Preparing New Professionals in Student Affairs: A Supervisory Model to Maximize Graduate Student Success


Preparing New Professionals in Student Affairs: A Supervisory Model to Maximize Graduate Student Success
Katelyn Romsa
Bryan Romsa
South Dakota State University

Effective preparation for graduate students pursuing work in the field of college student affairs most often includes both a formal classroom experience as well as a supervised practical experience, such as internships or graduate assistantships (Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education, 2012). A formal classroom experience typically consists of specific learning outcomes, regular and structured class meetings, and educational experiences designed by the instructor. This experience is vital to graduate student growth and development but is insufficient in preparing them for the real-world experiences they will soon face. Although supervised experiences have historically been a required component of preparation programs’ curricula (McEwen & Talbot, 1977), strategically designed and executed supervised experiences are vital in preparing new professionals to thrive within the rapidly changing landscape of higher education.

With the constant pace and complexity of changes occurring at higher education institutions student affairs professionals will be required to manage more ambiguous contexts in environments demanding a greater degree of responsiveness (Levine & Dean, 2012; Selingo, 2013). Although the learning that occurs in a classroom is important, researchers have found that having a supervised internship experience in addition to classroom instruction is more effective for student learning and development (CAS, 2012). The effect of intentional design in internship, which includes purposeful actions, often leads to successful outcomes (Bruening, Peachey, Evanovich, Fuller, Murty, Percy, & Chung, 2015).

Given the fast change and complexity of higher education contexts, graduate students will need to develop increasingly complex thinking and intuitive problem solving skills during their practical experiences (graduate assistantships or internships), which will likely generalize to new situations that they may encounter during their first professional position (Reber, 1993; Sheckley & Keeton, 2001). Faculty and site supervisors can serve a critical role in helping graduate students achieve these necessary skills prior to graduation through the development of strategic assistantship/internship experiences.

As faculty members who have had experience teaching graduate students involved in an assistantship/internship experience, we want to provide insights to other faculty supervisors and site supervisors as to the manner and design of a strategic supervised assistantship/internship experience to maximize graduate student success. In this article we provide a supervisory model for supervisors to help them create and design effective supervised experiences to best prepare graduate students preparing to transition from graduate school to work in the field of college student affairs. The intended audience of this article are faculty and site supervisors at all levels, both seasoned and novice, who are supervising graduate students preparing to transition from graduate school to work in the field of college student affairs.

Why is Strategic Supervision Important?
In order for faculty and site supervisors to best prepare graduate students for work in the field of college student affairs, they will need to be strategic in their supervision approach. A relevant question to answer then is, “why is strategic supervision important”? Strategic supervision can be important because it provides supervisors with a road map of how to help their supervisees achieve specific learning outcomes and work responsibilities (Bruening et al., 2015).

Strategic planning was first introduced in the business world in the 1950s and has led to the success of many businesses, and many of its characteristics can be transferred to the field of college student affairs when supervising graduate students (Steiner, 2010). Strategic planning is a mindset or a way of life. It is having a macro level mindset of specific aims or goals as well as a micro level mindset of clearly defined strategies to achieve those goals. It provides both supervisors and graduate students an opportunity to decide goals in advance while simultaneously allowing room for flexibility of those goals (Steiner, 2010).

In our supervisory model, we have essentially created a strategic plan to help supervisors become more intentional in their supervision with graduate students. Our model consists of attitudes, strategies, and practical ideas that supervisors can implement to maximize graduate student success. Our supervisory model is inspired from the work of Janosik, Cooper, Saunders, and Hirt (2014) and consists of five components: (a) conducting a personal skills assessment, (b) setting realistic expectations, (c) developing a contract for the experience, (d) understanding the roles of each person, and (e) assisting graduate students in achieving life-school-work balance.

Conducting a personal skills assessment
A great place to start when beginning a supervised assistantship/internship experience with graduate students is with assessment. Conducting a thorough assessment of the skills graduate students bring to an internship site as well as the skills students need to improve upon is an excellent tool for developing goals and responsibilities for the experience. By completing an assessment, students create a profile of their (a) current skill level and (b) necessary skill level that must be developed prior to graduation. This will allow students to determine ways in which their internship can be a vehicle for them to meet the appropriate skill levels.

How do graduate students know what skills they should be striving to work towards during their internship to best prepare themselves for the field of college student affairs? ACPA and NASPA leaders of the student affairs profession have created a document of 10 competency areas such as advising and helping and assessment (ACPA & NASPA, 2010) that are essential to student affairs practice. A major purpose for the document is to inform the design of professional development opportunities for student affairs professionals by providing outcomes that can be incorporated into student affairs curriculum and training opportunities. In our classes with graduate students, we created a handout that lists these 10 competency areas where students rank their current skill set (on a scale from 0-5 with 5 being excellent and 0 having no skill). Although we only provided this handout to our graduate students in the classroom, we encourage supervisors to do something similar so that they can also be involved in the assessment of the graduate students they supervise.

We also created two qualitative assessment handouts for both faculty/site supervisors and supervisees titled “Interview Your Supervisee” and “Interview Your Supervisor.” Oftentimes when we want to obtain information, we feel stuck in what, when, and how to ask questions. Some of the questions listed on the “Interview Your Supervisee” handout include: tell me about your academic background; what are your professional aspirations?; and what are some skills that you possess that are an asset to this office and what skills do you wish to improve upon? We created the handout to help faculty/site supervisors to get to know their supervisees better as well as to help supervisees in developing a sense of curiosity and a habit of asking effective questions, which will also help them in the future while working in the field of college student affairs.

A major purpose of the “Interview Your Supervisor” handout was to help graduate students obtain information that could be helpful in developing goals. Some of the questions listed on the “Interview Your Supervisor” handout include tell me about your career path, what are the responsibilities of your position, and what do you most enjoy about your current position. We encourage supervisors to also create qualitative assessments and to incorporate them into their supervision meetings with graduate students throughout the assistantship/internship experience.

After conducting a skills assessment with graduate students, we encourage graduate students to then develop their goals for the assistantship/internship experience. Scholars have affirmed the importance of writing down goals in order for them to become a reality (Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 1997). Similarly, if supervisors encourage graduate students to write down their goals for the experience, they will also be more likely to achieve their goals and make the most of their experience.

Setting realistic expectations
After conducting an assessment(s) of graduate student’s skills and developing goals, supervisors will be ready to set realistic expectations for the assistantship/internship experience. This can be broken down into internal opportunities on campus and external opportunities off campus. When thinking about internal opportunities, it will be important for supervisors to discuss how they expect their supervisees to be involved within their office and/or on campus such as attending staff meetings, committees, and/or technology and multicultural opportunities. When considering external opportunities, it will be important for supervisors to discuss how they expect their supervisees to be involved off campus such as attendance at and/or involvement in professional organizations and conferences. We feel that it will be important for supervisors and their graduate students to consider all of the internal and external opportunities available to their students to help them to best develop and improve upon their skills. In addition, it can be a great exercise to help supervisors and graduate students to intentionally design the assistantship/internship experience by linking experiences to goal setting.

Another important area to address with graduate students is the importance of legal and ethical issues. As faculty members we created a legal and ethical issues handout that asked students to write down a list of the major activities they do at their graduate practicum and internship sites such as the following: answering phone calls, handling confidential files, attending meetings where sensitive information is shared, distributing information to students/parents, participating in hiring practices, operating office equipment, supervising others in or away from the work site, and/or planning events. Next, we had them rate the potential of liability of each activity. This is an excellent exercise for supervisors to do with their graduate students as a learning tool to identify the potential of liability as well as to better understand the training that supervisors should provide and expectations they should address with their graduate students to minimize liability and maximize success.

Developing a contract for the experience
Developing a contract is a great way for faculty/site supervisors and their graduate student to write down and outline the goals and realistic expectations they have for the assistantship/internship experience. It will be important for supervisors and graduate students to create the contract at the beginning of the experience, so that expectations are clear right from the start. When we taught graduate students involved in a practicum and internship class, we required our students to take the lead in creating this document, but they were required to ask their supervisors for feedback and approval. Students were to include the following elements in their contract: a purpose statement, goals/objectives, activities, skills or competencies, proposed work schedule and time for each activity, and signatures of the student and faculty/site supervisor(s). We found that it was also helpful to add a section for the faculty/site supervisor’s responsibilities, so that they were also aware of what was expected of them such as: (a) meeting with the student once a week for one hour of supervision; (b) providing orientation and ongoing training; (c) providing feedback to the student; and (d) identifying resources that the student will need to be successful during the experience (e.g., personnel, facilities, equipment, and financial and insurance needs).

Although we required our graduate students to create the document, we encourage supervisors to be contributors. Supervisors could create a list of specific expectations they want to be on the contract before meeting with their graduate students. Being prepared ahead of time will assist supervisors to articulate the roles and responsibilities not only of graduate students but also of themselves.

Most importantly, it is our hope that the contract represents what graduate students hope to contribute and achieve during their supervised experience. Knowing graduate students’ dreams, goals, and ambitions will help faculty/site supervisors to be more intentional in designing the assistantship/internship experience by matching and/or creating opportunities that will allow graduate students to reach and achieve those initiatives. Reviewing and updating the contract throughout the academic year will also be important for supervisors and students to stay on task and make sure that goals are being met.

Understanding the roles of each person
From teaching graduate students involved in an assistantship/internship experience, we have learned how important it is for graduate students and supervisors to understand each other holistically. Graduate students bring much strength to the internship setting such as their skills, experience, and a fresh perspective. Given their role as graduate students, they also bring a wealth of knowledge from the courses they have recently taken or are currently taking (e.g, theories, crisis intervention, multicultural counseling, and administration in higher education). In addition to work and school, graduate students are also balancing their personal lives. We discovered that when faculty/site supervisors understood that their graduate students were balancing many life roles, they had a much greater level of empathy, understanding, and realization of how their student intern’s strengths could be best utilized and stretched. In addition, when the supervisor understood what courses graduate students have taken or were taken, they were better able to have discussions about how real-world work situations connected with their coursework.

While working and communicating with faculty/site supervisors, we found a reoccurring theme of faculty/site supervisors not giving themselves enough credit of the incredible role that they can have on their graduate students professional and personal lives. In other words, the vehicle of students’ learning and development often occurs through a positive working relationship with their supervisor. The importance of the supervisory relationship in students/clients’ development has been supported by several scholars, including Loganbill, Hardy, and Delworth’s (1982) developmental model of supervision. As most solid relationships require an investment of time, it is most often during 1:1 weekly supervision meetings when a supervisory relationship will blossom while supervisors take the time to teach, actively listen, and genuinely care for their graduate students.

Supervisors are not only professionals who provide orientation and training to their students, they are also educators and developmental mentors (Janosik et al., 2014).
We created two handouts to help faculty/site supervisors become the best educators and developmental mentors they can be. The first document we created was a live supervision form where supervisors are to (a) observe and/or listen to their student during a “live” encounter that their student has at their internship and (b) document and provide feedback to the student about that event/experience. We had our faculty/site supervisors do this six times throughout the academic year. We saw how impactful those live supervisions were both to faculty/site supervisors and graduate students in sharing or receiving important feedback, developing goals, and developing their relationship.

The second handout we created was a journal entry handout that graduate students were to fill out weekly and share with their faculty/site supervisors occasionally. Students were to write down a recent event while outlining a description of it as well as their thoughts, feelings, and plans for action because of the event. This handout was a very effective tool for teaching graduate students a way in which they can become reflective practitioners.

Assisting students in achieving life-school-work balance
When discussing the roles of the assistantship/internship experience, we mentioned the importance for supervisors to holistically mentor and educate graduate students. When teaching and working with graduate students, faculty/student affairs professionals may think of students holistically but often think of their primary identity as “graduate students” or “graduate interns” depending upon their role as faculty or student affairs professionals. We encourage supervisors to view graduate students in a balanced triadic order of life-school-work balance. We encourage supervisors to think of “life” at the top of the triangle with “school” and “work” balanced at the bottom two corners of the triangle. In this article we have addressed the school and work items, and now we want to emphasize the importance of the lives or personal needs of graduate students. When considering the personal identity of graduate students, we encourage supervisors to think of graduate students’ well being, which includes their health, happiness, and prosperity.

In our years of working with faculty/site supervisors, we discovered those who were most effective were the supervisors who cared about students as people first and as employees/students second. Contrary to this, those supervisors who lacked a genuine interest or care about the satisfactory condition of their graduate students seemed to have more conflict in their work settings, and oftentimes their graduate students lacked a sense of belonging to their office. We encourage faculty/site supervisors to engage in appropriate conversations with their graduate students to get to know them as human beings. One way supervisors can do this is by asking their graduate students about their goals and aspirations, which will begin a dialogue that will often lead to a healthy and lasting relationship. As graduate students come to understand their supervisor’s care and investment for their lives, they will be even more eager to learn from them and receive their mentorship.

Scholars have concluded that a successful assistantship/internship experience is most often one that is intentional in its design (Bruening, Peachey, Evanovich, Fuller, Murty, Percy, & Chung, 2015). With the constant pace and complexity of changes occurring at higher education institutions graduate students are needing to be more prepared than ever to manage more ambiguous contexts in environments demanding a greater degree of responsiveness (Levine & Dean, 2012; Selingo, 2013). In order to best prepare graduate students for these changes as they transition from graduate school to work in the field of college student affairs, we recommend faculty/site supervisors to be strategic in their supervision approach. It is our sincere hope that our five component supervisory model will provide faculty/site supervisors with a road map of attitudes, strategies, and practical ideas that they can implement to maximize graduate student success.

Discussion Questions
1. How might you apply some of the concepts addressed in this article to your current supervision style?
2. What expectations do you have for the graduate students whom you supervise? How and when have you communicated those expectations to them?
3. What role has assessment had in the development of expectations for the assistantship/internship experience?
4. How can you help graduate students put their goals into practice as they transition to work in the field of college student affairs?
5. How can you assist graduate students in achieving life-school-work balance?

ACPA & NASPA. (2010). Professional competency areas for student affairs practitioners. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from
Bruening, J. E., Peachey, J. W., Evanovich, J. M., Fuller, R. D., Murty, C. J. C., Percy, V. E., & Chung, M. (2015). Managing sport for social change: The effects of intentional design and structure in a sport-based service learning initiative. Sport Management Review, 18(1), 69-85.
Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS).
(2012). CAS
professional standards for higher education (8th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Janosik, S. M., Cooper, D. L., Saunders, S. A., & Hirt, J. B. (2014).
Learning through supervised practice in student affairs (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.
Levine, A., & Dean, D. (2012). Generation on a tight rope: A portrait of
today’s college student. San Francisco: CA: Jossey Bass.
Loganbill, C., Hardy, E. and Delworth, U. (1982). Supervision, a
conceptual model. The Counseling Psychologist, 10(1), 3-42.
McEwen, M. L., & Talbot, D.M. (1977). Designing the student affairs curriculum. In N. J. Evans & C. E. Phelps-Tobin (Eds.), The state of the art of preparation and practice in student affairs: Another look (pp. 125-156). Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Reber, A. S. (1993). Implicit learning and tactic knowledge: An essay on the cognitive unconscious. Oxford Psychological Series, No. 19. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Selingo, J. J. (2013). College unbound: The future of higher education
and what it means for students. Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt.
Sheckley, B. G., & Keeton, M. T. (2001). Improving employee development: Perspectives from research and practice. Chicago, IL: Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.
Steiner, G. A. (2010). Strategic planning. London: Simon and Schuster.

Zimmerman, B. J., & Kitsantas, A. (1997). Developmental phases in self-
regulation: Shifting from process goals to outcome goals. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(1), 29.

About the Authors
Katelyn Romsa, Assistant Professor of Counseling and Human Development at South Dakota State University, has nine years of higher education experience in both practitioner and scholarly roles. Katelyn’s research interests include the evolution of student-faculty interactions, what matters to millennial college students, preparing graduate students for success, and initiatives to improve student retention and satisfaction.

Bryan Romsa, Assistant Professor of Sport Management at South Dakota State University, has been working as a college professor for the last seven years. Bryan’s research interests include cultural learning through a sport tourism experience, students’ perceptions of leadership behaviors through service learning, and preparing graduate students for success. Both Katelyn and Bryan have taught practicum and internship courses to graduate students pursuing a master’s degree in College Student Affairs or Sport Management. Katelyn and Bryan have created several handouts aligned with the five components of the supervisory model.

Please email inquiries to Katelyn Romsa or Bryan Romsa.

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.

Contemplating the Rainbow Lotus of Ethical Competency


Contemplating the Rainbow Lotus of Ethical Competency
Jonathan O’Brien, California State University Long Beach

Since January 2016, I have had the pleasure of co-chairing an ACPA/NASPA Joint Task Force, comprised of an amazing group of educators, charged with revising and expanding a set of rubrics aligned with the new professional competency areas (ACPA & NASPA, 2015). These will be helpful tools for individual self-assessment, professional development frameworks, and conference planning.

In one meeting, our discussion turned to how individual competencies tend to intersect as one’s experience increases. Granted, years of experience do not correlate precisely to increases in professional competency, but common sense says there’s a close connection. Actually, this was explained in the introduction to the revised competencies (ACPA & NASPA, 2015, p. 9) and accompanied by a Venn-diagram of ten ovals exploding outward from a center point like individual petals on a giant, psychedelic flower. I started (affectionately) calling this figure the rainbow lotus.

Someone suggested we should color code the rubrics to show how competencies intersect, like they do in the rainbow lotus. Good idea we thought, but the intersections are so subjective and too complicated to explain without some tricky, 3-D printing. Even so, as a faculty member in a preparation program, I remained interested in understanding how competencies intersect as experience increases. The idea seems obvious on its face; yet, it’s unclear what “higher order synthesis and complexity” (p. 9) looks like in practice. Knowing more about these intersections could help educators to design authentic approaches to teaching competencies in professional development, supervision, and graduate curricula.

Ethical Competency is Fundamental
Since this is a column about ethics, I consider here how the other competency areas intersect with the Personal and Ethical Foundations (PEF), which involves the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to develop and maintain integrity in one’s life and work; this includes thoughtful development, critique, and adherence to a holistic and comprehensive standard of ethics and commitment to one’s own wellness and growth. Personal and ethical foundations are aligned because integrity has an internal locus informed by a combination of external ethical guidelines, an internal voice of care, and our own lived experiences. Our personal and ethical foundations grow through a process of curiosity, reflection, and self-authorship. (ACPA/NASPA, 2015, p. 12)

I have already expressed concerns about the present version of this competency (O’Brien, 2016), so here I turn to reviving the idea that ethics is “an integral component of all the competency areas” (ACPA & NASPA, 2010, p. 12), despite the absence of this phrase in the revision. In a field like student affairs, without licensure or credentialing, it’s critical that we consistently emphasize a professional’s moral responsibility to know, internalize, and exhibit competencies and ethical standards. To belabor the metaphor, ethics is the stem that supports the rainbow lotus, not the mere petal it presently occupies.

Ethical Intersections in Practice
To pursue my interest in this idea, I had two goals: (1) to know more about how PEF intersected with the other nine competency areas, and (2) to identify any patterns in the intersections related to developmental level.

To do this, I used existing qualitative data I collected for an on-going study. The sample is a diverse group of Student Affairs professionals (n=49) representing a variety of institutions, job functions, and positions. Each was asked to share a recent incident that exemplified their best practice in a professional situation. I decided to use their years of professional experience as a proxy for developmental level: foundational, 0-5 years; intermediate, 6-14 years; and, advanced, 15 or more years. I know that time in the field isn’t the only factor that impacts one’s competency; but, for this purpose, it seems to be a reasonable indicator.

A research assistant and I individually coded each incident multiple times, guided by definitions of the competency areas (ACPA & NASPA, 2015). After reconciling our coding, we categorized incidents by participants’ years of experience. Finally, we sorted them into one of four categories that we discovered using inductive analysis procedures: influence & authority, diversity issues, misconduct, and student crisis. I present these and other observations below.

The table below displays competency areas intersecting with PEF the most, listed by incident categories, in ascending order of the predominant experience level(s) of participants in the category. Although PEF intersected with all ten competency areas, three did not make this list: Assessment, Evaluation and Research (AER), Technology (TECH), and Values, Philosophy and History (VPH). I’ll discuss these after I exhibit the competency intersections data.

Incident Category & Experience Level Competencies Intersecting with Personal & Ethical Foundations (PEF) Influence & authority Foundational · Leadership (LEAD) · Law, Policy & Governance (LPG) · Organization & Human Resources (OHR) Diversity issues Intermediate · Social Justice & Inclusion (SJI) · Organization & Human Resources (OHR) · Student Learning & Development (SLD) Misconduct Intermediate Advanced · Law, Policy & Governance (LPG) · Organization & Human Resources (OHR) Student crisis Advanced · Advising & Supporting (AS) · Law, Policy & Governance (LPG) · Student Learning & Development (SLD) · Social Justice & Inclusion (SJI)

Each incident category represented a point of intersection among PEF and a cluster of other competencies. I also found that foundational and advanced level participants dominated two categories more than others. Specifically, foundational participants disproportionately reported incidents in the influence & authority category, as did advanced participants in the student crisis category. Data from all four categories are presented below.

Influence and Authority
These incidents (n=24) involved becoming a skilled manager, making difficult decisions, and doing the right thing. Foundational participants were over-represented in this category in which LEAD was the core competency, supported by LPG and OHR. For example, Britt, a recent graduate and new Hall Director, objected to a policy requiring her to “store illegal drugs in my office safe until the disciplinary hearing.” She recalled when she voiced her objection:
My boss is so intimidating and I was very quiet in meetings. I finally brought it up and she was so offended. She shouted, ‘Listen, I have already told you what you’re doing. You need to stop!’ She just shut me down.

Other incidents in this category involved participants at intermediate and advanced levels exerting authority and advancing their positions amid opposition from colleagues.

Diversity Issues
These incidents (n=9) included managing diverse workplaces and supporting the needs of a diverse student body. SJI was the primary competency, but OHR was evident in incidents involving professional staff and SLD was only salient when students were the focus. The category was dominated by intermediate level participants, followed by advanced and foundational. Carlos, founding director of his campus’ LGBTQ center, “felt stabbed in the back” when students
used social media to bad-mouth me for ignoring trans issues. I’m a one-person office with limited resources, so this attack hit me really hard. I’d advocated on their behalf to administration in the past and they totally ignored that.
In other incidents, participants intervened in hiring decisions to diversify their staff, responded to bias incidents, and supported the actions of student protesters.

These incidents (n=26) involved responding to inappropriate behavior of students and colleagues. Participants were typically advanced, some were intermediate, and only one was foundational. LPG and OHR were strongly connected in this category. Yesenia was conflicted about how to respond to a staff member who was intimidating others with a voodoo doll on his desk:

I was trying to be respectful of his beliefs but, at the same time, be a good manager and address a toxic work environment. The doll has a religious affiliation, so that was my primary concern; but it is still an item that represents violence and hate.

Other participants in this category responded to unethical supervisors and disruptive behavior or bullying by students or colleagues.

Student Crisis
These incidents (n=15) included rapid response, case management or altering protocols to support a student. A&S was central to this category, supported closely by LPG, SLD, and SJI. Advanced participants were most likely to report these incidents and none were reported by entry-level participants. For example, when Veneshia was the first person to encounter a freshman who was “beaten and disowned” for coming out as gay, she explained

I immediately contacted our student advocacy department to set him up with services. I also knew the director of financial aid, so I contacted her to arrange for some help from our LGBT alumni scholarship fund. I also fast-tracked his application for the African American themed [residence hall] so he had a place to stay.

Incidents in this category also included creative interpretation of policy and hearing students’ petitions for special consideration or appeals to disciplinary actions.

PEF Interactions with Other Competencies
So, what about AER, TECH, and VPH? Despite their limited intersections with PEF, there is no doubt that professionalism demands that we handle data and use technology ethically and recognize how the values and history of student affairs impact our work. I have some thoughts.

AER and TECH were reported in few incidents (n=2), when research was used to justify controversial budget or reorganization decisions. The scarcity of observations may be attributed to data collection. Typical incident narratives were about intense, personal struggles or deeply moving interpersonal interactions. It’s possible that stories about ethical use of technology or responsible data management were not memorable or compelling enough for participants to share in an interview setting. If asked directly about these instrumental competencies, it is likely participants would have had something to say.

Intersections between PEF and VPH were often hidden in plain sight. Specifically, most participants were reconciling their personal beliefs and goals (PEF; LEAD) with institutional goals and regulations (OHR; LPG). Many had advanced in their career to a point where principles of student affairs (VPH) had become so internalized that they did not distinguish between their values and those of the profession. Entry-level participants felt pressure to downplay the values and ideals they were taught; as one participant said, “I was unlearning everything I learned in grad school. You learn how to do everything right and then you start [working at] your institution and you learn how to do everything their way.” From my perspective as researcher, participants’ actions (at least implicitly) mirrored traditions and values of the profession, but it was unclear if they were motivated by VPH, their moral convictions, or both. I could have asked them directly.

My first goal was to know which competency areas intersected with PEF the most. Here’s what I found:

  • LPG and OHR intersected with PEF most often. At least one of these two was observed in each incident category and across all experience levels.
  • Other intersections with PEF were context-specific. For example, SLD only surfaced when students were the focus. Likewise, SJI was prominent in diversity issues and in student crises, when participants advocated for vulnerable or troubled students.

My second goal was to see if years of experience had any influence on how PEF intersected with other competencies.

  • LEAD was central to establishing authority at the foundational level. In their first years on the job, participants were striving to do the right thing, assert their views, and adapt to the ethical culture of a new institution.
  • Competence was widely dispersed at the intermediate level. Participants were fully immersed in their careers and capable of synthesizing new knowledge with multiple skills to perform their duties in response to a variety of incidents.
  • A&S was central to helping students in crisis at the advanced level. Seasoned professionals actively intervened to reduce harm and tapped into their robust support networks to benefit students.

These points suggest that, at all experience levels, the core of ethical competency in student affairs is working with people and organizations, creating and interpreting policies, and fulfilling obligations as a member of an institution (PEF; LPG; OHR). Beyond this, context and developmental level determines the particular intersections of instrumental (TECH; AER), interpersonal (A&S; LEAD; SJI), and specialized knowledge (SLD; VPH) competencies needed to respond effectively.

The results suggest new avenues for educators and supervisors who wish to build ethical capacity in student affairs preparation program candidates and staff members. Here are some recommendations:

  • Assess ethical intersections and identify areas for development. Rubrics can help to identify ethical intersections among your advanced level competencies. Use your knowledge of these complex strengths to stimulate ethical development of other, foundational and intermediate level competencies.
  • Be explicit about ethical uses of technology. Few participants mentioned this new competency area; nonetheless, ethical use of technology (e.g., access, security, confidentiality, appropriate boundaries, etc.) is a critical proficiency that requires sustained attention and continuous learning.
  • Reflect on the relationship between personal and professional values. Many of the abstract concepts and history learned in graduate school remain relevant. Consider how your ethical foundations align with the customs and ideals that you value most about our field. Be a role model for new professionals and colleagues.

Discussion Questions
Building on the findings and implications reported above, I conclude with questions for further learning and application.

  • Where would you position ethical competency relative to the other nine competencies and various responsibilities of student affairs professionals? Why?
  • Recall a recent incident in which you faced an ethical dilemma or difficult challenge. Which competencies came together in this situation? How and why?
  • What is your understanding of the values, philosophy, and history of student affairs? How do they align with your personal ethics and beliefs? How do they differ?


  • ACPA – College Student Educators International & National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (2015). Professional competency areas for Student Affairs educators. Washington, DC: Author.
  • ACPA – College Student Educators Interantional & National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (2010). Professional competency areas for Student Affairs practitioners. Washington, DC: Author.
  • O’Brien, J. (2016). Ethical perspectives on the ACPA/NASPA Professional Competencies. Developments, 13(4), 39-43.

About the Author
Jonathan O’Brien is assistant professor of educational leadership and coordinator of the Student Development in Higher Education master’s program at California State University, Long Beach. He teaches law and ethics and qualitative research methods. Jonathan has worked at public and private universities in Missouri, Kentucky, and California. His consulting and scholarship focus on assisting students in personal crisis and promoting professional conduct in student affairs practice.

Please e-mail inquiries to Jonathan O’Brien.

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.

Autism, Inclusion, and Communication in Higher Education


Autism, Inclusion, and Communication in Higher Education
Beth Brennan
Edlyn Peña
California Lutheran University

The number of students identified with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in schools and colleges is steadily climbing. Currently, prevalence of ASD in the United States is estimated at 1 in 68 students (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). Since the implementation of the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that set the groundwork for inclusion of students with disabilities into K-12 community schools in the United States, the number of students with ASD who have been included in general education curricula throughout their schooling has steadily risen (Kurth, 2015). Kindergarten-12th grade school districts across the country recognize that inclusion for students with disabilities is based not only on legislation but also on a culture of social justice and research which points to benefits for all students (Kalambouka, Farrell, Dyson, & Kaplan, 2007). As a result of these changes, access to supports from early intervention services for very young children with ASD all the way up through high school has meant that “a greater number of these young people are prepared and interested in attending university” (VanBergeijk, Klin, & Volkmar, 2008, p. 1362). Students with ASD who have been included in their community elementary and high schools are now gaining access to post-secondary environments, desiring to have equitable educational opportunities in higher education and to develop into independent and contributing members of society.

Student affairs professionals must become equipped, both in knowledge and practice, to support the growing population of college students with ASD. Today, close to one-third of high school completers with ASD gain access to college (Roux et al., 2015). Nearly 80% of four-year public institutions enrolled students with ASD in the 2008-2009 academic year (Raue & Lewis, 2011), a rate that has likely increased in the last eight years. While these numbers reflect progress in increasing access for this historically marginalized student population, students with ASD experience unique needs and challenges. For instance, research suggests that college students with ASD are at high risk of being disengaged from postsecondary education (Pinder-Amaker, 2014; Shattuck, Narendorf, Cooper, Sterzing, Wagner, & Taylor, 2012), often failing or dropping out due to “sensory, social, learning styles and organizational challenges combined with fatigue” (United States Autism and Asperger Association, 2013, para. 1). Therefore, the importance for student affairs professionals to have an awareness and acceptance of the needs of students with ASD has never been more critical.

While most students with ASD use traditional speech to communicate, estimates indicate that up to 40 percent of students with autism are minimally or non-speaking (National Autism Association, 2016). Current statistics show that while intervention can certainly improve speech capability for students with autism, 70% of students with ASD who are non-speaking develop production of words while only 30% gain phrased speech (National Institutes of Health, 2010). Those students have faced heightened challenges in finding their voice in general education settings. It is critical for student affairs professionals to understand that not being able to communicate through spoken word is not an indicator of cognitive ability. Motivated by the premise that all individuals have a desire and basic right to communicate, student affairs professionals will want to explore ways to include and support students who use alternative means to communicate. While basic rights for all students with disabilities are covered under the law — Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or the Workforce Investment Act (504), and Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) — training for student affairs professionals must extend way beyond basic law in order to provide effective support for students who are minimally or non-speaking.

Supports and Services
Supporting the needs of students with ASD who use alternative means of communication becomes not only a requirement but also a positive focus for campuses that embrace a diverse student population. This begs the question: how does that focus play out in higher education supports and services for student affairs professionals? To help answer that question, we highlight the story of one college student who uses typing to communicate. Samuel Capozzi is currently a freshman at California State University Channel Islands (CI). Samuel did not have a reliable means of communication prior to the middle of his high school trajectory. At that point, Samuel was reading books for younger children and was doing simple math. He describes how, prior to becoming “a typer”, he learned incidentally through his environment and interactions with others. Once he was exposed to typing, Samuel decided to stay in high school an extra year to earn his diploma. The extra time that he spent was filled with accomplishments. Samuel took the National Latin Exam and graduated with honors. He was able to do these things through grit and determination. But he also had a very supportive school community. Samuel describes his experiences at CI this way:

As I understand it, I am CI’s first non-speaking, non-writing student. I simply can’t say enough about Disability Resource Programs at CI. I am truly embraced, and my presence is celebrated on campus. It’s a nice change! What inspires me most is my professors’ delighted responses and even shocked responses when they hear my cogent answers and read my strong essays. I hope to pioneer a path for other students who communicate differently that may come after me. Knowing this helps me forge on when I become overwhelmed! (Capozzi, 2016).

We invited Samuel to speak to over 350 educators, students, and families at the Spectrum of Opportunity: Autism, Inclusion and Communication Conference at California Lutheran University in March, 2016. This conference provided information on supporting students who use typing or letter boards to communicate. Samuel spoke to the social, academic and communication needs of a minimally speaking student with ASD in a university setting. The audience, including student affairs professionals, learned about the supports that were most helpful to Samuel in his university experience.

Campus Initiatives
There are four basic campus-wide initiatives that can set the stage for students who are minimally or non-speaking, like Samuel, to have a successful experience and make those campuses more desirable to all students when choosing a college. These involve initiatives that support a culture of acceptance, foster a culture of diversity, promote a culture of inclusion and focus on the consideration of practical realities.

Support a culture of acceptance
The most basic premise in acceptance of students who are autistic, including those who are minimally or non-speaking, into the campus community is to presume competence in their academic abilities. Lacking the ability to communicate verbally does not correlate with cognitive ability. Nor does it indicate a person’s desire to communicate. Presuming competence in enrolled students with ASD is the first step toward student success. In order to be a truly inclusive campus community, colleges and universities need to support the entire campus community in both learning about autism and increasing a culture of acceptance. As with any transformational change to an organization, sustainable change needs to involve the whole system. Myers, Ladner, and Koger (2011) argue that “current educational practices both alienate students with autism from their neurotypical peers and compel students to hide their autistic traits” (p. 517). A close examination of both formal and informal practices and traditions on campus will reveal weak points in developing a true culture of acceptance. And any proposed practices should not focus solely on the student with ASD adapting to the environment but on adjusting the environment and perceptions of student affairs professionals to the student.

Foster a culture of diversity
All campus conversations about diversity should include disability in that conversation. “As colleges and universities encourage increased diversity in their students and faculty, this is yet another aspect of diversity that must be considered” (Ashby & Causton-Theoharis, 2012, p. 277). Some have argued that not only is disability missing from conversations and initiatives surrounding diversity but that “disability seems harder for people without disabilities to celebrate and see as empowering” (Davis, 2011, para. 6). Autism is a form of diversity. We can look at a student with autism as someone who may learn differently, socialize differently, move differently and/or communicate differently. To truly embrace diversity, a campus must include a spectrum of diversity that includes autism rather than be limited to focus on one type of diversity (e.g.. race, religion). Campus culture that is high in acceptance of all forms of diversity will better support students with ASD including those who are minimally or non-speaking. This more comprehensive view of diversity builds stronger learning communities. Acceptance of diversity that is inclusive of disability will create learning communities that are more welcoming and willing to adapt for students with ASD who are minimally or non-speaking.

Promote a culture of inclusion
Inclusion is not a program. It is what happens when there is a culture of acceptance and diversity. It is a welcoming of contributions that students with autism who are minimally or non-speaking can make in the classroom and campus environment. It is membership in the campus community. It is also a ‘willingness to know’ on the part of student affairs professionals. Student support needs must be specific to the individual student’s challenges. The willingness to get to know a student can validate and affirm the student’s place in the campus community and will help the student affairs professional to design individual plans for support. This also naturally leads to greater retention and student success. In addition, knowledge about the attitudes and perceptions of neurotypical peers toward students with ASD can support the development of appropriate services and support programs (Matthews, Ly, & Goldberg, 2015).

Consider practical realities
Student affairs professionals must also think through the practical realities to support students with complex communication challenges on a daily basis. Particularly when minimally or non-speaking students with autism first transition into the college environment, they will more likely require higher levels of parent involvement in the transition process than is common for typical college students. Student affairs professionals can work with the campus disability office to make sure that all conditions for FERPA are being met if and when parents initiate communication. In addition, minimally or non-speaking students are generally accompanied by a communication partner. The communication partner assists the student with interacting and responding to others inside and outside of the classroom—typically via a speech generating device or letter board. The communication partner is akin to an American Sign Language interpreter for the deaf and hard of hearing. Always speak directly to the student, allowing him/her/hir/their time to respond while they point to letters or icons to construct their comments and responses. Student affairs should continue to work collaboratively with the campus disability office to maintain a supportive and responsive campus experience that involves the student with autism in meaningful ways.

Closing Thoughts
Although it is acknowledged that experiences of students with autism at the post-secondary level have been understudied, student affairs professionals can cultivate knowledge and practices to frame a supportive culture. Research indicates that strong higher education supports have significantly increased enrollment of students with autism in postsecondary education. And that is good news for our communities. Students with ASD bring to the table many qualities that positively benefit the higher education environment. Student affairs professionals may be the best people to highlight those contributions because they are recognized as a good place to start in setting inclusive campus climate.
Of all the constituencies on college campuses, student affairs, by virtue of its historical commitment to differences and the espoused values of the profession, has assumed leadership for creating learning environment that are inclusive, diverse and affirming. In doing so, values of human dignity, equality, and community serve as an appropriate framework for working with students. (Hall & Belch, 2000, p. 9)
When those values are extended to students with autism including those who are minimally or non-speaking, student affairs professionals will model for others the kind of welcoming campuses that make up vibrant learning communities. As Samuel Capozzi (2015) states, we want “to move from mere awareness to appreciation for the unique gifts and abilities of those on the autism spectrum” (para. 3).

Reflection Questions:

1) In your role, what professional development do you think that you would need to be able to support a student with ASD who types to communicate?
2) Based on your personal life experience, what assumptions or perspectives do you bring with you that might be a barrier to working with a student with ASD and what can you do to overcome those barriers?
3) What could your institution do to be more inclusive and accepting of students with ASD?
4) What collaborations and networks with programs or individuals might you develop or strengthen to support minimally or non-speaking students with ASD?


  • Ashby, C. E., & Causton-Theoharis, J. (2012). “Moving quietly through the door of opportunity”:
    Perspectives of college students who type to communicate. Equity & Excellence in
    Education, 45(2), 261-282. doi:10.1080/10665684.2012.666939
  • Capozzi, S. (2016, March 19).  Words from a college student with autism [Web log post].  Retrieved from
  • Capozzi, S. (2015). Acceptance Speech to the Ventura County Autism Society. Retrieved from
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, March 31). Retrieved from
  • Davis, L. J. (2011). Why is disability missing from the discourse on diversity? Chronicle of Higher Education, 58(6), B38-B40. Retrieved from
  • Hall, L., & Belch, H. (2000). Setting the context: Reconsidering the principles of full participation and meaningful access for students with disabilities. In H. A. Belch (Ed.), Serving students with disabilities, No. 91(1). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Kalambouka, A., Farrell, P., Dyson, A., & Kaplan, I. (2007). The impact of placing pupils with special educational needs in mainstream schools on the achievement of their peers. Educational Research, 49(4), 365-382. doi:10.1080/00131880701717222
  • Kurth, J. A. (2015). Educational placement of students with autism. Focus On Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities, 30(4), 249-256. doi:10.1177/1088357614547891
  • Matthews, N., Ly, A., & Goldberg, W. (2015). College students’ perceptions of peers with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 45(1), 90-99. doi:10.1007/s10803-014-2195-6
  • Myers, J., Ladner, J., & Koger, S. (2011). More than a passing grade: fostering positive psychological outcomes for mainstreamed students with autism. Journal of Developmental & Physical Disabilities, 23(6), 515-526. doi:10.1007/s10882-011-9242-4
  • National Autism Association. (2016). Retrieved from
  • National Institutes of Health (2010). Workshop on nonverbal school-aged children with autism. Retrieved from
  • Pinder-Amaker, S. (2014). Identifying the unmet needs of college students on the autism spectrum. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 22(2), 125-137.
  • Raue, K., & Lewis, L. (2011). Students with disabilities at degree-granting postsecondary institutions: First look. NCES 2011-018. National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from
  • Roux, A. M., Shattuck, P. T., Rast, J. E., Rava, J. A., Edwards, A. D., Wei, X., McCracken, M. & Yu, J. W. (2015). Characteristics of two-year college students on the autism spectrum and their support services experiences. Autism Research & Treatment, 1-10. doi:10.1155/2015/391693
  • Shattuck, P., Narendorf, S. C., Cooper, B., Sterzing, P. R., Wagner, & M., Taylor, J. (2012). Postsecondary education and employment among youth with an autism spectrum disorder. Pediatrics, 129(6): 1-8.
  • United States Autism and Asperger Association. (2013). About US college autism project (USCAP). Retrieved from
  • VanBergeijk, E., Klin, A., & Volkmar, F. (2008). Supporting more able students on the autism spectrum: College and beyond. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 38(7), 1359-1370. doi:10.1007/s10803-007-0524-8

About the Authors
Beth Brennan earned her Ph.D. in Special Education in 1997 from Kent State University. Dr. Brennan joined the California Lutheran University faculty in 2011 as an Associate Professor. She currently serves as Associate Dean and Director of Special Education Programs in the Graduate School of Education. Dr. Brennan has worked in supervision and research at Family Child Learning Center in Ohio (a collaborative of Kent State University and Akron Children’s Hospital), as a site coordinator (San Francisco State University) with the Early Childhood Research Institute on Inclusion, and as the Special Education Program Director at Saint Mary’s College of California. Dr. Brennan is a Founding Co-Director of the Autism and Communication Center at California Lutheran University.

Please e-mail inquiries to Beth Brennan.

Edlyn Peña earned her Ph.D. in Education with a concentration in Higher Education in 2007 from the University of Southern California (USC).  After teaching graduate level courses at USC for several years, Dr. Peña joined the California Lutheran University (CLU) faculty in 2009. As an Associate Professor in Higher Education Leadership at CLU, her research currently focuses on social justice issues for students with disabilities, particularly autism, in the preschool through higher education pipeline. Dr. Peña is a Founding Co-Director of the Autism and Communication Center at California Lutheran University.

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.

Accreditation: Learning through a Participatory Process


Accreditation: Learning through a Participatory Process
Keith E. Davidson Jr., Indiana University of Pennsylvania

The Commission for Assessment and Evaluation (CAE) is pleased to sponsor this “Views of Assessment” series. Focusing on the experiences of student affairs educators working with assessment, the series highlights reflections from practitioners at different levels in their careers – graduate student, new professional, mid-level, and senior student affairs officer (SSAO). Each article offers rich narratives, personal experiences, and professional examples, as well as instructive wisdom and advice related to assessment practices and implementation. The first article in the series is from Keith Davidson about his experience with the accreditation process at the university level. Writing with candor, Keith’s insights are valuable for professionals wanting to understand more about the assessment process and how they can get involved.

Once every ten years institutions of higher education are asked to embark upon a journey of self-exploration as part of the regional accreditation process. This process generally involves conducting thorough research of the institution to develop a comprehensive self-study document outlining how the institution is in compliance with the accreditor’s standards. In addition, a team of external reviewers also evaluates the institution during an intensive site visit to make their determination as to whether the institution is in compliance. As accreditation is directly tied to an institution’s ability to offer federal financial aid, many in higher education have distaste for the process. As a result, few employees elect to understand the benefits of performing the accreditation process and fewer yet choose to get involved.

According to Racine (n.d.), the development of a self study is “a collaborative and participatory process” (p. 109). In my experience as a graduate assistant working directly with accreditation, Racine’s statement is accurate; however, I think it is more applicable to say the entire process is collaborative and participatory. Unfortunately, the ten-year accreditation cycle and its negative connotation means many graduate students, new professionals, and even mid-level managers may not even know what it is or have an opportunity to get involved until late in their careers. In this next section, I will briefly explain accreditation and share some of my experiences with accreditation as a graduate student to emphasize the learning opportunity this process can provide for those at any level of their student affairs career.

What is Accreditation?
Accreditation as a general term can refer to two different processes by which institutions and programs receive a seal of approval from an external agency. The first form of accreditation, called specialized accreditation, refers specifically to an agency which reviews specific programs, typically academic programs, and provides them with some form of recognition for meeting the agency’s standard (CHEA, 2002). While specialized accreditation is more commonly the realm of academic affairs, regional accreditation impacts the entire institution and is the form of accreditation that will be discussed from this point forward. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA, 2002) defined regional accreditation as a process in which institutions undergo a critical self-assessment and external peer review in order to ensure quality control and assurance. While this definition seems straightforward, it is much more complicated in practice as there are six regional accreditors, each with their own standards and procedures for how to conduct the process.

While each regional accreditor has its own process, there are some aspects of accreditation that are common among them all. For starters, accreditation is a process that occurs in full every ten years with follow-up reports typically around the five-year mark. As a part of the process, institutions must develop a critical self-assessment document that, at minimum, addresses the agencies’ standards of accreditation. A second part of the process includes providing evidence to the agency that the institution is in compliance with all accreditation-relevant federal regulations (MSCHE, 2015). Following the completion of these two areas the agency will select a team of 8-12 peer reviewers to conduct a site visit and review of the institution’s self-study document. The review team will then deliver a report to the regional accreditor who will make a decision regarding the institution’s status with the agency that may include requirements to develop follow-up reports or include subsequent team visits.

In my experience, one of the biggest questions about accreditation that comes up is, “why should we care?” One of the simplest answers to this question—and the one most often stated by administrators—is failure to meet regional accreditation standards results in the inability of an institution to participate in the federal financial aid system. A better answer is the process allows for institutions to gather evidence that highlights the strengths and weaknesses of both institutional and departmental level missions and goals. The analysis of weaknesses is perhaps the most important part of the process as the self study is also the place to put forward recommendations for future improvements. The process can also be an opportunity to develop an institutional culture of assessment and continual improvement if one does not already exist. Accreditation is not meant to be a one-time event that appeases accreditors; rather, it is meant to develop goals for which the institution will be held accountable for over the next ten years.

An institution’s self study document is the most important part of the accreditation process as it represents the institution’s past to the peer review team and starts the process of preparing for the institution’s future. The development of the document should not be an initiative undertaken by the institution’s administration; instead, the document should be created by the collaborative efforts of all members of the institution. Unfortunately, many in higher education are uninformed about accreditation, which leads to them not participating in the process (Wood, 2006).
A comprehensive self-study document is one of the ultimate forms of assessment. To develop the document, a multitude of different data gathering techniques are required such as survey, historical document review, focus groups, interviews, and many more. Given all of the different forms of information collection that are necessary, it should be apparent why individuals from all areas of higher education are needed to participate in the process. Relying on only a finite group of individuals would result in a lack of understanding of the various areas techniques. Furthermore, a diverse group of individuals working on the process increases the likelihood that someone will be an expert on a specific methodology and able to improve data collection in that area.

In my experience, picking the individuals who lead the development of a self study involves more politics than any other institutional initiative. To provide some context for this, consider that most self study documents are developed by a steering committee which generally creates subcommittees to research and write reports on the various standards of accreditation. Now, think about your institution and pick a team of 20 to 30 people from across divisions that would need to be on that committee. My guess is you will find this is not something you can do in five minutes off the top of your head. When it comes down to selecting the steering committee, a lot of factors go into consideration, and that is where politics comes into play. If you work in student affairs, your list would probably include people like the vice president, dean of students, director of housing, and so on; however, appointing 10 people from student affairs and leaving only 10-20 seats left for the other divisions is not providing an equal representation for all campus constituencies.

Decisions have to be made at this level of the process that involve saying the composition of the committee has to be this in order for everyone to be represented fairly. In some cases, one group may need to have more representation than another area because the institution’s mission or values are more heavily centered in that area. This can be where “territory” really starts to come out of employees. For example, not selecting the director of student housing for a spot on the committee may result in someone in that area saying, “My area clearly is not important to the institution.” However, that is not the case. I think the take home message from this section, regardless of position or experience level, is just because your area does not have a direct representative does not mean it is not important. Instead, consider that an appointment to an assessment committee at this level is an appointment to represent a wide campus constituency. Therefore, the three representatives from student affairs who do get appointed to the committee have a duty to represent all areas of student affairs and not just their respective office.

Expanding Your Understanding
While the steering committee may coordinate the accreditation process and the development of the self study, it is often necessary to divide out the work further. Creating subcommittees that are tasked with researching, collecting data, and developing an informed response about one or more of the accrediting agency’s standards generally accomplish this. Similar to the steering committee, the subcommittees often include representatives from various areas of the campus. These committees are often the opportunity for professionals at different levels in their career to get involved. In addition to being an opportunity to represent your office or department, these committees can be an opportunity for an individual to highlight their area of expertise and gain additional institutional knowledge about that area or it can be an opportunity to learn about an entirely new area.

I had the opportunity to work on a subcommittee that was outside of my area of knowledge shortly after starting as a graduate student. The subcommittee I was on covered two different standards that focused on planning, resources, and institutional renewal. Going into the experience during my first semester of graduate school I knew very little about these topics, and the topic of resources meant money in my mind. By the end of the semester, I felt fairly knowledgeable about university monetary resources, but also with the various other resources such as facilities and human. Specifically, with monetary resources, I gained significant knowledge about the limitations put on funding from different sources. For example, I did not realize that funding—at least for my institution—set aside for construction could only be used for that purpose and could not be used to balance out debt in other areas. During subsequent semesters of my graduate program, I was able to utilize the information from the experience to add to classroom discussions and my class assignments. Through this application of the knowledge I was also able to provide my classmates, most of whom worked in more traditional student affairs assistantships, with information about the greater operations of the university.

Institutional Culture of Assessment
In many cases, the subcommittees need to request and analyze assessment data and reports from various offices and departments in order to conduct their research into the standards. For anyone involved on these committees, this can provide a great illustration for the institution’s culture of assessment. According to Henning (2015), a culture of assessment is “a set of pervasive actions and behaviors by staff across an organization, focusing on the use of data in decision making regarding the accountability and improvement of programs and services” (pp. 11-12). Using this definition, subcommittees, which are able to readily find data, reports, and evidence of improvement based on that information, are probably at an assessment positive institution. However, the inability to find this information may be an indication that one of the institution’s weaknesses involves assessment and the emphasis that is placed upon it.

While culture of assessment can be an institutional term, it can also be used to describe divisions, departments, or units (Henning, 2015). While the previous scenario addressed an institutional level culture of assessment, my experiences in my assistantship illustrated more about the culture of assessment within individual offices and departments. Going back to one of my previous topics, politics are also very prevalent in understanding the culture of assessment. For example, no one ever wants to see their department’s issues exposed, and if those topics are brought up as part of a subcommittee’s research the conversations can get pretty heated. In these discussions, it also becomes easy to identify the units that time and time again takes hits to their resources. In many of the cases I observed, programs or offices which were targeted by resource decreases in the past were able to provide more data and evidence of the importance of their programs and how they contribute to student learning outcomes than those programs which where seldom plagued with resource decreases. Essentially, these offices’ prior experience with resource targeting resulted in them recognizing the need to provide tangible evidence of their programs’ success and importance. This in turn led to them developing stronger assessment plans for continual improvement. The establishing of the assessment cycle and use of the data for continual improvement led to a stronger culture of assessment being present within these offices.

Overall, I think the message I took home from this part of my experience was to ingrain assessment into the day-to-day operations of your job. The units I observed which developed a strong culture of assessment from their past experiences did this and as such they were able to provide information that was relevant and useable. They were not conducting assessment processes just for the sake of their annual review or the institution’s accreditation cycle. They were conducting it as a way of improving themselves and defending the outcomes their area has on students.

Role of Student Affairs Professionals
One of my overarching themes throughout this article has been assessment should not be done for the sake of accreditation. Instead, accreditation is a process by which previously gathered information is collected and reviewed in relation to the standards of the accreditor. If anything, the full scale institutional review involved in accreditation should indicate where weaknesses are present, and allow the institution to set goals for addressing those weaknesses over the next ten years.

Accreditation may seem to be too broad to impact the day-to-day operations of student affairs professionals; however, our work is directly connected to the development and learning of our students. As such, it is our responsibility to ensure we connect our work to the accreditation process and ensure our services meet the standards expected by accrediting bodies. The following are my tips for student affairs professionals with regards to accreditation:
· Get involved – Accreditation is a participatory process, but it is only participatory if people choose to get involved. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone and participate in the process to show commitment to your institution and develop professionally. Getting involved does not have to be as intense as joining a committee. Simply participating in an interview or providing feedback on the self study document are less time committed processes to introduce you to accreditation.
· Ingrain assessment in your work – Accreditation relies on the knowledge and information that has been collected since the last review cycle. By building assessment into your day-to-day job duties, you not only assist in the accreditation process, but you also help improve your department by collecting data that is used to improve your programs and show the importance of your work.
· Stay informed – Even if you do not get involved in the accreditation process, at least take the time to understand your institution’s process and keep up-to-date on what is being done. Accreditation impacts every single campus constituent, and knowing what is occurring not only benefits you, but also your office and students.

Regional accreditation is potentially one of the most complex processes experienced by faculty, staff, and administrators at institutions of higher education. While it may only occur every ten years, the process of preparing the self study may take as much as three or four years of work. When you add in that an extensive progress report is generally due around year five and requires some preparatory time itself, it becomes apparent that the accreditation cycle never truly ends. Essentially institutions are constantly engaged in accreditation activities and by the nature of the process assessment related ventures. As student affairs professionals, it is imperative to assist institutions in this process by not only conducting assessments, but also using the data to close the loop and improve the performance and value of our areas. Our role is likely to continue to grow in this process as a result of recent calls by the federal government for accreditors to change their processes to improve institutional accountability. Many of these calls for change push for a greater emphasis on return on investment data such as job placement rates, average graduate salary, and percent of graduates pursing graduate education. Other changes already in discussion include requiring greater annual data be submitted to accreditors by institutions, and shortening the ten-year cycle. Regardless of what accreditation’s future holds, the culture of assessment inherent to the process is something to be embraced by student affairs professionals as it can lead to positive impacts for our students.

Discussion Questions
1. Where is my institution currently at in the accreditation cycle? What areas where previously selected for improved during the last review?
2. How does my involvement in the accreditation and associated assessment processes benefit the students I serve?
3. What is the culture of assessment within my office? Division? Institution?
4. How can I help build a culture of assessment within my office, division, and/or institution, and what skills or resources would I need to do this?


  • Council for Higher Education Accreditation (2002). The fundamentals of accreditation: What do you need to know? Retrieved from
  • Henning, G. W. (2015). Tenet two: Cultivating a culture of assessment. In K. K. Yousey-Elsener, E. M. Bentrim, & G. W. Henning (Eds.), A practical guide: Coordinating student affairs divisional assessment (pp. 11-34). Sterling, VA: Stylus.
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (2015). Verification of compliance with accreditation-relevant federal regulations: Implementation for 2016. Philadelphia, PA: Author.
  • Racine, M. B. (n.d.). Writing a self study report. In Institutional development: Added value through program assessment (Sec. 1.5.1, pp. 107-110). Plainfield, IL: Pacific Crest Faculty Development Series.
  • Wood, A. L. (2006). Demystifying accreditation: Action plans for a national or regional accreditation. Innovative Higher Education, 31, 43-62.

About the Author
Keith E. Davidson Jr. is currently in his first year as an Academic Counselor at Frostburg State University. He is a May 2016 graduate from Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s (IUP) Master of Arts program in Student Affairs in Higher Education. During his time at IUP, he was the graduate assistant for the Office of the Provost’s Associate for Academic Programs and Planning and spent a considerable amount of time assisting with preparations for the institution’s spring 2016 decennial review with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. He holds a B.S. degree in chemistry from Frostburg State University.

Please e-mail inquiries to Keith E. Davidson.

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.

In Pursuit of a Diverse Community


In Pursuit of a Diverse Community
Donna Lee, ACPA President

As we open our campuses to usher in a new academic year, we recognize that we are starting this year at one of the most tumultuous and challenging times in recent years. This has been an especially difficult summer: terrorist attacks around the world, shootings of unarmed black men, attacks on police protecting demonstrators, targeted killing of LGBTQ people, and a presidential campaign in which we hear messages of violence and hate. All of these events and challenges have had an indelible impact on each of us. And it is clear that we all have much to learn as we engage in difficult dialogues in our diverse communities. But have we truly nurtured this diverse community on our campuses?

The process of creating a diverse community is an amorphous one – dynamic and ever changing. Earlier initiatives to diversify our campuses have focused exclusively on demographics and increasing numbers of historically underrepresented populations on campus, especially racial groups. Other approaches have been aimed at developing programs, initiatives, and services, all designed to help students from underrepresented populations succeed in a dominant culture. The deficit in these exclusive approaches is that diversity is perceived as an end – a stagnant, fixed outcome.

Many campuses have since begun to recognize the need to embrace an approach that conceptualizes diversity as core and essential to the mission to educate students for responsible and engaged citizenship and leadership in local and global communities. As such, diversity must become part of the fabric of our institutions, connected and integrated into all aspects of our learning communities. Respect and value for diversity should be reflected in our social interactions, our practices, programs, resources and services, and in a curriculum that represents a body of knowledge that spans diverse cultures, traditions, histories, and values. An important part of the process is a critical assessment of what we are teaching, how we are teaching it, who is doing the teaching, and the contexts in which the learning occurs. How well does our curriculum – in and out of the classroom – teach students about diverse groups? Are students given opportunities to reflect on their own identities, heritage, and cultural traditions? Do we provide knowledge of social issues such as power and privilege, bias, and discrimination? Do we relate diversity issues to students’ majors? Do we prepare students to work with people from different cultural backgrounds? Do we challenge our students to consider the implications of diverse worldviews, perceptions, and values? Do we provide opportunities for students to engage in dialogue across difference? A diverse community is one that is inclusive, welcoming, and respectful in which each member values difference, and at the same time, this diverse community affirms the central importance of our common humanity.

The emergence of a truly diverse campus involves incremental and progressive change. Although diversity issues are broader than merely increasing numbers, progress in educating all students to effectively engage in a diverse and global society can be especially challenging in an environment that is culturally and ethnically homogenous. Underrepresented populations cannot be expected to conform and assimilate into the mainstream culture; instead, all populations should be able to merge to form an integrated campus community that is culturally synergistic, a campus community in which all are affirmed and valued. Boyer (1990) describes this community: “a place where freedom of expression is uncompromisingly protected and where civility is powerfully affirmed” (p.17); “a place where the well-being of each member is sensitively considered” (p.47); “a place where the sacredness of each person is honored and where diversity is aggressively pursued” (p.25).

As we aggressively seek and recruit diverse students, it is imperative that we challenge ourselves to consider the following: Are we prepared to educate a diverse population? Is our campus environment one in which members from underrepresented populations can thrive? Are our curricula, our practices, and pedagogies appropriate for these populations? Of equal importance is the diversity of our faculty and staff. On many campuses, as the racial and ethnic diversity of student populations have experienced steady growth, the same growth among our faculty and professional staff is not seen. The presence of a diverse faculty and staff body provides students with diverse role models and mentors, opportunities to learn from different perspectives and voices, and exposure to new ways of knowing and learning. The research literature suggests that student engagement with diversity not only is related to changes in attitudes, openness to difference, and commitments to social justice, but it is also related to satisfaction, academic success, and cognitive development for all students (Taylor, Apprey, Hill, McGrann, & Wang, 2010). To this end, as we consider issues of diversity and multiculturalism and create dynamic learning environments, we must adopt a comprehensive approach that includes the following components:

1. Learning experiences that expand all students’ knowledge of multiculturalism and its implications as they are prepared to engage in their communities – both local and global;
2. Programs, services, and resources that recognize and address the developmental needs and learning styles of diverse populations;
3. Aggressive strategies to intentionally diversify the campus community. A campus community that is rich in its diversity – across multiple identities – provides the container for this multicultural education, outreach, and support to occur.

Recognizing this need for a comprehensive approach, attention must be given to the inclusion of underrepresented populations, support and outreach to these groups, campus climate issues, the inclusion of diversity in the curriculum – in and out of the classroom. Strategies must be aimed at seeking multiple perspectives and voices, promoting growth through dialogue in the campus community, the curriculum and the classroom, creating linkages between the in class and out of class learning, and building connections between the campus and local and global communities, understanding the systemic issues related to diversity, power, and privilege, and developing a heightened sense of commitment to create positive social change. And the work of creating a diverse community must be shared by all in that community. While departments and administrators focused on diversity play a crucial role, the responsibility for thinking about the implications of diversity must be distributed much more broadly among students, staff and faculty, and administrators. And diversity must be reflected in mission statements, strategic plans, campus priorities, decision-making, and resource allocations.

Our campuses are embedded in a society wracked by ongoing challenges that are deep and confusing and from whose conflicts, violence, and pain they will never be immune. But our campuses are powerful learning containers in which we should aspire both to model what our world could be and to educate those who will be the ones who will improve it. The vision should be to create a campus community that can engage across difference, cultivate empathy, have conversations of respect, and learn and grow from each other as we educate ourselves for a diverse world and create positive social change through a shared responsibility in support of the common good.

In the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.
John F. Kennedy
Commencement Address at American University, June 10 1963

Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. New York, NY: The
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Taylor, O., Apprey, C. B., Hill, G., McGrann, L., & Wang, J. (2010). Diversifying the faculty. Peer
Review, 12(3). Retrieved from

Creating a Culture of Advocacy at the Intersection of Avoidance & Adversity


Creating a Culture of Advocacy at the Intersection of Avoidance & Adversity

by Cindi Love, ACPA Executive Director

How can we, as higher education & student affairs professionals, advocate for full equity & inclusion at the institutional-level?

How can we answer the call for transformation of structural oppression?

How can we demonstrate more effectively the critical role of co-curricular engagement in the realization of human dignity?

There are a few basic activities that seem to catalyze and sustain positive change that I want to share within our higher education community. And, there are some harsh realities.

We are not keeping pace with other global institutions in diversity, equity and inclusion. Many very large for-profit and multinational corporations have been forced to do better because their profits depend on market leadership with finely tuned global acuity and cultural competence.

When I came to work at ACPA in March 2014, the Executive Team of the Governing Board asked me to conduct an organizational audit of effectiveness based on mission, vision and core values. I did so. One of the tools that I used for these types of audits is the Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks (GDIB), a platform launched ten years ago by the Diversity Collegium ( to help corporations and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) systematically address discrimination in their organizations.

At JLM 2014, I reviewed the results with our leaders. We scored slightly below the 50 percent level between Level 2 Reactive and Level 3 Proactive. There was evidence of stalemate in some areas including:

  • Response to the voices and needs of our native, aboriginal and indigenous members
  • Pathways to leadership for persons of color
  • Accessibility for persons with disabilities
  • Full inclusion of LGBT persons
  • Response to the voices and needs of people with certain religious, spiritual and secular identities

Following the 2014 organizational audit, another group of leaders at JLM 2015 completed two sections of the GDIB: (1) D&I Vision, Strategy and Business Case and (2) Leadership and Accountability.

We again scored slightly below 50 percent. The Leadership Pathways Project, Elders in Residence Program, Developmental Pathways to Trans Inclusion on College Campuses, Community Conversations on Racism, the ACPA Bias Protocol and Deconstructing Racism in the Academy Series were all developed to improve our organizational performance in equity and inclusion.

We’ve made progress and we have a lot of work to do.  It is important to understand and accept that inclusion is not a one-time effort or exercise, a project or a program.  It is, in many ways, at the very heart of student affairs work.

Over a decade, use of the GDIB has revealed that organizations must systematically measure what they really want to change. They must understand and identify benchmarks for diversity and inclusion within the macro view of the social and political system and climate in which they operate and in which they are planning transformation. We need only read the headlines about higher education to discern why this external scan is so important.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer, and campus communities may address the same issues from very different religious and socio-political perspectives. These issues must also be viewed against the backdrop of rapid social change, substantial polarization in the political arena, political challenges to the freedoms of expression and religion, and high-profile instances of violence and terrorism. Catalytic events—even those that take place far from a campus—unrecognized needs, and pent-up demand. (AGB, p. 16)

Leaders have to locate themselves within this working environment and ask questions of themselves.  Are they catalyst, compliant or conformist?  Are they committed to creating cultures of advocacy or avoidance?  Are they focused more on risk management than students and staff at risk?  We have to continue to ask the same questions of ourselves as association members.

There is more pressure to commit to diversity, equity and inclusion than there has been in the past. The Association of Governing Boards makes very few public statements to trustees, but on August 25, 2016, they issued CAMPUS CLIMATE, INCLUSION, and CIVILITY.

I highly recommend that you read it cover to cover.  If you do not serve on a Board of Trustees, take a copy to your SSAO, President, Provost or Chancellor and ask them to read it if they have not.

The AGB Board of Directors, in approving this important statement, realizes that some of the recommended practices presented herein will raise concerns. Some will prompt difficult conversations and will challenge boards to address the questions that result. However, governing bodies bear ultimate responsibility to ensure that effective policies are in place and followed in order to uphold institutional mission, values, and educational quality for all who are part of their institutional community.

I was invited to serve on the AGB Task Force that helped identify the complexity of issues, fundamental values and foundational principles that anchor the statement.  Artis Hampshire-Cowan, AGB Senior Fellow and former senior vice president and secretary at Howard University is to be commended for her thought leadership and facilitation.  As you can imagine, the dialogue was intense.

Bottom line, the Report confirms what the GDIB case studies for the past decade reveal, that commitment and action to achieve diversity, equity and inclusion must emanate first and continuously from “the top.” This transformation cannot be delegated to a Director or Division or Department. It belongs first to the people with the most resistance to change and the power to change.  This leadership makes all the difference in whether a campus pursues real equity and inclusion or not.

I was very proud that Fred P. Pestello was chosen for a central quote in the statement.  He is President of Saint Louis University, an ACPA member institution, home of past-President Kent Porterfield and the place where we filmed Deconstructing Racism in the Academy after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

I recommend that you watch his interview on ACPA Video on Demand, and I want to share his quote from the AGB report.

At the outset, we simply talked and listened to one another. We worked to find areas of understanding and agreement— and not dwell on our differences. Throughout those discussions, we in positions of leadership strove to speak using the poetry of compassion, respect, and dignity, rather than the prose of fear, power, and threats.

Fred P. Pestello President, Saint Louis University

Well said.

Presidential Remarks Delivered at the 2016 Convention

Donna LeePresidential Remarks Delivered at the 2016 Convention

From the President

Donna Lee, ACPA President

Ubuntu. I am because we are. I am because we are. Ubuntu is a beautiful concept in African culture. At its most basic, Ubuntu can be translated as “human kindness” but its meaning is more vast and carries so much more depth – it embodies connection, community, and mutual caring for all. Ubuntu is about the essence of being human…for caring, sharing, and being in harmony with each other. Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes, “a person is a person through other persons, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours. You seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in community, in belonging.” And when I reflect upon my life’s journey, and the experiences and encounters leading up to this moment at which I stand before you, I am struck by the power of Ubuntu. I am because we are.

I have never been able to forecast where the steps I took in life would lead me, but I have always trusted in my inner voice, my intuition, my spirit to lead me to those destinations I am meant for.  If you had asked me several years ago if I saw myself as a dean or as a vice president, or now as the President of ACPA – College Student Educators International I would have said, “no way!” Yet, now I stand here as the 77th President of our Association, the 7th African-American to step into this position of service.

I must first pay homage to and honor those who have come before me, who through their acts, words, and deeds, have forged and paved paths, opened doors, and created spaces for me to be the woman I am today. I thank them for the strength of their shoulders, allowing me to stand upon them. I give honor to those who have trail blazed a path for me to be here, especially my mother and my grandmother. I pay homage to May L. Cheney, Mary T. Howard, and Anne S. Pruitt, women who made it possible for me to stand here before you today. I have a responsibility to hold close by these pieces of my history. And I have the responsibility to exalt those values that enabled these phenomenal women to persevere. The tears once held back by my ancestors can be shed, but now as tears of joy that come from knowing that their energies have been transformed into the hope that we see represented in our present.

It is important that I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today. I pay my respects to their elders past and present.

 I honor those in my present – sisters like Patty Perillo, who honored me with her generous introduction and who has been a source of friendship, inspiration, and love throughout the years…and the colleagues, friends, and leaders throughout our Association who have supported and nourished me, especially over this past year, my colleagues on the Governing Board, members of the Assembly, the staff of the International Office, and brothers like Kent Porterfield and Gavin Henning whose sage and gentle leadership have guided and paved a way forward for our Association. I thank the professionals and friends with whom I have been privileged to serve at Rollins College, Agnes Scott, and now at my new home, Macalester College. I thank those in my present for their powerful arms and hands outstretched to steady and guide me. I honor those who will come after me – I ready my shoulders to hold them up.

I am because we are.

I am Donna Lee. I sign my name using my middle initial A…for Ann. I use the pronouns she, her, hers. I am a woman of color, single mother of a beautiful brown boy, educator, change agent, feminist.  I am reminded by Audre Lorde that I am the product of my multiple identities and the intersections between and among them. I am from New York, oldest child of a working-class family, the product of a multiracial family – confusing and sometimes hurtful as I was too dark in some worlds and too light in others. As a young girl, I was a very introverted child, reflective and pensive. I attended parochial school during my early years. I remember my teacher giving a lesson on love. “God’s love is everywhere,” she said.  “He watches over all that is good.  God watches over his children. God will never let you fall, never let you get hurt.”  As I looked down at my scarred and scabbed knees – knees that suffered from my many falls from the tree in my back yard or where I hit the sidewalk as I was running or skipping, or the numerous times I would fall off my neon green bike with the banana seat. As I looked at my knees I questioned my own worth, my own place in the world.

    When I was teased by my white peers about the color of my skin…skin that they called dirty, and my hair that they called “Brillo,” my beautiful grandmother helped me to embrace and love my beautiful brown skin and my lovely coiled hair that I could style in oh so many wonderful ways. My journey of self-discovery took me to the military, where I discovered my voice as a woman, an education at a small, private liberal arts institution, where I discovered my niche, a degree in counseling where I discovered a passion for empowering others to be their best selves…all these things helped me to define and get a sense of who I am. My calling, my responsibility in life is to make the world a better place, and I have found a vocation that enables me to use my gifts and abilities to touch the lives of others in ways that are transformative.

I am a work in progress. At times, my confidence wavers. I make mistakes. Fear and self doubt sometimes invade my psyche. I remember my surprise when asked to serve in the role of interim dean. I think part of this was attributed to the fact that most of the models for me in this role were white men in suits.  I have typically worked in predominately white environments, and I have always been very aware of the impact my presence had on my colleagues – I usually wear my hair in braids, twists, or cornrows; my jewelry is ethnic, and my dress is not always considered to be conservative.  I know that for some, my presence makes them nervous…makes them uncomfortable…

When I transitioned into the role of a SSAO, I was advised that I would need to take out my “dreds” if I wanted to be successful…I was wearing cornrows.

I felt blessed to have been selected to serve as a VPSL, but experienced conflicting feelings about my role. It was an honor to be recognized as that college’s first black vice president, but at the same time, I was troubled by the fact that in the 21st century that my brown face was a cause for celebration.

I continue to agonize over the fact that there is still much work to accomplish across our institutions of higher learning.  I have been vividly aware of the lack of a critical mass of faces like mine in key roles, and often I am the only brown face at the table.  Because of this, I sometimes feel an enormous pressure to represent.

Reflection carries the connotation of bending back, mirroring, and returning to oneself.  It calls upon each of us to look, examine, turn and return, and bend our understanding of self and the impact we make.  It was the birth of my son, Jonathan, that gave me greater pause to engage in this bending, mirroring, and understanding who I am, who I will be, what I am purposed to do. When I looked into his innocent eyes, I was filled with almost an unbearable and conflicting mix of emotions…overwhelming love and joy and a profound sense of peace and connection… and at the same time, a sense of guilt and pain…and fear. I had just brought an innocent life into a fractured world…a world that would judge him for the color of his skin…a world plagued by chaos, devastation, and strife. I realized quickly that the fear I was feeling was obscuring the hope that could be. And as I look again into the innocent eyes of my son, I recognize the light of the future breaking over him, and I realize my responsibility in doing my part now…in the present…to make the world a better place. To do my part in mending our world.

My story is the why of my work…why I show up the way that I do. My story informs how I construct my identity, make choices, take action. My story tells why I feel called to serve. But I am because we are. And it’s the weavings of our collective stories that become the tapestry that is ACPA. And the story of ACPA…the story of us is a compelling one.

We serve as part of a noble profession, one that transforms lives, transforms communities, transforms our world. Our work is intentional, grounded in theory and guided by best practices. ACPA is a community of learners, educators, professionals, colleagues, and friends with a shared commitment to being instruments of change. Our story is one that is rooted in a history of dignity, equity, inclusion, and justice that goes all the way back to the time when 9 bold women noticed a gap and filled it. Evolving out of the disciplines of counseling and human development, we have remained steadfast as we are guided and defined by those things we value: our students and their learning, diversity and multicultural competence, dignity and respect, openness, inclusion, access, involvement, growth, outreach, advocacy, and action.

Our story is one of community.  The root meaning of community is derived from the Latin word, communitatus, meaning “the changes or exchanges that connect people.”  The earliest form of connection among groups of people was seen in the social divisions within traditional and indigenous societies. Kinship was at the center, and there was a distinct sense of identity and belonging, a sense that strengthened its members’ ability to bond and survive.  Life was profoundly egalitarian.  Hierarchies, dominant groups, class structures, and other status systems did not exist.  Leaders needed to be modest, generous, and selfless; leadership was transient and situational.  The process of making decisions was open to all as all voices were welcomed and valued.  Honor, respect, pride, dignity, and responsibility were core values.  Behaviors not aligned with these values were confronted quickly.  There was an emphasis on communal sharing, caring, and taking care of each other.  There was a spirit of cooperation and a genuine compassion for others.  There was an underlying ethic of reciprocity…you did not take something from another member without giving something in return. Life was cooperative and reciprocal. This is the same understanding behind the meaning of community: the changes that we go through, the exchanges we experience with others, the connections we make with one another, the ethic of care are the very things that nurture us, teach us, bond us, heal us.

And as we continue to nourish the things that make us ACPA, lifting up and weaving together the thousands of stories of us, we create our community, and in creating real community, we need to covenant with one another. We need to work together. We need to commit to an honorable reciprocity, never taking from one another without giving something of substance in return. At the core of a strong community is a genuine compassion for the welfare of others, a collective responsibility for the common good.

In an increasingly complex and global world, in a time where the issues and challenges of our world can feel overwhelming, I focus my attention on the light of the future – the work that we do, for what we do, what we teach is what will change the world. Our curriculum is one of hope and transformation…the light of the future. And as we work towards the common good, we must never forget the power that is ACPA…the interconnections among us, the importance of turning to one another to discover what we might create together, how we might help each other, how we might strengthen one another. The truth is that we can only persevere through challenges when we truly work together.

Three years ago, my friend Kent Porterfield reminded us of the transition we were experiencing as a community, describing the phases we would move through as we forged a way forward: the first of these being a “letting go” phase, a process of ending a former era; the second, the “in between,” a time of shaping new ways, a time of foundation-laying, of building, of creating new identities. Kent Porterfield and Gavin Henning shepherded us through these phases with a bold vision, a tireless energy, a passion for our work, and a lightness of touch. I am deeply indebted to them for their powerful leadership. Because of them, we are now moving into the third phase of that transition – the “new beginning,” a time when the seeds are beginning to sprout – new identities emerge, ideas are fully formed, the impact of changes are becoming visible.  It is with humility that I stand before you readying my back and shoulders to provide leadership as we embark upon this new and exciting phase in our Association.

All around us we can see the fruits of our labor:

Research and scholarship continues to ground, inform, shape, and guide our practice. It is a tenet of who we are and will continue to define our future and the future of higher education. We have made great strides in the promulgation of our research: About Campus, our scholarly magazine, will now have a wider reach via an online profile, and work is underway to use social media as a way to further engage readers. The Journal of College Student Development remains one of the most highly regarded journals in higher education, especially around issues of social justice, equity, and inclusion. Through our commissions, coalitions and networks, state and international chapters, senior scholars, task forces, and other entity groups, we promote scholarship and new knowledge in social justice education, student learning and success, assessment, global learning, mental health, sexual misconduct, and many other critical issues. As we look to the future, this commitment to research and scholarship must remain one of the highest of our priorities, and we will need to continue to invest in this priority, with a particular emphasis on linking our research and scholarship to our practice. We must continue to create opportunities for emerging scholars – both faculty and practitioners, supporting new research, exploring new ways to disseminate knowledge, enhancing existing initiatives, including research grants, programs like Dissertation of the Year, the Writers Workshop, and other opportunities aimed at amplifying the voices of our scholars.  This strategic investment is critical as we continue to shape and impact policy and practice in the field.

Professional development remains a cornerstone of our Association, and we are on the cusp of harnessing the powerful ways it shows up throughout ACPA. A partnership with NASPA resulting in the publishing of Professional Competencies provides a roadmap for our professional development. MyPROfolio will innovate the manner in which we engage in our professional development, providing an intentional and universal tool to reflect on, document, and deliver learning and knowledge. As we continue to immerse ourselves in this new tool, reflective and reflexive practice will become our norm.

Our entity groups have been the major source of content for our digital platform, ACPA Video on Demand, significantly expanding the reach of information and making professional development more accessible to our members…and even beyond our membership; this past year, over 42,000 individuals accessed digital segments through this platform. We have an opportunity to package this work in such a way that positions ACPA as the go-to Association for professional development.

We held our largest Residential Curriculum Institute in our history and created a new model for the Donna Bourrassa Mid-Level Managers Institute, increasing revenues while maintaining the high quality curriculum. Perhaps this model is one that can be applied across our institutes.

Nurturing a community of mentors and mentoring relationships through the spectrum of our membership – practitioners to faculty, undergrads to senior professionals – is a unique and special part of who we are and is an integral part of the journey of growth and development. We will continue to develop strategies and create initiatives to support and lift up the beauty and power of mentoring.

Much work was done to get us to this point of having our first Convention outside of the U.S., and key partnerships with global leaders and educators have brought us closer to realizing who we are as ACPA – International. It is important that we continue to engage in a process of understanding what International means to us and how we can authentically live this out.  Following up on the work of the feedback group created earlier this year, we will begin to develop a salient plan to move forward. My commitment is to create a working group that will partner with me in this endeavor. If we are to be truly international in our membership and global in our scholarship and practice, it is critical that we continue to push beyond the borders of the U.S., but it is just as critical that we not proceed in ways that further marginalize any group. It is important to acknowledge that the impact of us being in this space today has meant that members of our community – in particular, structures exist that may exclude members who identify as Trans from being physically in community with us. This kind of dissonance is something we need to reconcile as we nourish the community we want to be.

It was with intentionality that I shared my story with you. It is through the sharing of our stories that we begin to connect across our common humanity. Each one of us has a compelling story to tell, and it is incumbent upon each of us to give space for those stories to be told and shared…to nourish strong relationships within our community…to weave together the story that is ACPA. In this endeavor, I encourage you to begin reflecting on your own story…who are you? What are those beliefs you hold close? What are those things that encourage your heart? Who are the people…what are the experiences that have shaped and defined you along your journey? What is your “why?” As leaders, we need to employ both our heads and our hearts in pursuit of building community and affecting positive change. I recognize, however, that because of issues related to power and privilege, bias and oppression, hierarchies and systems, some stories are not heard…or even told.  You may be familiar with StoryCorps. That initiative is a mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. The sharing of stories is “to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters.” I am committed to lifting up each of our stories, building on the work that has already been done: training and education of ACPA leadership, opening opportunities and casting a wider net to ensure diverse and representative voice in leadership roles, examining practices that may inadvertently create barriers to hearing our stories. The strength, power, and beauty of our community can be heard in the symphonic notes played by each individual member.  The work of the Leadership Pathways provides a foundation upon from which we can begin to think about ways that we can capture and project the stories that make up our community.

I also commit to engaging in a thoughtful process to review and assess our structures, our governance, and our practices, ensuring alignment with our core values and identifying strategies to enhance, transform, restructure as needed. We need to hone in on what matters to our community, getting really clear on who we are, clearly articulate our “why”, and then create the structures that will serve to advance us. The governing board has already begun to immerse themselves in these critical conversations. This undertaking will involve an intentional process of listening, gathering information, documenting experiences, finding where the gaps are, noticing where voices are missing, and engaging in an iterative and reflective feedback loop. This will take a shared commitment across our membership and a trust in each other and the process to create the community to which we aspire.

As we enter this “new beginning” savoring the fruits, continuing to water the seeds, preparing the soil for new crops, we must move forward with a fearlessness, for when we are fearless, we are motivated by what is in our hearts, and we remain grounded in our core values. Fearlessness also has love at its core, and this love is coupled with reflection and discernment, allowing us to move toward what is good and right. And in this unprecedented time in higher education where the work that we do is under such scrutiny and in a world that is getting increasingly complex and messy, the light of the future is in who we are as ACPA…an Association…a community with almost a 92 year legacy of values-based practice, research, and education, an Association that centers student learning and development, an Association whose commitment to equity, inclusion, and social justice is just what is needed to change the world. Moving in this fearlessness, we can define the agenda for higher education. Moving in this fearlessness, we can open, create, and shape the spaces that empower students to find, raise, and place their voices in the world in ways that are transformative.

The Hopi Elders share words of wisdom:

Here is a river flowing now very fast.

It is so great and swift,

That there are those who will be afraid,

Who will try to hold on to the shore,

They are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.

Know that the river has its destination.

The elders say we must let go of the shore,

Push off into the middle of the river,

And keep our heads above water.

And I say see who is there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history we are to take nothing personally,

Least of all ourselves, for the moment we do,

Our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over.

Gather yourselves.

Banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary.

All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

For we are the ones we have been waiting for.

And as I stand before you today I focus on the light of this powerful Association. I can let go of the shore and move forward with a fearlessness, inviting in what the world offers me, not seeking a destination, but my direction. I take time to breathe and pause, staying in my present, but with an eye to the future, staying focused on taking one step at a time. I wade fully into the water, keeping my head above, buoyed by the work, words, acts, and deeds of my foremothers and fathers, and supported by the outstretched arms and hands of the people around me. And with each step I continually ready my back and shoulders, making them strong for the next generation of leaders to stand on. Ubuntu. I am because we are.

Global Citizenship and Higher Education’s Responsibility

Global Citizenship and Higher Education’s Responsibility

Anne M. Hornak
Central Michigan University

International travel can be a powerful transformative experience. Colleges and universities all over the United States and internationally are seeking out opportunities to sponsor study abroad programs, partner with institutions across the globe, and expose students to other parts of the world through an educational experience. Student affairs professionals work closely with faculty, students, administrators, and many other college and university personnel to make sure these experiences are educationally valuable. Putting the experience into context in professional settings, classrooms, and everyday life is one of the most critical pieces to making these programs successful. As I sat down to write this article I was struggling with the question: is it our ethical responsibility in higher education to prepare students to be global citizens?

I am going to present reasons why higher education professionals may want to think about their responsibility in this domain. I want to begin with a story I recently heard that really resonated with my focus on cross cultural experiences and dialogue.

Joe’s Narrative

My friend Pam was flying home from Poland and she sat next to a middle aged man named Joe. She began talking to Joe and realized he was heading home to a small town in the Midwest where he was a machinist. He was talking about how excited he was to get home and see his family. Pam asked him what he was doing in Poland and he said he had been there for a year working on helping them set up some specialized machinery for a new production facility. He was asked to go because he is one of the only machinists qualified and specially trained to work with these machines. Pam was quite intrigued and asked about his time in Poland. Joe said originally he was only supposed not have spent 2 months in country to get the machines up and running. He ended up being there for a whole year. His family did not have the financial resources to visit. He has been home twice in the 12-month period.

Joe went on to talk about how incredibly unprepared he was to live and work in Poland. He did not speak the language, nor did he really have any clue about Polish culture. The company helped set up travel and accommodations for Joe, but little else was done to prepare him to live and work in this new culture.  He went on to tell Pam that when he first arrived he found it exciting and new. There were a couple of other individuals from the same company finishing up assignments, so he was able to gather some information and assistance in getting set up. After the first month his colleagues left and he felt he was pretty much on his own. Language was the biggest barrier. Navigating around the city to meet basics needs – groceries, transportation, communications with home were among a few of the issues Joe faced in the first few months. The next issues Joe faced were long bouts of depression related to having few friends and acquaintances. The language barrier was difficult to overcome to have any meaningful interactions with the native Polish people.

Joe discussed his community college experience and how having a certificate did not prepare him for his international experience. He told Pam how he never really anticipated doing much traveling and that he preferred to drive to locations in the United States, rather than living abroad for a year. It was difficult not having his basic needs met as well as being so far away and lonely. He now has a new appreciation for the idea of a global workforce. He stated it is critical for everyone to have some idea of how to live and work and in another culture. The community college he attended never even discussed this concept. He also noted that it should have been the responsibility of the company he worked for to help prepare him for this time abroad.

Preparing Students for Global Work

Joe’s situation and story is not at all uncommon in the global world we live in. In thinking about Joe’s story, what is the responsibility of higher education to prepare students to work and potentially live in a foreign land? Do we have an ethical and social responsibility to prepare every student for these opportunities? I would argue yes and that it is not that difficult even in the brief amount of time we have as we work to certificate students. Clearly some institutions have a stronger international footprint than others. For example, many four-year colleges or universities have the infrastructure to support international education as part of the organization.  However, helping students understand that importance of international and cross-cultural experiences does not have to include a trip abroad.

There are many avenues to help students understand the importance of what it means to be a global citizen without ever leaving campus. Here are two ideas for on campus programming to increase student understanding of global citizenship. Ideally the student affairs divisions should work collaboratively with the international affairs and study abroad offices to maximize the reach and impact.

Global Competency Workshop

This workshop would be designed to explore the idea of what it means to be a global citizen. The United Nations has a series of goals, named The Global Goals, that cut across disciplines. The goals are international challenges that require action and impact. The workshop could be designed around these goals with the objectives designed to help participants understand and begin to appreciate that being a global citizen requires a shared responsibility in solving problems.

Global Communications Workshop

This workshop would be designed to look at issues of communication across cultures. The objectives could be designed to offer students tools they need to be successful in engaging with people of diverse backgrounds and outlooks. The workshop would include three elements to effective intercultural communication. The first is awareness. If we want students to change anything about their own communication styles, they need to be aware of the nuances of how they communicate with others. The second step would be self-analysis. During this step, students spend time reflecting on their own communication styles in order to understand how to best interact with others. The final step is to expand ones repertoire. This includes offering students multiple communication tools to use and experiment with. When one technique is not working, try another tactic.

Partnerships and Collaborations

Many colleges and universities struggle to connect students to the resources they need to experience study internationally. Offering workshops on campus provides the opportunities for students to explore and exchange ideas about global citizenship. It provides a venue that is accessible for all students and if done effectively could build powerful partnerships across campus with international and domestic partners. Additionally, given our perpetual engagement with social media platforms, colleges and universities could easily connect with international partners to help facilitate and engage with participants without being on site.

Joe would have benefitted greatly from attending a workshop when he was a student at his community college. If he was given the opportunity to explore how to engage and communicate across cultures his comfort level may have increased during his time in Poland. Navigating across cultures can be exciting, but also difficult. The fear of making a mistake is ever present, as well as the threat of offending someone because of one’s own ignorance regarding differences. As student affairs professionals and educators, part of our responsibility should be to provide students the tools they need to be successful global citizens. We have both an ethical responsibility to the students earning an education, and an ethical responsibility to the employers who are hiring our students.

Going back to Joe, I do believe that his company also failed in helping prepare him to live and work in Poland. The company had an ethical responsibility in making sure Joe was ready for that experience and they failed in doing so. While this is a shortcoming of his company, this is also an opportunity for corporate America and colleges and universities to partner to meet this challenge. The focus on career readiness is ever present across higher education; preparing someone to work across borders is critical. Leveraging the skills and talents available on college campuses with the needs of corporate America should begin to meet the ethical responsibilities I argue are important for global citizenship.

Within higher education we strive to address big questions and give students the tools to solve complex problems. As we think about Joe and our responsibility to educate and prepare students to live within this complex global world, I reflect on the question I posed at the beginning of this article: is it our ethical responsibility in higher education to prepare students to be global citizens? I have offered some ideas to begin to ponder this question and challenge those reading this article to think about other ways to give students to the tools they need to be responsible global citizens.

Discussion Questions

  1. The term global citizen can be defined in many ways. How do you define global citizen within the work you do?
  2. We often talk about shared responsibilities on our campuses regarding personal and professional development. Think about ways to work collaboratively on your campus to create global conversations about skill development. What offices will you partner with to create these programs?
  3. What is the ethical responsibility of student affairs professionals to facilitate global engagement on their campuses? Whose responsibility is this on your campus?

About the Author

Anne M. Hornak is an Associate 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.

The Open Door to All: Can Community College’s Student Cohorts Truly Co-Exist?

The Open Door to All: Can Community College’s Student Cohorts Truly Co-Exist?

Marisa Vernon
Cuyahoga Community College

Open Access: A Melting Pot of Age, Experience, and Personal History

Within the state of Ohio, community colleges are busy welcoming an increased number of high school dual-enrolled students to our campuses. While community colleges have often served as the institutions of choice for high school partnership programs, recent changes to the former Post-Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) program have nudged many community colleges to revamp these relationships in order to adhere to new statewide standards.

The Ohio Department of Education has made strides in standardizing the state’s previously widely varied dual enrollment programs, thus extending the higher education experience to increased numbers of high school students. This standardization benefits students, colleges, and school districts by establishing guidelines for program delivery, structure, and funding formulas throughout the state.

Perhaps one of the most profound details within Ohio’s new College Credit Plus program (hereafter referred to as CCP) refers to the population eligible to take advantage of the program. Where the former PSEO program cast a net reaching mostly students in the latter portion of their high school experience, Ohio’s new CCP model opens this opportunity to any college-ready student in grades 7-12.

While students still need to verify college readiness through placement testing, college admission standards, or other criteria set forth by the institution, communication of this opportunity alone has increased the number of middle- and early- high school students seeking entrance into Ohio’s colleges to earn post-secondary credits while remaining in the K-12 system. For some of the state’s largest community colleges, this year’s College Credit Plus enrollment is akin to the number of students attending a small liberal arts college. Given the numbers and an expected increase over the next several years, this cohort has changed the landscape of many Ohio college campuses.

Given the community college access mission, diversity of class offerings, as well as low tuition costs and ease of transfer, community colleges are often desirable partners for school districts seeking to expand CCP opportunities for their students. However, as community colleges begin to see an increase in minor students attending classes, campus events, and utilizing services, college administrators struggle to find a balance between minor populations and other student cohorts also utilizing the institution to achieve educational and career goals.

As mentioned in previous articles within this column, community colleges’ doors swing wide open, often providing a second chance to individuals who carry a criminal background. As one may assume, this sub population of the community college profile includes those whose offenses were of sexual nature, many of whom are required to adhere to state sex offender registry laws. While attendance at a community college can be an accessible route to rebuilding one’s life after incarceration, co-enrollment with an increased population of minor students may present a conflict with one’s probation, parole, or a long-term sex offender registry requirement.

As the average age of those attending college, and more specifically, community colleges, begins to drop due to increased partnerships with K-12 education systems, campus administrators are faced with complex questions that, in many cases, challenge the access mission on which community colleges were originally built.

Perhaps the most glaring campus safety question facing administrators at open access colleges is how to integrate an increasingly younger population into a learning environment that currently includes registered sex offenders.

In July 2015, one Ohio two-year college restricted a previous offender’s utilization of on-campus housing, based on the college’s existing housing policy. Hocking College admitted the student and permitted his participation on the college’s football team, thus allowing the student to pursue his education, but with limitations (Community College Week, 2015).

While some colleges can bar sexual offenders from utilizing on-campus residential services, many other community colleges lack on-campus housing. Given the absence of this service, community colleges may find themselves without options for restricting interactions between sexual offenders and the general student population. This scenario can present challenges for community colleges that seek to fulfill the role of community educator, while balancing the safety and risks associated with supporting the educational needs of a diverse student body. Which services, if any, present the largest risks and therefore should be limited? How can colleges identify these areas and plan policies accordingly?

The Court of Public Opinion

As community colleges, once open to all, grapple with the ethical challenge to both educate and protect such a vast array of students, the focus has fallen on the offenses that are primarily sexual in nature. Many colleges have been asked to further examine their admission and monitoring stance on the sexual offender population, however, other groups with criminal background do not appear under the same scrutiny. Why, then, has this particular cohort of the restored citizen population been under close review?

As mentioned above, one can make the connection between the increased number of minors attending community colleges and concerns about the safety of the college environment. As K-12 partnerships expand to bring more middle- and high-school aged students into the community college classroom, these partnerships have nudged student affairs professionals to re-examine existing policies designed to ensure student safety. Likewise, parent groups, community stakeholders, and dually enrolled students also apply increased concern, thus challenging the openness of the community college’s doors.

The debate over sexual offender admission and enrollment restrictions runs parallel to public opinion surrounding sex offender registries, sentences, and the permanent “label” associated with this subgroup of previously incarcerated individuals. As stated by Pickett, Mancini, and Mears (2013), “with the possible exception of terrorists, sex offenders in the United States experience a greater degree of punishment and restriction than any other offender group. Members of the public overwhelmingly support “get tough” sex crime policies and display an intense hostility toward persons labeled ‘sex criminals’.” Given this pattern, it seems logical that campuses may experience unique pressure from the community regarding the issue of sex offenders within the college environment.

Pickett et al. (2013) outline models that seek to explain the public’s negative response to sexual offenders when compared to offenders of other crimes. One such model indicates a strong form of solidarity between the general public and victims of sexual crimes, leading to protection of possible victims regardless of extent. Likewise, the other two models outline a public opinion of sexual offenders as “monsters” and thus any actions unforgivable, as well as a perception that sex crimes are prevalent and thus require risk management. The article, however, also points out that further research is needed to identify whether or not public opinion is justified when connected to recidivism rates and the outcomes associated with various sex offender rehabilitation methods.

An Ethical Challenge

Given the status of current public opinion regarding the perceived threat of past sexual offenders, community colleges may struggle to respond to increased pressure to restrict enrollment while also advocating for a marginalized cohort of individuals who may benefit greatly from open access to education.

As open access institutions, community colleges offer opportunity to restored citizens, and are viewed by community partners as an education pathway for those exiting the criminal justice system. This mission presents ethical and moral challenges for colleges drafting policies that maintain open access while attempting to diminish the risk of sexual violence on and connected to the campus environment. Review and creation of such policies requires multiple perspectives and vantage points, including those represented by Legal Counsel, community stakeholders, student affairs, administration, and, of course, the student body voice. While restrictions and admission review policies have begun to take shape around this issue, the voice of law enforcement, community agencies, and registered sex offenders themselves has, presumably, yet to be heard.

As community colleges work to negotiate these concerns and craft responses to minimize risk to other students, additional ethical challenges often arise. While some colleges may seek to fully deny the most violent offenders admission, other students with lower registration status may still be admitted. Likewise, with a current focus on sexual offenders, previously incarcerated individuals whose crimes involved non-sexual violence, drug trafficking, or theft may be admitted without review. In these cases, as with many student cohorts pursuing degrees, student services staff and faculty will be presented with ethical challenges associated with the advisement and career planning process for those with criminal pasts.

This challenge, not unique to the open access environment, demands that staff, faculty, and administrators learn as much as they can about the individual goals, motivation, and personal story associated with nearly every student occupying a seat. As educators, we play a role in helping students to identify educational options and choices, while respectfully helping those with potentially limiting backgrounds to identify alternative routes to meaningful employment. This perspective is critical when developing policies that limit access for some students, but also when identifying other cohorts who can be granted admission but may be barred from certain career fields, academic programs, and internships due to criminal background. Likewise, administrators, Legal Counsel, and other student support teams may need to examine which components of the student experience, such as student life opportunities, intramural or organized athletics, and clubs can or should be restricted due to perceived risk. Data and research presented outside of higher education, such as recent work in the areas of sociology, criminology, psychology, and other disciplines, may need to be consulted in order to inform strategies that protect some students while restricting the access of others.


As with many issues facing higher education, and specifically, community colleges, strategies to bar admission to registered sex offenders presents moral, ethical, and legal implications. As stated above, public opinion, increased community support for higher education, and closer partnerships between K-12 and college campuses have brought concerns about student safety to the surface. Administrators faced with these decisions should be encouraged to reflect on the mission of the American community college, seek consultation with Legal Counsel, and maintain communication with community partners in order to support those who may be barred access to the institution.

In the spirit of the community college mission, which provides access for anyone to improve his or her living, contribution, or obtain employment, creating links for those who cannot attend will prove a commitment to serving our communities. If our campuses cannot support those with certain criminal backgrounds, it will be important to provide an alternative pathway to meaningful education, employment, and a livable wage. After all, this is the core value of campuses that truly serve their communities.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your personal stance on admitting sexual offenders to community colleges to pursue degrees and other educational experiences?
  2. Does your view shift when considering those with non-sexual criminal history? Why or why not?
  3. How can community colleges continue to offer open access to education while still maintaining the safety of minors who attend college classes through K-12 partnership programs?
  4. What do you believe is the role of a college and its administration as it relates to student safety? Does this change when considering minors versus the safety of others over the age of 18? Why or why not?


College Credit Plus FAQ (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2016, from Ohio college will allow participation but will bar man from living in dormitory. (2015). Community College Week, 28. Retrieved from;see 2015/07/27;c-2566151

Pickett, J. T., Mancini, C., & Mears, D. P. (2013). Vulnerable victims, monstrous offenders, and unmanageable risk: Explaining public opinion on the social control of sex crime. Criminology, 51(3), 729-759.

About the Author

Marisa Vernon is Assistant Dean – Access and Completion, at Cuyahoga Community College – Westshore Campus. Opened in 1963, Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C®) is Ohio’s first community college and now the state’s largest, serving 50,000 students each year. The college offers two-year associate degrees, certificate programs, and the first two years of a baccalaureate degree.  The curriculum includes 1,600 credit courses in more than 140 career, certificate and university transfer programs. Courses are offered at four campus locations, two Corporate College® facilities, online, hybrid courses, and many off-campus sites.

Please e-mail inquiries to Marisa Vernon.


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.

Guidelines for Positive Experiential Learning Experiences for Students and Supervisors


Guidelines for Positive Experiential Learning Experiences for Students and Supervisors

Amber Fallucca
University of South Carolina

Overview – Assessment Practicums and Internships

Many higher education and student affairs (HESA) graduate programs promote engagement in first-hand experiential learning experiences for students to learn about the varied types of positions and professional duties existing in the field. Often referred to as practicums, internships, or experiential learning opportunities, HESA programs may require this field experience in a half-semester, full semester, or summer term, and they may or may not be credit-bearing. For the field-based supervisors, the additional “hands-on support” in the office or program can be perceived as both a blessing and minor challenge as finding the correct amount and appropriate types of activities to shape a comprehensive view of their unit, or expertise area, can be daunting. For the student, the exposure gained from the experience and developing skillset can be difficult to articulate if not pinpointed early as part of the internship design. For example, can supervisors articulate what skills or knowledge the field students will be gaining from the personalized experience? Is there a roadmap to help ensure the student and supervisor will have a quality and engaged learning opportunity benefitting both parties?

In my professional role as a director of assessment in a university housing department, I provide leadership across assessment design of residential engagement outcomes and staff satisfaction, summative program evaluation, and documentation of departmental strategic planning. I regularly supervise 1-3 practicum students across varied lengths, including the half-semester, full semester, and summer-long internship. The following account demonstrates how supervisors and student participants can promote quality practicum experiences, regardless of the length or area of expertise involved.

In terms of participants, my institution’s HESA program requires a combination of practicum experiences to complement the theoretical foundation provided through the academic curriculum. While these experiential learning opportunities are considered a program requisite, students are able to self-select from a number of offices providing practicum opportunities each semester. Interested supervisors are asked to submit available opportunities via a listserv, and no obligation exists to participate from the offices themselves.

My decision to write this article stems from the many positive experiences I personally have encountered with providing practicum experiences to graduate students and the positive feedback I receive from participants completing the specific structured experience. Former practicum and internship participants responded to my request to share their respective experiences through three posed questions as part of the development of this article. The following themes emerged from the respondents.


Reasons for Selecting the Assessment Practicum/Internship

Participants noted the importance of facilitating assessment in our student affairs field, as well as the perceived value placed on developing an assessment skillset. One respondent stated

Assessment is a ‘buzz’ word we use in higher education but is something critical in positions. I knew that in these tough economic times professionals were being asked to do more with less, and what we are doing needs to be backed by facts and numbers to give validity to how and why we help students.

Another respondent noted his interest emerged “because assessment is a hot-button topic. I had some limited experience, but they [previous supervisors] assured me that this skillset would help as an emerging leader in student affairs.”


Skills Gained Carried into Professional Career

When asked about the skills gained through the experience, respondents described specific technical skills that continue to support their professional role. For example, one respondent developed “a strong respect for writing learning outcomes as probably the strongest asset.” A respondent provided an example of a learned skill that continues to resonate: “My ability to create an executive summary is spectacular-and I often am tasked with making data ‘pretty’ and ‘presentable’ to various constituencies.” From an analysis standpoint, one participant found it “a benefit to learn about equations, filters, everything. I use it with ease now and watch as many professional struggle just how to organize properly in an Excel sheet.”


Approaches to Ensure a Successful Experience

Emerging themes centered on the use of informed strategies focused on meaningful outcomes and realistic expectations:

Something foundational for me was the usage of the NASPA/ACPA Competencies for Student Affairs Practitioners. This seems something so practical in terms of developing goals and outcomes for a position, yet is something overlooked … This is something that I can and definitely will use with future student affairs practitioners that I supervise!

Furthermore, the idea of a project-based practicum, as opposed to limited exposure office elements, proved to be beneficial:
The most valuable part of this practicum was taking ownership over a project and gaining the hands-on experience while I completed it…The practicum should extend beyond                “shadowing” and general office work, because neither of those tasks are helpful beyond the practicum experience.

In addition, the availability of the supervisor was deemed valuable.  One respondent noted a positive experience was associated with “consistent meetings and an open door.  I constantly had questions and wanted to clarify things – eventually I learned this is how the data/process works, but it was intimidating at first.”

Supervising Experiential Learning Opportunities

While learning student affairs assessment is the focus of my field experience, please note the following practices can be included across many varied student affairs professional areas and implementation methods. For example, 10 competency-based areas exist as part of the Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners (ACPA & NASPA, 2010). Your department might not fit easily into one area as mine focuses mainly on Assessment, Evaluation, and Research (AER); however, there is opportunity to focus on multiple criteria across numerous competencies. I have framed the potential advantages of this experience into two categories: supportive practices and supervisor gains.


Supportive Practices

Many practices support a positive experience for the student. I present three specific areas here.

  • Competency-based education. The Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners (ACPA & NASPA, 2010) guide the experiences I provide; however, there is potential with the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS), the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International (ACUHO-I) competencies, and other professional guidelines to provide direction for the skillset or goals achieved by completing the practicum experience. The focus becomes less on the time-on-task requirement, (i.e., “butt in chair” thinking), but more so on the proficiencies gained through the practicum. Participating students will rise to the challenge of project development and completion once foundational knowledge is provided. Furthermore, because they are using common terminology and competencies likely to be well-known across multiple institutions and programs, they walk away with a familiar language in which to articulate their work to future employers.
  • Syllabus “roadmap” to guide the experience. A very important discussion should occur very early on in the practicum, ideally even before its initiation. This conversation should focus on an overview of the unit functions, as well as exploring what the student wants to learn from the experience. A supervisor should also review expectations, usually specific to individual supervision style, communication expectations, overview of anticipated project ideas, etc. The follow-up meeting should include a review of the competencies, or guiding professional framework. Furthermore, an explanation for how these activities will align with the expected competencies should be included. Timelines are important; however, be sure the syllabus is flexible enough to allow for a change of course based upon project completion or individual student interest. The mid-experience “check-in” is designed to provide updates regarding student progress and also creates an opportunity to inquire about ongoing uncertainties or anticipated future roadblocks. Lastly, it is essential to require a culminating project for students to demonstrate what was learned via the practicum experience. This capstone event is significant so the learned skillset can be utilized as part of a job interview or as means of articulating what was gained through the experience. For example, how would the student articulate this experience on his/her resume? What tangible evidence could they present to describe what was gained?
  • Goal-setting: Early stages through “Closing the loop”. Revisit the competencies as part of the final evaluation. As homework, I ask students to review the AER competency criteria (ACPA & NASPA, 2010) prior to the last meeting. Students should determine if they gained expertise across the list of criteria and be able to describe what activities shaped this decision (see Figure 1). Examples are key! As supervisors, our job is to ensure the review is comprehensive (e.g., did they see that web-based training or oral report contributing to their competency development as much as you did?), but also realistic. For example, I sometimes have to remind the students that I am not at the level of “expert” on every assessment skill, so it is more likely they are not either. The competency self-evaluation helps to remind the supervisor of the key projects and skills gained, which will then inform the documented practicum evaluation the student (and likely graduate program or affiliated course) will receive for academic credit. Best of all, this exercise requires students to reflect on their experiential learning and presents a visible understanding of the practicum’s cumulative effect leading to their growing professional skillset. As a supervisor, I find this to be a highlight as the students articulate what they learned as part of the collaborative effort.
ACPA Assessment, Evaluation and Research (AER) Rubric

*NOTE: throughout this rubric AER is used to refer to Assessment, Evaluation and Research.  Institutions and individuals are encouraged to choose the term that best fits their situation/focus.

  Beginner Intermediate Advanced
Define Terms and Concepts Has trouble differentiating among assessment, program review, evaluation, planning and research in methodologies and approach Utilizes the appropriate assessment, program review, evaluation, planning and research methodology/approach in data collection and review.

Completed online exercise matching examples with definitions

Teaches others the differences between assessment, program review, evaluation, planning and research.
Value May see value in AER, but has difficulty translating into action through active participation, use and practice. Actively participates in AER activities and effectively uses AER in daily practice.

Utilization of Assessment Practices, including SPSS usage for RM Survey, EBI Analysis, and Excel Usage for year-end-reports

Creates the climate at the unit level that AER is central to the unit’s work and encourages others to use AER in daily practice through training and allocation of resources.

Presentations in RLC Training & during RM Focus Group about Assessment strategies/techniques.

Figure 1

Example of Matching Exercise from Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners


Supervisor Gains

Now, what do you get out of it? There can be much for you to gain so the experience can be mutually beneficial.

  • Work efficiency and new skills. In terms of my office, the practicum student’s development of an assessment skillset likely means one less report, or summary for me to complete—a lighter workload, but more noticeably a significant contribution from the student, not just an “add on” component. Ideally, this is what a practicum experience should entail. Ask yourself and your office, “what meaningful opportunities for work contributions can be made available for a practicum student? Program facilitation? Meeting with students? Executive summary of findings from a focus group?”


Furthermore, listening to the comments from this “external consultant” lens is a continuous reminder of whether I am articulating concepts in a clear manner, or if certain procedures should be revisited for practical consideration. If they have questions about the initiative I am describing, chances are so would the outside audience. In addition, the supervisor will learn new skills. Students show me new tricks with software, or varied formats of sharing data across social media. I am continually looking for new ways to advance my work and often innovation originates with the practicum students. Lastly, I know they are walking away “giving assessment a good name”. The better our new professionals are with designing and facilitating strong assessment, the better our student affairs profession will be. Imagine how a quality experience in your office will continue to resonate across the participant, his/her peers, graduate program, and ongoing development within the profession. Who knows—these students may be your colleagues one day, or even someone you hire. The time invested early will pay off dividends later.

Discussion Questions

  1. Can the practicum and internship supervisors in your unit articulate what skills or knowledge the field students will be gaining from your personalized experience? For example, how would the student articulate this experience on his/her resume? What tangible evidence could they present to describe what was gained?
  2. Ask yourself and your office, what meaningful opportunities for work contributions can be made available for a practicum student?
  3. How would the supervisor describe the experience of managing the practicum student and experience? What components would you maintain and what elements would you change based upon what was gleaned through participating students’ reflections?



ACPA & NASPA. (2010). Professional competency areas for student affairs practitioners. Washington,

DC: Author. Retrieved from

About the Author

Amber Fallucca leads assessment and research efforts for six functional units across the University Housing department and provides support for student affairs and institutional assessment initiatives. She has published on student affairs assessment and directs the program receiving a 2014 National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Excellence Bronze Award on the topic of developing a culture of assessment in student affairs. She also received the Outstanding Experienced Professional, 4-9 Years by ACPA – College Student Educators International and the Commission for Housing & Residence Life in 2014. Amber currently serves as a member of the editorial board for the Journal of College and University Student Housing, provides practicum and internship opportunities as part of the Higher Education & Student Affairs (HESA) graduate program at the University of South Carolina, and regularly serves as a thesis committee member. Related research interests include: student affairs assessment, intercollegiate athletics and student-athletes, professional training programs.  She has a bachelor of science degree in psychology from the College of Charleston, a master’s degree in exercise and sport psychology from the University of Florida, and holds a Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University of South Carolina.

Please e-mail inquiries to Amber Fallucca.


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.

Innovation in Action: The Ability Exhibit

Innovation in Action: The Ability Exhibit

Karen A. Myers
Maureen A. Wikete Lee
Saint Louis University


I learn from allies every day.

Allies teach me.

These allies are my students.



As the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 approached (July 26, 2015), I reflected on the 25 years I have been a disability educator and ability ally. Casey-Powell and Souma (2009) describe an ally within the student affairs community as “someone who acts to change policies, procedures, and attitudes on campus and to educate other dominant group members, in this case people without disabilities, about individuals with disabilities” (p. 150). I witness the innovative ideas and actions of allies each day on the campus of Saint Louis University (SLU), a Jesuit institution where I am a faculty member. Graduate students and student affairs practitioners work together to broaden our campus community’s awareness and understanding of individuals with disabilities, as well as provide opportunities for the development of allies within our university and in the St. Louis community. Examination of, and reflection on, personal awareness and attitudes regarding disability and disability issues occur in coursework and through the continued growth of the student project Allies for Inclusion: The Ability Exhibit.

Within the graduate course I teach, Disability in Higher Education and Society, students are challenged to unpack their multifaceted roles as allies within the university and community. This process is individualized, nudging each student forward in developing self-awareness and advocacy skills. Casey-Powell and Souma (2009) make recommendations for actions regarding graduate students and student affairs professionals. One suggestion includes:

Student affairs units should facilitate programs and workshops that promote and appreciate diversity while challenging some individuals to learn more about themselves and encouraging others to promote an understanding of individuals with disabilities. Diversity challenges stereotypes and allows others to communicate more effectively with individuals of various backgrounds. (p. 165)

The faculty of the School of Education at Saint Louis University has supported graduate students in such innovative work in the development of the Allies for Inclusion project.

Allies for Inclusion Overview

In 2010, graduate student Anne Marie Carroll conceived the idea for Allies for Inclusion: The Ability Exhibit. The project has evolved each semester as new groups of students enroll in the disability course. The student project has now become a national traveling exhibit hosted by over 40 institutions. The exhibit promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities while demonstrating and supporting the values of social justice, inclusion, and ally development. We are the proud recipients of the ACPA’s 2013 Student Involvement Program of the Year 2013 and the Jesuit Association of Student Personnel Administrators’ 2012 Ignatian Medal for Outstanding Campus Program.

Through generous donations and grants, the exhibit’s concept has expanded to include an Ability Allies K-1 edition for kindergarten through first grade students. Also, through a United Way student grant, an Ability Allies Committee is conducting Ability Ally workshops similar to the Safe Zone program model, which provides lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer awareness and ally training workshops. As part of the Saint Louis University School of Education’s strategic plan, disability education was identified as a priority. Evidence of this commitment to disability education is the development of an Ability Institute, which will include degree programs, disability research and assessment, and Allies for Inclusion projects.

With service and reflection as central to Jesuit values, the Allies for Inclusion exhibit clearly is connected with the Jesuit objective to develop men and women for others. For a service-learning project in my Disability in Higher Education and Society graduate class, students set up, participated in, and dismantled the 400-pound, 10-station exhibit on our campus in order to create a promotional video. The value of the service-learning project was its connection to the themes of social justice, inclusion, and ally development, along with the opportunity for students to actively engage in service and share their reflections. Such reflection is demonstrated through a colorfully descriptive account from a student in my Disability in Higher Education and Society course, Maureen A. Wikete Lee. Her words encompass the true meaning of Allies for Inclusion through a social justice lens.

Reflections from Maureen A. Wikete Lee, Graduate Student

As an early childhood educator, I most often considered inclusion in terms of creating a learning environment in which all preschool students and staff are ensured access, participation, and support (DEC/NAEYC, 2009). My personal lens regarding inclusion has expanded throughout our course. I now think about adults, especially university students and personnel, as I develop course assignments, facilitate discussions, and navigate our campus. Our work to set up the Ability Exhibit for the creation of the promotional video has provided me with an incredible opportunity for personal learning and reflection. The following describes my thoughts on the inclusive nature of Allies for Inclusion: The Ability Exhibit.

As we gathered to set up the exhibit, I was eager to get to work. I looked forward to experiencing the exhibit for the first time and being part of a campus-wide program to promote awareness of persons with disabilities, disability issues, and what it means to be an ally. The project leaders had a clear vision for the events of the day, and I wanted to contribute to keep us on schedule. Our class formed a strong sense of community throughout the semester; this was evident as we worked together trying to figure out the best way to set up the exhibit stations. The group was productive and worked with a light and fun sense of exploration as each station was unpacked and assembled. Teams worked together to set up laptops and projectors and create appealing visual displays. I was pleased to participate in a variety of ways, including moving furniture, steaming the camera backdrop, setting up stations, posing for promotional photographs, and recruiting student participants to view the exhibit and share testimonials of their experience for the video.

We worked on set-up until the moment visitors arrived. Mary Bruemmer, former Saint Louis University Dean of Students, longstanding member of the Saint Louis University Women’s Council, and founder of the Saint Louis University Women’s Commission, made an immediate impression as our first visitor. Ms. Bruemmer graduated from Saint Louis University in 1942 and has continued to be a part of the community following her retirement. I assumed the visitors would be undergraduate students. Perhaps I thought this because of my invitation to students in my undergraduate course or because of our invitation to campus organizations. I expected the exhibit to be an experience focused on education to enlighten young university students about a history they may have never studied. Instead, Ms. Bruemmer’s attendance made me recognize the exhibit’s wide audience and varied purposes.

The exhibit is a reflection on where we have been as a country and where we should be headed. It can be seen as a collection of past artifacts, present statistics, and future goals for our work as allies for inclusion. The undergraduate student visitors who followed Ms. Bruemmer learned about the history of the disability movement and gained a new sense of understanding about disability, as well as the continued call for inclusion in today’s society based on the displayed data, facts, and videos. My personal growth and increased understanding of inclusion goes hand in hand with my evolving social justice perspective.

Social Justice

I was introduced to Bishop’s (2002) model of ally development in our Disability in Higher Education and Society course. The model, rooted in the development of social justice allies, was introduced in course readings as also appropriate for the development of disability allies (Casey-Powell & Souma, 2009). The first step includes understanding oppression (Bishop, 2002); our work as allies begins here. We must challenge ourselves to deepen our understanding of oppression related to disability and in turn, as allies we must encourage others to join us on the journey as well. Our individual coursework and group discussions had led us to the moment in which we would engage the campus community and invite Saint Louis University students and personnel to deepen their understanding of oppression and continue to grow as allies for inclusion. What I had not anticipated was the impact of the exhibit on my understanding.

After I finished setting up the exhibit stations, talked with students, and posed for promotional pictures, it was my turn to experience the exhibit. I was surprised at the profound impact the exhibit had on me. By this time, I had seen the stations being set-up and was familiar with much of the information from course readings and class discussions. The quiet opportunities to see, hear, and read all of the displays at once were powerful. I was challenged to acknowledge the oppression people with disabilities in our own country faced and gained a deeper understanding of the surprisingly recent disability movement and resulting legislation in the United States. The testimonials and personal experiences shared, the staggering statistics, and the very personal “Do You Know Someone with a Disability?” and “Ally Pledge” stations brought the information and experience full circle. This experience brought the realization that disability issues not only affect persons with disabilities as a group and as individuals, but disability issues also impact me. I wondered what others were feeling and was eager to hear the responses recorded as part of the video testimonials.

Saint Louis University is an excellent sponsor for this exhibit as it fits with the university’s mission regarding social justice. Goodman (2001) suggests one motivation for becoming an ally is moral and spiritual values.  The network of Jesuit institutions at the high school and university level would be an excellent target audience for the exhibit as the students are likely to be motivated to become allies due to the institutions’ strong missions. I left feeling excited that we are increasing the likelihood others will have the opportunity to visit the exhibit in the future. We each bring our own perspective and view the exhibit through our personal lens. The exhibit may mean different things to different people, but I believe it is meaningful for everyone who views it. The exhibit offers an invitation to all who view it to engage in personal development with a pledge to be allies for inclusion.

Ally Development 

Essential to inclusion is the ongoing work of allies to challenge themselves personally, and to work for social change. Ally development is an ongoing process (Myers, Lindburg, & Nied, 2014), and our class continues to challenge ourselves to develop a deeper awareness of the perspectives of people with disabilities and an understanding of the harm in making assumptions regarding other’s perspectives and experiences. We are ready and eager to take action and engage the community in similar learning experiences. The opportunity to contribute to the viewing of Allies for Inclusion: The Ability Exhibit is our next step in the process. Our work will result in the creation of a promotional video and updated exhibit website to better share the message of inclusion to other universities, institutions, and corporations. During the service learning experience focused on promoting the exhibit, I progressed in my personal development as an ally.

As the time came to take the exhibit down and to pack it into containers, I thought of all the places the exhibit has traveled and of all the possibilities for future travel. I felt excited to think the K-1 edition might be starting on a similar path to promote respect toward people with disabilities, comfort in interactions with people with disabilities, and awareness of disability issues among young children. I was very excited to be a part of the development of the K-1 edition, which has since been piloted in six elementary school classrooms. I left the exhibit feeling a renewed sense of confidence in my work with the Allies for Inclusion K-1 edition and a sense of purpose toward our goal of promoting respect, comfort, and awareness. I strongly believe talking about similarities and differences with very young children is a developmentally appropriate way to start conversations that will lay the foundation for these ideas. It will be empowering for young children to have opportunities to share their perspectives and experiences, and powerful when they are encouraged to take into consideration the perspectives of others.

The graduate students’ sense of teamwork was apparent as we worked to pack the exhibit and prepare it for the next destination. Our Disability in Higher Education and Society class has become a community; our work began as one student’s project and now continues as the work of a growing number of allies for inclusion. I was eager for the promotional video to be completed along with the updated website and hopeful they would be effective tools to promote the exhibit.

Reflecting on the service learning experience, I realize my service has the potential to make a difference in the promotion of the exhibit. Although the volunteers relied heavily on those most familiar with the exhibit materials for instruction, we worked together to get the job done faster. We were allies together in an unconventional way; we were working to promote future awareness and education. The video will be essential in sharing the exhibit’s message to the public, so our work was not limited to the handful of visitors on that particular Sunday. The video will promote respect, comfort, and awareness each time someone views it on the website and at each future exhibit host site. The Ability Exhibit has now expanded into a variety of innovative programs designed by faculty and graduate students each semester, all promoting the development of allies for inclusion in our community.


Allies for Inclusion: The Ability Exhibit is an innovative project that has grown into a multifaceted program involving the work of faculty, graduate students, and university personnel. The exhibit is shown regularly at Saint Louis University to promote awareness within the community and has traveled to campuses, conferences, and corporations throughout the country. Last year, in celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s 25th Anniversary, it was hosted by the ACPA Convention in Tampa, FL, and at the NASPA Convention in New Orleans, LA, in addition to several corporations in St. Louis, MO. Since its inception, more than 50 United States colleges and universities have hosted the exhibit. Taking on a global perspective, the Ability Ally Initiative has been facilitated in Africa and India and was presented in Spain at Saint Louis University in Madrid, the University of Girona, and the Autonomous University of Barcelona in March 2015. Young children are now benefitting from the program through the piloting of a K-1 edition, and plans for developing an edition for medical professionals is underway. This innovative program has grown from graduate students’ active engagement in coursework. The Disability in Higher Education and Society course is just the beginning of students’ development as allies yet their work has already impacted ally development on Saint Louis University’s campus and beyond.

This promotional video is the result of the students’ work.

The Ability Exhibit can be reserved online at

Discussion Questions

  1. Is disability education essential for college students? If so, how can you promote disability education at your institution?
  2. What does being an ally mean to you? How will you be an ally for inclusion?
  3. Words matter. Attitudes matter. Behaviors matter. Common terminology used in discussing people with disabilities assigns a deficit identity to the disability population and obstructs societal change. Attitudinal barriers and negative language can impede change. Based on what you have learned about The Ability Exhibit, inclusion of people with disabilities, and ally development, discuss how you will be a change agent in the social construction of disability.


Bishop, A. (2002). Becoming an ally: Breaking the cycle of oppression in people (2nd ed.). Halifax, Nova Scotia: Fernwood.

Casey-Powell, D. & Souma, A. (2009).  Allies in our midst. In J. L. Higbee & A. A. Mitchell (Eds.), Making good on the promise (pp. 149-170). Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc.

DEC/NAEYC. (2009). Early childhood inclusion: A joint position statement of the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute.

Goodman, D.J. (2001). Promoting diversity and social justice: Educating people from privileged groups. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Myers, K., Lindburg, J., & Nied, D. (2014). Allies for inclusion: Students with disabilities. ASHE Higher Education Report, 39.5. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

About the Authors
Karen A. Myers, Ph.D., is Associate Professor and Director of the Higher Education Administration graduate program at Saint Louis University and Director of the award-winning international disability education project, Allies for Inclusion: The Ability Exhibit and of Saint Louis University’s Ability Institute.  She has been a college teacher and administrator since 1979, is a national disability consultant and trainer, teaches her self-designed graduate course, Disability in Higher Education and Society, and is co-author of the recently released ASHE monograph, Allies for Inclusion: Disability and Equity in Higher Education.

Maureen A. Wikete Lee, Ph.D. completed her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction at Saint Louis University in May 2015. She is certified in early childhood and early childhood special education and taught in inclusive preschool, kindergarten, and first grade classrooms for 12 years.

Please e-mail inquiries to Karen A. Myers or Maureen Wikete Lee.


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.