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


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

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

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

The Importance of Reflection and Processing

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

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

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

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

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

Interactions with Colleagues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Working with Graduate Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Does this Matter?

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

Trauma is Real

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

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

Healing is Necessary

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

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

Your Story Matters

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

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

Discussion Questions

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

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

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


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

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

About the Authors

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tadd Kruse
Abdulwahab Al-Khaldi
American University of Kuwait

Evan Witt
University of Auckland – City Campus


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

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

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

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

Our Context

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

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

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

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

The Foreign

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

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

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

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

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

The Bad

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

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

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

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

The Good

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

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

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

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

New Approaches within the American Model

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

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

Reflection Questions

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Authors

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

Please e-mail inquiries to Tadd Kruse.

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

Please e-mail inquiries to Abdulwahab Al-Khaldi.

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

Please e-mail inquiries to Evan Witt.

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Hi Mika,

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

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

Big Hugs, Mahauganee

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

In Mika’s words:

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

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

Tragedy and Its Impact

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

Losing Mike Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Losing Sam DuBose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Tragedy (Near or Far) Touches Campus

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

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

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

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

Discussion Questions

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

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

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


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

About the Authors

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

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


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


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

Autism, Inclusion, and Communication in Higher Education


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection Questions:

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


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

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

Please e-mail inquiries to Beth Brennan.

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

Please e-mail inquiries to Edlyn Peña.

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

Fostering Student Speech and Expression While Maintaining Campus Civility, Safety, and Functioning

Fostering Student Speech and Expression While Maintaining Campus Civility, Safety, and Functioning

Image of Neil H. Hutchens

Neal H. Hutchens
Pennsylvania State University


Kaitlin Quigley

Kaitlin Quigley
Pennsylvania State University

Periodically, students’ speech and expressive activities result in legal conflict in regard to institutional regulations designed to address when, where, and under what circumstances students may engage in speech and expression on campus. In one recent illustrative incident that attracted media attention, a community college in California faced a lawsuit after a student challenged institutional rules that restricted him from seeking signatures for petitions outside the college’s designated free speech zone (Masatani, 2014). The college settled the lawsuit, agreeing to pay the student and his attorneys $110,000 and to revise its speech policies to make most areas of campus available for speech and expressive activities. For this column, we examine legal conflicts that potentially arise over institutional rules related to the time, place, and manner of students’ speech and expressive activities on campus. Specifically, we focus on instances involving student speech or expression in seemingly ‘open’ or ‘public’ areas of campus, such as sidewalks or plazas, and when students must gain institutional approval to engage in activities that include handing out flyers or seeking signatures for petitions.

Overview of Legal Standards Impacting Student Speech

Public/Private Distinction, Contract, State Laws

Several legal factors determine the extent of student speech rights and accompanying levels of institutional authority to regulate student expression. An initial distinction often of legal significance involves a college or university’s status as public or private. Public institutions, unlike their private counterparts, must adhere to legal standards mandated under the First Amendment when exercising authority over student speech and expression.

At both public and private colleges and universities, standards derived from sources such as student handbooks are frequently legally relevant. While many courts are careful to avoid defining the student-institutional relationship as solely contractual in nature, contract standards provide a legal framework often used by courts to evaluate institutional actions. This includes in relation to student speech issues, where courts may turn to standards and rules articulated in student handbooks and codes of conduct to evaluate the permissibility of actions taken against students.

Private colleges and universities typically possess much greater discretion than public ones in exercising authority over student speech and expression. From a contract perspective, the key issue involves consistent treatment of students that aligns with established institutional policies and practices. Even while generally possessing greater discretion to regulate student speech, a private college or university must follow, in a fair manner, its own rules in the treatment of students to withstand legal scrutiny.

State laws and constitutional standards are also potentially germane in terms of the legal protections available for student speech and expression. At least one state, California, has a law that requires secular private colleges and universities to grant students the equivalent speech rights that exist for students at public institutions. State laws can also impact public colleges or universities by providing legal protections beyond those granted through federal constitutional provisions. For example, Illinois has mandated that public institutions must provide greater legal protections to student media than potentially provided under federal constitutional standards. Just as with contract standards, state law can play a meaningful role in terms of institutional authority to regulate aspects of student speech and expression.

The First Amendment

The dominant legal imperative for public colleges and universities in the realm of student speech and expression comes from the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Tinker v. Des Moines School District (1969) stands as a foundational United States Supreme Court decision in this area. While involving secondary students, the legal rules and principles derived from the case have been extended to public higher education. In Tinker, the Supreme Court decided that high school officials could not prohibit students from wearing armbands as a means to engage in a form of silent protest to the military conflict in Vietnam. The court held that school officials could not restrict the speech unless it would substantially interfere with the educational environment or impair the rights of other students.

Campus areas often differ in relation to the First Amendment rights available for student speech and expression. Institutions are able to exert heightened authority over student speech in specific parts of campus, such as classrooms, libraries, offices, or auditoriums. That is, the nature of the campus location—or forum as it is often referred to in legal decisions—where speech occurs is often legally significant in determining the applicable speech rights available and the corresponding level of institutional control over aspects of such speech. Accordingly, some locations, or fora, on campus are subject to enhanced institutional authority because they have not been designated by the institution or traditionally recognized as some type of open forum for student speech and expression.

For example, classroom spaces—at least when class meetings are taking place—do not constitute locations that have been made generally open for student speech and expression. As such, courts have typically granted substantial authority on the part of public colleges and universities to regulate such learning environments to prohibit disruptions to the educational process. Other spaces on campus not generally open to unconstrained student speech and expression, at least at certain times or for certain purposes, include administrative offices, libraries, and locations for performances and athletic events.

In contrast, some places on campus can constitute places either traditionally recognized or designated by the institution as generally available for student speech and expression. The United States Supreme Court has recognized that students possess substantial First Amendment rights in such forums. A key legal decision establishing this principle is Healy v. James (1972). In this case, the Supreme Court—declaring that First Amendment protections apply to public college students’ speech—rejected the contention that a group of students suffered no First Amendment deprivation when they were denied access to use campus facilities in the same way as other student organizations because they could still meet off campus. The administration’s refusal to grant the organization the right to meet and distribute information on campus was based on fears that the group would engage in disruptive and violent behavior. According to the Supreme Court, while the university could require students to follow reasonable campus rules, it could not seek to silence students on the basis of expressing views disfavored by school officials.

An important point to emphasize is that campus spaces can serve multiple purposes, which means that student speech rights in a campus location can also shift. For instance, an auditorium might be made available at some times for students to reserve to engage in speech or expressive activities. At other times, this same auditorium could be used for performances or lectures and not be an open forum for student speech and expression. Similarly, a university may make classroom spaces available to students when not being used for instructional purposes. When classrooms are made available to students under such circumstances, the institution possesses less authority to regulate aspects of student speech and expression than would often be legally permitted during a class meeting. The remainder of this column will focus on student speech and expression in seemingly open or public areas of campus, including sidewalks and other walkways, courtyards, and other campus areas generally available to students.

The First Amendment and “Open” Campus Areas

Apart from spaces not considered open on a general basis for student speech activities unless by special designation—e.g., classrooms, auditoriums, libraries, and offices—what about the legal status of seemingly open or public areas of campus, such as sidewalks, courtyards, or plazas? Students may reason that, because these spaces are generally open for student use, they constitute fora for expression. This is not always the case. At times, public college and university officials have clashed with students over the legal classification of such spaces. This has led to legal disputes over the types of regulations that institutions are permitted to impose on student speech and expressive activities in such campus areas.

Some institutions have argued in litigation that the legal standards associated with limited or non-public fora should apply to these types of campus areas apart from designated free speech zones. Such a designation generally vests institutions with greater legal authority to control access to these campus spaces in relation to student speech and expressive activities. In contrast, students have contended that rules associated with the traditional or designated public forum should apply to many open areas of campus, at least in relation to students. A traditional or designated public forum is government-controlled property generally open for citizens to engage in speech activities, though still subject to content-neutral regulations based on time, place, or manner. Any type of content-based restriction on student speech or expression is typically subject to heightened legal scrutiny.

Issues related to exactly what kind of forum exists on particular areas of campus, specifically open areas, can be legally complex, at times requiring consultation with institutional legal counsel. Public colleges and universities should be aware that courts may be becoming increasingly wary of institutional efforts to characterize most campus areas as a limited or closed forum and then designate a relatively small free speech zone to serve as a designated public forum for student speech and expression.

An illustrative case involving the University of Cincinnati dealt with restrictions placed on open areas of campus that limited demonstrations, picketing, and rallies to a small portion of campus (University of Cincinnati Chapter of Young Americans for Liberty v. Williams, 2012). The university also required groups of students to provide at least five days notice before engaging in speech and expressive activities. The university argued that all of its campus area constituted a limited public forum in which requirements such as a prior notice could be imposed.

A federal district court in Ohio granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the students that halted the university’s enforcement of the standards. The court discussed in its order that more recent legal decisions, including from the Supreme Court, had treated open areas of campus at public colleges or universities as a designated public forum in relation to students. According to the court, it was unaware of any legal decisions that established that “a public university may constitutionally designate its entire campus as a limited public forum as applied to students” (p. 5). It stated in its order that permitting this level of institutional authority over student speech would be “anathema to the nature of a university,” which is supposed to serve as a marketplace for ideas (p. 5). In a later order, the court approved of a revised policy where student groups of less than 25 engaging in expressive activity such as collecting signatures did not need to gain prior approval or to obtain a permit for speech and expressive activities in the institution’s specified free speech zone as well as other open area of campus, such as plazas and sidewalks.

In another case, a federal court of appeals considered regulations at the University of Texas at Austin that prohibited anonymous leafleting (Justice for All v. Faulkner, 2004). The court held that open areas of a campus should be viewed as an open forum in terms of the student population. The university had contended that such campus spaces should be viewed as a limited public forum and subject to greater institutional control. Upholding the lower court’s decision in the case, the court of appeals determined that the university, as expressed in institutional rules and statements, had “given its students too broad a guarantee of expressive freedom now to claim it intended its campus to function as a limited public forum” (p. 769). In the case, the lower court had also discussed in its opinion that the weight of authority in previous legal decisions had determined that campus grounds (at least open spaces) constituted a type of public forum for student speech and expression. Under the standards applicable to such an open public forum, the court of appeals decided that a prohibition on anonymous leafleting was an unreasonable regulation on the part of the university.

In a case involving Oregon State University, another federal appeals court held that the institution had violated the First Amendment in restricting the placement of news bins for the distribution of a student newspaper produced by a recognized student organization (OSU Student Alliance v. Ray, 2012). Looking to the university’s own administrative rules, the court determined that public areas of campus constituted a designated public forum for students. Furthermore, the court discussed in its opinion how the rule enforced against the student organization and its newspaper was unpublished, unpublicized and applied selectively to only this one publication. Other publications available on campus, including another student newspaper, local newspapers and USA Today, were not subjected to the policy.

Even when courts provide substantial discretion to public colleges and universities to regulate what areas of campus are available for student speech and expressive activity (i.e., what spaces constitute a limited forum versus a designated public forum), institutions must enforce standards in an even-handed manner. Otherwise acceptable time, place, and manner restrictions must contain clear standards and be enforced fairly in relation to students and student organizations.


In responding to instances involving student speech and expression, colleges and universities are faced with more than parsing out specific legal standards for given situations. At its best, the higher education experience provides a unique time and place for students to stretch their intellectual boundaries and to engage in a process of discovery about themselves and the larger world. As part of this journey of intellectual examination and growth, an accompanying function of the collegiate experience is to help strengthen the ability of students to participate in and contribute to democratic society. At the same time, institutions must balance the interests and needs of other members of the campus community, including making sure that environments are safe and that other institutional activities aren’t unduly hampered. These commitments to encouraging the free exchange of ideas and fostering a civil, nurturing educational environment can at times come into conflict and create administrative difficulties for higher education institutions. Student affairs professionals are tasked with determining how best to strike a balance between these multiple interests without running afoul of applicable legal standards.

Discussion Questions

  1. To what extent and in what locations should colleges and universities be permitted to regulate student speech?
  2. Are there laws in your state that affect the way your institution must treat student speech? What are the implications of these laws for you as a student affairs professional?
  3. In what ways does your institution regulate student speech? Are these regulations applied in a fair and consistent manner?
  4. In what ways is it possible to cultivate a campus environment in which free speech and civility peacefully co-exist? How can student affairs professionals aid in creating this environment?


Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169 (1972).

Justice for All v. Faulkner, 410 F.3d 760 (5th Cir. 2005).

Masatani, M. (2014, December 4). Citrus College to pay $110,000 to settle students First Amendment lawsuit. Pasadena Star-News. Retrieved from

OSU Student Alliance v. Ray, 699 F3d. 1053 (9th Cir. 2012).

Tinker v. Des Moines School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969).

University of Cincinnati Chapter of Young Americans for Liberty v. Williams, 2012 WL 2160969, No. 1:12-CV-155 (S.D. Ohio June 12, 2012).

About the Authors

Neal H. Hutchens is an associate professor in the Higher Education Program at Pennsylvania State University.

Kaitlin Quigley is a Ph.D. student and graduate assistant in the Higher Education Program at Pennsylvania State University.

Please e-mail inquiries to Neal H. Hutchens.


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

Innovation in Action: The Ability Exhibit

Innovation in Action: The Ability Exhibit

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


I learn from allies every day.

Allies teach me.

These allies are my students.



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

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

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

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

Allies for Inclusion Overview

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

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

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

Reflections from Maureen A. Wikete Lee, Graduate Student

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

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

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

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

Social Justice

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

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

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

Ally Development 

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Ability Exhibit can be reserved online at

Discussion Questions

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Perspectives on Environmental Justice

Perspectives on Environmental Justice

Andrew M. Wells
University of Georgia

Jessica Belue Buckley
University of Louisville

Dillon Kimmel
University of Delaware


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

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

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

Social Justice, Sustainability, and Environmental Justice

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

Social Justice

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

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


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

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

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

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

Environmental Justice

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

Environmental Justice in Student Affairs

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

Equity and Inclusion

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

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

Student Learning & Development

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

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

Environmental Justice in Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Reflection Questions

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


ACPA – College Student Educators International, & NASPA – Student Affairs Professionals in Higher

Education (2010). Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners. Washington, DC: ACPA – College Student Educations International, & NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

ACPA – College Student Educators International, & NASPA – Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education. (2015). Professional competency areas for student affairs educators. Washington, DC: Author.

American College Personnel Association. (2008). Toward a sustainable future: The role of student affairs in creating healthy environments, social justice, and strong economies. Washington, D.C.: author.

American Council on Education. (1949). Student personnel point of view. American Council on Education Series 4(13). Washington, DC: American Council on Education.

Agyeman, J. (2005). Sustainable communities and the challenge of environmental justice. New York, NY: York University Press.

Agyeman, J., Bullard, R. D., & Evans, B. (2002). Exploring the nexus: Bringing together sustainability, environmental justice, and equity. Space & Polity, 6(1), 77-90. DOI: 10.1080 /1356257022013790 7.

Anguelovski, I. (2013). New directions in urban environmental justice: Rebuilding community, addressing trauma, and remaking place. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 33, 160-177. DOI: 10.1177/0739456X13478019.

Astin, A. (1993). What matters in college: Four critical years revisited. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Bell, L. A. (2010). Theoretical foundations: What is social justice? In Adams, M., Blumenfeld, W.J., Castañeda, R., Hackman, H.W., Peters, M.L., & Zuñiga, X. (Eds.), Readings for diversity and social justice: An anthology on racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism and classism (pp. 21-26). New York/London: Routledge.

Blimling, G. (2015). Student learning in college residence halls. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Brainard, L., Jones, A., & Purvis, N. E. (2009). Climate change and global poverty: A billion lives in the balance? Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.

Cortese, A. D. (2003, March-May). The critical role of higher eduction in planning a sustainable future. Planning for Higher Education, 15-22.

Creamer, D. G., Winston, R. B. Jr., & Miller, T. K. (2001). The professional student affairs administrator: Roles and functions. In R.B. Winston, Jr., D. G. Creamer, & T.K. Miller (Eds.), The professional student affairs administrator: Educator, leader, and manager (pp. 3-38). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis Group.

Cullingford, C. (2010). Sustainability and higher education. In J. Blewit, & C. Cullingford (Eds.), The sustainability curriculum: The challenge for higher education (pp. 13-23). New York, NY: Earthscan.

Department of Health & Human Services. (2003, May). Building healthy environments to  eliminate health disparities symposium. Washington, D. C.

Elkington, J. (1999). Cannibals with forks: The triple bottom line of 21st Century business. Oxford, United Kingdom: Capstone Publishing Limited.

Fair Trade Campaigns. (2014). Organization mission statement. Retrieved from:

What is Fair Trade?

Ferris, D., & Hahn-Baker, D. (1995). Environmentalists and environmental justice policy. In B. Bryant (Ed.) Environmental justice (pp. 165-188). Washington, DC: Island Press.

Gould, K., Schnaiberg, A., & Weinberg, A. S. (1996). Local environmental struggles: Citizen activism in the treadmill of production. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Keen, C., & Baldwin, E. (2004). Students promoting economic development and environmental sustainability. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 5(4), 384-394.doi:10.1108/14676370410561081

Newport, D. (2012, April 1). Campus sustainability: It’s about people. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

North, C. (2006). More than words? Delving into the substantive meaning(s) of “social justice” in education. Review of Educational Research, 76(4), 507-535.

Pascarella, E. & Terenzini, P. (1991) How college affects students. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Pascarella, E. & Terenzini, P. (2005). How college affects students: A third decade of research. (Vol. 2). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Postma, D. W. (2006). Why care for nature? In search of an ethical framework for environmental responsibility and education. In M. Korthals & P. B. Thompson, (Eds.) The international library of environmental, agricultural and food ethics, 9. Dordrecht: The Netherlands: Springer.

Pursehouse, C. (2012). Sustainability in housing and dining operations. In B. A. Jacobs & J. Kinzie (Eds.), Enhancing sustainability campuswide (New Directions for Student Services No. 137, pp. 41-53). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Tarrant, M. A., & Lyons, K. (2011). The effect of short-term educational travel programs on environmental citizenship. Environmental Education Research, 18(3), 403-416.

Tarrant, M. A., Rubin, D. L., & Stoner, L. (2013). The added value of study abroad: Fostering a global citizenry. Journal of Studies in International Education, 20(10), 1-21. doi: 10.1177/1028315313497589.

United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, (1987). Toxic wastes and race in the United States: A national report on the racial and socio-economic characteristics of communities with hazardous waste sites. New York, NY.

World Commission on Enivornment and Development [Brundtland Commission]. (1987). Our common world. Oxford, Great Britian: Oxford University Press.

About the Authors

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

Please e-mail inquiries to Andrew M. Wells.

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

Please e-mail inquiries to Jessica Belue Buckley.

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

Please e-mail inquiries to Dillon Kimmel.


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

Bridging the Academic/Student Affairs Divide: Gaining Perspective to Create Partnerships

Often in reflection of my work and life, I find myself wishing I knew early in my career what I know now.  I have had the good fortune to transition my 26 year career as a student affairs administrator to a full-time, tenure-track faculty member in the Department of Counselor Education.  My long career in student affairs prepared me to teach graduate students pursuing careers in higher education counseling/student affairs and to serve as the higher education program coordinator.

Inspired by David Letterman’s nightly “Top Ten List,” I include an assignment I have titled “Your Top Ten List” in my course “Leadership and Management in Student Affairs.”  The purpose of the list is to highlight points the students want to remember from this capstone course and from their experiences during their graduate work.  Students reflect on budget/funding issues, the importance of student learning outcomes assessment, relational versus positional leadership, collaboration with faculty and working with the whole student.

Recently, as I graded and commented on these lists, I was inspired to reflect on my own journey, a journey which is taking place at the same institution where I spent my career as a student affairs administrator.  In my naiveté I believed I had an advantage as I made the transition from student affairs to academic affairs.  I was confident I knew what I was doing.  Within weeks of the first semester, I experienced a profound learning curve as I immersed myself in the role of a new faculty member.

Murray (2008) studied new faculty members’ perceptions of the academic work life and concluded that “unmet expectations lead to job dissatisfaction” (p. 125).  I am not dissatisfied with my new role, although there have been surprises.  I have a new understanding and appreciation of the work life of a faculty member.  Upon reflection, I realize I am in a unique position to understand both the student affairs educator role and the faculty member role.  The lessons I have learned may be able to assist graduate students, new professionals and even more seasoned student affairs educators in understanding more about faculty culture.

Magolda (2005) reminded us that “partnerships must be meaningful, reciprocal, and responsive” (p. 21).  Had I known as a student affairs administrator what I know now as a faculty member, I might have been able to partner more effectively with my faculty colleagues to create more seamless learning environments as described in the 1994 ACPA document The Student Learning Imperative.  I might have been able to work with my academic colleagues to create and implement opportunities to engage students in high-impact practices.  Brownell and Swaner (2010) identified high-impact practices which lead to higher levels of student performance, learning, and development.  Kuh (2008) reminded us that when faculty and staff endorse a high-impact activity as worthy, other campus constituencies will support it with resources making it more available to a large number of students.  In order to create practices which are engaging, effective, and contribute to student learning outside of the classroom, partnerships between faculty and student affairs administrators are essential.  By understanding each other, we can bridge the academic/student affairs divide and subsequently create learning experiences and environments where student learning and success is a hallmark.

Below is my “Top Ten” list—what I am learning and what I wish I had known to bridge the student affairs and academic divide.  The tips may help student affairs educators build more effective partnerships with faculty, especially new faculty who are often eager to get involved in service opportunities on campus.

Tips for Student Affairs Practitioners for Working with Faculty

10.  The work of a faculty member is never finished

My student affairs days often began at the crack of dawn and would end sometime after sunset.  The line in job descriptions, nights and weekends expected rang true.  My work week was at least 50+ hours, not including the time I spent at home on my computer with email.  My day was often unpredictable but it was structured.

My faculty life is different.  As I was transitioning to my new role, I was looking forward to having time to think about and work on creative projects.  And then I learned an important lesson:  when your time is your own, you have to structure it yourself.  I now have a lot of unstructured time, although, unstructured time is time that should be spent writing, preparing courses, grading, committee work, reading, preparing conference presentations and thinking about interesting research ideas.

A common problem faced by new faculty is feeling as if they do not have enough time to get all the tasks done that need to get accomplished (Murray, 2008).  As a result, I have become less willing and able to agree to commitments which will take time away from my work, no matter how exciting, creative, or meaningful they may be.  Although I want to be available to students when they need my help, I have moved from an open door policy to a “please knock” policy.  I direct students to my office hours first, and if they cannot make them, I try to accommodate as best as possible.  My heart is student-centered and always will be but my head is occupied with an ever growing to-do list.

Tip: Recognize when faculty are not on campus they are most likely working, even if they are at home.  Try as best as possible to accommodate their schedules or find other ways to use technology to connect.

9.  Tick, Tock…the tenure clock is a new faculty member’s “master”

I am now in a tenure-track position.  The tenure process is a five year time period at my institution.  I did not realize that the first year in the tenure process was actually just the first semester.  In my contractual statement of expectations, there are three functions that “count” towards tenure:  teaching, scholarship, and service.

As an administrator and now as a faculty member, I am an avid reader of publications and journals and I consider myself a scholar practitioner. However, the expectation of publishing in peer-reviewed journals is enormous.  Finding the quiet time to prioritize writing projects is a new behavior for me.  The lack of time to engage in scholarship while balancing the demands of teaching and service is stressful to many new faculty (Murray, 2008).

Tip: Invite new faculty to participate on committees where they can contribute their expertise but do not have to take the lead on time-consuming responsibilities.  Committee involvement will expose faculty members to the ways in which student affairs educators support students and contribute to learning.

8.  A university is a complex bureaucratic environment  

I was already aware of the complexity of the university environment. However, as I watched new faculty colleagues navigating our system, I relearned the impact of this lesson.   One of the most significant benefits I had as I transitioned at the same institution was that I was familiar with the resources, policies, databases, registration system and people to contact for assistance.  New faculty members spend an inordinate amount of time in the first year navigating a new environment.  It was a great benefit to me to make my transition at the same institution but I imagine I would have had an advantage even at a new institution.  After 26 years in student affairs, I understand how universities function.  Again, according to Murray (2008), new and younger faculty are often not prepared to enter institutions which can be very different than their doctoral-granting institution.  Until they understand the systems themselves it reasons that they might have difficulty advising and helping students find what they need to succeed.

Tip: “Mentor” a new faculty member: invite them for coffee or lunch.  New faculty members may benefit from having a student affairs colleague to help them navigate the bureaucracy and network with helpful administrative colleagues.

7.  “Reply all” is a necessary function

On my last day in my student affairs role, I cleaned out my email inbox.  For the first time since I had access to email, I had an empty inbox.  In my faculty role, my average inbox email queue is incrementally less than when I worked in student affairs.  Early in my first semester of teaching I observed the common use of the “reply all” function by my faculty colleagues.  Now my email inbox is often full but with email responses to the same inquiry.  Often important emails are easily lost in the “reply all” traffic.

I discovered the importance of “reply all”.  A faculty department is different from an administrative department.  First, there is value of shared governance (see #6) where everyone has a voice.  Second, given teaching schedules, faculty may only see each other at bi-weekly or monthly faculty meetings.  “Reply all” is used to stay connected and to make decisions and I have embraced the function not for everything, but for the times when I am actually trying to work on a team without direct contact.

Tip: Work in a faculty department can take more time than expected given the lack of daily personal contact.  A request that you pose to a faculty member may be vetted through the entire department, including the chair.  Try to be patient as decisions are being made.

6.   Shared governance requires increased work

Within my first week in my new position at our bi-annual retreat I learned that the work of the department gets done by the people in the department.  Of course this makes sense on paper but what it means in practice in a graduate-only department is that we have committees for all of our functions:  admissions/recruiting, orientation, assessment, curriculum development, and field experience.  In the spirit of shared governance, the locus of control is with the committee.  I had my fair share of meetings when I worked in student affairs and when I transitioned I thought those days were in the past.  I had no idea there would be even more committee assignments as a faculty member.

Tip: As student affairs educators, you can help students and colleagues understand faculty culture and how decisions get made in faculty departments.  Some issues requiring a faculty vote will take more time.  And, you may be, as I was surprised about what decisions require a vote.

5.  Faculty have little control over financial resources   

One of the first realities I faced in my transition was the lack of control of my own budget.  As an administrator, I purchased what I needed to do my work.  I did not have access to an abundance of resources nor did I purchase items I did not need but I had control of the budgets I was given to manage.

Most faculty at my institution have little involvement with budgets: for example, the department chair manages the budget and all requests for expenditures.  Initially, I felt a wonderful sense of freedom because I did not need to reconcile my purchasing card, log into a complicated system to review purchases and balances, or know the rules about forms.  The most complicated budgetary form I had to complete in my first year was a travel reimbursement form and the department support staff put the form in my mailbox and did most of the heavy lifting.  But, when a few of us thought a bulletin board might be helpful for posting notices and creating a learning environment for students, the process was more complicated than pulling out a purchasing card.  We discussed the need, how it would be used, where it should be placed, if students would use it and if the cost was prohibitive.

Tip: Engage faculty in your program planning.  Faculty have wonderful ideas for programs and speakers but don’t always have the financial resources to move the idea to reality.  Most of the financial resources will come from your budget.  Faculty members can contribute in other ways such as ensuring student attendance and gaining access to academic affairs funding.

4.  One is the loneliest number   

I am learning about the solitary nature of a faculty position.  I had years of having non-stop student contact during the academic year and I was sure I was contributing to student learning on a day-to-day basis.  I had colleagues right outside my door at least eight hours a day, five days a week.  It was hard to go to the restroom without having someone follow me wanting to talk about an issue.  Now, however, I am often on my own.  My departmental colleagues are in their own worlds of advising, teaching, and writing.  We work on committees but often our goal is to get the task done and move on to the next project.

I find myself working more at home, by myself.  I miss the moments when I could get up from my desk, walk down the hall, connect with a colleague on an issue or question, chat for moment, and then get back to work.  The synergy of seemingly random conversation often resulted in ideas for programs and services to assist students.  One consequence of solitary work is the lack of spontaneous brainstorming that leads to great interventions.

Tip: Offer to assist faculty on projects they are doing or contemplating.  Invite faculty to join you on joint writing projects, develop staff training modules, and assess programs; yet understand the limits of their involvement.

3.  A career in student affairs is great preparation for a faculty position

My colleague, Joanne Conlon, a former student affairs professional and recently-tenured faculty member said to me as I transitioned roles, “The best preparation for a faculty position is a career in student affairs!” You might not believe this to be true but it is.  I am accustomed to being busy and interrupted.  I am comfortable managing a student crisis one hour, discussing water stations for orientation in the next, and chairing a university committee in the afternoon.

I continue to work at a similar pace and am still overwhelmed by the responsibilities of teaching, scholarship and service expectations.  I came to the position as a “multi-tasker” and the ability to manage multiple priorities.  New faculty coming directly from doctoral programs may not have had the opportunity to experience the intensity of multi-tasking needed in a new faculty position; however, they are becoming experts in their discipline.  You may be able to work with faculty to increase student learning in areas where faculty are often experts—their own scholarship and the research methods to support their scholarship.

Tip: Inquire about faculty scholarship and research interests and ask faculty to participate on panels where they can discuss their decision to pursue a doctorate, their research interests and research tips.

2.  A shift to me involves learning to say no!

After long career of serving the needs/wants of students, I am unfamiliar with shifting the focus on myself.  I am grateful to be at a teaching institution where good work in the classroom with students is valued, appreciated and rewarded; however, this new role is more than teaching and serving students directly.  Students still want my time and I give it to them but within the limits I can manage.

I am learning to say “no” to requests (both personal and professional) which will take me away from my progress to tenure.  I say “no” to meetings that conflict with my office hours.  I understand that the best way I can serve students in the long-term is to earn tenure and be able to continue in my role of preparing students for future careers in student affairs.

Tip: Assist faculty in their pursuit of tenure.  Take time to write a thank you letter for their involvement in your program or a letter in support of their tenure/promotion application.   Understand when they say “no,” it may mean “not right now, but ask again later.”

1.  You are always a “first year student” at something   

At some point in the late 1980’s during our orientation program, we showed the film Welcome to the Time of Your Life featuring Mr. Will Kiem.  His message was “You are always a freshman at something” resonated with me.  I have repeated those words to students and to myself for a quarter of a century.  I said it when I took on new roles in student affairs, when I went back to work on my doctorate at age 45 and when I left my position in student affairs for my current faculty position and it continues to be true.  I had no idea what I did not know about faculty life.  For many years previous to this one, I taught as an adjunct instructor and I am confident in my teaching skills.  But the work of a faculty member is more than just teaching.  I am learning this lesson over and over again in my new role.

Tip:  Challenge yourself to learn about faculty culture, to reach out to a new or more seasoned faculty member, to participate in a faculty committee.  You may be able to develop a partnership and in turn create a significant learning experience for students.

Last summer when I learned about the passing of comedian/actor Robin Williams, I remembered the scenes in the film Dead Poet’s Society, where Williams’ character, John Keating, asked the students to take a different perspective while marching around the school yard or standing on their desks.  Taking a new or different perspective about faculty may give you the opportunity to create partnerships with academic colleagues that allow for and enhance student learning, engagement and success.

Discussion Questions

  1. In what ways can you personally and professionally bridge the faculty/student affairs divide?  How might your efforts help students who you serve?
  2. How can we move towards more collaborative efforts with faculty?  What could you do in your department to partner with faculty colleagues?  What efforts can you do in the short-term?  What efforts might need more planning?
  3. How does taking a new perspective help you?  How does it help your department or division?  How does modeling perspective taking help students learn and achieve success?


American College Personnel Association. (1994). The student learning imperative: Implications for student affairs.  Washington, DC. Retrieved from

Brownell, J. E. &  Swaner, L. E. (2010). Five high-impact practices: Research on learning outcomes, completion, and quality. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Kiem, W. (1989). Welcome to the Time of Your Life. Video presentation at West Chester University, New Student Orientation.

Kuh, G. D.  (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who as access to them, and why they matter. Washington, D.C.:  Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Magolda, P. M. (2005).  Proceed with caution:  Uncommon wisdom about academic and student affairs partnerships  About Campus, 9(6), 16-21.

Murray, J. P. (2008).  New faculty members’ perceptions of the academic work life.  Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 17(1/2), 107-128.

About the Author

Jacqueline Hodes is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Counselor Education at West Chester University. She teaches higher education/student affairs and counseling courses and works specifically with graduate students who wish to enter the student affairs profession. Her research interests are varied and include examining effective teaching and advising practices for graduate students entering the field of student affairs, strengths-based leadership practices that lead to effective practice in higher education and creating organizational change to support marginalized groups on campus.

Please e-mail inquiries to Jacqueline S.  Hodes.


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 Cheating Epidemic: Reducing Academically Dishonest Behaviors Amongst College Students

Overview: Student Cheating in Higher Education

In the field of higher education there are countless ethical issues that student affairs professionals encounter on a daily basis. Of these issues, student academic dishonesty is one of the most prevalent that student affairs professionals must address. While academic dishonesty can take many forms—from using a “cheat sheet” on an exam to plagiarizing an entire research paper—cheating is detrimental not only to the student who engages in the behavior, but to the field of higher education as a whole. Higher education institutions assist in students’ development in various areas, including ethical development and understanding of rigorous academic and research standards. As student cheating is at odds with this mission it is imperative that student affairs professionals make efforts to reduce the rate of cheating behaviors occurring at their institutions. To do so effectively, those working in the field must not only understand the prevalence of academic dishonesty within college settings, but also the various reasons why students choose to cheat. It is through the utilization of this knowledge that student affairs professionals can employ strategies to reduce cheating behaviors, thus fostering student development and preparing college students to become ethical and responsible members of society.

While an abundance of research has examined the prevalence of cheating in higher education, studies differ in their projection as to how much college students actually engage in cheating.  According to Wotring (2007), “[m]any studies classify students as cheaters if they acknowledge having ever cheated at any time, in any way, during their college studies,” and, based on this definition, 47.2% to 70% of college students cheat (para. 4). In a study conducted by Newstead, Franklin-Stokes, and Armstead (1996), the authors found that over half of all undergraduate students cheat, while research done by Nonis and Swift (2001) indicated that between 30% and 96% of college students engage in this behavior.

Students with low self-esteem and little confidence in their academic abilities are more likely to cheat than those who are highly confident (Moeck, 2002). Moreover, scholars have suggested that underclassmen and business majors are more likely to cheat than their peers (Gerdeman, 2000). Though several researchers have examined whether sex plays a role in cheating behavior, and some studies have indeed suggested that male college students cheat more than female students, others have not found evidence to support this possibility (Gerdeman, 2000; Jordan, 2001; Wotring, 2007). Inconsistency also exists regarding whether age plays a significant role in regards to cheating tendencies: while many studies suggest that younger students may be more likely to engage in academically dishonest behaviors than older students, at least one study has been conducted in which the opposite was found (Jordan, 2001). Interestingly, community college students may be less likely to cheat than their counterparts at four-year institutions (Wotring, 2007). It is possible that the shorter time period that students typically spend at community colleges compared to four-year institutions may at least partially impact cheating behaviors (Wotring, 2007).

Motivations for Cheating

It is important for student affairs professionals to understand why students choose to engage in cheating behaviors in the first place; for example, advances in technology have simply made it easier for students to plagiarize or purchase prewritten papers or exchange answers during exams through the use of cell phones (Boehm, Justice, & Weeks; 2009; Hensley, 2013; Moeck, 2002). For some students, the appeal of being able to secure readily available work may be too good to pass up. Moreover, the pressure to achieve high grades also serves as a motivating factor for students to cheat. Moeck (2002) explained that many students may feel the need to obtain high grades to satisfy family members or to secure beneficial opportunities for themselves, and cheating may be viewed as a way to ensure that these grades are achieved. Relatedly, students with low GPAs tend to cheat more than those with high GPAs (Gerdeman, 2000; Hensley, 2013; Moeck, 2002; Wotring, 2007). Students with low GPAs may desire to achieve academically but do not understand how to do so in a beneficial and appropriate way, thus resulting in cheating.

The inability for some students to manage their time effectively is another reason that cheating happens in college (Hensley, 2013). Many students procrastinate to the point that cheating may seem necessary in order to complete course assignments before deadlines. Others juggle so many obligations and responsibilities that the amount of time that they designate to spend on coursework does not allow them to give their work the attention it needs, and cheating allows them to get their work accomplished quicker. Of course, for students who perceive a class or assignment to be boring or unnecessary, cheating can allow them to invest relatively little effort into completing assignments (Gerdeman, 2000; Hensley, 2013). If students perceive professors as being uninterested in the courses they teach, this too increases the likelihood that cheating is utilized (Gerdeman, 2000).

An important point that must be recognized when discussing cheating in higher education is that many students enter college in order to secure degrees that they believe will lead them to secure satisfactory employment upon graduating, rather than to gain a well-rounded education (Moeck, 2002). Cheating may be viewed as a reasonable way to obtain this goal, and little importance may be placed on how new learning is gained throughout college.

It is also worth noting that peer perceptions of cheating play a large role in whether a student chooses to cheat or not. Gerdeman (2000) stated that “studies have consistently indicated that students are more likely to cheat if they observe other students cheating or if they perceive that cheating is commonplace or acceptable among peers” (p. 3). Furthermore, Jordan (2001) found that college students largely do not believe that cheating is acceptable. Student affairs professionals must keep in mind the power of peer opinions when developing initiatives that aim to reduce this behavior.

Preventing Student Cheating

Student affairs professionals can utilize various strategies in their daily practice to help reduce student cheating and promote academic honesty. Boehm et al. (2009) stated that a preventative approach to dealing with cheating is likely more effective than a punitive one. The authors explained that one of the best ways for student affairs professionals to combat student cheating is by providing faculty with training on academic honesty, as variation can exist among professors as to what practices qualify as cheating or are worthy of punishment (Boem et al., 2009). Consistent messaging regarding what constitutes cheating can allow students to recognize that their institution holistically values honesty.

While it may seem intuitive that ensuring students know their college’s policy regarding academic honesty is useful to reducing cheating, it is important that student affairs professionals communicate the policy to students through a variety of channels (Boehm et al., 2009; Gerdeman, 2000). Aside from including academic dishonesty policies in the student handbook and on the college’s website, student affairs professionals should encourage all faculty members to incorporate policies in their syllabi and talk with students about its significance. This policy should be broadcast to students throughout their college years, with emphasis of its importance first being made to new students during orientation programs (Hensley, 2013; Jordan, 2001). Boehm et al. (2009) also stated that it can be useful to have students actively contribute to the development of their institution’s academic honesty policy, as students will likely have a vested interest in adhering to rules that they helped create. As students’ perceptions of how their peers view cheating is a significant factor that contributes to their own decisions to cheat or not, this recommendation is worthy of considerable attention. Moreover, faculty and staff should work together to foster a campus climate that is conducive to discussion about the school’s academic honesty policy so students feel comfortable asking questions about it (Moeck, 2002).

Student affairs professionals should assist faculty members in providing clear examples of what constitutes cheating so students have a thorough understanding as to which practices are permissible and which are not (Boehm et al., 2009; Moeck, 2002; Wotring, 2007). Colleges serve a wide array of individuals, and first-generation college students, international students, or those from diverse racial and ethnic groups may not understand what academic honesty entails or may define cheating in dissimilar ways (Moeck, 2002). For those working in community colleges, institutions that typically “serve a student body of greater diversity” than four-year colleges, this point is particularly salient and must be addressed (Wotring, 2007, para. 3).

It is important that student affairs professionals make students aware of the various academic support services provided by their institutions (Hensley, 2013). Emphasizing the benefits associated with utilizing tutoring, academic coaching, or other services that aim to help students succeed can help students recognize that there are various alternatives to cheating in order to obtain good grades. By highlighting the success stories of students who have utilized academic support services in the past, student affairs professionals can normalize the process of seeking help when needed for first-year students or those who may be less inclined to seek assistance. Students should understand that effort rather than perfection is valued more in higher education and connect effort with the use of academic resources (Hensley, 2013). Students should also recognize that they are capable of achieving the grades that they desire through hard work and determination, and it is thus important that student affairs professionals help students develop confidence in their abilities (Hensley, 2013).

Lastly, both faculty members and student affairs professionals should work to help support students in dealing with the stressors that they face as they move forward in their college careers by providing them with information on relevant services, including counseling (Moeck, 2002). As many college students will face the pressure of juggling classes, extracurricular activities, part-time or full-time work, and family obligations, those working in higher education must teach students effective methods for dealing with stress and emphasize that cheating is not a simple way to maintain a successful academic record in the midst of a hectic semester or when taking a time-consuming course (Hensley, 2013).


While temptations to cheat during college will always exist, and will likely intensify as emerging technology further simplifies the process and the pressure on college students to obtain high grades persists, it is vital that student affairs professionals work to reduce the rates that students engage in academically dishonest behaviors. Through collaboration with faculty members and implementation of campus-wide initiatives, student affairs professionals can relay to students the seriousness and value associated with academic honesty. In doing so, they can enrich the experience that students have while attending college and indirectly illustrate how ethical behavior is an important component to a successful life.

Discussion Questions

  1. What role does campus climate play in either enticing or discouraging academically dishonest behaviors amongst college students?
  2. How can higher education institutions uphold policies against academic dishonesty while respecting diversity and differing opinions as to what constitutes cheating?


Boehm, P., Justice, M., & Weeks, S. (2009). Promoting academic integrity in higher education. The Community College Enterprise, 13(1), 45-61.

Gerdeman, R. D. (2000). Academic dishonesty and the community college. ERIC Digest, #ED447840.

Hensley, L. (2013). To cheat or not to cheat: A review with implications for practice. The Community College Enterprise, 19(2), 22-34.

Jordan, A. (2001). College student cheating: The role of motivation, perceived norms, attitudes, and knowledge of institutional policy. Ethics & Behavior, 11(3), 233-247.

Moeck, P. (2002). Academic dishonesty: Cheating among community college students. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 26(6), 479-491.

Newstead, S. E., Franklin-Stokes, A. & Armstead, D. (1996). Individual differences in student cheating. Educational Psychology, 88(2), 229-241.

Nonis, S. & Swift, C. (2001). An examination of the relationship between academic dishonesty and workplace dishonesty: A multi campus investigation. Journal of Education for Business77(2), 69-77.

Wotring, K. (2007). Cheating in the community college: Generational differences among students and implications for faculty. Inquiry, 12(1), 5-13.

About the Author

Alison Andrade earned a Bachelor of Science in Sociology from Fitchburg State University in May 2013 and a Master of Education in Student Affairs Counseling from Bridgewater State University in May 2015. During graduate school Alison served as a Graduate Assistant in Bridgewater State University’s Academic Achievement Center, as well as an intern in Bristol Community College’s Office of Disability Services. Alison is currently searching for a position in academic advising and hopes to work extensively with first-year students and those on academic probation.

Please e-mail inquiries to Alison Andrade.


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.

Perspectives on an Ethic of Care: Reflecting on the Jon C. Dalton Institute 2014

In February of 2014, Louisiana State University (LSU) Department of Residential Life granted the funds for a delegation of two entry-level staff, a first year graduate assistant, and three undergraduate resident assistants to attend the 2014 Dalton Institute at Florida State University.  The title of the institute was Promoting an Ethic of Care: Student Well-Being as a Priority in Higher Education.  The delegation focused on the goal of developing a more holistic understanding of student well-being and bringing that learning back to the department.  The delegation was intentionally diverse in life and career experience so that we could share different perspectives of an ethic of care as we each actualized the concept differently.

As we returned and reflected upon our experience we identified three specific areas where we felt an ethic of care impacted our professional practice.  The first way was in caring for students and how we relate to them and create safe emotional spaces for growth.  The second was creating an environment to manage both the personal and professional functions of an ethic of self-care.  The third was in redefining expectations and reflecting on a new model for mentoring.  As we each experienced the conference differently, each staff member chose one area to reflect upon in depth.  Our perspectives collectively represent our holistic conception of an ethic of care and how that applies to work in the field of student affairs.

Students: Zach Mills, First Year Graduate Assistant

As a first year graduate assistant, an ethic of care is a concept that I only recently became familiar with.  As I have discovered it though, I realized that in many ways it is the essence of what drew me to the field: a deep caring for students’ well-being, growth, and a desire to see them thrive.  The Dalton Institute 2014 was a very formative experience in that it challenged me to understand an ethic of care at a deeper level and what that looks like in interacting with and serving students.  Although much could be said about the myriad aspects of caring, one way I want to specifically reflect upon is how emotional intelligence and managing emotions (to draw upon the language/vector of keynote speaker Arthur Chickering) affects our ability to connect with and care for students.

“When emotions are mentionable, they are manageable.” Presenter Tyler Bradshaw of Miami University, in his presentation about emotional intelligence and how emotion permeates the college experience, used this quote from the beloved Mr.  Rogers.  To understand and care for college students we need to be both aware of their emotions and understand how those affect their actions, and also help them to be aware of the same thing.  One concept that Bradshaw expanded upon was the idea of vulnerability and creating a space for students where they can share their emotions and express their ‘authentic self.’ In creating this safe space we create an environment for development and well-being where students can express themselves, learn about themselves, and develop self-esteem (Bradshaw & Rusbosin, 2014).

In reflecting on this presentation, I began to think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how when we create a safe place where students can explore their emotions we allow them to explore the higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy and develop self-esteem, confidence, and eventually self-actualization (Maslow, 1954).  In sharing her experience of the conference, one of the RAs we brought, Jacque Hoeft, shared this: “I learned the impact of talking about a situation or even crying and how much that relief may mean to someone when he or she has someone there listening to them” (personal communication, March 4, 2013).  This quote and her discussion around it was powerful to me in that it showed both that she felt sufficiently cared about and comfortable sharing this, but also that she was self-actualizing enough to be able to turn around and then create that same space of vulnerability with her residents.

Emotion does not exist in a vacuum separate from the other factors in students’ lives (as evidenced by the fact that Chickering has six other vectors).  Emotion is a powerful mitigating factor in the development of other vectors.  A student who is upset or angry is a lot less likely to share productively than a student at ease.  In his keynote address, Chickering raised this point for thought: what if instead of viewing conflict as boxing match, we viewed it as a barn raising?  In contrast to the zero sum game of boxing, a barn raising is a deeply communal event requiring trust and understanding.  Each person must understand the intentions and actions of each other person for the walls to be raised and for the barn to have structural integrity.  This sentiment expressing an ethic of care is what I believe we need to strive for in interactions with students.  Only when we understand and value our students’ emotional well-being can we begin to understand and support them holistically.

Self: Colby Kinder Englund, Third Year Entry Level Professional

Working in residential life as a 3rd year professional, the idea of caring for the self is sometimes a daunting topic to ponder.  I have surpassed the learning curves of year one and two, but still am learning about integrating my daily life into my daily live-on expectations.  Living in your working environment can dictate decisions and create different expectations and perspectives for students and staff.  Managing the personal self and the professional self is frequently viewed as this balancing act, but describing what a balanced life would look like is almost undefinable.  Channeling stress and harnessing the simplistic level of happiness can create environments that can produce productive emotions and actions.  These assist in your level of self-care that you are able to operate with even in times of grief and negativity.

This thought transcends through all levels of higher education from Chief Executive Officers to Resident Assistants.  Sidney Brinson, a 1st year Resident Assistant made a profound statement after his experiences during the institute.  He stated “As a student leader you are going to face stress, but it is important to find time for yourself and simply be happy.  People nowadays try to complicate happiness when being happy is truly simple in itself” (personal communication, March 10, 2013).  Even though the student leaders from LSU were the only undergraduate members in attendance, they were still able to take tangible experiences and profound knowledge from the institute.   Arthur Chickering spoke to identity development and operating under an ethic of care.   His vectors, as developed in his theory, tie in direct correlation with the ongoing need to focus on self-care.  The vector entitled “Developing Purpose” is defined as

[when] an individual develops commitment to the future and becomes more competent at making and following through on decisions, even when they may be contested.  It involves developing a sense of life vocation.  It may involve the creation of goals, and is influenced by the family and lifestyle of the individual.  (Evans, Forney, Guido, Patton, & Renn, 2011, p.  36)

It was an inspiring moment to have the creator of this theory and his wealth of knowledge standing in front of the room.  His development of this vector was easily weaved within the constructs of the institute and the world of higher education as we work to develop the holistic self which has a large emphasis on self-care.  As we become more comfortable, that self-care has a unique definition for every individual.  What successful self-care may look like could be vastly different in each individual and we are each able to chart our own vision of what it looks like.

Their own direction, their own purpose, and their own mission for themselves define the ethic of care that individuals operate with on a daily basis.  The Dalton Institute focused heavily on various topics deriving from self-care.  Self-care is the first step as it is just as important for the individual to practice self-care as it is for those they interact with.  To-do lists, busyness, and competing priorities can lead to gaps in personal well-being.  We are only able to sustainably battle the constant priority shifts, busy moments, and constant need to care for others by understanding how to center our thoughts and make ourselves a priority.  If we don’t take care of ourselves, who will?

Coaching Over Mentoring: Scott Lundgren, Second Year Entry-Level Professional            

One of the most impactful things that I took away from the 2014 Dalton Institute is the concept of Mosaic Leadership when it comes to helping students have a successful collegiate career.  One of the things that I have learned in my previous experiences is the model of mentoring students, but during Tina Erzen’s presentation on Mosaic Leadership I learned about the idea of coaching students.  This change of an approach of how to interact with my students was an approach that I never really thought about or learned in my involvements in leadership and residential life.  Before the institute I was a strong advocate of the concept of mentoring and believed it was the best approach to student interactions.  The fault that I always saw in mentoring though was the time commitment that went along with it.  With mentoring, the dedication of time with the amount of students you are mentoring can play a huge impact on the success of the role (Erzen, 2014).   This was not a big deal in my past since I was a mentor to a maximum of five students.  Now in my current role, and overseeing approximately 730 students and 25 Resident Assistants, I am unable to give the amount of time needed to be a true mentor.  This leads me to what I learned about coaching at the institute.

Coaching is a more direct approach to being a mentor to students.  It is asking students direct questions of their success and allowing them to create their own action plan through self-reflected questions.  What coaching also does is gives the student the opportunity to talk through their problems or issues, while just giving them an ear to listen.  What I learned from Erzen about coaching is that it truly empowers students and those students then have a stronger grasp on what they need to be successful.  Also, coaching takes a lot less time but is just as effective as a typical mentor role (Erzen, 2014).  This is especially effective in my role as Residence Life Coordinator as I oversee a large staff and student population.  With everything I learned during the Mosaic Leadership presentation, I now feel that coaching could have a huge impact on student development and it strongly related to the main theme of the 2014 Dalton Institute: Promoting an Ethic of Care: Student Well-Being as a Priority in Higher Education.  Effectively coaching students will lead to students’ ability to create their own ethic of care.


An ethic of care is a very broad and expansive term and it can look many different ways, but these collective perspectives represent a window into our conception of an ethic of care and its implementation.  First, a view of students that holistically considers emotional well-being and creates safe spaces for growth fosters an environment for student development to emerge.  Second, a greater self-awareness of personal well-being allows for greater self-care and in turn a more healthy relationship to professional responsibilities.  Finally, reconsidering our expectations allows us to see new ways of doing things, such as the Mosaic Leadership style of coaching over mentoring, allowing for better entry into the ethic of care conversation.  Overall, the Dalton Institute was a formational experience and one that comes highly recommend by us.  Our experiences shaped our conception of an ethic of care and we hope our perspectives and invitation to attend Dalton Institute 2015 will provide a similar experience to that of resident assistant Carrie Williams who reflected: “Gaining information from various student affairs employees from all over the nation expanded how I viewed my role as a [resident assistant].  I hope other [resident assistants] in the future will get a chance to experience The Dalton Institute” (personal communication, March 8, 2014).

Discussion Questions

  1. In considering an ethic of care and integrating that concept into practice, what does it look like in your position to create a safe emotional space for students? What intentional things do you do to better understand your students’ emotional well-being and how does that impact your actions or even your role? Are your students aware of your actions to create emotional well-being?
  2. What do you do to take care of yourself? How do you integrate work and life commitments and create a space for yourself to explore your own needs? Do you model self-care to students and would a student be able to articulate how you engage in self-care? What happens when you neglect self-care?
  3. Does the distinction of coaching over mentoring resonate with your personal practice? How do you balance to the need to supervise many students with the desire to invest in each one individually? Is mentorship a reasonable model in your role with students? If not, how can you explore coaching in your practice?


Bradshaw, T., Rusbosin, B.  (2014, February).  Won’t you be my neighbor? The Rogers model & student affairs practice.  Jon C.  Dalton Institute on College Student Values.  Lecture conducted from Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

Chickering, A.  (2014, February).  Untitled keynote address.  Jon C.  Dalton Institute on College Student Values. Lecture conducted from Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

Erzen, T.  (2014, February).  Mosaic coaching.  Jon C.  Dalton Institute on College Student Values.  Lecture conducted from Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL.

Evans, N. J., Forney, D. S., Guido, F. M. Patton, L. D., & Renn, K. A. (2010). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice (2nd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Maslow, A.  (1954).  Motivation and personality.  New York, NY: Harper.

About the Authors

Colby Kinder Englund is originally from Winston Salem, NC where she received her Bachelor’s Degree from Western Carolina University in 2009.  Colby went on to receive her Masters of Education in College Student Personnel Administration at the University of West Florida. Her background originates in student involvement and student activities, leadership and Greek life but has moved towards residential life as she has developed a more grounded understanding and appreciation for working with on-campus students.   Colby started her professional career at Louisiana State University with a three-year stint as a Residence Life Coordinator. Colby currently works as a Residence Coordinator at UNC Charlotte. As Colby has progressed through her entry level career, she has found a deeper meaning and appreciation for supervision focusing individual and group development.  Her passions extend from these topics and have developed into a stronger understanding of what it means to operate under an ethic of care.   

Please e-mail inquiries to Colby Kinder Englund

Scott William Lundgren Jr. is currently working as a third year Residence Life Coordinator at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA where he oversees an all-Freshman Residential College Complex. He earned both his Bachelor’s Degree in Business Marketing and Master’s degree in Higher Education from Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC.  Scott’s background stems from leadership programs, residential life and Greek life, while his research interests and passions include student success and leadership development. In his spare time Scott enjoys playing with his 2 year old Scottish Terrier puppy, “Scottie.”

Please e-mail inquiries to Scott William Lundgren Jr.

Zach Mills is now a second year graduate student at Louisiana State University, working as a graduate assistant in the Department of Residential Life.  His title is the Graduate Assistant for Front Desk Operations and he oversees, schedules, and staffs the 13 front desks in the residential halls, comprising approximately 165 student employees (Desk Assistants and Lead Desk Assistants).  He is pursuing a master’s degree in Higher Education and Administration and holds a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Grove City College.  His research interests are still developing, but he has a strong interest in student well-being and a budding understanding of an ethic of care.  He would like to pursue a career in housing.

Please e-mail inquires to Zach Mills


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

– See more at:

Retaining International Students: Understanding Student Dissatisfaction

A hot topic at the 2014 annual meeting of NASFA: Association of International Educators was how to retain international students. For more than a decade, most colleges and universities in the United States have been actively working to grow the number of international students that they enroll.  Broadly speaking, these efforts have been working. According to data from the Open Doors report from the Institute for International Education, in 1992-1993 about 450,000 international students were studying in the United States.  Twenty years later, in 2012-2013 that number had grown to nearly 800,000.  In fact, in the five-year period following 2007-2008, the number of new international students enrolling for the first time grew by 44%, with more than a quarter of a million new international students entering the United States higher education system in 2012-2013.

As I have written about previously in this column, this growth in international student enrollments was not accompanied by corresponding investment in support services to help these students become successful in their academic pursuits.  While international students experience some of the same challenges as domestic students, these issues can be confounded by such things as language barriers, different cultural expectations, and family pressure to succeed..  This combination of institutions’ increasing the number of international students and not providing many support structures may negatively affect international student satisfaction and ultimately lead to lower retention rates.

There is no entity that collects data on the retention rates of international students nationally, so it is difficult to understand the bigger picture. And, at many campuses, international students still tend to have higher persistence rates than their domestic peers. With that said, however, a growing body of evidence from campuses has begun to suggest that there is reason for concern.  Take, for example, the University of West Florida (UWF).  An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that their retention rate for international students dropped from 95% to 83% between 2008 and 2011.  While the retention rates of international students at UWF have decreased somewhat, a body of anecdotal evidence suggests that there is growing dissatisfaction among international students about their experience in the United States.

So, what are the sources of dissatisfaction?

A recent study from NASFA: Association of International Educators, indicates that the reasons may not be what you think.  A survey of nearly 500 educators and 500 students at more than 100 colleges revealed that “there may be a gap in understanding about what students want and what they’re getting,” according to Rahul Choudaha, the principal investigator headlining the project.  The author went on to note that, “students may not understand what institutions want and what they’re getting.”

The top three reasons institutional leaders stated for why they believe that international students leave before graduating are:

  • Transferred to “better fit” institution
  • Financial Reasons
  • Academic Difficulties

The top five issues with which international students report the greatest dissatisfaction were:

  • Lack of access to jobs or internships
  • Affordability
  • Lack of availability of scholarships
  • Dissatisfaction with the food
  • Residence hall accommodations

These results are only perceptions and likely only loosely reflect why an international student may leave an institution.  The reality is much more complicated and the survey data revealed the possibility of deeper levels of dissatisfaction than may be represented by attrition rates.  Of those international students who responded to the survey that they did not plan to leave their institution prior to graduation, only 60% indicated that they were satisfied with their experience.

There are some important takeaways from this survey for student affairs administrators to consider.

Check Assumptions at the Door

Setting aside the actual issues revealed in the survey for a moment, the findings indicated that international educators and international students may have differing assumptions about what affects international student satisfaction.  This is why it is important to talk directly with international students (or conduct regular surveys) to gain a more accurate understanding of what they believe are the major issues with which they are dissatisfied.  Even if students may leave because they are struggling academically, it may be difficult to address those issues if they do not feel financially secure or comfortable with their living arrangements.  So, it is important to understand what international students see as their most pressing concerns.

Beyond Finances, International Student Satisfaction is Tied to Living Arrangements 

While there has been some movement to provide additional academic support for international students on some campuses, some of the areas that students appear to be the least satisfied fall under the traditional umbrella of student affairs.  The survey findings revealed two of the top five issues of concern for international students are housing and food.   Students also indicated concern about their inability to locate internships and jobs, functions often performed by career services offices.  These finding reinforce the important role of student affairs professionals in supporting the success of international students.  We all know that what happens outside of the classroom has an important effect on what happens in the classroom and this data further supports that linkage.  While it is not possible from this data to understand the particular concerns students face related to their housing or eating, the findings do support the need for student affairs professionals to explore the needs of international students in these areas on their campus.

Make Sure International Students have an Accurate Understanding of the Financial Opportunities Available when they Arrive

Much of the growing interest among colleges and universities in recruiting more international students is that these students tend to be full fee paying, an important consideration during a time when there are increasing constraints on institutional revenue.  While many students come from affluent families and can afford to pay the full tuition and fees, there are also a number of such students who are financially strapped.  In some cases, international students are being funded by multiple family members or even entire communities.

What this data suggests is that many international students are as concerned about the cost of education as their domestic peers.  Yet, international students often do not have the same opportunities for supplemental funding as other students.  Sometimes the full cost of the educational experience is not evident to international students.  Federal financial aid is limited to students from the United States and international students are often prohibited from working off campus, particularly during their first year of study.  So, it is important for international educators and staff, particularly those recruiting such students, to be up front about the costs of the entire educational experience and about what financing, if any, is available to students.  One of the simplest ways to address student dissatisfaction about affordability is to be clear at the very beginning about financial expectations.


National surveys such as the one discussed here are important for highlighting areas of further investigation.  However, they tend to be generalized across a broad population of individuals and are not always accurate representation of what is happening on specific campuses.  For example, the survey did not include international students who are pursuing graduate education or those that transferred to a four-year institution from a community college or pathway program.

Further, it is very possible that the perceptions of students at your institution deviate from those reported here.  In fact, among the respondents there were variations based on institutional type. Students at baccalaureate institutions appeared to become more concerned about affordability than students at other institutions; but they were also more satisfied with the availability of scholarships. As student affairs practitioners, it is important that we engage in active assessment of all students, including international students.  This study serves to underscore the disconnect that can occur between students and administrators when data is lacking.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is the retention of international students a problem on your campus? Why or why not?
  2. How satisfied are international students with their experience on your campus?  What are they most satisfied about? Least satisfied?
  3. What assumptions have you made about why international students leave your campus prior to graduation? What evidence do you have to support these assumptions?
  4. How might you go about gathering information about why international students leave your campus before graduation?
  5. What issues may arise when there is a disconnect between the dissatisfaction that students have and the reasons why administrators believe a student may not complete their academic program?

About the Author

Jason E. Lane is Senior Associate Vice Chancellor and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs for the State University of New York as well as associate professor (on leave) of educational administration and policy studies, and Co-Director of the Cross-Border Education Research Team (C-BERT) at the State University of New York, Albany.  He has been a member of the governing boards of the Comparative and International Education Society and the Council for International Higher Education and is an Associate of the International Association of Universities. He is currently a member of the governing board of SUNY Korea. His most recent books include Multi-National Colleges and Universities: Leading, Governing, and Managing International Branch Campuses (2010, Jossey-Bass); Universities and Colleges as Economic Drivers (2012, SUNY Press) and Academic Governance and Leadership in Higher Education (2013, Stylus Press).  

Please e-mail inquires to Jason E. Lane.

Follow him on Twitter at @ProfJasonLane


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