Health Coaching for Graduate Students: Promoting Academic Success and Well-Being– Duke D. Biber & Dena Kniess

Duke D. Biber & Dena Kniess
College of Education
University of West Georgia

A Model for Wellness

Over the past decade, graduate student wellness has received increased research and practical attention. The National Wellness Institute defines wellness as “an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence” (NWI, 2020). There are six specific domains of wellness: occupational, physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Each of these domains of wellness are interrelated, meaning that improvements in one domain often result in improvements in another. Furthermore, wellness is a conscious process that can be pursued and improved. While plenty of research and application has focused on wellness promotion, graduate students continue to struggle with all components of wellness.

Graduate Student Wellness

Reports from UC Berkeley (2014) and the University of Arizona (2015) indicate high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression across graduate student cohorts. A study examining 26 institutions revealed that graduate students are six times more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression when compared to the general population (Evans et al., 2018). Furthermore, nearly 70% of graduate students report experiencing the negative impacts of stress during their graduate education (El-Ghoroury et al., 2012). These mental and emotional health variables can impact other areas of student wellness, including sleep behavior, physical well-being, and satisfaction with life (Alleyne et al., 2010; Lund et al., 2010; Ogunsanya et al., 2018). Furthermore, stress, anxiety, and depression can negatively impact perceptions of social support and resultant retention through graduate school (McKinney, 2017). The inability to successfully cope with stress, anxiety, depression and perceived isolation often associated with graduate school can lead to student burnout (Evans et al., 2018).

Burnout can be defined as “a psychological syndrome in response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job” (p. 399) that includes cynicism, emotional exhaustion, and lack of personal accomplishment (Maslach et al., 2001). Graduate students who experience burnout may disengage from their peers, advisor, and program. Barreria et al. (2018) found graduate student mental health varies widely across graduate programs. Burnout and stress in graduate students can lead to academic issues, such as difficulty concentrating, imposter syndrome, and suicidal ideation (Flaherty, 2018). If left unaddressed, these issues can lead to dropping out of one’s graduate program, severe depression, or suicide (MacLean et al. 2016; Mortier et al., 2018).

Student Help Seeking Behavior

There are a wide variety of resources available to graduate students on campus, one of which is counseling and psychological services. However, research indicates that college students are not always motivated or willing to seek counseling (Topkaya, 2014). Furthermore, students who are more anxious tend to exhibit greater stigma and less likelihood to see a counselor when in need (Cheng et al., 2015; Kim & Zane, 2015). Students often do not have mental health literacy, or the knowledge about mental health issues that is necessary to help them recognize symptoms, manage symptoms through self-care or counseling, and prevent further problems (Kutcher, 2016). This also includes the ability to distinguish clinical mental health issues from regular stress or anxiety, as well as the risk factors and available resources, on attitudes toward seeking professional help (Jorm et al., 1997). Low mental health literacy is positively related to anxiety and stress, and is negatively related to help-seeking attitudes and behaviors in students (Coles & Coleman, 2010; Kim et al., 2015; Stansbury et al., 2011). While it would be ideal for graduate students to regularly use counseling services, there is often a waitlist, reluctance, or stigma to do so (LeViness et al., 2017). It is important to promote graduate student coping, psychological well-being, and support as a method to reduce burnout and drop-out, and promote overall student wellness (Gardner, 2010).

Promoting Wellness through Work-Life Integration

Recently, there has been a shift in emphasis from work-life balance to that of work-life integration as a method of promoting wellness. Work-life integration is “an approach that creates more synergies between all areas that define ‘life’: work, home/family, community, personal well-being, and health” (UC Berkeley). Work-life balance often creates a sense of competition in which an individual struggles to rationalize which area of life deserves time, attention, or care, whereas work-life integration is a holistic perspective in which every area of life warrants attention for overall well-being (Kossek et al., 2014). Work-life integration can be learned and pursued through goal-setting, lifestyle modification, and accountability, which can be promoted through health coaching.

One growing field of research and application that can improve student wellness and retention is health coaching. The purpose of this manuscript is to educate faculty, staff, and students on the role health and wellness coaching can play in graduate student academic performance and overall wellness. In order to understand health coaching, it is necessary to understand the multidimensional nature of wellness.

The Rationale for Health and Wellness Coaching

Health and wellness coaching is “the practice of health education and health promotion within a coaching context, to enhance the wellbeing of individuals and to facilitate the achievement of their health-related goals” (Palmer et al., 2003, pp. 91). Rather than clinical counseling serving as an intervention, health and wellness coaching aims to guide each client to develop their own wellness-related goals. As clients develop both short- and long-term goals, the health coach provides practical techniques and strategies to develop confidence and manage personal wellness with autonomy (Thom, 2019).

Health and wellness coaching has become more popular as a resource for students, faculty, and staff throughout higher education due to the focus on client decision-making, self-management, and effectiveness of such services across a wide variety of populations (Sherifali et al., 2016; Thom, 2019; Willard-Grace et al., 2015). Universities have begun adopting health and wellness coaching to provide services to students exhibiting sub-clinical symptoms as well as training and certificates for students to provide services to others (Sforzo et al., 2018). Health and wellness coaching is a multi-faceted service that can promote healthy self-regulation of behaviors and reduce many of the physical, psychological, social, and financial struggles students often face when transitioning to graduate school (Fried & Irwin, 2014; Sforzo et al., 2018).

Promoting Campus-Wide Health and Wellness Coaching

Health and wellness coaching is a viable option for graduate students regardless of program of study. The University of West Georgia has developed a model in which students who do not meet criteria for clinical diagnosis are referred to certified health and wellness coaches without charge (Biber et al., 2018). The campus also has an Exercise is Medicine on Campus™ program in which certified health and wellness coaches provide holistic care with students already engaging in an exercise program (Biber et al., 2018). This helps reduce the waitlist for counseling for students who are clinical in nature, while also providing ongoing support for students with a focus on wellness promotion.

Furthermore, health and wellness coaches can provide cognitive and behavioral strategies through education for individuals and groups to improve personal wellness management (Wolever et al., 2013). Campuses can even promote technology-based health and wellness coaching as a method of maintaining care during holidays, breaks, or for graduate students who work full-time and need coaching after regular business hours. The goal of health and wellness coaching is to promote behavior change through a client-centered approach that often uses motivational interviewing, journaling, self-care strategies and the transtheoretical model to energize the client to solve their own problems (Swarbrick et al., 2011). Health and wellness coaching can be used to complement services that are already provided by counseling and psychological services, the campus recreation center, and the student health center (Saginak, 2020).

Campus Resources to Complement Health and Wellness Coaching (Dena)

A number of resources exist to complement health coaching. Oswalt and Riddock (2007) indicated graduate students were interested in various coping strategies, such as massage, yoga, or meditation. There are various resources on meditation, such as apps, such as the Headspace and Calm Apps that offer three-to-five minute guided meditations in addition to YouTube videos on meditation. Campuses may also offer group fitness classes, such as yoga or mindfulness training. Area libraries may offer community training events, such as mindfulness or stress management sessions. A review of mindfulness-based self-compassion interventions, found that such techniques are just as effective as counseling and treatment in promoting self-regulation of health behaviors (Biber & Ellis, 2019). Health and wellness coaches can promote the aforementioned resources for at-home practice or during sessions to help clients realize the value and benefit of each.

Future Research/Application

Overall well-being is critical to the success of graduate students. As faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students prepare to return to campus, all six dimensions of wellness, occupational, emotional, spiritual, physical, intellectual, and social need avenues for support. Questions for campuses to consider are:

  1. What resources are available to faculty, staff, and students to support the six dimensions of wellness? What are the costs of these resources? How are these resources promoted?
  2. What are the needs of faculty, staff, and students occupationally, socially, emotionally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually?
  3. How are these resources delivered? Are multiple modalities considered for faculty, staff, and students who are on campus or at a distance? What connections are there to local resources in the surrounding community?
  4. What peer-to-peer resources exist for faculty, staff, and students that support the six dimensions of wellness?


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What They Don’t Tell You About Year Two – Xianwen “Wen” Xi

Xianwen “Wen” Xi
Residence Director
Pace University

“Why should we hire you out of all the candidates we brought to campus?” That was the first question a director of residence life asked me during my on campus interview. Straight to the point. I was most nervous for this particular interview because it was just the two of us. However, I was ready with my answer. It was a common question, especially in residence life where the typical path for someone went something like this: student leader (usually as a resident assistant), graduate school (usually with an assistantship in residence life) before looking for full time work in residence life. I did not have an assistantship in residence life during graduate school and centered my interview on that missing piece. “Because if given the opportunity, I am going to dive right in.”

That answer really encapsulated my first year as a full time professional in residence life. As mentioned, since I did not work in residence life during graduate school, I was especially eager to find a job in residence life after I graduated. I dived head first into my new job and loved every moment of it. And I was able to reap the rewards of my hard work because I had a fantastic first year as a new professional. Looking back, I can probably count the number of bad days I had during my first year on one hand. I don’t think I ever woke up NOT wanting to go to work. However, this is not an article with tips on how you can succeed in your new job (I am positive that there are already plenty of those articles out there!) but rather an open letter to those who struggled in their second year. Yes. You heard me. The second year. I bet you’re asking yourself: isn’t the second year usually seen as the year you know what you are doing and generally a breeze compared to your first year where you are still learning your new job? Probably. Your second year is usually a year where you put what you learned from stumbling through your first year into practice and really get to make your mark. However, something I was not prepared for was losing my first year experience to my second year. I struggled during a part of my second year because I tried to replicate my first year. My first year was a success in many aspects both personally and professionally for me and I wanted to carry that same energy into my second year. Instead of focusing on my second year wholeheartedly, I tried to make my second year an extension of my first year. Let’s call it first year 2.0.

I didn’t know it at the time but there can be phases to starting a new job and looking back, I can see myself clearly going through some of those phases. I won’t delve into all the phases (feel free to check it out here: but I will use this space to reflect on how I experienced some of these phases. The first phase that stuck out to me is Phase 1: Idealize. In this phase, you are excited about the potential the new job has for you and your future. The summer before I started my new job consisted of me reading books like The First 90 Days and articles that centered on being a new professional in student affairs and making a folder where I stored pieces of advice and helpful tips I thought I would refer back to all the time. (Spoiler alert: I did not). I reached out to my mentors and my new colleagues soliciting advice from them to put into that folder! Looking back now, I was definitely overzealous. As I re-read the emails I sent to my then-new colleagues, I find myself cringing just a bit because I was just too excited and eager to start working. I mean, I had only met them one time, months ago at my on campus interview! Those emails provided a contrast to where I am now. My excitement for the work then definitely overshadows my excitement for the work I am doing now. And let me tell you, I still very much love my job now. I think I just loved it way too much at the start before I even had my first day of work. I can’t speak for others going into their first year but for me, it was easy to dive right into my new job. One reason was because of my support network or lack of one. I moved to a new state where my main support network, my family was over 800 miles away. My family was the center of my entire life for as long as I could remember so it was jarring to essentially lose a major part of what kept me grounded my entire life. I did not know anyone in my new town and since I was always someone who loved to be busy and working (after all, achiever is my top strength!), it made it easy for me to fall into the habit of making work my number one priority. I went through some of the other stages pretty uneventfully until I hit the dreaded plateau phase.

Plateau didn’t happen all at once. It took me a while to even recognize that I was plateauing. It started with a feeling. I realized that I just felt “off”. Nothing was wrong but something was not right and I just could not put my finger on it. When I realized I hit this stage, I spent time analyzing what I did my first year that helped me have a good first year. I actually made a list of things I did my first year and then made efforts to replicate those things. I confided in my supervisor that I felt stuck. I wanted to be as excited as I had been in my first year and give more than my all during my second year, just like I did my first year. Only I could not find that energy and it frustrated me. My supervisor said something that helped me reframe the remainder of my second year experience: it was not sustainable. Being as energetic and involved and working as much as I did my first year and doing that every year was simply not sustainable in the long term and it was okay to plateau. My supervisor clarified that even when I felt like I was plateauing, my version of what a plateau looked and felt like was still me giving 100% to the work I was doing. My 100% just looked differently now.

Did you know that according to Gallup, millennials often want more from their job? They want a job that feels worthwhile to them. I realized that this echoed some parts of what I was feeling as I plateaued. Just like in Phase 3, the work became routine for me. The new toy isn’t as new anymore. When I hit this phase, I started to reflect on what I valued in my life. I was faced with the fact that I missed my family and taking care of others around me. Being a caretaker was and always will be a big part of my identity. It was not until that part of myself went missing that I realized how important it was to my sense of self. I started to rebuild this identity by connecting to the local community via babysitting. It sounds counterintuitive to take on a babysitting side job while focusing my attention on my actual job and not consider babysitting work but as mentioned, I am a natural caregiver and moving to a new state away from my family left that part of my identity in limbo. I still babysit often and it has now become something I look forward to as a way to recharge when my work stresses me out. I have viewed babysitting more as my hobby than a job because of the joy it brings me. It breaks up my routine, I get to leave campus and enter a new environment, and I get to connect with people who are not students or colleagues. It’s an odd need but I get a sense of normalcy when I enter one of my family’s homes that I did not realize I was missing when I left my family. Now if you ask me, I often refer to the families I help out as my Pleasantville family! (I live in Pleasantville, NY).

According to Business News Daily, employees are most happy and least stressed in their first year at a new job. Unfortunately, engagement levels in new employees tend to drop between year one and two. So those two factors combined can mean a very difficult second year. Now it makes more sense why I struggled so much my second year! I was comparing my first year happiness to my second year happiness, which was already going to be different and I was also slowly being less engaged in the work compared to my first year. After recognizing this, I started to reach out to my supervisor and colleagues for other professional development opportunities or additional projects I could take on to add more variety into my work in order to build a different sense of commitment and engagement.

Writing this reflection helped me recognize that I placed one unwritten rule on myself that enabled me to dive head first into my first job. The rule was this: since I am in a new state with no connections and no family, I might as well make work my ONLY focus and make every effort to do my very best. My first year was an intentional choice to be what I have always been advised against: be a workaholic and make work my life. Countless articles I read before interviewing at TPE warned new professionals (especially those who lived on) about the pitfalls of burnout and working too much and the importance of setting boundaries. I knew all these things and still chose to go against them. I would work late nights often (I recall one night where I decided to go into my office at 1AM because why not? It was easy since my office was about 20 steps from my apartment!), I would drop everything anytime my RAs needed me and I would always volunteer to help out both in and outside of my department. Let me be clear. I have no regrets with how I navigated my first year. I loved it. My first year and the way I navigated it provided the groundwork for relationships with those around me that made that year so memorable. It connected me to my RAs, peers, and colleagues very quickly and closely. It helped me build a different kind of support network. How I navigated my first year helped establish my identity on campus as someone others could rely on to get things done and done well.

My first year experience played to my strengths very well and fulfilled me as a new professional but I also recognize that this is not the case for others. It’s common for burnout to occur that can lead to hating the work you do and add stress to your life. Thankfully that was not the case for me. My burnout and stress filtered in during my second year, in part because of my well-meaning efforts to replicate my first year. But of course, as we all know well in student affairs: intent is not the same as impact. Now I am entering my third year in my role and I hope I won’t make the same mistake I did my second year. While I had good intentions with wanting to recreate my first year, I’ve come to realize that is not possible because we all learn and grow. Many aspects of our lives change and we should learn to change with them (that’s saying a lot from someone who has consistency as a strength). What I have kept consistent will always be my dedication to the work and students but I have been able to recognize that I can also add dedication to myself in that mix.

What are some pieces of advice I wish I could have given myself at the start of my second year?

Don’t be consistent for consistency’s sake. This quote has stuck with me ever since I heard it. It helped me reframe my need for routine and aversion to change. I didn’t like the idea that my first year was ending so I tried to prolong it as best I could and when I realized that while I externally wanted consistency in my work, I internally just could not sustain that energy any longer. So I was at odds. I wanted to dive all in again but also could not buy into it anymore. Now I know it’s more important to not just be consistent for the sake of consistency but to be consistent if it’s what is best for you and those around you and adjustment to the levels of consistency is okay. Even if it doesn’t feel okay all the time.

Work is not all that I am. Those who know me know how hard it is for me to say this. I am someone who just genuinely enjoys working. I can never sit still, even as a child I enjoyed working and being productive in all aspects of my life. I always need to be moving and doing something. This love of work (of any kind!) fueled me my first year and continues to fuel me to this day. However, I have also been able to slowly appreciate not working. Or rather, reframing what work looks like for me. Some say that me taking on a side gig and babysitting is LITERALLY working (I have heard the lecture before from well meaning peers and friends about how babysitting is work and not a hobby) but I don’t see it as that. I see it as my escape from campus life and gives me some sense of normality that does not include duty calls or residents. It physically moves me not just off campus but into a home of a family which helps me create that mental barrier in my mind that helps me de-stress.

Perfection is the enemy of progress. This was also something difficult for me to come to terms with. I still struggle with this today since I usually strive for perfection in my work! I focused so hard on having a “perfect” second year and trying to emulate my first year that I did not fully experience my second year until the very end. Who knows what experiences and opportunities I missed out on just because my focus was on perfection and not progress?

Be thankful for what you experienced or had. Quantum Workplace preaches this as an important piece of advice when you feel burnt out. This was a big realization for me and something I do not take for granted. Unfortunately, I know there are colleagues out there who did not get the great “first job out of graduate school experience” that I was lucky enough to have. I am eternally grateful for the positive and impactful first year I had. It will be an experience I will not forget. But it will also be a reminder to me that it’s okay to work hard but to also play hard. It reminds me that I am capable of more than I give myself credit for sometimes and it is okay to cut myself some slack when I do not do things perfectly.


  1. What are some ways that new professionals can prepare for their second year if returning to the same job that can help mitigate plateauing or burning out?
  2. Who can help the new professional in navigating their second year to avoid plateauing?
  3. How can graduate programs help prepare new professionals for managing their job and expectations of their jobs?


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Banks, J. (2014, August 20). Prolonging the workplace honeymoon phase. Quantum Workplace.

Brooks, C. (2017, February 10). The honeymoon phase: why the first year on the job is the happiest. Business News Daily.

Denham, T. (2012, February 16). The 6 stages of the job life cycle. Times Union.


Xianwen “Wen” Xi is currently a residence director at Pace University in Pleasantville, NY. She has been with Pace since 2018. Prior to Pace, she was working as a graduate assistant in various departments while studying for her Master’s degree in Counselor Education at Clemson University. Wen was originally born in China and moved to the United States when she was a little girl where she lived in Georgia and attended the University of Georgia where she graduated with Bachelor’s degrees in psychology and sociology. Wen is interested in working with first year students, first generation college students, international students, and students of color in order to effectively support their various pathways to higher education.

Building a Case for Cross Racial Intergroup Dialogues for Multiracial Students in American Higher Education Institutions–Victoria K. Malaney Brown

Victoria K. Malaney Brown
Director of Academic Integrity
Columbia College, Columbia Engineering

In its most formal definition “intergroup dialogue (IGD) can be broadly defined as a face-to-face facilitated learning experience that brings together students from different social identity groups over a sustained period of time to understand their commonalities, differences, examine the nature and impact of social inequalities, and explore ways of working together toward greater equality and justice” (Zúñiga, Nagda, Chesler, & Cytron-Walker, 2007, p. 2) Anecdotally, intergroup dialogue is a powerful educational mechanism that allows students to come together in a small group setting (six to eight participants) for a significant period of time (10-12 weeks) to dialogue across differences such as social identities and social inequalities.

Moreover, intergroup dialogue facilitation has a particular pedagogical method with two co-facilitators or co-participants that are not experts, but learners who also study group dynamic and group processes. While participating in an intergroup dialogue, the dialogue has several goals to achieve consciousness raising, building relationships across differences and conflicts, and strengthening individual and collective capacities to promote social justice (Zúñiga et al., 2007). The two co-facilitators encourage students to realize the goals of intergroup dialogue with the hopes of raising students’ consciousness to take action on a social justice issue and build ally ship with their peers who have different social identities from them. For the purpose of this article, I will focus on the multiracial student experience. I draw on Guillermo-Wann and Johnston’s (2012) definition of multiracial as “as an adjective referencing, pertaining to, or ascribing to the combination of two or more monoracially-constructed groups” (p. 9). I examine why we need intergroup dialogue in higher education institutions, what we know about intergroup dialogue and its benefits, and review the challenges that multiracial participants face in college with regards to their racial identity. I argue how we can use intergroup dialogue as an opportunity to better understand the monoracial challenges (i.e., monoracism) that multiracial students’ encounter at higher education institutions. Monoracism is defined as “a social system of psychological inequality where individuals who do not fit monoracial categories may be oppressed on systemic and interpersonal levels because of underlying assumptions and beliefs in singular discrete racial categories” (Johnston & Nadal, 2010, p. 125). Although there are several types of intergroup dialogues being practiced in higher education, (e.g., gender, religion, sexual orientation) I consider cross-racial intergroup dialogues as one of the most powerful dialogues that the intergroup dialogue program offers.

In the U.S., we are becoming increasingly multi-ethnic and multiracial. Based on the 2010 U.S. Census, demographers forecast that by the year 2050 1 in 5 Americans will be multiracial (Jones & Bullock, 2012). These numbers are likely to be even higher once the forthcoming 2020 U.S. Census is complete. Due to the increase in students who self-identify as multiracial, colleges and universities need to prepare to meet the needs of the evolving multiracial student population (Hyman, 2010). Empirical studies and research have demonstrated that higher education institutions who offer intergroup dialogue courses help undergraduates to effectively prepare to challenge themselves to live in a strong democracy in which they speak up about social injustices (Schoem, 2003). Additionally, intergroup dialogue has become a common social justice education practice that encourages students to engage across differences in college environments (Adams et al., 2010). Because talking directly about race and racism in racially mixed groups does not occur often in society (Miller & Garren, 2008) intergroup dialogue is one technique that can help facilitate meaningful conversations on race. For instance, a cross-racial dialogue could bring together college students who self-identify as either multiracial or monoracial students of Color.

Furthermore, higher education institutions should invest in intergroup dialogue programs because dialogue helps make sense of “one’s race, ethnicity, cultural background, religion, and gender” (Maher & Thompson Tetreault, 2007, p. 1). There are significant benefits in having diversity and IGD at a higher education institution because students enter college typically in late adolescence or early adulthood when they tend to shift their point of view from the perspective of their parents, peers, and educators as they begin try to fit into society and find a voice in political conversations (Sorenson et al., 2009). Challenging students while enrolled in a higher education institution is an opportune time to have difficult dialogues on social justice and cross-racial issues including Black Lives Matter.

Considering the benefits of IGD outlined above and why higher education institutions should offer IGD, it is important to remember that colleges and universities are preparing students to become professionals as they enter an increasingly diverse and complex world. Intergroup dialogue is needed in higher education and also has valuable implications particularly for multiracial college students whose racialized experiences are invalidated by monoracial peers (Ford & Malaney, 2012) and because these students with multiple racial backgrounds are often not acknowledged in conversations about diversity, inclusion, and equity.

The Benefits of IGD for Multiracial College Students

As part of the intergroup dialogue model, several benefits of intergroup dialogue have been studied and researched. Some of the overall IGD benefits/outcomes were voicing, sharing experiences, listening to others and being listened to (Zúñiga et al., 2007). Following the critical dialogic model we know that intergroup dialogue in the context of higher education has four stages: 1) Develop guidelines and relationship building, 2) Develop a common language while exploring social identities, 3) Explore issues of conflict and social justice/group dynamics, 4) Plan action and build alliances (Zúñiga & Nagda, 2001). Intergroup Dialogue promotes inquiry, active listening, perspective taking, which are beneficial life skills students learn. Another reason why dialogue is so effective is because dialogue is “not like other forms of communication (chatting, arguing, negotiating, and so on). Dialogue is an action directed toward discovery and new understanding, which stands to improve the knowledge, insight or sensitivity of its participants” (Burbules, 1993, p. 8).

The growing saliency of identity and the multiplicities of identity (e.g., biracial/multiracial people) need to be examined (Smith, 2005). Therefore, IGD can help students to resolve conflict and understand difference. However, what is the most promising in intergroup dialogue research regarding college students is that those students who take an IGD course during their college career report that dialogue changes their perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs towards peers who have different social identities (Ford, 2018; Yeakley, 1998). While the practice of intergroup dialogue and its educational benefits have been researched a great deal, currently there are not many IGD studies that assess the benefits of IGD for multiracial students participating in a cross racial dialogue at a college or university.

One qualitative research study completed by Ford and Malaney (2012) attempted to answer how multiracial students and students of Color educationally benefitted from IGD at a Predominately White Institution in the Northeast. Overall, conclusions from their pre- and post-test study revealed that multiracial students who participated in an intragroup dialogue (all students in the dialogue shared the same racial identity), experienced a shift in their racial attitudes from viewing their racial identity as divided to feeling whole and proud of their multiracial identity post-IGD (Ford & Malaney, 2012). The researchers’ findings are promising, but not surprising based on what we know about the challenges of multiracial college students in relation to their identity development.

For instance, racial identity research conducted by Jones and Jones (2010) highlight the specific challenges multiracial students’ grapple with in understanding their identity: 1) the need to define one’s own racial identity, 2) the need to fit into peer groups, 3) the pressure to choose one racial identity over another, and 4) the constant reminders about ambiguous physical appearance (Jones & Jones, 2010). Given that we know multiracial college students struggle to understand their fluid racial identity Ford and Malaney’s (2012) research confirms the fact IGD can be helpful for multiracial identity development to shift from students’ being uncertain about their racial identity to being proud of their multiple racial identities. The framework that the IGD pedagogy innately creates is welcoming and is a space for students to voice their opinions, share personal stories, actively listen to their peers, and ask questions or inquire about what they are hearing around them in the intergroup dialogue. Chesler (2001) contends “intergroup dialogue programs on college campuses focus only on education of the self (student), but the best programs in the country extend their education to include how oneself and relationships with others play a role in organized power and privilege” (p. 297).

Another connection and advantage for the student and the higher education institution is that IGD gets the student to understand themselves and how their actions affect power and privilege not only on their campus, but also in relation to the larger world. Although there are many IGD programs offered at colleges and universities across the country, it is important to consider that when designing an IGD program the possible challenges that multiracial participants and IGD practitioners may encounter. In the next section, I discuss these ideas as well as where to situate and fund an IGD program at a higher education institution.

IGD Design and Challenges for IGD Multiracial Participants

In order for a cross-racial intergroup dialogue on multiracial identity to be successful there are several specific considerations that are critical to for higher education institutions to consider. One of the main considerations to begin with is where will the intergroup dialogue program be situated in the context of the university or college? There are four main structures in which intergroup dialogue programs can be implemented. For instance, the program can be       1) Stand-alone offered for academic credit and take students from the entire student body (e.g. University of Massachusetts Amherst, Syracuse University, and University of Michigan), 2) Dialogues can be part of a larger course/discussion sections, 3) Dialogues can be a field experience for the social sciences such as Social Work, and 4) Co-curricular dialogues sponsored by Student Affairs or student organizations (e.g., Study Circles, and Residence communities) (Zúñiga et al., 2007).

Developing a Co-Curricular IGD Program

Developing an IGD program as a co-curricular program would open up the dialogue opportunity for all students to participate. Although IGD can be situated within Student Affairs it could also be offered to students for academic credit through a partnership with the Education department to fulfill your university’s diversity requirement every semester. Students should meet weekly for 90 minutes. The facilitators must be trained and learn how to co-facilitate as the IGD program can help model a new collaboration standard between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs. Each of the facilitators should either self-identify as a person of Color or a multiracial individual and must be coached by an IGD staff member, this could be a faculty or multicultural affairs staff member who is trained in the IGD pedagogical methods. Ideally, it would be great to have a team of coaches after the program is running for a few years to allow for new faculty or staff members to be trained while other members step back into their traditional academic or administrative roles.

Funding Considerations for IGD Programs

Another vital aspect to consider is how the new IGD program will get funding to operate. Potential sources of funding could come from a Dean of Student Affairs or Vice President of Student Affairs Programming Fund. Since this case proposes that IGD program should operate from the Division of Student Affairs senior leadership such as a Dean must support this effort. Backing from the Strategic Plan is also important to have the buy-in from stakeholders such as President, cabinet members, faculty, staff, and students who completely understand that the IGD program promotes cross-race learning which helps with engaging students to celebrate diversity and difference (Judkins, 2012). On the other hand, an alternative source of funding could come from a faculty appointment, Office of Multicultural Affairs, or even from an external educational foundation whose mission focuses on diversity and inclusion (Zúñiga et. al, 2007).

Evaluation and Design Considerations for an IGD Program

As the IGD program is designed and implemented it is crucial to think about how to develop an evaluation system to collect data on student learning and development. Having the data to support the educational benefits of intergroup dialogue will help when writing grants to secure funding or even advocating for the program’s budget each year in the Division of Student Affairs. It would be important to develop both quantitative and qualitative studies (Dessel & Rogge, 2008). A qualitative study would help to understand multiracial participants’ experience with perspective taking, cross cultural relationships, and stereotypes (Dessel & Rogge, 2008).  Quantitative studies could be developed to understand educational benefits and quantify student learning in IGD in another way to appease important stakeholders.

Additionally, another factor in the designing of the multiracial IGD program would be to intentionally develop both the process and content considerations for the dialogue pedagogy so it represents the complexity of multiracial student identities. Beale and Schoem (2001) suggest that a successful intergroup dialogue is one that balances both content and process: allows for “legitimizing the experiences of participants as more than just one’s person’s experience and worthy of research” (Beale & Schoem, 2001, p. 267; Nagda, Zúñiga, & Sevig, 1995). Racial identity theory research tells us that multiracial individuals need their multiple racial identities to be legitimized in order to feel “whole” (Ford & Malaney, 2012). Given this information, IGD will aid in multiracial students having honest, sustaining conversations about the oppression surrounding their multiple social identity groups. The IGD process can “shed light on the complex dynamics of connection and disconnection that result from estranged or hostile relationships between members of social groups in the larger society” (Zúñiga et. al, 2007, p. 15). For multiracial students participating in IGD program it could allow them to resolve their feeling of disconnection on campus from monoracial students and perhaps also understand how they could disengage from confronting racial justice in their personal lives (Malaney Brown, 2020).

Having the space to talk about race and identity on a college campus is crucial for multiracial students to feel comfortable exploring their racial identity. Renn (2000) examined how multiracial students engaged with identity-based spaces on campus.  The main themes that emerged from Renn’s (2000) study were that multiracial students felt influenced by the way identity-based spaces on campus made them feel about fitting in, and particularly how they perceived interactions from their monoracial peers when trying to engage with social and club events related to race.  Renn (2000) concluded that having an inclusive space for multiracial students on campus demonstrated the institution’s commitment to being inclusive of all social identities.  Renn (2000) concluded that having an inclusive space for multiracial students on campus demonstrated the institution’s commitment to being inclusive of all social identities.  Intergroup dialogue can help create the space that multiracial college students need to feel inclusive and safe.

Moreover, facilitators play a fundamental role in the IGD process. Some of the common challenges that facilitators experience are a lack of knowledge around a social identity, managing their emotions and conflict (Yeakley, 2011). The self-development and growth in being a facilitator in an IGD is summarized in this quote, “Facilitating yourself is about going on a life journey–a scary and exciting journey that will take you to places within yourself that will surprise, delight, inspire, as well as disturb, disgust and horrify you” (Hunter et al., 2007, p. 46). Facilitators learn a lot about themselves in the dialogue process, but also help set the tone for their multiracial participants. By receiving the proper training and support, facilitators trained in IGD pedagogy will be able to 1) create a safe place, 2) recognize signs of negative processes, 3) encourage and support depth of personal sharing, 4) engaging conflicts as teachable moments, and 5) attending to identity differences in awareness and experience (Yeakley, 2011). If facilitators are able to follow through with these five recommendations during training, it will help increase the intergroup connection and understanding while lessening the challenges they will face in the dialogue experience. Facilitators in the IGD multiracial program will need to work closely together to create the best learning space for participants to encourage the educational benefits and outcomes such as voicing, inquiry, perspective taking, empathy and active listening that IGD strives to attain (Yeakley, 2011).

Final Thoughts

Intergroup dialogues are an effective way to understand issues of difference in higher education.  Higher education institutions have to accept responsibility to prepare students to enter a diverse, globalized, multiracial democracy. Intergroup dialogue is one proven educational mechanism that institutions can use to help challenge college students to critically think about themselves and the world around them (Zúñiga et al., 2007). Although intergroup dialogue programs have traditionally had an exclusive Black-White interracial focus it is important to offer multiple and varied dialogues (Schoem et al., 2001) that include multiracial voices.

Overall, “Intergroup dialogue presents an important opportunity for students and others to practice the skills needed to cultivate diverse democratic culture in higher education and the broader society” (Lopez & Zúñiga, 2010, p. 38). We cannot forget that college students enter higher education at a crossroads when they gain the skills needed to prepare for their future lives. Meaningful dialogue and IGD programs offered at higher education institutions can challenge and shape the multiracial students’ experiences with social justice. Multiracial individuals—are fast becoming the new majority in the United States (Jones & Bullock, 2012) and IGD is a great way to begin the conversation to challenge monoraciality and race in an environment that is supportive and engaging for all participants. In the words of Beverly Tatum, “I have seen that meaningful dialogue can lead to effective action. Change is possible. I remain hopeful” (Tatum, 1997, p. 206). Like Tatum, I, too am hopeful that innovative intergroup dialogues can be utilized in higher education institutions to build and create space for multiracial college students to explore and understand their mixed race and multiracial identity.

Discussion Questions

  1. Does your higher education institution recognize multiracial students in programming (monthly events, educational conversations, etc.)?
  2. What can you do as a student affairs practitioner in your functional area (i.e., Residence Education, Career Education, Multicultural Affairs among others) to provide space for multiracial students on your campus in the form of an inter or intragroup dialogue?
  3. How might you incorporate the intergroup dialogue pedagogy and practices that emphasize the values of perspective taking, voicing, listening, and developing empathy across difference at your higher education institution?
  4. When creating an intergroup dialogue program who are your institution’s stakeholders? How will you consider designing and evaluating the program?


Adams, M., Bell, L., & Griffin, P. (2010). (Eds.). Teaching for diversity and social justice (2nd ed.). Routledge.

Beale, R.L., & Schoem, D. (2001). The content/process balance in intergroup dialogue. In D. Schoem & S. Hurtado (Eds.), Intergroup dialogue: Deliberative democracy in school, college, community, and workplace. (pp. 266-279). University of Michigan Press.

Burbules, N. (1993). Dialogue in teaching: Theory and practice. Teachers College Press.

Chesler, M. (2001). Extending intergroup dialogue: From talk to action. In D. Schoem & S. Hurtado (Eds). Intergroup dialogue deliberative democracy in school, college, community, and workplace. (pp. 294-305). University Michigan Press.

Dessel, A. & Rogge, M. (2008). Evaluation of intergroup dialogue: A review of the empirical literature. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 26(2), 199-238.

Ford, K.A. (2018). (Ed.). Facilitating change through intergroup dialogue: Social justice advocacy in practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

Ford, K.A. & Malaney, V.K. (2012). I now harbor more pride in my race: The educational benefits of inter- and intra-racial dialogues on the experiences of students of color and multiracial students. Equity and Excellence in Education, 45(1), 14-35.

Guillermo Wann, C., & Johnston, M.P. (2012, November). Rethinking research on multiracial college students: Toward an integrative model of multiraciality for campus climate. Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference, Chicago: IL, 1-52.

Hurtado, S. (2007). Linking diversity with the educational and civic missions of higher education. The Review of Higher Education, 30(2), 185-196.

Hunter, D., Bailey, A., & Taylor, B. (2007). The art of facilitation: How to create group synergy (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Hyman, J. (2010). The new multiracial student: Where do we start? The Vermont Connection, 31(1), 128-134.

Johnston, M.P. & Nadal, K. (2010). Multiracial microaggressions: Exposing monoracism in everyday life and clinical practice. In D.W. Sue (Ed.), Microaggressions and marginality: Manifestation, dynamics, and impact. (pp. 123-144). Wiley & Sons.

Jones, N. & Bullock, J. (2012). The Two or More Races Population: 2010. Census 2010 Brief. U.S. Census Bureau #C2010BR-13.

Jones, A., & Jones, J. (2010). Breaking barriers for multiracial students. National Forum of Multicultural Issues7(1), 1-6.

Judkins, B. (2012). Intergroup dialogues: Building community and relational justice. Catalyst A Social Justice Forum 2(1), 27-36.

Lopez, G. & Zúñiga, X. (2010). Intergroup dialogue and democratic practice in higher education.  New Directions for Higher Education, 152, 35-42.

Maher, F. & Thompson Tetreault, M. (2007). Privilege and diversity in the academy. Routledge.

Malaney Brown, V. K. (2020). Exploring multiracial consciousness: Voices of multiracial students at a predominately White institution [Doctoral dissertation, University of Massachusetts Amherst]. Scholar Works.

Miller, J. & Garren, A. (2008). Racism in the united states: Implications for the helping professions. Thomson Brooks/Cole.

Nagda, B., Zúñiga, X., & Sevig, T. (1995). Bridging differences through peer facilitated intergroup dialogues. In S. Hatcher (Ed.) Peer programs on a college campus: Theory, training, and the voices of the peers. New Resources.

Renn, K. (2000). Patterns of situational identity among biracial and multiracial college students. Review of Higher Education, 23, 399-420.

Schoem, D. (2003). Intergroup dialogue for a just and diverse democracy. Sociological Inquiry 73(2), 212-227.

Schoem, D., Hurtado, S., Sevig, T., Chesler, M., & Sumida, S. (2001). Intergroup dialogue: Democracy at work in theory and practice. In D. Schoem & S. Hurtado (Eds). Intergroup dialogue deliberative democracy in school, college, community, and workplace. (pp.1-21). University Michigan Press.

Smith, D. (2005). Diversity’s promise for higher education: Making it work. The John Hopkins University Press.

Sorenson, N., Nagda, B., Gurin, P., & Maxell, K. (2009). Taking a “hands on” approach to diversity in higher education: A critical-dialogic model for effective intergroup interaction. Analysis of Social Issues and Public Policy, 9(1), 3-35.

Tatum, B. (1997). Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?: And other conversations about race. Perseaus Press.

Yeakley, A. (1998). The nature of prejudice change: Positive and negative change processes arising from intergroup contact experiences. University of Michigan Press.

Yeakley, A. (2011). In K. Maxwell, B. Nagda, & M. Thompson (Eds.). Facilitating intergroup dialogue. Stylus.

Zúñiga, X. & Nagda, B. (2001). Design considerations in intergroup dialogue. In Intergroup dialogue: Deliberative democracy in school, college, community, and workplace. University of Michigan Press.

Zúñiga, X., Nagda, B., Chesler, M., & Cytron-Walker, A. (2007). Intergroup dialogue in higher education: Meaningful learning about social justice. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report Volume 32, Number 4. Jossey-Bass.


Victoria K. Malaney Brown currently serves as the inaugural Director of Academic Integrity for undergraduates at Columbia University and she also earned her B.A. in English-Spanish and minors in Dance and Latin American Studies from Skidmore College. Dr. Malaney Brown received her Higher Education Ph.D. from the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her qualitative dissertation explored critical consciousness in the narratives of multiracial collegians at a predominantly White institution. A scholar-practitioner, Dr. Malaney Brown’s research interests focuses on the racialized experiences of multiracial undergraduate students in higher education, intergroup dialogue, and college student activism.

Dr. Malaney Brown is a research affiliate at the Center for Student Success Research at UMass Amherst and is a former past Chair of the Multiracial Network (MRN) and is the Assembly Coordinator-Elect for Coalitions & Networks with the American College Personnel Association’s (ACPA) Governing Board.

Practicing the Art of Moneyball in Student Affairs – Brian W. Janssen

Brian W. Janssen
Director of Student Organization Advising and Leadership Development
Portland State University

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book and thought to yourself, “That was a great analogy for a certain part of my life?” A few months ago this happened to me as I read the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (Lewis, 2004) and the part of my life it applies to is my career as a student affairs educator. The following essay will begin with an introduction to the concept of Moneyball and how it connects with the world of student affairs. After that, four Moneyball-based promising practices will be outlined with the hope of inspiring progressive thinking and action on campus. The essay ends by challenging us as student affairs educators to think about how we can shape the future of our profession to best meet the needs of our students.

Connecting Baseball to Student Affairs

If you are unfamiliar with the book or movie Moneyball (2011), here is a short synopsis. In Major League Baseball (MLB) there are 30 teams and no salary cap. This essentially means that teams with more money are able to afford “better” players thus creating a perceived competitive advantage. As in MLB, within the U.S. higher education system funding variances can influence perceptions of institutional service and quality. In Moneyball, the Oakland Athletics’ (A’s) General Manager (Billy Beane) wants to find a way for his team to be competitive even though they are a resource limited organization. Does this conversation sound familiar to those of you working in higher education?

Through a combination of data collection and analysis, challenges to paradigmatic ideals, and a willingness to take risks, Billy Beane and his organization create a new structure that allows them to be successful within the competitive environment of MLB. Using their unorthodox, sabermetric driven approach, in 2002 the Oakland A’s won 103 games with a payroll of $40,004,167; the New York Yankees also won 103 in 2002 games but spent $125,928,583 (, 2011).

In the world of higher education and student affairs, we are obviously not measuring our success through wins and losses the way they do in baseball. But, as the percentage of institutional budgets coming from state and federal funding continues to decrease, many of us will find ourselves in a position similar to the Oakland A’s. Within the ever-changing landscape of higher education, how do we remain competitive and provide the same, if not higher levels of service, with a limited budget? What paradigmatic ideals do we need to break from to usher in a new era of success in student affairs?

Using certain aspects from Moneyball as a foundation, the following sections will outline what I believe are promising practices that could help student affairs educators rethink assessment, hiring, and leadership, while also promoting student and institutional success.

Promising Practice 1: Be Creative with Data Collection and Use

In Moneyball (2011), the Oakland A’s adopt a new philosophy towards data usage and analytics, what in the baseball world is called sabermetrics. Essentially, instead of relying on subjective information from baseball scouts (e.g., the way a play looks, swagger, attractiveness of partner), the Oakland A’s use data to build a team that can compete. The data they were analyzing had been available for years as had the philosophy, but it took courage and innovation to use these tools in a paradigm shifting way and that is what the Oakland A’s did. If they can do it in baseball, why can’t we do the same in student affairs?

Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that we completely ignore the subjective nature of our work as that would not be the Moneyball way. Rather, we combine subjective information along with available quantitative data in ways that help us gain an increased understanding of who students are, how they define success, what they need to be successful, and if programs are truly having the impact they claim. Developing assessment measures and using the collected information can help answer these questions and ground decision making. When decisions are based on statements such as “I know our students and this is what they want” or “We have been doing it this way for a while and it always works”, it can cause frustration. Statements like these imply that as educators we cannot think of new, creative ways to elicit and manage change so we can have a positive impact on our students. They also imply that students have not changed which we know is not accurate. I believe differently and feel we should strive for more.

To move in this direction would require a student affairs workforce that not only values this type of data usage, but is trained to see data as an asset rather than a foe. For many student affairs educators terms like data collection, analysis, learning outcomes, and assessment can be scary as many in our field are not trained in these areas. However,  if we are going to be progressive in our practice and use data to truly make a difference in the lives of our students, we must train ourselves and the next generation of student affairs educators to be well versed in data collection and analysis. If there is going to be a Moneyball like shift in thinking within the world of student affairs we must move past the days of placing an electronic counter at the base of a door frame and calling it assessment.

Promising Practice 2: Embrace Diverse Educational and Practitioner Experiences

In Moneyball (2011), the Oakland A’s create a successful team by looking for players who are often cast aside because they do not fit a traditional player mold. Essentially, they sought talented players who fit with their team model and philosophy rather than those with stereotypical measures of success.  In student affairs, and higher education in general, interdisciplinary practitioners with a range of experiences and perspectives, even if somewhat non-traditional, should not be overlooked in hiring and promotion practices.

Over the past six years I have worked with a team of professionals who serve as advisors and leadership educators for student organizations and their membership. Educational backgrounds in sociology, counseling, sustainability education, and student affairs have led us to see our student affairs practice through an interdisciplinary lens thereby creating programs and initiatives that reflect this type of diversity.

As our institutions continue to attract students from a range of diverse backgrounds, having staff who can create interdisciplinary programs that appeal to a broad spectrum of potential leaders instead of those who typically engage in leadership positions will be imperative. If your department or institution is interested in retaining students from all backgrounds, creating programs that appeal to their experiences is key and having staff with varied educational and practical perspectives can set the stage for increased engagement.

As an individual with a more traditional student affairs background, being exposed to a range of new perspectives has allowed me to grow and develop as an educator and leader. No matter the level where we stand, from entry level educator to senior student affairs officer, if we can harness the power of those around us it will make us better educators and this begins with a shift in our hiring practices.

Promising Practice 3: Create Space to Hear Voices from All Administrative Levels

In Moneyball (2011), General Manager Billy Beane creates space for his data analytics person, Peter Brand, to discuss what his research shows and how they plan to proceed using his player assessments as the foundation for a new line of thinking, a paradigm shift if you will. In student affairs, it is not enough to hire folks with diverse educational and life experiences, we must also create space where their voices can be heard. To do this, I recommend that senior student affairs educators (SSAE) (a) build time into their schedules to meet with staff from all levels and (b) have a range of communication devices in place to gather information. The time a SSAE spends with staff does not always need to be in a formal listening session format, it could be lunch or coffee where the conversation is more informal and organic in nature.

As educators we should understand that folks fall along a spectrum when it comes to comfort level with in-person interactions and conversations. Similar to a classroom setting, just because people are in the room does not mean they always have a chance to speak or contribute. As leaders, it is our responsibility to create these types of spaces and if we do not we are missing the point on why having diversity of perspectives is important.

In addition to gathering information, when SSAE spend time with staff and provide multiple avenues for providing feedback it shows commitment to collaboration and learning. As student affairs educators we should strive to create learning partnerships where all folks can see themselves as holders of knowledge and teachers.

Finally, SSAE connecting with staff at different levels can also promote a sense of belonging. Research shows how powerful the construct of sense of belonging is for students and I contend it is just as important for staff. As Strayhorn (2017) and others have asserted, sense of belonging and mattering are basic needs and we should not overlook their importance in staff relationships and divisional culture.

Promising Practice 4: Embrace the Change

In case you have not noticed, even before the COVID-19 outbreak the 21st-century higher education landscape was changing rapidly and we must be open to it. For example, as technological advances in communication (e.g., online learning platforms, social media) exert greater influence on our institutions and students, we should not shy away. Instead, we should embrace the revolution and come to the realization that the way we have operated in the past is going to change. These changes will surely be met with fear and opposition because without support and scaffolding, change is scary. As institutional leaders it is our role to balance tradition with the realities of the world around us so we can be proactive and progressive.

Admittedly, I will miss certain elements of the traditional higher education environment, but I am also excited about the possibility of new opportunities. For example, recently my team has been exploring eSports and how they fit within our institution. As a former student-athlete I am not afraid to admit that when I first heard the term eSports I was a little offended by the presumption that electronic gaming and more traditional athletic endeavors share similar qualities. But, as I learned more about eSports I realized there are some similarities and more importantly, that for many students this is an engagement and leadership opportunity.

Being open to new ideas is at the foundation of our profession. In fact, that is what most of us are teaching to students whether it is in our leadership programs or through other avenues (e.g., programming, internships, employment). To be congruent with our learning outcomes we must demonstrate to students and others (e.g., faculty, community) our desire to embrace change and create progressive, student-centered educational environments.


The promising practices put forth in this document are not the only Moneyball ideas out there. In fact, my hope is that on every college and university campus there are people pushing a Moneyball like mentality that can help lead our institutions in a progressive direction. Aside from highlighting a few promising practices, the goal of this essay was to get people thinking in new ways; to be creative, courageous, and challenge previously unchallenged ideals. If we are to usher in a new era of student affairs, we must continually ask ourselves, are we Moneyballers?

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is your individual department and larger student affairs unit using data to focus on student success initiatives?
  2. How is your division of student affairs using the collective voices of practitioners to influence strategy, policy, and practice?
  3. In the midst of the largest shift in recent U.S. higher education history, what creative practices are you embracing to help promote student engagement and success?


Lewis, M. (2004). Moneyball: The art of winning an unfair game. W.W. Norton

Math Goes Pop (2011, September). Moneyball.

Miller, B. (Director). (2011). Moneyball [Film]. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Strayhorn, T. (2017). College students’ sense of belonging: A key to educational success for all students (Second ed.). Routledge


Dr. Brian Janssen is the Director of Student Organization Advising and Leadership Development at Portland State University (PSU). A veteran student affairs educator with 17 years of experience, Brian earned his Master’s Degree from Miami University (OH) and a PhD from The Ohio State University. Brian has worked at four different institutions in the areas of housing, student retention and assessment, learning center administration, scholarships and student engagement, and student activities. In addition to being a practitioner, Brian also teaches in the Higher Education and Student Affairs graduate program at PSU and serves as the university’s Faculty Athletic Representative (FAR). As the FAR, Brian has been appointed to multiple national level NCAA committees and executive councils.

Using Games to Create Shared Experiences – Alison Fecher

Alison Fecher
Cooperative Education Advisor
Clemson University

With distance learning becoming more and more popular and now with social distancing being a health imperative, it’s time to get creative. Possible resources that often go underutilized – or overlooked all together – are videogames. That said, videogames are an excellent vehicle for fostering student engagement in scenarios that they can then take to an online discussion.

Why videogames? Why not podcasts, TV shows, or movies? I agree that those are all excellent forms of media with instructional value. As a podcast junkie myself, I keep a running list of all the episodes I think would generate good discussion in a classroom. However, those are passive mediums; in videogames the player takes on the role of the protagonist and actively engages in the game world making decisions and performing actions.

A student gets the chance not only to witness the story but also affect it, which can make for a deeper and more meaningful experience. Steinkuehler and Williams (2006) posited that digital games create a “third space” where individuals have a shared experience in a game. They are referring to multiplayer online games, but the same concept can be applied to single player games that are later discussed in groups. The third space is still the game, but the shared experience is asynchronous to allow for more flexible schedules. This allows participants to access the same game space but to perceive and engage in that space differently, which creates the potential for rich examination and dialogue.

To provide examples, I will focus on two different games that have potential to be used as experiences and then as discussion topics in classrooms. Both of these games are available via the Steam client ( These games may also be available on other platforms, but I will stick to Steam since it is a free service and only requires a computer as the games are available on both Windows and Mac. Steam is to video games as Amazon is to movies and TV shows. It has almost everything based on one platform, but you must purchase the games to play them. You have access to your games on any computer as long as you are logged in to your Steam account (the account itself is free). On that note, it is possible to have a department or office Steam account so that each individual would not have to purchase the game if they do not wish to. If used for a class, students might purchase the game the same way they would buy a textbook for class. If the user has the correct username and password, they can download and play the games using the shared Steam account.

Night in the Woods

“Night in the Woods” is about Mae Borowski, a first-generation college student who drops out and returns to her small town in the midst of an economic crisis. In our current context there could be similarities in some ways to what our students are going through – compelled to leave campus, many of them returning home despite their wishes. The game was inspired by the 2008 recession and is based on the writers’ own experiences of that time. While “Night in the Woods” has its own story to tell about friendships and what might be out there in the woods, much of the game is focused on Mae walking about town and talking to her friends and family. These conversations lend themselves to reflections on faith, mental health, small town America, and growing up.

As a student affairs professional, as I played, I enjoyed the story, but couldn’t stop thinking about how Mae’s college let her down and how she is processing this failure. What is affecting her and what could have been done differently to support her? The game has a rich story and there are a lot of complexities to Mae’s situation to generate rich discussion.

Another aspect of the game is that in 2019, one of the developers (the programmer and musician) was accused of sexual assault and then died by suicide after the company separated themselves from him. Does this change the game in any way for the players? Can we separate the game from one of its creators? Should we? I had to grapple with these same questions when this news came out. I found “Night in the Woods” to be an excellent game covering a variety of topics worthy of reflection, but I had to reconcile that with some of the repugnant personal choices of one of the creators. In our current “cancel culture” this is an example of the issues our students – and, in fact, all of us wrestle with as we navigate the complexities of life and the individuals around us.

Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor

While “Night in the Woods” is connected more directly to higher education there are learning opportunities that can fit in the context of teaching and training – particularly as they relate to student affairs – in other games, as well.  One excellent example is “Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor” – an anti-adventure game that is really a poverty simulator in a sci-fi setting. The player is a janitor in a spaceport living hand to mouth and trying to break a curse so that they can escape and live a better life somewhere else As the titular Janitor, you incinerate trash for pennies per day but can’t go to sleep until you have eaten. Thus, you need to decide between expensive food from vendors or canned food that can make you sick.

Every so often you must take medication or your vision blurs and you can’t work. You can also get sick out of the blue and must purchase medicine, which can wreak havoc on the small amount of savings that you’ve built up. The Janitor deals with enforcers who threaten and spaceport patrons who make inappropriate propositions.

It sounds extremely depressing, and yet I found myself drawn in with the charming, pixel art of the ever-changing spaceport and every ninth day there is a little celebration with adorable music. Each night the Janitor is required to write in her diary, which builds reflection of the experience into the game itself. Eventually, the player can “win” and escape the spaceport for good, but it does take a bit of work!  Discussions could include reflections on money and resource management and feelings of control versus powerlessness. Is the Janitor an “other” in the spaceport or is she a part of the system? What was each player’s path to making the most out of the Janitor’s situation? The game touches on a variety of other topics our students struggle with – often in silence and isolation.

Applications to Student Affairs

Either of these games can be used in student affairs training or staff development activities. By using these platforms, staff can discuss a variety of student-related topics, first generation status, food insecurity, mental / physical wellness, socioeconomic status, etc. The experiential aspects of the games combined with group discussion can surface specific issues for individual offices, campuses, or communities. Each department or campus community would find different aspects of the games salient and worthy of reflection and each player’s lived experiences brings even more complexity to the discussion.

Additionally, either of these games are suitable for classroom settings. Courses on first year student transition could benefit from discussions using Mae as a case study. “Diaries” could be integrated into classes as a catalyst for reflection on how students from different socioeconomic statuses might engage with college coursework and campus life differently. Administration or retention courses could focus on what programs or policies could have helped Mae maintain her enrollment. Classes designed to train residence life student staff might engage in dialogue related to the food insecurity and otherness experienced by the Janitor. They could also focus on Mae’s experiences related to violence and mental illness and how student affairs professionals could engage with students experiencing these issues. Inclusion and equity courses could use either game to have students experience a reality different from their own and reflect on how they felt, what surprised them, and how they were challenged by the game realities.


Studies regarding game-based learning (often abbreviated to GBL) suggest that it is just as or more effective than traditional teaching techniques. Ahmed and Sutton (2017) posited this is because feedback from games is immediate (p. 80). For example, when watching a video for class, a student cannot get feedback from the video but must wait until class begins. A videogame has no such buffer because it is a fully encapsulated experience and whatever choice the player makes will result in consequences immediately. Hamari et al. (2016) found that educational games increase learner engagement (p. 175). Heightened investment corresponds to the engagement piece since the is player acting as the protagonist and all in-game choices affect the protagonist and thus the experience of the player.

“Night in the Woods” and “Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor” are not the only games of their kind. Independent developers are pushing the limits of how we define and engage with videogames. “Papers, Please” is a simulation and story of an immigration agent trying to support his family in a Cold-War era, communist state. “Celeste” is a challenging 2D platformer where a girl is forced to face her insecurities as she climbs the titular mountain. The developers of “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice” spent time with leading neuroscientists to portray the protagonist’s psychosis accurately. Videogames today are a far cry from “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Super Mario Brothers” (wonderful as those games are) and have more to offer than just entertainment; there are games out there with complex narratives that have a place in classrooms and training exercises.

In this era of connecting digitally, we are challenged with finding new ways to share knowledge and experiences. Videogames are not only a low-cost avenue to create immersive experiences, but an educationally effective one as well. They won’t work for every topic or every class, but they have something unique to offer that is worth considering as we plan trainings, courses, and professional development experiences. We are in a changing environment which compels us to reexamine methods of learning and connecting and videogames can help us engage separately and learn together.


Ahmed, A., & Sutton, M. J. D. (2017). Gamification, serious games, simulation, and immersive learning environments in knowledge management initiatives. World Journal of Science, Technology and Sustainable Development, 14, 23, 78-83. http://doi:10.1108/WJSTSD-02-2017-0005

Hamari, J., Shernoff, D. J., Rowe, E., Coller, B., Asbell-Clarke, J., & Edwards, T. (2016). Challenging games help students learn: An empirical study on engagement, flow and immersion in game-based learning. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 170-179.

Infinite Fall. (2017). Night in the woods [Steam video game]. Finji.

Steinkuehler, C. A., & Williams, D. (2006). Where everybody knows your (screen) name: Online games as ‘‘third places.’’ Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11, 885-909. http://doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2006.00300.x

Sundae Month. (2016). Diaries of a spaceport janitor [Steam video game]. tinyBuild.

Doing Student Affairs Work in a Facilities Department during COVID-19 and BLM: A Noticeable Disconnect – Cyndel Brunell

Cyndel Brunell
Program Coordinator, Sustainable Campus
Florida State University

When I graduated with my M.Ed. two years ago, I landed my dream job as a Sustainability Engagement Coordinator. In my role, I supervise a team of students and together we facilitate outside of the classroom sustainability learning experiences. In addition to this, I serve on a multitude of university wide committees and work on long term projects to advance sustainability socially, economically, and environmentally. My office calls facilities home. It makes a lot of sense for sustainability offices to be located in facilities departments. It puts us close to the connections, resources, and infrastructure we need to do the more operational side of our work.

It is also worth noting facilities staff are not generally accustomed to students practicing TikTok dances like Renegade in the hallway, so sometimes it is a challenging fit. Facilities is a world of numbers and calculations and projects with deadlines – the playful nature of the students frequently catches our facilities staff off-guard. Secretly, I think they admire the students’ spunk and it keeps our department young, but we have received many stink eyes and requests to quiet down, to which we always oblige. Despite the challenges, I am glad our office calls facilities home. It has opened my eyes to a noticeable disconnect between what we say we value versus what we do on college campuses.

To help you understand some of the observations I have made, I would like to tell you first about the typical makeup of a facilities department. Facilities departments are generally the largest if not one of the largest departments on a college campus. Facilities departments vary from one campus to the next, but can include areas such as custodial staff, grounds and landscaping, planning and architecture, finances and procurement, sustainability, and so much more. Your campus facilities department is probably the most diverse department on your campus. People of all ages, races, nationalities, educational levels, and religious backgrounds make up a facilities department. Facilities will also inevitably house the people making the least amount of money on your campus, right up to people making almost the most. The disparities just within facilities are immense, comparing facilities staff from across campus exemplifies a staggering difference in compensation, power, and privilege.

Working in facilities right now is like sitting in a pressure cooker. Everyone is trying to advocate for themselves, their needs, and their safety. The ways in which each person is heard and protected exemplifies exactly how disparity occurs and perpetuates harm to our most vulnerable campus community members. The disparity in levels of protection and respect is how our actions, policies, and decisions put into practice that white lives matter more than black lives (and the lives of all people of color) and / or that having a certain level of education somehow means your needs are the most important and should be met first.

This pandemic has exacerbated the inequalities and inequities that exist on our campuses. In the past couple months, statements of solidarity and commitment to black lives were made. In this moment I cannot help but to think of these statements as the equivalent to voluntourism – helping anywhere but home. Our campuses put out statements that say the right things, but in practice do not walk the talk.

This isn’t new. Facilities departments are often left out of university wide trainings – especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Student affairs professionals often talk about “forgotten populations” like transfer students or sophomores. These forgotten populations have unique needs that are important to address for student success and retention. In many ways, facilities departments are the forgotten populations of organizational charts. Facilities departments have unique needs that are unmet considering the diversity of work and people doing the work.

What is worse however, is the feeling that facilities departments only value to a university is keeping it clean. Facilities departments are not worth getting acquainted with because assumptions have been made about the work facilities does, and that work is considered “less-than” any other work on campus. In reality, facilities departments are integral to the success of student affairs work. They literally make the university run.

Student affairs professionals know environment matters in fostering sense of belonging. Imagine football game day without facilities to reign in the literal mountains of waste produced. Imagine a classroom with a landfill bin that has not been changed in weeks. It is easy to think of facilities teams as just taking out trash or cleaning common areas and forget that this is the work of safety and community that helps students, faculty, and staff feel at home in their residence halls and work and learning spaces. Student affairs work would be impossible without frontline staff such as custodial workers and groundskeepers. So, even if a facilities department’s only value to a university was keeping it clean, (and – spoiler alert – it isn’t) that is one of the most integral services on any campus to ensure the success of all people at a university.

COVID-19 has presented challenges for every department across campus. The shift to online was a big one for all of us – but many of us were fortunate that we could make the shift to online. The nature of facilities work means that not all facilities workers had work that was doable online. In particular, members of grounds and landscaping, maintenance and shop workers, and custodial staff were hit the hardest. There was only so much work that could be done once campus was vacated. Facilities departments worked diligently to create work and retain staff, but there is a chance that on your campus many facilities workers have been without work or pay for a significant time – all while many of us have been Zooming into our meetings. And getting regular paychecks.

Fast forward a few months: Herculean efforts have been made to open universities as safely as possible. We are all exhausted. Facilities departments are exhausted. It is easy to empathize with our friends in housing and the monumental effort to open residence halls and get students safely moved in because we understand that role. Far fewer of us understand the life of our frontline custodial staff who leave their first or second job to come their shift in their facilities department.

Even fewer still understand the “you shoulds” facilities fields (from all sides): You should install Plexiglas in every office and classroom. You should install hand sanitizing stations outside of every door. You should replace all of the air filters in every building on campus weekly. The list goes on, each request less feasible than the last. All of these “you shoulds” are coming alongside an already growing list of guidelines and protocols for facilities staff to sanitize spaces, all the while getting no additional compensation for the risks they have to take as they literally handle potentially infectious waste.

Sometimes working in a facilities department feels like a dumping ground. You read between the lines of the requests that are received on any given day and see “I don’t care how much it costs (financially or in terms of personal risk to your staff), I want this unreasonable, impossible task done, and oh yeah, it needs to be done by tomorrow.” The emphasis is on the task, not the human being who is fulfilling the request. I do not think any of these requests are malicious, but they center the needs of other people and departments instead of considering the impact on those tasked with the work.

Many of us are used to filling out service requests and them being completed in a timely fashion with exceptional service. However ask yourself when was the last time you sat face-to-face with someone in facilities – especially without a request in hand – just to understand facilities, the scope of the work that is being completed at any one time, or the person who does what you need to get done? If someone constantly came to your department with nothing but requests, how would that feel? Would you feel valued? As simple as it may seem, treating facilities with the same level of respect and expectations as you have for anyone interacting with your department, would go a long way. So would a thank you. We see you. Much of facilities work is thankless, just like student affairs work. Student affairs is uniquely positioned to both understand and acknowledge the role facilities plays on campus. With that in mind, I offer the following – A Better Way to Work With Facilities Staff. Most of these approaches are simple, but also speak to importance of communication and understanding between facilities staff and the greater university – especially student affairs.

Say Hello, every chance you get. Not only is a lot of the work facilities departments do unseen, so are the people, despite the fact they regularly share space with staff from all across campus. If you see someone from facilities, say hello. Ask how they are doing. Then, next time you see them do the same and follow-up on anything they may have shared last time. Let them know you care about them as a human and appreciate the work they do.

Speak our language. Fluffy stuff about feelings and sense of belonging doesn’t translate from student affairs to facilities. We need numbers. We need percentages. What will facilities gain by allowing an ally training to be facilitated. What is the value added to the university? And what is the value to facilities? If it is that facilities will retain X% more frontline staff and therefor save $X on recruitment and training, all while meeting the university’s Diversity and Inclusion goal in the strategic plan, that will sell – but it takes someone from the outside valuing facilities to calculate those things and sit across the table to say, “Join us.”

Don’t just see us when you need us. Add someone from facilities to your campus network and meet with them as frequently as you would any other campus partner. Relationship building goes a long way in completing requests. I would argue that relationship building increases the success and satisfaction with completed requests because facilities will have a better understanding of your needs. Most of all, establishing a regular meeting will make requests feel like less of a “You should” and more like a “Let’s collaborate.”

Come to open forums. When facilities departments host forums to share updates on work, go to them. This is both a chance to build connections and to learn about everything from utilities advancements to construction projects. Nominate someone from your department to be the facilities representative responsible for attending these meetings and reporting back what they learned to your department. Over time, you’ll gain a better understanding of the scope of facilities work, and maybe even partnership opportunities.

Invite us to all the things! You don’t know what you don’t know – and I promise, we know recycling best! When facilities is called into projects post-planning, once things have gone awry, it is a logistical nightmare to make corrections. Often the things facilities think of first, are the things others think of last. These considerations have immense implications. Extend an invitation to a facilities member to attend your staff meeting if you’re talking about a big project or program, or to attend a strategic planning meeting. We will appreciate the invite and will help you be successful at you job!

Be willing to learn. These suggestions are foundational. The gap that exists between student affairs and facilities departments is one that no one really talks about, or to be honest understands. Be willing to learn about facilities. Consider reading The Life of Campus Custodians by Peter Magolda or if books aren’t your thing, watching The Philosopher Kings. Both will give you insights to the life of front line facilities staff both on and off campus, and the sense of belonging they facilitate for our students. But honestly, if nothing else, just start by saying hi.

Cultivate appreciation. Leave the occasional signed thank you card from your staff in an area you know gets serviced by facilities. Take a facilities staff member for coffee. Leave some donuts. Write thank you on the wall in blue painters tape. Just say thank you, it goes such a long way in making everyone feel valued and can create lifetime friendships.

Facilities is so much more than you could ever imagine – so much more than I imagined. I wouldn’t know any of this had I not had I not spent the past two years learning the stories of facilities staff, and how to communicate with them. I don’t know anyone who works harder than the staff I work alongside. There is a beautiful culture of care in facilities.

When your car dies in the parking lot after hours and you are a clueless 20-something year old professional that can tell anyone anything about the lizards in the organic garden, but can’t jump a car – they don’t judge you – they pull up their personal vehicles and jumper cables, and show you how to get your car going again. Then, they give you their cell phone number and tell you to let them know when you make it home safe.

Facilities is a department that cares deeply about people, not unlike student affairs departments. It is easy to think of facilities as vastly different from student affairs. It isn’t. Facilities departments deserve to be treated with the same level of dignity and respect that is offered to any other university department. Although we reside in different places, communicate in different ways, and work on different projects, at the end of the day we all want to see students not only succeed in their college experience, but to enjoy it – and that might look like going to an awesome homecoming program or relaxing between classes the shade of a perfectly manicured tree on campus. We all are needed here.

Researching Outside Our Identities – Sarah Jones & Shanna Smith

Sarah Jones
Assistant Professor, University of West Georgia

Shanna Smith
Assistant Professor, University of West Georgia


Assessment, evaluation, and research (AER) are central focuses within higher education; however, researchers and practitioners often find themselves researching and interacting with participants outside of their own identity/ies. Providing historical perspectives on access, inclusion, and equity, and reviewing stages of ally development, this article offers thoughtful ways in which practitioners can engage in AER with participants from historically underrepresented identities. Perspectives in this article emphasize positivist approaches and empirically-driven research. Topics regarding self-interest and saviorism, positionality, altruism, social justice, and aspiring allyship are explored.

Researching Outside Our Identities

As we engage more with assessment, evaluation, and research (AER) of higher education on various levels it is possible that the primary assessor, evaluator, or researcher will be gathering data from individuals and groups whose salient identity/ies are outside their own. Since this dynamic is not uncommon, it is necessary to acknowledge the inherent power differential between the conductor of AER and the participant; as well as the inherent biases we as conductors hold toward individuals and groups outside our own. Though acknowledging the differential in power is necessary, it is not enough; instead we need to dig deeper. In this paper we will address the history of our experience with, and some suggestions for, conducting AER with participants outside our identities.

Historical Perspectives on Access, Inclusion, and (in)Equity

By examining the “other” without placing students and groups in historical and modern frameworks of interdisciplinary approaches, white researchers have traditionally taken an ahistorical approach to the study of Students of Color in higher education (Hernandez, 2016). But more recently, in an attempt to understand current issues in higher education regarding Students of Color and other historically underrepresented populations, researchers have called for an increased recognition of backgrounds, circumstances, experiences, and outcomes (Harper, Patton, & Wooden, 2009; Thelin, 2011). An area of concern for Students of Color is that historically white colleges and universities often overlook and/or ignore their needs out of ignorance, racism, color-blind ideologies, and white normativity (Bonilla-Silva, 2017; Harper et al., 2009; Heisserer & Perette, 2002; McCoy & Rodricks, 2015). Embracing an historical perspective uncovers these and other inequities while creating space to appropriately discuss and explore current climate and innovative solutions by policy makers, administrators, researchers, and faculty.

Via the lens of Critical Race Theory (CRT), Harper et al. (2009) examined the history of higher education for Students of Color, specifically African Americans, in the United States. Their study included an examination of policy issues that influenced access, equity, and retention. Access to higher education for People of Color was first granted in the early 1820s, and was originally intended to educate freed slaves at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) (Harper et al., 2009). The first historically Black college or university (HBCU) was not chartered for another three decades, however, until 1853 when the Ashmun Institute (now Lincoln University) opened and vowed to increase “the scientific, classical, and theological education of colored youth of the male sex” (Farrison, 1977, p. 403).

Despite a population in the millions and more than 40 years of access to higher education, only 28 African Americans held a college degree after the Civil War (Harper, 2009). While The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 provided access for public higher education via federal funding, it was not until The Morrill Act of 1890 that African Americans had access to equal funding for higher education, but in only 17 of the 42 states. More than 60 years later and after the Brown vs Board of Education ruling in 1954 the Jim Crow South was ordered to desegregate, however efforts to do so by government and institutions were “largely a matter of halfhearted, token compliance” (Thelin, 2011, p. 304). Consequently, despite some legislative advances, “Black students remained marginal and proportionately underrepresented at almost all racially desegregated campuses in the United States” (Thelin, 2011, p. 305). Tracing inequitable opportunity to access higher education underscores the significant and influential racial issues still present in contemporary higher education.

Persistent inequity in U. S. society has perpetuated racism within social, political, cultural, and educational realms (Bonilla-Silva, 2001; Harper et al., 2009). However, compared to Jim Crow era racial inequality, 21st century racism is “increasingly covert, embedded in normal operations of institutions, void of direct racial terminology, and invisible to most whites” (Bonilla-Silva, 2001 p. 48). In fact, when examining experiences within higher education, Students of Color report experiencing hidden, or embedded, forms of racism and overt stereotypes. Examples of these stereotypes include the model minority myth for Asian American students (Assalone & Fann, 2016), the bandido and immigrant/alien stereotype of Latinx students (Owens & Lynch, 2012); and the stereotype that African American students are lazy, and do not value education (Johnson-Ahorlu, 2012).

While fighting both hidden and known stereotypes, Students of Color struggle to find a sense of belonging on predominantly white college campuses, thus leading to inequity via higher rates of attrition than their white peers. Colleges and universities have sought to alleviate this problem through interventions within campus programming, as well as within the college classroom setting. However, without both historical and modern perspectives of Students of Color, it is easier to see differences as deficits and exploit the experiences of “other” for personal or institutional gain. Conversely, studying the impact of AER on minoritized populations via an historical and modern framework leads to asset-based approaches that leave space for critical understanding, multiple perspectives, and equity-based approaches (Crethar, Rivera, & Nash, 2008 & Hernadez, 2016). As investigation into student development, engagement, and retention is positioned within historical and modern frames, blame shifts from the persons and groups experiencing inequity to the systems of power that perpetuate barriers for those living outside the status quo. As the aforementioned summarized history of inequity focused on Black students’ experiences in higher education, know, too that students with different minoritized, and often intersecting identities (i.e., LGBTQIA+ students, differently abled students, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds) face similar inequity (Crethar et. al., 2008).

Stages of Ally Development

Though allyship is sometimes portrayed as a binary, student affairs professionals understand a more complex continuum where deeper examination of self-understanding creates greater knowledge and connection to everyone’s needs. This change in perspective enables a transformative ally development process that can not only lead to increased understanding of self, but also to more effective allyship. Consequently, as professionals engage in more nuanced understandings of self and others via their engagement in AER, changes in ally status are common. In his aspiring social justice ally development model, Edwards’s (2006) espoused the change allies undergo by documenting a shift in perspective from an egocentric or ally-centric stance, to an ally who embraces social justice. In his model described below, the impetus for change falls on allies who must move beyond issues of self-interest and altruism into socially just mindsets that can generate equity.

Self-Interest and Saviorism

Underdeveloped aspiring allies are often self-interested, color-blind people who do not see privilege, and believe in their individual power and ability to protect others (Edwards, 2006). Further, they have difficulty conceptualizing the needs of the target group or issue, and work to maintain the status quo. Similar to saviorism, the underdeveloped ally typically has agent identities, and uses their power to better their position under the guise of serving or helping others. In these instances, tension exists between an underdeveloped ally whose purpose is short-sighted and deficit-laden, and members of target groups who have not asked for help. Similarly, it is not until underdeveloped allies engage in authentic self-exploration that they can expect to transform into a competent ally. Milner (2007) reminds that perspective is within self-identity, and the onus is on the researcher to intentionally and consistently expand cultural work, experiences, and knowledge, while giving voice to historically underrepresented populations, and not amplifying predominately white, male, cisgender, abled, etc. voices. Especially within qualitative research, there is a need to identify and understand the researcher’s position, or reflexivity, in relation to the topic of study (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016; Milner, 2007). Within researchers’ positionality, there is an opportunity to be transparent and authentic about the place from whence the researcher came.

I (Sarah) identify as a white lesbian who grew up in South Louisiana. My experiences in Catholic schools and middle-class environments taught me that I should help others and follow the rules of society. I eventually combined the two and considered my teaching career an opportunity to help others follow the rules of society. Before I embraced my queerness, I did what I could to assimilate to heteronormative traditions and therefore expected others to maintain the status quo no matter their salient identities. When I became a classroom teacher I was surprised that my Black students were not eager to assimilate to my version of whiteness, but instead embraced and celebrated their racial identity. The juxtaposition between my underdeveloped self (as a lesbian and an ally) and my students’ more completely developed Black identity created an opportunity for new perspective via self-understanding. Eventually, I recognized the magnitude of my own biases (i.e., assuming that Black students performed lower academically because of limited parental involvement) and began to challenge them (i.e., racially biased assessments, underfunded schools, and school performance rankings driven by real-estate markets lead to the “achievement gap”). The new perspectives gleaned via ally and self-development are critical professionally and personally as I work through my scholarship, teaching, and service to promote equity and inclusion for all members of society, no matter the constructed rules that oppress.

I (Shanna) self-identify as a white, first-generation female college student who was fortunate to spend the first 18 years of my life growing up in a diverse environment, where my close friends and peers were from various cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds and identities. However, when I transitioned to an undergraduate predominately white institution, I experienced culture shock from witnessing microaggressions and instances of overt racism on campus. I experienced anger and frustration when white peers could not “see” these instances; and outright denied their existence. I also experienced the healing power of conversations on race in a History of African Americans course, led by a Black professor. He empowered the Students of Color in the classroom by affirming their voices and experiences, and taught me the power of listening with humility; and strengthened within me a desire to learn and understand. This enabled me to recognize personal biases, as well as the privileges I had in my own life as a result of my white identity. This professor led the classroom in brutally honest conversations about where our country had been, where it was going, and how we were going to be a part of change in our classroom and on campus.

When we do not constantly engage in self-reflection and examination of how our identities influence our research and lens, we are not able to approach our work with authenticity and transparency. If we do not express and exhibit a willingness to constantly learn and converse with those outside of our own identities with thoughtfulness and humility, we will not ever be able to recognize our own biases and privileges, nor will we be able to grow as individuals and researchers. This practice of self-examination and possession of a growth mindset enables us to strive to represent the voices of our participants, rather than us trying to place voices or opinions on others. It also keeps us humble, understanding we are not the saviors; neither are we the victors. Rather, we are servants who are willing to show up, engage, empower, and be led by others in allyship. Helms’ (1990) White Racial Identity Model, below, summarizes the continuum upon which white people move as they develop their anti-racist identity.

Altruism and Allies

Though allies are typically “members of the dominant group working to end the system of oppression that gives them greater privilege and power based upon their social group membership” (Broido, 2000, p.3), Edwards (2006) emphasizes the role of altruism further, but not fully developed allies hold. Before aspiring allies are privilege-cognizant (Baily, 1998) they move along the ally continuum placing themselves and their agent identities at center. Altruistic allies work alongside target groups, trying to empower and help without regard to the larger issue or interconnection of oppressive systems that perpetuate the status quo and agent identity dominance.

To move beyond altruistic allyship it is necessary to make meaning from privileged identities that act as barriers to self and system critique. Though altruistic allies understand that issues move beyond micro-level instances, their goals to empower others are centered in their own agent identities (i.e. conversion therapy for gay and lesbian youth, assimilation of first Americans, etc.) To further develop as an ally it is necessary to make meaning from privileged identities by decentering, reidentifying, and redefining agent identities from an asset perspective (Broido, 2000; Edwards, 2006). Similar to the process necessary for underdeveloped allies, altruistic allies must be ready to accept and reflect upon their own actions that perpetuate the status quo (Edwards, 2006).

When created with equity in mind, student affairs professionals can conduct AER efforts that give voice to traditionally marginalized students. Doing so requires the conductor to embrace their assumptions and biases of self and others and seek information that describes “difference” from an asset perspective. Yosso (2005), for example, decentered traditional concepts of cultural capital within her concept of Community Cultural Wealth (CCW). She redefined wealth from a predominately white perspective, and recentered it based upon the values and perspectives of people of color. In CCW the experiences of people of color are recognized and valued (Yosso, 2005). Scholars have utilized this framework, as well as social reproduction theory (Bordieu, 1973/1986) to examine ways in which students can honor their cultural backgrounds while simultaneously gaining new skills and experiences before, during, and post college (Jayakumar, Vue, & Allen, 2013; Winkle-Wagner & McCoy, 2018). Others have used this framework to examine how students gain access to college, as well as their pathways through college to graduation (Burt & Johnson, 2018; Burt, Williams, & Palmer, 2018).

Allies can expand their cultural understanding in myriad ways, including evidenced based practices that integrate exploration of self and historical injustices (Milner, 2007). Faculty of color are powerful allies not only because they encourage the actions of others, but also because they have the knowledge and skills to break down systemic barriers that hinder progress (Squire, 2017). Allies need to follow rhetoric with action; non-performative are not enough (Ahmed, 2012). When white individuals fall in this category, they are likely to utilize incomplete information, false information, and deflection to perpetuate systemic oppression rather than actively address racist actions or policy (Matias & Newlove, 2017). Allies must actively seek to dismantle these instances of ignorance, racism, and oppression through the utilization of empirical evidence gained through AER (Edwards, 2006). In this way, AER moves altruistic allyship from ideas and purpose statements to activism (Matias & Newlove, 2017; Milner, 2007).

Social Justice and Aspiring Allies

Social justice or aspiring allies have taken opportunities to reflect on their own agent identities and the ways they interact with the status quo and people who hold target identities (Edwards, 2006). By combining their selfishness for creating better spaces for people they know and love with their altruism, aspiring allies believe in empowerment and liberation for everyone (Broido, 2000; Edwards, 2006). As aspiring allies are able to critique accepted norms and admit their own engagement in a system that perpetuates the status quo, they learn to decenter agent identities in order to promote social justice aspirations such as equity, access, participation, and harmony. Aspiring allies have moved along the continuum of ally development, view themselves as part of the problem and solution, and are committed to redefining the interconnected systems of oppression that create layers of inequity (Broido, 2000; Edwards, 2006). For example, empirical findings from previously conducted research (McCoy, Luedke, & Winkle-Wagner, 2017) can be utilized to identify ways in which white faculty members can be allies to Students of Color by avoiding color-evasive (Annamma, Jackson, & Morrison, 2017) racism, and affirming students in all of their identities as they mentor them to and through higher education.

Incorporating Equity, Access, Participation, and Harmony

Acknowledging and recognizing epistemological ignorance and racism forces researchers and administrators to address the influence of systemic inequities on higher education (Matias & Newlove, 2017; Squire, Nicolazzo, & Perez, 2019). Beyond authentic introspection that decenters agent identities, practitioners and scholars can create inclusive AER when they embrace equity, access, participation, and harmony (Lyons, 2013). Utilizing these four aspirations throughout the research process and design creates the necessary dynamic for professionals engaging in AER to situate themselves in spaces where equity and justice are goals and actions.

Instilling equity, or fairness throughout the research process begins with a question of collaboration and continues with the building of a culturally competent research team. Equity, as a theme and aspiration in inclusive AER, continues into the data collection and analysis phases when researchers’ perspectives are asset driven instead of deficit laden. Think about the ways equity is and can be included in the AER process with the following:

  • Members of the AER team are culturally competent, racially diverse, and strong, critical thinkers
  • Every member can safely express their professional perspective
  • Research questions and methods are inclusive, respectful, and ethical
  • I have examined my knowledge, biases, and position specific to the topic

Access and participation, though two separate aspirations of socially just AER, are interconnected. As access, a person’s right to “power, information, and opportunity” (Lyons et al., 2013, p. 12), increases throughout the AER process, so too does participation. Participation, the action of engaging, is contingent upon access and built through relationships. Access and participation in the AER process include the following:

  • Members of the team share salient identities with participants
  • Stakeholders with shared identities are available to code data
  • The leader of the AER has built relationships among the community

Harmony, the belief that we are stronger, more creative, and more knowledgeable by working together, is not only the conclusion of AER, but an ideal built through the process of inclusive AER. Since harmony is built via equitable access and participation throughout the process, student affair professionals should consistently engage in the creative acquisition of knowledge about self, while building relationships with various participants. Harmony in AER includes the following:

  • Consistent active listening with participants and stakeholders
  • Rigorous investigation into potential benefits and negative consequences of policy and other actions
  • A collaborative plan for proper closure


Now, more than ever, we have a responsibility to reflect on our own position and power. By developing deeper self-understanding, we acquire the ability to move beyond one dimensional, ahistorical perspectives that limit the assets of our students and participants, while dismantling narratives which support systemic oppression. Like the subtle but intentional movement in allyship development where someone replaces personal altruism for responsibility, professionals conducting AER must act by incorporating equity, access, participation, and harmony in their practices. This is led by anyone committed to self-reflection, critical consciousness, and the ability to learn from their previously held assumptions.


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Annamma, S. A., Jackson, D. D., & Morrison, D. (2017). Conceptualizing colorevasiveness: Using dis/ability critical race theory to expand a color-blind racial ideology in education and society. Race Ethnicity and Education, 20(2), 147–162. doi:

Assalone, A. E., & Fann, A. (2016). Understanding the influence of model minority stereotypes on Asian American community college students. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 41(7), 422-435. doi:

Bailey, A. (1998). Locating traitorous identities: Toward a view of privilege-cognizant White character. Hypatia, 12(3), 27-43. doi:

Bonilla-Silva, E. (2017). Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in America (5th ed.). London, UK: Rowman & Littlefield.

Bonilla-Silva, E. (2001). White supremacy and racism within the post-civil rights era. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Bourdieu, P. (1973). Cultural reproduction and social reproduction. In R. Brown (ed.), Knowledge, education, and cultural change, pp. 71-112. London: Travistock.

Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J.G. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education (pp. 241-258). New York: Greenwood Press.

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

Burt, B. A., & Johnson, J. T. (2018). Origins of early STEM interest for Black male graduate students in engineering: A community cultural wealth perspective. School Science and  Mathematics, 118, 257-270. doi:

Burt, B. A., Williams, K. L., & Palmer, G. J. (2018). It takes a village: The role of emic and etic adaptive strengths in the persistence of Black men in engineering graduate programs. American Educational Research Journal, 56(1), 39-74. doi:

Crethar, H. C., Rivera, E. T., & Nash, S. (2008). In search of common threads: Linking multicultural, feminist, and social justice counseling paradigms. Journal of Counseling & Development, 86(3), 269–278.

Edwards, K. E. (2006). Aspiring social justice ally identity development: A conceptual model. NASPA Journal, 43(4). 39-60. doi:

Farrison, W. (1977). Horrison Mann Bond’s “Education for freedom”: A review. CLA Journal, 20(3), 401-409. doi:

Harper, S. R., Patton, L. D., & Wooden, O. S. (2009). Access and equity for African American students in higher education: A critical race historical analysis of policy efforts. The Journal of Higher Education, 80(4), 389-414. doi:

Heisserer, D. L., & Perette. P. (2002). Advising at-risk students in college and university settings. College Student Journal, 36(1), 69-84.

Helms, J. E. (1990). Black and white racial identity: Theory, research, and practice. New York: Greenwood Press.

Hernández, E. (2016). Utilizing critical race theory to examine race/ethnicity, racism, and power in Student Development Theory and Research. Journal of College Student Development 57(2), 168-180. doi:10.1353/csd.2016.0020.

Jayakumar, U., Vue, R., & Allen, W. (2013). Pathways to college for young Black Scholars: A community cultural wealth perspective. Harvard Educational Review, 83, 551-579. doi:

Johnson-Ahorlu, R. N. (2012). The academic opportunity gap: How racism and stereotypes disrupt the education of African American undergraduates. Race Ethnicity and Education, 15(5), 633-652. doi:

Lyons, H. Z., Bike, D. H., Ojeda, L., Johnson, A., Rosales, R., & Flores, L. Y. (2013). Qualitative research as social justice practice with culturally diverse populations. Journal for Social Action in Counseling & Psychology, 5(2), 10-25. doi:

Matias, C. E., & Newlove, C. M. (2017) Better the devil you see, than the one you don’t: Bearing witness to emboldened en-whitening in the Trump-era. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 30(10), 920–928. doi: 

McCoy, D. L., & Rodricks, D. J. (2015). Critical race theory in higher education:            Twenty years of theoretical and research innovations. ASHE Higher Education Report 41(3). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

McCoy, D. L., Luedke, C. L., & Winkle-Wagner, R. (2017). Encouraged or “weeded out” in the STEM disciplines: Students’ perspectives on faculty interactions within a predominantly white and a historically Black institution. Journal of College Student Development, 58(5), 657-673. doi:

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Owens, J., & Lynch, S. M. (2012). Black and Hispanic immigrants’ resilience against negative-ability racial stereotypes at selective colleges and universities in the United States. Sociology of Education, 85(4), 303-325. doi:

Squire, D. (2017). The vacuous rhetoric of diversity: How institutional responses to national racial incidences affect faculty of color perceptions of university commitment to diversity. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 30(8), 728–745. doi:

Squire, D., Nicolazzo, Z., & Perez, R. J. (2019). Institutional response as non-performative: What university communications (don’t) say about movements toward justice. The Review of Higher Education, 42, 109-133. doi:

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Figure 1. Summary of Helms’ (1990) White Racial Identity Development

So You Want to Write/Edit a Book? – Mimi Benjamin & Jody Jessup-Anger

Many professionals and faculty members have important ideas to share with our higher ed colleagues, and ACPA Books is one venue for publishing that offers a great deal of support in the process.  Prior to embarking on a book query, one question a potential writer should ask is this – is there a sufficient audience such that the book will sell?  Certainly, the reason to publish a book is to share valuable knowledge and perspectives with professionals in our field (and even other fields), but publishing companies also have to consider whether the book will bring in revenue.  ACPA Books is fortunate to have a partnership with Stylus Publishing, a leading publisher of student affairs and higher education materials.  Our Stylus editor, David Brightman, shared a few questions that he considers when reviewing all proposed books, and we encourage you to ponder these questions when you think about submitting your proposal:

  1. Who needs this book? Does this book map directly onto someone’s job?
  2. What do they need this book for?
  3. What will they do with it (the book/the information) once they have it?

These questions can help guide the framing of your proposal toward the appropriate audience and determine whether the best way to make your information available is through a book or another venue.  ACPA offers mechanisms for disseminating information beyond books, so do keep in mind that although your concept might not necessarily be fitting for a full book, the information may be needed by our field.  And ACPA can help you find the right way to get that information out!  For more information about ACPA Books, please visit:

Mimi Benjamin & Jody Jessup-Anger
Co-Editors, ACPA Books


Letter from the Editors –Michelle Boettcher & Reyes Luna

Autumn is a season of change. Of endings in preparation for rest and then the renewal of spring. This autumn represents a change for Developments, too. I am happy to welcome Dr. Reyes Luna, Interim Executive Director for University Housing Services and Director of Residence Life at Cal Poly Pomona as the new co-editor of Developments. Reyes brings a wealth of experience in a variety of roles in student affairs. His expertise, growth-oriented approach, and creativity will be tremendous assets to the publication. Additionally, as a relational collaborator he will be an excellent resource to practitioners and scholars looking to publish with Developments.

As Reyes joins the team, my thanks and gratitude go to Kyle Bishop. She and I moved into our roles at Developments at the same time and she has been a great partner through the transition. Her attention to detail and responsiveness have made communicating with ACPA and producing innovative and applicable scholarship and thinking both more efficient and more effective. Thank you so much for you service, Kyle.

As you all navigate your own changes, adaptations, and needs to be flexible in this unpredictable academic term, we hope you are doing well. Please consider Developments as an outlet for your work, learning, and reflection. We welcome submissions from practitioners, students, and faculty with a focus on effective practice. We are particularly interested in submissions relevant for (and by) graduate students, newer and emerging professionals, and those who teach, supervise, and mentor others into our profession.

Finally, we are also in the process of bringing new opportunities and areas of focus to Developments. If you have questions or suggestions, please contact Reyes or me.

Take care of yourselves as you care for others.

Michelle Boettcher
[email protected]

Reyes Luna
[email protected]

Executive Director Remarks – Chris Moody

You Ask, And We Continue to Do Our Best to Respond!

Dear ACPA Member,

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have distributed and collected responses to four Member Needs assessment surveys to stay connected on your programming, resources, and community building needs during this unprecedented time. Your responses allowed us the opportunity to shape our content development and delivery to match and exceed your needs in this important moment. Specifically, student affairs and higher education professionals asked for support in large numbers in addressing the following challenges:

  • Engaging students virtually;
  • Changes in higher education related to COVID-19;
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion work, particularly in regard to the recent and ongoing acts of violence towards Black people, racism, and anti-Blackness in the United States;
  • Best practices and benchmarking for what institutions, departments, and other members are doing related to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming academic term;
  • Supporting faculty in planning for future terms with respect to how the world has changed in the last 6 months;
  • Networking and connecting for members at all levels/Opportunities to engage and dialogue with other professionals at similar career levels;
  • Supervising and supporting staff during times of so much challenge and change;
  • Job search and support in student affairs and higher education.

These are the areas that ACPA members told us they needed the most support from us earlier in the summer. We quickly turned to ACPA leaders and asked for their support and attention on these topics, and they responded! I would like to particularly name and appreciate the ACPA entity groups who offered programs, resources, and support for the membership in response to this call to action. They are:

Coalition for (Dis)Ability

Coalition for Multicultural Affairs

Commission for Academic Affairs

Commission for Academic Support in Higher Education

Commission for Administrative Leadership

Commission for Assessment & Evaluation

Commission for Global Dimensions of Student Development

Commission for Housing & Residence Life

Commission for Social Justice Education

Commission for Student Conduct & Legal Issues

Commission for Student Involvement

Latinx Network

Pan African Network

Because we know that you may need these resources at any time, I am including several of them below still available online as quick references for your work:

The challenges we have faced as a community in the last six months are not yet over, however. We will continue to stay in touch on your most pressing needs so that we can always be a support and resource when you need us. We understand there is a tremendous desire for our content and community right now. Higher education is in-need of values-based leadership and support as we begin the fall term, and it is my commitment to our members that we will continue to amplify the issues where you need assistance in our programming, resource, and service delivery.

Thank you for your continued, BOLD leadership!

Chris Moody
ACPA Executive Director

A Letter from the President, Vernon A. Wall

I love Fall.  I have to say that it’s my favorite season.  My siblings and I joke that we each have OMT’s – “obvious Mom traits” that we have inherited from our Mother.  Growing up, if you visited our family in Hope Mills, NC the house would smell like whatever season that day fell in.  So, if you ever visit me in Washington, DC between September 22 – November 30, my place will smell like Fall.  It’s my OMT.  Well, one of them.

I also love Fall because that means college openings (and college football – which I also love with a passion). While it is always hectic and unpredictable, there is also joy and excitement in the beginning of a new academic year.  There are also the opening stories that become folklore.  Mine involves waking up the day my residence hall was to open only to find out that the university had closed the entire parking lot for repaving.  <insert shocked face emoji> Luckily, my student staff creatively rallied and we had one of the best openings ever.

Sadly, this story pales in comparison to what many of you (especially our colleagues in housing and residential life) have been experiencing since March due to the COVID-19 and racial injustice pandemics.  You have been asked to plan, stop, pivot, rethink, stop, activate, pause, rethink & execute – all, at times, in one day.  To say that you may be feeling exhausted is truly an understatement.

In the midst of all of this, I ask you to always remember:  New students are still entering our campuses. Welcome them with open arms and hearts.  They need us.  Returning students are excited to be back in community.  Welcome them with open arms.  They need us.  Students from historically marginalized groups are joining and rejoining our communities.  Listen to them.  Hear their stories.  New student affairs professionals are joining our staffs.  Mentor and support them.

A few weeks ago, the Presidential Trio along with our Executive Director – Chris Moody sent out a message to all ACPA members that included this:

You are loved.
You are appreciated.
Your life matters.
You matter.

Remember this always.  It is my hope that each of us will be able to look back on this time in higher education history knowing that we contributed to “boldly transforming higher education.”  We have and we will continue to do so.

Vernon A. Wall
ACPA President
2020 – 2021