Update of the ACPA Ethics Committee

Update of the ACPA Ethics Committee

Michael M. Kocet, Ph.D. LMHC, ACPA Ethics Committee
Associate Professor & Student Affairs Program Director, Department of Counselor Education
Bridgewater State University

Ethics and ethical decision-making permeate almost every facet of student affairs practice – from issues such as confidentiality, boundaries, dual relationships, cultural competency, adherence to legal statutes, and technology. These are just some of the types of complexities that professionals face each day. In addition to the ACPA/NASPA joint document on professional competencies for student affairs professionals, the ACPA Code of Ethics is a central document that guides student affairs practice. Ethics are the collective values of the student affairs profession (Pope, Reynolds, & Mueller, 2004) and the code of ethics is an embodiment of those values represented in each of the professional standards contained in the code of ethics. The ACPA Code of Ethics serves numerous purposes:

  1. to guide ethical decision-making;
  2. to help shape the work of practitioners in the field;
  3. to protect individual practitioners, institutions, those students and stakeholders served by student affairs professionals, and the profession as a whole;
  4. to help measure competent and effective practice;
  5. to affirm the public and its needs and concerns; and
  6. to be used as an educational/training tool (Fried, 2011; Pope, Reynolds, & Mueller, 2004).

As Dalton et al. (2009) state, ethics focuses on two paramount questions – What ought I do? and What is my responsibility? In order to keep up with current practices in the field, it is necessary for professional codes of ethics to be revised from time to time.

The ACPA Ethics Committee is pleased to announce that ACPA, in partnership with Student Affairs in Higher Education Consortium (SAHEC), is working on revising the current ACPA Code of Ethics. The Code of Ethics Consortium Committee is charged with creating a unifying code of ethics for the student affairs profession. Codes of ethics are not static documents. Codes of ethics need to be revised every few years in order to keep up with best practices in the field, as well as in response to current research and scholarship in the profession. There have been new and emerging issues that currently face student affairs professionals since ACPA revised the current code of ethics in 2006. This revision task force will examine the current code, keeping the standards that are still relevant, while adding new standards on issues and challenges that practitioners face in the various functional areas within student affairs. The goal is to provide a revised code that can be utilized by a broad range of professionals. The Code of Ethics Consortium Committee will look at the current ACPA Code of Ethics, as well as codes of ethics from SAHEC associations, along with other disciplines such as counseling, psychology, social work, and business in order to examine best practices in ethical practice today. The consortium committee will examine current issues affecting the profession and create new ethical standards that guide competent practice, such as the ethics of social media, cultural competency, social justice, and dual relationships. ACPA believes it is important to create a code of ethics that includes the input and expertise of a variety of higher education associations. We believe in having diverse voices at the table and will be working to ensure that the new code of ethics that emerges from our work represents aspirational ethical practice that promotes the best of the student affairs field. In the coming months, ACPA members will be asked to provide input to draft versions of the revised code of ethics. Please stay tuned to future editions of Developments for more information.

Members of the Code of Ethics Consortium include:

Bill Crockett, NIRSA (National Intramural and Recreational Sports Administrators)
Executive Director, Campus Life Operations and Campus Center
University Maryland, Baltimore

Tom Ellett, ACUHO-I (Association of College and University Housing Officers International)
Senior Associate Vice President
Student Affairs
New York University

Michael Hayes, AFA (Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors)
Executive Director of Campus Life
Washington University in St. Louis

Cynthia Hernandez, NODA (National Orientation Directors Association)
Assistant Vice President, Division of Student Affairs
Texas A & M University

Ryan Holmes, ASCA (Association of Student Conduct Administration)
Associate Dean of Students
Assistant to Vice President for Student Affairs
University of Texas-El Paso

Michael M. Kocet, ACPA (College Student Educators International)
Associate Professor & Director, Student Affairs Program
Department of Counselor Education
Bridgewater State University

Regina Young Hyatt, NACA (National Association for Campus Activities)
Dean of Students and Associate Vice President for Student Affairs
The University of Alabama in Huntsville

Loren Rullman, ACUI (Association of College Unions International)
Associate Vice President for Student Affairs University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

The Code of Ethics Consortium Committee is being chaired by Michael M. Kocet, Ph.D., Bridgewater State University. Professional associations who wish to be represented on the committee, or ACPA members wishing to contribute to the code revision process, are invited to contact Dr. Michael Kocet.


Dalton, J.C., Crosby, P.C., Valente, A., & Eberhardt, D. (2009). Maintaining and modeling everyday ethics in student affairs. In G. McClellan & J. Stronger (Eds.) (2009). The handbook of student affairs administration (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Fried, J. (2011). Ethical standards and practice. In J. Shuh, S. Jones, & S. Harper (Eds.) (2011). Student services: A handbook for the profession (5th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Pope, R., Reynolds, A., & Mueller, J. (2004). Multicultural competence in student affairs. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.


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.

Developing an Ethical Framework for Student Affairs

Developing an Ethical Framework for Student Affairs

Danielle Klein
Louisiana State University
Maylen Aldana
Louisiana State University
William Mattera
Louisiana State University

New Student Affairs professionals enter the field with excitement about serving students, making an impact, and experiencing new opportunities. The thought of ethical decision-making may not be at the forefront of their day-to-day agendas. However, new Student Affairs professionals are often faced with personal and challenging decisions. It is not uncommon for new professionals to be given tasks and assignments that may cause dissonance with their core beliefs and thoughts, and we often label those challenges as ethical quandaries. In reality, many ethical dilemmas new professionals encounter emerge from a gap in learning how to work through issues that challenge them on a personal level. When working to develop a framework for critical decision-making, it is helpful to start by examining how individuals in Student Affairs craft their own set of personal values. One’s values are shaped through influences and experiences that come from a variety of places.

Through their professional preparation, new professionals are taught elements of ethical frameworks by mentors, preparation program faculty, undergraduate and graduate involvement experiences, previous supervisors, and peers. Often times professionals will consider personal values as a guide in the ethical decision making process. In reality personal values are simply new professionals’ own views on what is important and meaningful, which often causes conflict when it comes to decision-making. This article will explore five necessary components for supervisors of new professionals to consider as a new professional begins to develop an ethical framework. Components include: (a) understanding clear definitions; (b) moral development theory; (c) professional standards; (d) mentorship; and (e) individual personal philosophy. These all serve as a foundation for supervisors to help new professionals negotiate the construction of their ethical decision making framework.

Ethics has been called the study of moral reasoning (Noddings, 1992), and in Student Affairs, theories of both ethical and moral development and decision-making have been of primary importance when designing interventions to assist students in navigating their collegiate worlds. How does our understanding of ethics and morals assist new professionals in navigating the challenging and complex world of supervision and professional development? Because “determining the appropriate course to take when faced with a difficult ethical dilemma can be a challenge” (Miller and Davis, 1996, p. 1), understanding where individual values originate is helpful in determining moral responses and thus creating ethical frameworks. To study this concept, we will explore the definitions and origins of values and morals in order to distinguish the overlap each have in creating an ethical framework.

A value is a broad idea or understanding, and it is from values that both morals and ethics spring. A value, from the Latin valere, means worth and refers to the underlying dimensions of importance we assign to our measurement of thoughts, behaviors, and actions. Moral, from the Latin moralis, is the idea behind what is good or bad, right or wrong. Morality assists individuals in distinguishing between actions and behaviors that fall into good-equals-right and bad-equals-wrong dualities. Ethics, on the other hand, is a framework that guides individuals in acting moral. Ethics, from the Greek ethos, means character and ethics define for an individual specifically what actions or thoughts can be categorized as right or wrong.

Morals and ethics are often used interchangeably by the general public; however it is important to differentiate between the two terms because actions for ethical behavior emerge from philosophies about morality. Morality itself emerges from personal or professional values, and it is these values that ultimately direct a new professional towards constructing the ethical approach they apply to their practice and decision-making. As new professionals work to determine a set of ethics they choose to use in their practice, it is useful to determine what ethics are not. Ethics are not feelings, and while it is often easy to confuse the two, it is important for new professionals to understand that personal feelings can often cloud decision making in a way that guides them away from the context in which they are making decisions. Ethics is also not religion, law, or science. While these governing principles are often looked to during the decision making process, these principles are not always the appropriate code of reference at any given time and do not constitute a code of ethics.

A number of theories are useful to new professionals when constructing their framework in ethical decisions. Kitchener’s (1984) critical evaluation model encourages individuals to reflect upon their decision-making processes. The four moral principles that Kitchener (1984) bases her theory on are: autonomy, beneficence, nonmalificence, and justice/fairness. When making decisions, Kitchener (1984) encourages individuals to identify problems and potential issues, to review ethical guidelines and obtain consultation, then to consider possible consequences of decisions. Supervisors of new professionals could use Kitchener’s (1984) decision-making process as a reflection tool for their new supervisees when they are confronted with difficult issues in a new environment.

Kitchener also works with King (1981, 1990) to offer a model of reflective judgment. Kitchener & King (1981, 1990) proposed that reflective judgment is different than critical thinking because it is needed to deal with issues that do not have a right or wrong solution. In fact, this model is best used in situations where there are multiple solutions. Kitchener and King’s model of reflective judgment has seven stages, and each stage is based on an assumption of knowledge and how individuals acquire that knowledge. Stages 1 through 3 (Prereflective Thinking) is when “the link between evidence and beliefs is unclear” (King & Kitchener, 1994, p. 14), or when learners become aware that all problems do not have solutions. Individuals move into stages 4 to 5 (Quasi Reflective Thinking) when individuals begin to recognize and quote that knowledge is sometimes uncertain and the increasing need to justify beliefs, reflect a growing ability to differentiate categories of thought “and move towards more complex thinking (Pascarella and Terenzini, 2005). Stages 6 and 7 (Reflective Thinking) is when the learner comes to understand that knowledge is relational, contextual, and constructed. Knowing where knowledge comes from and the value placed on that knowledge allows new professionals to become critically reflective about the choices they are making in their day-to-day practice.

A third reflective model that would be useful for new professionals is Baxter Magolda’s (1992) epistemological reflection model. Epistemology is our way of knowing or how we come to know, and Baxter Magolda identifies four stages in this process. These include absolute knowing, transitional knowing, independent knowing and contextual knowing. As a new professional comes to learn that knowledge can take on many meanings, he or she can begin to make decisions based on multiple contexts and perspectives.

The many places where new professionals have formed their values and morals all play a part in building a new professional’s ethical framework. New professionals are supported by professional principles and standards. When working with new professionals, it is important to guide them to documents such as the NASPA Standards of Professional Practice (1990) and ACPA Statement of Ethical Principles and Standards (2006). Helping them understand that professional principles are constant may help them not feel pressured to reinvent the wheel. So the question then becomes, how do we assist new professionals in understanding these principles are more than words on a document? How do we help new professionals internalize these principles? It is important in our everyday work for new professionals to recognize where these principles appear in their everyday practice.

Because “student affairs [professionals], particularly entry-level professionals, expect to be involved with and provide services to individual and groups of students on a daily basis” (Burkard, Cole, Ott, and Stoflet, 2004, p. 306), some of the best support supervisors can provide is to assist new professionals in the construction of an ethical framework to guide them in everyday decision making and growth. This will, in turn, enable new professionals to develop within their own moral capacity while at the same time understand the ways in which competing frameworks work to guide and assist them in their professional development. When assisting a new professional in developing his or her personal philosophy, we recommend having them identify their values and how those values manifest in their daily decision-making. It is not uncommon when making tough decisions to have multiple competing values and perspectives. However, having a defined ethical framework is the first step is to determine which values are most important in the situation at hand and therefore need to be most reflected in the outcome.

Discussion Questions

  • How do we help new professionals move the locus of control for decision-making internal while at the same time working within a set professional structure?
  • What models are best practices for training new professionals to navigate crisis situations that call for moral and ethical responses?
  • How do new professionals reconcile the two frameworks that they encounter when making decisions: their own and that of their institution?


American College Personnel Association. (2006). Statement of ethical principles and standards. Retrieved from http://www2.myacpa.org/ethics/statement.php,

Baxter Magolda, M. (1992). Knowing and reasoning in college: Gender-related patterns in students’ intellectual development. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Burkard, A. W., Cole, D. C., Ott, M., & Stoflet, T. (2005). Entry-level competencies of new student affairs professionals: A Delphi study. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 42(3), 545-571.

Forester-Miller, H., & Davis, T. E. (1996). A practitioner’s guide to ethical decision making. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Kitchener, K. S. (1984). Intuition, critical evaluation and ethical principles: The foundation for ethical decisions in counseling psychology. Counseling Psychologist, 12(3), 43-55.

Kitchener, K. S., & King, P. M. (1981). Reflective judgment: Concepts of justification and their relationship to age and education. Journal of applied developmental psychology, 2(2), 89-116.

Kitchener, K. S., & King, P. M. (1990). The reflective judgment model: Transforming assumptions about knowing. In J. Mezirow & Associates (Eds.), Fostering critical reflection in adulthood: A guide to transformative and emancipatory learning (pp. 159-176). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

King, P. M., & Kitchener, K. S. (1994). Developing reflective judgment: Understanding and promoting intellectual growth and critical thinking in adolescents and adults. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. (1990). Standards of professional practice. Retrieved from http://www.naspa.org/about/standards.cfm.

Noddings, N. (1992). The challenge to care in schools: An alternative approach to education. Advances in Contemporary Educational Thought, Volume 8. New York, NY: Teachers College Press

Pascarella, E.T., & Terenzini, P.T. (2005). How college affects students: A third decade of research. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

About the Authors

Danielle J. Klein is a doctoral student in the College of Education at Louisiana State University. She currently holds a Graduate Assistantship in LSU’s Department of Residential Life, where she works on the department’s student success and assessment initiatives. A former high school English teacher and student affairs professional, Ms. Klein has reentered the classroom as a student to pursue her interests in understanding the knowledge gaps that students possess when entering into post-secondary education. Her research focuses on curriculum theory, curriculum design, and curriculum development within non-traditional educative structures. Ms. Klein currently serves as the Vice President for Professional Development of LSU’s Curriculum Theory Graduate Collaborative.

Please e-mail inquiries to Danielle Klein.

Maylen L. Aldana currently serves as the Assistant Director for Student Success and Assessment in the Department of Residential Life at Louisiana State University. Prior to this position, she gained experience at Tulane University, Mississippi State University, Appalachian State University, Auburn University, and Eastern Washington University. She is currently serves as the state representative for the Latino Knowledge Community for National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and served as the Human Relations chair for Southeastern Association for Housing Officers (SEAHO) during 2011-2012 and was Co-Chair for the Latino/a Network for the American College Personnel Association(ACPA) during 2005-2007.

Please e-mail inquiries to Maylen L. Aldana.

William Mattera serves as the Assistant Director for Staffing and Organizational Development in the Department of Residential Life at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Please e-mail inquiries to William Mattera.


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 Ethics of Student Confidentiality & Student Affairs

The Ethics of Student Confidentiality & Student Affairs

Shammah Bermudez
ACPA Ethics Committee Member
Delaware County (PA) Community College
André Durham
ACPA Ethics Committee Member
University of Cincinnati

Student affairs professionals typically have access to sensitive and confidential information. Students seek out student affairs professionals when facing any number of stresses, challenges, or crises. They often share deeply personal information with the expectation that confidentiality will be maintained. In most situations on most campuses, student affairs professionals are able to uphold this expectation. However, sometimes confidential information is shared, intentionally or unintentionally. For instance, one might turn to a supervisor or colleague for advice when presented with a challenging situation. In these instances, keeping the involved student(s) anonymous would still safeguard confidentiality. Conversely, many times practitioners are compelled to break confidentiality, such as when if a student mentions an intention to harm someone. Beyond the areas prescribed, when student affairs professionals violate a student’s confidentiality without maintaining anonymity, they not only violate federal laws such as the Family Educational Records Protection Act (FERPA), the law that protects the school records of all students, from pre-school to graduate school, they also put their institution at risk. However, most do not intentionally break student confidentiality; it often occurs without the person realizing it.

One example of a confidentiality pitfall is discussing student information in open or common areas. Many offices have a common area, especially if it is an office with a high volume of students (e.g., Residence Life, Counseling Center). How many times have you been walking through the common area discussing a student with another colleague? Frequently, students, parents, or visitors to the college will be waiting in these spaces and overhear conversations. Inadvertently, you can disclose student’s names, ID numbers, grade information, or worse, personal details students shared with you. Once the information has been made public, one cannot get it back. In order to avoid the risks of open or common areas, one should resist speaking about student issues in these places. Instead, staff members should meet in private offices to have conversations about students. When sharing information with the person making appointments for your department, one should write the information down or email them. This way, if there are others around, you avoid them overhearing your conversation. It is important for one to be aware of who is in an office area, whether they students, staff members, or other visitors.

A second risk is sharing information with other colleagues who are not directly related to the student’s situation. There will always be those interesting cases that one will just want to share with colleagues; however, this can be a precarious. There is also the risk of others sharing the information. A good rule to use when deciding whether to share student information is to ask yourself, “Why am I sharing this information?” and “How will it benefit the student?” Sometimes one can run into situations where a colleague or faculty member asks about a student. However, just because they work for the institution does not mean they are entitled to all student information. Always keep FERPA in mind as much of the information we use on a daily basis stems from or becomes an educational record. FERPA regulations state that school officials must have a “legitimate educational interest” (Ramirez, 2009) when sharing information. In other words, does the individual need the information as a function of their job? This may vary from institution to institution depending on the parameters of responsibility and job function. An example may be an advisor who reaches out to a faculty member to discuss a student who is having health issues outside of the classroom and may need to miss some classes. In this case it may be beneficial for the faculty member be informed that the advisor is working with the student due to ongoing health issues. In turn, the faculty member, maybe willing to be flexible with schoolwork. However, the advisor can inform the faculty member without providing specific detail about the medical issues.

While it is important to make every effort to protect student confidentiality—particularly in situations in which student anonymity cannot be kept—there are certain exceptions where staff members can—or should—share confidential information with certain parties. One such exception may occur when staff members are working with a student and are unsure about how to proceed. For example, if a student is having difficulty with a faculty member based on his or her disability, it would be appropriate to discuss the issue with disability services. In this situation, it is appropriate to consult a colleague with relevant experience in dealing with the issue. Another example is if a student presents a situation or behaviors that are concerning his or her mental health; in this case it is appropriate to refer him or her to campus counseling services. One also can limit the amount of identifying student information, only sharing what is necessary to fully understand the situation. Again, always ask yourself, “Why am I sharing this information?” and “How will it benefit the student?”

Another exception to student privacy is in the case of sexual assault, sexual harassment, or sexual violence. In a 2011 Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), the Department of Education states “The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interfere[s] with students rights to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime” (Dear Colleague Letter, 2011). There are several reasons why a student may come to a student affairs professional after facing sexual assault or harassment. When a report of sexual assault or harassment is made, how student confidentiality is handled, changes. Department of Education Title IX regulations require that school administrators take immediate action when dealing with cases of sexual assault, sexual harassment, or sexual violence. One should consult with his or her supervisor on how to proceed. Student affairs practitioners should also be proficient in their institutional and state policies on sexual violence and sexual harassment.

As stated earlier, student confidentiality has been entrusted to student affairs practitioners. While there are legal guidelines that call for the protection of confidentiality, there is also the ethical obligation to ensure a student’s trust is not violated. For graduate students and new professionals, it is important to build a strong ethical foundation from the start of your career. This will allow you to develop strategies for obtaining and maintaining the trust and respect of your students and colleagues. For those who are experienced in higher education for a while, reflect upon your approach to student confidentiality. You are setting the ethical standard of what is expected for those you supervise and those who are just entering the field of student affairs. Finally, it is important to maintain current, accurate knowledge of all regulations related to privacy of student records and electronic transmission of records, and up-to-date knowledge of privacy legislation on a regular basis (ACPA, 2006).

Please note that this article in no way should be construed as legal advice. Individuals should consult their institutional legal counsel for specific legal advice


ACPA: College Student Educators International. (2006). Statement of ethical principles & standards. Washington, D.C: Ethics Committee.

Ramirez, C.A. (2008). FERPA clear and simple: The college professionals guide to compliance. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons Inc.4.

U.S. Department of Education. (2011). Dear colleague letter (OCR Publication, 4 April 2011). Washington DC: Office for Civil Rights.


ACPA: College Student Educators International. (n.d.). Ethics standards and practices. Retrieved from: www.myacpa.org/ethics (2012, June 19).

Fried, J. (2003). Ethical Standards and Principles. In S. Komives, D. Woodward & Associates (Ed.), Student Services: A handbook for the profession, 4th ed. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.

U.S. Department of Education. (2012). Family Policy Compliance Office. Retrieved from: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/index.html (2012, June 19).


About the Authors

Shammah Bermudez is the Coordinator of Disability Services for Branch Campuses at Delaware County Community College. He is an active member of ACPA and is currently a member of the Ethics Committee, the Standing Committee on Disability, and the Commission for Student Development at the 2-year colleges.

Please e-mail inquiries to Shammah Bermudez.

André Durham is a recent graduate of the Student Affairs master’s program at the University of Virginia and currently is an Assistant Director & Academic Advisor in the University Honors Program at the University of Cincinnati. He is an active member of ACPA and is a member of the Ethics Committee.

Please e-mail inquiries to André Durham.


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 Rejoinder to On the Ethical Implications of Being The Man

A Rejoinder to On the Ethical Implications of Being The Man

Z Nicolazzo
Developments Editorial Board Member
Miami University (OH)

To recognize that we touch each other in language seems particularly difficult in a society that would have us believe that there is no dignity in the experience of passion, that to feel deeply is to be inferior, for within the dualism of Western metaphysical thought, ideas are always more important than language. To heal the splitting of mind and body, we marginalized and oppressed people attempt to recover ourselves and our experiences in language. (bell hooks, 1994, pp. 174-175)

What happens when one proclaims to use language in a neutral way? Is the neutral use of language even possible? What is lost or gained when one uses terms that, while neutral to some, are far from neutral to others? These are the questions I seek to address in my brief rejoinder to the ethics column titled “On the Ethical Implications of Being ‘The Man’” by Dr. Paul Shang. Far from being a mere conversation over semantics, I suggest language, often shrouded in a cloak of neutrality, has the potential to do immense (albeit oftentimes unintended) harm to others. Consequently, I implore us as educators to be prudent, intentional, and humble in our use of language. As a way of beginning, I start with a personal example of the damaging use of language.

A little over a year ago, I came out as a member of the transgender community, specifically as a gender non-conforming individual. Part of my coming out process was helping others realize the pronouns he/his no longer reflected my identity and experience, and that I preferred people use the pronouns ze (pronounced zee and used in place of she/he) and hir (pronounced here and used in place of his/her) when talking to or about me. This has been tricky for some folks, and there were times over the last year I would become upset when I was misgendered in public spaces. Although it was clear this misgendering was rarely, if ever, malicious, it still stung and continued to perpetuate a system in which my identity as a gender non-conforming student, staff member, and community member was rendered invisible. The invisibility I experienced as a transgender person was fueled by cisgender privilege—benefits of identifying, expressing, and embodying a gender that matches the sex one was assigned at birth—known simply as genderism. Similarly, it is my belief that Dr. Shang’s article reinforces systems of privilege for dominant identities and ideologies, specifically sexism and patriarchy, classism, and the privileging of normalcy.

Before I go further, I must admit that I do not believe Dr. Shang set out to harm the readership of Developments intentionally. However, it is my belief that stating this does not absolve Dr. Shang—or others who use triggering language—from the impact of their words. Furthermore, because I do not believe Dr. Shang to have tried to cause undue harm, my intent is not to vilify Dr. Shang as an author. Instead, my intent is to raise questions and provide a different perspective for Developments readers. I believe it is through the respectful exchange of ideas and dialogue that forward progress can and will be made. Finally, I think it is important to mention the opinions and perspective I share in this rejoinder are my own, and not necessarily that of other members of the Developments editorial board.

The first area of concern comes within the first two sentences of Dr. Shang’s article, in which the author writes, “Somehow, everyone engaged in student affairs work has become ‘the man’ at one time or another. The term the man has nothing to do with gender” [emphasis added] (Shang, 2012). I disagree with this statement, believing the term the man has everything to do with gender and more than that, sexism and patriarchy. The term the man represents someone in a position of power or authority. The conflation of masculinity with power, authority, and control reinforces patriarchy, or the systems that confer privilege to men at the cost of those who are not men (e.g., women and transgender individuals). If this term was not about gender, then the term “the woman” or “the individual” would bring to mind similar sentiments about power and authority, but they do not. The truth is that men are privileged while women and transgender individuals are deemed less important. Ergo, Dr. Shang’s insistence the term the man is not about gender ignores the systems of sexism and patriarchy that privilege men.

The second area of concern I have with Dr. Shang’s (2012) article is when the author uses the word normal in the following passage:

For the purposes of this discussion, it is useful to consider whether or not an event is considered to be disruptive. As an example, many student affairs staff became “the administration” this fall when they sought to preserve the normal functioning of their institutions in the face of a national Occupy Movement, protests over the cost of higher education, or the treatment of undocumented students, etc. [emphasis added] (para 3)

In Michael Warner’s 1999 book titled The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life, Warner articulates, “to be fully normal is, strictly speaking, impossible” (p. 54). Warner goes further by stating:

Even if one belongs to the statistical majority in age group, race, height, weight, frequency of orgasm, gender of sexual partners, and annual income, then simply by virtue of this unlikely combination of normalcies one’s profile would already depart from the norm (pp. 54-55).

Given Warner’s commentary on the concept of being normal, it becomes clear why the preservation of “the normal functioning” of institutions of higher education may be misguided at best and impossible at worst. Furthermore, the hegemony of that which is deemed normal comes at the cost of other individuals or groups who are deemed abnormal, deviant, or criminal. For example, Dr. Shang suggested those who protested in the Occupy movement or on issues regarding the inhumane treatment of undocumented students are abnormal, thus reinforcing a system that privileges those who do not stray from “the straight and narrow” (Ahmed, 2006). Not only is normalcy a fallacy, but the invocation of normalcy privileges some (e.g., upper level administrators trying to keep order) at the cost of less powerful others (e.g., student, faculty, staff, and community protestors).

The last concern I have with Dr. Shang’s article comes when the author stated:

[The administration] worked hard to keep their campuses safe, which sometimes meant being involved in discussions or making decisions about limiting the right of entry of homeless people or political activists or others who were not the customary students, faculty, or staff. (para 3)

In this passage, the author conflates being homeless and/or from a lower socioeconomic status background with being dangerous. Concurrently, the author suggested those who are members of the campus community (i.e., students, faculty, and staff) are unequivocally safe. These equations are founded on the false logic of outsiders as dangerous and insiders as safe. Within higher education, we have plenty of examples that tell us this thinking is false. We see students, faculty, and staff doing harm to others regularly, just as we see examples of those who are homeless or from lower socioeconomic status background not causing harm. These scenarios that contradict Dr. Shang’s statement are not surprising, and yet the author wrote the above statement without irony or hyperbole.

These three examples from Dr. Shang’s article bring me back to the questions I presented at the outset of this article:

  • What happens when one proclaims to use language in a neutral way?
  • Is the neutral use of language even possible?
  • What is lost or gained when one uses terms that, while neutral to some, are far from neutral to others?

Rather than providing definitive answers to these questions, I suggest they remain open so that you, as readers, can build off the dialogue created by Dr. Shang’s article and my rejoinder. Therefore, in closing out this rejoinder, I would like to offer two additional thoughts. The first comes from Jabari Asim’s 2007 book titled, The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why. In writing on Dave Chappelle’s reaction to being told he should not use the “N word” in his comedy, Asim quotes Chappelle as saying,

I’m not so concerned when black intellectuals say the N word is awful … If people stop saying the N word, is everything going to be equal? Is the rainbow going to come out of the sky, and all of a sudden things will be better for black people? (p. 211)

Asim goes further by stating, “Chappelle’s response is more than a little disingenuous … Yet, I think he is right. Suggesting that Chappelle refrain from using racial language (to parody racist attitudes, after all) is to profoundly miss the point” (p. 211). While Dr. Shang was not trying to parody sexist attitudes, I agree with Asim’s point that striking language from use is unlikely to solve the systemic inequities (e.g., sexism, racism, genderism) subaltern populations face. Instead, we need to interrogate such use of language rather than pretend this language is not loaded with sexist, racist, or gendered meanings. After all, Gloria Anzaldúa (2007) prophetically wrote, “The answer to the problem between the white race and the colored [sic], between males and females, lies in healing the split that originates in the very foundation of our lives, our culture, our language, our thoughts” [emphasis added] (p. 102). The split referenced by Anzaldúa calls to the fore the mind and body split that hooks (1994) discussed in the quote cited at the outset of this rejoinder. If we are going to participate in healing our lives, our communities, and ourselves then we must begin talking about the ways in which language reinforces and/or deconstructs systems of privilege and oppression. In this way, we can revel in being what Sara Ahmed (2010) referred to as the feminist killjoy and (re)claim our rightful spot at the table where dialogue and discussion move us beyond the myth of neutrality, the hegemony of normalcy, and the limitations of oppression.


Ahmed, S. (2006). Queer phenomenology: Orientations, objects, others. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Ahmed, S. (2010). Feminist killjoys (and other willful subjects). The Scholar and Feminist Online, 8.3. Retrieved from: http://barnard.edu/sfonline/polyphonic/print_ahmed.htm

Anzaldúa, G. (2007). Borderlands/La frontera: The new mestiza. (3rd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books.

Asim, J. (2007). The n word: Who can say it, who shouldn’t, and why. Boston, MA: Houghtom Mifflin Company.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York, NY: Routledge.

Shang, P. (2012). On the ethical implications of being “the man.” Developments, 10(2).

Warner, M. (1999). The trouble with normal: Sex, politics, and the ethics of queer life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

About the Author

Z Nicolazzo is a doctoral student in the Student Affairs in Higher Education (SAHE) Program at Miami University. Ze is a past Chair of the ACPA Standing Committee on Men and Masculinities and is a current member of ACPA’s Developments Editorial Board. Hir research interests include transgender and gender non-conforming students, activism in higher education, and alternative epistemologies, methodologies, and representations of knowledge.

Please e-mail inquiries to Z Nicolazzo.


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.

On the Ethical Implications of Being The Man

On the Ethical Implications of Being The Man

Z Nicolazzo
Developments Editorial Board Member
Miami University (OH)

Somehow, everyone engaged in student affairs work has become “the man” at one time or another. The term the man has nothing to do with gender. The man is an authority figure, an adversary, someone not normally considered by those in opposition to be an ally or to be trusted. The man is someone who will likely impose seemingly irrelevant and arbitrary regulations to hinder efforts to achieve some perceived good and possibly someone who has to decide whether to be professionally responsible or sometimes instead, to act in ways more representative of their own personal beliefs. Being the man, the administration or the Establishment is not an enviable position for most people in student affairs. For some, it is so unpleasant a term that the phrase the administration will be substituted from now on. It is also discomforting how quickly the transformation occurs from having a positive and comfortable relationship with students as an educator and practitioner under normal circumstances to being transformed into the administration when a cause of one sort or another emerges. Perhaps this transformative experience happened to you this past fall with the Occupy movements or other protest concerns such as the increasing costs of education or changes in institutional policy, programs, or procedures.

There are different aspects of becoming the administration that are cause for introspection. For many, there is an unpleasant emotional impact, as becoming the administration is not something that is desired or possibly even anticipated. The transformation can be personally hurtful, as students with whom you have a positive professional relationship might levy the accusations of having become the administration in ways that are potentially disrespectful and confrontational. It can be annoying. After all, being accused of being the administration usually coincides with having done something such as imposing a conduct sanction, supporting a controversial decision, or describing possible unpopular consequences, which seem in one’s own mind professionally, reasonably, and ethically justifiable. Finally, becoming the administration can be personally confusing, and sometimes the accusation engenders for the need for guidance and assurance that the right decision was made.

For the purposes of this discussion, it is useful to consider whether or not an event is considered to be disruptive. As an example, many student affairs staff became the administration this fall when they sought to preserve the normal functioning of their institutions in the face of a national Occupy movement, protests over the cost of higher education, or the treatment of undocumented students, etc. They worked hard to keep their campuses safe, which sometimes meant being involved in discussions or making decisions about limiting the right of entry of homeless people, political activists, or others who were not the customary students, faculty, or staff. Sometimes student affairs staff had to grapple with freedom of speech issues when access to classroom buildings or activities spaces were impeded by protestors or the volume of chants and speeches interfered with lectures and other curricular and co-curricular activities.

These difficult decisions and topics are intensified if the administration is personally sympathetic to the overarching protest goals such as world peace, social justice, animal rights, or economic equality to name a few. But decisions like these, if they are implemented in humane and respectful ways, seem justifiable and are even addressed in the ACPA Statement of Ethical Standards and Principles (2006)(the statement). The statement offers four standards by which to make ethical decisions regarding numerous types of ethical matters. The extensive variety of ethical matters is not specifically identified within the statement. The third standard “Responsibility to the Institution” (p. 4) describes elements of professional decision making:

Institutions of higher education provide the context for student affairs practice. Institutional mission, goals, policies, organizational structure, and culture, combined with individual judgment and professional standards, define and delimit the nature and extent of practice. Student affairs professionals share responsibility with other members of the academic community for fulfilling the institutional mission. Responsibility to promote the development of students and to support the institution’s policies and interests require that professionals balance competing demands.

In standards 3.1, 3.2, and 3.3 of the statement student affairs staff are reminded to support the mission, goals, and policies and to follow the procedures of their institutions; to seek resolution when conflicts occur between professional and personal values, recognizing that these might necessitate protracted and respectful effort; and when resolution is not possible, to voluntarily leave the institution.

If guidance along these lines does not seem complete, then perhaps more utilitarian types of perspectives that strive to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number might be helpful. In the conflicts which cause student affairs staff to be accused of having become the administration, rarely is there a sense the confrontational students represent the opinions of the majority. It seems most students have no opinion on a topic or event, have an opinion but do not wish to get involved, or consider the issue to be somewhat irrelevant to their desire to complete their educational goals as quickly and inexpensively as possible. For instance, in their report, Student Debt and the Class of 2010 (Reed, 2011), The Project on Student Debt (n.d.) states grimly, “Two-thirds of college seniors graduated with loans in 2010, and they carried an average of $25,250 in debt. They also faced the highest unemployment rate for young college graduates in recent history at 9.1%” (para. 4. ). This is a sobering reminder of the responsibility of student affairs staff to provide not only the best and most complete developmental experience for students but also the most efficient and relevant.

On the other hand, to realize a perspective might not be representative of the majority should never be confused with the Nixon era “silent majority” argument used to attempt to diminish the efforts of protestors against the Vietnam War; student affairs staff must always attempt to assess and appreciate the perspectives of students regardless of how widespread. Student affairs staff, the administration, must provide the leadership to identify ways to limit disruption while still providing opportunities for the expression of conflicting perspectives.

Another source for discomfort for student affairs staff might be the intuited contradiction between being advocates for social justice while upholding the policies and procedures of their institutions. The fourth standard, “Responsibility to Society,” advocates that student affairs professionals take active stance towards social justice:

Student affairs professionals, both as citizens and practitioners, have a responsibility to contribute to the improvement of the communities in which they live and work and to act as advocates for social justice for members of those communities. They respect individuality and individual differences. They recognize that our communities are enhanced by social and individual diversity manifested by characteristics such as age, culture, class, ethnicity, gender, ability, gender identity, race, religion, and sexual orientation. Student affairs professionals work to protect human rights and promote respect for human diversity in higher education (p. 5).

Standard 4.1 encourages student affairs staff to assist students to become “ethical and responsible citizens” (p. 5). It is not surprising that some student affairs staff may feel conflicted in performing their ethical duties to serve their institutions on the one hand, and to assist students in exploring their social responsibilities on the other.


So what does this mean in the days ahead for student affairs practitioners? Is there a contradiction between our obligations to our institutions and to be advocates for social justice? If the current economic crisis continues, will questions about class and our responsibilities to acknowledge class contradictions on our campuses and to address the needs of less economically privileged students cause us to be uncomfortable with how exactly we are serving in our role as social justice advocates? Can we educate enough beforehand so our decisions will not always seem to be unnecessarily limiting and arbitrary? Can we protect free speech, individual rights, and personal safety simultaneously? Are we individually forever destined to be the administration?

The following suggestions might be helpful:

  1. Be visible and be accessible. If students get to know you at least a little as a person, it will be more difficult for them to arbitrarily assign a label to you. Also, having a sense for who the students are, whether student leaders or not, helps you to have more appreciation for them as individuals and enhances opportunities for communication.
  2. Know your students. Review the information from the admissions or institutional research office about where your students come from, their average age, how many are transfers, how many are nontraditional, their ethnicity, their gender, and their economic status. This knowledge is very important and will help you to address stereotypes that might affect decision-making.
  3. Become a predictable colleague. If you have not already, spend some time with people you are likely to work with in those circumstances when you are accused of being the administration. Although this might be repeating something obvious, it is very important to be someone whose opinion your chief of police or director of public safety respects, not to mention legal counsel.
  4. Plan ahead. In division-wide meetings, talk about potential controversial situations, who will take the lead, and what the expectations are. These are confusing times and, as has been described in this essay, our ethical obligations might be confusing too. These are better discussed under calmer circumstances.

In previous essays, I have asked the question of whether the current the statement still reflects the perspectives of ACPA members and the student affairs profession. The feedback by some Developments editorial members to first drafts of this essay further underscores the question. In response to concerns by them and in order to encourage dialogue among readers, I changed phrases like “the man” which are now considered to be so objectionable by some. I also changed other points to be more inclusive and more respectful so no one felt relegated to the subaltern. Still, the editorial feedback made me wonder again whether the contrasts between serving our institutions as well as being agents for social justice are depicted accurately. Also, does the ACPA Statement of Ethical Principles still accurately describe, for as many of us as possible, the conflict between individual values, characteristics, and perspectives and those of a community such as an institution of higher education?

I look forward to hearing from you about your perspectives and experiences.


ACPA Statement of Ethical Principles and Standards. (2006). Washington, DC: American College Personnel Association. Retrieved from: http://www2.myacpa.org/ethics/statement.php

Reed, M. (2011, November). Student Debt and the Class of 2010. Retrieved from http://projectonstudentdebt.org/files/pub/classof2010.pdf

“The Project on Student Debt: An Initiative of the Institute for College Access and Success.” (n.d.). Retrieved from http://projectonstudentdebt.org/index.php

About the Author

Paul Shang is the current chair of the ACPA Ethics Committee and a past president of ACPA. He also serves as the Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students at the University of Oregon. Please e-mail inquiries to Paul Shang.


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.

Christian student organizations’ membership eligibility and discrimination based on sexual orientation and religion

In four recent judicial cases, student organizations at four institutions across the country have challenged their university’s denial of official recognition and/or funding from mandatory student fees because these organizations were believed to discriminate on the basis of religion and sexual orientation. Two of the four cases were appealed to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals and the resulting decisions in Christian Legal Society v. Kane, 2006 W.L.997217 (N.D. Cal.), affirmed,2009 W.L. 693391 (9th Cir. Cal.) and Christian Legal Society v. Walker, 453 F.3d 853 (7th Cir. 2006) are in conflict. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear an appeal from the Kane caseChristian Legal Society v. Martinez, 2009 W.L. 1269076 (US), which may provide some national guidelines for universities to follow. To understand the legal issues involved and the implications of the pending Supreme Court decision, this article reviews the four cases and discusses issues that institutions should consider.

These cases involved the denial of official recognition and denial of funds from mandatory student fees to Christian student organizations that require their voting members and officers to sign a statement of faith. By signing the statement of faith, members agree to uphold their Christian values and to refrain from heterosexual or homosexual activity outside the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman. Further, membership eligibility allows individuals to become voting members who repent for any past sexual behavior that was outside of the bonds of marriage. These student organizations have filed claims in federal court for violations of First Amendment speech, expressive association, and free exercise of religion rights. Two cases find that the institutions have violated the Christian organizations’ First Amendment rights and two cases upholding the denial of recognition or funding based on discrimination in membership eligibility of the Christian organizations.

NOTE: These requirements of enforcing 1st amendment rights apply to public institutions. Private institutions, while not required to enforce constitutional rights, have accepted these rights as societal norms. Many private institutions have incorporated some of these guarantees into their student handbooks. So at private institutions it depends on the existing polities surrounding mandatory feeds and the precedents of implementing these policies.

Cases upholding denial of recognition or funding from student fees:

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, 2009 W.L. 1269076 (US). This case originated as Christian Legal Society v. Kane, 2006 W.L.997217 (N.D. Cal.) and was affirmed without a written opinion by the Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit [ 2009 W.L. 693391 (9th Cir. Cal.)]. Since 1994 the Christian Legal Society (CLS) was a recognized student organization of the Hastings Law School of the University of California. At the beginning of the 2004 – 2005 academic year CLS became a member of the National Christian Legal Society and changed its charter to require voting members and officers to sign a statement of Christian faith. Membership became limited to those who, by signing the statement, renounced other religious beliefs and accepted moral standards that rejected heterosexual and homosexual activity outside the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman. Repentant individuals who in the past participated in hetero or homosexual activities and who signed the statement would also be considered voting members. The Hastings Law School Student Bar Association (SBA) was responsible for granting official recognition to student organizations in the Law school. The 2004 CLS application for official recognition was denied by SBA. SBA found that CSA was in violation of the institution’s nondiscrimination policy since it denied membership based on religious affiliation and sexual orientation and therefore was not eligible to be a recognized student organization at the Law school.

Recognition of student organizations at Hastings provides certain benefits including: use of the Law School’s name and logo, use of bulletin boards, access to University e-mail list services, accounting and financial services, allocation from student fees and travel funds, space in a University newsletter, office space, telephone voicemail, listing on the official Web site and publications, participation in the annual student Organizations Fair, access to information distribution services, and use of Law school rooms and audiovisual equipment for meetings. CSA filed suit in Federal District Court claiming violations of First Amendment, speech, association, and free exercise rights. Both the University of California Hastings Law School and CLS asked the Court for Summary Judgment.

The Court found that the Hastings Law School’s student organization recognition process was a limited public forum. Denial of access to the forum was permissible only if the rationale for denial was viewpoint neutral. The denial of recognition of CLS, according to the Court, was content neutral because it was based on the organization’s conduct, denial of membership, not its philosophy.

The Court concludes that Hastings’ requirement of compliance with its Nondiscrimination Policy is a reasonable regulation that is consistent with and furthers its educational purpose. Accordingly, even if Hastings’ Nondiscrimination Policy is considered a regulation of speech, Hastings’ enforcement of this policy did not infringe upon CLS’s First Amendment rights of free speech (p. 12).

Citing Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169 (1972) the Court stated: “… Hastings has denied CLS official recognition based on CLS’s conduct- its refusal to comply with Hastings’ Nondiscrimination Policy –not because of CLS’s philosophies or beliefs (p. 17). The court determined CLS had plenty of opportunities during the academic year to advocate for its beliefs and philosophies, despite the denial of official recognition. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed this decision without a written opinion and the U.S Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case.

Based on the Kane decision, Christian Legal Society of the University of Montana Law School v. Eck, 625 F.Supp.2d 1026 (D. Mont. 2009) found that the University of Montana Law School did not violate the First Amendment speech, expressive association and free exercise rights of the Christian Legal Society as a recognized student organization at the University, when it denied access to funds from student mandatory fees. CLS, a local chapter of the national organization, required voting members and officers to sign a statement of their Christian belief that included renunciation of heterosexual and homosexual activities outside the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman. Those who repented for past sexual activity outside of marriage were also eligible for membership. The Court relied on Kane in reaching a decision but noted the facts included only the denial of funding to a recognized student organization. The Court found that the nondiscrimination and open membership policies of the University were viewpoint neutral. Denying funding to CLS did not inhibit the organizations First Amendment rights (p. 1032).

Cases finding the institutions violated the Christian organizations’ First Amendment rights

The Christian Legal Society (CLS) at Southern Illinois University (SIU), affiliated with the national CLS, was denied official recognition by the University as it was in violation of the University’s nondiscrimination policy. CLS based membership eligibility on individuals signing a statement of faith which included the belief that sexual activity should occur only within the bonds of marriage between a man and a women. Individuals repenting for past hetero or homosexual activity were also eligible for membership. Claiming a violation of their First Amendment speech, expressive association, and free exercise of religion rights, CLS filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against SIU in Federal District Court. When the injunction was denied, they appealed to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals. Christian Legal Society v. Walker, 453 F.3d 853 (7th Cir. 2006) reversed the District Court decision and remanded the case for further deliberation. SIU provides official recognition to a diverse group of student organizations. Similar to other institutions, official recognition provides a number of benefits such as access to the Law School’s List-Serve, data base of e-mail addresses, use of bulletin boards, placement on school organization lists, publications and website, use of conference rooms, storage space, a faculty advisor, and funding from student mandatory fees (p. 857). The Court found that CLS was likely to be successful in its claims since it is not clear that CLS violates the institution’s nondiscrimination policy, that SIU appears to have infringed the expressive association rights of CLS, and that SIU violated the organizations speech rights. (p. 859). In relation to the nondiscrimination policy, the CLS membership policy applies to both heterosexual and homosexual behavior outside of the marriage between a man and a woman and is based on a belief rather than an individual’s classification as a member of a particular group (p. 860). In terms of expressive association and speech rights the court cited several Supreme Court decisions: Rosenberger v. Rectors and Visitors of the University of Virginia, 515U.S. 819 (1995); Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin v. Southworth, 529 U.S.217 (2000); Healy v. James, 408 U.S.169 (1972) among others. These cases indicate under the right of expressive association the University cannot force its views on an organization whose views are considered unpopular, or force it to accept members who will hamper the group’s ability to advocate for a belief or viewpoint (p. 863). Further, the University has established a public forum, and while there was disagreement between the parties on the type of forum (a matter to be resolved by the District Court) speech rights must be granted in a viewpoint neutral way (p. 864). The Court noted that CLS was the only organization singled out for denial of recognition when other student organizations at SIU limit membership based on religion and gender (p.686). The Court found that SIU has denied CLS recognition based on view point discrimination (p. 687).

Alpha Iota Omega Christian Fraternity v. Moeser, 2006 W.L.1286186 (M.D.N.C.) reached a similar decision to that in Walker. AIO is an unincorporated student organization that was denied recognition by the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). AIO required its members to sign a similar belief statement that prohibited heterosexual and homosexual behavior outside of marriage between a man and a woman and allowed membership for those repenting for past transgressions. The Christian fraternity filed a motion in the Federal District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina asking for a preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the nondiscrimination policy for a class of student organizations. The Court issued an injunction giving UNC-CH a period of time to revise their nondiscrimination policy so as not to violate the First Amendment rights of AIO and similar organizations. As a result UNC-CH added the following clause to its nondiscrimination policy:

2. Student organizations that select their members on the basis of commitment to a set of beliefs (e.g., religious or political beliefs) may limit membership and participation in the organization to students who, upon individual inquiry, affirm that they support the organization’s goals and agree with its beliefs, so long as no student is excluded from membership or participation on the basis of his or her age, race, color, national origin, disability, religious status or historic religious affiliation, veteran status, sexual orientation, or, unless exempt under Title IX, gender (p. 4).

This change in policy meant that organizations such as AIO that required members to sign a belief statement are no longer in violation of the institution’s nondiscrimination policy. Based on UNC-CH’s change in their antidiscrimination policy, the Court approved the University’s motion to dismiss the case.


With Martinez (the Kane case) on the Supreme Court docket, institutions need to be cautious about denying recognition or funding to religious or political organizations while a Court ruling is pending. There is reason to believe, based on previous Supreme Court rulings in the area of institutional-recognition and funding of student organizations, that the decision of the Seventh Circuit is closer to the ultimate decision of the Supreme Court, that the Christian organizations First Amendment rights were violated when it was denied recognition because it required members to sign a belief statement. For example, Healy v. James found that an institution could not deny official recognition to the Students for a Democratic Society because it disagreed with the philosophical tenets of the student organization. Rosenberger v. Rectors of University of Virginia established that funding from mandatory student fees cannot be denied to a publication because it has a Christian editorial perspective. Recognition as an official organization and funding must be granted in a viewpoint neutral way. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin v. Southworthestablishes that the scheme to fund student organizations is a limited public forum and therefore funds must be awarded in a viewpoint-neutral way. These cases along with other cases involving organizations outside of higher education indicate that the policies of Christian or political organizations that limit membership based on philosophy or a belief system will be protected under the First Amendment and are not in violation of an institution’s antidiscrimination policies. The safe approach for institutions is to at least recognize and provide student funds to these organizations until the Supreme Court gives a definitive answer. If the Court rules as we think they will, institutions may want to follow UNC-CH’s example and make a similar change to their nondiscrimination policy.

Please send inquires and feedback to Robert Hendrickson at [email protected].

– See more at: http://www.myacpa.org/article/christian-student-organizations%E2%80%99-membership-eligibility-and-discrimination-based-sexual#sthash.Y4FK4aIM.dpuf

ACPA’s New Ethics Consultation Service

ACPA’s Governing Board recently approved a new ethics consultation service as designed and proposed by the Ethics Committee. This service to ACPA members will be available immediately following this spring’s ACPA 2010 Convention in Boston. The ethics consultation service is designed to provide interested members with confidential consultation and advice regarding options for addressing ethical issues and concerns they may be facing in their professional work. The goal of the Ethics Committee in offering this consultation service is to assist individuals in thinking through and addressing their issues/concerns in an informed, effective manner.

Appendix A of the ACPA Statement of Ethical Principles and Standards provides general guidance on addressing professional ethical concerns. First, it is suggested that a private conversation be initiated with the individuals and/or parties concerned to attempt to collaboratively resolve the ethical concern. Second, if a private conversation does not adequately resolve the matter, it is recommended that institutional colleagues and resources be consulted for further assistance in addressing the ethical concern. ACPA members are also invited to contact the Ethics Committee Chairperson if they wish to receive additional consultative advice on their ethical issue or concern. The new ethics consultation service offers an organized process for this assistance.

The Ethics Committee will utilize ACPA’s Statement of Ethical Principles and Standards (available at the Ethics link on the ACPA Web site) as well as other relevant sources of ethical information to consider what insights and advice to offer the inquiring member about his/her/hir particular ethical concern. It is important to note that the Ethics Committee’s response to the inquiring member(s) is for use only by that member(s) in his/her/hir consideration of the ethical situation and/or concern presented to the Committee. The consultation provided is confidential and provided exclusively for the educational benefit of the member(s) requesting advice.

The Purpose and Procedures for Ethics Committee Consultations on Ethical Issues/Concerns is reprinted below. A program entitled “ACPA’s New Ethics Consultation Service” will be presented at the upcoming Boston Convention on Tuesday, March 23, at 4:15 pm in the Marriott, Boston University room. This program will present further details and answer ACPA member questions about utilizing this new service. Additionally, an open meeting of the Ethics Committee is scheduled on Tuesday, March 23, at 10:00 am in the Marriott, Grand Ballroom – Salon D. At this meeting, the ethics consultation service will also be discussed as well as other on-going projects of the Ethics Committee. Interested ACPA members are encouraged to attend one or both of these important sessions.

Please send inquires and feedback to Michael Ignelzi at [email protected].

Purpose and Procedures for Ethics Committee Consultations on Ethical Issues/Concerns


In 2004, the ACPA Executive Council asked the Ethics Committee to study and recommend revisions to the 1992 ACPA Statement of Ethical Principles and Standards. In 2005, the Committee recommended changes to the Principles and Standards that were approved by the ACPA Executive Council in 2006. One section, Appendix A, outlines a procedure that provides for ACPA members to consult with the ACPA Ethics Committee for advice about ethical concerns.

At the request of the ACPA Executive Council to expand on Appendix A, the ACPA Ethics Committee produced this document detailing the scope and procedures available to members requesting consultative advice on professional ethical issues and concerns.

This document was approved by the Governing Board at their meeting in November 2009.


  1. Committee Charge: An important purpose of the Ethics Committee is to provide ACPA members with consultation and advice about options for addressing concerns that are expressed regarding professional ethical issues. Similar to the way Student Affairs professionals provide consultation to students seeking personal advice – but leave to other entities any determination of right and wrong – this Committee, in its educational role, serves to consult and provide advice about ethical situations and issues that are presented by ACPA members. In short, the Committee provides consultation, advice and guidance for ACPA members facing ethical issues. The goal of this consultation service is to assist the individual(s) in thinking through and addressing his/her/hir ethical issue/concern in an informed, effective manner. No specific complaints will be received, adjudicated, or decided by the Ethics Committee. Further, the individual(s) requesting advice must look elsewhere if interested in pursuing redress, discipline, or an official recognition of their concern.
  1. Committee’s Review Procedures: ACPA members seeking consultative advice should contact the Ethics Committee Chair. They should identify themselves and describe any ethical issues or situation on which they seek consultation, but without identifying any alleged wrongdoer. The Ethics Committee will not respond to anonymous requests for advice, however, the identities of those requesting consultation will be kept strictly confidential. The Committee Chair shall contact his/her/hir choice of other Ethics Committee members to discuss and consider the ethical issues raised. At his/her/hir discretion, the Chair, acting on behalf of the Ethics Committee, may also consult with the ACPA Director of Equity and Inclusion (who oversees the Committee on behalf of the ACPA Governing Board), the ACPA President, the ACPA Executive Director, and/or legal counsel.

After working in collaboration to provide any perspective(s) offered by the ACPA Statement of Ethical Principles and Standards and any other selected sources of relevant information, the Chair will provide a timely response to the inquiring ACPA member(s) that conveys the Ethics Committee’s insights and advice. This may be provided in written or oral form (or both) at the discretion of the Committee.

  1. Restrictions and Records: Contact between the individual(s) requesting consultation/advice and the Committee is confidential. Neither the fact that the Committee was contacted, the names of any people discussed, nor the Committee’s insights and advice (whether written or oral), is to be discussed or cited by the Committee members, the inquiring member(s), or by anyone else, including any person in question. The Ethics Committee’s response is for the inquiring member(s) use only, not for disclosure to or use by others, including specifically not for transmission to any individual or entity reviewing the ethical conduct of any person in question. To be absolutely clear, advice provided by the Ethics Committee is service to individual(s) requesting consultation and is not to be used for evidence of the correctness of any particular perspective or to be construed as any type of “expert testimony.” That said, the Ethics Committee Chair shall keep confidential records of the inquiring member(s), the nature of the inquiry, and any advice or guidance that was provided. Additionally, a numeric count of requests for consultation and a general summary of the types of concerns/issues raised will be submitted yearly to the ACPA archives.
  1. Committee’s Educational Responsibilities: The Ethics Committee is expected to help educate the membership about professional ethics including the ACPA Statement of Ethical Principles and Standards, and the Procedures for Ethics Committee Consultations. The Ethics Committee is also charged to periodically review and recommend any advisable changes to those Principles/Standards and to these Procedures. The consultative process and procedures described in this document are consistent with the Committee’s educational mission as well as its charge to assist members in working to resolve professional ethical dilemmas.

We are All at Risk of Suicide

Jane Fried
Associate Professor
Central Connecticut State University

Institutional responses and responsibilities to students who are potentially suicidal have been widely discussed recently. Institutions seem caught in a web of ambiguous conflicts. Do we have a duty to prevent suicide attempts? If there is such a duty legally or ethically, what evidence constitutes a credible basis for action? What kind of action is warranted? When we admit a student, we have a duty to support that student academically. However, academic support may involve a range of emotional supports that allow that student to persist with full access to his or her academic skills and abilities. We know that cognition, emotion and behavior are highly integrated so that separating one from the other is almost impossible. In cases where students experience either acute or chronic psychological distress, the availability of emotional support and/or medication may be the determining factor in a student’s ability to succeed academically. Approaches to helping at-risk students should acknowledge this integration and focus on student success wherever possible. Keeping students in school with appropriate support may be the most beneficial thing we can do for them.

Institutional responses to students at risk should be shaped by policy that takes into account the welfare of individual students, the campus environment in which those students study and live and the nature and mission of the institution. According to legal expert Dr. Gary Pavela only institutions with custodial missions, such as prisons and mental hospitals, are legally responsible for preventing suicide. The mission statements of colleges and universities typically address at least two elements that are pertinent to this conversation: student learning and student character development. From an ethical perspective, institutions should consider how they can help all students learn, including students at risk, and how they can create conditions in which those students are least likely to hurt themselves or others as they continue learning. According to Pavela, institutions should be “working harder to keep students at risk of suicide enrolled, working with them, giving them the help they need and not finding faster, more creative ways to remove them” (Hoover, 2006, A39).

The ACPA Statement of Ethical Principles is designed to give guidance to individual members of the association as they carry out their professional responsibilities. Members are expected to act with benevolence and prudence toward students and colleagues and to honor the principles of autonomy, justice, fidelity, not harming anyone (non-malificence) and helping (beneficence) wherever possible. Although the ACPA statement does not address matters of institutional policy directly, when individual members are involved in policy-making, we are expected to support the principles identified in the code. If we are asked to review policy as it is being written, we should keep these principles in mind as we consider the consequences of new policies. Although risk management is a significant concern to institutions, ethically it should be balanced with institutional fidelity to students and mission- keeping promises to help students learn and develop the skills and perspectives often cited: effective, engaged, multiculturally competent citizenship, critical thinking, and effective life management, decision making and communication skills.

Student conduct codes function as contracts between students and their institution. These codes typically state what kinds of behavior are impermissible and may also state, in more general terms, what kinds of behavior are desirable. Many codes contain language that proscribes behavior that “endangers self or others”. Student comments indicating suicidal ideation or intention such as remarks made to friends, to staff members or in written assignments constitute verbal threats and should be taken very seriously. Campuses typically employ or have access to professionals who are trained to assess suicide risk and to make judgments within their own scope of professional training about degree of risk and protective steps to be taken, if any. Students who act out by cutting, carrying weapons, or engaging in any other visible self-destructive behavior, are generally violating some element of the institutional conduct code and can be confronted through formal charges or informal conversations through the campus judicial process. This approach honors fidelity, keeping institutional promises to due process, as well as autonomy; permitting a student to speak with a professional staff member about personal behavior, choices and consequences. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may also protect some at-risk students because of psychiatric diagnoses. The principle of justice comes into play for these students because the ADA requires a specific and lengthy inquiry to determine whether or not the institution is meeting the needs of these students. Institutions may incur greater liability by violating ADA protections than they do by keeping students enrolled. The key exception to this approach is the presence of a demonstrable and immanent risk to self or others.

We live in a high stress era. Some stress is personal, such as the cost of college tuition, struggles with identity, with peer relationships or with the baggage from dysfunctional families and abuse. Global stress such as fears of economic instability and terrorism is also a factor. The body, mind, spirit of a human being does not distinguish among the various sources of stress. The physiological reaction to stress is integrated and whole. One of the signs of extreme stress is despair or hopelessness. Among those of us who are aware of the many issues burdening our students and ourselves, despair seems like an understandable, if painful response. We can certainly understand how students, particularly those in the 18-24 year old group, might think of suicide as the way out. We know that extreme, prolonged stress impairs cognition and decision-making. Mood disorders and some of the medications that are used to control them may also impair cognitive function. Chronic substance abuse, begun in early adolescence, can impair cognitive function as well. All of this evidence points to the need for the demonstration of the professional virtues in our relationships with students and colleagues: prudence, integrity, respectfulness and benevolence. ACPA members who suspect that students are considering suicide should treat those students with respect and benevolence, or good will, rather than suspicion. We are obligated to behave with prudence, thoughtfully and carefully, to consult with supervisors or mental health staff about appropriate interventions and to document our efforts as we design effective interventions. Integrity, the fourth virtue cited in our code, requires that we act in accord with our professional values and maintain consistency in our behavior in such serious situations. Integrity requires that, even in the face of a major concern about student welfare, we demonstrate the other three virtues consistently.

Beyond the demands of an immediate situation, ACPA members also have a responsibility to consider the context of students’ lives and their hopes for the future. In Big Questions, Worthy Dreams (2000) Parks writes about “mentoring young adults in their search for meaning, purpose and faith” (subtitle). Creating mentoring communities is Parks’ way of describing the work we can do with students who are wondering what their lives will be like, what they may hope for or whether hope remains alive in their world. It is possible that the greatest anguish involved in thoughts of suicide is the belief that a person is alone in the world, ashamed of his or her despair and unable to break out of the isolation or search for connections with others. Many campuses are currently engaged in discussions of student spirituality which is one approach to helping students think through questions about life’s meanings. The student affairs profession has long been involved in helping students think about questions of meaning and purpose in life, regardless of whether we proceed from secular or faith based perspectives. The most important thing we can do with and for students, regardless of their “at-risk” status, is to help them think about what they value, what they hope for and how they can develop meaningful relationships in their lives now and in the future. Thinking about the unthinkable is less frightening in the presence of others who care about us. Knowing that others have considered the same thoughts about purpose, meaning and despair can be very reassuring to students who think that giving up is an acceptable option.

In this era of virtual reality, many of our students have failed to develop the relationship skills that are essential to creating satisfying and happy lives. If we can model benevolent, respectful behavior in our work with students, we will be planting the seeds of the mentoring community. If we, as survivors of adolescence, can help students think and talk about issues that we have learned to manage as adults, we will be planting additional seeds for the development of courage and confidence. Because we, as a profession, have adopted the ethical principles of doing no harm, helping where possible and supporting autonomy, we are in some sense obligated to raise the big questions and help our students develop worthy dreams of their own. Through the creation and structuring of dialogues within student peers and among students, faculty and staff, we are in an ideal position to legitimize conversations about significant issues and develop mentoring communities. Individual students who are in crisis and “at risk” of suicide are powerful magnets for staff attention, but all students deserve the opportunity to consider the significant questions of their own lives. Many of them will benefit from having these discussions in a campus context. In some sense we are all at risk for suicide. We have all experienced despair. We all need opportunities to express our darkest thoughts, be received by people who care about us and affirm our possibilities for living worthwhile lives.


  • Hoover, E. (2006 May 19) Giving them the help they need. The Chronicle of Higher Education. LII,37.  A39-41.
  • Parks, S. (2000). Big questions, worthy dreams. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
  • Pavela, G. (2006, July 14). Personal conversation.

Practical Ethics: Using ACPA’s New Statement of Ethical Principles and Standards

Practical Ethics: Using ACPA’s New Statement of Ethical Principles and Standards

When it is time to solve a problem, theory and practice are often seen as leading to different courses of action. A comment such as, “That’s all well and good in theory, but let’s be practical about it,” is the standard way to frame this conflict. A different approach, attributed to Kurt Lewin, is “There’s nothing as practical as a good theory”. I subscribe to the Lewinian approach and believe that a good theory can provide guidelines for practice that are both strong and flexible. The newly revised Statement of Ethical Principles and Standards provides us with an updated set of guidelines to support us in ethical decision-making and behavior as student affairs professionals. This approach is grounded in several theories that are shaped into an integrated model for decision making. As our roles and responsibilities have become more complex, we have needed an updated ethical framework that incorporates the changing cultural, personal and technological dimensions of the work we do with students, parents, colleagues, donors, vendors and members of governing agencies. The governing bodies of the Association should be justifiably pleased with adopting this framework since it contributes to the ongoing ethical development and practice of our profession.

Now that we have the revised statement, how do we use it? The new statement has two overarching purposes: 1) to help members in making their own decisions about ethical practice and 2) to give guidance to members who observe external conditions that seem to challenge the ethical standards we have adopted. Monitoring one’s own professional behavior is a daunting task. Rising to the challenge of addressing ethical dilemmas in our work environments, particularly issues presented by the behavior and decisions of others, is also extremely difficult.

When an ethical challenge arises, the first question to be faced is who will potentially be harmed. Consider the following examples:

  • A supervisor becomes intimately and sexually involved with one of his or her subordinates. Who is likely to be harmed by this relationship? The possibilities include the subordinate staff member if the relationship ends, the other staff members who assume or observe preferential treatment on the job, and the students served by this office if they have any concerns about that staff member’s work and realize that any complaints may not receive a fair hearing.
  • An academic advisor accepts a student’s desire to continue re-enrolling in courses that the student has repeatedly failed without doing a thorough review of that student’s preparation for those courses. Is the student harmed by this behavior?
  • A hall director suspects that a student has been cutting herself, but doesn’t take time to speak with the student because she has had an argument with her. Is that behavior potentially harmful to the student or her friends?
  • A program advisor allows a group to hire one of its own members to act as DJ at a party without discussing with the group the potential conflict of interests implied in that decision.

In the course of a day, dozens of situations may arise which have ethical implications and of which we may be unaware. When we become aware of ethical challenges, the ethical response is often not the easiest response or even the first response that comes to mind. An ethical practitioner must be a reflective practitioner as well.

It is important to take time when uncomfortable situations arise, or when we have a sense that the reaction chosen was not the best one, to rethink that reaction or decision at the end of the day. “Was anybody likely to be harmed by what I did?” is a very good question for reflection. If the answer to that question is yes, the rest of the statement provides guidelines for methods of addressing the issue or reviewing the decision. Any harm that may have occurred because of a lack of awareness, thoughtlessness or the simple pressure of too many things to do can then be remedied.

Noticing behavior or decisions in the work environment and deciding what to do about them, if anything, is usually more difficult than monitoring your own behavior. A decision to confront a colleague or to raise uncomfortable questions about a policy always has political as well as ethical consequences. The first step in the Association guidelines for addressing ethical issues is to speak with the person or persons about the situation of concern. How do you decide when to speak? Rion (1996) suggests that we ask ourselves why the situation is bothering us, who else might be involved and whether or not we are personally responsible for causing or resolving this problem.  Before we decide to speak, we should also examine our professional ethical guidelines, the norms of the campus community and our personal beliefs about fairness and justice, right and wrong. Buddhist practice suggests that these conversations should be initiated when the initiator is fairly sure that good will result. If the initiator is troubled by the situation or behavior, believes that others may be hurt and thinks that the person to be confronted has an open mind, then the initiator should raise the concerns. If initiating such a conversation might cause more harm than good, the concerned person should find another approach to raise the issue in the community. In any case, serious reflection is an important part of a decision about whether to raise an ethical question with a colleague

These conversations can be conducted most skillfully and respectfully when the community is used to talking about ethical issues. Brown has called for the creation of ethical communities on our campuses in order to create contexts for dialogue (1985). Anyone who speaks out about ethics (or any other difficult topic) as a solitary voice may be heard as a blamer, a person who considers her or himself as more virtuous than others. When ethical issues are raised in a community where such conversations are the norm, dialogue is more likely to proceed effectively and without blame. The community is committed to ethical practices and to dialogue as a method of discerning ethical responses to difficult situations. Therefore a person who asks for a conversation about an ethical dilemma is one who is helping the community live up to its own standards.

Creating an ethical community is not simple or easy. It is fraught with conflict and characterized by the tension between theory and practice. Avoiding conflict is not the goal in ethical discourse. Engaging conflict gracefully and respectfully is the goal. One aspect of the new ACPA statement is that conflict is an inevitable part of the conversation. The complexity of our campuses and the broad range of cultures that shape the perspectives of people in our campus communities makes conflict inevitable. I believe that the most effective approach to enliven ACPA’s Statement of Ethical Principles and Standards is discuss ethical standards as a framework for our practice before we have specific ethical conflicts to consider. We need to train ourselves to engage in discourse about differences of value and opinion in a respectful manner in much the same way that we train our students to manage their emotions or respect cultural differences. I hope that ACPA members will examine the new statement and take some time to think about the ethical standards and practices on their own campuses. You may wish to organize professional development seminars and discussions on your own campus where people can talk about the content of our new statement or create case study events for staff members, including student staff.  Another potential use of the new statement is to open conversations with faculty colleagues so that they understand what ethical approaches are used by our profession. Bring the issue of ethics to the table – the lunch table, the committee table, and the tables where policies are constructed.

Several years ago, Margaret Wheatley addressed a session of the ACPA Convention and made a suggestion for provoking change and conversation on our campuses. She said that we should use what we have learned, not to lecture people about our new wisdom, but rather to raise questions about the status quo and engage in conversation about current conditions and our hopes for the future. That approach involves everyone in the creation of a dialogue about our shared professional lives. I urge members of this Association to read the new statement and use it to raise questions about our common work on campus, not because we are doing things wrong, but because we always have the opportunity to improve ourselves for the benefit of our profession and our students.


  • Brown, R. (1985). Creating an ethical community. In H. Canon & R. Brown (Eds.), Applied ethics in student services. (New Directions for Student Services No. 30, pp.67-79). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
  • Rion, M. (1996). The responsible manager. Amherst, MA: Human Resources Press.

Ethics in the Real World

Jane Fried
Chair of the Ethics Committee, Associate Professor
Central Connecticut State University

The most widely discussed approach to ethics in student affairs is based on the notion that ethical principles can be used to analyze all ethical dilemmas and determine the most appropriate response to ethical dilemmas (Kitchener, 1985). This approach assumes that principles exist objectively, beyond the changing physical and cultural conditions of human life, and that they are stable and unchanging regardless of circumstances. Recent developments in cognitive science and philosophy have revealed that the model of thinking and acting which shapes the principled approach is both incomplete and inadequate to ethical living in a physical, temporal and multicultural world (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999). The principled approach was developed in the context of Cartesian philosophy in which the mind and the body were presumed to be separate entities. The mind was considered a nonphysical entity whose sole purpose was to think. In this model, breakfast foods and other physical conditions presumably had no influence on thinking. We now know that this is not accurate. If it were, there would be no need for school breakfast and lunch programs because hunger would not affect thinking.

In the past 25 years, cognitive scientists, using new forms of inquiry ranging from brain scans to language analysis, have determined that thinking is far more complex than Descartes realized and that the brain operates by using embodied metaphors rather than logic (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999). In other words, we don’t think the way we think we think. We think in metaphors and all metaphors are based on our experience as human beings who live in physical environments that involve all kinds of relationships. Our images of the ways in which those relationships work shapes the way we think about ethics. Principles do not give us enough guidance in the ethical domain. We also need to think about virtuous behavior and the community context in which the behavior occurs.

Aristotle was the first to discuss the connections between ethics, relationships and community. He wrote that developing virtue or habits of ethical behavior in relationships is the best way for an individual to realize his (sic) full potential and help others to do the same. “Aristotle’s ethics is thus about nurturance, the nurturance necessary to help a person become a well–balanced, temperate, fully actualized human being” (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999, p.322). Ethics, relationships and community are interwoven and dependent on context – the conditions which exist in the community. Discussions of personal, ethical virtues diminished when principles became the major focus of ethical discourse. Principles, which are formal and unchanging, reflect Kant’s idea of thought as pure and disembodied (Johnson1993). Principle–oriented thinking has shaped Western ideas about ethics for more than two centuries. More recently, discussions of virtue have reappeared in the philosophy of the embodied mind and in the ethical discourse of the helping professions (Meara, Day & Schmidt, 1996). Feminist, relational ethics (Gilligan, 1988) as well as Buddhist ethics (Saddhatissa, 2003) also emphasize the role of virtue and the cultivation of habits of compassion. Developing the virtue of compassionate relationships humanizes and pragmatizes the use of principles which are far less flexible than the virtuous habits of thinking and behaving that are required to apply them to actual situations. The recent review of the ACPA statement of ethics was initiated because of our increased awareness of the Eurocentric bias in principle focused ethics as well as changes in the wider ethical discourse. These changes support a more complex, three dimensional, embodied approach to ethics (Fried, 2003; Lakoff & Johnson, 1999).

Because humans think metaphorically and live in an embodied world, ethical thinking must take into account a wide range of variables that characterize our physical and socio–cultural worlds. These variables include time (temporality), personal perspective (phenomenology), cultural values and norms, beliefs about legitimate sources of knowledge and assumptions about the range of choice that we have (or don’t have) when we make decisions (Fried, 2003). It is difficult to sustain the complex thought that this new approach to ethical thinking requires. The following example is an illustration:

As a senior in college, a student supervised the crew that set up equipment for programs in the student center. One such program was a career fair. When the student applied to a graduate program in student affairs, he described himself as being in charge of this career fair. In a reference call, the graduate faculty member asked the professional student center supervisor to evaluate the applicant’s role in the fair. The supervisor explained that the applicant’s role was to set up furniture and supervise a student work crew. He had nothing to do with inviting employers, setting up interview schedules or any of the programmatic elements of the fair. How should the faculty member think about the ethics of using the applicant’s description of his involvement in the career fair as part of his portfolio for admission?

Using the three dimensional model of ethical decision making, the professor considered the following issues: Principles: 1) Doing good/ not doing harm – Was anyone harmed or did anyone benefit from his representation of his work? 2) Fairness – Was his description of his role a fair representation of his actual contribution? If he were admitted on the basis of his perception, would that be fair to another applicant who might not then be admitted? 3) Veracity(Fried, 2003). Was his description of his role corroborated by his supervisor? Did he tell the truth as others might understand the truth? Virtues: 1) Prudence, respect and beneficence – The faculty member wanted to treat the student with respect, give him the benefit of the doubt and keep his best interests in mind. Might the applicant benefit from a conversation with the faculty member about his perception and description of his role? 2) Integrity– The faculty member had to maintain consistent standards in order to be fair to all applicants. Would failure to address the inconsistency in the two descriptions be considered an approach that demonstrated integrity? Context: 1)Phenomenology – What was this applicant’s sincere point of view? Did he really believe that he organized the fair? 2) Temporality: How quickly did the admission decision have to be made? Was there enough time for a conference with the applicant to clarify the issue and the conflicting perspectives about his role? Based on consideration of all these elements, what would be an ethical response to this student’s graduate school application?

Think about an ethical dilemma you have recently faced lately as a student affairs professional or graduate student. Consider the principles that we generally use to make ethical decisions. Now think about your own thought process (metacognition) and look for the reasoning used as you apply those principles to your dilemma. You will probably find that you use an embodied, metaphoric approach. You imagine what the persons involved in your dilemma probably felt. You wonder how you would think and feel and how you would want to be treated in the same situation. If you have a relationship with the persons involved, you consider the impact of any decision you might make on the long term relationship. If the other people come from a different culture, are of a different gender or sexual orientation or a different economic class, you are probably stretching your imagination to put yourself into their place. You are using a three dimensional model to make ethical decisions, but you are probably conscious of only the first dimension since that is the one most often used in Western civilization.

The forthcoming revision of the ACPA code of ethics is based on the approach described above. Because this approach requires a greater awareness of the complexity of our own thought processes in ethical decision–making, using the revised code will probably provoke some complicated discussion in classrooms and staff meetings. That is as it should be. Ethics and ethical decision–making are rarely simple. When we are faced with a choice between a good alternative and a bad alternative, making the choice is simple. Difficult ethical decisions arise when we are faced with a choice of two good alternatives and don’t immediately recognized which one represents the greater good. All professions adopt ethical codes and most have procedures for ethics education and resolution of ethical conflicts. ACPA is fortunate to have had an excellent code and accompanying enforcement procedures since 1993. The forthcoming revision also addresses current campus realities by including descriptions of standards for management of electronic records and acknowledging cultural complexities. This is a code which all ACPA members are expected to use for guidance in addressing ethical dilemmas. I believe that we can all be proud of this document. I would like to thank the committee that revised the code, Dr. Julie Bell Elkins for serving as liaison to the Executive Council and the Executive Council for working together to create a code that can support our profession in facing the incredible complexity of the 21st century on our campuses.


  • Fried, J. (2003). Ethical standards and principles. In S. Komives and D. Woodard. Student services: A handbook for the profession. (4th ed.) (pp. 107– 127), San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
  • Gilligan, C. (1988). Remapping the moral domain: New images of self in relationship. In C. Gilligan, J. Ward & J. Taylor (Eds.) Mapping the moral domain. (3–20) Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Kitchener, K. (1985). Ethical Principles and Ethical Decisions in Student Affairs. In H. Canon and R. Brown. (Eds.) Applied Ethics in Student Services. New Directions for Student Services. #30. (17–30) San Francisco: Jossey–Bass.
  • Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to Western thought. NY: Basic books.
  • Saddhatissa, H. (2003). Buddhist ethics. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications.

Disciplinary Due Process in Sexual Assault Cases: Balancing the Rights of the Victim and the Rights of Accused.

Robert M. Hendrickson
Professor of Education and Associate Dean
The Pennsylvania State University

In recent years, sexual assault on campus, a topic not historically discussed in public, received national attention and was openly discussed on college campuses. Concerned that a significant number of assaults went unreported due to policies and procedures that discouraged reporting, colleges and universities across the country developed programs to educate students about date rape and sexual assault and develop policies and procedures that encouraged and supported victims who chose to report assaults. Many institutions not only instituted educational programs discussing what constituted rape and sexual assault, but attempted to protect the rights of the accuser while providing for the due process rights of the accused. Some of these efforts created campus controversies that at times received national attention. For example, Columbia University developed a policy to increase the willingness of victims to bring forward an action against their alleged assailant. The policy sought to protect the victim from confronting the alleged assailant by denying the accused the right to cross examine witnesses, to hear the testimony of the accuser or to receive a transcript of the proceedings among others. The University had developed educational programs for the hearing committee which had the potential of biasing the committee against the accused. While there was much campaigning for the policy change, few on the Columbia campus seemed to be paying much attention until a group, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) a conservative organization, began to call attention to the loss of the due process rights of the accused. Eventually liberal groups such as the ACLU and The Village Voice joined in the fight to protect the due process rights of the accused (Brownstein, 2001). Columbia University would eventually rethink its policy and instituted the due process procedures required for the accused to receive a fair hearing. Two more recent cases show how institutions are attempting to find that balance between the rights of the victim and the rights of the accused.

The first case, Theriault v. University of Southern Maine (2004), involved a female student who filed a sexual assault complaint against her alleged assailant and the hearing committee found the accused not guilty. The female student sued in Federal Court claiming that the manner in which the disciplinary hearing was conducted violated her constitutional right to due process and equal protection. She alleged that the faculty adviser for the hearing committee was biased against her, in that he refused to recuse himself after she complained, his questioning was slanted against her (e.g., using the term “love-making” once during the hearing), and he asked more questions of the alleged assailant’s witnesses than the complainant’s witnesses. The court found that there were no equal protection or due process rights where the loss of educational opportunity was due only to the student’s perceived subjective loss as a result of the decision of the hearing committee. She also unsuccessfully brought state claims of defamation, breach of contract, conspiracy, and negligence.

The Court’s discussion of the plaintiff’s allegations provides some good examples of the issues to be considered when balancing the victim’s rights against the due process rights of the accused. In this particular case these issues surrounded the alleged bias of the hearing committee faculty advisor. The plaintiff alleged that the faculty adviser, Mr. Nye, was biased because when he was a school administrator a number of years earlier there had been a conflict between her father (a teacher) and Mr. Nye. The Court found that the plaintiff was not able to prove that Mr. Nye had a bias against her. “….[T]he plaintiff has not shown that a reasonable faculty advisor in Nye’s place would have known that the use of the term ‘love-making’ one time instead of ‘sexual activity’ or “having sex” was unconstitutional” (Theriault v. University of Southern Maine, 2004). The plaintiff also alleged that Nye when questioning the university investigator of the incident “framed the issue as one where [the plaintiff] wanted to engage in some sexual conduct with [the alleged assailant], but things got carried away” (Theriault v. University of Southern Maine, 2004). According to the Court, the plaintiff’s characterization of Nye’s question was not accurate, and they noted that in supplied transcript of the hearing, Nye asked the following: “… is your interpretation that [the plaintiff] was interested in having sex and got herself into a situation in which she reached the point that she did not want to go beyond but [the alleged assailant] forced the issue?” The Court found that question implied that if the accused “forced the issue” he would be guilty of sexual assault. Further, the Court noted that Nye’s asking fewer questions of the plaintiff’s witnesses than those of the accused did not in any way indicate discrimination or bias against the plaintiff based on her gender. The Court found that the hearing was conducted in a fundamentally fair way that did not exhibit any undue bias towards the female student bring the complaint. In finding that the plaintiff did not have due process or equal protection rights violated under the Constitution, the Court reasoned that since if she did not prevail in her claim she would not be denied a property right in the form of the denial of an educational opportunity. The case demonstrated that for judicial system administrators it is important to be sensitive to the needs of the victim without compromising the due process rights of the accused.

The second case dealt with the due process rights of the accusedIn Gomes v. University of Maine System (2005), two male students were accused of sexually assaulting a female student, which is a violation of the student conduct code. The school’s hearing committee found the two males responsible for sexual assault and suspended them for one full year. The students, maintaining that the hearing process was fatally flawed, filed suit in the Federal District Court of Maine claiming violations of due process, breach of contract, and related torts. The Court noted in its decision that this is not a case about whether a sexual assault occurred, but rather whether the process to determine guilt or innocence of the two males followed appropriate due process procedures guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution and was fundamentally fair. The decision draws a distinction between the more flexible due process requirements for college and university disciplinary hearings as opposed to the rigid requirements of a court proceeding. According to the Court the following are required in academic setting: “1). The student be advised of the charges against him; 2) he must be informed of the nature of the evidence against him; 3.) he must be given an opportunity to be heard in his own defense; and 4) he must not be punished except on the basis of substantial evidence” (Gomes v. University of Maine System, 2005). Citing other case law the Gomes Court also noted that: “1) the student must be permitted the assistance of a lawyer, at least in major disciplinary proceedings; 2) he must be permitted to confront and to cross-examine the witnesses against him; and 3) he must be afforded the right to an impartial tribunal, which must make written findings” (legal citations omitted). It is expected that these basic rudiments of fair play will be followed to protect the student’s constitutional right to due process.

In this particular case, the accused students claimed that due process was violated when they were not provided with the list of witnesses against them until the day of the hearing, that the University denied them access to the police reports surrounding the investigation of the assault, and that they were not provided the victim’s medical records until the day of the hearing. On all of these claims, a summary judgment was granted in favor of the University. Citing other case law the Court noted that the University could have withheld the police reports from both the complainant and the accused and survived a due process challenge. Upon review of the evidence, the Court found that it was the District Attorney’s Office that provided the complainant with the complete police report containing alleged inconsistencies in the plaintiff’s interview statements. Failure of the accused to request the documents from the DA’s office in a timely way would not yield a due process violation by the University. Further, not the full police report but a summary of the results of the police investigation which both parties received, was used by the hearing committee to reach their decision in the matter. The plaintiffs also contested that having the complainant seated in such a way that they could see only her back and profile inhibited their ability to cross-examine the witness. The Gomes Court found no impediment to cross-examination in the way the complainant was seated in the hearing room, even if their attorney moved to another location in the hearing room to see her facial expressions during her testimony. That legal counsel chose to move to a different location during testimony was not a deprivation of the accused students’ right to counsel. The Court also found based on previous case law (citations omitted) that where accused students were able to hear the testimony of all witnesses against them there would be no need to have a witness list and the contents of their testimony provided in advance of the hearings. The judicial requirements of discovery and the deposition of witnesses have not been required in academic due process. On the issue of the timely receipt of the medical records used to substantiate that the complainant was sexually assaulted, the court dismissed the claim and noted that there was no challenge to the University’s rule excluding any references to the complainant’s past sexual history during the hearing. No bias was found in the fact that the Chair of the Hearing Committee was a member of the Board of a Rape Response Services Organization. Her main role on the Board was dealing with the organizations finances. As is clearly shown in this case the issues raised by the accused go directly to the due process requirements outlined above and the Court found that due process was followed and the hearing was fundamentally fair.

Both of these cases give those responsible for the administration of the disciplinary process some clear ideas of the kind of issues they should monitor to have a fair disciplinary process in sexual assault cases. Sexual assaults are probably the most challenging cases when attempting to ensure fundamental fairness in the process. First, these cases typically involve a situation where there are no outside witnesses to the assault and hearing committees are left with the conflicting testimony of the victim and the accused. Such a situation requires that one finds a balance between the emotional and psychological needs of the victim and the due process requirements of the accused. Focusing on certain aspects of the process would help to achieve this balance.

  • The chair of the committee should be trained in how to phrase questions that do not create a perception of bias or conclusions. For example refrain from using terms like “love-making” that imply consent and substituting neutral terms such as sexual activity.
  • The hearing process should be sensitive to the needs of the victim during the hearing while protecting the accused rights to a fair hearing. For example: seating the victim and his/her witnesses so they are facing the hearing committee rather than looking directly at the accused.
  • Ensure that rules governing testimony, such as prohibitions on the review of the sexual history of the victim or the accused, be strictly observed by all.
  • Ensure that hearing procedures reflect the due process protections required for the accused and are applied in practice and in principle to achieve a fundamentally fair hearing.

Paying close attention to these aspects of the hearing will not guarantee that an institution will avoid going to court, but if a suit is filed the institution will certainly will find itself in a more defensible place during litigation. Finally, this is both an ethical and legal approach to protect the integrity of the institution’s disciplinary process.


  • Brownstein, A. (2001, July 6). A battle of wills, rights, and p.r. at Columbia. The Chronicle of Higher Education, p. 43.
  • Gomes v. University of Maine System, 365 F.Supp.2d 6 (D. Maine2005).
  • Theriault v. University of Southern Maine, 353 F.Supp.2d 1 (D. Maine 2004).