student affairs within your own campus climate as many of us do; but also to dialogue within an international context.

Reflection Questions

  1. What are some major governmental guidelines or cultural factors that impact how you provide services to students on campus?   
  2.  What parallels can you draw from your campus environment to the issues faced by administrators on campuses in the Arabian Gulf States (i.e. diversity, impact of family, student engagement, etc.)?
  3.  How do you adapt traditional student affairs theory to practice within the context of your work?
  4. How aware are the students and their families of the services provided to support students on your campus?  
  5. In what ways do you embrace the diversity on your campus to effectively develop operational practices to guide your work?


American Council on Education. (1937). The student personnel point of view. Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education.

Baxter Magolda, M. (1999). Creating contexts for learning and selfauthorship: Constructive development pedagogy. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.

Calhoun, J. C. (1996). The student learning imperative: Implications for student affairs. Journal of College Student Development, 37(2), 188-122.

Chow, P., & Bhandari, L. (2011). Open doors: Report on international educational exchange. New York, NY: Institute of International Education.

Keeling, R. P. (Ed.). (2004). Learning reconsidered. Washington, D.C.: ACPA & NASPA.

UNESCO. (2002). The role of student affairs and services in higher education: A practical manual for developing, implementing and assessing student affairs programmes and services. Paris, France: UNESCO.

About the Authors

Tadd Kruse is Assistant to the President for Institutional Planning and Effectiveness at the American University of Kuwait (AUK). He has spent almost fifteen years working abroad at institutions in the United Kingdom and Middle East, including international student housing, study abroad, exchange programs, and he co-founded and still oversees the Student Affairs Graduate Summer Internship Program at AUK.  Tadd has served as a Senior Student Affairs Officer, founded a department at a start-up institution, and worked in a variety of professional fields within Student Affairs and Services. He currently serves as a Leadership team member for the International Association of Student Affairs and Services (IASAS), and as a member of the Middle East, North Africa, & South Asia (MENASA) NASPA Advisory Board.

Please e-mail inquiries to Tadd Kruse.

Abdulwahab Al-Khaldi serves as the Office of Student Life Coordinator at the American University of Kuwait. He is a Kuwaiti national and has worked for over seven years in multiple higher education institutions in Kuwait.

Please e-mail inquiries to Abdulwahab Al-Khaldi.

Evan Witt is a Campus Life Project Coordinator with the University of Auckland-City Campus. Previously, he spent four years as the Assistant Director for Student Engagement at Hamad bin Khalifa University located in Doha, Qatar. His work focuses on student leadership development, student engagement, graduate student involvement, and service-learning. Evan completed his master’s degree in Higher Education Administration at the University of Maryland-College Park (MD) and his bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Leadership from James Madison University (VA).

Please e-mail inquiries to Evan Witt.

The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Mattering, Healing, and Sharing in the Process: Working through the Trauma of Losing Black Lives (Part I)

Mattering, Healing, and Sharing in the Process: Working through the Trauma of Losing Black Lives (Part I)

Mahauganee D. Shaw
Shamika N. Karikari
Miami University of Ohio


Hi…so I’m reaching out because I’m exhausted and hopeless and so many other emotions. The death of Sam Dubose in Cincinnati has shook me in ways I didn’t anticipate. He got killed 10 minutes from my house. I remember the riots of 2001. When it happens in your home it becomes SO REAL. Like this isn’t just on the news, this is down the street from my home. Did you feel similar things about Ferguson? Do you understand? I’m reaching out just to share my thoughts as I feel most people around me just don’t get it….I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I don’t need or expect a response, just wanted to share. Thank you.


It was nearly midnight when I received Mika’s email. When I read an email at that time of night, I often won’t reply until the next day. Her email, however, brought a flood of memories and compelled me to respond.

Hi Mika,

I totally get it. Michael Brown’s death, watching my community be portrayed improperly in the media, and listening to my family and friends who were on the ground last fall really took me to low places. Last August through November it was hard for me to focus on anything work related when my mind and my heart were in Missouri. So, I know it’s not the exact same thing, but I do get it.

My motivation for co-planning the town hall last fall came from my need to do something productive with the energy I was placing into following the news surrounding Ferguson. The working group format was my seedling of an idea because I was exhausted from discussing the case over and over and didn’t want to sit and talk about it and leave continuing to feel hopeless. I’m not sure what will be helpful to you in this moment, and it’s likely that you’re also unsure of that. But please know that I’m here and willing to be an ear, a shoulder, or an accomplice. My suggestion is to take the time you need to be in community with others who are from Cincinnati and understand the significance of this moment, allow yourself to feel, forgive yourself for whatever guilt that may accompany those feelings, and then find an outlet for your energy. If there’s anything I can do to help you avoid the emotional pit I fell into last fall, please let me know. There’ll definitely be company in the pit, but it’s also very difficult to climb back out of it once you’re in there.

Big Hugs, Mahauganee

Soon after the indictment of former police officer Ray Tensing for the shooting death of Sam DuBose, we exchanged these emails. We found ourselves as colleagues who shared common personal experiences of working through hometown tragedies and wondered how to be supportive to each other and why it was so difficult to find that support within our professional lives. What we learned through our conversations is that the location of tragedy in our hometowns is what made the impact feel weightier than it would have otherwise.

In Mika’s words:

I reached out to Mahauganee via email because I didn’t know who else to turn to. I didn’t know who else would be able to relate to how I was feeling. It felt safe to reach out to Mahauganee because she had publicly talked about her connection to Ferguson and how it felt different because it was her “home”. What’s funny is that Mahauganee and I aren’t besties, and it was vulnerable to reach out but also so freeing to share my real emotions with someone who would get it. Through our email exchange and further conversations, I learned that shared experiences, even traumatic ones, can connect you in powerful ways. I’m grateful this was my experience with Mahauganee.

The purpose of this article is twofold.  One goal is to share our story of negotiating our personal emotions and reactions to national tragedies connected to both our homes and our experiences as Black women, while also drawing implications and recommendations for student affairs practice. A second goal is to transfer the time we spent processing our experiences into lessons for others to heal from the trauma of negotiating these recurring tragedies. We accomplish these goals in a two-part article. This, the first part, introduces the two tragedies that brought us together, and how we connected (to each other and others) through those experiences. The second part of this article, to appear in the next issue of Developments, contains suggestions on how our experiences navigating these tragedies connect to our work in student affairs and provides implications for other educators.

Tragedy and Its Impact

Our experiences with tragedies connected to our respective hometowns allowed us to see the impact of community tragedy on our professional practice as university employees, and the practice of other campus colleagues.  While it became clear through our process that many people around us—our colleagues, our students, our neighbors and community partners—were also hurt by these tragedies, the harm we experienced felt deeper and more severe.  This harm was connected to the notion of “home” and the additional layer it added to the way we internalized these tragedies.  Below, we introduce the two tragedies that were the impetus for our email exchange, describing first the large-scale impacts of each and next the individual impacts on us personally. Organized in this manner, this section highlights the trickle-down effects of tragedy.

Losing Mike Brown

August 9, 2014 was the day that Michael Brown, Jr., a Black teenage resident of Ferguson, Missouri, died immediately after sustaining at least six gunshot wounds inflicted by Darren Wilson, a local police officer.  Brown was unarmed.  He died in the middle of a local street, and his lifeless body lay in the street for at least four hours as a growing crowd of local residents gathered. During this time, his parents broke down from the news their child was no longer living, while social media reports and mobile picture uploads allowed people near and far to see the images of all that unfolded.

For several weeks thereafter, community activists in Ferguson gathered to protest and continually call for answers from the local government officials and law enforcement officers. Eventually, national news crews also gathered in Ferguson, giving audiences around the globe a front-row seat to view unfolding events: a growing crowd of protesters from across the United States, excessive use of force by law enforcement on those protestors, a slow trickle of facts and information regarding the incidents that led to Brown’s death, and a community in turmoil. While the local K-12 schools closest to Ferguson’s “ground zero” decided to delay the start of school, local postsecondary institutions in the process of gearing up for the fall semester were preparing for the potential impact of this community turmoil on their campuses and the students they serve.

Mahauganee’s Reflection. I was at a wedding when Michael Brown, Jr. died.  I was so excited for this particular wedding as I’d made the difficult choice to forego the wedding of my cousin at home in St. Louis to attend this one instead. During the wedding reception, I learned of Michael’s death. I was sitting at a table in a large ballroom, flanked by other wedding guests, when my phone began to light up with messages. It was the GroupMe chat group I keep with my high school friends. GroupMe is an app that allows multiple people to maintain an ongoing text message conversation in a private group.  This particular group includes four Black females who were born and reared in different areas of St. Louis, Missouri. Almost immediately, I was sucked into this hand-held conversation and swept away from the people partying around me. I spent the better part of the reception texting my friends, reading news stories online, posting my outrage to Facebook, stepping outside to take phone calls from other St. Louis natives who saw my Facebook post and had additional details not available via the Internet.  I only took brief breaks from my phone to participate in traditional wedding activities and to greet the newlyweds.

After that day, discussions with my friends and family revolved only around Ferguson, firmly rooting my mind in St. Louis, even while my body went through the motions of academic life in Oxford, OH.  I taught classes, attended meetings, and did my best to participate in professional life. But, I was most content at home, on my couch, with my TV tuned into whatever footage I could get of my hometown, and my phone ever-connected to other St. Louisans. I found myself on edge when I was outside of my home, tense any time someone mentioned Ferguson.  I was falling behind on tasks, because if I had to choose between spending my evening doing my usual work or spending it tuned in and connected to home, I always chose the latter. I became this fierce public defender of information related to Michael Brown’s death, the city of Ferguson, the city of St. Louis, and the state of affairs on the ground.  My body remained hundreds of miles away, while my mind, heart, and interest was at ground zero.

For a few months, I swung back and forth between the extremes of needing to feel close to home (and coping by gorging on every single detail of available information) and feeling overwhelmed with despair (coping by withdrawing as much as possible from taking in new information about the continuing unrest).  The worst part about the overwhelmed side of my spectrum was the amount of guilt I felt for disconnecting from the news coverage and people who kept me afloat when I was on the other side of the spectrum.  It felt selfish and shameful to take advantage of the freedom my physical distance allowed me to disconnect. How could I disconnect with peace of mind when my family and friends were living in the midst of a law enforcement-created battle zone without the option to simply turn off the television and continue business as usual?

There came a day when I became tired of feeling useless and ready to find an outlet for my angry, weary energy surrounding Ferguson.  Aware of the deafening silence I’d built around me with people in Ohio, I reached out via text message to a group of Black colleagues and acquaintances, asking them to sign a petition related to Michael Brown’s case. I remember holding my breath when I sent that message, unsure of how people would receive it, as I had not heard any conversation about Michael or Ferguson from the people closest to me in Ohio.  The supportive responses from within that group helped me to break my silence surrounding Ferguson with people at work, and to allow that conversation to spill over into my work life rather than being confined to the safety of my couch, my phone and other St. Louisans. Those responses opened me up to the possibility that I did not have to withdraw from social circles in my professional environment, and I could engage with co-workers around Ferguson and leave the conversation without feeling wounded.  

That one text message thread, and the experience of sharing my inner turmoil with people who, at least on some level, “got it” helped me to begin opening up in other social circles.  My perspectives on Ferguson, the value placed on Black lives, and the importance of Michael’s death was not always validated in those conversations, but I increasingly became better able to engage without needing to retreat into the safety of the St. Louis couch-phone bubble I’d constructed around myself.  It took me time to get to that place, but once I arrived, I was ready to channel my energy and knowledge of events surrounding Ferguson into actions that would help me feel useful.

Losing Sam DuBose

On July 19, 2015, Samuel DuBose, a Black son, father, brother, and friend to many, was shot and killed by University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing. The officer stopped Sam DuBose because he did not have a front license plate. DuBose sustained a single gunshot wound to the head that killed him immediately.  DuBose was unarmed.  The week following his death, peaceful demonstrations took place in Cincinnati, Ohio in support of indicting officer Tensing. On July 29, 2015, officer Tensing was indicted and his body camera film was released to the public. The video showed officer Tensing shooting DuBose in the head almost immediately after stopping him, and the story that officer Tensing shared about Sam DuBose being a threat did not add up.

Cincinnati is not new to police officers having hostile interactions with Black men.  In 2001, a Cincinnati police officer shot and killed an unarmed, 19-year-old Timothy Thomas in an alley. After this occurred, the city erupted.  Over 800 were arrested for protesting, vandalizing, and demonstrating their unrest with the police continually getting away with killing Black bodies. The police officer was not indicted in this case, inspiring citizens in Cincinnati to respond in protest and eventually leading to the city being placed on a curfew. Timothy Thomas’ death, and the subsequent turmoil in the city gained national attention (Moore, 2012). The memory of that tragedy impacted the sense of urgency after the death of DuBose.

Mika’s Reflection. Events that have a significant impact on me stay imprinted in my mind. Especially when they are somehow personally connected to me. This was no different when I heard of the death of Sam DuBose.  It was a Sunday, the day after I came back from vacation in Jamaica with my husband. I remember that day being a blur, being exhausted from getting home late the evening before. I remember feeling so tired but what I didn’t realize then was the emotional and mental fatigue I would continue to feel in the following days and weeks. Late that Sunday evening I was scrolling through Facebook and saw mention after mention after mention of a shooting in Cincinnati.  As I looked further into who was involved in the shooting I saw that a White police officer (Ray Tensing) killed Sam DuBose, an unarmed Black man. I remember calling my husband from the other room to tell him what occurred.  I was angry and sad.

I kept thinking, “AGAIN! Another Black man dying at the hands of the police. When will this end?”  I couldn’t help but to think back to 2001 when Timothy Thomas, another unarmed Black man, was killed by a white police officer in my beloved city of Cincinnati. I remembered the officer in that case not being indicted. I remembered our city being on a curfew.  I remembered the riots.  I remembered the heartache and pain. I remembered feeling like justice wasn’t served. I couldn’t help but wonder if history would repeat itself and I would have to watch my vivid memories happen all over again in real time.  For the sake of self-preservation, I had to disengage. I couldn’t be immersed in the news around Sam DuBose because the pain was too much. I remembered too vividly 2001.  

Ten days later on July 29, 2015, we were informed that Officer Tensing would be indicted and be put on trial for the murder of Sam DuBose. I remember sitting in my office when I watched the live broadcast.  I remember feeling nervous about what would happen. I remember making a deliberate choice not to watch the video of Sam DuBose being killed. I didn’t need the video. I already believed he was wrongfully killed. I always believed it because my memory from 2001 gave me no choice not to.  I was attached to my computer. I kept watching Twitter and Facebook to see how my city would respond. What would my colleagues say or do?  Did anyone care outside of Cincinnati?

I remember one of my friends texting me to come meet his girlfriend. I remember thinking, “he certainly hasn’t watched the news or been on social media today, why would he ask me that?”  This encounter only further reminded me that people aren’t experiencing this tragedy the way I am because the tragedy was happening in my hometown.  As well, it reminded me how disconnected I felt.  I stayed at work that night until 8pm or 9pm doing meaningless work; I had to. I didn’t have the energy to be around people or to give in ways I always do. I couldn’t. A friend invited me to A Night of Hope, a program at one of the local churches in Cincinnati.  I appreciated the offer but declined because I just couldn’t that night. I later watched the recording of the service from that evening and that was one of the ways I was able to begin moving forward and healing. Connecting to my faith and looking for ways to bring racial reconciliation to my beloved city with my brothers and sisters in Christ was the hope I held on to.

These memories stay imprinted on my heart and mind because they are connected to who I am and where I am from. Being a Black woman, I cannot help but feel deeply when another Black person is killed. I cannot let it go. The memory of when I found out about DuBose being killed will forever stay with me because it hit so close to home. When traumatic events happen, they just do not go away.  Even when I think I have healed from them, a memory surfaces reminding me that is not fully the case. This reminds me healing is a process. It happens over time and in stages. I have to allow myself to fully heal, regardless of how long it may take.

How Tragedy (Near or Far) Touches Campus

Home is a space that is extremely familiar. For us, it is where many of our most significant memories were created and continue to exist, where we know the people and the culture, and where we felt the safest and most comfortable throughout our formative years. When we lost Mike and Sam, our communities mourned on national prime time, and we mourned alongside them. It was difficult to watch the deaths of these Black men replay repeatedly on television, knowing that either of them could have easily been one of our relatives.  Given our connections to the communities in which these deaths happened, the safety of home slipped a little further away with these incidents.  We each had moments when it was difficult to focus in our professional lives because our personal lives, our home lives, were in turmoil.

The impact of these tragedies on our home communities and personal lives highlights a specific problem: institutional leaders do not typically make the same considerations, accommodations, and supportive space for employees as they make for students when tragedy occurs.  When tragedies occur, on or off campus, institutions have an opportunity to use these incidents as learning tools.  Inhabitants of institutions dedicated to education, holistic development, and preparing global citizens, should seize opportunities to react to and foster conversation around national news events. When the news involves tragedy, the opportunity is extended even further, to offer care and support to all within our communities who may be directly or indirectly impacted.

When institutional leaders neglect to publicly address tragedies, institutional constituents may interpret the silence as a devaluing of their personal experiences and concerns. The intended goal/outcome of not addressing an (inter)national tragedy may stem from a belief that institutional boundaries are impermeable to tragedy that occurs elsewhere, or from a desire to appear neutral on controversial topics and news events.  Unfortunately, members of the campus community who are impacted by that tragedy may receive this silence as a lack of care or understanding.

Since our email exchange that opened this article, and the start to this joint healing process, we have lost several additional Black lives and countless other tragedies have struck communities both in the United States and abroad. While our experiences are just two in a multitude of people who are impacted by these types of tragedies and the news coverage of them, we hope that our stories have provided some useful implications for practice. However, we realize that readers may be pondering: Why does this matter? How does this impact student learning and development?  What is the value in our stories, our struggles, our healing? Part two of this article will help to answer these questions by centering our personal experiences and offering recommendations focused largely on individual and networked support.

Discussion Questions

Our goals for this article are served if our experiences prompt conversation among others and help readers to consider the impact of community tragedy and tragedy in the news on their own lives and wellbeing. Below, are questions that may help spark reflection and dialogue.

  1. What do you believe is the role of a college and its administration as it relates to supporting employees in healing from tragedies?
  2. Are there news stories that resonate closely with you or have had a strong impact on you or a colleague or student? If so, how have you worked through the tough moments? If not, how might you prepare to work through those moments in the future?
  3. How can connecting with others be part of the healing process?

As you consider these questions, and other topics raised in part one of this article, we invite you to engage in conversation with us in the twitter-sphere. If you are willing, please share your thoughts, responses, and comments with us using the hashtag #BLMhealing. Our personal healing processes were aided by sharing it with one another. We hope the opportunity for a larger conversation can help you to reflect, share, connect, heal, and ultimately claim that your experience matters.


Moore, D. M. (2012). Mark Twain was right: The 2001 Cincinnati riots (2nd ed.). Portland, OR: Microcosm Publishing.

About the Authors

Mahauganee D. Shaw is a faculty member in the Student Affairs in Higher Education program at Miami University of Ohio. Mahauganee’s research focuses on moments of crisis and tragedy that impact campus communities, how institutions respond to such incidents, and the process of recovery and healing that follows.

Shamika N. Karikari is a doctoral student in the Student Affairs in Higher Education program at Miami University of Ohio. Shamika’s developing research agenda is focused on the experiences of Black women in student affairs leadership roles.


Please e-mail inquiries to Mahauganee D. Shaw or Shamika N. Karikari.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Taking Charge of Your Own Competency

Taking Charge of Your Own Competency

From One Dupont Circle
Cindi Love

Executive Director

“Your driver is on the steer (at the wheel) driving you and you can feel free to doze in the car; this is trust built on competence. Competence is to ensure that your actions put people’s hearts at ease when things are in your hands.”
Israelmore Ayivor

I want to act in such a way that people’s hearts are put at ease.  So, how do I increase my competence?  This is the essential question for all of us who want to support students on their paths to self-authorship and in order to grow ourselves professionally and personally. Over the last several months I’ve listened to members and other colleagues who are struggling with this question due to budgetary reductions on their campuses.  

Whether they are newer professionals seeking support or more seasoned professionals trying to provide support, the dilemma is the same.  “Soft dollars” for travel and professional development are shrinking at most publicly funded institutions and it doesn’t look like a temporary challenge.  

The good news is that growth and competency are not dependent on another person or an institution that employs me.  I am not minimizing the very deep concerns about funding issues for our institutions nor the challenges these cuts pose for ACPA and our operating budget.   I am acknowledging the reality of the times in which we are living and working.  I can’t stop my path to self-actualization because someone else won’t pay my way.  We can’t fix gaps in our budget by making members pay more. We have to get creative.  

As an individual, I have to reprioritize the ways in which I invest in myself.  As an Association, we have to offer high quality and lower cost alternatives.  It is for that reason that we entered into partnership with Worker Bee TV in 2015 to launch ACPA Video on Demand (VOD) and with Professor Peter Lake in 2016 to develop and launch Compliance U™.

We chose these partnerships because we need to increase access, reduce costs and ensure that an ACPA membership provides a clear pathway to increased competency for everyone who chooses to engage.  The good news is that we listened early on to our ACPA Presidential Task Force on Digital Technology and its recommendation to “develop the infrastructure and resources appropriate to ensure sustainability and relevance in digital technologies.”  Our alliance with Worker Bee makes part of this recommendation feasible and achievable.

We know people are tuning in and using our content 24/7/365 on ACPA Video on Demand, so we decided to build on that success and implement several of other the recommendations of the Task Force. (Thank you to Dr. Kent Porterfield for creating this Task Force and Ed Cabellon and Tony Doody for leading the effort of a diverse cross section of scholars, practitioners, educators, administrators, and business partners).

The Task Force also recommended that we:

  • Design training and development opportunities to enhance college student educators’  (and professional) use of digital technologies;
  • Establish and grow strategic collaborations and partnerships;
  • Identify key higher education associations, organizations, business partners, authors, scholars, researchers and change agents with whom to strategically partner;
  • Partner with key graduate level faculty from higher education (or related) programs to discover what digital teaching modules could lay the foundation for future implementation. Begin with small pilot programs across various in-person, blended, and online programs.

I want to focus on the last recommendation about partnership with key graduate level faculty.  Allow me to formally introduce Professor Peter Lake to those of you who may not know him. Peter is professor of law, Charles A. Dana chair and director of the Center for Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University College of Law and an internationally recognized expert on higher education law and policy. He authored The Rights and Responsibilities of the Modern University (Lake, 2013) and his newest book, The Four Corners of Title IX Regulatory Compliance: A Primer for American Colleges and Universities.

We found great synergy for the Task Force recommendations in our strategic alliance with Professor Peter Lake and faculty in the development of Compliance U™.  This platform began as a concept that Professor Lake used in his scholarship to describe the impact of hyper-regulation on colleges and universities. It has come to life in Compliance U™ as a facilitative learning vehicle to meet the challenges of higher education—a regulated industry in transition.  

Professor Lake says, “I have watched our field change dramatically during the course of my 25 years in the field, both as a law professor and nationally-recognized higher education law and policy expert. Legal regulation has exploded, impacting the nature of our educational conversations. Political winds at the local, state and federal levels influence the dynamic nature of compliance—‘due diligence’ is now a permanent feature of our work.”

Many higher education professionals wish to have and need to have intensive law and policy training, and, at the same time, do not desire to pursue another degree, cannot afford to do so, and cannot leave their responsibilities on campus to attend classes. They need badging or credentialing opportunities that are cost effective, resource sensitive, time efficient, competency and outcome learning-based, and tailored to promote the goals of higher education.

Compliance U™ is designed to reduce the total costs of training by 50 percent with the majority of content on-line and the content is provided by the best and brightest in the Law, Policy and Governance (LPG) area who align themselves with our core values of social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion.  

Ayivor’s definition of competence comes full circle in ACPA’s offering of ACPA Video on Demand and Compliance U™, providing the pathways whereby my actions can put people’s hearts at ease when things are in my hands.  It’s a tall order to be competent and it is not always easy to discern a pathway to support development. I am excited about our opportunities with ACPA Video On Demand (VOD) and Compliance U™ for higher education professionals to systematically gain competency in the foundational, intermediate and advanced areas for student affairs professionals.


Lake, P. F. (2013). The rights and responsibilities of the modern university: The rise of the facilitator university (2nd ed.). Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.

From the President

From the President

Stephen John Quaye
ACPA President

As President of ACPA I have the opportunity to preside over #ACPA18 in Houston, Texas, the bellwether state for anti-LGBTQ legislation in the United States. In the process, I also get to facilitate dialogue about the Governing Board’s decision to remain in Houston.  

Holding the #ACPA18 Convention in Houston means we get to ask ourselves the questions that are confronting so many members on their campuses.  

What does it really mean to be a social justice educator in a place that promotes ideas, policies, practices and/or programs that contradict our values?  What should we do? What can we do? What does it truly mean to live out the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice?

The Governing Board has concluded that staying in Houston directly aligns the Association with the new Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice, which urges us to intentionally and directly engage with issues of race and racism at their intersections of identity, including nationality, gender identity, immigration status, socioeconomic status, disability, and geography.  

In the case of Houston, immigrants, documented and not, as well as trans people, have been singled out and denied legal protections. They now live with less assurance of safety than even a few months ago.

This is why I believe that there may not be a better place than Houston right now to do our work as social justice educators. Convention is a place and time that can engage the largest percentage of our members and allows us to directly support our Texas-based colleagues and member campuses.   

We’ve been on the ground in Houston as grassroots advocates and supporting our colleagues at the ACLU, Equality Texas, Trans Texas, and the Texas Business Alliance since the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) was defeated in 2015 (Mulvaney, 2016).  

Immediately after HERO failed, ACPA Executive Director Cindi Love and Deputy Executive Director Tricia Fechter Gates visited Houston in January 2016. Meetings included the Mayor of Houston, representatives from the Police Department, the ACLU, Trans Texas and Equality Texas and several human rights organizations in Houston. The overwhelming sentiment was that ACPA was welcome in Houston, and our advocacy and commitment to social justice was and continues to be needed now more than ever.

Our Convention in Houston will encourage us to think deeply, innovatively, and boldly about the ways that race and racism shape the experiences of those in our institutions and those who strive to obtain a higher education. We do not believe we should forego these opportunities and, therefore, we are remaining in Texas as social justice educators, as justice seekers, and in solidarity with our colleagues on campuses and those in the ACLU, Equality Texas, Trans Texas, and other human rights organizations.

I understand the perspective of members who believe we should withdraw from Houston and not invest any ACPA funds there. And I also hold the perspective of the significance of showing up, working alongside our trans colleagues and students, and advocating to foster change on the ground. For those who cannot attend for fear of safety or due to a desire to not spend money in Texas, we will provide virtual opportunities for engagement. We are raising funds for these purposes.   

In closing, I encourage you to visit the Frequently Asked Page on the #ACPA18 website to learn more about our rationale for remaining in Houston. I hope you will continue to share feedback and ideas with me. I appreciate your engagement in ACPA and am pleased to serve as your President.  


Mulvaney, E. (2016, January 28). City concerned for conference business in post-HERO Houston. Houston Chronicle. Retrieved from