Ethics and the University: Connecting the Dots

Ethics and the University: Connecting the Dots

Anne M. Hornak
Central Michigan University

For this column I had the great pleasure of interviewing Father James Keenan (Jim). Father Jim is an ordained Jesuit Priest and Canisius Professor Director of The Jesuit Institute at Boston College. Additionally, he holds faculty status in the Theology Department at Boston College. I was first introduced to Father Jim when I read his book, University Ethics: How Colleges can Build and Benefit from a Culture of Ethics (Keenan, 2015). The book offers discussion about the role of ethics in higher education and very much serves as a call to the higher education and student affairs communities that we need to be doing more to focus on ethics in our work, from both a practical and scholarly perspective.

Anne: Much of your work has been focused on ethics and theology framed within the church. What was the catalyst for the university ethics book?

Father Jim: Honestly, it was the sex abuse scandal within the Catholic Church. I live in Boston and it was in the newspaper every day for 17 months. We were living the scandal in our lives and the newspaper every day and we could not escape it. I am an ethicist and priest and began asking certain questions.  I started to ask questions about how the church, as an institution, practices ethics. I was concerned with the scandals impact on the church as an institution; the issue was not just about the individuals within the church, i.e. the priests involved, but the ethics within the church as an institution. I was concerned with the professional harm to all those involved and those affiliated with the church.

In 2002-03, I was in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University teaching for the summer. All of the American Cardinals were summoned by the Pope to address the issues happening in the United States with the scandal. Well, the media found out that I was in Rome and was from Boston. A reporter thought that interviewing a Jesuit Priest affiliated with Boston, teaching ethics in Rome, was worthy of an interview and discussion. I remember clearly walking on a rooftop piazza with the reporter and she asked me if I was afraid.  I said, I was afraid. She then asked why I was doing what I was doing? I said, “I am a Priest teaching ethics in Boston; I need to speak out.” It comes with the territory of my work and affiliation with the church. This is about more than the scandal but my profession and the greater good of the church in the modern day.

We need to address the issues; the summons to ask tough questions about the sex abuse scandal was larger and dealt with what is going on socially all around us. As higher education professionals we are all employees within an institution and have an interest in the success and ethics of the institution. If you do not that is a big problem. It is a big problem if you do not care about the success and ethics of the institution in which you work.  It was natural to move from the church as a teaching institution for ethics to the university as a teaching institution for ethics. The news media focused on church scandal, but what is going on at the universities is just as problematic.

My focus on ethics at the university really came to life in my living community. I live in a community with 5-6 other priests, and 4 are also ethicists. One day I told them I had a hunch that we should pay attention to ethics and the university. From that statement each morning I would come down for breakfast and they would say, “you have to read this,” “you have to read this.” It was truly one scandal after another. My colleagues just kept egging me to truly identify and explore these issues. I had a lot of support because we had survived the sex scandal in our own institution.


Some people believe ethics is boring. However, you need to be aware; very aware. Being in Boston in the height of the scandal, in the church as a teaching institution, and personally as a priest, I had a responsibility. I had the ethical responsibility to write the book due in part to my position.  Being in Boston in the height of the scandal coupled with the fact our church was a teaching institution, I felt compelled to attempt to impact the situation.  I had a responsibility to direct discussion to the university and the focus on what is going on at the university. For example, professionals working in development and advancement know more about ethics because they got caught taking gifts they never should have.

Think about who we are hiring to be vice presidents at our universities. More and more they are coming from business and industry. They do not come into the university and take an ethics course, nor do many understand higher education as an organization, which is very different from business and industry. They most likely had an ethics course in their discipline, but it is different to take an ethics course that focuses on the issues related directly to the work of the university. One must wonder how much they truly understand the university, as they are more interested in successful management than an ethical ethos and culture. Oftentimes, if administrators see a problem, they are more apt to bring in a lawyer than an ethicist. Leaders need to understand ethics is integral for the future of the institution. It can only be successful if it is truth bearing and reliable.

For example, Harvard had a huge cheating scandal and as part of their reaction they focused on teaching and how faculty were teaching. They missed a huge opportunity to understand what it means to be a university with high ethical standards and to truly understand who they wanted to be. What does it mean to be at Harvard and as an institution what does it mean to be part of this community? That is the conversation that was missed in focusing on what was going on in the teaching realm and stopping the cheating. In this case the lack of addressing this problem from an ethical perspective was the constraint. Understanding the role of ethics is not to constrain but to develop and help an institution become who they want to be.

Anne: Whose responsibility is it to create a culture of ethics?

Father Jim:  People want to fix it right away. Many who are doing this work have been doing it for a very long time.  However, we have failed to connect the dots. We need to take issues and truly connect across the institution, connect the dots! We need to be talking across the board, all units, academic and student affairs, faculty and staff, leaders at every level. Here at Boston College we have created a conference and put folks talking about different topics on the same panel so they can hear each other talk. It is about connecting the dots and talking to one another about how we are connected and how many of these issues have similar elements. We are not talking to each other enough. We have become organizations that work in silos.

I would argue that sexual assault on campus is deeply connected to how we treat adjunct faculty on campus. The neglect of ethics for adjunct faculty is related to the neglect our students have in how they treat one another, which can lead to sexual assaults on campuses. We are not inclusive with our adjunct faculty; we often do not include them in any governance decisions. They are limited in how much access they have to departmental resources, faculty, and the university more broadly, yet they are bearing much of the workload related to teaching. In terms of sexual assault we are not giving voice to victims or survivors. Many times sexual assaults on campuses are going unreported and victims are unsure where they go for support and justice. This is a problem on our campuses and one that we are not doing a good job addressing.

Originally university faculty were deeply connected to students, but over time, faculty gave connecting with students over to student affairs officials.  In my opinion faculty feel that the only place they belong is in the classroom and in a sense have lost a bit of the university. This is a great example of how faculty and student affairs can work together to reclaim the university and in that, reclaim ethics.  

I became an acting chair of the department and found out some of the shenanigans of faculty. We have created autonomous spaces and we do not want any horizontal accountability. We do not hold each other to higher levels of ethical behavior. Many deans are horrified by the behavior of faculty at the university, but are unwilling to address the behavior.  The reporting lines within the university are very medieval and unlike any other professions we are very autonomous.  In no other field do you find that people rarely come to campus and lack a larger sense of community. Many within the academy are academic nerds and their social skills are pretty low. We treat our students singularly; the very nature of our vocation is not collegial. We are singular professors who do work and believe our accountability is to write for an audience outside the university. We are seeing more and more collaboration among researchers, but it is still a novelty within institutions. This is also a lesson faculty could take from student affairs professionals who often work collaboratively.

Office hours are interesting as well, as the advertised times they are available are to their own making. There is no other place where a professional has this much autonomy over their work hours. Administrators do not even have this freedom.  We need to take a closer look at some of these issues and work to create a more horizontally accountable community. Beginning to look at these issues from a bigger picture would begin to connect some of these dots across institutions.

Anne: How do you help new professionals create a professional ethical identity?

Father Jim: New professionals need to go out and meet all sorts of individuals across the university. I run a center on faith and culture. Part of the work of the center is to run professional development for the university community. For many years the seminars were just for tenure track faculty. It has changed and now we have more adjunct faculty attending and one of the trends the faculty attending realize is that others across the university are feeling the same way they are: isolated, disconnected, and that folks at the university are more focused on their own discipline rather than betterment of the university.

At Boston College we have what are called professors of the practice. They are permanent faculty, not tenured or tenure track, but with long-term employment. I invited these faculty to dinner and they could not get over meeting one another. For the 6 months they were very excited to just get to know one another, then it turned into a book club meeting, and now they host a conference. The relationships have evolved and turned into a conversation about ethics and the moral responsibility of the university, which is what we address at the yearly conference.

People need to start realizing they know nothing about the university. We need to have folks meet one another and get out of their spaces.  Many faculty do not even know the names of the residence halls on campus. They are hard pressed to name one residence hall or even buildings on the other side of campus. Additionally many have no idea what goes on for students outside the classroom and who does that work. They are not involved in a student’s life outside of the classroom. We need to get to know one another and what we do to support the university together.  The more we collectively work the closer we get to making good ethical decisions and being able to identify ethical issues within our institutions.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s the medical profession underwent a radical transformation in how they deliver medical news to patients. Previously, it was the role of the nurse to deliver medical news to the patient and doctors would talk to family members and others involved in the decision, but not the patient. In conversations at their professional associations they began to internally investigate the practice and have debates at multiple levels. The decision ultimately was that patients should own their medical decisions and it was the ethical responsibility of doctors to give full information to patients and help them make the best decision for their situation. This is a great example of a collaborative discussion that resulted in changing an entire profession, but the decision was not made in a vacuum, but rather in a way that everyone had an opportunity to feel they had voice in the changes. I would like to challenge higher education to let the public examine their practice and decide if the institution is acting in ethical ways.


This interview was such a pleasure to conduct. The wisdom and insights of Father Jim can really aid in helping us think more deeply about ethics and how we address the very complex issues we are facing in higher education and student affairs. We have a moral responsibility to our students and those that call the academy their home. We have a moral obligation to do the hard work it takes to address these complex issues. We should be bold and brave in facilitating the tough conversations, as Father Jim challenges us to do.

Discussion Questions

  1. Ethics does not happen by taking a course but rather having conversation in the public and with the public.  How do you begin to facilitate those conversations?
  2. As student affairs professionals, how do you help create environments that embody the ethics of compassion, confidence, and accountability?
  3. Part of the difficult work around the identification of ethical issues is asking the right questions and then presenting choices. What are some ways you begin asking the right questions to be able to present the most ethical choices to the community being impacted?


Keenan, J. F. (2015). University ethics: How colleges can build and benefit from a culture of ethics.

Lanham, MD: Roman & Littlefield.

About the Author

Anne M. Hornak is a Professor and Chairperson of Educational Leadership at Central Michigan University. She teaches courses in student affairs and higher education administration, ethics, and social justice. Her research interests include ethical decision-making, transformational learning and international education, and community college students. She has been involved with ACPA as a Directorate member of the Professional Preparation Commission, where she coordinated with the ethics committee. Her most recent book is entitled, “A Day in the Life of a Student Affairs Educator: Competencies and Case Studies for Early Career Professionals” [Stylus, 2014] co-authored with Sarah Marshall.

Please e-mail inquiries to Anne M. Hornak.

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.

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

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

Tadd Kruse
Abdulwahab Al-Khaldi
American University of Kuwait

Evan Witt
University of Auckland – City Campus


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

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

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

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

Our Context

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

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

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

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

The Foreign

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

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

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

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

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

The Bad

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

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

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

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

The Good

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

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

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

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

New Approaches within the American Model

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

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

Reflection Questions

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Authors

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

Please e-mail inquiries to Tadd Kruse.

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

Please e-mail inquiries to Abdulwahab Al-Khaldi.

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

Please e-mail inquiries to Evan Witt.

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Hi Mika,

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

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

Big Hugs, Mahauganee

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

In Mika’s words:

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

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

Tragedy and Its Impact

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

Losing Mike Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Losing Sam DuBose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Tragedy (Near or Far) Touches Campus

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

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

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

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

Discussion Questions

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

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

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


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

About the Authors

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

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


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


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

Taking Charge of Your Own Competency

Taking Charge of Your Own Competency

From One Dupont Circle
Cindi Love

Executive Director

“Your driver is on the steer (at the wheel) driving you and you can feel free to doze in the car; this is trust built on competence. Competence is to ensure that your actions put people’s hearts at ease when things are in your hands.”
Israelmore Ayivor

I want to act in such a way that people’s hearts are put at ease.  So, how do I increase my competence?  This is the essential question for all of us who want to support students on their paths to self-authorship and in order to grow ourselves professionally and personally. Over the last several months I’ve listened to members and other colleagues who are struggling with this question due to budgetary reductions on their campuses.  

Whether they are newer professionals seeking support or more seasoned professionals trying to provide support, the dilemma is the same.  “Soft dollars” for travel and professional development are shrinking at most publicly funded institutions and it doesn’t look like a temporary challenge.  

The good news is that growth and competency are not dependent on another person or an institution that employs me.  I am not minimizing the very deep concerns about funding issues for our institutions nor the challenges these cuts pose for ACPA and our operating budget.   I am acknowledging the reality of the times in which we are living and working.  I can’t stop my path to self-actualization because someone else won’t pay my way.  We can’t fix gaps in our budget by making members pay more. We have to get creative.  

As an individual, I have to reprioritize the ways in which I invest in myself.  As an Association, we have to offer high quality and lower cost alternatives.  It is for that reason that we entered into partnership with Worker Bee TV in 2015 to launch ACPA Video on Demand (VOD) and with Professor Peter Lake in 2016 to develop and launch Compliance U™.

We chose these partnerships because we need to increase access, reduce costs and ensure that an ACPA membership provides a clear pathway to increased competency for everyone who chooses to engage.  The good news is that we listened early on to our ACPA Presidential Task Force on Digital Technology and its recommendation to “develop the infrastructure and resources appropriate to ensure sustainability and relevance in digital technologies.”  Our alliance with Worker Bee makes part of this recommendation feasible and achievable.

We know people are tuning in and using our content 24/7/365 on ACPA Video on Demand, so we decided to build on that success and implement several of other the recommendations of the Task Force. (Thank you to Dr. Kent Porterfield for creating this Task Force and Ed Cabellon and Tony Doody for leading the effort of a diverse cross section of scholars, practitioners, educators, administrators, and business partners).

The Task Force also recommended that we:

  • Design training and development opportunities to enhance college student educators’  (and professional) use of digital technologies;
  • Establish and grow strategic collaborations and partnerships;
  • Identify key higher education associations, organizations, business partners, authors, scholars, researchers and change agents with whom to strategically partner;
  • Partner with key graduate level faculty from higher education (or related) programs to discover what digital teaching modules could lay the foundation for future implementation. Begin with small pilot programs across various in-person, blended, and online programs.

I want to focus on the last recommendation about partnership with key graduate level faculty.  Allow me to formally introduce Professor Peter Lake to those of you who may not know him. Peter is professor of law, Charles A. Dana chair and director of the Center for Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University College of Law and an internationally recognized expert on higher education law and policy. He authored The Rights and Responsibilities of the Modern University (Lake, 2013) and his newest book, The Four Corners of Title IX Regulatory Compliance: A Primer for American Colleges and Universities.

We found great synergy for the Task Force recommendations in our strategic alliance with Professor Peter Lake and faculty in the development of Compliance U™.  This platform began as a concept that Professor Lake used in his scholarship to describe the impact of hyper-regulation on colleges and universities. It has come to life in Compliance U™ as a facilitative learning vehicle to meet the challenges of higher education—a regulated industry in transition.  

Professor Lake says, “I have watched our field change dramatically during the course of my 25 years in the field, both as a law professor and nationally-recognized higher education law and policy expert. Legal regulation has exploded, impacting the nature of our educational conversations. Political winds at the local, state and federal levels influence the dynamic nature of compliance—‘due diligence’ is now a permanent feature of our work.”

Many higher education professionals wish to have and need to have intensive law and policy training, and, at the same time, do not desire to pursue another degree, cannot afford to do so, and cannot leave their responsibilities on campus to attend classes. They need badging or credentialing opportunities that are cost effective, resource sensitive, time efficient, competency and outcome learning-based, and tailored to promote the goals of higher education.

Compliance U™ is designed to reduce the total costs of training by 50 percent with the majority of content on-line and the content is provided by the best and brightest in the Law, Policy and Governance (LPG) area who align themselves with our core values of social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion.  

Ayivor’s definition of competence comes full circle in ACPA’s offering of ACPA Video on Demand and Compliance U™, providing the pathways whereby my actions can put people’s hearts at ease when things are in my hands.  It’s a tall order to be competent and it is not always easy to discern a pathway to support development. I am excited about our opportunities with ACPA Video On Demand (VOD) and Compliance U™ for higher education professionals to systematically gain competency in the foundational, intermediate and advanced areas for student affairs professionals.


Lake, P. F. (2013). The rights and responsibilities of the modern university: The rise of the facilitator university (2nd ed.). Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.

From the President

From the President

Stephen John Quaye
ACPA President

As President of ACPA I have the opportunity to preside over #ACPA18 in Houston, Texas, the bellwether state for anti-LGBTQ legislation in the United States. In the process, I also get to facilitate dialogue about the Governing Board’s decision to remain in Houston.  

Holding the #ACPA18 Convention in Houston means we get to ask ourselves the questions that are confronting so many members on their campuses.  

What does it really mean to be a social justice educator in a place that promotes ideas, policies, practices and/or programs that contradict our values?  What should we do? What can we do? What does it truly mean to live out the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice?

The Governing Board has concluded that staying in Houston directly aligns the Association with the new Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice, which urges us to intentionally and directly engage with issues of race and racism at their intersections of identity, including nationality, gender identity, immigration status, socioeconomic status, disability, and geography.  

In the case of Houston, immigrants, documented and not, as well as trans people, have been singled out and denied legal protections. They now live with less assurance of safety than even a few months ago.

This is why I believe that there may not be a better place than Houston right now to do our work as social justice educators. Convention is a place and time that can engage the largest percentage of our members and allows us to directly support our Texas-based colleagues and member campuses.   

We’ve been on the ground in Houston as grassroots advocates and supporting our colleagues at the ACLU, Equality Texas, Trans Texas, and the Texas Business Alliance since the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) was defeated in 2015 (Mulvaney, 2016).  

Immediately after HERO failed, ACPA Executive Director Cindi Love and Deputy Executive Director Tricia Fechter Gates visited Houston in January 2016. Meetings included the Mayor of Houston, representatives from the Police Department, the ACLU, Trans Texas and Equality Texas and several human rights organizations in Houston. The overwhelming sentiment was that ACPA was welcome in Houston, and our advocacy and commitment to social justice was and continues to be needed now more than ever.

Our Convention in Houston will encourage us to think deeply, innovatively, and boldly about the ways that race and racism shape the experiences of those in our institutions and those who strive to obtain a higher education. We do not believe we should forego these opportunities and, therefore, we are remaining in Texas as social justice educators, as justice seekers, and in solidarity with our colleagues on campuses and those in the ACLU, Equality Texas, Trans Texas, and other human rights organizations.

I understand the perspective of members who believe we should withdraw from Houston and not invest any ACPA funds there. And I also hold the perspective of the significance of showing up, working alongside our trans colleagues and students, and advocating to foster change on the ground. For those who cannot attend for fear of safety or due to a desire to not spend money in Texas, we will provide virtual opportunities for engagement. We are raising funds for these purposes.   

In closing, I encourage you to visit the Frequently Asked Page on the #ACPA18 website to learn more about our rationale for remaining in Houston. I hope you will continue to share feedback and ideas with me. I appreciate your engagement in ACPA and am pleased to serve as your President.  


Mulvaney, E. (2016, January 28). City concerned for conference business in post-HERO Houston. Houston Chronicle. Retrieved from