Letter from the Editors, June 2020

Hello, everyone.

This issue of Developments focuses on how people are affected by, engaging with, and negotiating issues related to COVID-19. As editors we thought about the best approach for this quarter’s issue. After discussion, we decided to reach out and solicit your thoughts, essays, and reactions to dealing with the global pandemic in the context of our work.

We realized in doing this that it could be received as a “call for productivity” in the midst of crisis. Instead, our goal has been to share a “call for community.” While not everyone is in a place to write and share about their experiences, for some people this is not only helpful to the profession, but cathartic and healing. Ultimately, we decided to offer space to come together on the topic.

With that in mind, we are grateful to our authors for taking the time to provide information for conversation and reflection. We are still in the midst of the pandemic, however, starting here and starting now and engaging with each other is essential. In a period of social isolation, we cannot afford to be isolated from one either another as colleagues and friends or as colleagues and a community. We need each other to do the work required of us through and beyond the pandemic.

Too often student affairs work is depicted in a secondary role to academic affairs. SA professionals sometimes speak almost apologetically about what we do in comparison to what faculty and upper-level administrators do. In the context of COVID-19, however, what Student Affairs is essential – whether each of us is deemed an “essential employee” or not.

We may not teach students physics or literature or graphic design. What student affairs does is – if not more important, it is differently important. Student affairs does not give students degrees to be qualified for jobs, but we give students skills to secure and keep those jobs. We work with students on issues of group dynamics, communication, navigating conflict, integrity, and the other skills that help them thrive in whatever their chosen fields might be.

Additionally, at a time like this, we make sure that students’ needs are met when it comes to safety, food, shelter. We reach out to support them through family challenges, financial concerns, wellness issues… the list goes on and on. So whether you are a graduate residence hall director who is providing space for students who have nowhere else to go, a student activities staff member who is supporting students navigating the loss of spring programs they have been planning for months (or years), a professional bridging the academic and student affairs realms supporting students as they transition to online learning environments, or a career services team member who is counseling students through the loss of a summer internship or the graduation to job transition in a constantly-changing and unpredictable new world, you are part of the essential work that is continuing to be done.

You are part of the community that has come together to share and grieve and learn and comfort one another in these uncertain times.

Thank you for your work in your position. Thank you for engaging in the thoughts shared in this issue of Developments. Higher education could not, cannot, and will not function without you.

Be well.

Michelle L. Boettcher
ACPA Developments Editor

Kyle Bishop
ACPA Developments Co-Editor

Additional articles in this Issue

Letter from the President, June 2020

A week or so before our annual convention this year, I was chatting with ACPA’s Executive Director – Chris Moody.  We were walking through my schedule as incoming president and preparing for our time in Nashville.   I had also put the final touches on some priorities for my term and decided to share them with Chris.  After I proudly shared what I hoped to accomplish during the upcoming year, Chris paused and said: “Keep in mind, ACPA leaders don’t choose their legacies, legacies choose ACPA leaders.” 

Truer words have never been spoken. 

I, like you, never imagined that our work as student affairs scholars and practitioners would shift dramatically as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  On a recent Zoom call, I noticed that a participant stated repeatedly: “When we return to normal . . . .”  After the person said this three separate times on the call, I felt compelled to say something.  My comment:  “You do know that from this point on, there will be no normal as we know it in higher education.  There will be a new normal.”  All that we do on college and university campuses has been impacted.  We are forging a new path.  This is new territory for us.  As our past has shown us, I have no doubt that we will rise to the challenge. 

During this pandemic, as an association, ACPA pledges to:

  • work to provide resources and support for our members.
  • represent our members in higher education policy conversations.
  • work with our higher education partner associations to launch creative initiatives that support the higher education community during this time.
  • continue to forecast our financial future (as an association) in these uncertain times.
  • monitor the daily updates on the pandemic’s impact on higher education.
  • keep the impact of COVID-19 on historically marginalized groups front and center in all conversations and initiatives.

The words “unprecedented” and “uncertain” may seem overused to some, but this is where we are as a profession.  Our strength is in our community of creative and resilient members who are called to navigate this time in history.  ACPA is on this journey with you.  Let us know how we can be of assistance. 

Vernon A. Wall
2020-2021 ACPA President

Additional articles in this Issue

Letter from the Executive Director, May 2020

After all that college students, their families, institutional leaders, faculty, and particularly staff and student affairs professionals have been through the last two months, I must begin this letter with an overwhelming extension of gratitude and empathy. You have supported students and colleagues through uncharted experiences, while living with tremendous uncertainty in your own personal and professional life. I have never been prouder of the student affairs and higher education community. Thank you for all that you have already given of yourself during this strange and challenging time in the history of our world and work. I am grateful for each and every one of you.

You can imagine that I am regularly asked to make predictions about college and university reopenings for the fall 2020 semester/quarter. What I feel confident is sharing is that institutional decisions will not be one-size-fits-all, unlike the mass decisions to close campuses in March 2020 when the pandemic began to spread in the United States. If you are exhausted from hearing the word “unprecedented” to describe the last two months, prepare yourself to also grow weary of our field’s use of “hybrid” for the coming academic terms.

In truth, student affairs divisions have been preparing for this workplace crisis for the past ten years – the pandemic forced us to act. There has long been discussion about programs, services, and supports that are important to conduct in person, or face-to-face, versus those that could be moved into virtual environments. The push-and-pull for student affairs has been about how we continue to live out the values we place on humanity, justice, and personal development in our work if we begin to minimize interpersonal contact. My shift from working in a campus student affairs division to the association world has allowed me to learn that different forms of interpersonal contact does not necessarily mean harm or reduction to relationships. And it is the centering of relationships, my friends and colleagues, that must remain core in how we design, implement, and evaluate remote or virtual forms of contact that allow for relationships to continue to flourish. In the world of association management, everything we do (except for member conferences and events) is entirely virtual including our weekly staff meetings, one-on-ones, and other methods for communications and relationship cultivation. I feel just as close and connected to my colleagues in the association management world than I did working in a campus environment, so I want to encourage you that it is possible to maintain and care for relationships even in circumstances where contact may be different.

The question remains for our institutions, however, on whether to go fully remote with courses, to implement a hybrid experience with in-person and virtual components, or to reopen the physical campus environment with modifications that account for physical distancing. On a panel I joined in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic, I shared my perspective that how institutions deal with these decisions will determine how they are transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not my intent to oversimplify the complexity of these decisions, but I offer the following questions as themes of conversations that should be occurring with institutional decision-makers about how campuses will be changed in the future:

  1. What must change?
  2. What can change?
  3. What do we want (or not want) to change?

Each of these questions are guided by a different set of motivators. Answers to the first question, “what must change?,” are to be informed by considerations related to state and federal government requirements/restrictions, financial realities, and institutional fear of consequences. This question is driven by regulatory and political compliance, extent of insurance coverage, ability of endowments and investments to fund operations, comparisons to like or peer institutions, threats to reputation and public perception/image, and the sustainability of the organization beyond the next 3-5 years.

The second question, “what can change?,” is one of capital and access. Most institutions are thinking about this question in terms of available technology and the cost to the college to move classes into virtual environments, but we must help to expand those conversations to also include access to technology for students, the human capital involved in the various planning and implementation scenarios, and the long-term implications on people and culture for short-term, “make it work” decisions that solve today’s challenges. It is difficult to quantify or count some forms of capital and access, and this is where our advocacy and voice has never been more critical in campus decision-making. We must help leaders to identify there are more costs to consider beyond hardware, software, and personnel. How are our institutions planning and accounting for the medium- and long-term implications of this trauma on our campuses, and including those conversations in today’s decisions?

The final question, “what do we want to change?,” calls us to account for the roles of mission, purpose, and culture in our institutional decision-making. This question asks us to also commit to the elements of our community where we are not willing to make a sacrifice by naming and holding firm to those things that we cannot or do not want to change. Although each of the previous questions should be informed and influenced by an institution’s mission, values, and cultures, including this as an overt part of decision making is important. This is where student affairs educators may have to be loud and proud of the ways our work contributes to student success. This is where we affirm the importance of prioritizing relationships over contact. This is where we demonstrate that across-the-board budget cuts affect student affairs departments and student-interfacing functions and services disproportionately to the rest of an institution’s operations. This is where an institution has the greatest potential to do additional harm to already marginalized populations of students, staff, faculty, and alumni. This question matters as much as the first two, and I’m afraid that it will not receive equal attention.

I’ll conclude where I began by thanking you for the work you continue to do in supporting your students and colleagues. In difficult times, I am reminded of a favorite quote:

“In every crisis, doubt or confusion, take the higher path – the path of compassion, courage, understanding and love.” – Amit Ray

This is who we are, and I am honored to be in community together. Continue to center love in all that you do.

All my best,

Chris Moody
ACPA Executive Director

Additional articles in this Issue

Living in the Times of COVID-19: Through the Eyes of a Liberian Girl

Angel Wazin
Morgan State University

They say a story told is a life lived. Lately, we find ourselves reading or watching stories that inspire us or a work of fiction that transports us to a place of tranquility. These help us escape our indefinite sentences in four-wall prisons, to which we have been confined by the novel Coronavirus, COVID-19.

As a Graduate Assistant, my typical day involves Google Hangout and Zoom meetings with my supervisor and teammates, occasionally with the Provost and even the President. We discuss ways to support the institution and successfully end spring 2020 as we abruptly transitioned from traditional classes to online classes. We collect feedback from faculty, staff, and students to improve remote instruction delivery. We organize resources, such as loaner laptops and procuring online tools and remote IT support. We discuss budget reduction plans to ensure job security. We prepare for summer term, which equates to preparing for the unknown.

At some point during the day, I switch from a Graduate Assistant to a PhD candidate. I research the literature on my area of interest. I write and rewrite, developing my dissertation proposal. After using multiple shades of highlighter attempting to synthesize rather than summarize scholars’ myriad worldviews on a specific topic, I smile at my rainbow of literature and I look for a story on Netflix. And then as I am scrolling through the list of top rated movies/series in the U.S. on one night, I realize that I, too, have a story to tell.

While I share many similarities with American graduate students and challenges with my fellow international students (homesickness, cultural differences, and financial challenges), I also possess a unique perspective on what it means to “hunker down”. I consider this article a reflective comparison of my experiences as a Liberian girl during the prolonged periods of the Liberian Civil war, the Ebola Outbreak, and COVID-19. My identity in many ways has prepared me for surviving these times of social distancing, uncertainty, deprivation and a cultural shift to accommodate the COVID-19 pandemic.

I hope my story provides an opportunity to see the world through a new lens and reminds student affairs professionals of the importance of understanding the diverse background of the U.S. student body. Although this is not a historical synthesis of the Liberian Civil war, I periodically refer to major players and give a brief historical overview to enlighten readers and acknowledge the relationship between Liberia and the U.S.

Context: Liberia

Liberia, a West African State, was founded in 1822 by the American Colonization Society to repatriate freed slaves to solve the “negro problem” (Mower, 1947; Hahn, 2014; Guannu, 1983).  Liberia was modeled after the U.S. in policies, governance, and culture. The Liberian flag was tailored after the American flag with its red and white stripes, a blue rectangle and in our case, a lone star (Huberich, 1947).   

Liberia gained her independence on July 26, 1847. Most Liberian presidents were of American descents, known as Americo-Liberians or the “Congo” people. Following years of leadership by this group, Liberia’s first president of tribal descent, Samuel K. Doe, staged a coup d’état in 1980 and became de facto head of state (Tolbert, 1996; Hahn, 2014). That’s when it all began.

Family Experience

One of the most chilling stories for my family was during the 1980 coup. My grandmother served as the sacristan of the Episcopal Cathedral (taking care of sacred vessels, vestments, the altar, etc.) and lived in a little house in the back. My mother recounts that one day, soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) visited the church and demanded information on whereabouts of the “big people”. The watchman, under pressure, informed them that my grandmother might know.

The soldiers arrived at my grandmother’s and literally dragged her out. She was taken into the middle of the street, wearing her night gown, on her knees at gunpoint. Onlookers shouted from their windows, “Don’t kill the woman.” And all she said was,” I work here, but I don’t know where anybody lives. I’m just a simple woman.” After several failed attempts to get her to divulge, with the protection of her guardian angels, one of the soldiers gave in and said, “Let’s send the old ma back home.” Following this traumatic episode, she would have nightmares for years, but her loyalty and bravery prevailed.

While this incident might seem disconnected from the current COVID-19 situation, there are similarities. On both battlefields the elderly are vulnerable and no one is immune. Communities have rallied around those who are most at risk. In some cases people have been spared, but in all cases we are living in trauma. This is but one example of the similarities between my life then and my life now.


Later during the 1990 war, we lived with the soldiers. We adhered to curfew and restricted movement – something we can all relate to today with COVID- 19. An innocent child then, I did not understand the true ugliness of the war, or the thousands of lives it had claimed. It won’t be until later that we fully understand how children today understand the current era of COVID-19. Similarly, we won’t understand its impact on college students, higher education, or our larger national and global societies.

By the time I turned five, my little ears had become accustomed to shots raining down. I was not playing in the yard. I was hunkering down, just as the coronavirus has mandates us to today, but under different circumstances. That experience, however, prepared me for today. I would not wish it on anyone but there are lessons learned. For example, between matriculation and graduation, the student experience entails more than academics. It includes developing social networking skills and preparation for the real world, which in my experience and the realities of today, equate to volatility. The important lesson being to promote student engagement with others to increase their knowledge of real world issues and their ability to adapt and problem-solve.   

After the 1990 war ended, there was the aftermath of the war, loss of lives, properties, infrastructure, economic impact, and trauma. Our “normal days” were over. Lives had changed forever. This is inevitably an outcome of COVID-19. The world will change. We don’t know exactly how, but many meetings, pedagogy, and student organization activities may be virtualized for the long-term.

Family Separation

On Saturday, April 6, 1996, news broke of street fighting among Charles Taylor and other rebel groups. My family lived in the heart of the city – a hotspot in the conflict. Being proactive, my family relocated the kids to relatives in the suburbs. Our only option was to carry what we could and walk – staying on the main roads and using shortcuts through the bushes to bypass the soldiers and checkpoints other times.

Our guardians were nice people, but they were not my mother – whom I missed. Just as today families are unable to gather or visit older relatives in retirement communities, I had received early training in family separation. My mother did not know what would happen next, but keeping her children safe meant sending them away.

Another similarity between my childhood and the COVID-19 context is the gravitation to music, arts, and new communities for cheer and positivity. Today we see artists sharing their work or hosting concerts online. In Liberia we had playmates and neighbors who hosted Bible study, vigils and Sunday services, which kept us upbeat with songs and praises.

We maintained our daily routines and longed for the day when we would return home and see our friends and family again. We had to continue to live, do chores and seek joy to survive. And we waited. Just as we’re waiting for COVID-19 to give us that green light today to return to normal, and reestablish old routines.

A New Isolation

After what seemed like an eternity, the war ended and we returned home. I moved in with my grandmother to attend high school. I sang in the church’s youth choir, taught Sunday School, and made life-long friends. Life was beautiful. But not for long.

There was another war in 1999, which intensified in 2003, when a rebel group, Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) challenged the Taylor-led government (Hahn, 2014). My grandmother moved us into the church’s basement for safety. Living locked down in a dark and cold hallway for an indefinite time, I felt imprisoned and scared.

I was also antsy about not knowing when it would end. I am reminded of those feelings today with the stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While times today are difficult, I am grateful to sleep in my bed, have access to food, and the liberty to take a walk and get fresh air. Imagine staying in a basement without electricity, technology or an actual bathroom. That experience makes today much more tolerable.

Today we each seek ways to create moments of joy and peace. It might be a Zoom meeting with friends, writing letters to loved ones, reading, Netflix, or other distraction. For me in Liberia at that time, I looked forward to the occasional phone calls from friends and listening to music.  

Perhaps the scariest day for my family in 2003, was July 26th, Independence Day. There were at least 26 rounds of bombings on the city. When things subsided, family members left to attend to hygiene issues and check out the fruit trees. My mother was the last to return. Just as she locked the iron gate into the basement, there was a thunderous explosion with particles landing on and penetrating the cement steps she had stood on only seconds before. She stood frozen and speechless. Nobody spoke; everyone contemplating what could have happened.

Today I wonder how this might relate to COVID-19. I wonder as we “flatten the curve” or fail to do that how we might be struck silent. As we look around at who is affected and at the losses felt, how close might the event affect each of us? How might we look back and contemplate “what could have happened” in our pandemic experiences?

Educational Impact, Part I

Eventually came freedom. I was a junior in high school then, and since we had missed the second semester of the school year, mechanisms were implemented to evaluate us based on our first semester performance, so we’d stay on track for senior year and graduation. Today I find myself in this same situation.

Healthcare Parallels

During the 2014 Ebola Outbreak in the regions of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, I was a manager at a telecommunications company. In that role, I was an “essential employee”. For safety we set up buckets filled with bleach water at the entrance of the building, where customers and employees would wash their hands. Both groups limiting interaction- everyone suspicious of the other.

We practiced what is now termed social distancing. We adjusted work stations and discouraged walk-ins. Customer inquiries were managed primarily through the call center and IT help desk. We consistently disinfected shared surfaces and restrooms. These changes evident today in managing COVID-19.

With Liberia’s deplorable health care system, there were limited ambulances. little personal protective equipment (PPE), and an abundance of poor management of the virus. The situation was horrendous. The media reported high death tolls and people were frightened.  All of these instances are characteristic of COVID-19 today. Even in the United States which has tremendous wealth, there is a lack of PPE not only for the public, but for healthcare professionals and other frontline essential employees. Even with some of the best and brightest medical professionals, the number of deaths is horrific. The fear palpable. This is all familiar to me.

Back then, my cousin started to exhibit symptoms synonymous with Ebola: vomiting, high fever, chills, sweats. Much like the situation of COVID-19, every symptom was perceived as the virus. But my mother is a caregiver by nature. Because malaria is very prevalent back home, she diagnosed and treated him promptly. He recovered in days. Just as I didn’t know if my cousin had Ebola or something else, today we look with suspicion on every cough/sneeze, assuming the worst and that any illness is COVID-19 related.

Educational Impact, Part II

Finally, I faced another dilemma during the 2014 outbreak. I had deferred my Ph.D. enrollment to spring 2015 for financial reasons. Then as now I wondered, “When will this end?” With discussions about travel restrictions, I needed to decide fast. Already possessing a U.S. visitor’s visa, my mother and I decided it was best for me to begin my program. I arrived in the U.S., psychologically unprepared, my heart in Liberia, and my sponsor company facing economic crisis. Then as now, my educational future was unclear and the economic situation at home was uncertain and unpredictable. Adjusting to student status and securing funding took about two years. In a humanitarian response to the Ebola Outbreak, the U.S. government offered Liberians a Temporary Protected Status, which meant staying in the US for a specified period – essentially, locked down. Once again I found myself restricted and confined.

And then I lost my grandmother – the matriarch of my family.

I could not return home for her funeral, because of the unpredictability of reentering the U.S. to continue my studies. Just as so many people are navigating funerals and death rituals for loved ones today, I had to decide how to deal with the passing of the woman who had given me so much and whom I loved. Gathering with family to mourn and celebrate her life was not a possibility. So, I bid her farewell in spirit.

Implications for Student Affairs

As I continue to telework and develop my dissertation during these precarious times of COVID-19, I encourage student affairs professionals to seek to build relationships to understand the background of students, which help to better serve them. I think today reinforces some guiding principles of student affairs, which focus on students as the primary purpose of its work and recognizing the role of the environment in a student’s collegiate experience (Evans & Reason, 2001).  

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, students find themselves navigating unknown territories. Therefore, communication is critical in identifying their needs, which informs decision making, including leaving residence halls open to homeless students or providing help through the university counseling and health center hotlines. Student affairs practices are “challenging, complex, and sophisticated” (Schuh, Jones, & Torres, 2017, p. xxvi).

While I face many challenges that domestic students may not have to navigate, I also bring a background that has given me unique tools. It is important to recognize the experiences and tools students may possess that we may not. This is not easy for me – or for any of us. A pandemic can be isolating and causes massive fear.

But by getting to know one another and building those relationships, these can also be times of hope. Students have commendable strength and persistence. They can overcome tremendous challenges. Mine is but one story in the thousands of students on our college campuses. Every student has a story. My hope is that my story has empowered and inspired you to build those relationships and listen to those stories to best serve diverse students in higher education.

Author Bio

Angel Wazin is a PhD candidate in the Higher Education Administration Program at Morgan State University. She works as a graduate assistant and support staff in the Office for Academic Affairs. Her research interest is in the areas of social justice, race, and gender. Contact her at [email protected].


Aboagye, F. B. (1999) ECOMOG: A Sub-Regional Experience in Conflict Resolution, Management, and Peacekeeping in Liberia. Accra: SEDCO Publishing.

Evans, N.J., & Reason, R.D. (2001). Guiding Principles: A review and analysis of student affairs philosophical statements. Journal of College Student Development, 42, 359-377.

Guannu, J.S. (1983). Liberian history up to 1847. Smithtown New York: Exposition Press

Hahn, N. (2014). US Covert and Overt Operations in Liberia, 1970s to 2003. Air and Space Power Journal-Africa and Francophonie, 3rd Quarter.

Howe, H.“Lessons of Liberia: ECOMOG and Regional Peacekeeping,” International Security 21, no. 3: 153.

Huberich, C.H. (1947). The Political and Legislative History of Liberia, vol. 2 , New York: Central Book Company

Hurst, R. (2009). Samuel Kanyon Doe (1951-1990). Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/doe-samuel-kanyon-1951-1990/

Mower, J. H. (1947). The Republic of Liberia. The Journal of Negro History32(3), 265-306.

Schuh, J. H., Jones, S.R., Torres, V. & Associates (2017). Student Services: A handbook for the professions (6th Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey- Bass

Tolbert, V.A.D (1996), Lifted Up: The Victoria Tolbert Story, Minneapolis: Macalester Park Publishing Company.

Additional articles in this Issue

ACPA Books Call for Publications

Do you have a great idea for a book that could benefit the field of student affairs and higher education but not know how to go about getting that book published?  If so, consider publishing with ACPA Books!  ACPA Books offers new authors/editors significant guidance and assistance in the publishing process that is not available when working directly with a publisher. More experienced authors/editors may wish to publish with ACPA Books as a way to “give back” to the organization.  While royalties from all books published through ACPA Books are returned to the association, authors/editors benefit by having their works published, which may enhance their professional reputations and lead to greater professional opportunities for such activities as consulting, keynote speaking, and invited presentations.

ACPA Books partners with Stylus Publishing, one of the leading publishers of student affairs books.  Recent ACPA Books publications include Student Affairs for Academic Administrators (2016; edited by T. Lynn Hogan), Trans* Policies & Experiences in Housing and Residence Life (2018; edited by Jason C. Garvey, Stephanie H. Chang, Z Nicolazzo, & Rex Jackson); and   Debunking the Myth of Job Fit in Higher Education and Student Affairs (2019; edited by Brian J. Reece, Vu T. Tran, Elliott N. DeVore, & Gabby Porcaro).  New titles are in the works; watch for updates in future Developments.

Visit myacpa.org/publications to review the Publishing with ACPA Books document, highlighting the process for submitting a book proposal.  Feel free to contact the ACPA Books co-editors, Mimi Benjamin ([email protected]) and Jody Jessup-Anger ([email protected]) if you have questions.  We look forward to working with you!


Additional articles in this Issue

Sincerely Yours, The Quarantine Club

Jordan Viars
Duke University

Emily Zarych
Bryant University

Hannah Aksamit
California Polytechnic State University

Molly Jean Callahan
College of Charleston

Melissa Joy Raines
The YESS Institute

Michael T. Miller
The Ohio State University

Jarrod Chase Coleman
University of Louisville

Michael Isaza
Iowa State University

To help maintain a sense of connection during the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic, the cohort of live-in Residence Life graduate assistants from Clemson University’s Class of 2019 held a lunch gathering via Zoom. This flock of new professionals maintained a Snapchat group after graduation. The medium proved useful for sharing corny jokes, venting about professional staff life, and checking-in on one another during dark times. COVID-19 proved no different. What follows is an interview-style dialogue reflecting on our experiences as a group of friends, new professionals, and master’s graduates looking for a way to stay connected with our network of support during this [dramatic pause] “unprecedented time.”

Note: We acknowledge this is an unusual way of sharing information in our field. But “unprecedented times” call for unprecedented ways of sharing our stories and experiences. 

Cohort Community: What led to this group getting together at this particular time?

Jarrod Chase Coleman:

“As someone who entered student affairs because of my desire to engage with students, this has been a particularly challenging time. In saying this, I knew that I was not alone. I have remained in fairly close communication with a small cluster from my grad school cohort, and knowing that other people were probably feeling isolated, I suggested that we hold a virtual lunch. A simple idea to just see people’s faces again. People were excited by the idea, and we quickly began to discuss details of when and where we would meet. The chance to talk with people was an activity that many of us were lacking in our lives.”

Emily Zarych:

“We came together out of what felt like desperation. I’m not sure any of us knew what to do in this moment except be a listening ear for each other and share what we were experiencing. I had only recently returned from a trip to Florida in mid-March and when I returned to my campus it was like a different world. It seemed like overnight so much changed and I still had not processed what was going on around me.”

Melissa Raines:

“Personally, I work at a middle school right now and my partner works for a community college as an academic advisor in Denver. I’ve been following how K-12 and higher education institutions here have been working to continue remote learning, and I wanted to hear the good and bad of what’s happening around our country.”

Michael Isaza:

“Coming together as a group now felt very similar to being together during grad school. It was familiar. In the current world of overwhelming uncertainty and unfamiliarity, latching onto anything familiar helped me ground myself and move forward.”

Jordan Viars:

“The thought of seeing my grad colleagues made the COVID-19 situation seem solvable. After all, we did sit in a classroom together for two years solving all of Higher Education’s problems. Why would this situation be any different? But it was different and that’s what we needed to share. We needed to sit in this moment. Together.”

Pouring From an Empty Cup: What were some of the topics discussed? What were some of the things you needed from this group?

Hannah Aksamit:

“What didn’t we discuss? It felt like no time had passed since we were last together. It was the check-in I didn’t know I needed. We did the ‘student affairs thing’ asking how we are doing, digging deeper to concern we have for our health, our student’s health, and our ability to manage emotions. We talked about what our campuses response to COVID-19, what part we’re playing, and the unknowns surrounding it. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a planner, I like answers, so living in this ambiguity has been less than ideal. We reminded each other of what makes us happy, trying to practice what we preach about self-care tactics.”

Molly Jean Callahan:

“I needed to be around people (even virtually) that know me, personally and professionally. As a new professional who decided to return to my hometown to start my career, I have a wealth of people around me that know me personally or professionally, but not both. It was so good to see these friends of mine again and be able to seamlessly switch between the things I was processing personally and the things I was navigating professionally.”

Emily Zarych:

“I needed the group to listen to me vent. I look to them to help me process difficult experiences and make sense of my environment. Navigating your first year in a new job, away from all of your friends and family, can be really difficult. Having your job security diminish while trying to figure out what you now value in a workplace and how to show up authentically for your students caused a lot of stress for me. I needed some time to process with my peers. I had recently been reprimanded by my supervisor for my tone while communicating. While I am not proud of that, I think I needed to surround myself with people who cared about how I was doing personally.”

Michael T. Miller:

“I felt the need to reconnect with my peers, too. After you conquer a Master’s program together, you have a bond like no other. These are my people, and as fellow young professionals in the field, they understand what I am experiencing. When the University shut down, the campus recreation facilities also shut down – something I should have anticipated. Tending to my physical wellness is a stress reduction technique I use, but that cannot be properly fulfilled so my social and emotional wellness are the next best thing. I needed the support to cope with these strange times.”

Finding Our New Normal: Your student engagement transitioned online and you did the same with your peer support and engagement. How was that helpful?

Jordan Viars:

“The reconnection of this group provided a light in an otherwise dark moment. Sharing this space gave me the chance to finally process all the experiences and feelings I had held for weeks during our shutdown process, to take off the ‘mask’ I had been wearing. Grad school really bonded us. We were each other’s support system so the rawness of the moment was natural.”

Hannah Aksamit:

“Learner, input, and achiever are among my top five strengths so I am constantly hungry for best practices and making processes efficient. I used the chat as an opportunity to do some informal benchmarking. With all of our campuses being so different in type, size, and location, I was curious to know what folks had seen and heard related to navigating COVID-19, realistic requests being made, and how and if folks were telecommuting. My county had gone on shelter-in-place and I did not know what it would mean to be ‘essential staff.’ My coworkers and I reached out to our union about requests that were being made of us and our staffs on the front lines, genuinely worried about our safety and ability to perform our jobs.”

Long-Term Impact: What does this mean for each of you as you look ahead to your careers?

Michael T. Miller:

“The silver lining in this crisis is the skill building that is occurring. Flexibility is the name of the game as we change processes, procedures, and practices. But, I have fear for the negative impact that the crisis will have on my professional development. I never completed this academic year, and if the situation worsens or even continues on its current trajectory, will the coming Fall semester resume as normal? I could be facing a situation where in my first two years of professional life, the second half of year one and the first half of year two could feel incomplete. It is possible that my third year as a professional is my first year that I could consider ‘normal.’ For some, three years is the shelf life of their entry level position. Of course I am thankful to not be personally affected by COVID-19, but I empathize with those who also just began their professional careers.”

Michael Isaza:

“‘Day-to-day’ has felt closer to this new reality than ‘business as usual,’ which was a phrase I constantly heard echoed by colleagues. Perhaps it is well intended, but the phrase is dismissive and invalidates the many forms of trauma we are experiencing right now. For the moment, staying engaged with peers and colleagues is one positive action we can take to remain engaged. I think we will continue to see the consequences of this pandemic for the foreseeable future. I view this as a way for us to move forward together.”

Jarrod Chase Coleman:

“I agree. The phrase, ‘return to normalcy’, may be possible following a large-scale, on-campus event or unexpected office transition; however, it is simply not feasible following COVID-19. So much of the focus in student affairs has been on in-person engagement. COVID-19 has taken this norm and thrown it out the window. Looking ahead, the ACPA/NASPA technology competency is no longer a competency that people can dismiss.

Over the past few weeks, I have seen some of my peers thrive in this time of uncertainty by using new technologies in their communities. Unfortunately, I have also seen many professionals overwhelmed by the  technology now mandatory in  their lives. Technology was a supplemental tool, not a necessary one, and they are simply not prepared to engage with the issues of today. As I look toward the future, I know that the next few years – and decades – we will see an increase in online work. Work from home, whether permanent or temporary, is going to become a new norm. Online interactions will be viewed as viable alternatives to in-person interactions. Assessment, which would usually take days and weeks, will be available instantaneously as livestreams and online spaces can save and upload the amount of viewers and engagement in a session. If we adapt to these challenges, then the future seems much more tailored to the needs of current and future students than the ‘normal’ we just departed.”

Melissa Raines:

“The K-12 system very much informs the future of higher education, so the ways quarantine affects my middle schoolers will trickle into higher education in the next few years. Knowing how online schooling is going within my district and the issues my students have faced trying to continue their education highlights a lot of inequity in the foundations of education nationwide. My middle school is a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and has a 95% free and reduced lunch population. While my 12-14 year olds are trying to learn online, many of them are also caring for younger siblings, experiencing internet issues, and trying to understand our written English directions while having teacher input with their families whose primary household language is Spanish. Many of our students also have IEPs that are hard to meet through virtual education. All of this on top of the stresses of being home without their friends for an extended period of time.

For the future, I think it’s important to recognize the disruption in the education of our youth, the effect it is having on underrepresented students at a much higher rate, and the widening learning gap compared to more affluent, white, majority-identity student populations. Plus, the mental health of our students should, and for me has been, at the forefront of this pandemic and hopefully can continue to be a focal point as our students move into post-secondary education settings.”

Space and Grace: How can educators in other roles, other settings, and in the future use this to enhance working teams, student support, graduate student experiences, etc.?

Emily Zarych:

“While the ongoing joke is “that meeting could have been an email” sometimes that email should have been a quick meeting. I have learned from this experience that human connection is essential, especially during stressful times. Using a video conference software allows us to see the facial expressions and tone being conveyed that can be left out when engaging in written communication.”

Michael Isaza:

“I believe there is more work to be done in developing how we connect and collaborate during this period of social distancing. The last month or so has consisted of frequent WebEx meetings and an increase in the number of emails I receive. These virtual meetings and emails replaced the face to face meetings that were often the highlight of my workday.” 

Molly Jean Callahan:

“I agree. I’m also thinking about this in terms of the staff experience. I really enjoy being together virtually over a video chat – even if there’s no conversation. I’ve used this method of connection for years both with friends and with my partner. It reminds me of study groups where my friends and I would gather to hold each other accountable to completing homework assignments whether we shared courses or not. It’s important to me that I know I’m not alone in this pandemic-induced upheaval – even if it means virtual work parties with colleagues. We’re missing opportunities for connection as we work from afar; there’s no laughter over the coffee pot anymore or spontaneous lunches when leftovers don’t seem appealing the next day.

There’s room for casual gatherings to collaborate virtually with no agenda – and maybe even laugh over the virtual coffee pot. I’ve been impressed by our Staff Advisory Committee at the College – they created a lot of opportunities for staff to connect virtually in a casual manner around a number of topics. There is a weekly drop-in for parents wanting to discuss working from home with children, a drop-in for those living and working alone during this time, a weekly session on Meditation and Mindfulness, and one just for those wanting to connect and spend time with colleagues across campus.”

Signing Off

For us, a simple suggestion in a GroupMe chat turned into a Zoom meeting that provided us a much needed reprieve from the world we were navigating. As life becomes increasingly uncertain, the desire to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on our students’ lives has become the focus of educators around the world. But what about the impact on us? Every day leads to more questions than answers. Though we are doing our best; we all wait for the next email to change everything we set in motion. Of the many lessons learned these past few weeks, we have realized: “unprecedented times” is a phrase that does not carry much weight anymore.

What we are missing in this time is connection. We have no choice but to hold our meetings in a virtual space. We long for answers to the difficult questions around “how do we come back from this?” We are learning to offer space to heal and cope because this is one of the few things we can offer each other in this moment. That said, “unprecedented times” is no excuse for us to avoid providing for our general well being. How are we providing intentional space for ourselves, and those around us, to just be with each other? Connection with our people, albeit virtually, is just what we need right now. Connection will propel us through this moment. And connection is how we can best prepare for what awaits on the other side of this pandemic.

Yours in Quarantine,

Jordan, Emily, Hannah, Molly, Melissa, Mikey, Chase, & Mike

Discussion Questions:

  1. How are you addressing newfound disruptions in your daily routine? Are these resolutions short-term or long-term?
  2. What process have you gone through to reflect and acknowledge your own emotions and well-being throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?
  3. What might connection look like for you and your team during this time of social distancing and distance working? How can you operationalize those ideas? 

Author Bios

Jordan Viars is a Residence Coordinator at Duke University. He completed his undergraduate work at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise where he majored in Psychology. After undergrad Jordan worked two years in residence life at the University of Pikeville in Eastern Kentucky before completing his Master’s Degree in Counselor Education – Student Affairs at Clemson University where he developed a particular interest in the experiences of first-generation, rural, and LGBTQIA+ students.

Emily Zarych is a Community Director at Bryant University in Rhode Island. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology at Rutgers University- New Brunswick. She completed her Masters of Education degree from Clemson University in Counselor Education – Student Affairs. Emily has currently taken on managing social media for her office and has enjoyed learning new ways to engage with residents while collecting informal, qualitative assessment.

Hannah Aksamit is a Coordinator of Student Development at California Polytechnic State University, their first full-time professional role. She completed her undergraduate work at the University of Arizona in Tucson where she majored in Psychology with a double minor in Chemistry and Family Studies & Human Development. She completed her Master’s Degree in Counselor Education – Student Affairs at Clemson University where she explored her passion for programming, assessment, and curriculum.

Molly Jean Callahan is the Student Support Coordinator and Office Manager for the Office of the Dean of Students at the College of Charleston.   Molly received her Master of Education in Counselor Education (Student Affairs) from Clemson University. Prior to that, she completed her Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of South Carolina. She is a proud South Carolina native and also serves as the Director of Administrative Operations for the South Carolina College Personnel Association.

Melissa Joy Raines is a Middle School Program Manager at an educational non-profit, the YESS Institute, in Denver, Colorado. She completed her undergraduate work as a first-generation college graduate at the University of Georgia where she majored in International Affairs and Social Studies Education. She then worked for a non-profit campus ministry for a year and another year as an AmeriCorps member for College Possible in Omaha, Nebraska. After two years of working full-time with college students, she completed her Master’s Degree in Counselor Education – Student Affairs at Clemson University. Because of Melissa’s passion around equity, inclusion, and success for underrepresented student populations, she has accepted a new position as an Advisor for the Community College of Denver’s TRIO program starting later this summer after she finishes this school year with the K-12 system.

Michael T. Miller is a Residence Hall Director at The Ohio State University. He completed his undergraduate work at University of South Florida where he majored in Public Health. He then completed his graduate program earning a Master’s Degree in Counselor Education – Student Affairs at Clemson University. Mikey has a particular passion for student development theories and working with first-year students in Residence Life.

Jarrod Chase Coleman is a Hall Director at the University of Louisville. He completed his undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication. After undergrad, Chase pursued his Master’s Degree in Counselor Education – Student Affairs at Clemson University where he developed interests in masculinities and learning new ways to incorporate technology in the workplace.

Michael Isaza serves as a Hall Director at Iowa State University in Ames, IA. He completed his undergraduate work at the University of Central Florida, where he majored in Political Science with a focus in American Politics. He then completed graduate work at Clemson University, earning a Master’s Degree in Counselor Education- Student Affairs. Michael has developed a passion for working in the areas of supporting first-generation college students and college to post-college career transition.

Additional articles in this Issue

Building the Plane

Kipp Van Dyke
Iowa State University

It is often joked about that “universities move slowly” in terms of even simple tasks let alone when it comes to major changes happening.  We rely on committee meetings to inform decisions, these meetings get cancelled often, people don’t show up, or decisions are “put on hold” until an administrator can “weigh in.”  This can be frustrating for many, can slow progress, and can create a convenient excuse many of us are able to lean on when the work or tasks do not get done. 

I work at a large, research university and am fortunate to be in a leadership role within the Dean of Students Office.  As part of that role, I also serve on the university’s Critical Incident Readiness Team (CIRT).  This team discusses situations ranging from threatening weather, technology attacks, civil disturbances, violent incidents, and disease.  CIRT does tabletop exercises and creates processes while hoping none of these plans will be needed.   I can recall as I took over chairing this group as our Assistant Vice President/Dean of Students departed in January, my first meeting agenda had a single bullet point: “Discuss COVID-19” which was to be a brief update.  As the meeting approached, that bullet point became the singular focus and included enacting our Emergency Operations Center and implementing processes we’d only talked about in previous years.

As noted above, universities move slow.  To see our campus community respond and implement major changes impacting every aspect of the university in a matter of days still amazes me.  There were certainly processes starting to occur such as getting students home from study abroad and monitoring employee travel, but watching how – in a matter of days – a campus of over 35,000 students, faculty, and staff become an online institution was remarkable.  There have been so many considerations from all stakeholders that needed to be assessed, prioritized, and addressed.  As a colleague has reminded us many times, “We are flying this plane as we are building it!”  Every stakeholder has impact, with students being on the forefront of decisions, but the impact to faculty, staff, community partners, family members, vendors, and others are also real. The dedication of people to ensure these perspectives are heard and valued has been amazing to see, knowing that all decisions will have impacts given the pervasive nature of COVID-19 on the entire country and world.

CIRT quickly created working sub -groups to brainstorm and come up with solutions to provide back to CIRT and, ultimately, senior administrators.  These began in person and quickly became virtual.  Using student needs as the initial lens to then inform the impact to other stakeholders proved to be a great staring point.  Seeing partnerships form, inviting new members in based on new information, sharing updates quickly (sometimes things were changing by the hour), all while managing new technology learning curves.  These collaborative, real-time conversations did not follow an organization chart or committee structure, they happened based on judgement calls and relationships. The relationships that I had and others have outside of this crisis allowed individuals to trust each other and move quickly. 

Working in Student Affairs, I have always been comfortable in the “gray area” and navigating situations that do not have a manual or clear policy or procedure. I have leveraged those experiences to support my team and our campus.  A few things I would encourage folks to remember as we navigate the situation and move toward recovery:

  1. Follow your mission. Use the existing mission for your areas and your institution as guides. Lots of decisions need to be made and they can be tough given resource availability and capacity. It’s ok if in the next few months you don’t create new programs or initiatives. It is okay to let things go and focus on the primary needs and priorities of your role.
  2. Focus on the task at hand. There is a time to think forward, but speculation can quickly derail process and outcomes.  We are still very much in the unknown stage of how long we will be navigating this crisis.  Remember, control the controllable.  In times of unknown, there are things you do have control over.
  3. Reach out and collaborate to find answers. I saw people that never used video calls have to figure it out – sometimes in real-time! Times like this can expose your strengths and areas of growth professionally.  Now is the time to reflect on those areas of opportunity and strength. Even in this time of social isolation, we cannot afford to be professionally isolated around crisis response. 
  4. What do you need? Take time to figure out what you need to navigate the unknowns, professionally and The impact of this crisis runs deep.  Explore options for taking vacation days. Working from home is not vacation. In many ways it is more difficult than working in an office away from kids, cats, chores, and constant reminders that things are not status quo. Seek other existing resources that are likely needed even more given this crisis. What opportunities does your institution provide around mental health, wellness programming, and other critically important support needed during times of crisis? Make use of what your institution has in place.
  5. What works? As we’ve all quickly transitioned to this current style of work, look for things that are working and consider using those in the future. I know I have already started noting things which, as a result of this situation, I will implement in our standard processes as we recover.

This event will be one that we all remember for the rest of our lives as it will impact us all on a professional level for sure.  As we continue to move through this crisis, take care of yourselves and others.  Take time to reflect on what you are experiencing and observing in your campus community and give yourself and others grace as we all are “building that plane as we are flying it.”  We don’t know how long this “flight” will continue, but remember even with turbulence, most flights offer views you don’t normally get to see that can offer perspective flight stabilizes.

Additional articles in this Issue

COVID-19, Loss, and Reflections

Matthew R. Shupp
Shippensburg University

Casey Norton
Shippensburg University

Robyn Swayne
Shippensburg University

Gabrielle A. Reed
Shippensburg University

Taylor Donahue
Shippensburg University

Karla Moses
Shippensburg University


Matthew R. Shupp

I am a faculty member and coordinator of a student affairs preparation program. Prior to this role, I was a student affairs professional for over a decade in a variety of educational settings. Although I acknowledge I gained tremendous experience over my almost two decades in higher education, COVID-19 is unprecedented, and I might speculate a new – and certainly unforeseen – obstacle many of us never anticipated. How does one pivot so abruptly to ensure a smooth closure to the spring semester? Is it even possible? I teach an internship class for a dedicated group of emerging student affairs professionals. When we reconvened – meeting online for the remainder of the semester – for our weekly scheduled class time, although we had used technology in the past to aid our academic experience, the finality that this would be our “new normal” for the foreseeable future became apparent. For someone who enjoys structure and schedules, I made the conscious decision to provide grace, to both myself and to my students. I acknowledged the curricular path I had originally intended to pursue was no longer feasible. What to do? The best course of action, as I listened to the range of emotions my students brought with them to our protected space, was that I needed to find creative ways to ensure a smooth closure to their academic experience without adding additional burdens to this already burdensome situation. As I listened, I learned. Below are some of their stories.

Casey Norton: Your Mountain is Waiting

I work in Athletics at Shippensburg University. As a former student-athlete, it is a passion I have been working to make into a career. My heart sunk as the first signs of COVID snuck into our small world. I cried; I cried a lot. All those student-athletes who had put months, years, hours and hours of time into their craft, to see it all just go. I felt so deeply for each of them because I knew; I knew how much they had lost. There is an inherent need to be a protector to students when you work in an educational role. You feel when they are with you, you can be the tool belt for them, the resource, but when they go, distance creates strain, a feeling of disconnect. Quick, yet painfully slow, I watched as students trickled out of residence halls.  A cheery hello to help the mood, but a somber, “Stay healthy” as they walked out the door. Health is more than just a sickness you may contract. It is a mind, body, and soul thing. “Your Mountain Is Waiting” is a quote from Dr. Seuss’s ’‘Oh the Places You’ll Go’. It is a quote I had permanently engraved in my skin several years ago, a constant reminder that life will always present challenges to overcome. The important lesson in all of this is that we all gain a lot from these “mountains”. They teach us things; make us stronger people. Resilient. These times have presented as one of life’s many mountains and as a budding Student Affairs professional, graduation looming, I feel like this particular hike will no doubt be one of our hardest. Together, we conquer.

Robyn Swayne: Not Derailed, Just a Different Track

Prior to leaving my graduate assistantship for spring break, a colleague of mine gifted me with a unique mix of herbal tea cased in a superhero tin.  I decided to leave it behind as a special treat to return to in a week.  Now over a month later, I am still anticipating the day when I can come to campus and try this herbal superhero tea.

As a student in the final stretch of their graduate coursework, COVID-19’s introduction to the educational sphere has obviously been an unanticipated one.  Events that had taken the entire year to plan were cancelled. Classes were moved to a virtual format. Meetings with students and group sessions I was eagerly anticipating to lead just disappeared. My first phone interview for a position in higher education was postponed. Everything just seemed to fade away.  You could say the scheduled train that I was on felt like it completely derailed, and instead I was thrown on board an emotional rollercoaster, and not a fun one at that. The amount of grieving that took place during these first couple weeks was extraordinary, and then I had my first class on Zoom and broke down. The online class format became a visual reminder that I may not see many of my classmates and professors in person again.

But as time has pressed on, I have realized that the train has not completely derailed. It has just switched tracks and is on a different course. Many students have lost the experiences that we originally planned for, but instead are gaining unique, invaluable experiences that never would have happened otherwise. Personally, I have had the opportunity to now host my own online meditation groups; a dream I have actually had for years and never had the perceived time to pursue. I have also been creating videos for undergraduates about coping skills to thrive through this pandemic. These new ways in which I get to reach out to students are now resources that can be shared to a wider scope of people where my reach is not confined to just an office space at restricted times.

I still do not know what graduation nor job searching will look like, but right now that is okay with me, because I am enjoying getting to be creative in how I approach this current moment in time.  It has gotten me to reevaluate how I can best use my skills to reach out to others.  I do miss the energies of being around my fellow classmates, students, professors, family, and friends, but when the time is right that will come back. This era is a practice of patience. It challenges me to be gentler and kinder in my interactions with others and myself, because many of us are still grieving and still trying to figure out what this epic time of change means for our reality. 

We have lost a lot this semester, but there is a lot to be gained if we are open to a novel perspective shift. The future is always unknown, and this path we are on was the one we were always going to take. That being said, I truly do look forward to the day where I get to return to campus and finally try that herbal superhero tea. Until then, I am virtually surrounded by a graduate cohort who, to me, are superheroes during this time; and I am doing what I can to hone in on that supportive, helping power and maybe be that for someone else.

Gabrielle A. Reed: COVID-19 as a Reminder of Resilience

Graduate school has pushed and pulled me in many different ways giving me the uncomfortable but necessary challenge to grow. Before COVID-19 I felt as though I was performing a juggling act between my 4 classes, an internship, graduate assistantship, and a job search – and gravity was winning. I was constantly worrying about dropping the ball. Now with the pandemic hitting, I do still feel like juggling, but it is at a much slower pace and easier to manage items. Although I have been grieving the many losses as a result of the pandemic, I do not regret regaining the ability to feel like I can breathe again. For the first time in months I feel like I can think clearly, reflect and get in touch with myself.  I know that I would feel differently if I was not in the stable environment I am in today. Coming from a tumultuous upbringing, abrupt changes, sudden losses, and lack of closure is all too familiar. In a world where it feels like many things are out of our control, I would like to give a gentle reminder to come back to our breathing. Stop. Breathe. We will get through- together.

Taylor Donahue: There Will Come a Day When They Do Come Back

When the doors locked for the last time before quarantine, the HVAC system in my residence hall powered down from lack of occupancy. This quiet is beyond what I am used to in Residence Life. I was only half-kidding in a one-on-one when I told my supervisor I wished I had a recording of hall noise; it might make it easier to sleep. I didn’t know how to answer when people asked me how I was other than to say: it’s quiet in my building, and it’s not supposed to be. But, I am still here.

My professor, and then my internship supervisor, compared it to a death. That feels right. I am not new to grief, but this hurts my heart differently. There was so much to do in the beginning—unlocking doors, highlighting rosters—but now, there’s just the loss. There are no more students needing to borrow reassurance as they pack moving carts. There is only silence in places that used to feel alive.

I miss my students. I even miss them running up and down the hallways, and the pulse of music through the walls of my apartment. I’d even find joy hearing the fire alarm. When this grief cuts the deepest, I feel guilt for the moments when I couldn’t find excitement for meetings, had to search for patience on duty, and for the chats with students that I let end too soon.

I am not good at goodbyes. I kick them down the road; I tell folks when I’ll see them next, instead, and promise I’ll visit. I do not know how to say the right goodbye to my students. As they dropped keys into checkout bins, I’d find myself saying: I’m going to email you. Reach out if you need anything. I am still here. I know that I will not see many of them again. While most of them will return to campus in the fall, I am graduating. The lack of closure with them is the hardest part.

When our class moved onto Zoom, I found solace in the conversations, connectedness, and support. Though we are farther apart than ever, I feel closer to my classmates. Weekly, I meet with my resident assistants. Though they are scattered to the wind like dandelion seeds, they log into Zoom from hundreds of miles apart. We laugh a lot; they tell me our time together makes them feel less alone. I do not tell them this directly, but they bring light to days when I cannot find it myself.

The writer in me wants to end with some meaningful image—like how the maple tree outside our building is budding, and that after winter comes spring—but I am still struck with sadness that the students are not here to see it. I find peace in knowing that while they cannot be here now, there will come a day when they do come back—and this place will still be here when they do. 

Karla Moses: Grief is Hard, But Not Insurmountable

March 9, 2020 I remember sitting in the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, and uttering the words, “I would not be upset if our spring break was extended.” I remember hearing about the school closures and how West Chester University decided to move to remote learning for the remainder of their semester. As I write this reflection weeks later, I now recognize how selfish that statement was. I would give anything for things to go back to the way that they were. I miss my students with every fiber of my being, and it hurts because I can’t do anything to change our current circumstances. I must have looked at the Developments article prompts several times because I did not think I had a right to write about grief and loss in regards to things we have lost or events that did not happen. I have students who will never feel the warm sun radiate their skin as they walk from the Shippensburg University Recreation Center onto the Seth Grove Stadium Field. They will not hear their name called, or have their loved ones scream their name as they go to receive the case that their degree will occupy in six to eight weeks post- graduation. I think about the graduating seniors and graduate students who will never be able to live out their last few weeks in a place they have come to know and love. When I think about all of those things, I ask myself, can I feel grief? Am I allowed to truly be sad? I still have another year left of graduate school. I do not have to worry about my graduation right now. I believe I will see my students again. I have been blessed.

However, I still feel sad. I can’t shake the feeling. I still feel lost. My heart aches for the students who live in environments that are not comfortable or conducive to their learning. It hurts to know that they may be somewhere suffering, and not have the tools needed to be successful. Now, I recognize that I do have a right to be frustrated. I will not be able to sit in the bleachers and scream for my graduating students, and cheer on my graduate school friends. I will not be able to celebrate those I love the way I wanted too in the last few weeks of school. I will not be able to continue with my field in-person, knowing that we had so many things planned for the spring semester. Grief is hard and most times it happens unexpectedly. The first thing I always feel when something is taken away suddenly is shock. I was in a state of shock for the first couple of weeks, and I was just going through the motions.

I was asked to stay home for two weeks because I live in a restricted county in Pennsylvania. I had only prepared to be home for a few days during spring break, and I found myself washing clothes every three days. I got word that I could return to campus, and I was overjoyed. A few hours later I received a message stating that I could not leave my apartment for two weeks. I could not go to my office. I could not go to the grocery store. I could not interact with other individuals. I was devastated. Here I was again experiencing some sense of loss. I had lost my freedom. My ability to interact with people. The first week was not terrible, but the second week I was going stir crazy. I did not feel like myself. I was sad and I even cried due to stress and feeling overwhelmed.

This pandemic has definitely affected my beautiful peers that I get to call friends in more ways than I can name, but it has also affected me. I still feel sad, lost, and frustrated. If it were not for God, my family, my students, the individuals in my internship class, and my mentors, I would not be able to see the bright side. I recognize that as I write this essay I have the privilege of being a healthy person. I am alive. Although, I have family members who have contracted the virus, they are recovering. I am grateful because I know that one day I will be able see those who bring me joy that cannot be explained. Students who make me want to be a better supervisor, a better leader, a better scholar, and a better mentor. My students keep me going and in this sea of darkness, they have been my lighthouse. So the next time I feel guilty for being sad or hurt, I will remember that we are all suffering. We may not be experiencing things the same way, but we are scared. There are so many unknown factors and all we truly want is to be together again.

Matthew R. Shupp

I concluded the opening paragraph stating that as I listened to my students, I learned. What did I learn? I learned that, for as much as I teach and espouse holistic student development, I often forget that my graduate students, too, have multiple competing priorities outside of graduate school. I learned that graduate school is often the only stable experience in their lives and, when that is taken away, panic sets in. I was reminded that, above most anything else, we are relational beings that require human connectedness. I was reminded that, in all of my privileged identities, in these inconvenient moments, I was powerless to stave off my students’ fear, anxiety, worry, and pain. However, I also learned that my students are amazingly resilient beings, perhaps even more resilient than I had previously given them credit for. I learned that they are extremely altruistic, living the definition of noble practitioners as they, too, grieved the loss of the semester with the students they serve. Finally, if COVID-19 has taught me anything, it was a beautiful reminder, through all the loss, our professions’ future is in competent hands. Never before am I able to recall a time when I have been prouder to teach our emerging student affairs professionals.

Author Bio

Matthew R. Shupp is an associate professor in the Department of Counseling and College Student Personnel at Shippensburg University of PA. He can be reached at [email protected]

The five additional authors are graduate students in the Department of Counseling and College Student Personnel at Shippensburg University of PA.

Additional articles in this Issue

Calling out the Heroes Who Make Things Happen: COVID-19 ACPA/IASAS/ACUI Webinar Reflections

Robert Shea
Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada

On March 31, 2020.  ACPA – College Student Educators International the Association of College Union International (ACUI), and the International Association of Student Affairs and Services (IASAS) facilitated an internationally attended webinar on institutional responses to the COVID -19 pandemic. Perspectives from higher education student service professionals in South Africa, China, the U.S., Australia, and Canada facilitated the first global student services webinar on the global pandemic commonly referred to as COVID-19. This thought provoking webinar was supported and encouraged by all three of the aforementioned organizations and coordinated by ACPA’s Commission for Global Dimensions of Student Development. In a period of global crisis the webinar was attended by over 350 international attendees.

The webinar was hosted in order to share student affairs and services practitioners’ and scholars’ country specific experiences in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The webinar was developed “amidst the rapid global spread of COVID-19. Universities and institutions around the world were quickly responding to the ever-changing situation with changes, new instructional modes, and innovative ways to support faculty, staff, and students.” (Retrieved April 25, 2020 https://www.myacpa.org/events/2019-2020-webinar-series-student-affairs-services-around-world).

Each presenter provided their own perspective on how their institutions responded to the threat and ensured post-secondary students were supported in their academic and personal journey. As expected each country’s institutions responded in different ways depending on the geo-political situation in which the university was situated. Each institution responded differently, yet there were some commonalities. There was no proverbial ‘playbook’ for this student services response.

This article will explore the competencies commonly understood by North American student services professionals as the professional competencies for the profession. An important caveat is, that this is not an exhaustive list of professional competencies validated by those who support students in post-secondary institutions around the world. While research is ongoing in various countries and regions around the globe, for purposes of this article we will utilize the ACPA/NASPA professional competencies.

One can see where many of the ACPA/NASPA competencies (ACPA/NASPA, 2020) were utilized by presenters on this webinar. Competencies required of student service professionals included a solid personal and ethical foundation (PEF) and understanding of the Values, Philosophy, and History (VPH) of the profession to ground institutional support for students. It was evident throughout the webinar that an explicit or implicit foundation in understanding student learning and development (SLD) theories and research was required upon which to construct support and communication to students. Further, many of the presenters referenced country specific laws, institutional policy, and governance (LPG) were interwoven in their day to day work with students to navigate the complexities of the crisis. The competency of organizational and human resources (OHR) was detailed throughout the presentations from each country as student services professionals reflected on the need to manage interdisciplinary teams on their respective campuses.  Leadership (LEAD) was paramount in the personal reflections of all presenters as were the principles of social justice and inclusion (SJI) as student services professionals negotiated the complexity of working within institutional and country specific policies and politics. 

Personal and Ethical Foundations (PEF)

It was apparent from the personal reflections and thoughts of the presenters that a thorough understanding of one’s own personal ethics was critical to the development of support services in the face of this unprecedented event. In many lived experiences student service professionals expressed their personal feeling of a need to ensure that students were cared for. In many cases, the need to support students in ensuring they had housing, food and thoughtful psycho-social support was critical for students well- being. It was exactly those personal ethics and “internal voice of care” that draws individuals to the field of student affairs and services that arose throughout presenters’ leadership in times of crisis. Many of the presenters expressed that there was no designed ‘playbook’ for their response to leading an institutional response to the crisis. The central tenant was the individual’s thoughtful development of programs and services to ensure student wellness and growth. In some cases, student services were not only supporting the day to day basic needs of their students but creating institutional responses to future admissions. It was apparent that each individual’s personal lived experiences formed the basis for a solid foundation to support students through their own journey through this crisis.

Values, Philosophy, and History (VPH)

It was interesting to hear each presenters experience with being involved in their institutions response to this crisis. Each brought their lived experiences to the forefront in reflecting on their institutions response and their own VPH of the student affairs profession to one’s current practice. While it is true that not all presenters have had the same experience with, and understanding of the values, philosophy, and history of the student services profession as is commonly known in the United States, it is with a deep sense of appreciation that each embraced the values and philosophy and history of how they defined their own profession. One stark example is that of our South Africa colleague Dr. Saloschini Pillay whose heartfelt presentation regarding the personal trials and tribulations of some of their students who required personal financial support for travel home, because they did not have the financial means to afford the trip while at the same time negotiating the movement of students out of residence who really would have much rather stayed. This experience reflects the history of what is known in North America as core values, philosophy, and history of the profession. To be able to affect effective services to students in a period of crisis requires the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that connect the history, philosophy, and values of the student affairs profession to one’s current professional practice. As the profession of student affairs and services evolves around the world the importance of capturing a countries student services values, philosophy and history will be critical for current and future professionals. The commitment to demonstrating this competency area ensures that our present and future practices are informed by an understanding of the profession’s history, philosophy, and values and in many cases around the globe the development of country specific values philosophy and history.

Assessment, Evaluation, and Research (AER)

Many of the presenters did not specifically mention the use of assessment, evaluation and research in their presentations as everyone was focused on the day to day response to the crisis. However, a number of presentations did highlight the fact that student services became central to the institutions response to the crisis as they had access to the student demographic data required for effective intervention. From data such as that housed in the registrar’s office to an understanding of the complexity of the number of international students on campus and demographic data of students such as country of origin and how many students were studying and working abroad was critical to an effective institutional response.

The refinement of future assessment, evaluation and research on a myriad of aspects relate to the COVID-19 pandemic will definitely provide intelligence and evidence based research that will guide institutions and student services work well into the future.

Law, Policy, and Governance (LPG)

This area of competency was one which elicited comments in all presentations in one form or another. A number of presenters mentioned that existing policies of universities was severely challenged in the face of this pandemic. In fact, having to ‘pivot’ from face to face delivery to remote instruction was critical and there were no existing institutional policies. Another interesting outcome was the intersection of country specific laws which impacted how universities were expected to operate. Concepts such as social isolation, social distancing, mandatory health testing, lockdowns were often prescribed by national governments. Changes occurred on a daily if not hourly basis depending on the number of COVID-19 cases spreading in a certain geographic area.  With these changes occurring many institutions were required to incorporate changes to policies on an emergency basis. Many institutions established emergency operations centers which had significant control over institutional responses to students. Sometimes with no senior student services representation on these committees. Significant lessons were learned from these experiences along with an understanding of university governance structures, policy development, policy administration and application. It seemed that in countries (for instance South Africa) where student and higher education unrest was felt over the past few years, student affairs senior staff were indeed involved in institutional Covid-19 management. Some lessons from the student unrest of 2015/2016 were carried over and ensured that student affairs senior staff were included in high level institutional planning around Covid-19.

Organizational and Human Resources (OHR)

There was significant enunciation of this competency throughout the presentations on this global webinar. Obviously in a requirement to move from a traditional university structure of teaching face to face to move entirely to online or remote learning required significant management of human and financial resources. In many cases the use of physical resources such as housing and food services and the move to remote work environments required staff to create a “new normal” work life. The challenge to student service professionals required remote work as the only way to support students from a distance due to government and institutional mandated social distancing requirements. Also here, it appeared, that some countries who experienced student unrest and had previously worked from home as part of an institutional response to crisis, seemed better equipped to engage with this organizational and human resource change.

Each presenter in their own way referred to the creation of teams to respond to pan institutional challenges and student specific challenges. In one case one of the presenters indicated it was critical to – have the right people around the table. From COVID-19 response teams to support transition to online learning to institutional responses to the psycho-social needs of students, faculty and staff student service professionals were in great demand. One interesting outcome was the fact that the student services perspective was often missing from pre-established committees and it was a glaring omission when teams were established in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis when the macro view of students was missing which is cogently presented by student affairs professionals. Conflict resolution skills were deemed as essential in all aspects of leadership of organizational and human resources functions. Student services professionals bring personal strengths and grow as managers through challenging themselves with each new crisis and it was apparent through all the presentations that each presenter had personally grown in their understanding of organizational and human resources of their respective institutions.

Leadership (LEAD)

There could be no better title for this article than the words of Andrea Strachan, Director of Student Services, at the University of Queensland who mentioned in her presentation that the COVID-19 crisis presented a chance to “call out the heroes who make things happen”. This statement encapsulates leadership at its finest. It is not about the charismatic leader in a position of authority but the individuals in the organization who provided personal and institutional leadership at a time when institution required individuals to make things happen. In many cases the creation of new untested student supports such as creating opportunities for social isolation, dealing with intercultural challenges, creating new policies and leading multi sectoral teams of students, student affairs colleagues, faculty, and community members provided a spotlight on the leadership competencies of student services professionals at all institutions.

Social Justice and Inclusion (SJI)

This competency area is defined in the ACPA/NASPA guidelines as “both a process and a goal which includes the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to create learning environments that foster equitable participation of all groups while seeking to address and acknowledge issues of oppression, privilege, and power”. It was instructive to hear each presenter speak in some way to their specific experience that spoke to the competency of social justice and inclusion. The presenters spoke about the potential for exclusion when one moves to digital learning as not all students have access to laptops, or computer connections outside of their campus environment. Many students were excluded because they did not have the financial resources to live anywhere else but residence as they were international students whose funding was tied to them being at university. In one particular case in South Africa post-secondary students often send their scholarship monies back home to pay for the basic necessities of life for their families. A keen understanding of social justice and inclusion is critical when an institution is making new policies in the midst of a pandemic. A voice of reasoned understanding of social justice and inclusion is critical if we are to understand the forces of oppression, privilege and power as they impact our student community.  To understand the theoretical constructs of social justice and inclusion is one important component of social justice and inclusion but to show maturity in the application and practice is critical.

Student Learning and Development (SLD)

As may be expected, the foundation of student services is the support for the holistic development of a student’s personal and academic development. While the presenters did not specifically specify the concepts and principles of student development theory they exemplified the principles in all their cases of student support during this crisis. From the creation of virtual psycho-social supports through to supporting virtual teams for work integrated learning opportunities and the inclusion of the principles of student development theories was evident. 

Future Implications of the COVID–19 Pandemic

The future opportunities and challenges emanating from the lived experiences in leading student service responses to the COVID-19 crisis around the globe may include:

  • An opportunity for countries and regions, and specific and collective institutions to develop their own values, philosophy and history for the student services profession;
  • Greater opportunity for student services professional’s voices to be heard within governance and leadership structures across the institution;
  • An understanding of the complexity of the competencies that student service professionals bring to the university experience;
  • Opportunities for student services to reflect on how they offer services virtually and how they support students at a distance;
  • One definite outcome from the COVID-19 crisis is the opportunities for more online and blended learning, development and support and how student services provide a voice to the social justice issues associated with this movement.

In conclusion, this webinar was the first webinar in the world to address the role of student services professionals in responding to a historic moment in our world history on university campuses. The ability of university communities to rally together to meet the academic and personal needs of post-secondary students was incredible. Many theorists will postulate what the future of post-secondary education has changed and in that one fact will remain true – the lived experiences of our faculty, staff and students has been indelibly changed. We hope for the better. Communities both internal and external to the university will be different as we move into a period of stabilization of the university experience. 

While not drawing parallels to other pandemics in history it is interesting to note the words of graduate student Edmund Adam a Ph.D. Candidate in Higher Education at the Ontario Institute for the Study of Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto, Canada who stated in a recent article that after the plague (1347 – 1352) “…reforms gave greater recognition to student rights”. (retrieved April 30, 2020 from https://www.universityaffairs.ca/features/feature-article/the-tale-of-two-pandemics/)

As to looking into our crystal ball for the future of higher education post COVID-19 I leave the last words to my South African colleague Dr. Saloschini Pillay from the University of Kwazulu – Natal, who stated,

“The institutional shutdown and the country lockdown provide an ideal opportunity for reflection and connection with the self and what really matters for one’s survival and for institutions to reflect on their readiness to respond to a global crisis and innovative ways of continuing the business of higher education.”

(S. Pillay, March 31, 2020)

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Using the above noted competencies as a template do you think your institution responded to this unprecedented pandemic with the all the competencies noted?
  2. Do you believe that a thorough understanding of these competencies and the further personal development of these competencies is required to lead during a campus crisis?
  3. Does a student services professional require all of these competencies to lead?


ACPA/NASPA (2020, April19). Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Educations. Retrieved from  https://www.naspa.org/images/uploads/main/ACPA_NASPA_Professional_Competencies_FIN 

Adam, E. (2020, April 29).  A Tale of two Pandemics. A publication of Universities Canada. Retrieved from https://www.universityaffairs.ca/features/feature-article/the-tale-of-two-pandemics/

Authors thanks:

We wish to thank Scarlett Winters from ACUI, Dr. Lisa Moscaritolo and Dr. Birgit Schreiber from IASAS, and Yuezhong Zheng and Dr. Gudrun Nyunt from ACPA – who together coordinated this webinar on the topic of COVID-19 and its impact on the global dimension of student development as part of the Around the Globe Webinar series (https://www.myacpa.org/educational-programs#Archive). 

Webinar Presenters/Coordinators

Lisa Bardill Moscaritolo
Vice Provost for Student Life
American University of Sharjah
United Arab Emirates

Dan Foley
Assistant Director for Facilities, Norris University Center
Northwestern University
United States

Damian Medina
Assistant Dean of Student Affairs
Duke Kunsham University

Gudrun Nyunt
Visiting Assistant Professor in Higher Education
Northern Illinois University
United States

Saloschini Pillay
Practitioner, Clinical Social Work
University of Kwazulu- Natal/
South Africa

Birgit Schreiber
Vice President, IASAS
Consultant, Ministry of Higher Education
South Africa

Robert Shea
Associate Vice President (Academic & Student Affairs) at the Fisheries and Marine Institute campus
Memorial University of Newfoundland

Lisa Andrea Strachan
Director, Student Services
University of Queensland

Additional articles in this Issue

More Than Snow Storms and Hurricanes: The True Meaning of Essential Personnel in Student Affairs

Kevin P. Schafer
Montclair State University

I drove onto campus and there was plenty of parking, when just a week before, having arrived at the same time, I had to hunt for a parking space. I went into the office and what I should have seen was the hustle and bustle of staff getting ready for students returning from spring break, but instead of smiling faces I was met with empty chairs and a quiet office. My day was far from typical. I fielded calls from staff who had questions about the university’s anticipated response to COVID-19. My supervisor and I sat on many different calls and meetings trying to figure out our next step. I knew that the role our team would play would be important, because we had relationships with students, a commitment to student safety, and that our work was about to look different than it ever had before.

I teach courses in higher education, student affairs, and counseling. I also co-chair the university’s Student Crisis Response Team. Even with all of my education and expertise, I knew what lay before me was not an easy task and that I would need all of my skills and all of the teachings of my professors and mentors to help me navigate the times ahead. I was still in my office that day because I was essential personnel.

Essential Personnel

Many college and university websites provide definitions of essential personnel to this effect: “Essential employees are those that need to report to work to maintain critical functions of the university”. Essential employees play an important role in maintaining the safety and well-being of students, faculty, and staff who may be on-site throughout emergency events. Maintaining the safety and well-being of students is a critical function of and the true essence of what we, student affairs professionals, do every day on campus. One of the main reasons we are essential is because of the relationship we form with students and how critical those bonds are in a global crisis.

 Many of our job descriptions – especially for those of us in Residence Life – designate our roles as essential personnel. What does that really mean? For many of us, up until now, this has meant that when it snows we still come into the office or if there is a natural disaster we are there to support the functions of the university and assist students. Many times, there is a clear beginning and end to the crisis we are working through, unlike today. We have been essential because our roles need to be filled for the university to function, adapt, prepare, and support students, faculty, other staff, and the institution. However, in times like this I would say, more than ever, every single student affairs position is essential to support the mission of the institution.

No one anticipated that the definition of “essential personnel” would be characterized by what we have been doing over the past several weeks. While being essential personnel via your job description means having to be on campus to keep the functions of the institution move forward, being essential is not confined to job descriptions. In student affairs our main responsibility is to assist students in their progress to degree competition. Regardless of title, all staff in student affairs are essential personal to keep the students moving forward. We do not have to be on campus to be essential, we are essential from our makeshift office in the dining room, at the kitchen table, or the basement. Wherever we sit, it doesn’t matter to the students we are helping. 

Why We Do What We Do

When asked in an interview, “What do you like most about your job?” or “Why do you do what you do?”, many times the answer may be something like: “I do it for the students”, or “I love working with students”, or “Students keep me on my feet and I never know what to expect”. For the majority of student affairs professionals, regardless of our role, we do what we do for the students. But did we ever think all Student Affairs professionals would become essential personnel?

The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and the American College Personal Association (ACPA, 2010) suggest that Student Affairs is a critical aspect of the higher education experience, and work done by student affairs professionals helps students begin a lifetime journey of growth and self-exploration. Student affairs professionals are responsible for providing a wide variety of professional services and activities ranging from preadmission to the university to post-graduation (Kuh et al., 2011). Traditionally, student affairs professionals are responsible for areas including academic advising, residential life, student conduct, athletics, financial aid, admissions, and student health, to name a few; during the pandemic, those roles have become increasingly complex.

When determining how to assist students at this time, student affair professionals must address students’ diverse needs and determine whether the staff can meet those needs. Many times, when working with students in crisis, my team and I try to find a professional that has a pre-existing relationship with the student in crisis. We have found this to be a great way to support students and help them be successful. Student affairs professionals play many roles in the lives of students, from being a “coach” and encouraging students to “give it their all”, to advising students through a change in their major, to being a financial aid advisor helping students figure out how they are going to pay the bill. We have an impact on students’ lives even if we do not realize it. This is why our relationships with students are vital to our work.

Relationships Are Vital

During trying times, the relationships we build with our students are critical to helping them succeed. This is as true in the context of the community struggling with the current pandemic as it is during “normal” times of personal challenge and struggle. As the generation of students on campus has shifted due to advances in technology and different life experiences than those of previous generations, the ability for student affairs professionals to be adaptable is essential. 

When instructors or staff exemplify the qualities of character (i.e., kind, virtuous, good) and caring (i.e., empathic, understanding, responsive), students report a greater likelihood of communicating with these instructors and staff (Myers, 2004). A study by Komarraju et al. (2010) revealed that students who know even one faculty or staff member closely are likely to feel more satisfied with their college life and to be more successful. Positive relationships between students and staff assist with positive student development. As Pearson (2012) discussed in their study, having one positive relationship helps to ensure that students perform to the best of their ability.  A sense of connection can also influence a student’s decision to stay at a university (Heisserer & Parette, 2002). At a time when many things in a student’s life can be chaotic having that one person to help them through times like this is invaluable. A study by Heisserer and Parette (2002) suggests that the single most important factor in assisting students deemed at risk is playing a part in making them feel that the institution cares for them.

 Student affairs professionals need to consider fostering the development of these relationships and encourage other student affairs professionals to develop meaningful and intentional relationships with students. These relationships will be advantageous for both students and professionals.  Fostering these relationships provides the foundation for professionals to support and encourage students, especially in times of crisis.

The importance of staff relationships with students is supported by the work of Ethan and Seidel (2013) who found that interpersonal connections developed between students and college personnel often go unrecognized for their central role in students’ emotional well-being. It is critical for a student to feel cared for both in ensuring that the student performs to the best of his or her abilities and to prevent attrition (O’Keeffe, 2013). As we look to the future, maintaining existing relationships with students and fostering new ones has never been more important.

Attending to the needs of the whole student has been embedded in the core values, philosophy, and literature of the student affairs profession from the very beginning (Reynolds, 2011).  Student development encompasses how a student grows personally, developmentally, progresses, or increases his or her developmental capabilities as a result of enrollment in an institution of higher education (Rodgers, 1990). All of our interactions impact our students greatly and leave an impression on them.

As I finish this article, I am on week five of a stay-at-home order. I have had numerous Zoom and Google Hangout meetings with students, many of whom are struggling. Each meeting   is different. Some are positive and uplifting. Some almost bring me to tears. However, in all of the uncertainty in our current situation, I am encouraged by what I hear students tell me consistently on these calls. They say, “Thank you for reaching out to me,” and “Thank you, it is so nice to know someone cares about me at the university,” or simply, “Thank you for listening.” These words remind me why I do what I do, and, even more importantly, why student affairs professionals are essential personnel during times like this. I, and we, do it for the students.

Author Bio

Bio: Dr. Kevin Schafer is currently the Associate Director for Residential Support Services at Montclair State University. Dr. Schafer has worked in the Student Affairs/Higher Education field for over seventeen years; he graduated from Siena College, in Albany, NY, with a degree in Psychology.  Dr. Schafer obtained his Masters of Arts and his Ph.D. degrees in Counseling from Montclair State University.  Dr. Schafer is an adjunct professor at Widiner University and Caldwell University teaching classes in both the Counseling program and the High Education Leadership program. He has served in many different positions in student affairs. Dr. Schafer’s research interests are in the area of working with student on campus with mental health concerns. Prior to arriving at Montclair State University, he served as Residence Hall Director at Seton Hall University. Dr. Schafer has been a key member in the development of many different initiatives while at the University such as the Mediation Resource Center, The Bystander Intervention Program, Gender Inclusive Housing, Crisis Assessment Response and Education Team and most recently the development of Recovery Housing. Dr. Schafer has presented at numerous national conferences on the successful collaboration between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs and the development of a Culture of Support for students on Campus. Dr. Schafer serves on a number of campus wide committees, and advisory boards.

Additional articles in this Issue

How I Spent My (Endless) Spring Break: What We Can Learn from our COVID-19 Experiences, from the Graduate Student Perspective

Margaret Potter
Clemson University

As someone who tends to be a fatalist, I realized on March 11th, 2020 that we likely would not have a graduation ceremony in May. I’m a graduate student at Clemson University, and have been looking forward to that milestone for at least two years. I had thought a cancelation might be on the horizon a few days earlier, at the Women’s Leadership Conference. Groups had pulled out, choosing to stay home for their safety. But on March 11th, at the packed dinner event in the student center, the fullness of the pandemic sunk in. Everyone was on edge. There were bottles of hand sanitizer between every dish. People did their best to stay six feet way from each other. I turned to a friend who was there with me and said, “I don’t think we’re coming back after spring break.” She thought I was blowing it out of proportion.

Preparation and Experience

Part of being a fatalist and a full-time, anxiety-ridden worst-caser is that you’re always prepared. I went to the grocery store that night, March 11th. By that Saturday, March 14th, I was fully self-isolating. My pantry and freezer were packed. It might have been a bit early to start- many of my friends were still going about their business. But my friends were still reluctant about cancelling our spring break trips, too. I knew we couldn’t do those. Eventually, most people I knew were self-isolating, too. We cancelled long-planned trips to Austin, Tybee and Asheville. Costly, especially on a graduate student budget.

Interestingly enough, I think I talked with friends more over my isolated spring break than I would have otherwise. Everyone got Zoom and, in the early days of quarantine, was excited to use it. I caught up with groups of old friends. I talked with fellow graduate students about what might come next. To be transparent, I did a lot of sleeping. I wasn’t doing much during the day- watching Netflix, cooking for something fun to do, maybe taking a walk alone- but every day by the time the sun set, I was wiped. Now, on day 63 of quarantining, I know that’s pretty normal. The mental weight of all of this is pretty heavy.

Here are some things that have happened so far in my days of self-quarantining: graduation was cancelled, as I guessed it would be; one of my students got a Fulbright scholarship and I couldn’t celebrate with her in person; another student got into graduate school at my alma mater and I couldn’t celebrate with her in person; 11 of the jobs I applied for decided to suspend their searches; the department I work for lost several million dollars; the university I work for lost several million more dollars; my sister, an emergency room social worker, has continuously been exposed to COVID-19 at work; my dad’s restaurant closed; my little brother found out he wouldn’t have a high school graduation or a college orientation.

Still, the effect that this has on me is minimal. The job search is harder. Things are a bit more emotional. But I have what I need. My job provides an apartment and food. Once a week, my friend and I drive to a locally owned restaurant in Greenville, South Carolina that does curbside orders. We get something good and eat our food more than six feet apart. In a time where so many of our conventions proved to be false, it turns out privilege still matters. Funnily enough, this has caused some of my friends and family to admit, finally, that they’re not so fond of capitalism.

Lessons for Student Affairs Practice

I should start by saying I don’t think it’s necessary, really, to learn anything profound at this specific time. This is a time of loss and grief. It is enough to survive, and to protect others by staying isolated. And, if forward action is important to you, it does not need to be linked to the profession. Tipping delivery drivers extra is a big deal, as is sewing masks at home to share with neighbors and essential workers. Ordering from local business instead of chains when possible is great, and it feels like being part of a community. That being said, I have started to think through lessons I’ve learned and will bring with me into my continued practice.

It’s common to hear student affairs professionals joke that there’s no such thing as a “typical day” in the field. We try to work ahead, to create normalcy in our schedules, but often find ourselves reacting to situations we could not have anticipated. One might think this makes us perfectly suited for unexpected world events such as pandemics. I’d argue that in this case the opposite is true. Successful quarantine is, it seems, reliant on routine. When you’re in your living space all day, alone or with roommates and family, routine can be the only thing that keeps you going. You might get up at a certain time to make sure your work gets done. A friend of mine tries to go outside at the same time each night to watch the sunset. I’ve enjoyed designating time to read each day, just for a break from my phone and the news.

By creating routines, we start to map this uncharted territory. This can be practice for approaching our work the same way, by making our own structure and meaning in the unknown. Adaptability is so important to our work; boundaries are, too. We can set a time to close the work laptop, to stop working if even just for long enough to complete a small, personal task mindfully. Nothing has improved my work quite like the few minutes I take each morning to make coffee- just make coffee, nothing else. I’m not on duty, so if my phone or laptop ping, whatever it is can wait for the five minutes it takes for the coffee to brew. We can take ownership of our own time even if we can’t control the events in the world.

We can also use this time to recognize that we can’t know the full stories of those around us. My experience through this quarantine is vastly different from the experiences of my friends, students, and the manys strangers whose stories I don’t even know. Our privileges are even more visible than before, including my own. Though I’ve worried about money during the quarantine, I have a safe place to sleep and I have work. I have health insurance and a healthy immune system. These things are not true for everyone.

Essential workers are obligated to repeated exposure to harm. Low-wage workers must use public transportation, putting them at risk of exposure. The elderly and immunocompromised are at higher risk and reliant on the social distancing practices of others. People experiencing homelessness have very limited choices in keeping themselves safe. To keep people safe, restaurants are closing dining rooms. As someone who has worked in the service industry, I know that missing even a couple days’ worth of tips can be catastrophic. And, as most of us know, not all students had safe homes to return to when campuses closed.

Even among those who have financial security, the emotional toll of marginalization continues, and has been exacerbated. While we’ve been alone, the video of the murder of Ahmaud Aubrey, a young black man, has surfaced. I am angry and upset, but cannot possibly feel the same compound trauma experienced by many black Americans upon seeing the news and video of yet another racially-motivated death. To experience this again – this time in isolation – is something that I as a white person cannot imagine. It’s an important narrative I continue to seek to learn about, to read more about from black writers who choose to share, and to examine and reflect on inform my future advocacy and activism.

Knowledge of these inequities should not leave our minds as we find our new normal post-quarantine. COVID-19 did not create these inequities; it simply illuminated them in new ways. This may allow us to consider disparities more frequently and thoroughly in our work. If we react appropriately, it could be an experience that helps us imagine pathways towards a more equitable future in higher education.


We are, for the most part, doing the best we can. There is no perfect, but there is plenty of learning. We are more reliant on our communities and our neighbors than before- for our own safety and financial security, to have our basic needs fulfilled, and for emotional connection. A few weeks ago, my office had a Zoom “happy hour.” Except when all the graduate students joined the chat, our supervisors were playing Pomp and Circumstance and wearing their graduation garb. They screenshared a picture of our university’s president on the graduation stage. They called our names one by one and had us “virtually shake his hand,” adding “M. Ed.” to our Zoom display names. It was something small but meaningful, a graduation we didn’t think we’d get.

It’s amazing the lengths we go through to be together at a time when that simple togetherness is harder than ever. When this is all over, our world will be different. I hope that’s something we bring with us – being here with and for each other as friends, colleagues, supervisors, advisors, and community – even from great distances.

Author Bio

Margaret Potter is a graduate student in the Counselor Education: Student Affairs program at Clemson University. She graduates this May. She has a B.A. in English Literature from Florida State University.

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