Accreditation: Learning through a Participatory Process


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Please e-mail inquiries to Keith E. Davidson.

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

Maintaining Open Access Admissions within the Community College System

Open Access InstitutionsMaintaining Open Access Admissions within the Community College System

Charlene Adams-Mahaley
Independent College Admissions Counselor

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


In this essay, I will discuss the potent historical developments of the community college and explain, in the spirit of democracy, why the two-year college open door admission policy remains the hallmark of higher education today.  This will guide the reader to understanding how the historic twentieth century community college, founded by James Bryant Conant (Brint & Karabel, 1989), attributed to the present equalitarian mission of achieving social and civil justice in higher education attainment.

The Junior College Movement

James Bryant Conant, the 23rd president of Harvard University, is considered the father of the junior college movement and attributed to the present equalitarian mission of achieving social justice at the community college level (Brint & Karabel, 1989).  In his classic book Education in a Divided World,  Conant (1948) asserted that “it is the fundamental duty of the country to provide every citizen an equal opportunity to an education up to the 14th grade, in order to thoroughly compete technologically and in science with the Soviet Union for national prosperity” (p.200).  Conant (1948) like Hillway (1958), believed that the democratic principles of the two-year junior college should provide adult education, workforce degrees, and a rigorous general education for students underprepared to enter a four-year institution.  Inevitably, he believed that the two-year college would “relieve the research colleges and universities,” (Conant, 1956, p.58) of nontraditional students entering college after the Second World War and prevent an institutional strain of excessive over-crowding (Hillway, 1958).

In addition, as the former president of Harvard University, Conant’s voice as an ambassadorial advocate for the American Association of Junior Colleges (AAJC) provided an understandable moral argument on the importance of the two-year college. I believe this helped to ignite the junior college movement as an effective postsecondary option with less emphasis on academic traditionalism. Nevertheless, although Conant and the AAJC disagreed on the transfer function as an essential component of the two-year institution (Brint & Karabel, 1989), the solemn relationship between Conant and the AAJC served to operationalize open access as the imperative mission of the junior college movement. Thus, given the distinct institutional purpose, the term “junior” was thereby replaced with the term “community” to reaffirm the democratic duty of serving broader populations regardless of social class, creed, and ethnicity. Thus, community college became the official name used to describe the venerable two-year institution (Hillway, 1958).

Although Conant professed the fundamental role of the two-year college in offering lower division coursework and vocational training to ordinary citizens, he failed to advance the equal significance of the community college in comparison to the research university. As a result, with respect to the American college structure, the community college became associated with being subordinate to the four-year institution, which heretofore resulted in an unduly hierarchal educational structure (Palinchak, 1973). Consequently, this controversial standing suggested that the democratizing open access community college was second best in stature (Zwerling, 1976).  Given this misconception, Cohen and Brawer (1996), posited that the two-year college is not an inferior institution, but instead a student-centered institution that has produced an inclusive campus environment that is often viewed as righting the historical struggles relative to ethnic and gender inequities. Furthermore, from a justice perspective, the open-door college is a much-needed institution that looks beyond family background, socioeconomic demographics, and admits students that otherwise would not have access to postsecondary learning opportunities (Cohen & Brawer, 1996; Shannon & Smith, 2006).

Democratizing Mission of the Community College

American community colleges represent over 42% of all higher education institutions in the United States, and serve 13 million of the undergraduate student population (American Association of Community Colleges, 2013). Moreover, they serve a disproportionally ethnically and culturally diverse student body that is often identified as low income, first generation, single parent, freshman, non-traditional aged, and work either full-time or part-time while enrolled (Shannon & Smith, 2006). The low tuition cost, open access, and close proximity to family and neighborhood communities are also among the reasons why first-year and first time in college students (FTIC) choose to enroll at a community college as their initial choice for postsecondary training  (Cohen & Brawer, 2003).

Therefore, it is not surprising to learn that the two-year college is a major point of entry for many diverse and international student populations seeking higher education. Essentially, this enrollment trend facilitates a self-help behavior that is potentially linked to the open access policy. However, presently there is no resolve with reference to the fundamental question frequently directed at community colleges-specifically: “Is the open door access policy a gateway or impasse to higher education completion?” Although education practitioners frequently express that the community college is “democracy’s open door” to diverse college student populations (Cohen & Brawer, 1996; Griffith & Connor, 1994), whether the open door policy contributes to sustainable student achievement and resilience over time remains a controversial question (Brint & Karabel, 1989).

In response to the aforementioned discourse, educators and researchers must first understand conceptually what the open door is supposed to mean to the general education community and the estimated 40% of undergraduate students enrolled at the community college level (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010). Open door can be operationally defined or described as the democratizing practice that extends beyond the open admission policy and excludes no one (Rhoades & Valadez, 1996). In addition, as a result of the open door access, Rhoades and Valadez (1996) explain that over time the enrollment opportunity should empower and prepare students to participate in “various economic, political, and social institutions” (p. 34).  In this regard, one could conclude that vocational training in a high need field or associate degree completion, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) related areas, may provide potential economic and vocational opportunities that a non-college student would not have.

Conflicting Perceptions of the Open Door Policy

Dougherty (1994), an outspoken critic of the community college open door structure, argues that the community college overemphasizes remedial, vocational, and technical oriented programs, which can hinder student persistence; particularly for students labeled at-risk. As a result, this may produce what Clark (1960) invoked as a cooling out effect—the displacement or restraint of students’ academic aspirations. From a motivational perspective, this concept suggests that a student enrolled at a 2-year college is at risk of not transferring to complete a baccalaureate program in comparison to a student starting at a 4-year institution.  In sum, the cooling out attitude detracts a student from persisting, thereby making him or her less likely to transfer and graduate with a college degree (Brint & Karabel, 1989).  

The problem with the above analysis is threefold.  First, it generalizes that the 4-year versus 2-year degree is the criteria for personal academic success. Second, it implies that the community college is not of equal value or benefit in contrast to the university experience. Third, it suggests that the cooling out behavior is long-standing. Essentially, one should note, that the community college should not be solely measured by the similarities or differences between the two college types or the number of transfer students that enter the baccalaureate pipeline. Therefore, the cooling out stricture is indeed an inaccurate and outworn view of the American community college system that must be refuted intelligently and consistently whenever it presents itself to encourage meaningful dialog.

Another investigator that received wide research attention was Monk-Turner (1995).  In her study on higher education labor market return, community college students were less likely than their four-year counterparts to experience career success because four-year college graduates’ had higher earnings than two-year graduates with an associate degree. However, despite Monk-Turner’s (1995) claim on the predictive relationships between academic degree type and economic return, the comparative weakness of the cost-benefit study to educational attainment gave low salience to inhibiting sociological differences such as family income status, access to pre-employment mentoring, societal inequities, and social capital factors that have historically widened the earning gap and produced unequal income earning trends among ethnic groups.


In response to Monk-Turners controversial conclusion, Harvard trained educational economists, Kane and Rouse (1995, 1999) also investigated the labor market benefits of the associate degree on a cost-to-benefit human capital analysis. They found that low socioeconomic status (SES) students that enrolled at the community college with a high school diploma received an opportunity out of poverty despite past economic limitations to financial resources.  On the basis of the human capital investment argument, Kane and Rouse (1995) asserted:

A simple cost-to-benefit analysis shows that, for over 30 years the community college student who completes even one semester will earn more than enough to compensate him for the cost of schooling. Second there is an option value to college entry if students are able to gain more information about the costs and benefits of further investments. When one is uncertain about the prospects of completing college before entry, there will be a value attached to enrolling in order to discover if one is college material.  (p. 611)

Clearly, Kane and Rouse provide an intriguing analysis that makes a strong case for the economic benefits of enrolling in a two-year college for multiple semesters and/or completing an associate degree. More recently, Belfield & Bailey (2011) found that the labor market return for an Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science degree in a STEM field potentially produced higher labor market outcomes. These results give credence to Boggs’ (2012) contention that “community colleges play an essential role in preparing the nation’s workforce” (p. 37).

Two-Year Colleges: Institutional Effectiveness and Funding Efforts

Community colleges’ commitment to educating ordinary citizens is a distinct postsecondary development and undoubtedly makes them the hallmark of higher education. From this point of view, the two-year college successfully creates possibilities and not obstacles for students seeking higher learning. Although community college leaders and their constituents recognize the challenges of reducing high student attrition, they remain committed to preserving enrollment flexibility so students can enroll on their own terms. For instance, a nontraditional aged adult can enroll in a short or long-term workforce degree or certificate program to either increase wages or enhance job skills with no further enrollment obligation.  Likewise, a reverse transfer student may take summer courses at the community college and return to their home university in the subsequent semester. Thus, community colleges are fundamentally multi-mission institutions that have the ability to deliver higher learning on demand, despite reduced state funding, rising enrollment, and higher accountability based standards.

In an effort to buffer the effects of reduced funding appropriations, innovative partnerships between two-and four-year colleges, secondary schools, and the private industry sector have formed to ultimately (a) improve overall student achievement; (b) increase degree completion rates; and (c) generate optimal revenue in grant funding to support academic services and programs.  Additionally, state governments have provided new education grant funding opportunities to improve student retention efforts and develop workforce training programs conducive to the needs of the labor market.  In this vein, to make consistent progress toward future workforce objectives, further exploratory research investigating intervention-prevention best practices in higher education is warranted.

For example, when assessing the paradigmatic effectiveness of two-year colleges and the qualitative experiences of enrolled students, it’s unwise to solely focus on why students leave before completing a degree as a dominate research topic.  Instead, to understand the contributory institutional variables that impact persistence, greater longitudinal attention should focus on students that persist until associate degree completion or/and transfer to a four-year institution, despite repressive obstacles or personal barriers. Doing so will unravel the subjective realities faced by a robust number of students that choose to enroll at the two-year college. Such realities will demonstrate that to dismantle the flexible open door structure is to block the much-needed door of opportunity for the next generation of new college age students. And to ignore this fact is to nullify rather than endorse our distinct egalitarian doctrine of access for all rather than a selective few.

Discussion Questions

This essay has attempted to endorse the importance of the community college mission and to spark discussion on the impact that the two-year college has had upon student success and influencing self-actualization.  Thus, student services practitioners and faculty members at two-and four-year colleges are encouraged to appropriately build on this discussion by addressing student development and retention areas regarding:

  1. How does the academic identity influence success in college?
  2. What critical service utilization factors enable enrolled students of different gender, age-ranges, and socioeconomic backgrounds to persist and successfully transfer from a community college to a four-year university?
  3. Do mandatory advising sessions help college students overcome nonacademic barriers to course completion and develop a healthier academic identity?


American Association of Community Colleges, Fast Facts. (accessed January 3, 2014).

Belfield, C. R., & Bailey, T. (2011, January). The benefits of attending community college: A review of the

evidence. Community College Review, 39, 46-68.

Boggs, G. R. (2012, February/Mach). The evolution of the community college in America: Democracy’s colleges.

Community College Journal, 82(4), 36-39.

Brint, S., & Karabel, J. (1989). The diverted dream: Community colleges and the promise of educational opportunity in America, 1900-1985. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Clark, B. R. (1960). The cooling function in higher education. American Journal of Sociology, 65, 569-576.

Cohen, A. M., & Brawer, F. B. (1996). The American community college (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Cohen, A. M., & Brawer, F. B. (2003). The American two-year college (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Conant, J. B. (1948). Education in a divided world. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Conant, J. B. (1956). The citadel of learning. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Dougherty, K. J. (1994). The contradictory college: The conflicting origins, impacts, and futures of the community college. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Griffith, M., & Connor, A. (1994). Democracy’s open door: The community college in America’s future. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, Inc.

Hillway, T. (1958). The American 2- year college. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers.

Kane, T. J., & Rouse, C. E. (1995). Labor-market returns to two-and four-year college. The American Economic

Review, 85(3), 600-614.

Kane, T. J., & Rouse, C. E. (1999). The community college: Educating students at the margin between college and

Work, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 13(1), 63-84.

Monk-Turner, E. (1995). Factors shaping the probability of community vs. 4- year college entrance and

acquisition of the B.A. degree. Social Science Journal, 32, 255-264.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2010). The condition of education 2010. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics.

Palinchak, R.S. (1973). The evolution of the community college. Metuchen, N.J: Scarecrow Press.

Rhoads, R. A., & Valadez, J. R. (1996). Democracy, multiculturalism, and the community college: A critical perspective. New York, NY: Garland.

Shannon, H. D., & Smith, R. C. (2006). A case for the community college’s open access mission. New Directions for Community Colleges, 136, 15-21.

Slevin, J. (2010). President Obama’s graduation initiative: Higher education for the 21st century. Insight into Diversity, 5.

Zwerling, S.T. (1976). Second best: The crisis of the community college. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

About the Author
Charlene Adams-Mahaley, Ed.D., is an independent college admissions counselor and consultant. Her primary fields of interest are identity and stratification theory, social inequality, and college retention. Adams-Mahaley is currently working on a college admissions planning handbook for high school students and parents.

Please e-mail inquiries to Charlene Adams-Mahaley.


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

The Role of Open Access on the Function of Community Colleges


The Role of Open Access on the Function of Community Colleges

Lorrie Budd
Community College of Baltimore County

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


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

Open Access and College Services

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

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

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

Strategies for Balancing Open Access and Services

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

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

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

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

Academic, Social, and Emotional Development

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Discussion Questions

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

Please e-mail inquiries to Lorrie Budd.


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

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


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

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

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

Introduction and Overview

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop’s Ally Development Theory

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

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

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

Challenges of Allyship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barriers for Privileged White Men

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

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

Strategies for Working With Privileged White Men

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

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

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

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

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

Barriers for Those Working with Privileged White Men

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

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

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

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

Strategies for Those Working with Privileged White Men

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

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

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

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

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


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

Discussion Questions

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Authors

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

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


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

Historical Keys to Open Access in Community Colleges Between 1940 and the Mid-1970’s

Deborah Anderson, Ivy Tech Community College – Southwest/Wabash Valley Region

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

The purpose of this article is to map the historical events and markers to open access postsecondary education relative to community colleges in the United States (U.S.). In this article, I will provide a discussion of key moments impacting open access in community colleges between 1940 and the mid-1970’s.  Additionally, I will share context regarding events prior to 1940 that influence the chronological history of open access and community colleges in the U.S.  Lastly, I will discuss these mile markers and how they have shaped contemporary community colleges.

Prior to 1940

The emergence of junior colleges profoundly affected thinking about the structure and purpose of U.S. higher education.  Junior colleges first appeared in the decade of the 1900s, but multiplied in the 1920s.  In the summer of 1948, Jesse P. Bogue, Executive Secretary for the American Association of Junior Colleges, addressed faculty in an essay titled, “The Community College,” for the bulletin of the American Association of University Professors discussing the origin of the community college. He shared:

It was William Rainey Harper, first President of the University of Chicago, who crystallized general concepts and gave inspiration for the establishment of the first public junior college in 1902 at Joliet, Illinois.  Although Decatur Baptist College, Decatur, Texas, celebrated its half-century of existence in 1947, Joliet is the oldest public junior college operating today.  President Harper is regarded as the man who coined the name ‘junior college’ and is considered by educational historians generally as the father of the movement.  This is most certain true in the sense that his organizing genius was applied to the concept and that he really did something about it. (Bogue, 1948, p. 286)

Following the establishment of Joliet, there was a proliferation of junior colleges within the U.S. that continued to multiply over the next several decades (Geiger, 1999).  Junior colleges, along with other institutional types such as teachers’ colleges, municipal colleges, women’s colleges, and business schools, provided educational opportunities to students and appealed to widely diverse student populations (Geiger, 1999).  Recognized as “booster colleges,” the development of the two-year “junior college” came of age predominantly in the West and Midwest between World War I and World War II (Thelin, 2004, p. 206).  By 1930, six states had ten or more public junior colleges:  California, Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Kansas (Brint & Karabel, 1989).

Between 1940 and the Mid-1970’s

Cohen (1998) defines the period between 1945 and 1975 as the Mass Higher Education Era and noted within those 30 years enrollments grew by more than 500%.  Also, public community colleges increased enrollments from two million to five million (Cohen, 1998).  In 1940, 60% of the community college student population was male, and by 1950, enrollments temporarily increased to 70% due to veterans returning home to attend community colleges (Cohen, 1998).  In 1944, Congress introduced Public Law 346, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, also called “the G.I. Bill of Rights,” which passed by a Congress fearful of mass unemployment when millions of servicemen were demobilized (Cohen, 1998, p. 182).

The G.I. Bill 

The G.I. Bill built upon smaller federal student aid programs developed at the end of the Great Depression and represented the federal government’s first attempt to provide student aid on a large scale.  This effort helped to break down the economic and social barriers to attending college (Vaughan, 2000).  Under the G.I. Bill, any honorably discharged veteran who had served 90 days or was injured in the line of duty was entitled to a free college education up to four years.  The government would pay $500 per year for tuition, fees and books at any approved education institution.  This resulted in over 2.2 million veterans returning to college, 3.4 million in other schools, 1.4 million in on-job training, and 690,000 in farm training, resulting in 40% of veterans who received a higher education.  Thelin (2011) wrote

By the fall of 1945, eighty-eight thousand veterans had applied and been accepted for participation.  By 1946, GI Bill college enrollments surpassed one million, and total benefits paid out by the federal government as part of the act exceeded $5.5 billion.  By 1950, of the fourteen million eligible veterans, more than two million, or 16 percent, had opted to enroll in postsecondary education as part of the GI Bill. (p. 263)

Thelin (2011) added that while the GI Bill enhanced postsecondary education opportunities for modest-income veterans, the terms of the GI Bill carried no requirement that participating institutions demonstrate non-discrimination (Thelin, 2011). One notable feature of the program was the benefits were awarded to individuals rather than institutions, allowing veterans to use them for any educational or training programs to which they were accepted (Turner & Bound, 2003).

The Truman Commission 

In July 1946, as the end of World War II drew near, President Harry S. Truman appointed the first official body to examine expansion of enrollments in American colleges and universities.  The President’s Commission on Higher Education, also known as “The Truman Commission,” was composed of a group of 28 educators led by George F. Zook, President of the American Council on Education, and was charged to address federal higher education policies, reexamine the roles of colleges and universities and develop a national dialogue on higher education reform.  The significant feature of this endeavor was that it marked the first time a president of the United States deliberately extended federal inquiry into nationwide educational issues; the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution customarily reserved the topic for state and local government (Thelin, 2011).

The Truman Commission’s report contained six volumes and appeared between December 1947 and February 1948, under the general title, Higher Education for American Democracy.  This series was viewed as one of the most influential documents in the history of American higher education.  The primary focus of the Commission was to address barriers to educational opportunities in two key areas: 1) improving college access and equity and 2) expanding the role of community colleges (Gilbert & Heller, 2013).   Community colleges were a primary strategy in the Commission’s plans to increase higher educational access to increased populations.  Approximately 600 two-year colleges existed during the time the Truman Commission report was released (Quigley & Bailey, 2003).

Brubacher and Rudy (1968) contend the Truman Commission’s central message was to ensure every American should be “enabled and encouraged to carry his education, formal and informal, as far as his native capacities permit” (p. 239).  The authors stated community colleges were particularly appealing as a means of handling student expansion because two-year colleges could be constructed quickly and were generally viewed as being more cost effective.  The Commission proposed the nation double its enrollment in college and universities within a decade (Brubacher & Rudy, 1968).

The Commission addressed open access in the report’s preface and noted the increasing number of young people seeking a college education and highlighted the complexities offered by increased industrialization and the accelerated enrollment growth due to the enactment of the Veteran’s Rehabilitation Act and the G.I. Bill.  The Commission noted, “Statistics reveal that a doubling of the 1947-48 enrollments in colleges and universities will be entirely possible within 10 to 15 years, if facilities and financial means are provided” (The President’s Commission on Higher Education, 1947, Volume 1, p. 1).

The Truman Commission recognized a variety of barriers – geographical, racial, religious, socioeconomic – might prevent populations from pursuing higher education.  Since costs presented access and equity barriers to students, the Commission’s report emphasized the importance of eradicating these barriers, stating, “If college opportunities are restricted to those in the higher income brackets, the way is open to the creation and perpetuation of a class society which has no place in the American way of life” (The President’s Commission on Higher Education, 1947, Volume II, p. 23).

The commissioners provided advocacy for expanded construction of community colleges and a larger influx of student enrollment growth in future years.  Reuben and Perkins (2007) noted commissioners lobbied for a number of policies that would become important features of American higher education in the late twentieth century, including the expansion of public higher education, particularly two-year institutions which the Commission renamed “community colleges” rather than “junior colleges,” federal financial aid programs, and the end to discrimination based on religion and race (pp. 265-266).  The Commission’s report offered specific recommendations to increase higher education attainment from 2.4 million students in 1947 to 3.9 to 4.6 million students between 1952 and 1960. Approximately one million veterans were anticipated to return to college under the G.I. Bill and the Commission made a series of recommendations to increase enrollments (Gilbert & Heller, 2013, p. 420).  

Improving college access

Improving community college access to underserved groups, such as minorities and veterans, continued throughout the 1960’s.  Before the 1960’s, at least 20 major cities (including Denver, St. Louis, Cleveland, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Miami) did not have community colleges and diverse populations were actively seeking college access (Luskin, 2011).  By the 1960’s, there was a general sentiment that college should become a birthright for Americans, much like high school had become a birthright in the 1920’s (Cervantes, Creusere, McMillion, McQueen, Short, Steiner & Webster, 2005).

Federal programs 

The Federal government created direct programming and financial assistance to postsecondary students that sparked national discussions on the government’s role within higher education.  Dallek (1998) asserted President Johnson had an almost mystical faith in the capacity of education to transform people’s lives.  Public demands for social equality helped to facilitate federal support for financial support of higher education. Federal programs were established and college attendance soared prompting a national shift in America’s college student demographics.  These federal programs offered college access to disadvantaged populations and assisted underrepresented minorities with college preparatory skills.

The Higher Education Act (HEA)

The Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965, under President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, offered financial assistance to public and private colleges and eligible students under Title IV.  The HEA of 1965 established the Federal government as an important player in higher education policy and recognized the goal of removing college price barriers as a federal priority (Cervantes et al., 2005).

According to a national report, “Higher Education Act: Forty Years of Opportunity,” Title IV authorized federal aid to students seeking higher education and assisted low-income students (Cervantes et al., 2005).  The leading HEA grant program was the Educational Opportunity Grant, later renamed the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, or SEOG.  The Guaranteed Student Loan program, later recognized as the Federal Family Education Loan program (FFEL), was the largest source of student financial aid in the country (Cervantes et al., 2005). Additional financial aid assistance programs designed to increase open access include federal work-study programs, National Teaching Fellowships and the National Defense Student Loan Program, now known as Perkins funding.

The HEA was amended under Title IV to create three federal programs: Upward Bound, Talent Search and Student Support Services; hence the phrase “TRIO” emerged.  These TRIO programs assist low-income students, first-generation college students and other underrepresented groups through tutoring, mentoring and bridge programs.  President Johnson was recognized for clarifying the role of the Federal Government “to do something for the people who are down and out, and that’s where its major energy in education ought to go” (Cervantes et al., 2005, p. 22).

Civil Rights and Women’s Equality Movements 

In tandem, the civil rights and women’s equality movements increased social awareness and helped break down barriers for disadvantaged groups (Vaughn, 2000).   While these federal measures were established within the historical legislative framework of higher education, men and women of color continued to experience racial disparity and inequity while pursuing access to higher education.

Open Door Policies

Community college’s open-door policies offered increased access to higher education for diverse populations impacted by social class, race, gender and ethnicity.  Edmund Gleazer’s (1994) foreword in America’s Community Colleges: The First Century notes, “The college that cuts “across” ethnic lines, socioeconomic classes, educational interests, geographical boundaries and generations brings people together so that not only their differences, but also their common interest and needs can be acknowledged and valued” (Witt, Wattenbarger, Gollattscheck, & Suppiger, 1994, p. xvi).

In the late 1960’s, colleges and universities experienced decreased admission of academically prepared students.  Universities chose to soften admission requirements and increased financial assistance for eligible students.  At the same time, community colleges offered open door admissions to attract students and increase enrollments (Cohen & Brawer, 2003).


Carnegie Commission on Higher Education

In 1970, the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education issued a three-part series report titled, “The Open-Door Colleges: Policies for Community Colleges” highlighting the role of community colleges.  The first section, released in June 1970, focused on the Federal Government’s role in advocating for academic success and increasing educational opportunities.  The second series highlighted higher education policy to ensure racial and educational equality.  The third series discussed the role of community colleges and presented enrollment projections for two-year institutions with projections for future community college expansion in 1980 and 2000.

Brint and Karabel (1989) contended the Carnegie Commission’s report was modeled after an existing trend, “Californiaization” of American higher education and recognized the California Master Plan of 1960 as a landmark in the evolution of community colleges.  By the time the Carnegie Commission’s report went to press, there were over 1,000 two-year colleges throughout the United States.  In 1968, ten states comprised 30% or more of all undergraduates enrolled in two-year colleges.  Other states’ enrollment varied from 10% to 30% and in seven states, California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Texas and Washington, enrollments were 30% or higher (The Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, 1970, map 1, p. 14).

The Carnegie Commission’s goals addressed national expansion of college access within each high school.  The Commission clarified that college attainment might not include individuals who did not have plans to go to college, but universal access for all high school graduates or persons over 18 years of age was highly recommended.  The Commission report stated without such open admissions policies, community colleges would not provide equal opportunity to the highest degree possible.

The Commission’s report outlined goals and recommendations to be completed by 1976:

  • Open access to all public community colleges
  • The removal of financial barriers to enrollment
  • A state plan for the development of community colleges in every state
  • Comprehensive programs that provide meaningful learning options in all public two-year institutions of higher education.
  • Achievement of the goal of a community college within commuting distance of every potential student, except in sparsely populated areas where residential colleges are needed – plans for 230 to 280 new community colleges initiated by 1976
  • Low tuition or no tuition in community colleges
  • Adaptation of occupational programs to changing manpower requirements and full
    opportunities for continuing adult education (The Carnegie Commission on Higher
    Education, 1970, p. 51)

The success of the Carnegie Commission’s goals required support and advocacy of federal aid to higher education and increased national funding.  Ten-year recommendations goals outlined establishment of additional community colleges and to ensure 35% to 45% of all undergraduate student enrollment (The Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, 1970).  Twenty-year recommendations outlined continued community college expansion, additional increases for student enrollments and ongoing curriculum reform to adapt to economic development and community needs in the 21st century (The Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, 1970).


Through the early decades of the twentieth century, two-year colleges provided access and opened pathways for diverse groups including veterans, women, minority groups, individuals and families facing economic challenges.  Between 1940 and the mid-1970’s, social influences advocating for select groups, federal legislation, and governmental programs were viewed as beacons to ensure access of higher education for underserved groups.   These influences were instrumental in widening the doors of two-year institutions to a greater number of people seeking educational access.  Today, community colleges continue the tradition of opening doors to underserved populations and remain at the forefront of national dialogue on the expansion and accessibility of higher education.  Open access in community colleges continues to provide underrepresented students with educational resources to assist in short and long-term skill building and degree attainment.

Discussion Questions

  1. How have other federal and social influences shaped higher education, particularly for two-year colleges?
  2. From your perspective, what are some of the benefits of two-year colleges and open admissions?  Have the educational needs of community college students changed within the last ten years?  How has your institution’s original mission adapted to the needs of today’s college students?
  3. In general, do two-year colleges serve the same role as early junior colleges?  Why or why not?

About the Author

Deborah L. Anderson is the Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Institutional Research at Ivy Tech Community College – Southwest/Wabash Valley Region.  A three-time graduate of the University of Kansas, she holds a B.A. in Italian Studies, a B.S. in Journalism, and a M.S. in Education.  She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership at the Bayh School of Education at Indiana State University.  Deb serves on the ACPA Commission for Two-Year Colleges and Wiley’s Enrollment Management Report Board of Advisors.

Please e-mail inquiries to Deborah L. Anderson


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.


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Brint, S., & Karabel, J. (1989). The diverted dream. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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Witt, A. A., Wattenbarger, J. L., Gollattscheck, J. F., & Suppiger, J. E. (1994). America’s Community Colleges:  The First Century. Washington, D.C.: Community College Press, American Association of Community Colleges.

Providing Spaces on College Campuses and through Social Media for Men of Color to Offer Counterstories

Cameron C. Beatty, Iowa State University
Cristobal Salinas Jr., Florida Atlantic University

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

Counterstorytelling and history can be useful to understand the historical and political context of power, privilege and the oppression of historically marginalized communities in the United States (Zinn, 1994).  Similar to counterstorytelling and history, social media has become an important source of news that influences the examination of society and culture, and its interaction of race, law, power and privilege.  If one was born yesterday, with no knowledge of the past, one might simply accept anything and everything that social media tells us.  “Knowing a bit of history—while it would not absolutely prove the government [and media] were lying in a given instance—might make you skeptical, lead you to ask questions, make it more likely that you would find out the truth” (Zinn, 1994, p. 174). This truth is very much rooted in the lived experiences of our daily lives.

Through this essay we intend to shed light on how men of color have been some of the primary victims of negative social imagery and how the fragments of these constructions continue to have contemporary influences on our college campuses. This is particularly true when it comes to the fearing of men of color, and specifically, Black and Brown bodies in our society. It is the hope that this essay disrupts the current discourse and allows for student affairs professionals to provide a unique counterstorytelling space on their campuses for men of color to disrupt this current dominant discourse in society. Furthermore, it is vital for us as educators to play an important role in creating useful research, theory, and practices in order to work towards emancipation. By doing this we will help to improve the higher education experiences and educational outcomes for men of color, who consistently find themselves reported at the bottom of most academic indicators (Howard, 2008; Howard & Flennaugh, 2011; Hutchison, 1994; McGuire, Berhanu, Davis III, & Harper, 2014).

We operate from the position that large numbers of men of color experience education in a manner unlike other students in the United States and that these experiences are rooted in a historical construction of what it means to be Black/Brown and gender identify as men. These experiences, we assert, are often guided by an account/illusion that is a less than flattering account of the academic potential, intellectual disposition, and social and cultural capital possessed by Black and Brown males (Hutchison, 1994; McGuire, Berhanu, Davis III, & Harper, 2014).  Moreover, our contention is that not only do these notions of men of color shape their schooling experiences, but may severely influence their life chances at a time where educational access is vital to competing in an increasingly global society. This consequence is most disturbing given the manner in which disproportionate numbers of men of color continue to find themselves socially, economically, and politically marginalized from the American majority (Hutchison, 1994; McGuire et al., 2014; Noguera, Hurtado, & Fergus, 2011).



The Opportunity Agenda (2011) and the National Hispanic Media Coalition (Barreto, Manzano, & Segura, 2012) report that media messages and images have a greater impact on negative perceptions and stereotypes when individuals have real-world knowledge and understanding in topics of power, privilege and oppression. For example, individuals who are subject to positive information about men of color are more likely to report fewer negative stereotypical beliefs; individuals exposed to negative information about these men hold negative stereotypes no matter the focus; and exposure to only one negative prompt predicts higher rates of negative Black and stereotyping in terms of criminal activity, unemployment, poverty, lack of education, and impressions of Brown men being undocumented.

Noguera (2008) shared that Black and Brown men “are anything but invisible or unseen” (p. xii).  Media such as TV shows, magazine advertising, the Internet, video games, and news broadcasts constantly represent Black and Brown men negatively and—at limited times—positively.  While Black and Brown men are often represented as criminals (“thugs” and “cholos”), unemployed, and poor, they are also constantly idolized and represented in the media as gifted athletes, good dancers, and instantly “cool” (Patterson, Lane, Stephens, McElderry, & Alleyne, 2014; The Opportunity Agenda, 2011; Noguera, 2008).  The reality is that the majority of Black and Brown men are not athletes or performers; neither are they criminals or gangsters.

Most recently, since the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis cases, scholars and policymakers have focused on a national debate and given attention to the number of issues and challenges faced by Black and Brown men.  For example, as a result of Martin’s and Davis’s deaths, there have been several media outlets that engage in dialogue surrounding the discrimination of clothing and music as a sign of deviance (Patterson, Lane, Stephens, McElderry, & Alleyne, 2014).  President Obama and his administration launched the My Brother’s Keeper initiative (2014) to create and build opportunities for boys and young men of color. Yet, institutions and policy-makers have not figured out a way to approach the challenges that men of color face. Every year, men of color make the news, mainly because they continue to be victims of racial profiling and hate crimes; they also are negatively stereotyped, oppressed, and marginalized. On the other hand men who hold these identities are idolized by society and the media as sports heroes or gods in the entertainment industry. We engage in this analysis of men of color’s representation in schools and society with a full recognition that regardless of the mass of obstacles and challenges that have confronted men of color in the United States historically and contemporarily, there are instances of exceptional men of color who have overcome these obstacles and thrived on college campuses. In addition, there are a large number of men of color who occupy prominent professional positions in their respective communities.

Fearing of Men of Color

The overall representation of men of color in the media is incomplete, misleading, and irresponsible in various ways.  Black and Brown males are portrayed by the media as criminals, violent, uneducated, and unkempt (Wilson, 2014; Mazyck, 2014).  Even though Black and Brown men have visible roles that can be considered positive, such as athletes and performers (dancers, singers, composers, and comedians), they tend to be absent from some critical types of roles, such as parenting portrayals (The Opportunity Agenda, 2011).

Media promote how men of color are negatively perceived and stereotyped, however, this does not reflect the lived experiences of a majority of these men.  Our call for counterstroytelling aims to raise the critical consciousness regarding social and racial injustices that men of color experience. Counterstorytelling serves as an analytical tool for examining stories and is prevalent in research using critical race theory. According to Delgado and Stefancic (2001), counterstorytelling “aims to cast doubt on the validity of accepted premises or myths, especially ones held by the majority” (p. 144). Counterstories function to:

  1. build community among marginalized individuals and groups;
  2. challenge claims of knowledge and wisdom of dominant groups;
  3. illuminate alternative realities of those at the margins of society; and
  4. provide context in an effort to transform current systems of belief and value (Delgado, 1989; Delgado & Stefancic, 2001; Solórzano, Ceja & Yosso, 2000).

Through use of counterstorytelling, dominant understandings around the lived experiences of men of color can be addressed through the voices of those Black and Brown men.

As the media continues to negatively stereotype, oppress, and marginalize men of color, we (as educators) must acknowledge that our college campuses are not immune to being oppressive spaces. Recently students who identify as men of color from across the nation are challenging the media by telling their counterstories via those media. In 2013, a group of African-American students at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), sent out a powerful message discussing the lack of diversity, in particular the lack of African-American students on campus (Park, 2013).  The video explains the lack of African- Americans at UCLA and highlights African-Americans make up 3.8 percent of the student population. Stokes points out that “black males make up 3.3 percent of the male student population, and that 65 percent of those black males are undergraduate athletes. Of the incoming men in the freshmen class, only 1.9 percent of them were black” (Stokes, 2014).

In 2013, Black male students at Illinois Central High School created a video contradicting the negative image of young African-American males in the media.  They affirmed and highlighted that the successes of young Black males are often ignored and their stories untold; they stated: “We are not gangsters and thugs, we are employees and volunteers, we are scholars, and we are athletes” (Gholson, 2013).

Scholars have used counterstorytelling to highlight the ways men of color make sense of barriers they faced in their quest for academic achievement. Counterstorytelling subsequently highlights the importance of tapping into students’ narratives to understand the internal processes that some men of color go through in order to excel in school. These videos by UCLA and Illinois Central High School men of color positions student voice and agency as immensely important to the way identities are constructed and understood (Hoshmand, 2005). As these videos have demonstrated, developing a social platform that makes use of men of color voices has the potential to advance informed practices that disrupt the status quo when developing programs and resources for men of color on college campuses.

We propose that using social media more intentionally on college campuses to incorporate the voices of marginalized men of color on campus can also help to dismantle the dominant oppressive discourses surrounding race, class, and gender groups. These counterstories represent a challenge to dominant narratives that can represent other truths and lived experiences that directly refute hegemony (Terry, 2011). “Stories told by those on the bottom, told from the ‘subversive-subaltern’ perspective, challenge and expose the hierarchical and patriarchal order that exists within the legal academy [any institution] and pervades the larger society” (Montoya, 1995, p. 537). These stories are critical and allow the anger and pain of the oppressed storyteller to emerge. Hearing people’s own stories is a powerful way of getting oftentimes reluctant teachers, researchers, or policy makers in training to understand that the theories they are learning about have a material effect on individuals. The intersectionality (Collins, 2000; Crenshaw, 1997) of race, class, and gender are fundamentally critical in research, policies, and practices concerning people of color. Each identity in its own way profoundly influences identity construction, social imagery, and meaning-making for men of color. As mentioned earlier, men of color possess multiple identities that are profoundly shaped by race, socioeconomic status, and gender (to name a few) in all of their complex manifestations.

The goal of empowering men of color and recreating their social image through a raised consciousness is not an easy one. Removing the layers of hegemony engraved in the minds is not a simple task. Attempting to shift paradigms is real and there can be a major stumbling block to achieving critical consciousness (Bell, Washington, Weinsteinan, & Love, 2003). Part of this paradigm shift must incorporate the views, ideas, and perspectives of men of color themselves in recreating their own image.

Role of Student Affairs Professionals

Men of color have been some of the primary victims of negative social imagery.  They are often represented as negative stereotype no matter the focus, they are seen as criminals, unemployed, poor, and being “anti-intellectual” (Harper, 2012).  It is important to remember that the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.  For this reason, we believe that counterstorytelling for men of color on college campuses and through social media should be used as a tool to disrupt the dominant discourse of the negative stereotyping in terms of criminal activity, unemployment, poverty, lack of education, and impressions of Brown men being undocumented.

We believe that it is necessary to work with different communities to understand their various layers of privilege and oppression (Salinas & Beatty, 2013). To do this, we recommend educators and student affairs professions to:

  • Educate themselves about their feelings, beliefs, and attitudes around Black and Brown bodies;
  • Create a safe space to discuss beliefs and experiences in order to be challenged and to challenge peers and colleagues about their feelings, beliefs, and attitudes;
  • Engage in reflection, active learning and developing critical thinking about social identities and the intersection of identities;
  • Empower ourselves and other individuals to understand and use cultural values to develop more optimal learning environments for the oppressed communities and recognize where their privilege is constantly at play (p. 28).

Additional recommendations include: creating your own social media video to highlight the experiences of men of color on your campus, providing a #hashtag for students to share their realities with discrimination and disenfranchisement on campus, and finally having a physical space for men of color to discuss their realities with not only their peers, but with key administrators so they feel their voices are being heard, acknowledged, and affirmed.

These recommendations should aid to promote reflection, collaboration, and organizational learning to better serve students and support all communities, but specifically the success of men of color on your campus.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do I know what men of color are experiencing on my campus? Do they find the campus to be welcoming and supportive?
  2. How do we create spaces on campus for men of color to make meaning of their experiences on campus and to discuss with administrators and peers?
  3. What role does social media use have on men of color and their identity development in college?

About the Authors

Cameron C. Beatty, Ph.D., is a lecturer in leadership education and program coordinator for the leadership studies program with the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University. He graduated in summer 2014 from Iowa State University with a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration and a Graduate Certificate in Social Justice Education. He earned a master’s degree in Higher Education Student Affairs and a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and African American and African Diaspora Studies, both from Indiana University. His doctoral dissertation focused on exploring the leadership identity development of students of color at a liberal arts college. Beatty’s particular areas of interest include such topics as definitions of masculinity, leadership development for students of color, and racial justice in higher education.

Cristobal Salinas Jr., Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Educational Leadership and Research Methodology Department at Florida Atlantic University’s College of Education. Cristobal previously served as the College of Design’s Multicultural Liaison Officer at Iowa State University, where he provided assistance and guidance in understanding issues of diversity in the college and beyond. He holds a B.A. in Spanish Education and ESL from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, a M.Ed. in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies, and a Ph.D. in Higher Education from Iowa State University. His dissertation explored how Latino male faculty members make meaning of their socialization into the academy and how socialization impacts their decisions to pursue full-time and tenure-track positions in the field of education.  His research promotes access and quality in higher education, and explores the social, political, and economic context of education opportunity for historically marginalized communities.


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.


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College Men at the Intersection of Masculinity & Spirituality

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

Be a man…but also a man of faith and spirituality?  Missing from the contemporary discourse on college men and intersectionality is an analysis of how college men reconcile and make meaning of their gender (masculinity) and faith/spiritual identities.  This gap is most pronounced with male subgroup populations who have faith, self-identify as spiritual and/or religious, and actively participate in faith-based initiatives (e.g. service, retreat, worship) offered by campus ministries, chaplaincies, and parachurch organizations.  Understanding men as spiritual and religious beings not only gives more breadth and depth to research on college men and masculinities but also provides new possibilities for student affairs practitioners to reconstruct gendered norms on campus.

As the UCLA Spiritualty Study suggests, college students are yearning for these questions, yet faculty and administrators are not adequately responding to the demand (Astin, Astin, & Lindholm, 2011).  By broadening the spectrum of masculinities to include intersections of spirituality and religion, student affairs practitioners can enter into a larger conversation with campus ministry/chaplaincy about serving the gender-specific needs, experiences, and challenges of college men of faith.  Moreover, this discourse continues to move the field of men and masculinities beyond deficit-oriented narratives that identify problems of college men, while offering few solutions for practitioners.

Using intersectionality as a theoretical perspective (Collins, 1990; Crenshaw, 1989, 1991), this thought piece aims to complicate and deepen contemporary understandings of college men’s multiple identities by exploring how faith/spiritual identity (along with race, class, sexuality, ability, etc.) intersects with men’s gender identity (masculinity) and how this intersection informs college men’s development.  To achieve this end, I will situate intersectionality theory in college student development literature, drawing upon historical roots and contemporary applications of intersectionality, including the Intersectional Model of Multiple Dimensions of Identity (IMMDI) (Jones & Abes, 2013).  In order to integrate intersectionality theory into contemporary discourse on college men, I will use a narrative approach grounded in a recent sociological work on sacred narratives (Ammerman, 2013).  This will provide a language and a framework to contextualize and make meaning of three complex and multifaceted narratives of college men of faith.  I will conclude by connecting theoretical understandings of intersectionality and sacred narratives to student affairs practice, providing implications and discussion questions for reflection-based action.

College Men & Intersectionality

Men and masculinities scholars have long called to dismiss singular, essentialist, and dominant/hegemonic forms of masculinity, which value the time-honored depictions of what it means to be a man, in favor of a plurality of masculinities – aptly termed multiple masculinities (Connell, 2005; Kimmel & Messner, 2003).  While this movement within the field has expanded our understanding of men’s gender identity, men and masculinities scholars have often viewed gender (masculinity) as an independent and discrete identity.  As scholarship has evolved, there has been a growing consensus that researchers and practitioners should attend to more than gender identity developmental models alone to more fully understand the experiential realities of college men (Harper, Wardell, & McGuire, 2011).  Harper and colleagues posit that gender cannot be understood in isolation from other identities such as race, class, sexuality, and religion.  This sentiment echoes earlier work by Jones (1997) that suggests the “braiding of gender” (p. 379) with other identities.  Scholarship on multiple identities has recently been refined to reflect aspects of intersectionality theory, as conceptualized in the Intersectional Model of Multiple Dimensions of Identity (IMMDI) (Jones & Abes, 2013).

Historically grounded in the Black feminist and womanist movements (Collins, 1990; Crenshaw, 1989, 1991), intersectionality research has emerged as a distinct, yet overlapping concept with multiple identities.  This concept arose out of Black feminists refusing the ways that white-located feminism consistently attempted to collapse race as a saliently organizing force.  Intersectionality is not simply about the addition of multiple identities, but also the hierarchies of social positioning (Bowleg, 2008; Spade, 2013; Stewart, 2010).  As a critical lens that deconstructs inequality and power structures, intersectionality is inherently connected to social movements.  As Collins (1990) describes, intersectionality is an ongoing “dialectic between oppression and activism” (p. 3); a bottom-up reframing of the issues that shifts limited paradigms of thought from an oversimplification of additive identities to multiple, intersecting axes of privilege and oppression.

Similar to the Black feminist and womanist movements, the field of college men and masculinities has too often taken a single vector approach that universalizes an experience of gender to all men.  This reductionism is potentially harmful, as it can essentialize the experiences of men to dominant identities (e.g. white, male, Christian), while ignoring subpopulations of men who have been historically marginalized and underrepresented in the academy.  Intersectionality theory seeks to transform the larger discourse about college men to include the experiential realities of men who experience multiple privileged and subordinate identities simultaneously.  The next section introduces a narrative approach to college men and intersectionality.

Sacred Narratives of College Men

The sacred narratives of college men provides an opportunity for student affairs practitioners to begin to identify and hold up narratives of college men who are reconciling and successfully integrating their masculinity and spirituality.  Sociologist of religion Nancy Ammerman (2013) explores the power of the sacred narratives in her recent text, Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes: Finding Religion in Everyday Life.  She sought to discover spirituality in the everyday lives of ordinary American Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, unaffiliated, etc., as spiritual identity and religious affiliation cannot be confined to places of worship.

For Ammerman (2013), narrative is an appropriate method of inquiry for “nonexperts” (p. 7) (i.e. majority of college students), where conceptions of God and the world are communicated and passed down generationally through stories and rituals:

Stories are important, in part, because they are not merely personal.  They exist at the intersection of personal and public…We live inside a range of socially constructed stories that are not always of our own making or even fully conscious to us. (p. 8)

When the sacred narratives of college men are made public and shared broadly throughout the academy, it provides a space for all college men to reimagine what it means to be a college man.  By privileging alternative narratives, it broadens the permissive behaviors of men on college campuses to include spiritual identity and religious affiliation in hopes that all college men, particularly those from marginalized subgroups, may enact their masculinity with greater fluidity and acceptance from their male peer groups.

Through my work as an educator, minister, and scholar, I have encountered countless young men who experience many tensions in their gender and spiritual identities.  In most cases, faith, spirituality, and religion encourage these men to reflect, make meaning, provide service to others, and orient their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors towards more relational and communal ends.  From a gendered perspective, these notions are antithetical to dominant, hegemonic notions of masculinity by which boys and men are socialized, such as fear of femininity, restrictive emotionality, homophobia, insubordination, individualism, competition, power, success, domination, and aggression (Connell, 2005; Kimmel & Messner, 2003).  For many men, an outward spirituality is commonly understood as a violation of masculine norms – something to be shamed – relegated to the periphery as a soft and interior pursuit.  Consequently, the holistic development of college men is rendered incomplete.  Examples of this disintegration are evident in the following case study narratives:

  • John had a strong pre-college religious socialization through his family and faith-based high school experiences. Entering college, John becomes preoccupied with belonging to his male peer group, who hold up sexual activity (i.e. losing one’s virginity) as an essential component of college masculinity and the common male folklore.  John experiences deep tensions between his core religious beliefs and his need for validation from other men.  With no conversation partners on campus to talk about both his masculinity and his strong faith background, John feels even more isolated.  Ultimately, John loses his virginity in order to fit in with his male peers, while privatizing and ignoring the central tenets of his religious upbringing. He still struggles to make meaning of this experience three years later as a senior.
  • Michael has always associated his masculinity with “respect” and “aggression.”  Entering college, he demonstrated this through excessive drinking and violent behaviors with his male peer groups.  However, on the inside, he wrestles with coming out to his male peer group – a conversation he was never comfortable having in high school.  Homophobic slurs continue to keep his sexuality silent for his first two years of college.  As a junior, he finally comes out to his peers and, much to his surprise, is accepted and cared for deeply.  This experience allows him to feel less constricted in his masculinity.  Shortly thereafter, he feels open to explore his spiritual identity for the first time, in order to make meaning of these events.
  • Tyler is caught up in the duality of roles – he is both captain of the basketball team and the leader of an international service-immersion trip.  His peer groups are clearly delineated – his basketball peers validate his masculinity through toughness, aggressiveness, and other hypermasculine behavior, while his service-immersion peers are the only people on campus whom he feels he can be honest and open with.  For example, service-learning experiences are considered to be “girly” by his basketball peers.  Tyler tells the story of returning from his service trip, unclear how to process his emotions, and ultimately, getting “blackout” drunk with his basketball peers.  For many years, he struggles to integrate these two male peer groups, which both represent valuable aspects of person he wants to be.  He fully identifies with both peer groups, but lacks an integrative experience without conversations on campus to explore and process this dichotomy.

These narratives, which should not be essentialized to all men of faith, demonstrate some common struggles that men face in integrating their multiple identities in the midst of the larger sociocultural norms.  They each tell the story of fragmentation and situational identity, as they attempt to reconcile what it means to be a man and what it means to be a person of faith.

For John, Michael, and Tyler, faith, spiritual identity and religious affiliation were often understood as a violation of and threat to masculine gender norms, which caused faith-based conversations and participation in faith-based initiatives (e.g. retreat, service, worship) to be privatized and interiorized.  These men were comfortable enough to share their faith with adult mentors, especially those who facilitated faith-based initiatives and conversation groups; however, they deeply struggled in their male peer groups, where their voices and experiences became marginalized and minimized.  As John, Michael, and Tyler sought to develop their faith, they felt more alienated from their peers and more isolated and unsupported in their faith development.  In response to these disconcerting narratives, the next section provides a practical guide for student affairs professionals.

Integration of Sacred Narratives on Campus

As educators, we need to help college men navigate complex and multifaceted experiences of masculinity and spirituality.  Creating a campus culture that allows men to speak openly and honestly about their spiritual identity and their religious affiliation will inevitably broaden the spectrum of masculinities embraced on college campuses.

This can be achieved through a twofold approach.  First, student affairs practitioners need to identify where sacred narratives are already present on college campus.  As Ammerman (2013) asserts, these narratives do not simply exist in our campus worship communities or spiritual programming (e.g. retreat and service experiences), but across various religious and secular contexts in which college men live their lives.  Once identified, these narratives should be promoted throughout our campus communities.  Second, student affairs practitioners need to provide spaces for college men to share their sacred narratives, such as: 1) in the classroom, through spiritual pedagogy (Astin, 2004) such as journaling, reflection, and centering activities; 2) in retreat programming and gender/women’s resource center programming and events; 3) through panels of college men who describe how they have come to understand what it means to be men and persons of faith on their campuses; and 4) in campus media and publications, through newspaper columns and editorial pieces that provide a space for college men to share their sacred narratives.

True to the foundations of intersectionality, the suggested initiatives should aim to create positive social change through the deconstruction of inequality and power structures.  This can be achieved on both individual and systemic levels.  On an individual level, student affairs practitioners need to be intentional about featuring men of multiple marginalized identities, particularly non-white men, non-Christian men, and men who do not identify as strictly heterosexual.  On a systemic level, it is important to consider the historical dominance of Protestant Christianity in America, as Christian values permeate all institutions of higher learning, not simply Christian institutions.  Student affairs practitioners must be attentive and resistant to systemic oppression religious minorities may experience as a result of membership in a non-Christian group.  One possible response is to collaborate with campus ministry on multi-faith and interfaith initiatives for college men that seek to not only deconstruct hierarchies of faith traditions but also serve the gender-specific needs, experiences, and challenges of college men of faith.

Understanding college men as spiritual beings through the lens of intersectionality complicates contemporary understandings of college men both in theory and practice.  The present piece outlines an alternative way of conceptualizing college men as spiritual beings, grounded in a narrative approach to programming.  Showcasing sacred narratives of college men who have successfully integrated their masculinity and spirituality demonstrates the power of sharing one’s story in the creation of a new normative masculine behavior on college campuses.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do masculinity and spirituality interact, inform, and construct one another?
  2. Where do sacred narratives already exist on my campus?
  3. How does my campus provide space for men to reflect, discuss, and share sacred narratives?


Ammerman, N. T. (2013). Sacred stories, spiritual tribes: Finding religion in everyday life. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Astin, A. W. (2004). Why spirituality deserves a central place in liberal education. Liberal Education, 90(2), 34–41.

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

Bowleg, L. (2008). When black + lesbian + woman ≠ black lesbian woman: The methodological challenges of qualitative and quantitative intersectionality research. Sex Roles, 59(5-6), 312–325. doi:10.1007/s11199-008-9400-z

Collins, P. H. (1990). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. Boston, MA: UnwinHyman.

Connell, R. W. (2005). Masculinities (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Crenshaw, K. W. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory, and antiracist politics. The University of Chicago Legal Forum, 139–167.

Crenshaw, K. W. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241–1299.

Harper, S. R., Wardell, C. C., & McGuire, K. M. (2011). Man of multiple identities: Complex individuality and identity intersectionality among college men. In Masculinities in higher education: Theoretical and practical considerations (pp. 81–96). New York, NY: Routledge.

Jones, S. R. (1997). Voices of identity and difference: A qualitative exploration of the multiple dimensions of identity development in women college students. Journal of College Student Development, 38(4), 376–386.

Jones, S. R., & Abes, E. S. (2013). Identity development of college students: Advancing frameworks for multiple dimensions of identity (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kimmel, M. S., & Messner, M. A. (2003). Men’s lives (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Spade, D. (2013). Intersectional resistance and law reform. Signs, 38(4), 1031–1055. doi:10.1086/669574

Stewart, D. L. (2010). Researcher as instrument: Understanding “shifting” findings in constructivist research. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 47(3), 291–306. doi:10.2202/1949-6605.6130

About the Author

Danny Zepp is a Ph.D. Candidate in Higher Education at Boston College.  His dissertation focuses on the intersection of masculinity and faith in college men’s identity.  Last November, he presented a paper on college men and intersectionality at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE).  In April, he presented a review of literature on college men at the intersection of masculinity and spirituality at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA).  With over eight years of experience in higher education, Danny has a broad range of expertise in academic and student affairs and campus ministry.  He spent seven years as a first-year orientation and retreat director and pre-major academic advisor.  Danny currently serves as a graduate research and teaching assistant in the higher education program, where his primary role is to coordinate the Boston College Institute for Administrators in Catholic Higher Education (IACHE).  He also serves as a resident minister in a sophomore hall at Boston College.

Please email inquiries to Daniel Zepp.


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.

Challenging Straight White College Men (STR8WCM) to Develop Positive Social Justice Advocacy

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

Where Are All the White Men?

The image of the White man who displays anger, entitlement, and hatred towards individuals who differ in gender, race, or sexual orientation seems ubiquitous in media and society (Kimmel, 2013).  Even in college, men from majority backgrounds frequently express their frustration with diversity or social justice efforts they say exclude them (DiAngelo & Sensoy, 2014; Roper, 2004).  The perspective that most White college men are apathetic to efforts that foster equality or social justice is well established.  To offer another perspective, this paper explores the productive ways in which White college men articulate their engagement in and responsibility for positive social justice action.

Frequently, White men at predominately White institutions come from mostly White schools and neighborhoods, in which adults have failed to challenge them to discuss what it means to be privileged (Banks, 2009).  In college, the situation often remains unchanged; faculty and student affairs professionals with privileged identities have largely left the diversity education of majority students to people of color, White women, and/or members of the LGBT community.  Unless challenged effectively during college, heterosexual White men may leave college no more adept at functioning in a diverse world than when they entered.  College educators, especially those who identify as heterosexual White men, must understand their responsibility to better engage male college students from privileged groups to see themselves as a part of diversity work and social justice education (Cabrera, 2012).

Student affairs educators, including the authors of this article, have tried different ways to engage heterosexual White college men in diversity programs and social justice education.  One method is to encourage heterosexual White college men to explore what Abes, Jones, and McEwen (2007) called multiple models of identity development.  Specifically, men should consider how race, gender, and sexual orientation intersect and shape identity in the college context.  Men should also be encouraged to interrogate and articulate their privileges based on race, gender, and sexual orientation.  Despite these efforts, student affairs educators continue to lament the lack of heterosexual White college men engaged in diversity work, aside from those who may actively resist it.

If we do not accommodate the social and developmental needs of privileged groups, they may not “make the shift” to acknowledging privilege and working for justice (Goodman, 2011).  Men should also be encouraged to actively explore their role or responsibility in fostering social justice advocacy, or to develop what some scholars describe as social justice ally behaviors (Broido, 2000; Reason, Broido, Davis, & Evans, 2005).  This paper provides a sampling of results from our multi-institutional qualitative research study, at 13 institutions of higher education throughout most regions of the United States, highlighting the voices of heterosexual White college men.  Participants shared tentative thoughts of what diversity and social justice means and what might motivate them to participate differently.

The STR8WCM Project

The Straight White College Men (STR8WCM) Project originated from a simple question that college educators frequently ask: Where are all the straight White men?  Is their absence from diversity or social justice coursework or programs a function of widespread apathy?  Is their absence a form of active avoidance or resistance?  What should college educators do differently to engage and challenge straight White college men to develop a commitment and responsibility for fostering social justice?  And which college educators must assume greatest responsibility for this engagement?

To date, the sample for the STR8WCM Project includes 89 heterosexual White men and an additional 89 students who identify as women, persons of color, or members of the LGBTQIA community to provide counter stories or voices different from those of the men in the study.  The researchers utilized grounded theory methodology (Charmaz, 2006), which is firmly based in a constructivist epistemology.  Focus groups explored the concepts of power, privilege, oppression, social justice engagement, and responsibility, and they co-constructed meaning in interaction with researchers and peers.


A team of four researchers conducted team coding (Wiener, 2007) to identify common themes from participants across all institutions.  Two themes that speak specifically to productive masculinity (Harper & Harris, 2014) of heterosexual White men emerged from the research:  vulnerability and responsibility.  Men who display attitudes and behaviors associated with productive masculinity seek to disrupt sexism, racism, and homophobia in their communities, which contributes to safer and more inclusive campus climates for all students.


Many of the participants discussed their need to be affirmed by friends, showed angst about attending a diversity event by themselves, expressed desire to belong to a supportive peer group, and displayed anxiety about being “called out” as the only heterosexual White male participant in a course or program.  Yet, several participants also expressed the need for connecting more deeply to the topic of diversity.  For example, Jay (all names changed) shared that a deeper understanding was essential to changing ingrained male behaviors:

I think it’s important, when you learn why things are hurtful to other people…or why things were hurtful when they were happening in the past…because then it makes you actually think about it.  Instead of you just saying a word, it doesn’t mean anything to you.  But when you get the reverse side of it, and you can learn about why that hurts someone, then it makes you understand.

In another group, participants shared how people (both people of color and Whites) assumed a sense of White solidarity (DiAngelo & Sensoy, 2014).  In this exchange, Peter and Carl expressed concern about how peers perceive them and the effect of those perceptions on their self-identity.

Carl: I have a friend who came out to me after knowing him for a couple years…. He was afraid, since…he classified me as a jock…to tell me at first, because he thought I would take it the wrong way.

Peter: I kind of had the same situation in high school.  A friend…came out to me.  [Well,] he didn’t really come out to me, but he came out to my girlfriend and [said], “Don’t [say anything].”[ He…didn’t feel comfortable telling me, and he didn’t want me to judge him.

This opened up a conversation about why, as a group, White heterosexual men are perceived as less open and more reticent to support people from diverse backgrounds.  The men seemed genuinely hurt that they would be perceived as racist or homophobic until proven otherwise.  Rather than seeking to distance themselves from each other, they sought connection through conversation.


Several participants sensed their responsibility in fostering social justice but were unsure about how to proceed.  Blake discussed how choosing teaching as a profession helped him learn more about the need to be a positive role model:

I’m trying to look for what to say…but just going into education, you have to respect everyone’s backgrounds, and I’m a lot more tolerant [and] humble about that.  I [have made offensive] jokes…like everyone else growing up, but now looking back…I just [think] that was stupid.

When he entered college, Blake was not sure how to interrupt unacceptable peer behaviors like joking and feared his peers ostracizing him if he expressed a different opinion.  However, throughout his college career, he learned the importance of humbling himself and not reinforcing stereotypes through active participation or silent acceptance of others’ behaviors.  Sense of responsibility also emerged from several other focus group conversations:

Barney: I think that, absolutely, there’s a responsibility.  It begins with even just recognizing that these things are happening every day.  I think it also begins with seeing racism or sexism, just realizing that it exists…[and] calling it out when you see it, just if someone is saying something racist, just let them know that, “Hey, that is hurtful.”

Jim: I feel like we’re focusing a lot on race here, or forgetting about sexuality… I’d love to hear what you guys have to say about it.

An unscripted conversation about sexism, racism, and homophobia followed.  Focus group participants expressed how much they valued having these conversations in small groups with other White men, and how they wished they had those opportunities more frequently.

For Jay, these conversations occurred in a gender studies course.  He expressed how his thoughts on gender changed because of the class:

[I] share[d] in class one of my experiences walking home from a social gathering.  I was just walking down a street and there was this woman, 100 to 200 feet in front of me.  [And] I could see far in the distance…a single male approaching.  And…right before she was about to cross his path, she angled off to cross away to avoid him.  So…I never thought in my mind people would actually do that to actually avoid possibly being raped. Because it was like 1:30 in the morning.

When Jay met the woman at a traffic light, he asked her whether she needed someone to walk with her.  She looked at him as if not sure she could trust him, and replied, “No.”  Taking the class helped Jay develop a sense of responsibility that emerged from his growing awareness and considering the experiences of others—in this case, women on campus.  Jay is working to understand how his approach may be viewed as paternalistic, but sought greater consultation with his peers about how to enact his responsibility.

Implications for Student Affairs Practice

Engaging STR8WCM is Men’s Work

Focus groups conducted by researchers who identified as White, heterosexual men seemed a natural setting for participants to be open and vulnerable about the topic of social justice and diversity.  The connection deepened when focus group mediators were open and empathetic, and participants responded favorably and honestly.  While individuals of any race, gender, or sexual orientation can engage college men in dialogue, the primary responsibility of developing social justice advocacy in straight White men should rest on college educators who identify as members of dominant social groups.  Educators should explore spaces on campus inside and outside of classrooms that allow White college men to explore identity, to interrogate and challenge privilege, and to develop responsibility for acting in solidarity with marginalized peers.  Which men’s spaces on your campus might be appropriate to begin these conversations (e.g., fraternities, single-gender residence halls, athletic teams)?

Compassionate Challenge is Necessary

STR8WCM Project participants are undoubtedly privileged, but they may not feel powerful, indicative of the paradox of masculinity, or the paradox of men’s power (Kimmel, 2013).  Men as a group have power over women and other less dominant social groups.  Participants expressed genuine pain when others considered them racist, sexist, and homophobic.  Some student affairs professionals may not relate to these feelings, and may feel triggered by privileged or potentially ignorant comments White men make.  Still, we should approach men from majority groups with a stance of critical humility and compassion (ECCW, 2012).  If college men have not experienced diversity in the predominately White settings they occupy, they may struggle to understand oppression in any of its forms.  But the STR8WCM Project is beginning to show that heterosexual White college men are ready to begin this discussion and accept responsibility for showing solidarity with marginalized peers on campus and in society.  College educators who belong to dominant groups must answer the call and engage, challenge, and develop more White college men to actively advocate for diversity and social justice.

Discussion Questions

  1. In what ways are you, particularly if you identify as a heterosexual White male, role modeling responsibility for college men to act in solidarity with marginalized groups?
  2. How might meeting the emotional and developmental needs of heterosexual White college men function to reinforce their privilege and/or disrupt it?
  3. How do you, as practitioners, find a stance between harsh judgment (villainizing heterosexual White college men) and excessive empathy (approving of their withdrawal or demands for “safe” spaces) in your social justice education with men who identify with a dominant social group background?  How does your own identity impact your ability, interest, or responsibility in the work?


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

Banks, K. H. (2009). A qualitative investigation of White students’ perceptions of diversity. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 2(3), 149-155.

Broido, E. M.  (2000). The development of social justice allies during college: A phenomenological investigation. Journal of College Student Development, 41(3), 3-18.

Cabrera, N. L. (2012). Working through Whiteness: White, male college students challenging racism. Review of Higher Education, 35(3), 375-401.

Capraro, R. L. (2010). Why college men drink: Alcohol, adventure, and the paradox of masculinity. In S. R. Harper & F. Harris III (Eds.), College men and masculinities: Theory, research, and implications for practice (pp. 239-257). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

DiAngelo, R., & Sensoy, Ö. (2014). Getting slammed: White depictions of cross-racial dialogues as arenas of violence. Race, Ethnicity, & Education, 17(1), 104-128.

European-American Collaborative Challenging Whiteness (ECCW). (2012). White on White: Communicating about race and White privilege with critical humility. Understanding and Dismantling Privilege: The Journal of the White Privilege Conference, 2(1), 1-21.

Goodman, D. J. (2011). Promoting diversity and social justice: Educating people from privileged groups (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Harris III, F., & Harper, S. R. (2014). Beyond bad behaving brothers: Productive performances of masculinities among college fraternity men. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 27(6), 703-723.

Kimmel, M. (2013). Angry White men: American masculinity at the end of an era. New York, NY: Nation Books.

Reason, R. D., Broido, E. M., Davis, T. L., & Evans, N. J. (Eds.). Developing social justice allies. New Directions for Student Services, (110), 17-28. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Roper, L. D. (2004, November/December). Do students support diversity programs? Change, 48-51.

Wiener, C. (2007). Making teams work in conducting grounded theory. In A. Bryant & K. Charmaz, (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of grounded theory (pp. 293-310). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

About the Authors

Victoria Svoboda, Ed.D., is an Assistant Professor of Student Affairs Administration at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.  Her research interests include the fluidity within and intersections between class, race, and gender.  She is focused on social class issues and equity/inclusion in higher education.

Please e-mail inquiries to Victoria Svoboda and follow her on Twitter.

Jörg Vianden, Ed.D., is an Associate Professor of Student Affairs Administration at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse and the principal investigator for the STR8WCM Project.  His research focuses on college men and masculinities, as well as student persistence. 

Please email inquiries to Jörg Vianden and follow him on Twitter.


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.

Out of the Shadows: One Queer Researcher’s Journey

ACPA’s Standing Committee for LGBT Awareness began from a collaborative idea at the 1983 convention. More than 30 years later, SCLGBTA is thriving in its commitment to mobilize members of ACPA – College Student Educators International to build community, empower advocacy, and advance knowledge with people of all genders and sexualities. This Developments series celebrates 30 years of LGBTQ issues and identities in student affairs from three perspectives: administration, research, and association. Each essay explores the history and current status of LGBTQ individuals in higher education, providing insights into current and future advocacy.

In his 1932 book, titled The Sociology of Teaching, Waller offered the following:

“Homosexuality is a deviant, contagious, and dangerous disease that could and should be avoided in the schools by firing teachers who demonstrated homosexual traits including, carriage, mannerisms, voice, speech, etc.” (Waller, as cited in Tierney & Dilley, 1998, p. 51).

The climate of fear offered by Warren was also evident in higher education where the expulsion of students believed to be gay was a commonly adopted practice among colleges and signaled a belief that homosexuality was caused by the influence of those determined to spread its ills. Colleges and universities during this era thus viewed same-sex attraction and, more pointedly, the behaviors accompanying it, as a reflection on the institution as a whole and sought to distance themselves from it (for a comprehensive history see Marine, 2011). Pre-1970’s research on and about queer and trans spectrum people further pathologized their lives (Beeymn & Rankin, 2011; Marine, 2011). Post-1970’s research offered visibility to queer and trans spectrum people on college campuses leading researchers to explore ways to understand their identities and their experiences (Marine, 2011; Renn, 2010; Tierney & Dilley, 1998).

It was within this environment that I found myself, an “out” lesbian, working in higher education in the late 1970’s. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I would be intimately involved in a social justice movement that eventually led me to a research agenda focusing on the experiences of queer and trans spectrum faculty, staff, and students on college campuses. Renn (2010) and Marine (2011) offer more comprehensive reviews of the evolution of research in higher education focusing on gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, and transgender faculty, staff, and students. I encourage readers interested in this history to read their thorough and thought provoking reviews. I chose to focus this essay on the study of the climate in higher education for queer spectrum and trans spectrum people both as a researcher and a participant.

According to Hill and Grace (2009), the United States academic environment promulgates a dominant heteronormative culture. With its entrenched tendency to replace heteronormativity, fighting back has proven an arduous task requiring the courage and persistence of activist researchers. As one of many advocates and activists in the 1990’s at Penn State fighting for visibility and inclusion, we had worked quietly and consistently to urge the institution to include sexual orientation in its stated nondiscrimination policy. A Task Force was charged by then President Joab Thomas to examine the need for adding sexual orientation in the policy and my task, with Lee Upcraft, Bill Tierney, and Estela Bensimon as mentors, was to provide a study that examined the climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual faculty, staff, and students at Penn State. The “perfect storm” erupted when at the same time. Then women’s basketball coach Renee Portland publicly offered that one of her three “training rules” include “no lesbians.” As I was then serving as the women’s softball coach, my vocal disapproval of Coach Portland’s remarks led to my dismissal (see the documentary Training Rules). The Task Force project became my dissertation and the impetus for my life-long research.

Campus Climate for Queer Spectrum and Trans Spectrum People – A Summary

Early literature (1980-1999) indicated a lack of tolerance toward queer and trans spectrum members of the academic community. (For a detailed review of this literature please refer to Rankin, et al. 2010). The research documents that queer and trans spectrum people on campus were subjected to physical and psychological harassment, discrimination, and violence, all of which obstructed achievement of personal, educational, and professional goals. Based on my dissertation work and continued interest in these issues on campus, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) provided me with a small grant to conduct the first national Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) campus climate survey in 2003. The results paralleled those of the earlier studies indicating that 33% of LGBT students experienced some form of harassment, with 11% of respondents indicating they had experienced physical violence enacted on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual identity. The overall climate was described by respondents as “homophobic” and many people indicated that they hid their sexual identity or gender identity to avoid discrimination and harassment. Further, only 5% of participants felt that their colleges addressed issues related to sexual and gender identity.

The queer and trans spectrum research since 2003 has exploded. In a search of articles in education journals with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and or transgender content since 2003, over 6,000 references were cited, many of them focusing on the experiences and perceptions of sexual and gender minorities intersecting with other identities (e.g., race, class, spirituality). However, in 2003 only 99 campuses had offices or centers that focused on the issues and concerns of queer and trans spectrum people. In 2010, that number had risen to 160. With the rise in queer and trans spectrum research and concurrent increase in student services, it was time for a follow-up climate assessment.

My Campus Climate Research Journey

In 2010, with support from Campus Pride, I worked with an amazing team of colleagues that resulted in the 2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People report (Rankin, Blumenfeld, Weber, & Frazer, 2010) Based on the research that underscores the importance of the perception of non-discriminatory environments in achieving positive educational outcomes for students (Aguirre & Messineo, 1997; Flowers & Pascarella, 1999; Whitt, Edison, Pascarella, Terenzini, & Nora, 2001) and to successful personal and professional development of employees (Settles, Cortina, Malley, & Stewart, 2006), the report documents the experiences of nearly 6,000 students, faculty, staff and administrators who identify as queer or trans spectrum at colleges and universities across the United States. The results suggested that queer and trans spectrum students, faculty, and staff experience a climate in higher education that often interferes with their ability to successfully work or learn on campus. One quarter (23%) of queer spectrum staff, faculty, and students reported experiencing harassment (defined as any conduct that has interfered with a person’s ability to work or learn). Almost all participants identified their sexual identity as the basis of the harassment (83%). An even greater percentage of trans spectrum students, faculty, and staff reported experiencing harassment (39%), with 87% identifying their gender identity/expression as the basis for the harassment. Due to this challenging climate, more than half of all faculty, students, and staff hid their sexual identity (43%) or gender identity (63%) to avoid intimidation. The challenging climate had a direct influence on persistence given that one-third of queer-spectrum (33%) and trans-spectrum (38%) students, faculty, and staff have seriously considered leaving their institution. These numbers were significantly higher for queer and trans people of color.

It seems appropriate that my most recent climate assessment was to study the influence of climate on the academic and athletic success of student-athletes. How ironic that the governing body that was silent when I was dismissed for being too vocal about my own “queerness” and the heterosexist environment in sport in 1996 provided a grant, inclusive of questions on sexual identity and gender identity, to study student-athlete experiences. The larger report included an examination of multiple identities and offered significant differences in academic and athletic success for student-athletes based on racial identity, gender identity, sexual identity, divisional status, disability status, and sport (see Rankin et al., 2011). Campus Pride provided a grant to report on the responses of the 401 queer spectrum student-athletes and the 7 trans spectrum student athletes. When examining the academic success of heterosexual student-athletes and queer spectrum student-athletes there were no differences in academic or athletic success. However, when climate is introduced, queer spectrum student-athletes have significantly lower levels of academic success and athletic success than their heterosexual counterparts (Rankin & Merson, 2012).

The intersections of societal climate, campus climate, and the climate in intercollegiate athletics are inextricably tied to my own personal journey. In her analysis of the literature, Renn (2010) called for renewed attention to the selection of thoughtful methods for answering questions about queer spectrum and trans spectrum identities and challenges in substantive ways including the continuation of large-scale studies of campus climate. I am thrilled that the body of knowledge on queer spectrum and trans spectrum is growing both in depth and breadth. I am equally excited that the research on queer and trans spectrum people in academe is continuing and inclusive of the influence of campus climate. For example, Garvey’s 2014 national study on the experiences of queer spectrum and trans spectrum alumnae and Woodford’s 2013 national project examining queer and trans spectrum student success. I am also buoyed by the recent acceptance of queer spectrum and trans spectrum researchers in the higher education profession as evidenced in the Queer Special Interest Group in the American Educational Research Association and the new Queer Scholarship group at the Association for the Study of Higher Education. Our work is no longer in the shadows. Many thanks to those who lit the way. Time to pass the torch.

Discussion Questions

  1. Has your campus conducted a climate assessment inclusive of sexual identity and gender identity questions? If the response is “no”, what are the obstacles to conducting an assessment inclusive of these questions?  If the response is “yes”, what actions were realized (metrically measurable outcome) based on the results of the assessment?
  2. Given the importance of documenting our history, is there an historical account of the queer spectrum and trans spectrum movements on your campus?  If not, what are the challenges to developing an historical time-line of queer and trans spectrum milestone events on your campus?
  3. What actions have you personally taken to ensure that your campus provides a nurturing environment for queer spectrum and trans spectrum students?


Aguirre, A., & Messineo, M. (1997). Racially motivated incidents in higher education: What do they say about the campus climate for minority students? Equity & Excellence in Education, 30(2), 26-30.

Beemyn, G., & Rankin, S. (2011). Lives of Transgender People. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Flowers, L., & Pascarella, E. (1999). Cognitive effects of college racial composition on African American students after 3 years of college. Journal of College Student Development, 40, 669-677.

Grace, A. P., & Hill, R. J. (2004). Positioning queer in adult education: Intervening in politics and praxis in North America. Studies in the Education of Adults, 36(2), 167-189.

Marine, S. B. (2011). Stonewall’s legacy: Bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender student in higher education. ASHE Higher Education Report, 37(4).

Rankin, S. (2003). Campus Climate for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered People: A National Perspective. New York, NY: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute.

Rankin, S., Blumenfeld, W. J., Weber, G. N., & Frazer, S. (2010). State of higher education for LGBT people. Charlotte, NC: Campus Pride.

Rankin, S., & Merson, D. (2012). LGBTQ College Athlete National Report. Charlotte, NC: Campus Pride.

Rankin, S., Merson, D., Sorgen, C., McHale, I., Loya, K., & Oseguera, L. (2011). Student-Athlete Climate Study (SACS) Final Report. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University.

Renn, K. A. (2010). LGBT and queer research in higher education: The state and status of the field. Educational Researcher, 39(2), 10.

Settles, I. H., Cortina, L. M., Malley, J., & Stewart, A. J. (2006). The climate for women in academic science: The good, the bad, and the changeable. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30(1), 47-58.

Tierney, W. G., & Dilley, P. (1998). Constructing knowledge: Educational research and gay and lesbian studies. In W. Pinar (Ed.), Queer theory in education (pp. 49-71). Princeton, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishing.

Whitt, E. J., Edison, M. I., Pascarella, E. T., Terenzini, P. T., & Nora, A. (2001). Influences on students’ openness to diversity and challenge in the second and third years of college. The Journal of Higher Education, 72(2), 172-204.

About the Author

Dr. Sue Rankin retired from the Pennsylvania State University in 2012 where she most recently served as an Associate Professor of Education and Senior Research Associate in the Center for the Study of Higher Education. Over her 36-year tenure at Penn State, Dr. Rankin has presented and published widely on the intersections of identities and the impact of sexism, genderism, racism and heterosexism in the academy and in intercollegiate athletics. Dr. Rankin’s most recent publications include the 2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People, The Lives of Transgender People (2011) and the NCAA Student-Athlete Climate Study (2011). In her consulting work, Dr. Rankin has collaborated with over 120 institutions/organizations in implementing climate assessments and developing strategic initiatives. Dr. Rankin is a founding member of the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals, a network of professionals doing advocacy work for LGBTQ people on college campuses. Dr. Rankin is the recipient of the ACPA 2008 Voice of Inclusion Medallion, an award that recognizes individuals who embody the student affairs values of social justice. In 2013, Dr. Rankin was selected as the ACPA Standing Committee for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Awareness’ Senior Scholar.

Please e-mail inquiries to Sue Rankin.


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.

ACPA & NASPA Annual Conferences: A 30-Year Retrospective on LGBTQ Presentations

ACPA’s Standing Committee for LGBT Awareness began from a collaborative idea at the 1983 convention. More than 30 years later, SCLGBTA is thriving in its commitment to mobilize members of ACPA – College Student Educators International to build community, empower advocacy, and advance knowledge with people of all genders and sexualities. This Developments series celebrates 30 years of LGBTQ issues and identities in student affairs from three perspectives: administration, research, and association. Each essay explores the history and current status of LGBTQ individuals in higher education, providing insights into current and future advocacy.

The inclusion of LGBTQ persons in higher education practices, policies, and support is arguably at its strongest in the history of student affairs.  The influence is undoubtedly indebted to the work of practitioners and scholars who provide an oftentimes-unpopular voice for historically marginalized communities on our college campuses (Marine, 2011).  ACPA – College Student Educators International and NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education are the leading associations that advance the student affairs profession. ACPA’s (2013) mission states that the association supports student learning and development through the generation and dissemination of new knowledge. As described in the 2011-2014 NASPA Strategic Plan (2013), the aim of the association is to support excellence in practice and change the landscape of higher education.

As the two leading associations for student affairs professionals, ACPA and NASPA are in great positions to set standards of practice for LGBTQ scholars and leaders in higher education.  ACPA’s Standing Committee for LGBT Awareness (SCLGBTA) has been officially recognized since 2002. Similarly, NASPA’s GLBT Issues Knowledge Community (GLBTKC) has officially supported LGBTQ scholarship and practitioners since 2006 (Marine, 2011).  The inclusion of LGBTQ identities and research has been a part of these organizations since the 1980s, but as a community of student affairs practitioners and scholars we have not yet identified the growth of these trends over the last 30 years.


The purpose of this study is to examine the trends over the past 30 years for LGBTQ presentations at ACPA and NASPA annual international conferences. The following questions guide our study:

  1. What is the total number of LGBTQ programs that ACPA and NASPA have included in their annual international conferences? What is the percentage of LGBTQ programs for the total program?
  2. Within LGBTQ programs, what percentage are presentations, social, or other types?
  3. Within LGBTQ presentations, what percentages did structural units sponsor? To what extent do structural units within ACPA and NASPA promote or inhibit LGBTQ presentations?

As our conception of LGBTQ identities are becoming more complex we must ensure we are responding with inclusive programs and research to support the LGBTQ communities on our campuses and in the field.  Our findings provide a direction for practitioners and scholars to continue to advance LGBTQ scholarship and programs at future ACPA and NASPA conferences.


Data for this study come from annual international conference program books for ACPA and NASPA from 1984-2013. NASPA and ACPA hosted joint conferences in 1987, 1997, and 2007, of which program books were shared. Program books were mailed from the National Student Affairs Archives at Bowling Green State University.

Upon receiving all program books, we selected programs of all types (presentation, social, other) related to LGBTQ identities and issues. We determined a program involved LGBTQ themes if the abstract and/or title included any of the following words: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, sexuality, sexual orientation, sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, trans*, sexual minority, gender minority, and LGBTQ (in any order). All LGBTQ programs were entered into a shared database where we recorded the association, year, program type, program number, sponsorship, title, abstract, author(s), and author(s) institution(s). We also tracked the total number of programs for each conference.

Our ability to identify LGBTQ-related programs was limited to examining only the program titles and abstracts. It is possible that other programs may have included LGBTQ themes but were not identifiable from the program books.


We first determined the total number of LGBTQ programs that ACPA and NASPA have included in their annual conferences. From these numbers, we calculated the percentage of LGBTQ programs for the total program offering. Figure 1 represents the total number of LGBTQ programs at ACPA and NASPA since 1984. Figure 2 offers the percentage of LGBTQ programs from the total program offerings at both ACPA and NASPA. Throughout 1984-2013, there were a total of 200 LGBTQ-related programs at NASPA. This total represents 2.38% of the total 8,420 programs. Within ACPA, there have been 567 LGBTQ-related programs since 1984. Of the 16,994 total programs, this represents 3.34% of the offerings. Combining both conferences, the total number of LGBTQ-related programs from 1984-2013 was 818, representing 2.98% of all 27,410 programs (including ACPA/NASPA joint conferences in 1987, 1997, and 2007).

Figure 1

Figure 1. Total Number of LGBTQ Programs

Figure 2

Figure 2. Percentage of LGBTQ Programs

We classified all LGBTQ offerings in three broad groupings: presentations, social, or other. Presentations included traditional presentations and workshops, papers, roundtables, posters, extended length programs, pre-conference presentations and workshops, idea breaks, suite programs, symposia, institutes, and panels. Social programs included events, meal outings, cabaret, choir, and receptions. We placed all other programs into a third category (e.g., meetings, facilities, drop-in center, and registration). Figure 3 presents the total percentage of LGBTQ programs by type. Across all LGBTQ programs, there were 590 presentations (72.13%), 60 social (7.33%), and 168 other types (20.54%).

Figure 3

Figure 3. Total Percentage of LGBTQ Programs by Type

To examine the extent with which structural units within ACPA and NASPA promote or inhibit LGBTQ presentations, we determined the percentage of LGBTQ presentations that were sponsored by LGBTQ structural units (e.g., ACPA’s Standing Committee for LGBT Awareness, NASPA’s GLBT Issues Knowledge Community), other structural units (e.g., ACPA’s Standing Committees and Commissions, NASPA’s Knowledge Communities), and those not sponsored. From 1984-2013, 236 LGBTQ presentations (40%) were sponsored by LGBTQ structural units. For the remaining LGBTQ presentations, 52 (8.81%) were sponsored by other structural units, and 302 (51.19%) were not sponsored.

Figure 4

Figure 4. Total Percentage of LGBQT Presentations by Sponsorship


Results from the analyses help to examine the national landscape of ACPA and NASPA in regards to LGBTQ-focused programs. Findings are organized by our research questions and discussed below.

Figure 1 displays the total number of LGBTQ programs from 1984 – 2013. When compared to the independent ACPA and NASPA conferences, there were substantially fewer LGBTQ programs during the joint conferences, particularly during 2007. In recent years, ACPA has increasingly supported a greater number of programs about LGBTQ people. As ACPA serves a large volume of higher education practitioners, the increase in LGBTQ programming may be attributed to a recent focus on LGBTQ people by higher education administrators (Marine, 2011). Findings must be taken with caution because it is not known how many LGBTQ program proposals were submitted in recent years compared to all conference proposals.

ACPA and NASPA programs reflected societal trends of some LGBTQ inclusion in the 1990s (Renn, 2010; Tierney & Dilley, 1998), witnessing a slight decrease in the beginning of the 21st century. This increase in programming in the 1990s may also be attributed to queer theory (Jagose, 1997) as a new theoretical lens to examine LGBTQ student experiences. More attention to services for LGBTQ students may have also created an increase in LGBTQ programs. In the mid- and late-1990s, Ronni Sanlo created the first Lavender Graduation, the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) developed its first LGBT program standards, and the Consortium of LGBT Resource Professionals in Higher Education was founded in 1997. Figure 2 demonstrates that despite ACPA having more total programs than NASPA, both conferences have similar proportions of LGBTQ programs.

Figure 3 outlines the breakdown of LGBTQ programs by type. Given the total number of programs, the amount of presentations overwhelmingly outnumbered social and other program types. These findings illustrate both ACPA and NASPA’s commitment to educational and research-driven support for the LGBTQ community. Social events for the LGBTQ community were not included in early ACPA and NASPA conferences. Inclusion of these events in later years demonstrates the importance of building community among members who identify as LGBTQ.

ACPA’s SCLGBTA and NASPA’s GLBTKC both provide avenues for supporting LGBTQ scholarship-based practice and community among student affairs professionals. Identity- and function-based entities (e.g., Standing Committees, Knowledge Communities, Commissions) have the opportunity to sponsor presentations during the annual conferences. Figure 4 outlines the proportion of LGBTQ presentations sponsored by either SCLGBTA or GLBTKC. Sponsorship by other entities within the last decade is virtually none.

As evidence by Figure 4, LGBTQ presentation sponsorship has decreased dramatically over the last six years. We suggest two possibilities for this trend: (1) the LGBTQ community established a foundation where formal sponsorship and support is no longer needed, or (2) the focus of the LGBTQ sponsorship is narrow and many presentations do not fall under these categories. In the first possibility, it indicates the LGBTQ community is becoming more accepted and there is no longer need to specifically sponsor or support these presentations. Possibility two presents concerns; if sponsored LGBTQ presentations are declining because topics are too narrowly focused, then scholarship and advocacy for LGBTQ students is at risk of becoming isolated and detached from other topics in higher education. Although program sponsorship implies support and promotion for LGBTQ individuals, lack of sponsorship does not necessarily mean inhibiting or lack of support. As such, these findings should be taken with that consideration.


Findings from this study point to important implications for conference proceedings and student affairs practice. Most centrally is the importance of recognizing the substantial increase of LGBTQ programs at both ACPA and NASPA from 1984 to 2013. Such a large growth demonstrates a central priority for LGBTQ people in student services research and practitioner reflection. Given the focus on intersecting identities in the past decade (Abes, Jones, & McEwen, 2007), student affairs presenters must push themselves to embrace a more complex examination of LGBTQ people in higher education. This complexity should acknowledge not only myriad social identities with which people identify, but also the breadth of functional areas in higher education and student affairs.

Findings from our study demonstrate the need to closely examine the role, functioning, and purpose of LGBTQ-related entity groups within ACPA and NASPA. To what extent do they isolate LGBTQ practice reflections and excuse other entities from not promoting similar work? Should these LGBTQ-related entity groups advocate for more program sponsorship? Moving forward, future publications should more closely examine these LGBTQ programs to determine salient and common themes across student affairs practitioner competencies and functional areas.


Both ACPA and NASPA are the leading associations in advancing scholarship and practice within student affairs. Both associations have a central mission for supporting a changing landscape of higher education that facilitates greater understanding of student development and learning. Findings from this study demonstrated the evolution of LGBTQ identities and experiences over the past 30 years for both ACPA and NASPA. Given these findings, it is evident that the profession of student affairs is embracing LGBTQ people in higher education as an integral facet of college and university contexts.  From here, scholars and practitioners can continue to advance LGBTQ inclusion by assessing policies on their campus and continue to advance discussions at ACPA and NASPA that advance our awareness of LGBTQ campus climate, student development, intersecting identities, and important trends among our LGBTQ communities in higher education.

Discussion Questions

  1. Trends indicate greater acceptance of LGBTQ identities at ACPA and NASPA.  How do these trends compare to LGBTQ inclusion on your campus? What areas need support and what resources are needed to implement LGBTQ inclusive change?
  2. How can you promote continued involvement with LGBTQ practices at ACPA and NASPA among colleagues at your institution?  How can you and your campus administrators foster LGBTQ inclusion on your campus to encourage involvement with LGBTQ education and practice?
  3. How might you utilize ACPA and NASPA to support your endeavors to create inclusive spaces on campus? What resources on your campus would you identify to help create more inclusive LGBTQ spaces?


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

ACPA: College Student Educators International (2013). Mission. Retrieved from

Jagose, A.R. (1997). Queer theory: An introduction. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Marine, S. B. (2011). Stonewall’s Legacy: Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender students in higher education: AEHE (Vol. 152). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (2013). Strategic plan. Retrieved from

Renn, K. A. (2010). LGBT and queer research in higher education: The state and status of the field. Educational Researcher, 8(2), 132-141.  doi: 10.3102/0013189X10362579

Tierney, W. G., & Dilley, P. (1998). Constructing knowledge: Educational research and Gay and Lesbian studies. In W. Pinar (Ed.), Queer theory in education (pp. 49-71). Princeton, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishing.

About the Authors

Jason C. Garvey is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy, and Technology Studies at The University of Alabama and a Research Associate with Campus Pride’s Q Research Institute for Higher Education. He is the recipient of the 2014 AERA Queer Studies SIG Scholar-Activist Dissertation of the Year Award. Dr. Garvey’s research explores issues related to campus and classroom climate, philanthropy and fundraising for higher education alumni, and LGBTQ individuals.  Prior to his faculty appointment, he worked in student services across a variety of functional areas, including academic advising, LGBTQ student advocacy, undergraduate research, residence life, and assessment. Dr. Garvey currently serves as Director of Education for the Standing Committee for LGBT Awareness and is on the Commission for Professional Preparation Directorate, both within ACPA.

Please e-mail inquiries to Jason C. Garvey.

Jonathan T. Pryor is a doctoral candidate of Higher Education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Missouri.  He also serves as the Coordinator for LGBTQIA Programs & Services at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where his work focuses on LGBTQ education, outreach, resources, and student development.  Jonathan’s research explores LGBTQ campus climate and student leadership and experiences of LGBTQ students.   

Please e-mail inquiries to Jonathan T. Pryor.

Shonteria Johnson is a doctoral student in the Higher Education program in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy, and Technology Studies at The University of Alabama. She currently serves as a Doctoral Research Assistant for the Higher Education program.

Please e-mail inquiries to Shonteria Johnson.


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

How to Support the GLBTQIA Community as an Open Christian

Jonathan Ross, Lyndon State College

Higher education professionals who identify as Christian often face a difficult crossroads between two seemingly opposed viewpoints.  Traditionally, Christian values have been touted as anti-GLBTQIA (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, and Allies).  As a new professional and “Open Christian” (someone who is open about their faith), there were doubts and assumptions made about me that I would not be an advocate for GLBTQIA individuals when joining my campus community.  There were several things I needed to learn in order to overcome the predisposition of what being an open Christian meant, especially as it related to my ability to advocate and support the GLBTQIA community.  The purpose of this article is to share my perspective in a way that will give other Christian professionals insight into this topic and provide space for personal reflection.

Christianity has long been seen as opposing the GLBTQIA community (Heermann, Wiggins, & Rutter, 2007).  This perception hinders the ability of student affairs professionals who are open Christians to advocate for GLBTQIA students.  Pastors and theologians have focused mainly on early Christian biblical literature about homosexuality and, perhaps, narrow interpretations of the Bible when forming their viewpoints.  They have demonstrated little awareness of constructive proposals by lesbian/gay and queer theologians (Lowe, 2009).

Reverends Hagler and Clark (2010) have reviewed the common arguments against GLBTQIA ordination and Church inclusion.  They make the argument that homosexuality is not an abomination, not the sin of Sodom, not like incest, not pedophilia or bestiality, or even dangerous, unhealthy or unnatural.  They argue that male or female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, how we are born, who we are politically, socially organized, or our economic status: these factors do not have any influence on our status as children of God in Christ (Hagler & Clark, 2010).  This notion of all being children of God also extends to GLBTQIA individuals.  Regardless of how one views the texts that make up the base of Christianity, criticism from gay and lesbian theologians has been insightful in explaining the complex relationships between Christianity and GLBTQIA individuals.  Such criticism draws attention to potential marginalization in Christianity toward students based on sexual biases (Jones, 2009).

Overcoming this marginalization, by seeing everyone as a creation of their spiritual deity, is a challenge all religious and spiritual student affairs practitioners need to face.  Refusal to view all other people, especially marginalized people, as created in the image of God results in severe negative consequences.  Advocating for these marginalized students presents an opportunity for Christians to delve deeper into religious literacy to find the inner meaning of religion.  Jones (2009) states that such a philosophy promises to help bridge destructive divisions, bridging them not by eliding or ignoring the real differences that do exist, but by working to situate those differences in a more productive narrative frame.

Perhaps Christians have more in common with the GLBTQIA community than not.  Christianity and GLBTQIA traditions are similar in the way that they both invoke narratives as a foundation of their identity (Jones, 2009).  Christians and GLBTQIA individuals both have a symbolic example of their identity in the conversion stories of their respective societies.  The coming out story is that symbolic example, whether it is coming to God or coming out about one’s sexuality (Jones, 2009).  Christian theology is narratively shaped with an emphasis on personal conversion. Christian individuals see their converted life as having its source and pattern in the life of Christ.  Similarly, in gay and lesbian communities, coming out stories have long functioned in epistemologically and ethically foundational ways (Jones, 2009).  In this light, higher education professionals have a commonality with GLBTQIA individuals, which can be used to build relationships.  One’s coming-to-Jesus moments are a lot like coming out for the first time.  The self-actualization of one’s true beliefs and feelings can be similarly conceptualized.

Higher education professionals should be aware of the emotional and psychological challenges they may need to overcome regarding GLBTQIA issues in order to be effective campus leaders.  Equality and inclusion are central tenets of all student affairs professionals, regardless of religious or other personal beliefs (Bresciani & Todd, 2010).  Roper (2005) believes that personal awareness and openness are key characteristics of positive leadership on the part of student affairs administrators. He states that awareness is improved by exploring the attitudes and values that have shaped one’s worldview.  Personal awareness and openness allow us to be cognizant of how our worldview influences how we act toward others.  Student affairs leaders should first explore the backgrounds of their lives to identify incidents and episodes that enhance or impair their ability to lead in a manner that is supportive of GLBTQIA students (Roper, 2005).  As professionals dedicated to building community at our institutions, those in student affairs should fully participate in the GLBTQIA community—in celebration, reflection, and grieving experiences—as opportunities arise on our campuses.  Students count on these professionals for support.  Therefore, GLBTQIA students should be able to count on student affairs administrators to be present at the events in which their growth and development is critical.

Student affairs professionals must be aware of the consequences of discrimination, including threats/harm, mental health symptoms, academic implications, and health risks of GLBTQIA students.  Not knowing the risks and harm that can potentially come to these students may leave professionals incapable of helping this particularly vulnerable campus constituency.  Sexual minority youth are significantly more likely than their heterosexual peers to miss school because of fear: to be threatened with a weapon at school, to have property damaged at school, and to have forced sexual contact against their will (Wolff & Himes, 2010).  While bullying and harassment are serious concerns regardless of the victim, students who identify as GLBTQIA may feel especially isolated and unable to seek help.  The dangers that GLBTQIA students face are serious and real.  They may feel pressured to keep struggles secret from their communities and are more likely to seek out social and romantic relationships through discreet and accessible venues such as GLBTQIA bars, clubs, and Web sites (Wolff & Himes, 2010), which can be dangerous.  Furthermore, studies have demonstrated that sexual minority youth in states that have constitutional amendments against same-sex unions are more likely to experience depressive symptoms and generalized anxiety (Wolff & Himes, 2010).  In order for higher education professionals to be effective leaders, we must recognize and react to these potential dangers.

There are numerous opportunities for Christians at institutions of higher education to begin to offer love and support to GLBTQIA students.  As Christians, it is within our faiths to stand against persecution and advocate for those who have been discriminated against.  It is also important to begin to make the necessary changes that will foster a campus climate of grace and compassion for our GLBTQIA brothers and sisters.  One particular way to create this type of environment is to make offices safe spaces for all students.  Taking steps such as using symbols of GLBTQIA support, can help professionals create an atmosphere of support.  Staff visibility at GLBTQIA pride events, social events, meetings, and training programs can show students that higher education professionals support them.  Further, sharing religious narratives with students, as they relate to their own stories, is another step towards supporting GLBTQIA students.

In conclusion, compassion and understanding are the most effective instruments in supporting GLBTQIA students and in combating perceived Christian prejudice.  Upholding the Christian values of unconditional love and renunciation of violence can help professionals overcome personal biases and advocate for equality and inclusion in the campus community.  Both Christians and GLBTIQIA students have a shared story on coming out to our faith and true selves.  Student affairs administrators need to be aware of the hardships that all students may face and to help them through those hardships.  There are ways that Christians can support others, even if they are not fully accepting of their differences.  If beliefs are contradictory to a Christian’s lifestyle, it is not for professionals to persecute those beliefs, but rather to befriend the individuals and advocate for them.  If Christians can accomplish this, then the field of student affairs will be more progressive in helping GLBTQIA students lead safer, healthier, and more fulfilling lives.

Discussion Questions

1.How does the GLBTQIA community view open Christians on your campus?  To what extent does that view impact their relationship with student affairs leaders?

2.What partnerships can you build upon to strengthen the relationships between the non-GLBTQIA Christian, non-Christian GLBTQIA, and Christian GLBTQIA communities?

3.How can we engage participants to find mutual ground for compassion and advocacy?


Bresciani, M., & Todd, M. (2010). Professional competency areas for student affairs practitioners. Retrieved from

Hagler, D., & Clark, A. (2010). A Resource on GLBTQ Ordination. Network News, 30(4), 9-15.

Heermann, M., Wiggins, M., & Rutter, P. (2007). Creating a space for spiritual practice: Pastoral possibilities with sexual minorities. Pastoral Psychology, 55, 711-721.

Jones, N. W. (2009). The challenge of Christianity for gay and lesbian criticism—and vice versa. Christianity & Literature, 58(2), 238-243.

Lowe, M. (2009). Gay, lesbian, and queer theologies: origins, contributions, and challenges. Dialog: A Journal of Theology, 48(1), 49-61.

Roper, L. D. (2005). The role of senior student affairs officers in supporting LGBT students: Exploring the landscape of one’s life. New Directions For Student Services, 111, 81-88.

Wolff, J. R., & Himes, H. L. (2010). Purposeful exclusion of sexual minority youth in Christian higher education: The implications of discrimination. Christian Higher Education, 9(5), 439-460.

About the Author

Jonathan Ross is a Residence Hall Director/Programming and Community Service Coordinator at Lyndon State College.  Previously, he was a Graduate Hall Director at New England College, where he received his Master’s in Higher Education Administration.  He received his Bachelor’s in Interdisciplinary Music Business from Plymouth State University.  Currently, his responsibilities at Lyndon consist of residential programming, the Community Service Learning program, as well as direct responsibility for four co-ed housing facilities.  Jonathan’s research interests include equity and inclusion, specifically on supporting ethnic diversity at small schools. 

Please e-mail inquiries to Jonathan Ross.


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.