Perspectives on Environmental Justice

Perspectives on Environmental Justice

Andrew M. Wells
University of Georgia

Jessica Belue Buckley
University of Louisville

Dillon Kimmel
University of Delaware


Student affairs administrators consider both sustainability and social justice to be important considerations in our work (ACPA & NASPA, 2010; ACPA, 2008).  While these priorities are clear and often inform student affairs practice, the language used to advance these issues separates them.  Social justice is understood as a process of addressing systems of power and privilege; social justice advocates work to dismantle oppressive institutions while advancing equity for historically marginalized communities (Bell, 2010).  Conversely, sustainability is focused on environmental issues and often falls short of critiquing the socially unjust institutions that create environmental problems (Agyeman, 2005).  We propose the perspective that environmental issues and social justice are connected to one another and that a philosophy of environmental justice (Agyeman, Bullard, & Evans, 2002) can inform and enhance student affairs practice.

As institutions that not only educate citizens and leaders, but also provide vision and research for contemporary problems, colleges and universities have a role to play in alleviating environmental degradation.  Global environmental degradation is contributing to poverty, growing divides between the rich and poor, issues of hunger and malnutrition, as well as threats to cultural vitality of communities in vulnerable parts of the world (Brainard, Jones, & Purvis, 2009).  Postsecondary institutions must work to address these kinds of issues and focus on studying not just subjects for their own sake, but also to ensure college students are adequately equipped to respond to the causes and outcomes of environmental degradation (Cullingford, 2010).  In 2003 Anthony Cortese, founder of Second Nature and a leading advocate of sustainability in higher education, argued that postsecondary institutions have a moral obligation to create a just and sustainable future.  As institutions have a responsibility to address global issues, student affairs administrators have a role in engaging colleagues and students in understanding and developing skills to mitigate issues of environmental and social injustice.  As student affairs administrators prepare students for life in an increasingly globalized world, we should embrace environmental justice as a priority in students’ learning and development (Agyeman, Bullard, & Evans, 2002).

In this article, we hope to demonstrate the importance of incorporating environmental justice into student affairs administrators’ practice.  First, we examine common definitions of sustainability, social justice, and environmental justice, as well as demonstrate how these concepts are related.  Next, we explore how and why these concepts are important for student affairs practice.  Finally, we discuss examples of environmental justice in practice in a myriad of functional areas from across the country through interviews we conducted with student affairs practitioners at campuses noted for their connection of environmental and social justice issues.

Social Justice, Sustainability, and Environmental Justice

To better understand how social and environmental justice intersect, it is important to establish a common understanding of the terms “social justice,” “sustainability,” and “environmental justice.” One of the “Basic” foundational competencies in the field is to be able to “articulate a foundational understanding of social justice and the role of higher education…in furthering its goals” (ACPA & NASPA, 2010, p. 12).  Student affairs associations, such as the ACPA – College Student Educators International and the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), host multicultural and social justice institutes to foster continued learning and action around issues of social justice.  Across North America, student affairs personnel embrace social justice as a core principle of good practice, and indeed, an area of professional competency (ACPA – College Student Educators International & NASPA – Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education, 2015).

Social Justice

The core principle of social justice is rooted in common definitions, which we argue are directly related to environmental sustainability and justice.  Bell (2010) suggested that “social justice is both a process and a goal” (p. 21) with “the goal of social justice [being] full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs” (p. 21).  Social justice is not a process or a goal that is without challenges; advocates of social justice recognize the many intersecting and interacting structures of power that must be addressed.  North (2006) suggested that social justice education has three “spheres” that necessitate a balance of (a) knowledge and action, (b) micro and macro levels of consideration, and (c) redistribution of goods and recognition of individuals or communities (p. 509).  She suggested that the work of social justice seeks to address and consider each of the tensions of her framework.  On campus, the work of social justice often seeks to disrupt systemic marginalization of groups based on social identities, such as race, class, or gender.  These efforts are not limited to the campus community or even state or national borders. Bell (2010) and North’s (2006) concepts of social justice transcend geopolitical boundaries and are relevant for the entire planet’s population.  The pursuit of social justice on college campuses connects us to a global movement toward social justice, and if the pursuit of social justice includes and addresses environmental issues, practitioners may be brought closer to advancing global environmental justice.

To better align campus social justice efforts with global environmental issues, student affairs educators might apply North’s (2006) framework of social justice to examine issues of sustainability, such as climate change.  Brainard, Jones, and Purvis (2009) argued that climate change is a social justice issue when considering the ways in which changes in rainfall, agricultural yield, desertification, and the scope of natural disasters have disproportionately affected the most vulnerable persons and communities around the globe.  The examination of climate change through North’s framework might help educators realize the need to balance (a) knowledge about climate change and tangible work to mitigate it; (b) individual actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and organized, structural actions; and, (c) attention to increased access to material (and other) goods for those most affected by climate change.  Using North’s framework as a lens, educators realize the need to recognize that not only equitable distribution of goods, but also cultural vitality of diverse communities is an important consideration of socially just responses to climate change.  Student affairs practitioners in North America cannot overlook the social justice implications of our behavior.  The decisions we make about consumption of energy, goods, and natural resources have significant consequences for people and communities around the globe.  As we acknowledge these consequences, student affairs practitioners assume responsibility for addressing these issues as a part of social justice advocacy.


Although less broadly discussed than social justice, the concept of sustainability is familiar for many student affairs administrators.  One of the first and most cited definitions of sustainability rises from the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED).  The commission’s 1987 publication, Our Common Future, articulates a definition of sustainable development that balances the needs of current generations with those of future generations. Student affairs documents acknowledge the WCED definition.  For example, in 2008, ACPA sponsored the publication of a monograph that explored the role of sustainability in student affairs administration, and in 2010, the joint ACPA-NASPA statement of professional competencies articulated the importance of both sustainability and social justice in our work.  However, the history of the sustainability movement significantly predated these documents.  The environmental movement, a precursor to sustainability, largely began in the 1970s (Agyeman, 2005; Ferris & Hahn-Baker, 1995) in response to issues of industrial pollution, air and water contamination, and urban waste disposal (Anguelovski, 2013; United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, 1987).  Scholars often attribute the modern environmental movement to the preservation of ecology for recreational and aesthetic reasons (Gould, Schnaiberg, & Weinberg, 1996; Postma, 2006); we have argued in this article that the social justice implications of environmental issues should inform our pursuit of social justice.

On the heels of the environmental movement, the sustainability movement sought to bridge environmental issues with economic issues, largely in the landscape of international development.  For many, sustainability was understood in terms of the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit (Elkington, 1999).  While sustainability has been described in many ways by many organizations and individuals, the consensus is that environmental sustainability addresses pollution, moderate consumption of natural resources, and the importance of human behavior on non-human species and systems.

The evolution of the environmental and sustainability movements has moved issues of environmental degradation into some common practice areas in student affairs work.  Student affairs administrators often include energy and water conservation in social and educational programming; we also highlight food scarcity in low-income populations by educating students about food waste and sustainable agriculture.  Sustainability is particularly prominent in housing and dining services, where administrators benefit both from the efficiency and popularity of environmentally sustainable buildings and construction (Pursehouse, 2012).  Environmental sustainability is no longer a philosophy exclusive to a political fringe group; it is a common expectation among many college students.

The work of sustainability in student affairs is typically limited to efforts that can be easily incorporated into existing structures and processes.  In a more aggressive approach to sustainability, student affairs practitioners would challenge unsustainable systems akin to the social justice critique of systematic power and privilege.  Newport (2012) argued that higher education uses sustainability to advance conservation efforts that save money, but fall short of fully integrating the movement’s strategic vision or social justice ideals.  He suggested that postsecondary institutions focus on the economic and environmental aspects of sustainability’s triple bottom line, while overlooking the aspect of social justice.  We believe that by applying a social justice ethic to environmental sustainability, we can synthesize two similar values and embrace a unifying ethic of environmental justice that centers environmental issues on a social justice framework.

Environmental Justice

We use the term “environmental justice” to describe the intersection of social justice and sustainability (Agyeman, Bullard, & Evans, 2002).  An environmental justice approach couples issues of environmental degradation with social justice and promotes action on environmental issues that affect historically marginalized communities.  The concept of environmental justice bridges the gap between social justice and environmentalism by naming the long history of the intersections of race, class, and abuses of the natural environment in the United States.  Environmental justice is closely aligned to the values and priorities of student affairs administrators who work to foster students’ attention to issues of equity and personal moral development.

Environmental Justice in Student Affairs

Student affairs administrators have long taken responsibility for students’ learning and development through co-curricular educational experiences (Creamer, Winston, & Miller, 2001).  In the context of an increasingly globalized planet threatened by climate change and persistent issues of environmental and social justice, student affairs administrators may consider how environmental justice is related to social justice, and how it can enhance students’ learning and development.  In the following section, we address the implications of environmental justice for student affairs practice such as equity and inclusion, student learning, and student development.

Equity and Inclusion

Equity and inclusion are at the heart of student affairs values.  An entire section of the Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners articulates standards for social justice and inclusion (ACPA & NASPA, 2010/2015).  The standards describe the need for professionals to work toward individual competence in equitable practice, competence in fostering students’ attention to issues of social justice, and competence in fostering institutional practices that are equitable (ACPA & NASPA, 2010/2015).  In an increasingly globalized world, college students and university administrators must reframe the perspective on social justice to incorporate an awareness of our place within and impact upon the global community.

We have argued that there is a significant connection between student affairs practitioners’ pursuit of social justice and environmental justice.  We present two examples of structural inequity steeped in environmental degradation to demonstrate the connection between student affairs and social and environmental justice issues.  First, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, hundreds of thousands of farm workers suffer pesticide-related illnesses each year; race is the most significant factor in differentiating where disposal facilities of hazardous wastes are sited (2003).  Second, climate change is resulting in agricultural shifts that are impoverishing small farmers globally; this contributes to malnutrition poverty in the most economically depressed communities in developing nations that have little control over the factors that contribute to climate change (Brainard, Jones, Purvis, 2009).  While these issues may at first seem disconnected from daily life on a campus, it is important to consider where campuses attain their food, dispose of their wastes, how they invest their financial holdings, and what policies govern the environmental and just labor implications of purchasing.  Answers to these questions may reveal direct links to environmental injustice.  By educating our students about the importance of our carbon footprints, consumption of locally-produced resources, and engagement in local and national discussions about sustainability, we can achieve progress toward environmental justice.

Student Learning & Development

Student affairs administrators have a responsibility to help curb institutional practices that maintain environmental injustice and educate students who can make individual and collective decisions that promote environmental justice.  This role in facilitating students’ ability to mitigate global concerns is rooted in the very foundation of the field of student affairs. The Student Personnel Point of View reminded administrators of the need to foster “development of more citizens able to assume responsibilities in matters of social concern” (ACE, 1949, p. 4).  The document’s authors claim postsecondary education must “[provide] experiences which develop in its students a firm and enlightened belief in democracy, a matured understanding of its problems and methods, and a deep sense of responsibility for individual and collective action” (p. 4). Today’s students live in a society that will only become increasingly globalized, and we must ensure their collegiate experiences prepare them to understand the global implications of their daily decisions.

By supporting students’ learning and development through the co-curriculum, student affairs administrators are ideally situated to incorporate a perspective of environmental justice in programming and educational interventions.  Service-learning, study abroad, and educational programming in residence halls are all examples of opportunities for environmental justice to enhance student learning. Service-learning opportunities help students apply theories and classroom learning in “new situations” (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005, p. 129) and in their communities (Keen & Baldwin, 2004).  Study abroad provides students with experiences in other developed and developing countries and enhances students’ capacity for perspective-taking in a global community (Tarrant & Lyons, 2011; Tarrant, Rubin, & Stoner, 2013).  Pascarella and Terenzini (1991, 2005) found that educational programming and formalized Living-Learning Communities contribute positively to student success and learning in university residence halls. Blimling (2015) notes that the more engaging the program and the more involved faculty and student affairs professionals are in the community, the more engaged and the more students learn.  We have argued that the research on student learning and development strongly supports the development of programs that integrate environmental justice and social justice learning in applied settings.  In the subsequent section, we describe examples of environmental justice in practice at six postsecondary institutions in the United States; these examples demonstrate the connection between environmental justice and student affairs work.

Environmental Justice in Practice

Today, at least one organization offers a designation to assist institutions in developing more environmentally just practices.  Similar to the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS; a system supported by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education), Fair Trade Campaigns offers a fair trade institution designation for colleges and universities who demonstrate a pledge to five commitments outlined by Fair Trade Colleges and Universities (2014).  According to Fair Trade Campaigns, a fair trade commitment “ensures consumers that the products they purchase were grown, harvested, crafted, and traded in ways that improve lives and protect the environment” (Fair Trade Campaigns, 2014).  In 2008, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh became the first fair trade institution by developing a fair trade resolution for their campus community that included a commitment to fair trade education and building partnerships across campus.

Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa followed suit and signed their fair trade declaration in 2012, and has created an eight-person committee charged with peer education and outreach.  Some of Loras’ efforts included (a) offering fair trade coffee at a weekly coffee hour; (b) informing the campus community of the origin of food and highlighting when products are locally produced; and (c) connecting with local community organizations such as solid waste management and local farmers (A. McDermott, personal communication, October 20, 2014). By embracing fair trade as a priority for purchasing and education, the institution developed an economically feasible strategy to enact environmental justice even in a retail operation.

Like Loras College, Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida mobilized different units such as the campus bookstore to purchase fair trade clothing, and athletics to purchase fairly traded sports equipment.  Additionally, students were exposed to education about the migrant farmers who produce many of the state’s citrus fruits and learn about aspects of environmental justice through their coursework (A. Francis, personal communication, October 20, 2014).  These examples demonstrate the value of leadership within divisions and departments on campus, and how this leadership can demonstrate to senior campus administrators that environmental justice is a relevant pursuit that can be advanced campus-wide.

Integration of these concepts into the institutional academic missions is important to the advancement of environmental justice initiatives.  At Seattle University, the Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability leans on the institutional mission and Jesuit tradition to communicate its message.  The mission of the institution includes “…empowering leaders for a just and humane world,” and the Jesuit tradition of “seeing God in all things” (K. Price, personal communication, September 26, 2014).  Administrators at Seattle University have embraced the natural connection between sustainability and social justice that yields environmental justice.  Beyond institutional mission and values lies the importance of collaboration and partnership between individuals and units on campus.

Partnership within and across academic divisions is an important contributor in the pursuit of environmental justice.  At Elon University, a Sustainability Master Plan was created in 2007 as an effort to create an all-campus commitment to sustainability.  Later, a more succinct Sustainability Policy was written and disseminated throughout the campus.  Elon’s Leadership and Multicultural Office and the Office of Sustainability frequently partner to create educational opportunities on campus.  This includes a yearly Intersect Conference that seeks to bring together various perspectives related to social justice and inclusion.  “When you sit down and share with [social justice educators] your thoughts, you get a positive response.  There really are common interests and goals” (E. Durr, personal communication, October 10, 2014).  Collaboration across the institution yields enhanced results for sustainability.

In addition to staff collaboration, involvement of students in teaching one another about sustainability is a common, successful practice.  The influence of peer education has long been recognized as one of the most significant factors in an undergraduate’s growth and development while in college (Astin, 1993; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005).  Institutions that have adopted environmental justice principles recognize the power of peer education to reach the larger campus community. Student leadership groups such as Eco-Reps at Seattle University have been duplicated at many other universities nationwide and can be enhanced to incorporate social justice principles and training.  At the University of Colorado-Boulder, students in a Climate Justice Leadership Program are trained on sustainability and social justice principles; in addition to group projects, each student completes a capstone designed to educate the campus community (M. Gabrieloff, personal communication, October 16, 2014).  The examples provided in this section demonstrate not only the importance of leadership at the top level of campus administration, but also the value of embracing students’ passion, energy, and willingness to partner with campus leadership to advance environmental justice.


While traditionally viewed as separate issues, sustainability and social justice are inherently related.  Our hope is that by embracing environmental justice as the natural extension of our values regarding social justice and sustainability (ACPA & NASPA, 2010/2015), student affairs practitioners can begin to realize the local and global implications of their practice in developing students and promoting equity.  Environmental justice empowers us to address the challenges of environmental degradation and social justice.

Reflection Questions

  1. How can we incorporate environmental justice into the the strategic goals of my department?
  2. How can we incorporate environmental justice into the learning outcomes in my department or functional area?
  3. How can I communicate the importance of environmental justice to my students? Colleagues? Senior administration?
  4. How can environmental justice inform my personal life as well as my professional role?
  5. How can I foster an environmentally just mindset on campus, encouraging students and colleagues to consider broad and long-term implications of decisions such as purchasing (i.e., thinking “single-purchase” instead of “single-use”)?
  6. What are the “facts” of environmental justice on my campus? For example, where does our waste go? What are procurement policies? Where do we invest? What is our relationship with the local community?


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About the Authors

Andrew M. Wells is a Ph.D. candidate in College Student Affairs Administration at the University of Georiga.  His current research focus is on college students’ attitudes toward the environment and student affairs practitioners’ incorporation of environmental justice in practice and pedagogy.  Prior to beginning his doctoral studies, he worked in student affairs at the University of California, Davis.

Please e-mail inquiries to Andrew M. Wells.

Jessica Belue Buckley holds a B.A from the University of Virginia, an M.Ed. from the University of Vermont, and a Ph.D. in College Student Personnel from the University of Maryland.  She is currently the Clinical Assistant Professor and Assistant Project Director, Cadre & Faculty Development course at University of Louisville.

Please e-mail inquiries to Jessica Belue Buckley.

Dillon Kimmel holds a B.A. from Ball State University an M. Ed. from the University of South Carolina.  He currently serves as a Complex Coordinator at the University of Delaware.

Please e-mail inquiries to Dillon Kimmel.


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.

The Role of Open Access on the Function of Community Colleges


The Role of Open Access on the Function of Community Colleges

Lorrie Budd
Community College of Baltimore County

The Commission on Student Development in the 2 Year College is sponsoring this series to expose readers to the past, present, and future of open access institutions. Open access institutions are colleges that are nonselective in their admission standards. Primarily two-year or community colleges provide open access to students.    For many at-risk students with low academic performance, open access institutions are the only gateway for pursuing higher education.  With the pressure to meet new standards for graduation rates set forth by the American Graduation Initiative, the mission of open access is at risk.  Admitting students with little to no academic resources while dealing with external pressure to increase graduation rates could force some institutions to movewhile dealing with external pressure to increase graduation rates ents with the en access I away from their traditional mission and create academic standards that would bolster graduation rates and meet the demands of the Federal government.


With over half of public community colleges offering open access, higher education has become attainable for many who seek postsecondary credentials.  However, the concept of selectivity or lack thereof has created hurdles for community colleges.  Consequently, open access affects the function of community colleges in terms of student support services, and institutions must be prepared to provide assistance in a different manner than selective institutions.  The following analysis describes how open access shapes community college services, explores strategies colleges are using to balance the effectiveness of their services, and discusses the role open access plays in how community colleges address the academic, social, and emotional development of their students.

Open Access and College Services

The impact of open access on college services is evident from the very beginning of a student’s career at an institution.  During peak registration times, community college enrollment staff find their offices handling long lines, extending business hours, and even opening their doors when the offices are typically closed.  In order to accommodate students who are late registrants, many institutions have developed the trend of opening on weekend days prior to the first day of classes.  Additionally, many institutions continue to offer late registration periods that allow students to enroll even though classes have already begun.

The way open access enrollment is structured creates a domino effect for other services, such as new student orientation.  For example, because selective institutions, mainly four-year institutions, follow a traditional academic calendar, their admitted students register for fall classes by the summer months.  Therefore, they offer new student orientation initiatives in June or July before the students arrive in late August to experience additional orientation, such as “Welcome Weeks,” and begin their coursework.

Open access institutions, on the other hand, enroll students throughout the summer months.  Although some community colleges do offer new student orientation sessions throughout the summer, many operate on a schedule that sponsors orientation just before classes start.  Unfortunately, this does not always allow for proper preparation time for students, as they are receiving pertinent information only days before their classes begin.  In addition, for some students who late register during the first week of classes, their institutions may not offer orientation at that time, so they miss out on the success tips that their peers received just days before them.

Strategies for Balancing Open Access and Services

Because of information overload for some students and lack of information delivery for others, open access institutions have brainstormed strategies to ensure students receive pertinent information.  Some institutions offer “crash” orientation sessions during the first week of classes.  Other colleges have contemplated and even implemented measures that could jeopardize their commitment to open access yet foster student success, such as eliminating late registration, adopting priorities for enrollment, and implementing selective recruitment practices, as explained below.

Advocates for late registration explain that the extended enrollment timeline is a key component of the open access agenda.  However, late registration critics are quick to point out that this method is detrimental to student success.  Smith, Street, and Olivarez (2002) conducted a study that revealed registration time as a factor of persistence.  They indicated that 80 percent of new students persisted from one semester to the next if they registered on time, whereas only 35 percent of new students persisted if they registered late.  With such discrepancies in persistence rates, community colleges are beginning to debate the effectiveness of late registration policies.  In fact, some colleges have eliminated late registration and have seen favorable results.  Valencia College in Orlando, Florida, reported significant increases in fall semester success rates and fall-to-spring persistence rates (O’Banion, 2012).  Specifically, Valencia College boasts a 90 percent persistence rate for new, college-ready students and an 84 percent persistence rate for new students who are required to take developmental education.

In addition, Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, has experienced improved rates of semester-to-semester persistence for all students (O’Banion, 2012).  Sinclair Community College has also found that eliminating late registration has improved efficiency in other areas: the scheduling of courses and classrooms ran more smoothly; registration, financial aid, and enrollment services staff members did not encounter as many urgent situations; and faculty members were able to begin their classes with accurate rosters.  Such results are instrumental in the debate regarding the effect of late registration on open access, student success, and completion.

In an attempt to further increase completion rates, colleges are considering priority enrollment procedures and targeted marketing strategies.  For example, the California community college system suggested giving priority registration to students who have taken their placement tests, participated in orientation, and developed educational plans (Gonzalez, 2012).  While California is focusing on priority enrollment measures, North Carolina is focusing on the selective marketing and recruiting strategies of specific demographic groups.  Despite the fact that approximately half of North Carolina community colleges practice targeted marketing and recruitment, Morris (2012) found that these strategies have little impact on access to higher education or the demographic composition of their student bodies.

Academic, Social, and Emotional Development

Regardless of enrollment practices, community colleges still attract a diverse group of students.  In particular, as a result of open access, academically underprepared students are given the opportunity to pursue higher education.  Thus, this demographic represents a large portion of the community college population.  In fact, approximately 60 percent of first-time community college students are referred to at least one developmental course (Bailey & Cho, 2010).  Because admission is guaranteed to all individuals, including underprepared degree seekers, open access institutions must provide effective developmental programs.  Consequently, community colleges are paramount in promoting educational access and equity goals by fostering the success of students who may need to build their skills for credit-bearing, college coursework.

If institutions plan to continue implementing developmental programs, they must include other crucial components in addition to the various levels and sequences of academic courses.  But what components are likely to produce higher rates of student persistence and satisfaction?  The answer is simple yet can be difficult for open access institutions to implement: effective programs not only target academic skills but social and emotional development as well.  By facilitating connections to support services, community colleges can increase the probability that their students will see rewarding results and their graduation rates will meet the standards set forth by the American Graduation Initiative (American Association of Community Colleges, 2009; Astin, 1999; Levin, Hernandez, & Cerven, 2010; Summers, 2003; Willet, 2002).

Connecting students to the college and to one another can be a successful tool for student completion.  Studies have shown that students are more likely to persist if they are involved in the academic and social life of the college (Tinto, 1998).  Although some students volunteer their time with clubs and service opportunities, the majority of community college students are not involved in college life.  According to the Center for Community College Student Engagement (2013), 80 percent of community college students reported that they did not spend any of their time participating in college-sponsored activities.  This could simply be a result of the open access mission, as many students tend to choose community colleges for the flexibility that allows them to devote more time to employment and family obligations.

As a result, community colleges must find ways to ensure that meaningful involvement is incorporated into the lives of all students, not just the ones who choose to get involved.  Tinto (1998) suggested learning communities as a potential solution.  Learning communities, which consist of linked courses, are more likely to incorporate additional support and have faculty who encourage the use of and connection to college services.

In addition to learning communities, Tinto (1998) proposed another promising practice: localizing the needs of students through targeted and varying degrees of coursework.  If higher education can enhance student assessment tools to more accurately identify student development needs, then community colleges could offer different degrees of coursework.  For instance, some students might need to enroll in full-semester or half-semester developmental courses, whereas others might be referred to take one or two specific modules, meet with tutors, or participate in group workshops to refine their skills.  Of course, such options require student affairs staff to build up their support services.

Regardless of how individual institutions address developmental education, strong student success centers are essential.  Support services that focus on tutoring, supplemental instruction, and technology assistance must be well staffed, provide proper training to employees, and be open at convenient times for students.  Like many other institutions, the Community College of Baltimore County in Baltimore, Maryland, attempts to meet the needs of their students by offering in-person and online tutoring appointments during the mornings, afternoons, and evenings throughout the week, and hours on the weekends as well.  Furthermore, in response to the high demand for math assistance, the Community College of Baltimore County makes math tutoring available on a walk-in basis so that students may visit with math tutors without having scheduled appointments.


With open admissions, community colleges allow for the attainment of academic degrees, certificates, workforce development, specific skill sets, and personal enrichment.  Because community colleges make upward mobility possible for many, open access institutions must operate in a different manner in order to meet the needs of their students and preserve access to higher education.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the pros and cons of late registration at open access institutions? How would eliminating late registration affect the operations at your institution?
  2. Some critics of open access institutions argue that open enrollment policies often perpetuate the cooling out function, which Clark (2006) explains as the process by which ill-prepared students pursue non-transfer tracks, earn degrees in areas that will pay less, or even fail out of college. Therefore, critics maintain that open access increases educational disparities and hinders social and economic mobility rather than achieving equity goals.  Choose a side of this debate and support your perspective.
  3. Many two-year colleges do not have residential facilities, which often assist in easy access to co-curricular activities and learning. How can community colleges engage their commuter populations in co-curricular activities when they have so many competing priorities (coursework, employment, family, etc.)?


American Association of Community Colleges. (2009). The American graduation initiative:  Stronger American skills through community colleges. Retrieved from

Astin, A. W. (1999). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Development, 40(5), 518-529.

Bailey, T., & Cho, S. (2010). Issue brief: Developmental education in community colleges (Prepared for The White House Summit on Community Colleges). Retrieved from Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University website:

Center for Community College Student Engagement. (2013). Standard reports for all students – 2013 cohort. Austin, TX: The University of Texas at Austin, Community College Leadership Program.

Clark, B. R. (2006). The “cooling-out” function in higher education. In B. Townsend & D. Bragg (Eds.), ASHE Reader on Community Colleges (pp. 55-61). Boston, MA: Pearson Custom Publishing.

Community College of Baltimore County. (2014). Retrieved from

Gonzalez, J. (2012). Education for all? 2-year colleges struggle to preserve their mission. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Levin, J. S., Hernandez, V. M., & Cerven, C. (2010). Succeeding in community college: Advancing the educational progress of working students. Policy Matters, 4(2), 1-11. Retrieved from

Morris, D. B. (2012). Community college selective enrollment and the challenge to open access. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from

O’Banion, T. (2012). Late registration: May it rest in peace. Community College Journal, 83(1), 26-31.

Perin, D., & Charron, K. (2006). “Lights just click on every day.” In T. Bailey and V. S. Morest (Eds.), Defending the community college equity agenda (pp. 155-194). Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Smith, A. B., Street, M. A., & Olivarez, A. (2002). Early, regular, and late registration and community college student success: A case study. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 26(3), 261-271.

Summers, M. D. (2003). ERIC review: Attrition research at community colleges. Community College Review, 30(4), 64-84.

Tinto, V. (1998). Learning communities and the reconstruction of remedial education in higher education. Paper presented at the Conference on Replacing Remediation in Higher Education, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.

Willett, T. (2002). Impact of follow up counseling on academic performance and persistence. Retrieved from Gavilan College website: /FUEVALD2.PDF

About the Author

Lorrie Budd received her Bachelor of Science degree in family and community services and her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Stevenson University in 2005.  She graduated with her Master of Science degree in counseling with a concentration in college student personnel services from Shippensburg University, where she was a residence director for three years.  For three years post-graduate school, she continued her residence life experience and served as an Assistant Director of Student Life at Loyola University Maryland.  Currently, Lorrie is the Assistant Director of Student Life for First-Year Experience at the Community College of Baltimore County in Maryland and is a student at Morgan State University, where she plans to earn her Doctor of Education.  Her interest in open access and student services stems from her current experience working with first-year students and her doctoral studies in community college leadership.

Please e-mail inquiries to Lorrie Budd.


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.

Positioning Privileged White Men in Social Justice: Exploring Barriers and Strategies for Privileged White Men and Those who Work with Them


Positioning Privileged White Men in Social Justice: Exploring Barriers and Strategies for Privileged White Men and Those who Work with Them

Kyle C. Ashlee
Aeriel A. Ashlee
Miami University of Ohio

In recognition of the recent 30th anniversary of the Standing Committee on Men & Masculinities (SCMM), the SCMM has launched a series exploring the concept of intersectionality as it relates to collegiate men.  Contributing authors will explore how dimensions of race, religion, gender, and other social identities converge and shape the experiences of college men and how higher education professionals can best assist these students. 

Introduction and Overview

With increasingly diverse college student populations, exploring intersections of identity has become a central programmatic and developmental focal point within student affairs in higher education. Often this means educators pay particular attention to student communities who experience multiple points of marginalization. In this article, the authors assert that exploring intersectionality for those with privileged and dominant identities is also necessary to engage in transformative social justice work.

Consider the intersectionality of three privileged identities, heterosexual, cisgender, white men. This demographic has access to more institutional power and privilege than many other intersectional identity groups (McIntosh, 2003). While these advantages are inherently problematic, they also provide this college student population with unique opportunities to significantly impact systems of oppression. For the duration of this article, the authors will refer to this demographic, acknowledging their multiple points of privilege, as “privileged white men.” This thought piece will highlight helpful strategies and approaches for privileged white men looking to become more effective social justice advocates. Specifically, this article will:

  • Examine the six stages of Bishop’s Ally Development Model (2002)
  • Identify challenges and barriers of engaging privileged white men in social justice work
  • Explore strategies for privileged white men and those who work with them in navigating challenges and barriers to social justice work

The social identities of the authors for this piece are important to consider in terms of positionality and potential bias in perspective. Kyle Ashlee identifies as a white, cisgender, heterosexual man. These identities afford him numerous unearned privileges. As a result, he believes it is his responsibility to do his own work around power, privilege and oppression in addition to engaging other folks with privileged identities in social justice work. Aeriel A. Ashlee identifies as a heterosexual, cisgender, transracial adoptee, womxn of color. These identities in conjunction with her marriage to Kyle, make the topic of this article particularly relevant for her both personally and professionally. Additionally, Kyle and Aeriel both identify as mid-level professionals, highly educated, and temporarily able-bodied. They are positioned in a way that may influence their ability to understand the lived experiences of identity communities to which they do not belong.

Before delving into the core tenets of this article, a few acknowledgements are worth noting. First, this article will focus specifically on race and gender as two acute social identities. While identity is extremely complex and all dimensions influence each other (Jones & McEwen, 2000), the authors have chosen to focus the scope of this article on the intersection of race and gender. Second, some of the language used in this piece, such as “men,” “male,” and “masculinity,” is limited in its false characterization of gender as a binary. The word choice used in this article is intended to reflect the dominant/subordinate power dynamics of our patriarchal society. Lastly, the discussion is framed in a pro-feminist and male-positive lens, calling the dominant group (i.e., heterosexual cisgender, white men) to action in social justice work.

Bishop’s Ally Development Theory

Anne Bishop’s 2002 framework for understanding the development of social justice allies, which she outlines in her book Becoming An Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression in People, combines both cognitive and behavioral components. Originally written about interracial social justice allies in particular, Bishop contextualizes power and privilege more broadly and thus the authors of this article have applied the model to the engagement of privileged white men as social justice allies. At the core of Bishop’s approach to allyship is the understanding that allies recognize the unearned privilege they receive from society and take responsibility for changing these patterns.

According to Bishop (2002), ally development begins with understanding oppression; how it began, how it is maintained, and how its cyclical nature entraps individuals and institutions. The second step involved in becoming an ally is to recognize and understand the interactions among oppressions. Bishop (2002) compares oppression to an interconnecting web, each strand reinforcing one another. She calls upon allies to recognize the similarities among oppressed groups and to collectively confront oppression, thereby rejecting the notion that there is a hierarchy of oppression. Step three of Bishop’s (2002) model acknowledges the pain that accompanies an increased understanding of one’s role in the cycle of oppression. In this step, Bishop (2002) conveys that healing this pain is essential to breaking the cycle and to growing as a social justice ally.

Bishop (2002) makes the political personal by calling upon allies to become workers for their own liberation. Bishop (2002) requires allies to examine their previous role within cycles of oppression as a way to learn new skills in dismantling oppression. This fifth step encourages allies to focus on listening to and supporting others rather than leading or co-opting the movement of a oppressed group. Bishop (2002) directs allies to center their work within the dominant group(s) to which they belong, educating their dominant group peers. The sixth and final step to Bishop’s (2002) ally development model emphasizes the importance of maintaining hope while working for social change. Bishop (2002) asserts that being an active social justice ally can be difficult and encourages allies to remember that a social movement is a long-term journey. Therefore, they must hold onto the sincere belief that what has been learned (i.e., racism, sexism, homophobia) can also be unlearned.

Challenges of Allyship

The concept of allyship is complex and requires both intentionality and reflection for privileged white men. Bishop’s (2002) Ally Development model demonstrates that allyship is a process of awareness, healing, and action. This process is not always seamless and many challenges come along with the development of privileged white men as effective social justice allies.

Even the most well-intended allies can sometimes cause unintentional harm. In his work, Keith Edwards (2006) discusses the contentious tug-of-war between intentions and impacts of ally behavior. Edwards (2006) notes that:

[F]or those who are the direct targets of oppression, underlying motivations may

appear to be irrelevant; only the outcome of the behavior matters… as educators seeking to be effective allies and to develop effective ally behavior in others, understanding underlying motivations can be a tool to develop more consistently effective ally behavior. (p. 53)

In other words, effective allyship must consider both intent and impact of anti-oppressive behavior.

Another consideration for effective allyship is the notion of ally as a labeled identity. While identification is important, both for allies and for those with whom they are working, the title of “ally” can sometimes lead to a problematic sense of accomplishment or enlightenment for the person of privilege. Instead, effective allies must constantly strive toward a better understanding of their own privilege and how their identities impact others. Allyship should be viewed as a verb rather than a noun, determined by action and commitment. For privileged white men doing social justice work, mistakes will be made in their ally development and that behavior may not be congruent with allyship. Therefore, for the purpose of this article, the authors call upon Brod, Terhaar, Thao, Laker, & Voth (2005) who indicated that the most reliable and authentic naming of social justice allies is done by members of the oppressed groups.

Finally, allyship for privileged white men is complicated by the uncertainty of when and how to show up within a social justice movement. While allies have their place in working toward social justice, they should not be the ones leading the way. Much of the work necessary to make positive social change requires people from dominant identity groups to do their own work in understanding systems of power and privilege. This includes amplifying the voices of those who are marginalized and disrupting oppressive behavior in spaces occupied solely by those with dominant identities. However, it is imperative that allyship be informed by those experiencing oppression so as not to co-opt their efforts. If allies do not collaborate with and listen to those from marginalized communities, their work runs the risk of reinforcing systems of oppression and perpetuating harm.

Barriers for Privileged White Men

Privileged white men can experience significant barriers that impede their development as effective social justice allies. From his professional work with men’s programming as well as his own lived experiences, Kyle believes that many of these barriers result from personal fears and insecurities about making mistakes and the personal shame associated with being held responsible for these learning moments in allyship. Fear and shame can be strong motivators for action (Brown, 2012), and these feelings can be enough to deter many aspiring allies from social justice work altogether.

Specifically, the barriers for many privileged white men in doing social justice work include silence and pluralistic ignorance. In traditional hegemonic masculinity, men are taught to be silent and fiercely independent (Kimmel, 2009). This means that many men struggle with expressing their authentic feelings for fear that they will be judged and criticized by other men. Men’s socialized silence can create a barrier in challenging others around oppressive language and behavior. Additionally, some men believe they are alone in their efforts toward social justice. Research around the concept of pluralistic ignorance illustrates that college men often believe more men participate in harmful behavior (i.e. high-risk drinking, victim blaming, sexism, homophobia) than really do (Berkowitz, 2011).

Strategies for Working With Privileged White Men

While fear and insecurity can significantly deter some privileged white men from becoming effective social justice allies, Kyle believes there are strategies which can help these men work through these feelings, feelings that can lead to inaction. From his professional experience advising and mentoring college men at multiple colleges and universities, Kyle has found that the challenges and barriers for those with dominant identities doing social justice work may never be resolved completely, but having skills to navigate them can be paramount in maintaining resiliency in effective ally development.

Engaging in continued self-work is one of the most effective ways for privileged white men to overcome the challenges and barriers in doing social justice work. Self-work is the process of understanding one’s own privileged identities and identifying personal attitudes and behaviors that reinforce cycles of oppression (Ashlee & Ashlee, 2016). Self-work requires aspiring allies to be vulnerable about their own biases and areas for growth. In doing so, privileged white men can develop their capacity to be authentic and experience empathy with those who experience oppression.

In addition to self-work, allies can develop their social justice competency by conducting their own independent research. Many times allies depend on those from marginalized communities to help them understand why a specific behavior is problematic or oppressive. This unfairly places the responsibility on those who are the target of oppression. Instead, those with dominant identities must do their own work in understanding systems of privilege and oppression rather than relying on the target group to teach them. One way that privileged white men can do this independent learning is to read current social justice literature. An accessible introduction to the topic of social justice and allyship is VITAL: A Torch For Your Social Justice Journey (Ashlee & Ashlee, 2016). Additionally, a vast library of books on social justice and identity can be found on the suggested readings page of the Social Justice Training Institute.

Privileged white men can also become more effective social justice allies by building their skills for intervention. Overcoming the fear that many men feel from their socialization of hegemonic masculinity takes patience and practice. An increasing number of active bystander intervention training programs have been developed across the country and are being successfully implemented with college and university students (Banyard et al., 2007). These programs approach men from the perspective that they can be an active part of the solution and allow college men the opportunity to develop their skills of intervention with other men. Not only does this process increase their effectiveness, it deconstructs their pluralistic ignorance by revealing and normalizing other men who are willing to stand up against oppressive behavior.

Lastly, privileged white men can work through the challenges and barriers to doing social justice work by engaging in dialogue. There are two types of dialogue – intragroup and intergroup – and both are important in developing effective social justice allies. Intragroup dialogue includes creating spaces for members of dominant identity groups to be authentic and vulnerable with each other as they explore their own privilege and biased behavior. This type of caucusing develops awareness around one’s own identity and contributes to social norming around positive group attitudes and behaviors in social justice work. Conversely, privileged white men can also participate in intergroup dialogue, or shared spaces among dominant and targeted communities, as a way to develop understanding and empathy across difference. Bearing witness to the lived experiences of others through intergroup dialogue can encourage privileged white men to reflect on the impact of systemic structures of oppression in a space uniquely safe space.

Barriers for Those Working with Privileged White Men

Similar to the importance of identifying barriers for privileged white men to show up as social justice allies, it is equally important to identify barriers for those working with aspiring social justice allies. Drawing upon her own experience as a social justice educator, co-author Aeriel Ashlee identifies three barriers to working with privileged white men in social justice work.

First, confronting individual microaggressions and navigating systemic macroaggressions on a daily basis is exhausting. Even the most well-intended ally has the privilege of “turning on or off” their social justice lens, whereas for those with targeted identities (i.e., people of color, women/trans-people) showing up to a patriarchal work environment every day or living in a racially segregating neighborhood, is not a choice one can opt in or out of.

Second, challenging and supporting those with dominant identities in their social justice journeying should not be a responsibility that falls to those who have systematically been oppressed. Existing in an oppressive society is taxing enough, the burden to “educate” dominant groups about their privilege should not fall solely on those historically marginalized. When people with targeted identities are busy taking caring of those with privilege (i.e., a woman of color holding a white woman’s hand as she cries about her white guilt), the voice and energy of the targeted identities is redirected to support the dominant narrative.

A third barrier for those working with privileged white men in social justice work is the fear of being perceived or portrayed as the “angry one.” Without a doubt confronting and owning one’s role in systems of oppression can be uncomfortable work. Unfortunately, sometimes while working through their own privilege, aspiring allies from dominant social identity groups inappropriately project their discomfort to others. For example, when a woman of color articulates her frustrations with institutional racism and is minimized with a comment about going on yet another “angry black woman rant.” The fear of this unjust characterization and trivialization may be a barrier for some folks working with privileged white men.

Strategies for Those Working with Privileged White Men

In light of these barriers to working with privileged white men as social justice allies, it is necessary to the health, wellness, and retention of those working with this dominant group to also identify strategies for working through these barriers. Again, drawing from her own experiences as a social justice educator and partner to a heterosexual white man, co-author Aeriel Ashlee shares five strategies for working with privileged white men in social justice work.

First and foremost is self-care. Dismantling oppressive systems can be arduous work. Giving oneself permission to put down the banner as needed is necessary to one’s longevity as a social justice advocate/educator.

A second and related strategy to self-care is setting boundaries. While engaging allies is important to social justice work, this should not come at the expense of one’s own wellness. It is okay, appropriate, and even sometimes necessary to say “look it up, yourself” – allowing allies to do their own work, rather than shouldering the unrealistic expectation of always being the teacher (with patience, answers, etc.).

In addition to self-care, it is important for those working with privileged white men to remember to be graceful, towards others and ourselves. A challenge with learning edges is that sometimes they cut. Whenever possible, it is best to assume good intent of aspiring allies with dominant identities. Similarly, it is important to have compassion and kindness toward oneself when working with privileged white men. Triggers are an inevitability of tackling issues of power, privilege, and oppression. It is important to acknowledge that triggers can be a reflection of our own work in addition to external conflict with others. These triggers should be respected for their authentic indication of feelings and attuned to with care. It is more important to show up authentically than perfectly.

The fourth and fifth strategies for navigating barriers to working with privileged white men are interrelated. Create and cultivate intragroup dialogue spaces, finding support and solidarity with others who are also working with dominant group(s) to vent, process, problem solve, and find hope. Relatedly, engaging in dialogue across difference, intergroup dialogue, is important for those working with privileged white men as this provides a space to build empathetic relationships, and to create opportunities to share, learn and practice vulnerability around issues of power, privilege, and oppression.


Whether you identify as a privileged white man or someone working with this population in social justice work, the authors of this article hope that this discussion has been useful. This brief reading can be shared with colleagues and networks of support, as a meaningful way to engage in important intra and inter-group conversations about working with privileged White men in social justice work.

Discussion Questions

  1. What barriers have you experienced as a privileged white man doing social justice work?
  2. What barriers have you experienced with privileged white men doing social justice work?
  3. What strategies have you used to navigate these barriers?


Abes, E. S., Jones, S. R., & McEwen, M. K. (2007). Reconceptualizing the model of multiple dimensions of identity: The role of meaning-making capacity in the construction of multiple identities. Journal of College Student Development, 48, 1-22.

Ashlee, K. C. & Ashlee, A. A. (2016). VITAL: A torch for your social justice journey. Cincinnati, OH: Brave Space Publishing.

Banyard, V. L., Moynihan, M. M., & Plante, E. G. (2007). Sexual violence prevention through bystander education: An experimental evaluation. Journal of Community Psychology. 35.463-481. doi:10.1002/jcop.20159

Berkowitz, A. D. (2011). Using how college men feel about being men and “doing the right thing” to promote men’s development. New York and London: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group.

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

Brod, H., Terhaar, J., Thao, M., Laker, J., & Voth, J. L. (2005, March). Effective strategies for engaging allies: Explaining water to fish. Pre-conference program presented at the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators National Conference, Tampa, FL.

Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York, NY: Gotham Books.

Edwards, K. (2006). Aspiring social justice ally identity development: A conceptual model. NASPA Journal, 43, 39-60.

Kimmel, M. (2009). Guyland: The perilous world where boys become men. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

McIntosh, P. (2003). White privilege and male privilege. In M. Kimmel & A. L. Ferber (Eds.), Privilege: A reader  (pp. 3–25). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

About the Authors

Kyle Ashlee and Aeriel A. Ashlee are doctoral students in the Student Affairs in Higher Education (SAHE) program at Miami University. The Ashlees are co-authors of VITAL: A Torch For Your Social Justice Journey and co-founders of Ashlee Consulting LLC. The firm focuses on building inclusive communities that value diversity and social justice through facilitator training, inspirational story sharing, and dialogue program development.

Please e-mail inquiries to Kyle Ashlee or Aeriel A. Ashlee


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.



Gavin W. Henning

On March 6, 2016, ACPA – College Student Educators International will make history. For the first time ever, the association will hold its convention outside of the United States. The 2016 ACPA Annual Convention will be significant and exemplify the mission and values of the association.

ACPA16 is a truly an international event. First, because of our host city. Montréal, originally called Ville-Marie (City of Mary) is named after Mount Royal, the triple-peaked hill in the center of the city. Montréal, which is actually on an island, is the largest city in Québec, the second largest in Canada (behind Toronto), and the 9th largest in North America. French is the city’s official language and 56% of the population speaks both French and English. Interestingly, Montréal is the second largest primarily French-speaking city in the world, after Paris.

There are 60 internationally-focused programs being offered. Some of the programs relate to internationalization. Other programs are facilitated by individuals from outside the United States. During ACPA16, we are also piloting a Student Leader Global Summit powered by IASAS, ACPA, and Lead365. College students from around the world will come to Montréal for three days of leadership training.

As always, we will have a number of sessions related to student learning and development – the heart of our association’s mission. There are amply opportunities to discover emergent research and scholarship through educational sessions and double the number of research papers and posters typically offered. One featured session showcases findings from the upcoming 3rd edition of How College Affects Students. In another featured session, Marilee Bresciani Ludvik will discuss the use of neuroscience to improve student success, which highlights findings from her book The Neuroscience of Learning. In addition, this year we will have a program track centered on instruction and teaching which includes nearly 30 programs.

A hallmark of ACPA is our values regarding equity and inclusion. Each opening and closing speaker lives these values and furthers them in the work they do. Speakers include Irshad Manji who is an advocate of reformist interpretation of Islam; Jack Saddleback, who is the first transgender and fourth Aboriginal individual to serve as President of the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union; Martine Desjardines, former student leader of the “2012 Maple Spring” in which college students protested tuition raises; and Jay Smooth, founder of New York City’s longest running hip hop program.

In addition, there will be a program track regarding race and racism which includes over 60 sessions on topics such as support services for Native Indian and Aboriginal/First Nations students, using Critical Race Theory to support students of color, Black male identity development and engagement, and many more. There are 17 sessions as part of the Transgender and Trans Identity program track. Session topics include the intersectionality of Black Queer identity formations in college, transgender student sexual health, creating Trans* inclusive college and university campuses, and more.

An ACPA annual convention would not be complete without activities especially focused on professional development. There will be special educational sessions devoted to job search and recruitment processes. ACPA is partnering with Peter Lake to offer a certificate in Title IX compliance. There will also be certificate program tracks on the following topics: globalization with a focus on social justice and inclusion, scholarship with a focus on student learning, and technology.

Rounding out the convention experience are receptions, open meetings, and other networking events throughout the event. Take the time to get involved with a commission, coalition, community of practice, or state or international division. These smaller professional communities provide additional opportunities for connecting and learning from others.

For those not able to attend convention, we also have a number of opportunities to participate. These include live and recorded sessions, Twitter backchannel, and ACPA Video On Demand after the convention has ended on March 9th. Monitor the ACPA convention website for details.

The 2016 convention is an historic event for ACPA. I hope you will join us onsite or virtually!

Are We Creating Cultures of Advocacy or Avoidance?

Are We Creating Cultures of Advocacy or Avoidance?

Cindi Love
Executive Director

In February, 2016 I attended the 37th Annual National Conference on Law in Higher Education in Orlando, Florida.  The theme was Compliance, Consumers and the Constitution:  Managing the Law and Policy Expectations of Conflicting Constituencies in Higher Education’s Second Civil Rights Revolution.

Each year, Peter Lake, Director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University College of Law, gathers general counsels of colleges and universities with student affairs professionals working in conduct, Title IX, compliance, as well as campus police.

I was asked to provide the opening keynote.  I chose the topic Constructing Cultures of Advocacy in Which Delineated Rights Are Not Abstractions, but Realities.

The second keynote was by William Creeley, Vice President of Legal and Public Advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).  He spoke about the mission of FIRE, its Stand Up for Speech and Green Light projects.

The timing of these presentations seemed right for the attendees.  There is so much at stake right now in higher education and in our broader society.  Analysts from the Higher Education Research Institute anticipate that the level of student civil engagement, including campus protests, will be at the highest level in 50 years by the end of 2017.

I am not confident that risk-averse campuses will endure this season of discontent well.  This makes me fear for the safety of everyone within the community.  I fear that we are creating cultures of avoidance (of risk) rather than cultures of advocacy.

In our isolated efforts to minimize liability and risk (legal exposure, bad publicity and stakeholder backlash) we sometimes postpone or escalate the emergence of more serious problems by placing narrow policy standards over the individual needs and experiences of people. And, educators may fail to fulfill their responsibilities. Risk reduction lacks the conscious decision to support individual growth in moral and ethical decision-making, social identity development, and cultural competency.  Student learning and development are unintended consequences rather than an intentional outcome in these settings. (Schrage and Giacomini, 2009)

Creeley’s review of 400+ campus policies regarding protected speech suggested that we have major work to do.

FIRE has launched the Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project as a large-scale national effort to eliminate unconstitutional speech codes through targeted First Amendment lawsuits. Working in rapid succession and in multiple federal circuits, the Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project seeks to generate additional legal precedent, widespread media coverage, and numerous policy revisions. Ultimately, this Project is working to generate the pressure necessary to rebalance the incentives on campus in favor of free expression.  Efforts to suppress this constitutional right will predictably escalate the sense of urgency for activists.

My recommendation is to be proactive in teaching effective civic engagement, informing students of their rights and creating supportive campus environments in which no one gets hurt. Create an ethos of communication, non-violent contestation, and civility.  Chancellors and Presidents must lead this cultural transformation.

Naturally, no one wants FIRE to call them up or send a letter suggesting that the campus is going to be exposed to litigation and liability for violation of freedom of expression or assembly or abuses of academic freedom.  And, the way to avoid those calls is to avoid suppression of the constitutional rights on students on public universities.

Here are a few questions for campuses to consider.

  • Are freedom of speech and assembly addressed in your campus climate surveys?
  • Is there education for first year students on civil engagement and civil disobedience, constitutional rights, guidelines for non-violent assembly, and protest?
  • Are there clear guidelines in place for campus safety officers regarding use of force?
  • If a Memorandum of Understanding is in place with a local city police department, does it include policies and practices centered on student learning and development?
  • Is Chancellor evaluation tied directly to campus climate?

My hope is that we are better prepared for student unrest than we were in 1970.  This will only be true if we are developing cultures of advocacy rather than avoidance and part of that process means guaranteeing, at minimum, protected speech.


Schrage, J. M., & Giacomini, N. G. (2009). Reframing campus conflict: Student conduct practices through a social justice lens. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

From One Dupont Circle: Lead

From One Dupont Circle: Lead

Dr. Cindi Love, Ed.D.In the July 2014 Leadership Meeting for ACPA, I introduced an acronym that I believe illustrates the present and future context for our work as the ACPA – College Student Educators International community of social justice educators and student affairs professionals–L.A.M.P.  Lead. Amplify. Mobilize. Partner.

In this edition I want to talk about Lead.

In the short time that I have served as Executive Director (since July 2014), my observation about leadership in ACPA is that it does not manifest in a traditional way–it’s not about being “over” or “better” than others, rather it draws upon our (1) collective capacity; (2) community wide commitment to thought leadership; (3) the facilitation of insight; and (4) creating venues for positive influence.

For more than 90 years, ACPA – College Student Educators International members have been working at the contested and difficult intersections of equity and inclusion on college campuses.  Our stated intention and, I believe, our heart-desire is to improve accessibility and outcomes for all people within campus communities.  Justice seeking is at the core of everything we do.

Sometimes we fail and sometimes we succeed in specific initiatives or in our language or management of events.  What I like about ACPA community members is that we persist, we are resilient, we have the capacity and desire to recognize and acknowledge our failures; then we seek insight and improve.

I have worked in multiple justice-seeking human rights organizations and settings and, in spite of their missions, the willingness to change behavior was not always present within the leadership, staff, and memberships.  There was too much competition for resources, too much heartbreak, and it hurt our capacity for insight, collaboration and change.

The capacity for insight is central to the capacity for change.  I am grateful that I see this capacity for insight in so many of our members because I believe that student affairs professionals are in the business of facilitating insight which generates hope and potentiates change

Without insight, we repeat destructive behaviors and often pass these on from one generation to the next, (one institution to the next, one association to the next).

Insight flows over time in ways we often cannot predict or appreciate at the moment. Insight is a brilliant moment of powerful penetration into the reality of the issue or situation.  Change is hard because insight is difficult.  Change is hard because even once insight occurs, the brain must develop the structures to support new behavior (and then institutions must adopt the new behaviors) (Bennet, 2014).

I believe that ACPA’s thought leadership, capacity for insight and motivation to change emerges out of our long tenure in rigorous research and scholarship and the situating of our work within the core values of equity and inclusion.

We have taken the time to see what works and what does not work and that depth in understanding and practice takes time and diligence.  We take no short cuts in these areas and the reputation of the Journal of College Student Development grew out of this commitment within the ACPA community of practice.

ACPA as Hyperlocal Community

We understand that we are a ‘hyperlocal’ community of thought leaders.  I saw the term hyperlocal in the November 2014 edition of HillRag DC and adopted it quickly.  It helps me think about everything we do within ACPA to gather, assess, reflect upon, and disseminate best practices.

The HillRag editors define hyperlocal as information oriented toward a well defined community with its primary focus directed toward the concerns of its residents or members.

ACPA addresses the specific concerns of our members within the field of higher education; thus we are hyperlocal.  This means we do not always sign on to the broad resolutions in higher education because some of these may conflict with our core values. This was the case when ACPA took an early position on affirmative action on campuses, when we brought civil rights leaders into dialogue at our Conventions and when we elected the first LGBT identified President in a national student affairs association.

Our hyperlocality is also global.  These may seem like conflicting ideas, but ACPA is formally represented in at least 16 nations and in many more via the informal social media networks that we facilitate.

A few years ago ACPA leaders adopted a strategic imperative regarding globalization.  We changed our name to College Student Educators International.  We changed the name of our team in DC to the ‘international office.’  We are in a period of discernment about what it means to ‘globalize’ our thought leadership and practice.  Our core values demand that we reject any efforts that suggest colonization.  They also demand our attention at the places where there is no justice and where equity and inclusion are devalued by society.

This is a complicated and messy road to travel.  Allow me to suggest an example. In the United States, we enjoy substantive privilege as sexual and gender minorities.  I risk offending my colleagues with this statement because there are many incomplete areas of inclusion for trans identified people as well as bisexual identified persons, lesbians and gays.

We still struggle to ensure that all of our event locations provide gender-neutral restrooms that are appropriately accessible.  And, our privilege in the United States sometimes diminishes our energy to facilitate insight about those places where people cannot even have a conversation about equity and inclusion without risking their lives or imprisonment–Jamaica, Cameroon, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Burma (Rohingya Muslim minority), Cambodia, Syria, Uzbekistan, and many more.

I have been thinking that it can help us to develop insight as a social justice seeking community if we spend as least as much time thinking about those who do not have the privilege we have as we spend thinking about our own failures to provide equity and inclusion. We need this balance in our lives as an association and as individuals.

It is very hard to continue to grow our capacity for thought leadership without intentionally engaging in the challenges for students who come from other countries to campuses in the United States and without supporting our colleagues in other nations who are working in student affairs or creating programs for the first time.

I want to thank our leaders who determined that we should engage in globalization.  I want to encourage all of the rest of us to lean into that work on our campuses, in our research and scholarship, and in developing fresh insight.

I ‘lean in’ to this process best by forcing myself to think more deeply about universal and/or human rights and human dignity.  Recently I went to a United Nations Foundation hosted discussion of a book entitled Human Dignity and the Future of Global Institutions (Lagon & Arend, 2014). Mark P. Lagon and Anthony Clark Arend are the Editors. They dedicated the book to Master of Science in Foreign Service students–past, present and future–as they work to set the world on fire.

I believe our ACPA community of students are part of this cohort of world changers and, therefore, the words of Lagon and Arend feel important to share.

They talk about one of the deepest challenges of the implementation of an international agreement to use the words ‘human rights’ with the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948–what is the basis for making the claims that the rights identified in the Declaration’s thirty articles were, in fact, universal?

In place of a justification, the Universal Declaration posits a collection of rights, each flowing from the first words of the first article: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity…In turn, these rights, grounded in a respect for human dignity, became the starting point for constructing a postwar international system whose aim was to ensure that the delineated rights did not remain abstractions.  Rather, they would be realized via institutions, that while international in scope, were national in focus…Over 60 years have passed and we know that the institutions that emerged in the mid-to-late twentieth century (are not) adequate to respond to the challenges of the early twenty-first century. Issues like climate change, human trafficking, water security and weapons of mass destruction, to name a very few, are borderlines in origin and impact and not easily addressed within a logic that gives primacy to national sovereignty. (Lagon & Arend, 2014, p. xiv)

In light of the inadequacies of the World Health Organization (WHO), UNESCO, the World Bank, the IMF and the Millennium Development Corporation and the Global Fund, what can we do?

We can lead.

Our students and practitioners have the capacity for thought leadership and the digitized tools necessary to revisit the questions about what it means for us to protect and respect the human dignity of all people.

We can ensure that we are building institutional climates that foster and protect human rights.  We can embrace our core values of equity and inclusion as we imagine and reimagine that rebuilding.

We can deepen our commitment to human dignity by focusing not only on our own rights that we have achieved, but also on those that are not yet a glimmer of hope for others.  We can ensure that the social practices embedded in our existing institutions (and associations) are sufficient to provide the framework for equity and inclusion and to ensure respect for our shared dignity, manifested in a commitment to human rights.

In my next column, I want to talk about what it means to amplify the voices of those who can make a difference in our campus climates as well as the voices of those who have no agency.  We have an important role to play in this work.  Let me provide a preview.

Repression of free media is increasing worldwide.

In 2011, the year of the Arab Spring and large scale street protests, the number of reporters killed rose by 16% to 66, arrests almost doubled, with attacks and threats to journalists up by 43% and kidnappings up by a third. There was also a 10% increase from the previous year in the number of countries routinely experiencing state censorship. Many journalists have been forced to flee their countries and operate from exile in order to carry on their work as reporters (Attfield, 2013).

My hypothesis is that the next decade will see students and our professionals continuing the work that independent journalists can no longer do.  Students will be the people creating dialogue about human rights and dignity on their campuses and in the public square.  ACPA – College Student Educators International members and allies will be helping them develop the platforms for global dialogue and the safe spaces on campuses around the world where they can give voice and agency to the work of equity and inclusion.


Attfield, W. (2013). Independent media in exile: A baseline consultation. Retrieved from FOJO Media Institute website.

Bennet, M. (2014, November 14). Power of insight [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Lagon, M. P. & Arend, A. C. (2014). Human dignity and the future of global institutions. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

From the Editor

Paul Eaton-Web-1Welcome to the Winter Issue of Developments!  If you are like me, you may be questioning how, exactly, Fall semester came to such a rapid conclusion.  Whether you find this semester has been fruitful, challenging, or somewhere along a continuum, please accept the well-wishes for a safe and enjoyable holiday season and break from everyone at Developments.

I was blessed to make my first official visit to the ACPA – College Student Educators International Office in November during the Annual Meeting for the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE).  I want to thank Dr. Cindi Love and the entire team at the International Office for welcoming us to Washington D.C. for such a lovely reception.  If you are ever in Washington D.C., please make a point to visit One Dupont Circle and thank our hard working staff for their dedication and service to our Association.

Before you part campus for your long winters nap, I hope you will take time to learn from the many articles in this issue of Developments.  The Standing Committee for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Awareness begins a new series looking back at the influence and role of ACPA – College Student Educators International in the LGBTA rights movement over the past 30 years.  In addition to the first article in this series by Gretchen Metzelaars, Jonathan Ross from Lyndon State College offers us a Perspectives piece on supporting the GLBTQIA community as a Christian.

We once again have an outstanding group of feature columns.  In Legal Issues, Jeffrey C. Sun examines controversial commencement speakers, and the legal rights of students, faculty, and staff to protest such speakers on campus.  Tadd Kruse discusses the benefits of increasing international student diversity on campuses in the United States in our Global Affairs column.  Marisa Vernon challenges curriculum in her column on Student Development in the Two-Year College, questioning whether general education requirements for technical degrees enhance or detract from student success.  Finally, Jonathan O’Brien shares his model for developing ethical professional practice and leadership.  This column couples well with our Graduate Students & New Professional Piece on the Ethic of Care in student affairs – reflections from the John C. Dalton Institute.

I’d like to close by welcoming new members of our editorial board team who began their terms in October.  Joining our already outstanding Reviewer team is Stephanie Nguyen (Indiana University), Lisa Hatfield (Portland State University), and Tricia Shalka (The Ohio State University).  Joining our copy editing team is Michelle Ciesielski (Arkansas State University Beebe) and Joshua J. Houston.

Look for our Spring Issue of Developments to appear in your inbox one week prior to our annual meeting in Tampa, Florida.  Until then, enjoy, learn, and reflect on the many outstanding articles in this Winter Issue.  Happy New Year!

Diversity in America and on Campus

by Tadd Kruse, American University of Kuwait

Over the last two decades higher education has made significant efforts to emphasize and capitalize on the role and importance of diversity in tertiary education.  Related terminology is easily found in most institutional mission statements, strategic plans, and institutional goals, as well as being illustrated by a variety of offices to support specified services and programs.

Diversity manifests itself in many forms on campus, especially in the United States, with varying perspectives to support exposure both domestically and internationally.  Given the evolving global climate one might question whether higher education is a change agent/advocate in this effort, or is merely a reflection of the current state.  Regardless, diversity and related issues play a major role in tertiary education’s responsibility to prepare students for a global marketplace, and a seemingly shrinking world.  Institutions of higher learning need to recognize recent shifts within domestic and international populations in order to identify, embrace, and maximize benefits.

As the term diversity can be applied in many contexts, and interpreted different ways, for the purpose of the following points diversity is “the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.: the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.  Diversity in this context extends beyond just race and culture to include the multitude of categories often used to identify human differences (gender, ethnicity, age, etc.). Regardless, diversity and related issues play a major role in post-secondary education’s responsibility to prepare students for a global marketplace, and a seemingly shrinking world.

Diversity on Campus: A Reflection of the Global Population

Many universities in the United States have developed offices for equity, diversity and inclusion as a means to foster equal opportunities, open dialogues, mutual respect and cross-cultural collaboration.  Additional offices exist to support more specialized populations and needs, and vary from domestic to international in basic scope: recognizing that domestic students face similar yet different issues as international student populations and vice-versa.  Even with such support services in place, campuses continue to adapt to the growing shift towards heterogeneous student bodies, illustrated through the increasing growth and variety of domestic and international student populations.

The United States’ population is becoming more diverse according to projections from the 2010 United States Census.  A 2012 Census Bureau projection reported that the United States is, and will continue to become, a more racially and ethnically diverse nation.  The Bureau projected that the United States will grow from the 2014 estimated population of around 320 million to surpass 400 million in the next forty years, becoming a majority-minority nation (no group will make up a majority) for the first time in 2043. Minorities, which are now 37 percent of the United States population, are projected to comprise 57 percent of the population in 2060, seeing the total minority population more than double, from 116.2 million to 241.3 million.  Of particular interest to educators is the proportion of the population younger than 18, which is expected to decrease only slightly from 23.5 percent to 21.2 percent from 2012 to 2060.  The Census Bureau report indicates a shift towards greater diversity across the country, which impacts campus populations at present as well as the near and distant future.

The Chronicle’s Almanac of Higher Education 2014, made accessible in August of this year, lists the most diverse campuses by measuring the probability that two people chosen at random from the student body are of different racial or ethnic groups.  The list includes the top fifteen institutions by category (4/2-year, public/private, non-profit/for-profit) with California having the highest number of campuses listed at 36, followed by Hawaii at 14, and New York at 10.  As most public and private institutions enroll students in state or within a geographic region, often within a specified radius, the demographic make-up of the region may largely determine an institution’s structural diversity.  As these states are very ethnically and racially diverse this may be a glimpse of the future for domestic diversity, and the impact on student populations.

In addition to United States domestic diversity, the addition of international student populations significantly enhances institutional diversity.  Globally, 2014 will see nearly five million students’ worldwide pursuing coursework for degrees outside of their home country, with the United States hosting an estimated 900,000.  Although the number of international students coming to the United States this year is estimated to be the highest ever, it represents approximately 3-4% of the national total higher education enrollment, a percentage that historically has been fairly consistent. These figures and trends present a substantial potential resource to universities and surrounding communities providing numerous benefits.

During summer 2014 a number of reports became available to further articulate the flow of international students.  A U.S. News and World Report article, based on data submitted to U.S. News from 263 ranked colleges, indicated the ten national universities with the largest percentages of international, degree-seeking undergrads in fall 2012, ranging from 15-29% of the student population.  The majority of these institutions were in New York, Florida, California, and the Midwest.

Further, The Brookings Institution released The Geography of Foreign Students in U.S. Higher Education: Origins and Destinations.  The report analyzes data on F-1 visa approvals, the most common form of visa for international students in the U.S., which is included in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) database. Unlike previous available data, the Brookings findings focused on the origin and destination cities of international students coming to America.  The report found that from 2008-2012, 85 percent of foreign students pursuing a bachelor’s degree or above attended colleges and universities in 118 metropolitan areas across the nation.  These 118 metro areas collectively accounted for 73 percent of United States higher education students.  According to the report, from 2008-2012, the top five source and destination cities for international students are as follows:

Top Five Source Cities

1. Seoul, South Korea             56,503 students

2. Beijing, China                       49,946 students

3. Shanghai, China                    29,145 students

4. Hyderabad, India                26,220 students

5. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia          17,361 students

Top Five Destination Metropolitan Areas

1. New York, NY                    101,586 students

2. Los Angeles, CA                   68,271 students

3. Boston, MA                                     53,486 students

4. San Francisco, CA                37,610 students

5. Washington D.C.                  35,459 students

Other Asian source cities that followed on the list include Mumbai (17,294), followed by Taipei (15,985), Hong Kong (12,406) and Kathmandu (10,721).  From 2008-12, other cities that welcomed more than 20,000 foreign students to the U.S. included Chicago (35,204), Dallas (25,353), Philadelphia (24,346), and San Jose (19,015).

From 2008 to 2012, approximately 3,700 United States educational institutions received approvals for F-1 visas for Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degree programs with the top 100 schools accounting for 46 percent of all F-1 students pursuing at least a bachelor’s degree. With a high percentage of foreign students having attended a relatively small number of colleges and universities, and only one-third of foreign students having attended colleges or universities with little to no research activity, larger research based institutions and those in metropolitan settings do have an advantage.


Regardless of your institutional type and location, there are a number of benefits from developing and supporting a truly diverse student body.  Below are several factors to consider and embrace in support of expanding cultural awareness, cultural exchange, and intentionally promoting diversity at your institution.

  • Cultural Exchange – More diverse campus populations provide for a plethora of cultural exchange opportunities, both formal and informal.  Campuses can capitalize on the diversity presented within the student body through the celebration of culture and intentionally developing awareness opportunities.  These opportunities often are presented through international weeks, special programs, bazaars, campaigns, and language initiatives.  These exchanges can enhance not just the campus community but the local community as well, especially for those institutions in less metropolitan areas.
  • Economics According to The Brookings Institution report, approximately $21.8 billion in tuition and $12.8 billion in other spending added to the 118 metropolitan economies from international students between 2008 and 2012.  Nearly $7 billion a year was pumped into the United States economy during that period from this student population.  Much of that spending went beyond institutions and into community businesses.  The 2012-13 IIE Open Doors report suggests 313,260 jobs were supported by these funds.
  • Education A more diverse group, or class make-up, has long been deemed an important component to educational processes and learning.   Achieving a diverse student body, starting with admissions processes, helps to provide greater opportunities for classroom engagement and idea exchange.  The importance of diversity was supported in the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Grutter v Bollinger, addressing the University of Michigan Law School admissions processes.  The ruling reinforced that maintaining diverse and inclusive student populations is important to higher education environments.
  • Enrollment Source Students make decisions about where to study based on many factors, including academic reputation, programs, and recognition of degrees (both domestically and internationally).  Other key factors include language and cultural considerations; geography; similarity of education systems; links with institutions, regions, or countries; future job opportunities; cost; and cultural aspirations and immigration policies.  Universities need to be aware of strengths and weaknesses related to these factors in order to maximize institutional appeal and potential enrollment sources.
  • Labor Force – In addition to the economic benefits of international students, the labor force can also capitalize. As The Brookings Institution report stated, “With knowledge of both markets, foreign students can be valuable assets to local business communities that are seeking to expand globally, and the wider metropolitan economies in which they sit.”  The report further stated that 45 percent of foreign student graduates extend their visas in the United States to work in the same metropolitan area as their institution.
  • Personal Growth – A vital function of the higher education journey is the personal development of students.  Although often deemed a secondary outcome of the collegiate journey, many student affairs professionals or graduates would argue that this is quite significant.  By developing diverse populations and opportunities for exposure and understanding, institutions further support the maturation and growth of students in a multitude of ways.
  • Promote Tolerance & Cultural Diversity – As the United States and other countries around the world continue to diversify, the increased exposure and opportunities for cultural exchange help to develop and promote tolerance.  The United States has been viewed as a “melting pot” of cultures, but many would argue that it is more of a “kaleidoscope,” (that both immigrants and society adapt and change). A favored Mark Twain quote sums it up best by illustrating the importance of exposure in overcoming barriers to equity, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”


As tertiary education the world over continues to expand, crossing more borders than ever before and continuing to pair with shifts in domestic diversity figures, academia is not necessarily the change agent perhaps it once was.  It is now a closer reflection of the global population.   Multiculturalism and diversity issues are present on campuses now more than ever, mirroring an increased societal picture, especially in the United States.  Census projections see the country diversifying in major categories over the next three decades.  However, diversity tends to be generalized across a broad population of individuals depending on institutional make-up, and is not always an accurate representation.  These factors coupled with the largest international student population in the United States to date presents a need to revisit what diversity really means on your campus.  As student affairs practitioners, it is important that we acknowledge how diversity presents on campus.  Further, we must intentionally review and plan to embrace the dynamics of an evolving University community, as both a reflection of shifting national and global dynamics.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is your campus a reflection of the region in terms of overall diversity?  If not, how does it differ and why?
  2. Do you know the demographics of your student body on campus, including both domestic and international populations? Does your supervisor or peers?
  3. How might you go about gathering information about diverse student populations on your campus, and the services in place to support those most common?
  4. Is your institution type/setting one that benefits from the findings of The Brookings Institution report? What can your institution, your department, and you do to benefit from diversity at your institution?

About the Author

Tadd Kruse is Assistant to the President for Institutional Planning and Effectiveness at the American University of Kuwait (AUK).  With fifteen years of higher education administrative experience and having worked at institutions in the US, UK, and in the Middle East, he has spent more than a decade working abroad. He has experience in international education on a variety of fronts including international student housing, study abroad, exchange programs, and he co-founded and still oversees the Student Affairs Graduate Summer Internship Program at AUK.  Tadd has served as Senior Student Affairs Officer, founded a department at a start-up institution, and worked in a variety of professional fields within Student Affairs.

Please e-mail inquiries to Tadd Kruse.


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.

General Education Requirements in Technical Degree Programs: Do They Close or Open Doors?

Marisa Vernon, Columbus State Community College

Community colleges seek to provide education pathways to the masses, with missions focused on access. Given this focus, American community colleges have always served as the most natural home for technical education programs designed to provide occupational training. During the community college growth period in the 1950s, popular programs included automotive technology, skilled trades, book keeping, and construction.

Today’s community colleges remain committed to workforce needs and training students who select to pursue practical education over a liberal arts experience. Generally resulting in a certificate or associate degree credential, such programs provide a direct route to highly skilled career opportunities. While many community colleges have established articulation or completion agreements with area universities, applied associate degree programs essentially “flip” the traditional pathway to a bachelors degree by frontloading applied training coursework. This model attracts many students to community colleges. However, as community colleges seek to increase academic rigor, technical certificate and associate degree programs are often outliers in the discussion. Can a community college offer skill training programs without holding students to minimum standards in English composition, reading, and mathematics? Do students pursuing technical programs need the same general education foundation as their peers who utilize the community college to complete arts and sciences degrees?

Perhaps the most valuable and yet contradicting value expressed by community college missions is the lack of a one size fits all approach. This approach to education has helped community colleges to fit a niche in the American higher education marketplace and to respond quickly to gaps in the regional and national workforce. By offering both liberal arts and technical coursework, the community college can welcome students with any number of educational goals. Without an awareness of these two concurrent missions, however, community colleges can easily deter students from certain programs and thus suffer a negative impact to enrollment. Consider, for example, the implication of a minimum reading level on a program designed to cater to applied learners (such as automotive technology, welding, or other skilled trades). These programs offer excellent career pathways for individuals seeking immediate employability and a specialized skillset. They also fill a gap within the American workforce as more individuals enroll in universities and obtain a more general educational foundation.

While several career development theories are widely referenced in student affairs and workforce development discussions, most theories detail a subset of the population that possesses strong physical, applied, and kinesthetic preferences. While the K-12 classroom may not cater to these preferences, technical degree programs offer a learning environment where individuals who prefer applied learning can thrive and obtain valuable career skills that are needed within our society. Some areas of general or liberal education can be perceived as disconnected to a student who is pursuing technical training, and thus may even be seen as a barrier to career preparation.

The Pressure to Articulate

While many Americans immediately associate community colleges with technical training, some states have begun to hold all state institutions to the same level of accountability, or grouped them together in the public debate on degree completion. With much of the focus on creating a more educated workforce, the bar continues to rise as states engage in an education arms race. Community colleges are under pressure to create completion agreements with universities, and to not only train employable graduates but to facilitate their eventual transfer as well. With an increased focus on bachelor degree attainment, applied technical degree programs are faced with the challenge of managing enrollment while still folding in the general education coursework that prepares a student for further education later on.

In the early 1980s, three distinct degrees were established among American community colleges. This determination, led by the American Association of Community Colleges, ultimately created the Associate of Arts and Sciences degrees which were designed to create pathways to four-year degree completion, and the Associate of Applied Science which was intended to support vocational training. This distinction still exists at most community colleges almost thirty years later, and serves as the most basic filtering systems for providing students with education options that best fit their academic ability. However, state achievement goals and a changing workforce have created gray areas between these seemingly simplistic degree options. While the Associate of Applied Science degree focuses on technical training, additional general education requirements have begun to pile up in the degree plans (Chase, 2011).

Even with these efforts, however, Chase (2011) finds that only about half of a technical program’s credits transfer to four-year universities. Of the credits accepted by universities, technical credits are generally not accepted outside of specific and identified articulation agreements. Students are often set back by this upon entering the university, and many need to begin at the first-year level even after earning an associates’ degree. While the general education courses in the technical degree help students who transfer, many students are still held back at their future universities due to the low number of credits accepted anyhow. Is this system truly promoting degree completion, or is it creating barriers for students who seek immediate and applied workforce training?

While general education coursework has certainly elevated the academic level of technical and applied degree programs, one unintended consequence is the impact on students beginning in developmental education levels. Such developmental reading, writing and math sequences require underprepared students to maintain high levels of motivation in order to persist towards the vocational coursework they desire to take. Without support, a clear career goal in mind, and a healthy dose of willpower, many students will exit the community college system before discovering the programs that facilitate the hands-on and applied coursework they desire.

The debate over entry points to technical education coursework is a delicate one that includes the voices of many unique stakeholders. While college administrators seek to improve the academic success of the student body, many technical program faculty are passionate about keeping the doors to their programs open to all. Still another stakeholder group among faculty may argue the need for basic reading, writing, and math competency in fields such as automotive technology, skilled trades, photography, and the like. State and national government entities also enter the debate as pressure to both fill workforce needs and promote degree attainment collide. These voices and competing priorities all add additional depth to this discussion.

Impact of Additional Courses on Motivation

ACT (2012) reports that roughly half of new students leave community colleges prior to the completion of the first year. Bers and Schuetz (2014) sought to dig beneath this rate to determine the reasons why so many students stop out while attending community colleges, and revealed several factors. While their research outlined known reasons such as financial constraints, heavy external responsibilities, and transferring prior to degree, the writers also addressed reasons that pertained specifically to frustration with institutional requirements and structure. Community colleges enroll high percentages of first-generation students who enter the college seeking pathways to specific careers. As Bers and Schuetz (2014) indicate, many students are not aware of how their credits will apply to credentials, the benefit of general or preparatory coursework, and the requirements of specialized degree programs. External demands such as family responsibilities, work, or finances also compile and create a sense of skepticism among students with regards to taking classes that are perceived as “extra”. As the authors indicate, community college students, often under pressure, want to avoid wasting time, money, or effort on extra steps to their career goals.

This mentality, while not necessarily found among all community college students, does help administrators and faculty members understand why general or developmental education foundation coursework can quickly deflate individuals seeking vocational or applied science credentials.

The Math Barrier

For nearly every first-year community college student, one of the first steps in the enrollment process includes a placement process by which Advisors determine reading, writing, and math starting points. While developmental reading and writing placements can often delay a student’s entrance into technical program coursework, mathematics remediation creates perhaps the largest barrier to degree completion.

Two-thirds of students entering community college students require developmental education in the area of mathematics, and the majority of these students do not achieve college-level math at any point in their college experience. While many community colleges offer certificates and technical degrees that do not require high levels of math proficiency, Bahr (2012) finds that struggling students do not necessarily shift their efforts to these programs before simply stopping out all together, and that the large majority will exit the institution without earning any credential.

Math continues to prevent many community college students from earning degrees. While many colleges have employed strategies to support students through developmental math levels, the average community college student spends about three to five semesters working through developmental math sequences (Bahr, 2012). Depending on pre-admission criteria or course pre-requisites, many Associate of Applied Science degree-seekers may not receive exposure to his or her field of study until several semesters into his or her community college experience. This gap, while enhancing the technical degree with general education coursework, can present a barrier to a first-generation student who is eager to earn an employable and applied credential.

Employable Certificates

Many community colleges have begun to develop workforce certificates that either prepare students for licensing exams or lead to specialized, entry-level technical work. The certificate programs are designed to offer alternative routes to students who choose not to pursue an associates’ degree, or, ideally, can be used as an entry point to specific careers. In addition, such certificates offer another credential alternative to students struggling through developmental or general education coursework, but who have the skills necessary to succeed in technical coursework.

While many applied certificates take only a few courses to complete, these training programs are in fact seen as valuable to employers, according to Dadgar and Weiss (2012). Many community colleges, however, struggle to both create and recruit students to certificate programs, as students often cannot utilize some forms of financial aid to pursue this credential. In Ohio, for example, colleges must not only develop certificate programs, but prove their employability in order to qualify for student aid. One alternative to this, however, is creating certificates that lead to degrees. While challenging in terms of course sequencing and pre-requisite coursework, this approach may be a viable option for some students who are eager to jump into training, but are apprehensive about pursuing all coursework for a degree.


Technical education is, by nature, an evolving component within many community colleges. In an effort to respond to workforce demands, technical departments create strong programs that are designed to offer specialized training at the associate degree level. This level of education, to many students, provides a desirable opportunity for quick training in high-growth areas.

However, as community colleges are also asked to take on a bigger role in bachelor degree completion, promote transfer, and increase academic rigor, these programs often find themselves at the center of the debate between access and success. For decades, community college technical programs have opened the doors for many individuals to receive valuable skills training. As higher education has grown to fit new facets of the workforce and serve a wider net of students, the landscape of these “front door” programs has changed in response. As community college faculty and administrators employ success strategies that raise the qualifications of their students, these potential impacts to technical program enrollment should be considered. While general education coursework embedded within technical curriculum helps to improve the transferability and academic perception of these programs, unintended consequences may surface. As institutions add qualifying layers to previously accessible programs, the access mission on which community colleges were built may begin to diminish. Likewise, student achievement may begin to decrease as well, as additional barriers can decrease a student’s desire to pursue a seemingly unreachable goal.

Discussion Questions

  1. Community colleges are often viewed as the solution to issues of unemployment, underemployment, and regional economic development challenges. Does this role place additional pressure on community colleges to ensure students leave with a credential or degree? Why or why not? What are the other options open to students if they are not academically successful in a technical degree program?
  2. Do you feel as though technical degree programs should include college-level general education classes? Why or why not?
  3. In your opinion, what can be done in order to change the general perception of career/ technical degrees? What information is important for parents, families, and students to consider when reviewing various educational/career routes?


Bahr, P. R. (2013). The aftermath of remedial math: investigating the low rate of certificate completion among remedial math Students. Research in higher education, 54(2), 171-200.

Bers, T., & Schuetz, P. (2014). Nearbies: a missing piece of the college completion conundrum. Community College Review, 42(3), 167-183.

Chase, M. M. (2011). Benchmarking equity in transfer policies for career and technical associate’s degrees. Community College Review, 39(4), 376-404.

Dadgar, M. & Weiss, M.J. (2012). Labor market returns to sub-baccalaureate credentials: How much does a community college certificate or degree pay? (CRCC Working Paper 45). New York, NY. Retrieved from:

Packard, B. W., & Jeffers, K. C. (2013). Advising and progress in the community college STEM transfer pathway. NACADA Journal, 33(2), 65-76.

About the Author

Marisa Vernon serves as the Assistant Director of Advising Services at Columbus State Community College in Columbus, Ohio, where she leads a large team of professional Academic Advisors and coordinates the community college’s mandatory First Year Experience Seminar. Marisa has seven years of higher education administrative experience at open enrollment institutions specializing in two- and four-year degree programs and transfer preparation. Before joining Columbus State Community College, she was the Assistant Director for First Year Experience at Kent State University’s Stark Campus in North Canton, Ohio, and has also worked at the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education.

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.

A Model for Ethical Professional Practice and Leadership

A Model for Ethical Professional Practice and Leadership

Jonathan O’Brien, California State University, Long Beach

As practitioners, we share values and principles that are the foundation of our profession. How we implement them is filtered through our family traditions, life experiences, and the preparation and training we received in formal education.  Once employed, we are also obliged to support the missions and goals of our institutions and functional areas (Hirt, 2006; Tull & Madrano, 2008). Although I have stated this rather straightforwardly, it’s not this simple. Anyone with time in our field knows that personal dilemmas and interpersonal conflicts about ethical issues are common.

In this column, I start with the assumption that ethical conflicts present us with opportunities to develop ethical competency. “Ethical Professional Practice” is the only competency area recognized by our largest professional associations as an “integral component of all the competency areas” (ACPA & NASPA, 2010, p. 12). An ethical practitioner is obligated to “explain how one’s professional practice also aligns with one’s personal code of ethics and ethical statements of professional student affairs associations” (p. 12). Although ethical practice is so central to our work, there are surprisingly few theoretical tools to guide reflection, dialogue, and leadership around this topic. I will offer a model for thinking about ethical professional practice and its integral role in promoting dialogue and leadership.

The Attitude Problem

As a former supervisor and now a faculty member in a student affairs preparation program, I find that professional conduct is very difficult to teach and evaluate. We have resources to describe the knowledge and skills required for practice (CAS, 2006; ACPA/NASPA, 2010). We also have conferences, training, and knowledge communities that increase our awareness of self and others. However, I have not yet found a concise and useful way to guide the exploration of moral conduct or to translate this behavior into ethical leadership that is reflective of the values and competencies of our field.

In reality, it can be difficult to articulate the conduct we are trying to evaluate and develop. We tend to focus on the extremes or our feedback is too vague or too selective. A constructively critical conversation about character lapses, if poorly facilitated, can insult those on the receiving end. Additionally, I am sensitive to the ways that the term ‘attitude’ has been abused by those from privileged groups to marginalize people, often from minority populations, who advocate for social change. It can be easy for those in power to dismiss persistent advocacy as a bad attitude. Instead, it might be more productive to discuss behavior and avoid the term ‘attitude,’ which is often offensive or confusing.

Many documents enumerate values and principles in student affairs; yet, universal agreement is elusive (Reason & Broido, 2011). As our campuses diversify, students and colleagues bring with them values and perspectives that challenge conventional notions of what is morally acceptable and ethically defensible. Every day we read about ethical issues, such as increases in internet-based plagiarism (Gabriel, 2010), secret video recordings of sexual encounters to avoid allegations of rape (Bazelon, 2009), male students who refuse to work with female peers on religious grounds (Slaughter, 2014), or objections to gender-neutral housing (Fowler, 2013).

Conflict as a Source for Reflective Practice

Kwame Appiah (2010) aptly noted that the most intense conflicts are between individuals who can agree on the definition of the values they share but quarrel bitterly over how best to implement them. Campus conflicts can arise from many sources, like feeling disrespected by our colleagues or the realization that we are complicit in institutional structures that suppress dissent (Holmes, Edwards, & DeBowes, 2009). Unfortunately, we can frustrate our efforts to support students when we are quick to vilify those who disagree with our positions and implementation strategies.

When viewed as critical incidents, conflicts with ethical implications become opportunities to explore our ethical professional practice.  A critical incident is an actual event, bounded in time and history, involving people, practices, and policies. Try this exercise to identify a critical incident:

Take a moment to identify a specific incident in which you were most proud of what you did, although others advised you not to do it or they questioned your motives. Instead, you took action and you were right!

Identify the incident:

  • The facts: when, where, who was involved?
  • What was your role/title/position?
  • What were your goals and intentions in the situation?
  • What was the outcome?

C3 Model of Ethical Professional Practice

The model I propose here is intended to facilitate reflection and promote dialogue on ethical practice. I refer to it as the C3 model, as it constructs ethical professional practice across three domains: (a) consciousness, the awareness of self and situation; (b) capacity, appropriate knowledge and skills required to act responsibly; and, (c) character, the motives and values that drive our response to a critical incident. Each of these domains combines in varying degrees in order to produce the observable behaviors that others recognize as our ethical conduct. This process is subjective and, although it often occurs without much thought, I contend that we are able to choose how we respond to a critical incident, especially if we commit to reflecting on our strengths and weaknesses in each domain.

C3 Ethics Model

The model is a synthesis of two theories that describe moral conduct. The first theory, on the origins of moral behavior (Rest & Narvaez, 1994), posits that ethical behavior is the result of an interaction of four subjective functions, including an individual’s sensitivity to an ethical dilemma, judgment to select the best course of action, motivation to prioritize values, and the character to act ethically, even in the face of resistance from others. The second theory describes the character of professional educators as dispositions, an individual’s motivation to act with awareness and intention in a given context (Splitter, 2010).  The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (n.d.) defined them as the “habits of professional action and moral commitments that underlie an educator’s performance.”

Although the concept of dispositions is relatively new to student affairs literature, I prefer it to attitudes when describing moral conduct in professional practice; the former has a long tradition in virtue ethics. It describes the relatively stable patterns of thought and emotion that produce behaviors that we tend to display consistently over time (Timpe, n.d.). The term attitudes is problematic for me, since its common usage describes moods or temporary states. Dispositions are the enduring influences on our behavior that others come to perceive as our character.

Since they emanate from the personal values and beliefs of individuals, dispositions are difficult to teach; yet, they are essential for ethical professional practice and can be brought to light. O’Shea (2011) described how dispositions are best learned by “a synthesis of traditional classroom instruction in the intellectual virtues with experiential influences and critical self-reflection” (p. 4). Employers expect positive dispositions from candidates as well. In a content analysis of more than 1,700 job descriptions for administrative positions in student affairs, Hoffman and Bresciani (2012) found the dispositions most highly sought after by employers included diversity and social justice, creativity, enthusiasm, flexibility, and positive attitude.

Who am I? Professional Dispositions and the C3 Model

If we accept that dispositions are underlying patterns of thought and emotion that produce our ethical conduct, then it helps us to know and articulate them to others. The C3 model provides a means to do this, through its framework of consciousness, capacity, and character. When we can define the components of our dispositions, share these realizations with others, and learn about theirs, we are inevitably more aware, competent, and authentic practitioners who lead ethically.

How can we identify our dispositions?  One way is to examine our responses to critical incidents. Using the critical incident identified above, reflect on it using this protocol based on the C3 model:

  • What drew your attention to this situation as an ethical concern?
  • What skills and knowledge did you use in this situation?
  • What values and beliefs motivated you to do something?

The answers to these questions form the basis of a description of the professional dispositions an individual uses in response to a critical incident. In the same way that we learn to articulate our skills and academic degrees to employers and colleagues, we can also concisely convey who we are as a practitioner and ethical leader. Here’s an example, from a new professional:

My passion for students and commitment to open access education, diversity, and student success aligns well with the mission of the institution and will guide me as I engage with students and colleagues as an outreach and recruitment advisor.

When we communicate our ethical conduct as professional dispositions, we engage colleagues, potential employers, and supervisors authentically and from a position of strength about the unique contributions we make as leaders in the profession and our institutions.

Levels of Ethical Professional Practice

Ethical professional practice is aligned with standards and performed in an institutional context; yet, what we believe to be ethical may, in fact, be contrary to the perceptions held by supervisors and colleagues in the exact same contexts. In the table below, I apply the C3 model to three levels of practice, informed by the social change model of leadership (Higher Education Research Institute, 1996). The levels are practitioner (person), profession (group), and institution (society).  There is a critical question at each level to prompt deliberation on the roles and conduct we accept as we strive to be ethical leaders in the profession and in our institutions.

Level of Practice Critical Question C3 Domains and Leadership Roles
    Consciousness Capacity Character
Practitioner Who am I? Aware Competent Authentic
Profession Who are we? Learners Servants Colleagues


What is our influence? Teaching Leading Advocating

I don’t claim that the roles I present here are the only ones; rather, I suggest how the C3 model can be implemented at each level of practice. For example, at the professional level, we need ethical leaders who are learners, open to acquiring new skills, ideas, and values. Leaders also ought to be servants, who share skills and knowledge with each other to achieve common goals for the greater good (Greenleaf, 2002). Authenticity at the practitioner level facilitates mutual regard for our colleagues, as individuals worthy of respect and grace.

Ethical Dialogue

At the professional level, we use dialogue to engage colleagues in discussions about ethical standards and moral conduct that is acceptable in our work environments. Dialogue is an exchange of perspectives that transcends mere conversation (Sundberg & Fried, 1997). It can get contentious when we must make ethical decisions involving people or practices that we support, yet we disagree about how to take action. If properly facilitated, the open and authentic exploration of others’ perspectives in dialogue expands our individual consciousness (Schoem & Hurtado, 2001).

We do not have to agree with another’s perspective in order to engage in dialogue and we may retain our positions. However, we cannot escape dialogue and become ethical relativists either. Although we may be tempted to roll our eyes to the skies and say “whatever!” with a sigh, we must resist the temptation. Sometimes the best we can do is engage in dialogue to understand another’s viewpoint. The real challenge is to remain open to the possibility that we are wrong and to take the opportunity to learn about ourselves.

The NASPA Ethics Statement (2012) provides a useful guide to “ethical decision making that is based on context and dialogue” (p. 2). It is motivated by two key questions:

  • How can we act ethically to maintain the integrity of everyone involved in contested situations?
  • How can we appreciate the diversity of ethical beliefs across cultures without enforcing a single ethical belief system?

These questions guide the process of discernment for ethical action. Although they are primarily directed to individuals, the questions focus on important ethical considerations that must be incorporated into dialogue about critical incidents.

What is our influence?

In the C3 model, the institutional level refers both to our educational institutions and to those organized entities in society with which our particular educational institution interacts (e.g., governments, religious communities, regulatory agencies). As ethical practitioners, we work through professional networks on campus and across the field of student affairs to influence positive social and political change. Accordingly, the C3 model suggests that teaching is a role of ethical leaders, who impart knowledge or skill related to the concerns of students and campuses. We are also leading others ethically toward worthy goals that advance broad interests. And, as ethical leaders, we commit to advocating on behalf of others who are not at the table or cannot speak for themselves.

Where do we go from here?

In this column I proposed a framework for looking at the ethical conduct of individuals across three domains: consciousness, capacity, and character. Through dialogue with colleagues we can explore and define the roles and tasks that characterize our leadership. I have also suggested how the same domains can be applied to our interactions with colleagues; and, in turn, these same domains describe our collective efforts as a profession to take the lead in making ethical social change.

Discussion Questions

  1. How would you describe your practice using the C3 model? Where are your strengths? Where do you have room to grow? How will you do this?
  2. Are the roles and tasks identified in the table relevant to your experience at the professional and institutional levels? How would you and your colleagues revise it?
  3. What are some critical incidents that you and your colleagues share? How might you engage in dialogue to explore your perspectives on ethical leadership at your institution?


American College Personnel Association & National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. (2010). ACPA/NASPA professional competency areas for student affairs practitioners. Washington, DC: Authors.

Appiah, K. A. (2010). Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. WW Norton & Company.

Bazelon, E. (2009, September 21). Smeary lines: The lesson we’re not learning from the Hofstra date rape that wasn’t. Slate. Retrieved from…

Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (n.d.). CAEP Glossary. Retrieved from

Council for the Advancement of Standards (2006). CAS professional standards for higher education (6th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Fowler, H. (2013, September 11). Students to protest Board of Governors over gender-neutral decision.  Daily Tarheel. Retrieved from

Gabriel, T. (2010, October 25). ‘Generation Plagiarism’? Copying and pasting from the web is just like copying from a book. But too many students either don’t know that it’s cheating—or don’t care. New York Times Upfront, 143(4), 6-7.

Greenleaf, R. K. (2002). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. Paulist Press.

Higher Education Research Institute (1996). A social change model of leadership development: Guidebook: Version III. Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles.

Hirt, J. B. (2006). Where you work matters: Student affairs administration at different types of institutions. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Hoffman, J. L., & Bresciani, M. J. (2012). Identifying what student affairs professionals value: A mixed methods analysis of professional competencies listed in job descriptions. Research & Practice in Assessment, 7, 26-40.

Holmes, R. C., Edwards, K., & DeBowes, M. M. (2009). Why objectivity is not enough. In J. M. Schrage & N. G. Giacomini (Eds.) Reframing campus conflict: Student conduct practice through a social justice lens (pp. 50-64). Sterling, VA: Stylus.

National Association for Student Personnel Administrators. (2012). NASPA Ethics Statement. Washington, DC: Author.

O’Shea, J. (2011). A disposition for benevolence. Journal of College and Character, 12(3), 1-4. doi: 10.2202/1940-1639.1811

Reason, R. D., & Broido, E. M. (2011). Philosophies and values. In J. H. Schuh, S. R. Jones, &

S. R. Harper (Eds.) Student services: A handbook for the profession, (pp. 80-95). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rest, J. R. (Ed.). (1994). Moral development in the professions: Psychology and applied ethics. New York: Psychology Press.

Schoem, D. L., & Hurtado, S. (Eds.). (2001). Intergroup dialogue: Deliberative democracy in school, college, community, and workplace. University of Michigan Press.

Slaughter, G. (2014, January 18) York U student’s refusal to work with women sparks rights debate.  Toronto Star.  Retrieved from…

Splitter, L. J. (2010). Dispositions in education: Nonentities worth talking about. Educational Theory, 60(2), 203-230.

Sundberg, D. C., & Fried, J. (1997). Ethical dialogues on campus. New Directions for Student Services1997(77), 67-79.

Timpe, K. (n.d.). Moral Character. Internet encyclopedia of philosophy. Retrieved from

Tull, A., & Medrano, C. I. (2008). Character values congruence and person-organization fit in student affairs: Compatibility between administrators and the institutions that employ them. Journal of College and Character, 9(3). doi: 10.2202/1940-1639.1118

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.

The Pomp and Circumstance Marches

The Pomp and Circumstance Marches

by Jeffrey C. Sun, University of Louisville

Colleges and universities are gearing up for commencement.  However, on some of our campuses the pomp and circumstance march will not be in academic regalia.  Instead, we may face marches of students, alumni, and guests who are protesting the invitation of the school’s commencement speaker.

The pomp and circumstance march is not a new phenomenon.  According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, “controversies over commencement speakers are practically an annual tradition on college campuses” (Anonymous, 2014).  The reasoning for pomped-up protests have included disdain over a speaker’s actions while in political office, objections about public expressions over social and political matters such as individual rights or war, and disapproval (June, 2014).

This article touches on the student rights and conduct concerns involving pomped-up protest through what is known in law as the Heckler’s Veto.  Heckler’s Veto is conduct that inhibits the free speech rights of the speaker in response to an opposing individual or party’s protest reactions (Daniel, Gee, Sun, & Pauken, 2012).  In situations involving a commencement speaker, a Heckler’s Veto prevails when a public college curtails the speech in reaction to protest tactics such as chanting, rallying, name calling, rabble-rousing, or thrown objects (Daniel, Gee, Sun, & Pauken, 2012).

Supporting a Heckler’s Veto potentially counters First Amendment principles of free speech (Daniel, Gee, Sun, & Pauken, 2012).  In other words, it is not consistent with the First Amendment.  As a federal appellate court once explained in non-education case, a Heckler’s Veto “would empower an audience [or others in a crowd] to cut off the expression of a speaker with whom it disagreed” (Glasson v. City of Louisville, 1975, 905-906).  In essence, a Heckler’s Veto rewards “community hostility and threats of violence to justify censorship” (Glasson v. City of Louisville, 1975, 906).  Therefore, public colleges may only address the conduct that is not protected under the First Amendment, such as expressions or activities that:

  • actually are or likely to lead to substantial disruption of the educational purpose;
  • true threats in which serious messages of one’s intent to commit an unlawful act of violence onto a particular individual or group of individuals;
  • incite the audience to engage or leading to imminent physical harm; or
  • are obscene expressions that an average community member would say appeal to prurient interest, are patently offensive, and lacks value (in a social, political, scientific sense).

For public colleges, the challenge is that they “are taxed with a dual responsibility to permit the free expression of ideas on campus while providing the safety and security of their students” (Rock for Life – UMBC v. Hrabowski, 2010, p. 555).  Thus, public colleges must consider the rights of the speaker, the audience, the hecklers, and the institution.

Because of its legal origins (i.e., constitutional rights drawn from the First Amendment), the Heckler’s Veto may not strictly apply to private colleges. The First Amendment precludes government from creating policies or taking other actions that abridges one’s freedom of speech.  Thus, public colleges, which are also government entities, must comply with constitutional standards in developing policies and procedures and engaging in practices involving their operations.

Given the legal distinctions between private and public colleges, it’s not surprising that private colleges have much greater discretion in terms of oversight and regulation of its campus environment (Daniel, Gee, Sun, & Pauken, 2012).  Typically, private colleges would refer to its student code of conduct and other campus policies to determine the student rights and conduct regulations.  These decisions are largely analogous to or actually treated as contract terms.  These policies may resemble First Amendment rights, so the principles discussed below are relevant to many college campuses.  Further, on occasion, a special law such as the situation in California may govern a private college’s policies regarding student expressions that require adherence to certain legal principles of the First Amendment’s free speech provisions.[1]

While there are differences between public and private colleges in terms of free speech, the academic environment should, regardless of its organizational form, foster an open dialogue and maintain its status as the space for the marketplace of ideas.  Thus, we should avoid activities that suppress speech.

Conclusion and Discussion Questions

Here are some basic guidelines that we should consider when we have veto attempts from hecklers.

  • Review the actions of the hecklers.  Are they creating a disruptive environment that substantially interferes with the purpose of the event?  Are there conduct matters of concern such as events leading to physical harm, obscene gestures or other expressions, or events leading to incitement or imminent harm that is likely to occur?  What recourse might you have to maintain order?  Are there any opportunities to educate the audience and the hecklers?
  • Examine what the speaker is expressing that may create harm.  Ask yourself the same questions as the hecklers, but keep in mind that you should avoid rewarding the Heckler’s Veto.
  • Consider the rights of the audience such as the graduates and their guests.  How might you articulate their rights to gather for the event and be present to hear the speech as well as engage in the commencement ceremony?


[1] For instance, California has law, known as the Leonard Law, which states in pertinent part: “No private postsecondary educational institution shall make or enforce a rule subjecting a student to disciplinary sanctions solely on the basis of conduct that is speech or other communication that, when engaged in outside the campus or facility of a private postsecondary institution, is protected from governmental restriction by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or Section 2 of Article I of the California Constitution.” Cal. Educ. Code § 94367 (2014).  This provision does not apply to religious postsecondary institutions when its application is not consistent with the religious tenets of the institution.


Anonymous (2014, May 20). A field guide to this spring’s commencement-speaker outrage. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Daniel, P. T. K., Gee, E. G., Sun, J. C., & Pauken, P. D. (2012).  Law, policy, and higher education: Cases and materials. New Providence, NJ: LexisNexis.

Glasson v. City of Louisville, 518 F.2d 899 (6th Cir. 1975).

June, A. W. (2014, May 7). The perils of picking a commencement speaker. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Rock for Life – UMBC v. Hrabowski, 411 Fed. App’x 541 (4th Cir. 2010).

About the Author

Jeffrey C. Sun, J.D., Ph.D. is Professor of Higher Education and Assistant Chair in the Department of Leadership, Foundations, & Human Resource Education at the University of Louisville.

Please e-mail inquiries to Jeffrey C. Sun.


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.