More than another affirmative action case: Laws that suppress racial minority voices

More than another affirmative action case: Laws that suppress racial minority voices

Jeffrey C. Sun
University of North Dakota


On March 25, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that in its new term beginning in October 2013, it would review another affirmative action case, Schuette v. Michigan Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action (BAMN).1 The plaintiffs in this case are a group of faculty members, prospective students, and then current students at the University of Michigan along with a group known as the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). The organization leading the suit is often referred to as BAMN, which is an acronym constructed from the last four letters of the organization’s name. Could it be true? Two affirmative action cases within two years? Just last year, Neal Hutchens (2012) wrote in Developments about a then-upcoming case, Fisher v. University of Texas. In October 2012, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the Fisher case, which questions the use of race in college admissions for applicants who are not admitted based on their standing in the top 10% of their high school class. However, the Fisher case and those that preceded it faced a different line of legal analysis than what the upcoming BAMN case presents.

Previous Affirmative Action Cases

To recap from Hutchens’ (2012) article, several U.S. Supreme Court cases precede Fisher. In Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), the Court provided three key legal lessons for higher education administrators. First, an admissions practice that uses a separate evaluation system (e.g., a separate evaluation committee and criteria) for minority applicants is impermissible. Second, a quota system based on race (i.e., a predetermined number of slots for racial minorities) is impermissible. Third, individualized applicant reviews, which are not based on a predetermined number of slots, may use race among one of many factors such as plus-point for racial minorities.

Then in 2003, the Court made clear from both Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger that race may be factored into admissions decisions with some limitations. According to Gratz (2003), we learned that awarding points for race is not acceptable when such a point system essentially places race as the decisive factor, not one of many factors of an overall applicant’s review. Grutter (2003) clarified the parameters further, stating: “Universities can, however, consider race or ethnicity more flexibly as a ‘plus’ factor in the context of individualized consideration of each and every applicant” (p. 334). In that case, the school’s use of race as a plus factor was part of an evaluation system that reviewed applications in a highly individualized, holistic process, so the use of race was clearly not a decisive factor. Stated another way, the Grutter case also informed higher education administrators that diversity may serve as a compelling interest. The opinion indicated that courts should defer to the University’s educational judgment as to whether diversity “is essential to its educational mission” (Grutter, 2003, p. 328). Thus, educational institutions have some levels of professional decision-making. Finally, Gratz emphasized that these policies emerge under protections from the 14th Amendment, which applies to public colleges,2 and from Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race in educational programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. Title VI applies to public and private colleges that receive federal financial assistance – which includes all public colleges and nearly all private colleges. Thus, these decisions are quite important to everyone in higher education.

The New Case

Before and after Gratz and Grutter, selected states started to pass bans prohibiting the use of race as a criterion for admission into public colleges. In November 2006, the state of Michigan joined three other states in passing a legal ban on race conscious admissions policies. In Michigan, the electorate voted through a state referendum, which is often referred to as Proposal 2, to ban race conscious admissions policies. Proposal 2 actually blocks the use of race and other factors in state operations, but the critical application here is the use of race for college admissions. In this case, the BAMN group got together and filed suit to contest the constitutionality of this state law. The defendants include the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, and the State of Michigan.3

In 2008, a district court judge ruled on several motions about the case (BAMN, 2008). At that time, the judge ruled in favor of the State of Michigan finding no Equal Protection violation from Proposal 2. The plaintiffs appealed. In 2011, the Sixth Circuit for the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s decision. That appellate panel ruled 2-1 that Proposal 2 provisions pertaining to higher education impermissibly alter the political process for racial minorities, thus making it illegal under the Equal Protection Clause (BAMN, 2011). Later, the whole Sixth Circuit panel decided to hear the case. In an 8-7 decision, the court upheld the ruling that Proposal 2 is unconstitutional. These decisions are held without any action until the Supreme Court decides the case.

In analyzing the BAMN case, the appellate courts referred to the political restructuring doctrine, which addresses the non-neutral allocation of power that places special burdens on racial minorities within the governmental process. To determine if the policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, the court applied the political restructuring framework asking: (1) does the law have a racial focus targeting a policy of program that primarily benefits minorities, and (2) does the law reallocate political power or reorder the decision-making process in such a way that it places special burdens on minority groups to achieve their policy interests?

For the first prong, the court recognized that Proposal 2 has a racial focus in targeting the elimination of race conscious policies. For the second prong, the court examined two sub-parts: the political power and the special burdens on minorities. The court established that relevant admissions procedures are part of the political process. Noting the state of Michigan’s procedures for changing the admissions policies, the court observed that Michigan has elected governing boards, who set admissions policies. While responsibilities for day-to-day activities reside with campus administrators, the board exercises ultimate authority over admissions policies “making the policies themselves part of the political process” (BAMN, 2012, p. 482). As a noteworthy distinction, the court indicated that if the board did not have power and the control rested with the “politically unaccountable faculty members or admissions committees,” then the law would have had little impact on the political process and not met the second prong (BAMN, 2012, p. 480). Since the board had the authority and the law reordered the decision-making process, the court next conducted a comparative structural burden analysis. That is, it compared the political channels required to seek an admissions policy change. Table 1 displays the court’s tracing of the steps for a non-race admissions policy change and a race conscious admissions policy change.

Table 1: Comparing the Political Process

Non-Race Admissions Policy Change Race Conscious Admission Policy Change
[A] citizen interested in admissions policies benefitting legacy applicants—sons and daughters of alumni of the university—may lobby the admissions committees directly, through written or in-person communication. He may petition higher administrative authorities at the university, such as the dean of admissions, the president of the university, or the university’s board. He may seek to affect the election—through voting, campaigning, or other means—of any one of the eight board members whom the individual believes will champion his cause and revise admissions policies accordingly. And he may campaign for an amendment to the Michigan Constitution (BAMN, 2012, p. 484). [T]he campaign for a constitutional amendment—is the sole recourse available to a Michigan citizen who supports enacting such policies. That citizen must now begin by convincing the Michigan electorate to amend its constitution—an extraordinarily expensive process and the most arduous of all the possible channels for change. Just to place a proposed constitutional amendment repealing Proposal 2 on the ballot would require either the support of two-thirds of both the Michigan House of Representatives and Senate…or the signatures of a number of voters equivalent to at least ten percent of the number of votes cast for all candidates for governor in the preceding general election. Once on the ballot, the proposed amendment must then earn the support of a majority of the voting electorate to undo Proposal 2’s categorical ban. After this successful constitutional amendment campaign, the citizen could finally approach the university—by petitioning the admissions committees or higher administrative authorities—to request the adoption of race-conscious admissions policies. By amending the Michigan Constitution to prohibit university admissions units from using even modest race-conscious admissions policies, Proposal 2 thus removed the authority to institute any such policy from Michigan’s universities and lodged it at the most remote level of Michigan’s government, the state constitution (BAMN, 2012, p. 484).

Based on the analysis, which I placed in Table 1, the court concluded that racial minority students face the highest possible barrier to enact change compared to other non-race policies. In light of the review of the Michigan’s Proposal 2 to the two-prong test, the court ruled in favor of BAMN. The State Attorney General Bill Schuette filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and on March 25, 2013 the Court granted a hearing.

Not Just Another Affirmative Action Case

Following the March 25, 2013 announcement of the Supreme Court’s upcoming review of BAMN, I heard and received emails from colleagues across the nation referencing this case as “another affirmative action case” on college admissions. I suppose that it may seem that way. Even Inside Higher Ed and the Washington Times headlined the news as “another affirmative action case” (Jaschik, 2013; Sherman, 2013). Similarly, on the front page of the Chronicle of Higher Education (2013), it highlighted the story as “Affirmative Action at Issue Once More” (p. A1). Sure, the case is about the contested Michigan referendum, which prohibits the use of race in college admissions, but as many thorough reporters such as Scott Jaschik (2013), Peter Schmidt (2013), and Mike Sherman (2013) made clear, this case is unlike past affirmative action cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. The issue in this case is not simply about whether diversity is a constitutionally permissible factor in admissions at public colleges. Instead, this case questions the constitutionality of the state referendum as a legal mechanism barring individuals based on race from taking action on their behalf. More specifically, this case is about whether the Michigan ban on affirmative action unfairly blocks access to racial minorities from being able to participate in the political process in such a burdensome manner that they cannot achieve their policy interests. Put simply, it’s not just about affirmative action in college admissions; it’s about the constitutional conceptions of fairness within the political process for racial minorities to enact change without special burdens.


This case is significant for several reasons.

1. Two federal appellate courts disagree.
The circumstances in the BAMN case resemble one from 1997. In that case, Coalition for Economic Equity v. Wilson, the plaintiffs contested the 1996 California referendum (also known as Proposition 209) that also banned race and gender-conscious policies in public operations such as college admissions at all of its public colleges or universities. Except, in the California referendum case, the Ninth Circuit for the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the State of California and was not persuaded by the political restructuring argument. In BAMN the Sixth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, who argued that banning race violated the minorities’ equal protection through the law.

2. Judicial value of diversity and minority rights might be illuminated.
We have a better sense about the legal value of diversity in college admissions. In the 2003 Grutter case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that race is permissible as a factor for admission when applications are reviewed in a highly individualized, holistic manner. Depending on the statements made and the analytic approach, observers may have a better sense of where the Court stands on issues pertaining to minorities’ rights and the Court’s appreciable understanding of the high barriers for minorities with such laws. This insight is especially important in light of the changes in the Court’s composition4 since we last had an announced affirmative action decision.5

3. Eight state bans on affirmative action already exist.
There are eight states (AZ, CA, FL, MI, NE, NH, OK, and WA) with bans on affirmative action, and while those bans do not necessarily have the same set of facts to match this case, it’s quite possible that whatever happens in this case will alter the status of those bans. Further, there are states that are considering bans on affirmative action or may consider such bans depending on this case’s outcome.

4. State referenda challenges for other matters, besides race, may emerge.
This case is as much (and even more so) about state referenda as it is about affirmative action. A decision on this case may clarify the legal limits of state referenda. Scott Jaschik (2013) conveys quite well the connection between the Michigan Proposal 2 matter with other state referenda such as “California’s Proposition 8, which barred gay marriage in the state” (p. 1). As Jaschik and others rightly observe, these cases share legal issues about the denial of rights to selected individuals when a majority comes in to set the high standard for the insulated minorities to exercise their rights. Viewed another way, we may have a better understanding of political process and civil rights.

Immediate Action

With the conflict between the Ninth Circuit’s decision regarding California’s Proposition 209 and the Sixth Circuit’s decision regarding Michigan’s Proposal 2, the U.S. Supreme Court will need to determine how to analyze this case. It is quite likely that the Court may examine the same two prongs that the Sixth Circuit used.

In preparation for that application, student affairs professionals at public colleges and universities, particularly those with state referenda (i.e., AZ, CA, MI, NE, OK), should be evaluating and reporting the process in which students and other state citizens may enact changes to admissions policies. I strongly recommend that public colleges and universities, led by student affairs professionals, construct a committee to gather the data and lead such actions. The committee should analyze the process for a non-race-conscious policy and a race-conscious policy. Specifically, student affairs professionals should conduct a comparative structural burden analysis asking if a state ban does or would reorder the decision-making process and describe the expense, length, and complexity of each process. After collecting and analyzing data, the committee should write an internal report or a publicly disseminated white paper on the findings and recommendations.

Discussion Questions

  • Does your state have, or has it discussed, a law that bans consideration of race or gender from state operations, including college admissions?
  • Describe your current process in making admissions policies. When discussing the process, speak in terms of expense, length, and complexity of each process. What are the mechanisms or opportunities in which students, particularly racial minorities, may take to enact changes to the admissions policy?
  • How might you educate students about the notion of barriers in the law for racial minorities and other insulated minority groups?
  • What state level bans have been entertained or passed in your state (e.g., English only materials from state agencies, prohibiting gay marriage, barring undocumented students from enrollment or in-state tuition)?


  1. The full name of the Respondent in this case is Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). The organization is often referred to as BAMN, which is an acronym constructed from the last four letters of the organization’s name.
  2. For purposes of this article, the term “colleges” refers to colleges and universities.
  3. The State of Michigan established the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University with different authority and control, so each of those institutions have their own boards and maintain greater autonomy than the other colleges and universities in the State. The other colleges and universities in Michigan follow a different board model governed directly by the State.
  4. Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from this case. Her recusal is likely because of her conflicts arising from previous role as U.S. Solicitor General.
  5. Of course, we will also find out soon the status of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.


Coalition for Economic Equity v. Wilson, 122 F.3d 692 (9th Cir. 1997).

Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action v. Regents of the Univ. of Mich., 539 F. Supp.2d 924 (E.D. Mich. 2008). [BAMN, 2008]

Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action v. Regents of the Univ. of Mich., 652 F.3d 607 (6th Cir. 2011). [BAMN, 2011]

Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action v. Regents of the Univ. of Mich., 701 F.3d 466 (6th Cir. 2012) (en banc). [BAMN, 2012]

Daniels, P. T. K., Gee, E. G., Sun, J. C., & Pauken, P. D. (2012). Law, policy, and higher education. New Providence, NJ: Matthew Bender & Company (LexisNexis).

Fisher v. Univ. of Tex. at Austin, 631 F.3d 213 (5th Cir. 2011) cert. granted, 132 S.Ct. 1536 (2012).

Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244 (2003).

Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003).

Hunter v. Erickson, 393 U.S. 385 (1969).

Hutchens, N. H. (2012). Supreme Court to revisit issue of race as a factor in higher education admissions. Developments, 10(2), Retrieved from…

Jaschik, S. (2013, Mar. 26). Another affirmative action case. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from…

Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978).

Schmidt, P. (2013, Apr. 5). Supreme Court to look at Michigan’s ban on race-conscious admissions. Chronicle of Higher Education, p. A14.

Sherman, M. (2013, Mar. 25). Supreme Court to hear another affirmative-action case. Washington Times. Retrieved from…

Washington v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, 458 U.S. 457 (1982).

About the Author

Jeffrey C. Sun is an associate professor of educational leadership/higher education and affiliate associate professor of law at the University of North Dakota. He teaches and writes about legal issues pertaining to higher education.

Please e-mail inquiries to Jeffrey C. Sun.


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

From the President: Convention Address

From the President: Convention Address

Kathleen Kerr
ACPA President
University of Delaware

Hello ACPA-College Student Educators International and happy summer. This is my first opportunity to contribute to Developments as ACPA President so I’ve decided to share with you an edited version of my Presidential Address, delivered at the ACPA Annual Business Meeting in Las Vegas in March. It’s a speech that I spent my entire Vice Presidential year considering, as it articulates my view of the Association, and where I believe we should go in the next 10 years, when we will turn 100 years old. The full address can be found on the ACPA website.

Presidential Address

I’ve learned a lot this year, serving as ACPA Vice President. I was determined to learn the Association’s history, study our current state of being, and ponder what is next for us. In this column, I will share with you some of my insights about our past, our present, and our future.

Along the way though, I also learned that in Wisconsin, you serve milk with every meal; in Minnesota there is no cold weather, just bad clothing choices; in North Carolina, you’ll find an airport with the best rocking chairs; and in New Jersey, the innovative spirit is alive and well. I learned that Wi-Fi on a plane is a godsend and parenting by text message can be quite effective. I also learned that Hawaiian sunsets can only be matched by Hawaiian sunrises, and it is worth the early hours, and good for the soul to make sure you are sitting on the edge of the ocean to see as many sunsets and sunrises as you possibly can. Wisdom.

I’ll never forget when I was in my second year of graduate school at Indiana University; I was talking to my father about my impending job search. At the time, he was the Dean of Students at Ocean County College in Toms River, New Jersey (yes, I am one of the few people who has a parent who has understood for my entire career what I do for a living). He offered me three pieces of advice:

  1. Never forget your foundational training in counseling and use it in every setting possible.
  2. Remember there are more than two sides to every story, more like 5 or 6 sides.
  3. Pick your battles wisely and decide first if it’s a penny fight, a nickel fight, a dime fight, or if it’s worth a quarter.

Advice shared with me by a man who was mentored by Betty Greenleaf and Bob Shaffer (two student affairs pioneers). Those words have served me well for almost a quarter of a century. Wisdom.

As we turn 90, we must look forward. David Starr Jordan, an educator, peace activist, and past President of my alma mater, Indiana University, once said, “Wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it.” So we need to ask ourselves some very important questions: What will we accomplish before we turn 100? How will we be leaders in higher education in the 21st century? How are we determined to distinguish ourselves? How will we make thoughtful and intentional choices to move forward in ways that allow us to be both knowledgeable in our old age, and virtuous? Wisdom.

Let me be clear. The responsibility to articulate a vision for our future does not rest in my hands. As I was thinking about our future, I spent a lot of time thinking about the ACPA 2013 to 2016 Strategic Plan, approved by the Governing Board in September 2012. It resonates with the voices of our members, with your voice. Authored by the Governing Board and International Office staff, but only after we hosted dozens of meet ups, we collected input via the membership survey, and we spoke with past ACPA Presidents. The Strategic Plan was then vetted by our assembly and entity group leaders, and modified once again. It reflects this Association’s current collective wisdom.

The six strategic priority areas reflected in it will sound familiar to you:

  • Career Development;
  • Professional Development;
  • Leadership in Higher Education;
  • Social Justice;
  • Research & Scholarship; and
  • Association Performance and Excellence.

They are familiar because they are foundational to who we have been, who we are, and who we will continue to be. They are strategic because within the plan we have articulated goals and strategies that are innovative, brave, and exciting. These steps will expand and enhance the strength of the Association, help us to better meet member needs & better serve students on our campuses.

Some work is already underway.

This winter, the ACPA Innovation Advocate selected Innovation Team members and together they have identified the first recipients of ACPA Innovation Grants, intended to support projects that are innovative, improve the effectiveness of ACPA, and support its strategic goals and objectives.

At this convention, we have launched the ACPA Involvement Team (ITeam) to increase member involvement in the Association.

We have launched a Policy Advocacy Task Force to quarterly review salient issues in higher education and student affairs, and identify strategies for ACPA policy advocacy and leadership.

Hopefully many of you had the opportunity to participate in conversations in Las Vegas about the progress of the Credentialing Implementation Team. This group is preparing to launch a pilot Registry that allows participants to monitor and reflect upon their professional development and will decide on next steps for this project in the coming months.

The ACPA Sustainability Advisory Committee has been revitalized and will promote and support sustainability education and sustainable policies and practices throughout the entire Association.

Utilizing technology, we have expanded a mentorship program in which relationships are formed and focus on professional and career enhancement via #SAGrow.

But there is much more that we must do:

  • We must find better ways to connect with our international colleagues and be better prepared to serve the international students on our own campuses.
  • In light of the increasing challenges many of us face on our campuses around student mental health issues and certainly in light of the national debate around gun control and mental health, we must provide leadership and education to our members in this area and we will utilize this year’s ACPA Think Tank to do so.
  • Before we are reacting to it, we must consider the implications of what has become the omnipresent opportunity for online learning.
  • We must reinvent our annual convention and other professional development offerings so that they are educationally inspiring, energizing, and distinct. We will offer you that in Indianapolis in 2014. For those of you in the Mid-Atlantic Region, I invite you to join us for an institute we are calling “ACPA Vision Day 2013,” which will take place on the University of Delaware’s campus in October, at which we will explore issues of leadership and innovation in higher education in the 21st century.
  • We must create vital, accessible, and affordable professional development opportunities connected to our professional competencies for all levels of experience and articulate pathways for member professional and career enhancement.
  • Since faculty members are a critical constituency within the association both as professionals with substantial knowledge and skills to contribute in the areas of research and scholarship and as mentors to the next generation of student affairs professionals, we must continue to find exciting ways to engage and support our faculty colleagues.
  • We must partner with other Associations in order to enhance the professional development options for our members and to broaden our leadership platform.

We must do these things, and we will do these things, not because these are my Presidential initiatives; they are not. We will do them because our 90 years have brought us to a place where we understand their importance, and we understand our obligation and ability to lead. Amazingly, my father’s advice from 23 years ago applies to us as an Association as much as it did to me in graduate school. We must move forward remembering our foundation; we must remember to always consider multiple perspectives; and we must choose our battles wisely. Our new strategic plan does this. Wisdom.

As George Bernard Shaw said, “We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.”

It is fitting that 90 is the granite anniversary. Granite: solid, valuable, beautiful. But we must not confuse our solid foundation with rigidity, staleness, or an inability to be nimble or innovative.

In fact, having a solid foundation, knowing our core values – that we are committed to research and scholarship, professional development, social justice, equity, inclusion, member involvement, career development, and quality member services and experiences – this allows us a sort of freedom. It allows us to reinvent ourselves on top of that foundation. Reinvent our convention; reinvent our professional development; reinvent our place in higher education.

There is a poem about the freedom that comes with age, “Warning,” by Jenny Joseph. It starts like this, “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple. With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me. And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves. And satin sandals…”

This poem is about the confidence that comes from knowing who you are and your place in the world. Knowing what to care about, what to attend to, and what to leave behind. It’s about wisdom. 90 years old. This is our opportunity to wear more purple. To innovate and to reinvent ourselves. We are granite, we are wise, we are ACPA.

Please e-mail inquiries to Kathleen Kerr .

Follow Kathleen on Twitter @acpaprez

Update of the ACPA Ethics Committee

Update of the ACPA Ethics Committee

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

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

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

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

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

Members of the Code of Ethics Consortium include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Women As Faculty: Managing Conflict with Grace and Confidence

Women As Faculty: Managing Conflict with Grace and Confidence

Karen D. Crozier
Fresno Pacific University

In celebration of our 40th Anniversary, members of the Standing Committee for Women are pleased to sponsor a Series in Developments. Our Series, “Women As,” explores how women’s intersecting identities (race, class, gender expression and performance, sexuality, religion, etc.) impact women’s experiences in different roles. Thus, authors share their ideas as women who are leaders, faculty, caregivers, and/or students. In support of a feminist approach to research and learning, articles will reflect an array of insights including practical strategies, research findings, lessons learned, arts-based research, visual inquiry, narrative inquiry, and reflections. We encourage you to utilize the discussion questions included in each article to stimulate your thinking and enhance your work in the classroom and/or workplace.

Managing Conflict with Grace and Confidence was the title of the training I led for a cohort of women leaders in the field of health and human services. In preparing to assist these women leaders, I developed a poem with the same title, Managing Conflict with Grace and Confidence, which I dedicated to them. The poem was received with great joy and amazement. The women leaders were astounded by how the poem spoke to them both individually and collectively. It captured their experience in a clear, succinct manner. I, too, was in awe of my ability to develop such a life-giving poem without knowing the group, and only having experienced one telephone conversation with the director of the cohort. In the process of developing the poem, I knew that the Divine was present, speaking words of healing and hope regardless of the women’s diverse religious or non-religious backgrounds. The participants seemed free to receive the poem regardless of their perspective regarding transcendent reality.

In this article, I offer you—the reader—the poem and my reflections on two guiding questions: What does managing conflict with grace and confidence mean to you? How do you manage conflict with grace and confidence? Before I share my poem, however, I feel it is important to describe the context—or social location—out of which I work. As an African American female in higher education who is also an ordained minister, I seek to be aware of the relationships between the physical, meta-physical, and the inner and outer worlds. Faith in a personal Divine being who is active in redeeming and restoring the various forms of injustices and oppression in the world informs my leadership. The spiritual resources on which I draw to lead, to engage, and to serve strengthen my walk in integrity and humility. As you read the poem, I invite you to reflect upon how you can live and speak your truth.

Managing Conflict with Grace and Confidence

I have learned how to be with the suffering and the pain

That comes from the numerous, varied oppressive systems and forces

That can derail and cause toxins that impact my psychic, physical, and

spiritual well-being

The depths of darkness I have engaged so that I will not internalize the bitterness

and shame

New eyes and renewed vision are given for the journey as I learn to find beauty

and depth amidst what far too many others tend to dismiss

Fear is held at bay so as not to consume the moment because the night vision is

necessary in order to move forward

Within the injustices, inequities, and multiple institutional atrocities, darkness is

present as both a negative and a positive

Far too many of God’s precious little ones are annihilated, denied and deprived

from life-giving conditions and opportunities

This negative darkness prevails and clouds our vision to see the depth, the beauty

of darkness, and the greatness of dark-hued peoples’ contributions

Oh the depth and rich density of the positive aspects of what can be revealed as

we learn to SEE and BE in, through, and beyond darkness

We as the human race are taught to fear darkness of both people and places

while failing to realize there are times when darkness is luminous

Lighting a path to our deliverance and peace, increasing our ability to engage


In the darkness, through the darkness, and beyond the darkness we as women

must lead while navigating and negotiating places and spaces in ways that

ushers one and all into new forms of our humanity

Distractions abound, but they do not represent the substance of who and what

matters in our leadership

When managing conflict with grace and confidence

We have a growing sense of purpose of privileging people over product and

service, or understanding the inextricable connection between caring for

people in the quality of our service or product

The politics of funding continue to hound especially in the time when greed and

hoarding abounds

We are challenged to find a way of redefining our relationships in more

redemptive ways

As we allow our voice, our vision, our values along with our team create fresh,

innovative revenue streams that allows for your creative juices to flow

instead of bowing and bending to funders who want all of the control

Self-sustaining is the new buzz word while failing to realize how we will always

need one another

Managing this particular conflict can leave one weary, tired, and worn

Yet interconnectedness and interdependency facilitates creative, imaginative

possibilities and proper awareness of the beautiful gifts and talents that

exist in the human family

Competition at times can help us rise to new heights and horizons

However, far too often, we find ourselves battling for crumbs amongst our sisters

and brothers

Competition does not have to negate the principle of our interconnected,

relational nature

When we realize one agency or organization does not have a monopoly on

serving and caring for the masses of humanity

The needs are great yet traps exist to box us in from responding to the deep

yearnings and pleas

Frank Lloyd Wright (2004), a 20th century pioneer in architecture once said, “We

have been too tolerant of re-form. It is true form we should now

be seeking” (p. 124).

Taking poetic license to build on Wright’s quote, I want to encourage you to be

True to your form when designing new structures for all of humanity to

dwell in health and abundant well-being

True to your form in grace and confidence knowing you have a wealth of

knowledge to share

True to your form through the valleys and over the hills persevering yet celebrating the milestones accomplished

True to your form in your UNIQUENESS yet keenly aware of not being


As you grow in being true to your form you will learn how to elicit the true

form in others with grace and confidence

fear will subside and trust will abide as you make internal and

external connections that constantly birth new life

As you can see this is not easy work, but one thing is for sure you have what

it takes

Go forth and manage conflict with grace and confidence because the world is

in need of such women leaders as you!!

In my brief introduction about my faith and spirituality, I alluded to how I manage conflict with grace and confidence. At this time, I would like to expound upon a particular, personal conflict in my leadership role in higher education. Presently, I am slowly moving from the margins of power to the center of power within the life of my institution. This move would seem exciting because it suggests more authority and more influence. However, at least two great temptations emerge for me as I move into a greater position of power and influence within my institution. Below I describe the temptations and how I am managing them with grace and confidence.

The first temptation is becoming intoxicated by institutional, hierarchical power. I resist this by maintaining my grounding in living, leading, engaging, and serving from my center—my core. I am managing this potentially dangerous internal conflict with grace and confidence by increasing my capacity to listen more to self, others, and the SPIRIT. I practice my intentional, attentive listening by summarizing or mirroring what I hear others say so they can feel affirmed in the process. My affirmation of my colleague(s) or supervisor(s) creates space for me to share my perspective that may or may not differ from their own in hopes of moving towards action that is more inclusive and life-giving.

Beneath the listening, and mirroring/summarizing, there is the relinquishment of assuming that I have the right answer. I trust the SPIRIT to make known how we are to respond in our engagement, reflection, and discernment of what seems “right” to pursue in the moment. Sometimes what I commit to doing is not ready to be received by my students, colleagues, or supervisors; nevertheless, I must work to be present to and supportive of where we are as an institution at the time. Other times, what I bring to the table seems right at the moment, and my comments or suggestions are received by the respective group. In short, in my leading, engaging, and serving as an African American female in the academy, I must continue to value self, people, and relationships as I move from the margins into places of institutional power.

The second temptation is closely connected to the first one. In maintaining my connection to the ground and people, I must also be aware of my wounds experienced on the margins, so that they will not interfere with the work to be done as I move closer to the center of institutional, hierarchical power. The temptation here is to retain my marginal identity and the wounds associated with it. Instead, I need to resist this temptation by defining and externalizing who I am in the new space and place. No doubt, this requires ongoing internal work because I will experience new wounds in the new role of leadership. However, as I tend to self and others, hopefully a new climate of care and compassion will be infused so that everyone I lead, serve, and engage with, will grow in their capacity to manage conflict with grace and confidence.

In closing, I am happy, honored, and humbled that the poem emerged in my leadership role with women. As I served with and among women, I was able to give birth to something new and life-giving. May we, as women, be ever mindful to value and affirm one another as we lead with grace and confidence.

Discussion Questions

  • The author discusses managing internal and external forms of conflict. How do you manage these forms of conflicts in your professional life?
  • How do you think grace and confidence are exhibited while managing conflict according to the author?
  • What, if anything, resonates with you regarding the way the author nurtures and accesses her interior or internal world in leadership and overall well-being?


Wright, F. L. (2004). Frank Lloyd Wright: A journal. San Francisco: Pomegranate Communications, Inc.

About the Authors

Karen D. Crozier, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of practical theology, and special assistant to the provost for peace and justice initiatives at Fresno Pacific University.

Please e-mail inquiries to Karen D. Crozier.


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.

From One Dupont Circle: Quarterly Update

From One Dupont Circle: Quarterly Update

Gregory Roberts
ACPA Executive Director

Another academic year is about to end and I ask: are you satisfied that you have made a difference in the lives of students this year? Are you able to reflect on the value you bring to the educational experience of students, other staff, family and friends? How would things have been different around issues of equity and inclusion had you not taken the position you took this year?

We have so much more to do. Education is a critical element of a free society and we are contributors to this value. We are part of a wonderful profession that is willing to ask the difficult questions and challenge others to see the big picture. We each work at making our “little part” of the world more livable for all.

As we look at the past and envision the future, what will the fall 2013 bring to our campuses and to the Association that will provide motivation and strength to move forward? Rather than reflect on others, lets pause and do an internal check on us. Are we doing all that we can? Next year is the 90th Anniversary year for ACPA and I would like to see all of our members make a pledge to reach out further than is expected and to prepare ACPA to take on the challenges of the next century.

Before I conclude, please know how much we appreciate the work that you do and the lives you change, one at a time! Students are the reason for the “season” and together we can and will make a difference in the lives of students.

For those of you that have a bit more relaxing time during the summer, please enjoy it. For the rest of us, let’s slow down and reflect on what a magnificent profession we have selected. The privilege to support the ongoing education of others is a true calling.

Again, enjoy the months of June-August (better know as summer in the USA).

Until next time,


From the Editor: Our Season of Seeking Wisdom

From the Editor: Our Season of Seeking Wisdom

Paul Eaton
Louisiana State University

As the academic year comes to a close, and as ACPA – College Student Educators International – begins celebrating and reflecting on 90 years as an Association, one striking and resonant theme is emergent: our desire for wisdom.

President Kerr focuses on wisdom in her Presidential Address, delivered during our Annual Convention in Las Vegas, NV. She is not alone. On May 9-10, I attended a symposium at Louisiana State University focusing on the questions we should be asking related to Internationalization & Education. Dr. William Doll, a prominent curriculum theorist and educator, discussed the need for wisdom in addressing shifting landscapes in education. “Knowledge we have; wisdom we have not,” he stated, calling on educators to align our knowledge and our values in addressing educational issues. President Kerr is summoning our profession to a similar call: aligning the knowledge we have, with our values as an Association and profession, in an effort to create the future.

Wisdom is also a prominent theme in the other articles appearing through this Issue of Developments. Karen Crozier continues our series “Women As” with a wonderful, poetic exploration of how to manage conflict. However, her piece also asks us to reflect on where we seek wisdom – in the Divine, through reflection of past experiences, with thoughtful action, and by adhering and staying true to our own core.

Krista Soria, Christine Lepkowski, and Brad Weiner report on new research regarding the experiences of Atheist students on college campuses. Their challenge to our profession is to remember our obligation of ensuring that all students – regardless of background or belief system – feel connected, engaged, and welcomed on our campuses. These are foundational values of the Association and the profession, and this piece not only challenges us to think anew and more broadly about religious and spiritual issues on our campuses, but also to remember that we should seek opportunities to conduct research and report on new, challenging, and exciting questions.

Finally, our featured columns also illuminate discussions of connecting values and knowledge in the creation of our future. Jeffrey Sun discusses the new affirmative action case, Schuette v. Michigan Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action (BAMN). As he notes, this case is not focused on traditional affirmative action issues, such as Admissions. Rather, it gets at the heart of democratic ideals, specifically related to how individuals participate in the political process to ensure their voice is heard.

Michael Kocet discusses the process now underway to revise and update the ACPA Code of Ethics. Ensuring ethical practice has always been a hallmark of our profession, and the current process underway is seeking the wisdom and advice of not only professionals in our field, but a spectrum of Higher Education and other professional associations who will work to ensure the future of our profession maintains strong ethical commitments within swiftly changing, dynamic fields of practice.

Jason Lane asks the question about how we intentionally connect co-curricular experiences focused on internationalization with the student curricular experience. Here, too, there is a merging of knowledge and values: our obligation to share knowledge of the diverse world with students, while maintaining focus on the whole learning experience of students, both inside and outside the classroom. As Dr. William Doll also pointed out during the recent conference on Internationalization and Education, bridging these gaps between the curricular and co-curricular experiences are really examples of playing within the boundaries, where there are infinite possibilities for sharing knowledge, discovering values, and developing wisdom.

I hope that this Issue of Developments will help guide you toward being a professional with more wisdom.

About the Editor

Paul Eaton is a doctoral student in Educational Leadership & Research with concentrations in Higher Education & Curriculum Theory at Louisiana State University. He also serves as Director of Institutional Assessment at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Please e-mail inquiries to Paul Eaton.

Follow Paul on Twitter.

Aligning Flags, Foods, and Festivals with the Curricular Experience

Aligning Flags, Foods, and Festivals with the Curricular Experience

Living in the Margins: Examining the Experiences of Atheist Undergraduates on Campus

Living in the Margins: Examining the Experiences of Atheist Undergraduates on Campus

Krista M. Soria
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Christine C. Lepkowski
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Brad Weiner
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities


Utilizing results from a multi-institutional survey (n = 11,000+), this study explored differences in perceived campus climate and sense of belonging between atheist and religious college students. Results suggest that atheist students perceive that their beliefs regarding faith are less respected on campus; are more likely to report that they have heard fellow students express negative or stereotypical views about religions; and feel a weaker sense of belonging on campus.


Atheists—those who do not believe in the existence of deities—comprise a marginalized population on American college campuses (Goodman & Mueller, 2009; Seifert, 2007), largely because they do not identify with dominant religious faiths in the United States. Even amidst increasing religious pluralism in American society, atheists are less trusted and accepted than other marginalized groups, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender individuals; people of color; and Muslims or other religious minorities (Edgell, Gerteis, & Hartmann, 2006). On college campuses, students from a variety of religious backgrounds perceive a societal hierarchy of religious privilege where atheists fall at the bottom, Christianity is at the apex, and all other religions fall in between (Small, 2008). According to Liddell and Stedman (2011), nontheistic students, including atheists, struggle to gain both acceptance and equality on campus. Encountering stereotypes about their beliefs, many atheist students maintain silence, preferring to remain invisible rather than face being ostracized (Goodman & Mueller, 2009).

Students’ marginalization or isolation in college directly influences educational and social outcomes for students, including sense of belonging, perception of mattering, and persistence (Cuyjet 1998; Hurtado, Milem, Clayton-Pederson, & Allen, 1998; Rankin & Reason, 2005; Schlossberg, 1989). Yet, while the campus climate for some underrepresented student populations has received attention (e.g., diverse racial and ethnic student populations), there is little scholarship regarding campus climate for religious beliefs, and existing work regarding atheist college students is often descriptive or qualitative (Heiner, 1992; Mueller, 2012; Small, 2008). It is important to bring the experiences of marginalized student identity groups (such as atheist students) to light so that student affairs practitioners can work within their institutions to promote a sense of belonging among these marginalized and alienated groups.

One of the primary goals of this study is to present quantitative data related to the experiences of atheist students across multiple institutions. In our study, we examined whether atheist college students have different perceptions of campus climate and their sense of belonging when compared with students who identify as religious and are affiliated with a particular religion or denomination. This topic is important to the field of student affairs as religious identity is an important element of diversity on college campuses (Mueller, 2012) and student affairs practitioners actively work to ensure that all aspects of students’ identities are recognized on campuses.



The Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) survey is housed at the Center for Studies of Higher Education (CSHE) at the University of California-Berkeley. The SERU survey is a census scan of the undergraduate experience. All undergraduates enrolled at participating institutions in spring 2011, who were also enrolled at the end of the prior term, were included in this web-based questionnaire, with the majority of communication occurring by electronic mail.


The survey was administered to 213,160 undergraduate students across nine large, public universities classified by the Carnegie Foundation (2010) as having very high research activity. These institutions are located across the United States, with one in the Midwest, three on the West Coast, two in the Northeast, and three in the Southern/Southeastern part of the United States. The institutional level completion response rate for the SERU survey was 38.1% (n = 81,135). The items used in this analysis were embedded in a survey module that was randomly assigned to 20-30% of students, depending on the choice of the individual campuses. The sample was further reduced to include only students who identified as atheist or were affiliated with a major religion (n = 11,739). In the final sample, 41.1% were male (n = 4,824) and 58.9% female (n = 6,915). Additionally, 0.4% were Native American (n = 46), 6.4% were Black (n = 753), 11.4% were Hispanic (n = 1,342), 14.9% were Asian (n = 1,747), 58.3% were White (n = 6,839), 4.4% were other/race unknown (n = 518), and 4.2% were international (n = 494).


Religious and spiritual preferences. In the SERU survey, students were asked to select their religious/spiritual preference from a list of 26 options, which included one selection for atheist and 11 Christian-based denominations and faiths (Baptist, Christian Church [Disciples], Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Mormon, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, United Church of Christ/Congregational, and Other Christian); 14 options for non-Christian-based faiths (e.g. Judaism, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, etc.); no preference or not particularly spiritual; and spiritual but not associated with a major religion.

As we were primarily interested in examining the experiences of atheist students in comparison with religiously-affiliated students, we dummy-coded the atheist selection with the other denominations and faiths as the referent groups. We excluded students who selected “spiritual but not associated with a major religion,” “not particularly spiritual,” “no preference,” and “Agnostic.” Atheists constituted 10.4% of the population (n = 1,217) and the other religion-affiliated students made up 89.6% of the final sample (n = 10,522). The largest religious group represented in the sample of religion-affiliated students was Christian-affiliated denominations (81.2%, n = 8,539).

Campus climate for religious beliefs and sense of belonging. Students responded to several questions that gathered a nuanced perspective of campus climate for religion. Students were asked to rate their agreement for the following items (scaled 1 = strongly disagree to 6 = strongly agree): “Students of my religious beliefs are respected on this campus” and “Students are respected here regardless of their religious beliefs.” Students were also asked to select the frequency with which they had heard nonteaching staff or administrators, faculty, and students express negative or stereotypical views about religions (scaled 1 = never to 6 = very often). Students were also asked to rate their agreement for the following items (scaled 1 = strongly disagree to 6 = strongly agree): “I feel that I belong at this campus” and “Knowing what I know now, I would choose to re-enroll at this campus.”


We first began by testing the assumptions of normality and homogeneity of variance for the campus climate and sense of belonging items—these tests are important in determining whether data are normally distributed and can be further analyzed using specific procedures. We found the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test was significant (p < .05), suggesting non-normal distributions; however, in large samples, this test can be significant even if the data are only slightly non-normal (Field, 2009). In examining the histograms and Q-Q plots, we found evidence for slight negative skewness in the items. Additionally, we also found the assumption of homogeneity of variance was violated in each of our computations (Levene’s tests were significant [p < .05]); thus, we used nonparametric bootstrapping to analyze our data, as nonparametric bootstrapping makes no assumptions about the probability model underlying the population and uses the observed sample data as a proxy for the population distribution. Monte Carlo p-values were computed by drawing 1,000 random bootstrap replicates of the data, with replacement, using a correction suggested by Davison and Hinkley (1997). We found that less than 1% of data were missing for each of the items used in analysis, so we used listwise procedures for each individual t-test computation.


As demonstrated in Table 1, atheist student respondents were significantly more likely to report they had heard fellow students express negative or stereotypical views about religion, but significantly less likely to report they heard faculty or staff express those views. Atheists were also significantly less likely to indicate that students of their beliefs were respected on campus. Finally, atheists were significantly less likely to feel that they felt a sense of belonging on campus. Small differences often reach levels of significance in large sample sizes; therefore, we computed Cohen’s d statistics for each mean difference, which demonstrated that the relative magnitude of these differences was small for each of the items.

Table 1

Differences between Students who Identified with Religions and Students who Identified as Atheists on Items Related to Campus Climate and Sense of Belonging

Religious Students Atheist Students
n M (SD) n M (SD) t SE (95% CI) D
In this academic year, I have heard teaching faculty or instructors express negative or stereotypical views about religions 10456 1.66 (1.04) 1211 1.46 (0.85) 6.45*** 0.03 [0.14, 0.26] 0.21
In this academic year, I have heard non-teaching staff or administrators express negative or stereotypical views about religions 10460 1.50 (0.94) 1206 1.34 (0.82) 5.81*** 0.03 [0.11, 0.22] 0.18
In this academic year, I have heard students express negative or stereotypical views about religions 10464 2.77 (1.31) 1212 2.98 (1.37) -5.35*** 0.04 [-0.29, -0.14] -0.16
Students of my religion are respected on this campus 10442 4.71 (1.01) 1206 4.46 (1.22) 7.95*** 0.03 [0.19, 0.31] 0.22
Students are respected here regardless of their religious beliefs 10463 4.67 (1.08) 1214 4.60 (1.17) 2.29* 0.03 [0.01, 0.14] 0.06
I feel that I belong at this campus 10472 4.94 (1.10) 1261 4.65 (1.24) 8.62*** 0.03 [0.23, 0.36] 0.25
Knowing what I know now, I would still choose to re-enroll at this campus 10458 5.04 (1.18) 1260 4.82 (1.32) 6.10*** 0.04 [0.15, 0.29] 0.18
Note. * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001

Discussion and Recommendations for Practice

Our study suggests that students who identified as atheists experienced a less welcoming campus climate for their religious beliefs, in addition to a lower sense of belonging on campus. This is an interesting finding because the population comprises students at large, religiously-unaffiliated, research universities—ostensibly among the most welcoming to non-religious students. If atheists are significantly less likely to enjoy a sense of belonging on these campuses, then we predict the effect would be even larger on campuses with religious affiliations, higher proportions of religious students, or an increased homogeneity of religious groups. This is an area of future research.

The atheist students in our study were also more likely to indicate that they heard their fellow students—as opposed to staff or faculty—express negative or stereotypical views about religions. This presents a potential point of concern for higher education administrators and practitioners, as students’ interactions with peers are a “potent source of influence” on college students’ experiences and development (Astin, 1993, p. 398). Students’ lack of belonging and negative perceptions of campus climate can lead to attrition and can further isolate marginalized populations; consequently, atheist students’ experiences are too important to overlook further.

There are several steps that student affairs practitioners can take to provide a welcoming climate to students from diverse religious and non-religious backgrounds. First, it is important for student affairs practitioners to increase their own competency in serving students’ diverse religious identities (Small & Bowman, 2009). Student affairs practitioners can work holistically to frame religious pluralism as an asset in campus diversity. For example, when formal and informal campus conversations about meaning, ethics, morals, spirituality, and religion are held, it is important to invite atheists to the table along with groups that are traditionally invited (Barratt, 2009). Colleges and universities should comprehensively consider the needs and experiences of atheist college students within their structures including, for example, that mental health professionals are aware of the impact of religious and non-religious affiliation on students’ well-being (Small & Bowman, 2009). Student affairs practitioners can also develop programs to enhance students’ knowledge and awareness of religious pluralism. By openly acknowledging religious and non-religious identities as early as orientation and continuing to affirm these aspects of students’ identities until graduation, student affairs practitioners can work to ensure that the religious pluralism is understood and welcomed on campuses without privileging dominant belief systems.

Discussion Questions

  • How can colleges and universities work to improve atheist students’ sense of belonging on campuses?
  • What can student affairs practitioners do to help all students to feel that their religious beliefs are respected?
  • How can we acknowledge the role of religious beliefs in students’ lives and identities without privileging dominant belief systems?


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

Barratt, W. (2009). A seat at the table for atheists: Negotiating inclusion and religious pluralism. A personal narrative. Developments, 9(2). Retrieved from

Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. (2010). The Carnegie classification of institutions of higher education. Retrieved from

Cuyjet, M. J. (1998). Recognizing and addressing marginalization among African American college students. College Student Affairs Journal, 18(1), 64-71.

Davison, A., & Hinkley, D. (1997). Bootstrap methods and their application. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Edgell, P., Gerteis, J., & Hartmann, D. (2006). Atheists as “other”: Moral boundaries and cultural membership in American society. American Sociological Review, 71, 211-234.

Field, A. P. (2009). Discovering statistics using SPSS. London, England: SAGE.

Goodman, K. M., & Mueller, J. A. (2009). Invisible, marginalized, and stigmatized: Understanding and addressing the needs of atheist students. New Directions for Student Services, 125, 55-63.

Heiner, R. (1992). Nones on the run: Evangelical heathens in the deep South. Deviant Behavior, 13, 1-20.

Hurtado, S., Milem, J. F., Clayton-Pederson, A. R., & Allen, W. R. (1998). Enhancing campus climates for racial/ethnic diversity. Review of Higher Education, 21(3), 279-302.

Liddell, E. R. A., & Stedman, C. D. (2011). Nontheistic students on campus: Understanding and accommodating atheists, agnostics, humanists, and others. Journal of College and Character, 12(3), 2-7.

Mueller, J. A. (2012). Understanding the atheist college student: A qualitative examination. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice. 49(3), 249-266.

Rankin, S. R., & Reason, R. D. (2005). Differing perceptions: How students of color and white students perceive campus climate for underrepresented groups. Journal of College Student Development, 46(1), 43-61.

Schlossberg, N. K. (1989). Marginality and mattering: Key issues in building community. In D.C. Roberts (Ed.), Designing campus activities to foster a sense of community (pp. 5-15). New Directions for Student Services, No. 48. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Seifert, T. (2007). Understanding Christian privilege: Managing the tensions of spiritual plurality. About Campus, 12(2), 10-17.

Small, J. L. (2008). College student religious affiliation and spiritual identity: A qualitative study. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The University of Michigan.

Small, J. L., & Bowman, N. A. (2009). Including religious minority/majority status as an element of campus diversity: A research snapshot. Developments, 9(2). Retrieved from

About the Authors

Krista M. Soria recently completed her PhD in higher education from the University of Minnesota. Krista’s research interests include college students’ leadership development, community engagement, and social class in higher education. Krista is an adjunct faculty at the University of Minnesota and the University of Alaska Anchorage and works for the University of Minnesota as an analyst in institutional research.

Please e-mail inquiries to Krista M. Soria or follow her on Twitter.

Christine Lepkowski is a Ph.D. candidate in Higher Education at the University of Minnesota and a graduate assistant for the Jandris Center for Innovative Higher Education. She studies gender, women, and leadership in higher education.

Please e-mail inquiries to Christine Lepkowski.

Brad Weiner is a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota. His research focuses on campus internationalization strategies, institutional advancement, philanthropy, and higher education finance. He holds a B.A. in English from The University of Kansas and a M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from Vanderbilt University.

Please e-mail inquiries to Brad Weiner or 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 Staff Office.