Good-Bye 2020 and Thanks for the Memories: Lessons Learned by Two HESA Faculty Program Coordinators–Christina W. Yao and Leslie Jo (LJ) Shelton

Christina W. Yao, Ph.D.
University of South Carolina

Leslie Jo (LJ) Shelton, Ph.D.
University of Arkansas

The year 2020 started out the way new beginnings typically go, with the excitement of a new calendar year with resolutions and goals made. Who would have known that a few short months later that life would change dramatically? As two higher education and student affairs (HESA) faculty, we never expected that our professional and personal lives would be so affected and transformed in a single year. Collectively, the world has navigated a pandemic that became politicized in the United States, reckoned with race, racism, and anti-Blackness, and adjusted to changes to education and educational delivery. From a personal perspective, we lived within these multiple crises while also dealing with the unexpected loss of a dear friend and supporting other friends who lost family members to COVID-19. Simply stated in our best academic language: the year 2020 has been a mess.

We are fortunate to have each other’s support as we regularly converse about the various challenges we face as faculty, program coordinators, and just people trying to navigate this world. We met over 10 years ago when we were in the same cohort at Michigan State University and now are frequent research collaborators and friends who can talk openly about how life is affecting us. We started to reflect on this past year, especially in relation to our professional lives, and we realize that despite the many difficulties, there were many lessons learned throughout these several months. Everyone can agree there are some baseline things we all wish we knew at the start of 2020 — such as: do not wait until you are low on toilet paper to restock or go ahead and buy those dumbbells you have been wanting for a home gym. But what are other things we have learned that we should carry with us into 2021?

In this reflective essay, we provide some insights on how we navigated the many challenges of 2020 as HESA faculty and program coordinators. We also highlight several bright spots that helped us manage and cope with the continual uncertainty of this year. Much of our reflections are based on our professional lives; however, we acknowledge that the personal and professional often overlap and affect each other. To be clear, we in no way promote or support the concept of “work-life integration” as we believe very strongly in a healthy separation of the two, as a job should not be prioritized as highly as our personal lives. However, although we tried to separate our work from personal life realities, all of it permeated boundaries in this pandemic; thus, we provide some reflections about the year 2020 below that mix both the personal and professional. 

Managing an Unprecedented Spring Semester

January 2020 started off with the usual excitement around setting new year resolutions and goals for the new semester ahead. Near the beginning of the semester, LJ attended ACPA which is one of her favorite times of the year amidst the news that COVID-19 was becoming a global threat. She was ready to “elbow bump” instead of shake hands and hug, as recommended by the ACPA planning team. Christina texted to see how that was going, as we all know that because ACPA is so full of love, it is hard to keep everyone at a distance! Unsure of how serious the COVID-19 situation was as it rapidly developed, LJ and other conference attendees also experienced the tornadoes in Nashville. The storms caused devastation, and thankfully ACPA colleagues were safe. It was not until the eerie airport trip home that it got “really real” and COVID-19 shut everything down across the nation within days.

Like so many others, we made a rapid pivot to remote learning while fielding student questions that we did not have answers for at that time. Amidst the broader uncertainty, there were quick teaching decisions that needed to be made, which resulted in some creativity and forcing our hand at deciding what was most essential in the remainder of each course. There was some pressure to stay on Zoom for the full three-hour class periods, but early on we realized that was not reasonable to ask of faculty or students. As we retrofitted our home workstations to navigate managing multiple technology aspects of working virtually, we also realized the visible reminder of work was ever-present in our living spaces. Although we adjusted to our new work-from-home situations, we naively continued to focus on the temporary nature of this remote work experience.

Our lessons included coming to the realization that not everything that happens in “normal” times needs to be reproduced virtually. Perhaps this was a time of taking a step back to refocus on what is most essential in our teaching and programs. We also recognized the challenges for our graduating students entering the job market. With so many unknowns in the field, including job search procedures and hiring freezes, we did not have the answers nor were our standard job search resources sufficient. However, we tried our best to listen and support our students as we thought through the next steps and consulted with each other.

As program coordinators, students often look to us for answers, and we realized that just like in class, not knowing an answer is okay. We drew inspiration from an article noting that while things are hard in higher education right now, students can be a part of a transformation. Ultimately, we appreciated the reminder from that article that “higher education is still going to be one of the best places to work and contribute your knowledge, skills and gifts… This is still a space of possibility.” (O’Meara, Renn, & Stewart, 2020, para. 4). With this reminder, we tried to maintain a positive outlook for all of our students.

Lessons Learned

      • It is okay to set boundaries between work and personal life, including our physical spaces. Christina refused to get a desk (which she regrets some days) and LJ refused to allow everyone a glimpse into her home and instead opted to use Zoom backgrounds. There could be a lot of reasons colleagues and students do not thrive working at home, including the pressure to keep cameras on or to not use a virtual background. Flexibility and understanding go a long way in helping people show up in the ways that help them do their best.
      • Much of the magic of college campuses revolves around celebrations. Teaching in face- to-face programs on large campuses means our students expect certain program milestones to mark their successes and progress. We felt that adapting certain traditions, such as graduation recognition, to an online environment was well worth it. Things were definitely different with many different emotions, but celebrations are an essential part of life.
      • We both like to decompress by working out, and as gyms shut down and at-home workout supplies became hard to secure, we had to get creative and support one another in staying dedicated to our fitness pursuits. Christina tried some new virtual fitness classes and LJ ran a virtual half marathon. We also benefited from our community when our yoga crew came together for live virtual classes once a week where we could let our emotions out and enjoy some movement. Keep it moving, y’all! Our bodies will thank us, especially after sitting in front of computer screens all day.

Navigating Multiple Social Issues in the Summer

As the summer kicked in, we both looked for a respite from the hecticness of the spring semester. Naively, we thought the summer would bring an end to the pandemic and that things would go back to “normal.” What we found, however, was that things were normal to a certain extent– that Black lives were still being violently taken simply for jogging (Ahmaud Arbery), sleeping (Breonna Taylor), and buying cigarettes (George Floyd).

We have always believed that Black Lives Matter, but this summer’s racial reckoning was a reminder that we cannot be complacent in our actions and praxis. We realized that as faculty and program coordinators, we had to infuse anti-racist pedagogy and practice in our work because Black Lives Still Matter, especially in HESA programs. Individually, we each established or joined identity-based academic communities that centered on addressing racism and anti-Blackness in higher education. Although we have moved toward action, we recognize that it still takes time for us to fully engage and commit to anti-racist practices in all of our personal and professional work.

This summer also included the Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS) issuing a decision on a group of cases regarding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Although SCOTUS ultimately provided a majority opinion ruling that resulted in maintaining the DACA program, undocumented and DACAmented students faced the uncertainty and fear of this program being abolished. We also strived to support current and future students who were concerned about the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s sudden announcement of policies directly affecting international students in the United States in July. Overall, the summer had so many political and social justice issues that it really brought in a new level of exhaustion within a pandemic.

In our discussions, we shared that we felt a responsibility to address these topics in both our professional and personal lives, and yet because we were navigating the pandemic, we often felt at a loss at how to make real demonstrated change. Although we continue to address these issues in our work, we also must name our privilege of not being as directly affected by these social and political issues, and thus, we can and should continue to push for change. We also must recognize and thank the activists and community organizers who continue to fight for justice throughout this pandemic.

As if it was not enough that the world was on fire this summer, we also had to deal with some unexpected personal losses. We lost a dear classmate from our graduate program to pancreatic cancer in a very short amount of time, which was a devastating loss that we are still reeling from. We also had other mutual friends who lost family members to COVID-19, namely a mother, a brother, a grandmother, and a grandfather. To be honest, this summer was an emotionally draining time as continual loss and bad news were constant.

Lessons Learned

      • As we continued to teach and program coordinate in the summer, one of the ways we reset and coped was listening to podcasts while getting some fresh air during solo, socially distant, and masked-up walks. One podcast we both found incredibly helpful was Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us, especially the episode titled, “Brené on Anxiety, Calm + Over/Under-Functioning” (Brown, 2020). We both listened and then chatted about the podcast, realizing that we each deal with our anxiety by overfunctioning. Overfunctioning, while sounding good at first, leads to inevitable burnout. Yet this was also the first time that LJ experienced underfunctioning, which brought in a whole other level of stress and anxiety. We both really felt this over the summer when we agreed that the stress of the spring semester had carried over.
      • We must continually (re)commit to anti-racist education and practice. We realize the opportunities that we have as faculty and program coordinators to shape the direction of our teaching, research, and service/administration. We must continue to strive to support our trans*, Black, Indigenous, and Students of Color, including immigrant and international students, while simultaneously addressing how whiteness permeates our curriculum, teaching practices, and foundations of HESA.
      • Loss is a natural part of life, yet it felt especially poignant this year. Perhaps it is due to feeling so many different types of loss this year, including the inability to participate in traditions such as graduation ceremonies or feeling the loss of interpersonal connections with coworkers. No matter what, we learned that loss will always be a part of our lives and that we must celebrate our loved ones when we can. We are both looking forward to being able to safely travel and see our loved ones again, and will not take for granted friend-cations, family holidays, and conference catch-ups.
      • With everything feeling so heavy, we knew we would benefit from seeking joy in some light-hearted ways. Christina told LJ she was not allowed to adopt more dogs, so energies were channeled elsewhere. We joined a virtual ukulele band with some friends from graduate school and we are best known for our rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” We will not be going on tour any time soon, but the weekly virtual band practice gave us something to look forward to with our community while we tried a fun new skill. Also, we are both avid leisure readers, and were delighted to share some good tween novels to occupy our minds.

Making the Most of Fall Semester

Fall semester seemed like a fresh start to improve upon the unexpected remote teaching updates we made in recent months. There was also some anxiety and uncertainty around potentially being forced to be on campus for class or other work commitments. Fortunately, we were both able to be fully remote in our work. Although this was the safest option for us, it was still challenging at times to be so isolated at home. Both of us derive energy from interactions with our colleagues and students in the dynamic college campus environment, so we had to embrace our virtual connections.

This proved challenging with new cohorts of students, especially for those who moved across the country to start our programs because they did not benefit from the usual in-person connections and traditions our students experience. It was very strange to not connect with the new incoming cohort in our usual face-to-face format, but we tried our best to use creative methods to connect virtually through efforts like virtual program orientation and in-class activities facilitated through Zoom. For example, Christina organized a virtual orientation that allowed new students and current faculty to interact and start getting to know each other before classes started, and LJ included an advisor/advisee break out room session during virtual program orientation. Maximizing technology features also help create interactive classes throughout the semester with live polls, break out room projects, guest speakers, and weekly check-ins and icebreakers. We know several HESA programs are fully online all of the time, but both of our programs are usually face-to-face and on campus which was a big adjustment this semester. We were feeling drained after the spring and summer, but focusing on doing the best for our students kept us going as we thought of the fresh energy a new group of students brings to the program and campus.

The broader sociopolitical climate continued to be challenging and wear on us, especially as hateful rhetoric and acts from white supremacists continued to escalate in connection with the presidential election. We were on edge wondering what the outcome of the election would be, and what this would mean for us, our loved ones, and so many others with minoritized identities. The election results allowed a brief exhale, while we also stayed focused on the reality that there is still so much work to do around equity issues.

As critical qualitative researchers, we acknowledge that the broader climate impacts our work, and these events continued to inform all areas of our work. In our research, we both work with populations who are particularly impacted by some of the recent events regarding the pandemic and sociopolitical climate. We talked through putting some projects on hold, even ones with externally imposed deadlines due to grant funding, because asking participants to share their time and energy in this particular moment seemed irresponsible at best, and unethical at worst. This decision may be at odds with the demands of both of us being on the tenure track, but ultimately, our participants are most important to us.

Similarly, we had several conversations about seeing social sciences researchers, including in HESA, begin COVID-19-related studies right away in the pandemic. At first it felt…too soon and/or too fresh? But if hard science researchers research about this important moment in time, then it was also important for social scientists to have timely empirical data on COVID-19 and the impacts on our field.

Throughout fall semester, we also encountered many people we are thankful for in our professional community. ASHE was our first virtual conference, and we are so thankful for everyone in that organization who worked so hard to bring us that positive virtual experience. Although we missed being in person (with a big plate of beignets in NOLA!), we were reminded how wonderful our HESA community is and the virtual learning and connecting gave us extra energy heading into the last half of the semester. We are also very grateful that our on-campus student affairs partners were flexible in providing remote learning experiences for our students in graduate assistantship and internships. We were also thankful for the over 60 HESA program coordinators who attended an ACPA/NASPA zoom meeting to discuss program coordination challenges and ideas. It was rejuvenating to see our wonderful colleagues and to know that so many of us are eager to share ideas together as we keep doing our best for our students and programs.

Lessons Learned

      • Fall semester meant rethinking courses for a full semester of primarily remote delivery. We embraced this as a chance to really focus on what is most important in each course in terms of HESA-specific learning outcomes, as well as “life outcomes” for students who deserved a humanizing experience where flexibility and rigor were not at odds, but mutually beneficial and achievable.
      • Virtual conferences are excellent opportunities to attend a lot of sessions and watch presentations on demand post-conference, but we both learned the hard way that we need to block our calendars the same as if we were at the conference in person. Holding classes and meetings as usual while trying to attend the conference live was a lot to manage and often felt like we were not doing either to the fullest. Our strategy of blocking our calendars is now on the radar for our spring virtual conferences.
      • In the shift from summer to fall semester, we wanted to continue supporting each other in making time to do things we enjoy outside of work. We both benefited from the soothing experience of watching the new season of the Great British Baking Show, taking online cooking classes, and diving into fun data from a new running watch.

Moving Onward: Welcome 2021!

We realize that the much lauded goal for 2021 is for everything to return to “normal.” To a certain extent, that sounds like an amazing possibility, yet we know that “normal” is unlikely to happen. More importantly, there is the question of if we want to get back to normal and if we should go back to what used to be considered normal. No matter what 2021 brings, we have all learned many lessons this year that will help us build something better in future rather than striving to return to a normal that was not the best experience for everyone.

This virtual life we live right now will likely continue through much of 2021. In fact, we believe that virtual living will become more prevalent in the future. For example, do we shift to completely virtual HESA program visit days and interviews to save on cost for both the institution and the candidates? Do we infuse virtual options for national/international conferences as a way to increase accessibility to participants? Has our work become less dependent on an office in ways that now allow for flexibility for increased virtual commuting? Overall, things will neither stay the same nor return to “the old normal” in 2021 and beyond, and as educators, we must be able to pivot to meet the demands of our continually changing world.

Overall, we have all experienced some things this year that many of us have never experienced, and never thought we would. Here are a few highlights of what we learned in 2020 and some pieces of advice we wish we could have given ourselves at the start of this year:

      • Be gentle with yourself and others.
      • Be careful of overfunctioning and recognize the dangers of it.
      • Calm down about teaching because we are all doing the best we can. Focus on the most critical elements of the class.
      • Everyone is dealing with something, and we need to remember this and carry it forward into the future.
      • Higher education has a reputation for changing at a glacial pace, but this year has proven we can be very quick to adapt. Moving forward, we need to continue to be change agents for improving higher education and student affairs more expeditiously.

As we have said over and over, the year 2020 was a difficult and strange one. Yet there were many moments of self-reflection and learning, which we are confident will carry us through to 2021.

Questions for HESA faculty to consider are:

      1. What brings you joy in this moment?
      2. How can you meaningfully connect with your communities (personal and professional)?
      3. What are things you wish you had known at the start of the pandemic, what have you learned, and how will you carry these lessons forward into 2021?


Brown, B. (Executive Producer). (2020). Unlocking us. Spotify Originals.

O’Meara, K., Renn, K., Stewart, D-L. (June 4, 2020). Still a space of possibility. Inside Higher Ed.


Christina W. Yao, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Program Coordinator for the Higher Education and Student Affairs Master’s program at the University of South Carolina. She is a qualitative researcher who primarily studies student engagement and learning in higher education. She operationalizes her research focus through three connected topical areas, including: international student mobility, scholar-practitioner preparation, and transnational education. Over the course of the pandemic, she has perfected the art of homemade biscuits and kept four plants alive with her brown thumb.

Leslie Jo (LJ) Shelton, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Program Coordinator for the Higher Education Master’s program at the University of Arkansas. She is a qualitative researcher who primarily studies college student learning and development. Her main research areas focus on how HESA educators can better serve students with minoritized social identities, as well as exploring the student experiences and learning outcomes of HESA graduate preparation programs. During the pandemic, LJ became a WNBA fan and loyally sported her Sue Bird jersey on game days, and she also bumbled her way through several virtual races and enjoyed making a mess with a new watercolor set.

Helping Students Ask for Help: A Review of Academic Help-Seeking and Recommendations for Student Affairs Professionals–Jacqueline von Spiegel

Jacqueline von Spiegel
Program Manager for the Dennis Learning Center, Ohio State University

To be successful in college, students often need to seek help from others when they encounter academic challenges. With help, college students can overcome academic challenges, improve their learning, and work more efficiently (Järvelä, 2011). Furthermore, seeking help when needed is an adaptive skill that students can use beyond graduation.

Although help-seeking is an effective learning strategy, many college students are reluctant to ask for help. Help-seeking is a complex process requiring emotional, social, and cognitive competencies that college students may not have fully developed (Karabenick & Berger, 2013). Additionally, the potential costs of asking for assistance may deter many college students from using this strategy (Karabenick, 2003). College faculty and staff are poised to help students meet academic challenges and advocate for themselves by scaffolding students through the process of academic help-seeking. By creating supportive college cultures and encouraging students to regulate their own learning, student affairs professionals can facilitate the development of help-seeking skills in their students (Collins & Sims, 2006). This article will provide an overview of academic help-seeking, discuss some of the reasons behind students’ reluctance to seek academic help, and suggest ways for student affairs professionals to support students’ help-seeking skill development.

Overview of Academic Help-Seeking

Academic help-seeking is a learning strategy through which students seek information or assistance from others that they cannot provide for themselves to meet academic goals (Karabenick & Dembo, 2011; Pintrich & Zusho, 2007; Ryan et al., 2001). Academic help-seeking often takes place within the classroom, as students may ask instructors or classmates to help them understand the course content or the requirements of an assignment. In college, students often seek help outside of the classroom from tutors, academic coaches, advisors, and mentors, among other higher education professionals.

Academic Help-Seeking as a Learning Strategy

Although help-seeking involves reaching out to others, it is an individual learning strategy within the self-regulated learning framework (Karabenick & Dembo, 2011). Self-regulated learning (SRL) is a self-directed process of actively engaging with one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to achieve personal learning goals (Dent & Koenka, 2016). In the SRL framework, learners engage in three phases while learning: prepare to complete the task (planning phase), work on the task (performance phase), and evaluate the process after the task is finished (reflection phase; Zimmerman, 2000).

Planning Phase of SRL. Before starting a learning task, self-regulated learners seek to clearly understand the task requirements, set goals, and make a plan to achieve their goals (Dent & Koenka, 2016). They also must have sufficient motivation to start and complete the learning task. Students may be motivated by an intrinsic interest in the task, an external reward, or a belief that they will be successful at the task (Pintrich & Zusho, 2007).

Performance Phase of SRL. When self-regulated learners begin to work on the task, they maintain self-awareness and control of their thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and context (Kim et al., 2020; Zimmerman, 2000). During this phase, students employ learning strategies to help them learn effectively and efficiently. Learning strategies are specific methods that students use learn, including strategies to improve comprehension, focus, motivation, or time management (Wolters et al., 2005; Wolters & Brady, 2020). Effective learners are knowledgeable of and proficient at a wide variety of strategies and maintain flexibility in strategy use. Deciding which strategies will be effective varies based on the task, student, and learning environment. Self-regulated learners also monitor their progress, allowing for adjustment and adaptation of strategies during the task (Pintrich & Zusho, 2007).

Reflection Phase of SRL. After the learning task is complete, students evaluate whether they reached their goals and consider reasons for the outcome. These self-evaluations often lead to emotional reactions, which can affect how the student approaches the task in the future. For example, if a student fails an exam, they may see the failure as a reflection of their intelligence, which could lead to feelings of shame, embarrassment, and frustration. Thus, when approaching the next exam, the student may avoid studying due to their negative emotions attached to the previous experience. SRL is a cyclic and dynamic process, as effective learners adapt their strategies to improve their performance with each new attempt at learning (Pintrich & Zusho, 2007; Zimmerman, 2000).

Academic Help-Seeking within SRL Framework

Academic help-seeking is often categorized as a strategy that is enacted during the performance phase of SRL (Karabenick & Berger, 2013). For example, a student may ask their instructor a question during an exam. However, students can seek help from others during the planning and reflection phases as well. For example, a student may reach out to their advisor or coach to help them create a study plan for finals, or they may ask their mentor or tutor to help them reflect on their experience with writing a paper so they can make adjustments for their next attempt. Student affairs professionals may be more appropriate targets than instructional faculty for seeking help It is important to be encourage discussions of planning and reflection with students to help them develop their SRL skills, including academic help-seeking.

The Academic Help-Seeking Process

Help-seeking is not simply a single act, but a complex process involving multiple decision points. Researchers describe the help-seeking process as having eight stages (Karabenick & Berger, 2013; Karabenick & Dembo, 2011):

      1. Determine whether there is a problem
      2. Determine whether help is needed/wanted
      3. Decide whether to seek help
      4. Decide on the type of help needed/wanted
      5. Decide whom to ask
      6. Solicit help
      7. Obtain help
      8. Process the help received

The stages of the help-seeking process can be mapped onto the SRL framework (Karabenick & Berger, 2013). Stages 1 to 5 are part of the planning phase, as the student prepares to seek help, Stages 6 and 7 are akin to the performance phase, as the student asks for help and receives assistance, and Stage 8 is the reflection phase, as the student reviews the experience. As with the SRL framework, this is a cyclical process, and the final stage informs the help-seeking decisions the student makes in the future.

Although it is presented as a linear process, the steps may not take place in order. Additionally, some steps may be below the awareness of the student (Karabenick & Berger, 2013). When students struggle with seeking help, they may not be able to identify where in the process the breakdown occurred. Student affairs professionals can support students’ development of help-seeking skills by using these steps to identify potential barriers to help-seeking and guiding students through the process.

Benefits of Academic Help-Seeking

Academic help-seeking is related to positive outcomes for students beyond the completion of specific academic challenges. Students who engage in adaptive academic help-seeking tend to have higher academic performance (Horowitz et al., 2013; Karabenick, 2003; Kitsantas & Chow, 2007; Ryan et al., 1997; Ryan et al., 2005). This finding may be counter-intuitive to many college students who believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness. However, research finds that students who are more proactive, efficient, and resourceful tend to seek help when needed (Karabenick & Knapp, 1991). Help-seeking can also increase students’ sense of belonging in college and improve their relationships with faculty and staff (Schwartz et al., 2018). Additionally, seeking help when needed an adaptive skill that students will use throughout their lives. In this view, help-seeking skills themselves are a valued outcome of a college education.

Obstacles to Academic Help-Seeking

Adaptive help-seeking is beneficial for student development and success, but students are often reluctant to ask for help (Karabenick & Knapp, 1991; Robbins et al., 2009). The realization that help is needed can be emotionally and cognitively difficult (Ryan et al., 2001). Seeking help requires students to admit their struggles not only to themselves, but to the person from whom they are requesting assistance (Karabenick & Dembo, 2011). Additionally, students must be sufficiently motivated to ask for help.

Beyond the admission of the need for help and the motivation to seek help, students must know how to formulate the help request and know how to find a willing helper. Clearly, help-seeking is a complex process that requires students to be cognitively, socially, and emotionally competent (Karabenick & Berger, 2013). In this section, I will review the eight stages of the help-seeking process and identify potential barriers to help-seeking.

Stage 1: Determine whether there is a problem

For students to engage in help-seeking behaviors, they must first determine whether there is a problem (Karabenick & Berger, 2013). Some researchers have described this as perplexity, “a state of puzzlement or uncertainty that arises when there is a discrepancy between personal knowledge and new information or expectations” (Ryan et al., 2001, p. 95). To reach the perplexity state, the student must monitor their own thoughts, often referred to as metacognition (Pintrich & Zusho, 2007). If a student is overconfident when judging their capabilities to complete a task, they are not likely to engage in help-seeking, simply because they do not perceive a problem (Dent & Koenka, 2016). Although the student does not realize that they need help during the learning task, the outcome may make the need for assistance more salient, although it would be too late to seek help at that point.

How can we help?

One method of improving students’ help-seeking skills is through SRL interventions. Support programs and study skills courses centered on SRL skill development produced increased metacognitive awareness and improved help-seeking skills (Wilbrowski et al., 2017). Student affairs professionals could help students be better help-seekers by promoting individual or group programs designed to increase metacognitive awareness and SRL skills.

Stage 2: Determine whether help is needed/wanted

Once a problem is detected, students must decide if they can solve the problem themselves or if they need assistance (Karabenick & Berger, 2013). Some students have a strong desire to achieve their goals on their own, as a sense of autonomy (Ryan et al., 2001). Students may want to complete tasks on their own because they believe that completing the task independently means they are stronger or more capable. They may also feel they will learn more without relying on help. Alternatively, students may determine that they do not want help because they see it as a threat to their competence. In other words, students do not ask for help because they do not want to appear to others that they are unintelligent or incompetent (Ryan et al., 2001; Shim et al., 2016). Students who are confident in their capabilities are less likely to view help-seeking as a threat to their self-esteem and are more likely to ask for help when they need it.

However, students who are less confident or more concerned about being viewed negatively are less likely to seek help (Karabenick, 2004). The negative emotions that often accompany help-seeking due to beliefs about inadequacy or failure may also impact whether the student wants help (Karabenick & Berger, 2013). Similarly, stereotype threat can impact whether student decides to seek academic help (Wakefield et al., 2012). In stereotype threat, students who are part of a group that is associated with a negative stereotype experience anxiety that they will perform in a way to confirm the stereotype, thereby resulting in lower performance (Steele & Aronson, 1995). College students who are first-generation, lower income, or from an underrepresented minority group are less likely to seek help than their peers (Schwartz et al., 2016; Stephens et al., 2014).

How can we help?

Student affairs professionals can encourage adaptive help-seeking by changing the narrative about students who seek academic help. The normalization of help-seeking can boost students’ self-confidence and reduce the anticipation of negative reactions to help-seeking (Cotten & Wilson, 2006; Covarrubias et al., 2019; Griffin et al., 2014; Schwartz et al., 2018). If students see help-seeking as a sign of strength (as self-advocacy) instead of dependency or weakness, they may be more inclined to use this learning strategy effectively (Nelson-Le Gall, 1985).

Stage 3: Decide whether to seek help

Even if a student decides that they need or want help with their academic challenges, they may still decide against seeking help (Karabenick & Berger, 2013). In some situations, seeking help is not practical, feasible, or permitted, such as asking for answers during an exam or calling a professor while studying late at night. Further, students weigh the costs and benefits of requesting help, and they may decide that seeking help would not be an effective strategy in the situation (Ryan et al., 2001). For example, seeking help may take too long to be useful, such as when students have a question about an assignment an hour before it is due. Additionally, students may have had negative help-seeking experiences that can discourage them from reaching out again, even to different individuals in similar roles.

How can we help?

To ease the help-seeking process, student affairs professionals can create general guidelines and timelines, such as a decision tree with available resources, for students regarding help-seeking expectations. New college students can be socialized about appropriate methods of help-seeking through training on policies and norms at their institution from faculty, staff, and peer mentors (Griffin et al., 2014; Karabenick & Berger, 2013).

Stage 4: Decide on the type of help needed/wanted

When a student decides to seek help for an academic challenge, they must determine what type assistance they are hoping to receive. Many research studies on help-seeking support that students’ goals determine the kind of help they want to receive (Karabenick & Berger, 2013; Ryan et al., 2005). Although help-seeking is generally effective as a learning strategy, the students’ motivational goal orientation greatly impacts the long-term benefits of asking for help (Ryan et al., 2005). When students are intrinsically motivated to learn the material (i.e., mastery goal orientation), they are more likely to use adaptive help-seeking behaviors, such as asking for explanations, hints, or examples to help students overcome challenges on their own. Alternatively, when students are more focused on the end product or outcomes of an academic task (i.e., performance goal orientation), they are more likely to use expedient help-seeking behaviors, such as asking someone for the answer directly. Individual students commonly use both types of help-seeking, depending on the situation and on their motivation.

Unsurprisingly, adaptive help-seeking predicts higher academic performance and increased learning compared to expedient help-seeking (Karabenick, 2003). Furthermore, expedient help-seeking can actually increase students’ dependency on others, as the student does not learn the skills or build the confidence to solve problems on their own (Collins & Sims, 2006).

How can we help?

Student affairs professionals should be trained to identify the motivational goals (mastery or performance) that lie behind students’ help-seeking behaviors. Further, faculty and staff can be upfront about the type of help that they are willing to provide to the student. Although expedient help is acceptable in some situations, student affairs professionals should be trained to provide students with adaptive help (even when expedient help is requested) to improve students’ help-seeking skills and self-confidence (Collins & Sims, 2006).

Stage 5: Decide whom to ask

Once a student has decided to seek help, they must decide whom to ask (Karabenick & Berger, 2013). If a student can identify a willing, competent, empathetic helper, they are more likely to ask for help (Ryan et al., 2001). Although colleges and universities are replete with support services, students are often unaware of all of the services their institution offers (Collins & Sims, 2006). Further, even if students are aware of a support service, they may not fully understand what kind of help the services provides (e.g., reference librarians; Thomas et al., 2017). This lack of institutional knowledge can prevent students from seeking help when needed.

Students, especially those new to an institution, are vulnerable to feeling that they are the only student who needs help or that there is no one available, able, or willing to help them (Collins & Sims, 2006). Students often opt for seeking help from peers or family members instead of faculty or staff. Although they may not be as informed or effective at supplying academic help as faculty or staff members, they present less risk of judgement so present a safer option for students (Knapp & Karabenick, 1988). Students may also avoid help-seeking from faculty or staff because they worry about being a burden or because they are concerned about lack of empathy or misunderstanding the request for help (Vinyard et al., 2017). If the helper has experienced similar struggles or demonstrated empathy previously, the student is more likely to seek help from them (Grayson et al., 1998).

How can we help?

Student affairs professionals can use these findings to adjust their approach to students who may need assistance. The first step to increasing students’ engagement in help-seeking is to create awareness of available services and giving explicit instructions on how to use them. Faculty and staff may encourage more students to feel comfortable seeking help from them if they demonstrate empathy for the student experience and self-disclose their own struggles. College support services can also make use of peer support staff, which may be seen by students as an easier entry point into help-seeking than asking faculty or staff.

Stage 6: Solicit help

At this stage of the help-seeking process, students have completed the individual decision-making, and are now ready to reach out to someone else (Karabenick & Berger, 2013). The difficulty of articulating a help request can be a barrier to students (Black & Allen, 2019). Although students have established goals for the type of help they would like to receive, they may have made that decision below their conscious awareness, and thus may struggle to formulate their request (Karabenick & Berger, 2013).

Students must have some social skills, such as starting a conversation and asking appropriate questions, to effectively seeking help from others (Karabenick & Berger, 2013; Ryan & Pintrich, 1997). Social skills are seldom explicitly trained, and some college students may feel unequipped to successfully request help from faculty or staff.

How can we help?

Student affairs professionals can help students overcome this barrier by acknowledging the difficulty of knowing how to ask for help and being more accepting of poorly formulated questions from students. Students can learn social skills through observation and emulation of models, along with practice scripts and role-playing (Schwartz et al., 2018; Zimmerman, 2000). Faculty and staff can give students sample scripts or templates demonstrating their preferred format for receiving requests for help. More experienced peer mentors can effectively model adaptive help-seeking skills for newer students (Wilbrowski et al., 2017).

Stage 7: Obtain help

After soliciting help, students must be open to receiving help to get the most benefit from this learning strategy (Karabenick & Berger, 2013). Research has found that students who are more open to receiving help tend to be more academically successful (Collins & Sims, 2006). Asking for help can be emotionally stressful, however, students need to regulate their emotions (e.g., anxiety) while requesting help so that they may remain open and listen fully to the response. This may be a challenge for students, especially if the helper supplies a different type of help than the student requested (e.g., giving adaptive help when expedient help was requested).

How can we help?

Faculty and staff should be aware of the students’ goals for the academic task and be clear about their reasoning for the type of help they give. Maintaining trust and rapport with the student will encourage future help-seeking (Sidelinger et al., 2016). Student affairs professionals may want to consider balancing their goals for the student with the student’s immediate needs. Although adaptive help is more effective in improving learning in the long-term, it may be prudent to provide expedient help on occasion when it helps to build a supportive relationship with the student. Meeting the student’s request for expedient help may lead to a trusting relationship. After the rapport is established, the student may be more willing to accept adaptive help, even when expedient help is requested.

Stage 8: Process the help received

Finally, the student must process the help they received as a concluding stage in the help-seeking process (Karabenick & Berger, 2013). As emphasized in the cyclical models of SRL, the student’s reflection will impact their next attempt at help-seeking. The student reacts to their experience and can make adjustments to their strategies to be more effective (Pintrich & Zusho, 2007). After the student receives the help, they must think through how they will use the help to overcome their academic challenges. Further, they judge whether the help supplied meets their help-seeking goals. In other words, the student evaluates whether the help filled the gap needed to complete their academic task.

In this phase, the student will also react cognitively and emotionally to the help and use this reaction to adjust their help-seeking strategy (Karabenick & Berger, 2013). If the help was not useful or the experience with the helper resulted in negative emotions, the student may be more reluctant to seek help in the future. If the help was beneficial, the student may be encouraged to use this strategy again.

How can we help?

To guide students’ help-seeking skill development, student affairs professionals can prompt students to reflect on their help-seeking experience. Reviewing the experience can help students become aware of the more and less effective components in the process. Further, student affairs professionals can provide support for the emotional reactions to the help-seeking experience. Open discussions of the experience can build rapport with the student and create an avenue to provide constructive feedback on their help-seeking skills.

Recommendations for Student Affairs Professionals

As student affairs professionals, we can support and challenge students to develop adaptive help-seeking skills, so they can use this learning strategy effectively throughout college and beyond.

      • Acknowledge and validate the difficulty of help-seeking.
        • Be explicit about the type of help that you are willing to provide.
        • Give example questions that students could ask.
        • Provide guidelines for when and how to ask for help.
        • Expect mistakes and be patient and gracious when students reach out for help.
      • Create a culture of help-seeking.
        • Normalize adaptive help-seeking as a strategy used by good students.
        • Promote adaptive help (i.e., giving hints) over expedient help (i.e., giving answers).
        • Highlight the confidence and strength that come from adaptive help-seeking, along with the long-term benefits.
      • Be a willing and empathetic helper.
        • Recognize that asking for help is emotionally stressful for students.
        • Share struggles with students to create mutual vulnerability and trust.
        • Be fully attentive and demonstrate active listening to relieve students’ concerns about being a burden.
        • Model adaptive help-seeking for students.


As student affairs professionals, we strive to help students develop skills that will serve them long after graduation. Academic help-seeking is a SRL learning strategy that can improve students’ performance during college, although many college students are reluctant to ask for help. In particular, the students who need help the most are often the least likely to seek it out (Karabenick & Knapp, 1991). This reluctance stems from a variety of reasons, so it is important to examine each decision point in the help-seeking process to uncover potential obstacles for students. Student affairs professionals can help students overcome these obstacles by changing the culture surrounding help-seeking, creating more transparency about the help-seeking process, and normalizing and supporting students’ emotional responses to seeking help.

While college faculty and staff interact with many students every day, it is important to remember that one interaction with a student reaching out for help can have lasting effects on their use of help-seeking as a life-long skill. With clear guidance and empathetic support, students may become more confident in themselves and their ability to reach out to others. The development of adaptive help-seeking skills in college students not only will improve students’ engagement and success but will strengthen relationships with student affairs professionals.


Black, S., & Allen, J. D. (2019). Part 8: Academic help-seeking. The Reference Librarian, 60(1), 62-76. DOI: 10.1080/02763877.2018.1533910

Collins, W., & Sims, B. C. (2006). Help seeking in higher education academic support services. In S. A. Karabenick & R. S. Newman (Eds.), Help seeking in academic setting: Goals, groups, and contexts (pp. 203–223). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Cotten, S. R., & Wilson, B. (2006). Student-faculty interactions: Dynamics and determinants. Higher Education, 51(4), 487-519.

Covarrubias, R., Laiduc, G., & Valle, I. (2019). Growth messages increase help-seeking and performance for women in STEM. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 22(3), 434–451.

Dent, A. L., & Koenka, A. C. (2016). The relation between self-regulated learning and academic achievement across childhood and adolescence: A meta-analysis. Educational Psychology Review, 28(3), 425–474.

Grayson, A., Miller, H., & Clarke, D. D. (1998). Identifying barriers to help-seeking: A qualitative analysis of students’ preparedness to seek help from tutors. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 26(2), 237–253. doi:10.1080/03069889808259704

Griffin, W., Cohen, S. D., Berndtson, R., Burson, K. M., Camper, K. M., Chen, Y., & Smith, M. A. (2014). Starting the conversation: An exploratory study of factors that influence student office hour use. College Teaching, 62(3), 94–99.

Horowitz, G., Rabin, L. a, & Brodale, D. L. (2013). Improving student performance in organic chemistry: Help seeking behaviors and prior chemistry aptitude. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 13(3), 120–133.

Järvelä, S. (2011). How does help seeking help? – New prospects in a variety of contexts. Learning and Instruction, 21(2), 297–299.

Karabenick, S. A. (2003). Seeking help in large college classes: A person-centered approach. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 28, 37–58.

Karabenick, S. A. (2004). Perceived achievement goal structure and college student help seeking. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(3), 569–581. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.96.3.569

Karabenick, S. A., & Berger, J.-L. (2013). Help seeking as a self regulated learning strategy. In H. Bembenutty, T. J. Cleary, & A. Kitsantas (Eds.), Applications of Self-Regulated Learning across Diverse Disciplines (pp. 237–261). Retrieved from

Karabenick, S. A., & Dembo, M. H. (2011). Understanding and facilitating self-regulated help seeking. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 126,33–43. doi:10.1002/tl.442

Karabenick, S. A., & Knapp, J. R. (1988). Help Seeking and the Need for Academic Assistance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(3), 406–408.

Karabenick, S. A., & Knapp, J. R. (1991). Relationship of academic help seeking to the use of learning strategies and other instrumental achievement behavior in college students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83(2), 221–230.

Kim, Y., Brady, A., & Wolters, C. (2020). College students’ regulation of cognition, motivation, behavior, and context: Distinct or overlapping processes? Learning and Individual Differences, 80, 101872.

Kitsantas, A., & Chow, A. (2007). College students’ perceived threat and preference for seeking help in traditional, distributed, and distance learning environments. Computers and Education, 48(3), 383–395.

Knapp, J. R., & Karabenick, S. A. (1988). Incidence of formal and informal academic help-seeking in higher education. Journal of College Student Development, 29(3), 223–227.

Nelson-Le Gall, S. (1985). Help-seeking behavior in learning. Review of Research in Education, 12, 55–90. doi:10.2307/1167146

Pintrich, P. R., & Zusho, A. (2007). Student motivation and self-regulated learning in the college classroom. In R. P. Perry & J. C. Smart (Eds.), The scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education: An evidence-based practice (pp. 731–810). Springer.

Robbins, S., Allen, J., Casillas, A., Akamigbo, A., Saltonstall, M., Campbell, R., Mahoney, E., & Gore, P. (2009). Associations of resource and service utilization, risk level, and college outcomes. Research in Higher Education, 50(1), 101-118.

Ryan, A. M., Patrick, H., & Shim, S. O. (2005). Differential profiles of students identified by their teacher as having avoidant, appropriate, or dependent help-seeking tendencies in the classroom. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(2), 275–285.

Ryan, A. M., & Pintrich, P. R. (1997). “Should I ask for help?” The role of motivation and attitudes in adolescents’ help seeking in math class. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(2), 329–341.

Ryan, A. M., Pintrich, P. R., & Midgley, C. (2001). Avoiding seeking help in the classroom: Who and why? Educational Psychology Review, 13(2), 93–114. doi:10.1023/ A:1009013420053

Schwartz, S. E. O., Kanchewa, S. S., Rhodes, J. E., Gowdy, G., Stark, A. M., Horn, J. P., Parnes, M., & Spencer, R. (2018). “I’m having a little struggle with this, can you help me out?”: Examining impacts and processes of a social capital intervention for first-generation college students. American Journal of Community Psychology, 61(1–2), 166–178.

Shim, S. S., Rubenstein, L. D. V., & Drapeau, C. W. (2016). When perfectionism is coupled with low achievement: The effects on academic engagement and help seeking in middle school. Learning and Individual Differences, 45, 237–244.

Sidelinger, R. J., Frisby, B. N., & Heisler, J. (2016). Students’ out of the classroom communication with instructors and campus services: Exploring social integration and academic involvement. Learning and Individual Differences, 47, 167–171.

Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans. Journal of personality and social psychology, 69(5), 797-811.

Stephens, N. M., Hamedani, M. Y. G., & Destin, M. (2014). Closing the social-class achievement gap: A difference-education intervention improves first-generation students’ academic performance and all students’ college transition. Psychological Science, 25(4), 943–953.

Thomas, S., Tewell, E., & Willson, G. (2017). Where students start and what they do when they get stuck: A qualitative inquiry into academic information-seeking and help-seeking practices. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 43(3), 224–231. doi:10.1016/j. acalib.2017.02.016

Vinyard, M., Mullally, C., & Colvin, J. B. (2017). Why do students seek help in an age of DIY? Using a qualitative approach to look beyond statistics. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 56(4), 257–267. doi:10.5860/rusq.56.4.257

Wakefield, J. R., Hopkins, N., & Greenwood, R. M. (2012). Thanks, but no thanks: Women’s avoidance of help-seeking in the context of a dependency-related stereotype. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 36(4), 423-431.

Wibrowski, C. R., Matthews, W. K., & Kitsantas, A. (2017). The role of a skills learning support program on first-generation college students’ self-regulation, motivation, and academic achievement: A longitudinal study. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory and Practice, 19(3), 317–332.

Wolters, C. A., & Brady, A. C. (2020). College students’ time management: A self-regulated learning perspective. Educational Psychology Review, 1-33. DOI: 10.1007/s10648-020-09519-z

Wolters, C. A., Pintrich, P. R., & Karabenick, S. A. (2005). Assessing academic self-regulated learning. In K. A. Moore & L. H. Lippman (Eds.), The Search Institute series on developmentally attentive community and society. What do children need to flourish: Conceptualizing and measuring indicators of positive development (p. 251–270). Springer Science + Business Media.

Zimmerman, B. J. (2000). Attainment of self-regulation: A social cognitive perspective. In M. Boekaerts, P. Pintrich, & M. Zeidner (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation (pp. 13-39). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

About the Author

Jacqueline von Spiegel is the Program Manager for the Dennis Learning Center at The Ohio State University. She has an M.A. in Developmental Psychology and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology. Her scholarly interests include self-regulated learning in college students, including motivational regulation and academic help-seeking. Prior to her current position, she worked in higher education and student affairs as an academic planning specialist, academic advisor, and lecturer.

Holistically Identifying and Supporting College Student Grief and Trauma During a Global Pandemic and Beyond–Mary Alice Varga

Mary Alice Varga
University of West Georgia

Everyone Grieves Differently: A Holistic Perspective to Identifying and Supporting College Student Grief and Trauma

While the 2020 year is coming to a close, many students’ grief and trauma will continue into the new year. The disruptions to our campuses, communities, and everyday lives requires us to quickly change and adapt to a new usual way of life, both in ourselves and with others. On top of change, trauma and grief experiences can cause an unbelievable amount of stress and anxiety with many different effects. Combine this stress and anxiety with collegiate life, and emerging adults and higher education administrators are faced with an unpredictable future that can feel daunting and difficult to manage. Recent research already shows that college students are experiencing increased stress, anxiety, depression, isolation, and difficulty concentrating during the pandemic and utilizing healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms (Son, Hegde, Smith, Wang, & Sasangohar, 2020). Additional understanding of how students respond to the pandemic in holistic ways can lead to better approaches to supporting them.

The Professional Competencies for Student Affairs Educators (ACPA/NASPA, 2015) outlines wellness as encompassing “emotional, physical, social, environmental, relational, spiritual, moral, and intellectual elements” (p. 16). The Holistic Impact of Bereavement model, used as a framework for this paper, have similar elements (see Figure 1). The elements are outlined as six dimensions, including emotional, cognitive, behavioral, physical, interpersonal, and spiritual/philosophical effects (Balk, 2011; Varga, 2015). Using these two frameworks, we can outline practical ways to 1) identify the various non-clinical ways students are affected by grief and trauma; 2) help students identify these effects in themselves, and 3) outline explicit ways campuses can provide support.

Figure 1. Holistic Grief Effect Dimensions

Holistic Grief Effects

Research on holistic grief experiences indicates that people grieve in different ways. Trauma responses, such as those triggered by a pandemic, can be similar. We can notice changes in ourselves and others that are emotional, cognitive, behavioral, physical, interpersonal, and spiritual/philosophical (Balk, 2011; Varga 2015) as outlined in Figure 2.

Emotional Effects

When the landmark study on college student loss was conducted (LaGrand, 1981), depression was the most frequent emotional feeling reported by students, followed by emptiness and anger. When LaGrand (1985) expanded the 1981 study on college student loss, including an additional 2,000 students, depression remained the most frequent emotion reported by students. LaGrand’s findings continued to be substantiated by subsequent studies examining college student grief effects. Students’ emotional reactions consistently included sadness or depression, anger, shock, disbelief, fear, and denial (Balk, 1997; Balk & Varga, 2018; Varga, Bordere, & Varga, 2020). We already see these effects as students report their reactions to the pandemic (Son et al., 2020).

Physical Effects

Physical grief effects have also been identified in college student bereavement. LaGrand (1985) outlined that crying remained the most frequent physical reaction, followed by headaches and insomnia. Insomnia in bereaved students is significant because those experiencing insomnia are also at risk of developing complicated grief symptoms (Hardison, Neimeyer, & Lichstein, 2005). Physical effects can also include weight loss, poor appearance, aggression, loss of energy, and insomnia (Vickio, Cavanaugh, & Attig, 1990).

Cognitive Effects

Grief can affect cognitive functioning in students. Bereaved students have shown statistically significantly lower grade point averages during the semester a loss was experienced compared to matched peers (Servaty-Seib & Hamilton, 2006). Students who were close to the deceased are five times more likely to experience changes in motivation and four times more likely to experience changes in concentration (Walker, Hathcoat, & Noppe, 2012), which is an effect of the pandemic as well (Son, et al., 2020). Furthermore, the closer students are with the deceased, the more academic struggles they encountered due to changes in motivation and concentration (Walker et al., 2012).

Behavioral Effects

Bereaved college students experience behavioral grief effects. These effects include behaviors such as problematic alcohol consumption, tobacco use, or drug use. (Balk, 2011). Disordered eating can also occur. Beam, Servaty-Seib, and Mathews (2004) found that female undergraduate students who experienced parental loss may be at high risk for anorectic-related cognitions and behaviors. Disordered eating (Balk & Vesta, 1998), sexual promiscuity (Balk, 2011) are behaviors linked to grief, along with a connection between increased death awareness and increased engagement in risky sexual behavior (Taubman-Ben-Ari, 2004).

Interpersonal Effects

Bereaved college students can also experience interpersonal grief effects. Isolation and loneliness are often reported (Balk, Tyson-Rawson, & Colletti-Wetzel, 1993). Students can perceive grief as prompting an increase in relationships’ closeness, decreasing closeness, or straining relationships (Vickio et al., 1990). Change in peer relationships can be perceived more by grieving students with mental health difficulties (Cupit et al., 2016). Even though peers often want to support their bereaved friends, non-bereaved peers can become uncomfortable when finding out their friend has experienced a loss and is grieving (Balk et al., 1993; Parikh & Servaty-Seib, 2013). Varying expectations in grief recovery between bereaved and non-bereaved peers can also impact interpersonal connections (Balk, 1997).

Spiritual Effects

Spiritual, religious, and philosophical effects among grieving undergraduate students have been explored. Students engage in religious practices to cope with loss (Balk, 1997; Balk, 2008). Schwartzberg and Janoff-Bulman (1991) found that bereaved students believed in a less meaningful world than non-bereaved students. Bereaved students also reported believing that events happen more by chance and lacked control. More recent studies have shown that loss affects the worldviews or world assumptions that college students have (Pollard et al., 2017; Varga & Varga, 2019). World assumptions are “changes in thoughts regarding religion or spirituality” (Pollard et al., 2017, p. 7). Positive and negative religious coping methods have been linked to college students experiencing adverse life events (Pargament, Koenig, & Perez, 2000). The rare life event of a pandemic is no exception, and thoughtful approaches to healthy coping are necessary. Understanding the various ways students can be affected by loss and trauma situations allows us to assist students with effective coping strategies better.

Holistic Campus Support

The ability to correctly identify trauma and grief effects is imperative when it comes to coping and support. Bereaved students do not always know that the effects they are experiencing are connected to grief or trauma. University staff, faculty, and counseling support can help students recognize effects they may be experiencing and how to mitigate adverse effects. This practice is especially important since grief effects such as insomnia and depression can lead to complicated grief or persistent complex bereavement (Mash, Fullerton, Shear, & Ursano, 2014; Salloum, Bjoerke, & Johnco, 2019) where grief prevents students from functioning in daily life. Furthermore, students have suggested increasing sensitivity on college campuses for grieving students (Cupit et al., 2016).

Students do not always need an abundance of support while grieving. Students have previously reported support from peers, especially other bereaved peers, instead of counseling or other supports (Balk, 2008; Servaty-Seib & Taub, 2010). Research has also shown that graduate students are more likely to seek grief support from an advisor, faculty member, or professional counselor (Varga, 2015). These preferences, combined with the fact that campus counseling centers are overwhelmed and understaffed, call for universities to identify and outline appropriate and welcomed grief supports for students.

College campuses are already dedicated to helping students in holistic ways that complement the Holistic Impact of Bereavement (Balk, 2011) and align with the ACPA/NASPA Professional Competencies (2015); however, student affairs staff and faculty members could benefit from bereaved student training (Servaty-Seib & Taub, 2008). Faculty, academic advisors, and academic support programs can be trained to become aware of cognitive effects related to grief (e.g., decreasing grades, difficulty concentrating, inability to complete assignments) and patterns that may signal mental health or other concerns, as also outlined by the Advising and Support Competency (ACPA/NASPA, 2015). Conduct administrators are positioned in a way to potentially uncover activity related to behavioral grief effects, such as drinking or drug use. Student affairs staff and student leaders, such as resident assistants, can identify students whose peer and social interactions change, possibly due to interpersonal grief effects. Campus counseling and health centers can identify grief effects in students and monitor persistent grief behaviors and recommend clinical support as needed for coping. Finally, campuses can create online supports for students. Students utilize social media as helpful grief support (Balk & Varga, 2018; Varga, 2015; Varga & Varga, 2019) and probably do so more now, given the pandemic situation. Figure 3 outlines potential campus entities optimal for identifying student grief effects and providing grief support.

Figure 3. Campus Grief Identifiers and Supporters

Coping with Holistic Effects

Effectively coping with grief and trauma is important to the trajectory of these experiences. When I interviewed 45 grieving college students, preliminary analysis shows themes consistent with the six dimensions of holistic grief effects and positive and negative coping mechanisms. Also, students expressed a need to share their grieving experiences and a desire to help other grieving students (Varga, 2019). One student shared, “I didn’t realize how badly I needed to talk about my grief until I saw your survey come across my email. I opened it immediately when I saw the title of your study!” Another student said, “I’ve just wanted someone to listen to me for so long, and here you are. Someone I can talk to about it – and it’s okay to talk about it. I know you want to listen.” Simply being able to talk about their grief was a reoccurring theme throughout the interviews; however, as one student mentioned, “This isn’t really something you talk about on campus with your friends. You’re just trying to fit in and live the college life. Not bring everyone down.” Some students mentioned campus grief support groups, as well as social media groups, as helpful in expressing emotions and other grief effects related to their loss.

Although this paper’s focus is geared towards college students, these principles and practices can be applied to anyone on a college campus or beyond, including staff, faculty, or other administrators impacted by the pandemic. As outlined in the Personal and Professional Competencies in the Professional Competencies for Student Affairs Educators (2015), it is important that student affairs practitioners continuously monitor positive and negative impacts on their wellness. As seen with the six dimensions of holistic grief effects, we all react to situations differently. You might be thinking about some of these effects you have experienced yourself or in others during this pandemic. What effects have you noticed in yourself, students, or others? How have you addressed these effects? What else can our campuses do to create a safe place for students and the larger community who struggle with effects and need support? What about when students go home? Luckily, families serve as the primary support for grieving students (Balk & Varga, 2018); however, I often have people ask me what they can do to survive these times. To help make it easier, we can encourage students and others to:

      1. Understand the various ways people can react to and cope with the pandemic experience using the six dimensions of holistic grief effects as a framework.
      2. Treat each other with more kindness during this stressful time, especially if we suspect someone is struggling more so with the situation and not with us as individuals.
      3. Focus on things we can control, which can make change and uncertainty less intense.
      4. Provide space for each other. It can be difficult for people to process their thoughts or emotions without uninterrupted energy to do so.
      5. Accept that we do not know what tomorrow will bring. This can be crucial for coping during these unprecedented times. The ability to accept the unknown is powerful. Difficult yet powerful. Acceptance can prompt calmness and provide peacefulness during the chaos.
      6. Look at the good that is happening. Our communities are coming together in amazing ways, and colleges and universities are continuously dedicated to supporting and developing students.

Campuses are striving to provide safe spaces during the pandemic for students, faculty, and staff to live, work, and thrive. We are all trying to figure out how to handle these unique times, feeling various effects, and reacting differently. For those struggling with the stress of this pandemic and everything that comes with it, please know you are not alone. The year 2020 has reminded us of the importance of togetherness. Even though we may feel alone right now, we will get through this together.


Mary Alice Varga, Ph.D. is an associate professor of educational research in the Department of Leadership, Research, and School Improvement in the College of Education at the University of West Georgia. She is also the Director of the School Improvement Doctoral Program. Dr. Varga teaches graduate-level courses on quantitative, qualitative, and mixed research methodology; program evaluation; and school and classroom assessment. Her primary research focuses on student grief and bereavement. Dr. Varga is a member of the Southern Association for College Student Affairs and the Association for Death Education and Counseling. She is also an Associate Editor for the College Student Affairs Journal and serves on the Editorial Board for Illness, Crisis, and Loss.


ACPA—College Educators International & NASPA—Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (ACPA/NASPA). (2015). Professional competency areas for student affairs practitioners. Retrieved from

Balk, D. E. (1997). Death, bereavement, and college students: A descriptive analysis. Mortality, 2(3), 207-220.

Balk, D. E. (2011). Helping the bereaved college student. New York, NY Springer Publishing Company.

Balk, D. E., Tyson-Rawson, K., & Colletti-Wetzel, J. (1993). Social support as an intervention with bereaved college students. Death Studies, 17(5), 427-450. doi10.1080/07481189308253387

Balk, D. E. & Varga, M. A. (2018). Attachment bonds and social media in the lives of bereaved college students. In D. Klass & E. Steffen (Eds.), Continuing Bonds (2nd ed., pp. 303-316) New York, NY: Routledge.

Balk, D. E. & Vesta, L. C. (1998). Psychological development during four years of bereavement A longitudinal case study. Death Studies, 22, 23-41.

Beam, M. R., Servaty-Seib, H. L., & Mathews, L. (2004). Parental loss and eating-related cognitions and behaviors in college-age women. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 9, 247-255. doi 10.1080/15325020490458336

Cupit, I. N., Servaty-Seib, H., Parikh, S. T., Walker, A. C., & Martin, R. (2017). College and the grieving student: A mixed-methods analysis. Death Studies, 40(8), 494-506. doi: 10.1080/07481187.2016.1181687

Hardison, H. G., Neimeyer, R. A., & Lichstein, K. L. (2005). Insomnia and complicated grief symptoms in bereaved college students. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, 3(2), 99-111.

LaGrand, L. E. (1981). Loss reactions of college students: A descriptive analysis. Death   Education, 5(3), 235-248. doi: 10.1177/0011000010366485

LaGrand, L. E. (1985). College student loss and response. New Directions for Student Services,   31, 15-28.

Mash, H. B. H., Fullerton, C. S., Shear, M. K., & Ursano, R. J. (2014). Complicated grief and depression in young adults. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 202(7), 1-5.

Mathews, L. L., & Servaty-Seib, H. L. (2007). Hardiness and grief in a sample of bereaved college students. Death Studies, 31, 183-204.

Pargament, K. I., Koenig, H. G., & Perez, L. M. (2000). The many methods of religious coping: Development and initial validation of the RCOPE. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 56(4), 519-543.

Parikh, S. J. T., & Servaty-Seib, H. L. (2013). College students’ beliefs about supporting a grieving peer. Death Studies, 37, 653-669. doi:10.1080/07481187.2012.684834

Pollard, B. L., Varga, M. A., Wheat, L. S., McClam, T., & Balentyne, P. (2017). Characteristics of graduate counseling student grief experiences. Illness, Crisis, and Loss. Available online at

Salloum, A., Bjoerke, A., & Johnco, C. (2019). The associations of complicated grief, depression, posttraumatic growth, and hope among bereaved youth. OMEGA Journal of Death and Dying, 79(2), 157-173. doi: 10.1177/0030222817719805

Schwartzberg, S. S. & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1991). Grief and the search for meaning: Exploring the assumptive worlds of bereaved college students. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 10(3), 270-288.

Servaty-Seib, H. L., & Hamilton, L. A. (2006). Educational performance and persistence of bereaved college students. Educational performance and persistence of bereaved college students. Journal of College Student Development, 47(2), 225-234.

Servaty-Seib, H. L. & Taub, D. J. (2008). Training faculty members and resident assistants to respond to bereaved students. New Directions for Student Services, 121, 51-62. doi: 10.1002/ss.266

Servaty-Seib, H. L., & Taub, D. J. (2010). Bereavement and college students: The role of counseling psychology. The Counseling Psychologist, 38(7), 947-975.

Son, C., Hegde, S., Smith, A., Wang, X., & Sasangohar, F. (2020). Effects of COVID-19 on college students’ mental health in the United States: Interview survey study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 22(9).

Taubman-Ben-Ari, O. (2004). Intimacy and risky sexual behavior – what does it have to do with death? Death Studies, 28(9), 865-887. doi: 10.1080/07481180490490988

Varga, M. A. (2015). A quantitative study of graduate student grief experiences. Illness, Crisis, & Loss. doi: 10.1177/1054137315589700

Varga, M. A. (2019). Reflections on grief research interview participation. Death Studies. doi: 10.1080/07481187.2019.1648334

Varga, M. A., Bordere, T. C., & Varga, M. D. (2020). The holistic grief effects of bereaved Black female college students. OMEGA Journal of Death and Dying.

Varga, M. A., & Varga, M. D. (2019). Grieving college students use of social media. Illness, Crisis, and Loss. doi: 10.1177/1054137319827426.

Vickio, C. J., Cavanaugh, J. C., & Attig, T. W. (1990). Perceptions of grief among university students. Death Studies, 14(3), 231-240. doi 10.1080/07481189008252364

Walker, A. C., Hathcoat, J. D., & Noppe, I. C. (2012). College student bereavement experience   in a Christian university. OMEGA Journal of Death and Dying, 64(3), 241-259. doi 10.2190/OM.64.3.d

Hindsight is 2020: Reflections and Lessons Learned on our Work–Fred M. Tugas and Joslyn DiRamio Bedell

Fred M. Tugas
Assistant Director, Student Leadership & Engagement
Virginia Commonwealth University

Joslyn DiRamio Bedell
Special Assistant to the Senior Vice Provost for Student Affairs
Virginia Commonwealth University

A Truly “Alternative” Spring Break

Wednesday, March 4, 2020. It’s spring break on campus and 150 students are preparing to depart for alternative break trips across North America in 48 hours. We are advised by our senior vice provost for student affairs to monitor travel restrictions. I advise my team to go ahead and cancel the Canada trip even without restrictions to avoid students being stuck in another country.

However, the majority of our trips are domestic. Our students in California will be hundreds of miles away from the Los Angeles outbreak, and New York City only had six cases. The judgment call? All those trips are still a go.

The following days included a few, last-minute student participant cancellations, concerns from learning partners, and questions from some parents. All in all, each trip made it to their destination safely and I breathed a slight sigh of relief heading into the weekend. At the same time, the national alternative breaks email listserv continues to ping my inbox with apprehensive professionals seeking guidance from colleagues on the developing pandemic. With much concern across the country, I return to work Monday with an update from our president that the university is still under normal operating conditions.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020. The president sends an update that spring break is extended one week and university-sponsored travel is suspended. I write student affairs leadership proposing that we bring back all trips early. It is green-lighted and we safely bring all students back home.

Spring Break Week 2020 is one for the books. Seven days of coordinated response and limitless lessons on leadership, ambiguity, connection, and shared purpose.

A Time for Human-Oriented Leadership

At the core of our work, student affairs professionals advance campus community through the formation and maintenance of quality interactions and relationships. We know that these relationships are critical to student engagement, retention, and success. Whether we are having intentional conversations in residence halls, connecting students through campus traditions, or counseling students through difficult circumstances, each day we are cultivating relationships with purpose on purpose.

Under normal circumstances, professions of care often experience fatigue, burnout, and exhaustion. As with most other issues that occurred pre-COVID, these issues are exacerbated in a crisis. Now more than ever, leaders and managers must cultivate a culture of care for their teams. Leaders should reflect on this historic moment in our careers and ask themselves: “If I were to look back on this pandemic, would I be satisfied with the impact I had on others around me as a leader?”

A full answer to this question requires critical reflection on leadership. It requires an examination of organizational priorities, a review of what we value in the workplace (individually and collectively), and an evaluation of the motivations behind the decisions we make each day that impact others. Lastly, management of remote teams demands an analysis of team trust, communication, and what we mean by “productivity”. As a supervisor eager to accomplish lofty goals, the pandemic has forced Fred to examine the true weight of his motivations.

I sat with this for a long time, and remembered the African Proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” My success was dependent on the success of our team. As a colleague and fellow human, I have practiced personal vulnerability in team spaces, assumed good intentions of those around me, and recognized that each individual is handling the pandemic differently. As a leader, I have leaned into the natural skills, talents, and strengths of individual contributors to sustain successful student support and collaborative partnerships during a crisis.

A Profession Built on Ambiguity

As the start of the Fall semester approached, and the pressure to create a “new normal” Weeks of Welcome slate of programming for our new and returning students mounted. As a result, the very difficult reality of moment-to-moment decisions and changes in course for long-planned and much beloved activities and gatherings had to take place. The decision to call off a socially distanced welcome back carnival pitted seasoned student affairs professionals focused on creating safe social engagement opportunities against constantly changing public health advice. Additionally, the perception in students’ eyes that the university was allowed to create gatherings that students themselves were not allowed to do on their own time generated additional tension. There were no winners in any decision scenario as we opened for Fall semester 2020.

The loss of the sense of control and certainty in our lives that the dual pandemics of 2020 – racism and COVID-19 –  have thrust upon all of us is a swift reminder of the reality that there is no control that humans truly can wield on the world around us. However, we can control our reactions to the events as they unfold, and remain flexible, fluid, and empathetic in our responses and resulting decisions. Uncertainty, multiple possible outcomes, versatile approaches to the same challenge – all of these descriptions remind us of experiencing life and being in community with emerging adults on a college campus – an experience that is nothing but a study in ambiguity.

The process of human development and the practice of knowledge creation and the activity of learning are all acts of bringing order to ambiguity. In the field of Student Affairs and the education of college students, we carve out our professional paths on the shoulders of the theorists and educators who have come before and helped give structure to the ambiguity. Where would we be without Maslow’s hierarchy? In Student Affairs we often focus entirely on the top levels of the hierarchy, but this year, we’ve been forced to revisit and stay at the bottom of the hierarchy, for perhaps longer than any of us have ever had to do before. Without that theoretical grounding, and so much more that we learned in our graduate programs, we would have been rudderless through this sustained crisis. Instead, we have had a sort of touchstone to guide us and remind us how to bring order and meaning to the chaos. Crisis response is at the core of our training – we focus on health and safety first, and attend to development and learning next.

The Impact of Individual Connection

This time of living and working through COVID has reminded us of the power of the one-one-one connection: the old-fashioned phone call to send congratulations to a student for completing a challenging semester;  the virtual “high-five” you share with a colleague upon finishing a completely unexpected and especially time-sensitive project;  the socially distant coffee meeting you have in the residence hall courtyard to talk through a colleague’s next career move.  These moments may be fewer right now, but it is even more important in our current context to make sure they happen.

The great Maya Angelou reminded us that “People will forget what you said, people forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” During a time of great stress and struggle, we all have a responsibility for modeling and participating in a culture that promotes humanity and individualization. The feelings we experience during this crisis will stay with us throughout our lifetime.

The Power of Shared Purpose

As student affairs professionals, we are able to tell powerful stories of mutual impact between students and ourselves. Through our programs, facilities, and services, students express their satisfaction and connection to campus life through their engagement with our individual functions. We feel confident as experts in building places and spaces for students to connect, engage, learn, and grow.

Now more than ever before, our work is critical to the future of higher education. Our leadership and contributions to the health, safety, and well-being of our students during two complex pandemics has been herculean. Furthermore, the impact we have on student satisfaction, recruitment, retention, and graduation is paramount.

However, oftentimes, we fail to make our work and impact visible to our colleagues. The diverse functions of our work and varying nature of student impact can complicate the story of the powerful impact we have on the student experience. Although there is tremendous value in the specialized work we do each day, there is opportunity to identify common purpose through a generalist approach to student success. At our core, we are retention experts. We are experts in student voice, safety, life, and culture.

In a crisis situation, we can focus on what we know best, looking down at the work we have in front of us and trying to make sense of it in an unprecedented situation. If we look up (what are my senior leaders struggling with?) and across the organization (what are my colleagues struggling with?), we can more begin to identify common purpose as a generalist and more effectively determine priorities by shifting work that magnifies impact on student success.


In Joslyn’s office hangs a framed postcard from the Bread and Puppet Theatre in Glover, Vermont. The postcard reads “Resistance of the heart to business as usual.”  We cannot go back to “the way things were” – even though we will be tempted to. Let’s strive to bring with us into the future the best parts of what was, and co-create other aspects of a future that is even better because of all we have been through. Student Affairs professionals must take what we have experienced and learned this year to double-down on our commitment to making our college communities places of health, safety, learning and development for all.


      1. As I reflect on the pandemic, would I be satisfied with the impact I had on others around me as a leader? Why or why not? How might I promote genuine connection and a human-oriented approach to shaping the culture of my organization?
      2. What have been your guideposts and touchstones to help create a sense of order in the chaos? What part of your student affairs education and training have you leaned into to make it through this year?
      3. What common pain points are you hearing across your team and organization? Can you identify a colleague that would be a powerful partner in leading sustainable change?


Fred M. Tugas is the assistant director for student leadership and engagement at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Fred is passionate about strengthening co-curricular learning experiences for students and career development for new student affairs professionals. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Old Dominion University, master’s in counselor education from Clemson University and is pursuing his doctorate in education at VCU.

Joslyn DiRamio Bedell is the Special Assistant to the Senior Vice Provost for Student Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). With over 20 years of student affairs experience across five different institutions, three states and now four defining global economic and social crises, she deeply believes in and champions the work of student affairs professionals across all functional areas and beyond. Joslyn earned her bachelor’s degree in Latin from the University of Georgia and her master’s of higher education and student affairs administration from the University of Vermont.

My Chair Sits Empty: Lost Relationships During a Global Pandemic–Margaret Reitz, PhD

Margaret Reitz, PhD
Associate Director in Residence Life, SUNY Geneseo

We all know that connecting in a coronavirus world is different: connecting feels different, connections happen differently, but we also know, intuitively, that connecting in our current pandemic context is not as effective.  A number of studies and perspectives have been published in the past seven months documenting the impact of social and/or physical isolation on us due to the outbreak of coronavirus (e.g., Saltzman, et al., 2020).  I have heard many personal accounts from friends, students, and colleagues who feel more connected with their circles than ever before thanks to technology, but they also feel less seen and heard.  A colleague of mine discussed the specific impact of alienation, rather than focusing on isolation.  We are still able to be around people, but we are not invited into the lives of others and when we are invited, we feel like we cannot go.  Why do we feel this way? I have noticed a shift in our interactions from April where my peers, my students, and my colleagues across campus were full of hope and creative energy to October where we are largely operating with our blinders up and are just trying to make it through the semester.  What changed and why did it change?  Is it just because we have been in the trenches for longer than we thought?  Are we feeling the weight of the election and social injustices that have been brought to the surface during this time? Is it the ever-increasing financial stresses?  Yes. And no. These make it harder to be hopeful and energetic, but we have grit and determination and being creative problem solvers is fun and motivating.  So why didn’t I lose my motivation and optimism in April or June or September? Why did it disappear in October?  And how do I get it back before January?

My chair sits empty

I have small office with room for two people other than myself to sit.  I could probably fit at least three more people in here, except that I give space to a giant, squishy, reclining arm chair.  This chair has been filled with colleagues, students, staff members, and friends who needed to chat, needed a breather, needed a quiet place to reflect, or needed a nap. Last spring, as a graduation gift, I dedicated the chair to a particular student who, throughout her four years, had used this chair to recharge.  There is a plaque that is now taped to the arm that states “In celebration of Clara Gallagher (’20). May those who sit in this chair find rest, comfort, and the strength to continue the fight.”  This chair has been occupied by students twice this semester and has been utilized by only two colleagues.  My chair sits empty.  And I’m starting to realize that this is exemplary of why college campuses feel so different this semester.


SUNY Geneseo is a public liberal arts and residential college in western New York.  During our scheduled spring break, like many other schools, we were told to send our students home, to work from home, and to leave our homes as little as possible.  This had all sorts of implications for home life, but on college campuses, there was a conflicting response: panic, fatigue, and overwhelming (new) work was rampant, but so was innovation, hope, and camaraderie.  Faculty came together to support each other in shifting to online teaching methods; staff worked together to safely move students out and to provide safe homes on campus; we learned how to use digital engagement platforms and started connecting with people we were unable to connect with before; we found ways to hear voices we hadn’t heard before.  We were hopeful for the summer.


Just as we were settling into fall semester planning, college campuses were rocked by the killing of George Floyd and others as the Black Lives Matter protests rapidly expanded.  We experienced a call to acknowledge the systemic racism ingrained in our institutions and to take an active role in making a difference for our students and employees of color.  And, from my perspective, the gathering of communities and the connections we had built virtually in March and April enabled a swift coalescence of people and ideas.  Our connection and communication seemed strong.  We were making plans for the fall that were going to incorporate the things we learned in May and June and we would be better for our students, our faculty and staff, and our communities.  The hope was strong.  So when we heard in mid-July that we were inviting students back to campus, we had the energy to put together a fall semester, complete with virtual trainings, move-in, orientation, classes, events, and housing protocols designed to be safe and welcoming.


August is training in Residence Life Departments and, if you are not familiar, it is the hardest and best month of the year.  It is an entire month of 9:00 am – 9:00 pm workdays and weekends (sometimes longer) including through the weekends as the team checks on facilities and transforms the desolate buildings into homes for students.  The staff learn policies and procedures related to sexual assault, microaggressions and bias, underage drinking and drug use, suicide ideation, and other unbelievably heavy topics.  They learn campus resources, how to talk to and support their peers, and how to structure engagement so all our residents feel a sense of belonging and are seen and heard.

This August, on top of all that, we had to adapt existing policies and procedures for coronavirus changes and add new and ever-changing policies and procedures about handling coronavirus mandates and potential outbreaks.  This is the best month because we get to bond with incredible students and professional staff who are excited and eager and full of anticipation.  We get to form, what often become, lifelong relationships with people who do amazing work and care deeply about students.  We feed off each other’s passion and learn so much.

However this year, when the RA staff returned to campus, something was off and we never really figured out what it was.  Pandemic protections kept us in small groups (as hall staffs) instead of gathering all together, but we have spent years recognizing that the best learning and preparation happened in small groups instead of a large group.  Training sessions were all virtual, as they had been for the past five months, but, for some reason, the communication and connection skills that were effective before were not bringing the team together and energizing us for the fall.  It felt like the strategies that were so successful from March through July were starting to fail.  At every level, students and staff felt disconnected and that their voices were not being heard.  We started the school year with less energy, hope, and excitement than usual.  Why weren’t we rebounding from the long days like we usually do?  What changed between July and August that made training and move-in draining instead of energizing?  These were just a few new questions I had to consider.


September is, work-wise, my favorite month.  Energy is high with students back on campus and I start re-connecting with faculty colleagues.  My role in Residence Life is unique because it focuses on curriculum development and integrative learning.  On a small campus like mine, this means I have the wonderful ability to work closely with people from across campus: faculty, the Provost’s Office, Administration and Finance, Admissions, the College Senate, etc.  September is when my committee work and collaborations restart and I catch up with colleagues who live completely different summer lives from mine.  We are able to share research and new perspectives, which fuels our collective and individual creativity, innovation, and motivation and we can articulate clear goals to work toward for the year. September is no less exhausting for me than August, but it is also the month that reinvigorates me in my work.  Except not this year.  This year September left me disconnected, unmotivated, and defeated. I am doing all the same work, why isn’t it the same?


Near the end of this month, I finally got a chance to take a breath and reflect.  Seven months into a global pandemic and I just realized one of the worst impacts on my mental health and success: my students and colleagues, who motivate and inspire me in my work, are not here.  My chair is empty.  I thought it was the meetings and projects that connected me to my students and colleagues, but it is not.  It is the interactions and time between my “work” that connect and bond us.  I do not build trust with my staff only through our one-on-ones, we build trust when I hear about their lives as I pass through the main office collecting my mail or print outs.  It is not the work meetings that enable me to connect and innovate, it is the time before a meeting and the casual reflection after the meeting where the best ideas are born.  At the beginning or end of a zoom meeting, there can only be one verbal conversation and, if you are an introvert like me, that one conversation feels so extremely awkward I could not engage if I tried. Then the host ends the meeting and we are all abruptly kicked out and directly into the next task at hand, with no time for reflection or opportunity to learn about each other or to discover new ways our work intersects.

The campus is empty.  I mean so empty.  My office is in the College Union, usually alive with people and conversations so enthusiastic I am annoyed and frustrated from the distractions; now, I find the silence distracting.  I used to have meetings all over campus; now, I have no reason to go to other buildings and colleagues have no reason to come to my building (assuming they are even on campus).  So I do not run into students or colleagues as I walk through campus or past their offices; no one stops by my office on their way to class or to a meeting in my building; my chair has remained empty.

There are so many wonderful and amazing things about technology that have made people and knowledge and ideas more accessible than they were eight months ago.  We can connect with people who do not share our day-to-day, which has been wonderful!  But, on a college campus, this also means that our students are not living here. It means our faculty and staff, mostly working remotely, are not contributing to the energy here.  Our campus is silent.  There are a lot of things happening and ways to engage, but they feel like they are happening somewhere else – online, on a screen, in the void.  Things are not happening here.  My chair is here. And our lives are not.


I started to hear voices again in November.  They were not energetic, motivated voices, but, for the first time, I hear from students and faculty and staff directly that we have all been struggling to build new relationships.  Maintaining relationships has been manageable during this time, but, on the whole, none of us have been successful in building new ones.  And it is our relationships that connect us and motivate us.  In Residence Life, as I am sure is true in offices and departments across campus, we usually do not have to think about creating new relationships.  Our operations are set up so that our students and staff connect just by doing their jobs.  Except, we have changed how we do our jobs: we have virtual meetings, virtual events, we write incident reports for having visitors in rooms and not wearing masks, we hesitate to invite someone into our office or to go into someone’s office, and on and on.  All of these tiny shifts for COVID-19 safety have come at the expense of building new relationships.  Relationships between students, with students, and among colleagues.  Building new relationships is not something we can take for granted any more in our work.

Preparing for Another Pandemic-Centered Semester

Now that the buildings are (mostly) closed and most of the students have left campus for remote learning, we have time to plan for a semester where we still do not know what is coming, but we do know where to focus our energies: we need to build relationships.  Let’s make minor adjustments to our operations, so that we become effective relationship builders again.  We need to model it, do it for each other, and structure it for our students.  If we do this one thing, I believe we will all start to feel the energy, support, and motivation that has eluded us this semester.

First and foremost, I encourage everyone to do things in person as they are able and as it is safe.  Small, short, outdoor, and/or socially distant meetings, events, and interactions will make a world of difference.  For college administrators: How can you send a message of relationship building and reconnecting among your employees?  Can you loosen restrictions on children and families in the workplace?  Can you set clear expectations about being in person, while making accommodations as needed?  Is there work that can be taken off of our plates or redistributed so we have time to focus on relationship building?  For college employees: come into the office; take walks down the hall and to another building each day; stand in the doorway of a colleague’s office and chat; schedule a walking meeting (one of my favorite pre-pandemic ideas).  For students: meet in-person with them, they are so craving it – wear masks and keep your distance and keep the meeting under 15 minutes, but find a way; take the time to build one-on-one relationships, so students are comfortable attending new things (in person or virtually); find creative ways to get students out of their rooms and casually interact in the hallways; for virtual classes, try booking a room for them so they can zoom into the lecture together and enjoy the pre-class, in-class, and post-class interactions with peers; instead of a 50-person zoom call, try scheduling 10 in-person meetings spread out around campus.  As case numbers stay low, change what you do to engage in-peson.

I acknowledge that we will still need to do most things virtually.  I attended a series of virtual workshops in November put on by Kristen Malek at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln called “Increasing Your [Virtual] Event Attendance”.  It was a phenomenal set of workshops, I highly recommend you look her up online and on YouTube.  I learned a lot, but she said one thing that I will never forget: “Students (and people) do not have ‘zoom-fatigue’ or ‘screen-fatigue’; they have ‘boredom-fatigue’.  Zoom meetings and zoom classes are boring.”  Now, I do think screen fatigue is part of our problem (see above for ideas to be in-person to counteract the screen-fatigue) and I do not think it is our job to become virtual entertainers.  But there are small changes we can make to all virtual meetings or classes we host that will have an impact on participation and engagement and will be less boring for us and for attendees.  First, do something fun at the beginning of the zoom call while you wait for people to log in: there are ice breakers that involve turning your video on and off or audio on and off or changing your name (with the added bonus of people practicing zoom tools).  Many participants who would normally leave their videos off will join in a game for a few minutes and are also more likely to leave the video on after the game has ended.  As people come into the zoom call, send them into small breakout rooms (3-5 people).  If they know each other, let them chat like it is the beginning of an in-person meeting where we talk with the people near us at the table.  If they do not know each other, give them a game or a task to complete in the breakout room.  Even just a poll with some fun questions can bring some levity to the screen.  After these five minutes, we can be more connected, more engaged, and, often, more focused on what is about to come.  At the end of a zoom call, a colleague of mine suggested we consider not leaving or ending zoom meetings so abruptly: “I wait in the meeting as long as possible to see if anyone else wants to hang out or talk afterward.” She and I have had great reflections a number of times with this strategy.  As host, if you need to leave, think about just leaving the meeting instead of ending it for all to provide the opportunity for others to connect.

There are also ways to try to bridge the in-person/virtual gap.  Say you have a zoom meeting at 11:00 am: do not work on other things until 11:01 am and then hop into the zoom meeting.  Stop at 10:50 am and actually walk “to” the meeting.  Go to an open conference room in a different building (or just walk through your own building) and keep an eye out for people to talk to on your way.  After your meeting, walk through that building checking to see who might be in the office that day.  Do your work in common, more public spaces and look for opportunities to talk to people walking past.

Each campus has its own set of safety protocols and the above paragraphs are just things I have considered for my campus and my work.  Take some time to think about how your pandemic operations have unintentionally created barriers to relationship-building in your area.  Brainstorm solutions with your team and commit to making a change in the new year.  Our campuses are filled with creative people with innovative ways to build relationships during a global pandemic.  Let’s use our collective ingenuity to support each other to focus on and change how we build new and maintain already formed relationships this spring semester.


College campuses are special places.  They feel different than just about any other place that exists.  I have always attributed this to the presence of students: their energy, thirst for knowledge, the new perspectives they bring, and their excitement to make a difference.  Now, I know colleges are special places because of the relationships that are built here and I know that because we had students here all semester and the campus was not its normal, thriving place.  I am reminded of an article from my former Vice President and mentor, Bob Bonfiglio, entitled  “Grit is Not Enough” (About Campus, November 2017).  In the article, he pushed back against the growing literature that student success is correlated with the individualistic characteristics of grit and resilience.  Bonfiglio (2017) argued that being able to bounce back from setbacks and respond positively to challenges is heavily dependent upon your community of support.  This rings true with me after nine months of a global pandemic as the individuals who have been surviving and thriving during this time are doing so because of their support networks.  But these were support networks created prior to the pandemic, not new or expanding support networks.  Imagine what life has been like for our new students, who have no network on our campus yet.  For a true community of support, we need a community of support where we are: here, on campus, where we live and work. We can and must build communities of support on our campuses again.  I will start by inviting more students and colleagues into my chair. 


I’m grateful to students, faculty, and staff who have had conversations with me about the effect of the pandemic on them in both our formal and informal settings.  I want to send shout outs to my entire Residence Life team, specifically, Christopher Rivera, Molly Mattison, Laura Dulski, Taylor Gale, and Sarah Frank as well as Laura Swanson in Health and Counseling and Jessie Stack-Lombardo in Career Development who have provided valuable perspectives and experiences on the pandemic, time and space to reflect with me, and have sat in my chair! 


Bonfiglio, Robert (2017). “Grit is Not Enough,” About Campus: Enriching the Student Learning     Experience. Vol 22(5): 29-31.

Saltzman, L.Y., et al (2020). “Loneliness, Isolation, and Social Support Factors in Post-COVID-19

Mental Health,” Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Vol 12(S1): S55-S57.

2020: The Year of Rewirement–QuiAnne’ S. Holmes

QuiAnne’ S. Holmes

Student Affairs and higher education pride themselves on being the integral pillars of students’ overall development.  Institutions worldwide create missions and values designed to uplift students’ abilities to acquire new knowledge, experiences, and skills necessary to thrive in their current society.  Little did we know, there would be no Chickering’s Theory or podcast to prepare us for The Year of Rewirement: 2020.

It is important for me to acknowledge that the national pandemic provides challenges for all people in a multitude of ways beyond the experiences of higher education professionals or students; add institutionalized racism, marginalized identities, and a variety of other social and communal factors that contribute to the disenfranchisement of many, it is easy to see that the playing field is neither leveled nor one size fits all.  COVID-19 serves as a challenge and danger along with the homelessness, poverty, job loss, food insecurity, death, and so many other life changing circumstances for folks everywhere.  All humans should have access to basic needs: water, food, and shelter before the expectation of fulfilling work duties is forced/required.  It is necessary to state that this was not and is not the standard and many have suffered, struggled, and battled to fight these systems of oppression amidst a national pandemic, an ongoing anti-Black national climate, and an election year.

Why the Year of Rewirement?

I named the year 2020 the year of rewirement because the pandemic has required us to rewire our thinking, teaching, engagement, and work on all fronts.  This year is the first time that many systems, institutions, and individuals had to “rewire” how traditions, structures, guidelines, communication, etc. would happen in a world that requires physical distancing, limited or prohibited crowds and gatherings, mandated mask wearing, and obligated us to other precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Particularly in higher education, institutions had 7-14 days to shift their entire spring semester from traditional in-person formats to delivering classes on virtual platforms such as Webex, Skype, Microsoft Teams, or Zoom (who else wishes they would have invested in their stock?).  As higher education professionals, who among us was truly prepared for a national pandemic to engulf spring break and dictate life and work beyond the rest of 2020?

There are many lessons to be learned from this shared transition and the experiences we are still navigating.  Below is an activity to help us begin or continue to reflect on what we have been and continue to be going through.


I invite you to try a guided imagery/reflection activity with me.  Choose a stakeholder position: student, faculty, staff, upper administrative staff member, parent.  You may realize that despite choosing one stakeholder for this activity, you actually occupy many of these roles.  This highlights how we must remember that while we might see others in one responsibility/experience, people’s roles and identities go beyond the ones we have the chance to witness or honor.

Explore the questions below from the stakeholder point of view you have selected. Please note that your stakeholder’s position may not be able to answer the questions from their position, but the purpose of this activity is to navigate considerations and experiences that may have arisen during this time period.


  1. Did you have additional family members come to live or temporarily stay with you?  If yes, how did that impact you?  If no, how might it have impacted you if that had been the case?
  2. How did the financial transition impact your life?  Lay-off?  Furloughed?  Re-purposed?  Delay in payment?  Loss of possessions?  Other implications?
  3. How did you prepare for your student to return home?  How did their early arrival impact your monthly expenses?  Home dynamics?
  4. How did COVID-19 impact you, your family, friends?  Did you lose anyone due to their contraction of COVID-19?  Rescheduled large scale planned family events, holidays, weddings, traditions?  Canceled paid travel and/or vacations? Celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, etc. virtually?
  5. How did viewing numerous murders of Black folks via police brutality on social media, news, and other channels affect your daily functioning?  Safety?
  6. Was time given or dedicated to exploring the effects of the national climate and pandemic outside of (moments of silence or surveys)?
  7. Did you find ways to practice/engage in wellness?  Take care of yourself?  What worked?  What didn’t work?
  8. How did it feel to experience an election year during the pandemic?  Voting in person?  Requesting or sending an absentee ballot?  Waiting for results?


  1. How did it feel to see, hear, and read about so many changes to the college or university curriculum or form of delivery in a matter of days?  Was the language of the changes inclusive?  Direct?  Informative?  What were strengths in the communication and what are areas for improvement?
  2. How well did the transition to online instruction, programming, communication go for you?  Did you have access to a strong internet connection?  Laptop or computer?  Data?  What are some lessons learned about that aspect of the spring (and into fall) transition)?


  1. What student affairs theories did you use to prepare your staff(s), student leaders, and other stakeholders to ensure that their mental health and overall wellbeing was salvaged during the constant changes made to their daily functions and work responsibilities?
  2. What type of supervisory style did you lean into when disseminating impactful information to your staff?  How did that work?  What will you carry with you beyond the pandemic?
  3. What strategic plan was the most helpful to address the vast amount of needs students expressed when being asked/forced to be sent home in the middle of a national pandemic?
  4. How is working/studying from home?  Among other family members?  Pets? Kids?  Sharing internet/Wi-Fi?  Trying to find solitude and space?
  5. How does it feel to be considered essential or non-essential employee?

As you explored these questions, did anything come up for you that you had not considered?  Did it reinforce any specific circumstances for you that you feel could be changed or “rewired.”  Were you able to find gratitude or thankfulness in the ways in which others have supported you or helped you with along the way?  Did you discover unhealed wounds that continue to need healing?  No matter what you learned, please know that your experience is valid and that everyone is on different journeys and paths to healing from the impacts of COVID-19.  Thank those who have helped you and lift up those around you in need.  Shameless plug: We’re ALL in need of uplifting words and encouragement.

I have had several experiences during this pandemic and what impacted me the most was two of my grandparents becoming terminally ill.  Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away from his battle from cancer, but I am happy to know that despite the circumstances he is in a much better place.  I would like to end with some “rewirements” from the pandemic that I witnessed and/or learned that may be helpful to you.

Considerations/Rewirements From the Pandemic 

  1. Sense of urgency is subjective to the stakeholder. In other words, someone else’s crisis is not necessarily yours.  This does not mean that we cannot have empathy for someone, acknowledge their truth, or provide assistance.  However, we must operate in our capacity and not escalate the situation by creating unrealistic response standards or working beyond our capacities to function.  Remember that saying that we tirelessly use, “You cannot pour from an empty cup”? Honestly, we cannot, make sure that you work within healthy work boundaries to the best to your abilities.  We must also recognize that we do not always have control of our work environments and never have control over our colleagues or others, but we do have control over ourselves.
  2. There is not enough time in the day to accomplish every single thing that we think we ought to.  And, guess what?  It’s going to be okay!  There seems to be this unspoken rule that we must always be all things to all people.  I am going to challenge this rule to say that we must do what we can with what we have.  This does not mean to underperform or dim your light but rather focus on how you can be present and make meaning of what is happening.  Being present is as important as taking other forms of action.  Do not let others prescribe the value of your contributions.  Despite participating in a capitalist society, you do not have to subscribe to the notion of toxic productivity.
  3. Find something outside of your institution or other responsibilities that brings you joy.  As higher education professionals, we constantly find ourselves submerging our everyday life with “transformative”, “intentional” – “insert every buzzword” types of experiences that typically align with career aspirations or goals; then overall well-being and/or thriving skills are left to the wayside or provided limited to no time.What would happen if you considered what brings you joy?  Or what your overall wellbeing needs to thrive rather than relying on the survival of the fittest mode or defining yourself and worth only in comparison with others?
  4. Not every activity, program, or event translates to the virtual platform.  While we want to create similar experiences through the virtual world; we must admit that certain aspects will not show up, be digested, or enjoyed in the ways in which they were in-person.  Being present and in physical space and community with others matters.Therefore, we must assess student needs and evaluate what is feasible and what must be adapted or removed to serve the best interest of all stakeholders.  This does not mean we deprive students of basic needs but rather prioritize their needs by initially assessing what ways in which virtual experiences can be the most beneficial and then we need to work to adapt materials that do not fit within those boundaries.If we only shift the platform in which we provide instruction and not align with the circumstances and needs of our students; online learning will translate as a boundary rather than a support.
  5. A person is not irreplaceable, no matter the work ethic.  Therefore, make sure to take your paid leave, sick days, and use any other benefits that you need to take care of yourself.  Your staff, students, and/or other folx can handle you taking time to care for yourself.  The alternative is you not using your time, continuing to invalidate your own personal boundaries, and ultimately increasing your likelihood of burnout.
  6. A hybrid learning and/or working model can be a beneficial system for some but it is not a one size fits all.  We have to collect data on the experiences of students, staff, and faculty as they navigate operating virtually.  In order for us to make more informed decisions on how to move forward, we must lean into our stakeholders’ experiences rather than rely on our desire to “return back to normal.”  What was normal in the past was not healthy, so let’s build a better future together.
  7. Media (including social media) will always be a double-edged sword.  Media serves as a way that many folx learn, create, and disseminate information, pictures, videos, news, etc.  However, a large intake of these materials can have a significant impact on one’s self-efficacy, mental health, and self-esteem. Remember to step away when you need to and feed your brain and mind with positive images and consumption to create an overall balance.
  8. When having conversations about change, assess who is in the room and who is absent.  Who is actually present to adequately address, manage, challenge, etc. the thoughts that come into the space?  Is there a spectrum of stakeholders?  Are we removing titles from the board and acting as a collective unit in a brave pace? Have we discussed what collaboration, cosponsorship, etc. means?
  9. Work equity must be discussed now more than ever. What does work equity mean in your division?  Department?  Staff? How has this changed due to COVID-19?  Have you communicated with your supervisor or supervisees a comprehensive review of how equity issues and changes will look moving forward?
  10. Build your village of folx who are inside and outside of higher education. It is not in your best interest to only surround yourself with people in your profession. It easily places constraints on our capacity to pay attention to other things outside of our bubbles. In addition, we need people who will challenge, question, or provide additional insight to your thoughts, situations, and experiences that aren’t convoluted with Student Affairs lingo or politics.

Additionally, define what “friend”, “colleague”, and “associate” each means to you.  Having friend expectations for someone who only considers you as a work colleague may lead to unnecessary tension or misunderstandings.  Establishing boundaries and being mindful of work versus personal relationships is important to avoiding workplace drama.

Always remember that you cannot just take from your village, you must identify what you are able to contribute so that this web is interconnected and everyone can benefit in some way.  Reach out to those who seem strong and who are always giving and check on them. Approach people not just when you need something, but when you have something to offer – including time to listen.

I have learned so many more lessons, but these ten points highlight an array of lessons that showed up for me or those around me during this Year of Rewirement.  I encourage you to consider how these things show up for you and those you care about.

Rewiring doesn’t mean that we reactively respond to crisis but aligning our circumstances with what we need to be our best cared selves. When we prioritize our own well-being as the forefront of our existence, we are able to shift from self-preservation to self-liberation. Building a culture of wellness comes from rewiring the ways in which we value ourselves and that will translate into the ways we show up for others.

On the surface level, others may see us functioning and assume that we are superheroes or unbreakable. That is not true – of any of us; we bend, but we also break, and we are not superheroes. We are human beings that have chosen a profession where we lead with our hearts and hope to make a positive impact on the lives of others. In order for us to encourage students to take care of themselves, we must first take care of ourselves. Only then can we use our own stories to uplift the narrative of what it means to do good work. If we only highlight sacrifices, overexertion, and toxic productivity, then our contribution is to replicate the dangerous and unhealthy cycle of work first, others next, self never. I am scrapping the aspirational superhero status for an agent of change badge. Who’s with me?

Implementing a Third Party Online Tutoring Component On Campus–Dr. Mike Hoffshire

Dr. Mike Hoffshire
Director, Student Engagement & Academic Success | Saint Mary’s College of California, Moraga, California


Given the current pandemic, institutions across the United States are quickly shifting gears to offer the delivery of student support services in a virtual environment. Responding to student needs to quickly deliver academic support modules and tutoring has been at the forefront of such conversations, with educators advocating for more funding and support to deliver such initiatives. Recently, many institutions have considered partnering with third party vendors to fill the gap in tutoring services as they see an increased use in students seeking support while attending class and studying from home in a 24/7 virtual environment. However, many professionals are unsure of the questions to ask and steps needed to onboard a third party tutoring vendor. In Spring 2018, I began vetting and onboarding such a platform for our students at Saint Mary’s College of California. The following should provide individuals seeking to implement such a platform with a starting place.

Do Your Research

There are a number of third party online tutoring platforms to consider. As such, it is important for you to conduct research on those that most interest you and your students. After attending conferences and gathering information from peer institutions, we narrowed down our selection to Smarthinking, NetTutor, and TutorMe online platforms. It is also important to consider that your institutional system may already have an online tutoring platform under contract which may limit your ability to utilize other platforms. As a private institution, I was able to extend a wider scope not having that limitation. In guiding our demos with these companies, we asked a series of questions that may be beneficial for you to consider.

      • Can you provide us with an overview of your company?
      • Are landing pages customizable to our institution?
      • Do you offer single sign on?
      • What subjects are available for students?
      • Several companies offer 24/7, on demand tutoring assistance. Can you explain the log in process for students? Do any of your subjects require advanced scheduling?
      • How are “minutes” for tutoring billed?
      • How are your tutors trained? Are lessons with students archived?
      • Is your software ADA compliant (i.e. screen reading, etc.)
      • As the coordinator of the platform, what level of administrative assess do I receive? Do I receive weekly reports of usage?
      • What support is available to both myself and students with troubleshooting?

Collaborate with Campus Partners

As with most projects and initiatives on campus, collaboration is key to the success of the platform selected. At St. Mary’s College of California, we included representatives from Information Technology, Student Disability Services, and other tutoring centers across campus (we utilize a decentralized tutoring model), as well as faculty/staff who were likely to interface with the tutoring platform. Utilizing such an approach allowed us to gain campus buy in as well as ensured a quick onboarding and integration of the platform into our existing campus systems.

Integrate with Existing Tutoring Programs/Structures

One of the major concerns I hear about utilizing online tutoring platforms is the fear of outsourcing academic support to third party vendors where institutions have little to no control over the content, training, and delivery of such services. While important to acknowledge, I argue that contracting with a third party vendor should be used as a supplement to the traditional delivery of peer to peer tutoring and supplemental instruction modes of delivery. These programs allow institutions to: better meet the needs of our commuter population, extend hours of operation into evening and early morning hours, increase subject area/test prep availability, and address specific problems/concepts being taught at your institution that may be beyond the scope of current student tutors.

Many of these tutoring platforms allow customizable features that allow institutions to decide what subjects to offer, what times the platform are available for student use, and limiting the amount of hours students can utilize the platform in any given week or month. These factors should assist you and your partners with determining the best manner in which to integrate the platform with existing academic support initiatives.

Additionally, it is important to outreach and provide education to the campus community regarding the new tutoring software. Examples might include notification through official communication channels with stakeholders, training of student leaders, and incorporating training materials in New Student Orientation and First Year experience courses.


It is important to assess the usage of the new tutoring platform. Important units of measurement include assessing which subpopulations of students are utilizing the platform, what hours are students most using the platform, what are the most and least utilized subjects, and if course pass rates rise as a result of interfacing with the platform. In addition to this data collection, our unit also asks students to complete a quick survey at the conclusion of each online tutoring session and at the conclusion of each semester. Qualitative data can also be collected with student users to gain insight into their experience.


Given the nature of this piece, I feel it is important to share with the readers that Saint Mary’s College of California selected TutorMe as their online tutoring platform. This selection was informed through their impeccable customer service and response to meeting the needs of all students seeking tutoring support. Students gravitated towards their easy sign on process, sleek website design and availability of course subjects (over 300) without having to preschedule appointments. As the Director of the unit, I have instant access to an administrative dashboard with real time statistics. Furthermore, we found their tutors to be well trained and knowledgeable about current tutoring pedagogy.

As a result of our partnership, we have seen an increase in students engaging with our tutoring services, particularly those identified in the “murky middle,” expanded the amount of subjects we are able to offer tutoring, and have extended our tutoring hours beyond traditional 8 am – 5 pm hours. If implemented correctly, utilizing an online tutoring platform as a supplement, rather than a replacement, to current tutoring services can yield positive outcomes for students on your respective campus.

Reflection Questions

  1. Based on your assessment(s), is there a need to supplement current in person tutoring/support services with a third party vendor? If yes, what steps should you take to implement such a program?
  2. In what ways can you engage faculty, staff and administration in the development and planning of adopting such a system on your respective campus? How do you assist in educating constituents of the need for such a program?
  3. When expanding services, how do you consider issues of equity (such as access to technology and various learning modalities) in utilizing such programs on your campus?


Mike Hoffshire, PhD (he/him/his) is the Director of Student Engagement and Academic Success at Saint Mary’s College of California. A queer scholar and practitioner, their research examines the identity development of LGBQ+ students and student success initiatives. Current projects include qualitative studies of faculty advisors of LGBTQ+ organizations at community colleges and the experience of LGBQ+ identified Caribbean heritage students. In addition to researching and writing, they serve as an adjunct faculty member, consultant, and presenter.

Professional Competencies for Student Affairs Educators: Reflections During a Pandemic–Ann M. Gansemer-Topf, Terah J. Stewart, Rachel A. Smith, Michael G. Brown, and Robert D. Reason

Ann M. Gansemer-Topf, Terah J. Stewart, Rachel A. Smith, Michael G. Brown, and Robert D. Reason

Iowa State University

Author Note

We want to thank the Iowa State University Student Affairs Classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022 for showing grace, resiliency, and a sense of humor as we navigated COVID-19 and heightened racial injustices. Your commitments to social justice, community, and learning are impressive and inspiring. We value you!


Professional Competencies for Student Affairs Educators (ACPA/NASPA, 2015) outline “essential knowledge, skills, and dispositions expected of all student affairs educators” (ACPA/NASPA,  2015, p.7). These 10 competencies can inform and guide the direction and scope of professional organizations, graduate curricula, and professional development, regardless of position, level, or institutional type. Despite this broad applicability, new contexts warrant a meditation on the meaning of and potentialities for the competencies. COVID-19 is one such context. It has transformed how student affairs practitioners approach their work – the impact and disruption caused by the pandemic coupled with recent and ongoing horrific acts of white supremacy cannot be understated.

The purpose of our writing is to reflect on the salience and our understandings of the ACPA/NASPA competencies within these new contexts. As student affairs program faculty members at Iowa State University, we have engaged in ongoing conversations with students and colleagues about the critical imperative to teach, research, and practice differently as a result of the pandemic. Our discussions also led us to consider how the competencies and skills needed to be effective practitioners might change or be differently interpreted.

What follows is a reflection on each competency based on our conversations, observations, teaching, and engaging in the work of student affairs during COVID-19. At the end of each competency section we offer reflective prompts as an invitation for student affairs graduate students, researchers, and practitioners to think and meditate with us on the limits, possibilities, and future directions of the competencies including and especially during and after a global pandemic.

Personal and Ethical Foundations (PEF)

The personal and ethical foundations competency calls upon practitioners and practitioner educators to foster the development of thoughtful critique, adhering to a “holistic and comprehensive standard of ethics and commitment to one’s own wellness and growth” (ACPA/NASPA, 2015, p. 12). Although some competencies are the focus of individual courses, students cultivate their personal ethical perspectives throughout curricular and fieldwork experiences. Our program (and students) rely upon practice-based learning to complement the in-class reflection that fosters self-authorship and personal ethical development.

The pandemic prompted an abrupt transition to online learning in Spring 2020 and rapidly shifted the contexts in which graduate students engaged in professional practice. Most graduate students were meeting with undergraduates and supervisors virtually, many were away from campus for extended periods of time, and the expectations for their work were unclear. A number of students expressed concern about doing enough while trying to take care of themselves and their families. The shifting context prevented students and their supervisors from engaging in the kind of emergent and incidental mentorship that was part of a ‘typical’ assistantship or practicum.

The rapid transition wrought by the pandemic and the renewed focus on law enforcement and policing raised important questions about the responsibility of the institution to its students, staff, and faculty. The pandemic illustrated the varied ways institutions, departments, programs, and individuals engaged a communal ethic of care and the key interpersonal ways in which much of our personal ethical foundations are expressed were disrupted.

      • Where are the intersections and boundaries around our personal and professional lives if our homes become our workplaces?
      • What does mutuality look like during social distancing?
      • How do we demonstrate awareness of wellness of others in our workplace when we feel disconnected?

Values, Philosophy, and History (VPH)

The VPH competency “embodies the foundations of the profession from which current and future research, scholarship, and practice will change and grow” (ACPA/NASPA, 2015, p. 12).  With students and colleagues, we grappled with issues that were not new, but rather were brought to light via changing policies and practices. We examined who determines the nature and purpose of higher education in the context of a global and local health crisis. We acknowledged the ways student affairs practices were built on interpersonal and systemic care and creative generativity, and wrestled with ways practices were built on something unstable or harmful. We sought ways student affairs folks demonstrate care for self, colleagues, and students, in the short and the long term. We explored how the nature of what student affairs educators do changed when interaction is impossible in the physical spaces they have spent decades (de/re)constructing. We have always learned within the context of history and philosophy, but it was clear to us and to students and colleagues that history is now.

For example, COVID-19 had our institutional archivists digging up long forgotten 1918 influenza photographs showing rows of patients on cots as a reminder that we had previously experienced a pandemic. In courses, we discussed the racist and white supremacist histories embedded in campus building names, space ownership, and speech that had previously not been questioned.  Through its clouding and disrupting of daily life, the pandemic provided one of the clearest current examples we have seen related to the potential clash of personal, professional, and institutional values and histories—what we espouse and what we enact. If students, colleagues, friends, family, and we ourselves may fall ill tomorrow, how do we make meaning of what we are doing today? As we tell students and as our field’s research shows, these questions about why and for whom higher education exists are enduring, set in philosophical and historical contexts, and worth consistently reexamining.

      • What have you learned about the history of your institution and how that shapes approaches to defining and dealing with current challenges?
      • How do you define the values and philosophies of student affairs, and to what extent has 2020 led to their redefinitions, renegotiations, or de/re-centering?

Assessment, Evaluation, and Research (AER)

Of all the competencies, the skills and criteria that describe AER may be the least directly influenced by the pandemic. The pandemic changed how we do AER: our face-to-face interviews were replaced by video-conferencing, direct observations were not feasible, and working from home may have limited our access to campus resources and data, but the processes of engaging in assessment and research remain the same. What the pandemic has heightened, however, is the tension between the importance and reality of engaging in this competency.

Student affairs practitioners often cite “lack of time” as one of the primary reasons for not engaging in assessment. Reflection seems a luxury when there are so many crises demanding our attention. Creating a pivot table (i.e., Microsoft Excel) in the midst of pivoting is overwhelming. As a faculty we have explored  the role and priority of AER during the pandemic and how we ask for feedback in ways that do not overtax students and community members.

As noted in other competencies, campuses were forced to change quickly, and few (if any) students choose student affairs because they want to do AER. Nevertheless assessment and research are more critical than ever as they can help us make sense of our world, provide feedback on our effectiveness, and highlight the questions we should be asking. AER can help us decide what worked well, what are our priorities, and what may need to stop.  How does one prioritize time for reflection and engaging in assessment and research (as students, faculty, and practitioners) in the midst of chaos?  The recommendation we highlight in our assessment courses is even more applicable here: there is no perfect assessment, so strive for “good enough” (Upcraft & Schuh, 1996).  In a pandemic “good enough” can do enough good.

      • What changes have you made or encountered during COVID that are worth assessing and researching?
      • What are small, feasible assessments that you can engage in that are critical and provide “good enough” information? 

Law, Policy, and Governance (LPG)

Students often view the law, policy, and governance competency as important, but LPG is often not students’ primary motivation to enter student affairs as compared to other competencies. COVID-19 has underscored the inseparability of higher education institutions from community and socio-political contexts. It has become even more obvious than in the past that student affairs professionals’ day-to-day work is directly affected by local, state, and national policy, as well as through the ways institutions enact that policy through their governance structures.

Conversely, institutional policy had direct ramifications for the surrounding community’s health in recent months. Students analyzed institutional policy related to COVID-19 mitigation, racial justice, international students, and student protest and speech, examining the constraints and affordances of student affairs work within different types of institutions. While recognizing ethical dilemmas, students also took advantage of opportunities to collaborate across the institution to respond to issues of public health, transform campus policy, and advocate for justice.

COVID-19 further highlighted the power-based processes that shape higher education laws, policies, and structures. These processes can produce ethical dilemmas and decision-making that unjustly prioritizes the well-being of some over others.Work remains to be done on critical issues of law and policy. Among these issues are financing of higher education, student access and learning, and the thriving of faculty, staff, and student affairs educators as part of institutional success.

      • What role have student affairs educators played in institutional governance related to COVID decision-making?
      • How does student affairs work operate to support students in a context of rapidly changing and uncertain laws and policies?

Organizational and Human Resource (OHR) 

The OHR competency area “includes knowledge, skills, and dispositions used in the management of institutional human capital, financial, and physical resources” (ACPA/NASPA,  2015, p.13). Like the LPG competency area, OHR can feel distant from both why students enter the profession and from their day-to-day work as graduate students and early career professionals. The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically closing campus residence halls and sending students home in the spring of 2020, raised questions about refunds for unused portions of housing and dining contracts, layoffs of personnel, and how to quickly and safely close facilities. Fall 2020, with limited in-person coursework and limited on-campus capacity, similarly raised questions about how to keep residence halls and dining centers open with limited income, how to keep students and staff safe on campus, and whether to keep some facilities closed.

All student affairs professionals and graduate students, were forced to grapple with organizational and human resource decisions that had serious ramifications for the physical and financial health of people and institutions. These decisions intersected with other competency areas, especially Social Justice and Inclusion (SJI), when issues of power and privilege were considered. Often the staff who were laid off first were the lowest paid and those who could not work from home (e.g., custodial staff). Staff on the front lines were most at risk of being infected with COVID-19 and were most financially at risk if they were not able to work. Housing and food insecure students were deeply affected by decisions to close residence and dining facilities.

In critiquing higher education’s broad response to COVID-19 Stewart (2020) offered, If within our collective imagination we [higher education] understood and believed the organization to be the people, then there is no way that the loss of infrastructure (either temporarily or permanently) would trump our ability to center that ethic in this moment; deliberately and unapologetically… We owe each other the honesty of naming who has been and will be harmed as a result of the actions of our collective responses [to COVID-19] and lack of response – and how we would/will try to reconcile that harm (p.5).

Organizational, human resources, and financial challenges are predicted to continue beyond the pandemic. Decisions regarding the availability of graduate student assistantships and student affairs positions, and adjustments to salary, retirement, and job security will need to be made – often by those who will not be directly impacted. This competency requires considerations about how we prepare for a potentially unstable future and how we advocate and communicate for ourselves and colleagues.

      • How do student affairs professionals make decisions about organizational and human resources that both positively affect the institution and uphold values of social justice?
      • What does it mean to effectively prepare and advocate for yourself and your colleagues?

Leadership (LEAD)

The LEAD competency “involves both the individual role of a leader and the leadership process of individuals working together to envision, plan, and affect change in organizations” (ACPA/NASPA,  2015, p. 27). Most decisions that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic impacted most student affairs students but were made well “above” those affected in the organizational hierarchy. This year, especially in spring 2020, we watched higher education leaders make drastic changes–recalling students studying abroad, closing residence halls, moving courses online. It is often said that making change in higher education institutions is like turning the Titanic; in spring 2020, the Titanic turned around overnight.

Perhaps the greatest leadership lesson from this pandemic is that change can occur in higher education if those in power want that change. Teams and task forces can be quickly assembled and can actually be action-oriented when the stakes are high enough. The leadership of student affairs professionals was highlighted when we served on these task forces and were able to elevate our core personal and professional values, advocating for others regardless of the expense to the institution. Student affairs professionals must be prepared to engage in these leadership roles, to engage in university-level discussions about how to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, while still keeping the students’ experiences primary in our decision making.

      • What did you learn from your institutional responses to the pandemic, particularly as it relates to how decisions were made that affected students’ experiences?
      • What changes were made that should be maintained, even after the pandemic? What changes should be reversed?

Social Justice and Inclusion (SJI)

The SJI competency is defined as both a process and goal (ACPA/NASPA, 2015) and is complex, messy, and difficult endeavor. The pandemic revealed such complexity by creating both difficult conditions for all and providing opportunities for equitable access to some who had been previously denied it. For example, safety restrictions created some work-from-home opportunities. Further, many programs, events, and courses were taken to online/virtual formats. Disabled people, including those who are immunocompromised, have been asking for options like these for years, on campus and in society broadly (Keegan, 2020). Students, through their assistantships and full-time work, have been integral in creating accessible opportunities while recognizing that the opportunities were only made available because of the risk to abled people.

Relatedly, it would be irresponsible if we did not name the reality of racial injustice which has marched along and predates the pandemic. The murder of George Floyd reminded some and reasserted for others the reality of anti-black racism, white supremacy, and police brutality. Those realities taken together with a contentious election season promulgated incredibly difficult contexts in the sphere of equity and justice.

A common narrative echoed in social discourse is that COVID-19 and white supremacy are twin pandemics but “To call them ‘twins’ suggests a similar origin, and doing so inadvertently erases centuries of struggle for Black people” (Patton, 2020 para 5). Indeed, COVID-19 and white supremacy are not twin pandemics but they remind us that educators must acknowledge and work within the reality that what happens in the world – not just on our campuses – impacts and should inform our work. This reality runs counter to the competency in that we must focus not just on the harm to campuses and surrounding communities,  but on broad, global, and historically harms.

      • What would it mean for student affairs to retain aspects of our newly more accessible praxis, post pandemic? How might we do this? How might we teach toward this end?
      • What are the ways that we (un)intentionally create and sustain borders between our campuses and the world along SJI? How might we tear them down so that the next pandemic we understand our place in global ecosystems?

Student Learning and Development (SLD)          

The SLD competency asserts that practitioners should possess a “critical understanding of learning and development theories and their use in constructing learning outcomes” (ACPA/NASPA, 2015, p. 14). This means constructing effective programs, lesson plans, and syllabi. We spent the first quarter of the semester developing individual assignment plans, and connecting learning outcomes to assessment activities.

Six weeks into the semester, every plan we had created as a learning community had to be re-envisioned. The careful planning that allowed students to direct their own learning, now – based on student feedback – felt overwhelming. We learned as a community the need for flexible lesson planning and syllabi. The way to balance encroaching ambiguity was to provide students a balance of structure and agency. In other words, this quick shift during COVID-19, mirrored effective approaches in applying student development theory: identify goals/outcomes, develop a strong foundational knowledge, be flexible, and appreciate ambiguity within the structure.

      • In what ways has COVID altered your understanding of student development?
      • What are ways in which you provided or sought structure and flexibility within the pandemic? How might this change post pandemic?

Technology (TECH)

In the first publication of professional standards, aspects of technology use were embedded in each area, but technology has since become a “stand alone” competency. Access and proliferation of the use of technology during the pandemic raises the question again: should technology be a stand-alone competency or embedded in each area? Technology has affected our understanding and practice of each of the competencies.

The professional standards do not identify “communication” or “flexibility” as stand-alone competencies. These skills are critical qualities needed to carry out all the competencies. The pandemic has proven that successful proficiency in all competencies relies on our use and application of technology. Students’ past reflections tended to focus on the opportunities and possibilities that technology affords. We saw many examples of this as courses, academic advising, and counseling sessions went online. Even coffee breaks and social hours became virtual.

Most striking, however, is that there was also a recognition of the limits of technology. Community building, engaging in difficult discussions, and getting students connected – reasons why many of us have chosen student affairs – are more difficult when we are not in the same physical space as students. Campuses can be hostile environments for minoritized populations. Does a more diffused campus community create safer spaces or exacerbate feelings of isolation and otherness? The pandemic has forced us to engage and embrace technology in new and more frequent ways. Post pandemic practice will require us to examine how we balance access and use technology, the benefits and limitations, and the implications for our field and ourselves.

      • How has your competency in technology influenced your development of other competencies?
      • How has COVID-19 highlighted the strengths and limitations of technology use in student affairs?

Advising and Supporting (A/S)

Prior to the pandemic, scholars had already identified critical gaps in graduate preparation for student affairs professionals from an advising and supporting perspective including, supervision/mentoring, crisis management/emergency preparedness, and student mental health concerns (Reynolds & Altabef, 2015). When COVID-19 swept the globe these skills converged and collapsed on each other all at once: exacerbating how and to what degree students would need advising and support.

We engaged with graduate students about the complexities of advising and supporting, including the imperative of taking care of self while taking care of others. At the same time, we focused on how higher education professionals might need to have a stronger systems analysis and praxis related to advising and supporting. To be clear, we understand that the competencies operate in concert with one another and there may be “systems” focus articulated in other competences – such as in the OHR, LPG, and LEAD –  but, with advising and supporting specifically how might support materialize beyond advising? To this end, what it means to advise and help might need to expand to include not simply assisting students to navigate violent conditions but rather, dismantling them. Graduate students have recognized these realities and have shifted their focus to responding to crises, addressing the mental health of students, and getting at the root of confounding issues.

      • How can advising and supporting be focused on structural interventions?
        • An example of an advanced outcome on this competency includes “Provide effective post-traumatic response to campus events/situations, collaborating with other campus departments” (ACPA/NASPA, 2015 p. 37).  What if the campus is creating the stress or responding to it in ways that exacerbate it?
      • What might it mean to advise within violence? Or to support within structures that do not adequately center the humanity of students or professionals?


Professional standards provide guidelines on the skills and knowledge needed for student affairs practice. In 2020, COVID-19 and high profile examples of racial injustice significantly changed the landscapes in which we work. As a collective, we reflected on the overlay of these significant events within the 10 competencies. Our reflections brought us new insights, uncomfortable realizations of the difficulty of our work, and additional questions that can guide our future work.  And so it was for 2020.


ACPA-College Student Educators International & NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (2015). Professional competency areas for student affairs educators.

Keegan, M. (2020, May 13).  Why coronavirus may make the world more accessible. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

Patton, L. (2020, October 7).  We are NOT enduring “twin” pandemics.

Reynolds, A. L. & Altabef, D. (2015). Addressing helping competencies in student affairs: Analysis of helping skills course syllabi. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice. 57(2), 220-231.

Stewart, T. J. (2020) Capitalism and the (il)logics of Higher Education’s COVID-19 response: A Black feminist critique. Leisure Sciences. DOI: 10.1080/01490400.2020.1774011

Upcraft, M. L., & Schuh, J. H. (1996). Assessment in student affairs: A guide for practitioners. Jossey-Bass.


About the Authors

Ann M. Gansemer-Topf is an Associate Professor in Higher Education and Student Affairs at Iowa State University.

Terah J. Stewart is an Assistant Professor in Higher Education and Student Affairs at Iowa State University.
Rachel A. Smith is an Assistant Professor in Higher Education and Student Affairs at Iowa State University.

Michael G. Brown is an Assistant Professor in Higher Education and Student Affairs at Iowa State University.

Robert D. Reason is a Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs in the College of Human Sciences at Iowa State University.

You Submitted a Book Proposal, Now What?– Mimi Benjamin & Jody Jessup-Anger

You Submitted a Book Proposal, Now What?

In our last Developments article, we discussed considerations you should think about before submitting a book proposal.  Once you have settled on an idea, drafted a proposal and submitted it, you may wonder what happens next.  Below we explain what you can expect once your proposal is submitted to ACPA Books.

First, as ACPA Books co-editors, we review your proposal with an eye toward clarity and audience.  We read the proposal independently and then meet to discuss it.  Some of the questions we ask ourselves are: Is the proposal clear and does it provide sufficient information to portray what the book will be about?  Is the topic sufficiently broad to attract an audience, but still pointed enough to map onto someone’s job? Is the book appropriately situated in the context of existing books? Does this book make sense in light of ACPA’s mission and vision? Does the timeline for completion seem reasonable?

These questions typically result in feedback that we provide the authors prior to passing the proposal along to Stylus.  Sometimes authors desire additional guidance, in which case we set up a meeting. Based on the feedback, authors typically revise and resubmit their proposals. Once the proposal is in final draft form, we submit it to our Stylus editor, David Brightman, who works in conjunction with the Stylus Editorial Board to make a decision about the book. Once we have Stylus’ decision, we communicate that to authors and work with them on next steps.  For more information about ACPA Books, please visit:

A Letter from the President–Vernon A. Wall

Greetings from Washington, DC!

Since I began my presidency in March of 2020, I have developed a daily morning ritual.  I grab a cup of hot tea (I don’t drink coffee) or a large glass of water (my doctor says I don’t drink enough water – ugh) and I spend about 45 minutes reading the Daily Briefing email from the Chronicle of Higher Education.   Throughout the months of March, April and May I found myself thinking of college/university presidents and other higher education leaders.   To say that this is a challenging time in higher education only begins to describe what it’s like to manage multiple pandemics as they provide leadership for the campus community.  I also found myself thinking about my friends and colleagues who have backgrounds in student affairs who are now serving as college presidents and CEOs of higher education organizations.  What’s on their minds?  How are they navigating this time in history?  Hence, the “President2President” ACPA2Go video series was born.  I am in the process of interviewing some amazing colleagues who have agreed to share some time with me (and you) through a video podcast of sorts.  Here are a few things that I am learning so far:

      • Presidents who have student affairs backgrounds have unique skills that allow them to lead their institutions through this difficult time. Crisis management, adjusting to budget cuts, student protests, understanding uncertainty, student mental health, strategic engagement, developing protocols . . . just to name a few.  As one person put it:  “It’s like being on all campus duty all over again.”
      • Presidents who have student affairs backgrounds have a greater understanding and appreciation for academic and student affairs partnerships. They are quick to see the synergy that can be achieved in an integrated campus community experience.
      • Presidents who have student affairs backgrounds are thinking beyond COVID-19. They are noticing the intersections of enrollment, curriculum delivery, equity, access as well as several pandemics that have impacted higher education.  They believe that it is important to see the connections and to not narrowly focus strategies for recovery.
      • Presidents who have student affairs backgrounds understand that justice, inclusion and equity should never be afterthoughts. They believe that they must lead by example and continue to learn and grow through the process.
      • Presidents with student affairs backgrounds believe that the professional development that they received through associations (like ACPA) has allowed them to be successful in their roles. Several spoke of their convention experiences, past mentors and their early employment in student affairs that they remember fondly.

It has been an absolute joy to chat with these remarkable leaders.  I hope that you will take some time to view the interviews when they are available in early 2021.  Our campuses and the higher education community is in good hands with these amazing colleagues.

Vernon A. Wall
President, 2020 – 2021

A Letter from the Executive Director–Chris Moody

Until the last several months, I never remembered my dreams or nightmares after I woke. I was always jealous of friends, family, and colleagues who could recount with flare the bizarre twists and turns of their subconscious over coffee the following morning. Lately, and I am not sure why other than…2020…, I am not only remembering every vivid detail of my sleep time imagination, but I am now wishing that I would not. My dreams have not been wild, horror-filled, or infused with my greatest fear (which is falling from very high places), but they have been perpetual mazes without end. Literally, I am dreaming that I am stuck inside of hallways in houses, office buildings, storage units, or shopping malls that have no exits. I think it is safe to say, and time to admit to myself, the effects of the numerous pandemics, quarantines, crises, elections, sicknesses, deaths, worries for the future, etc. have embedded themselves into my subconscious self. Whether this has been the case for a long time or if you’re just now realizing it, I believe this may be the case for many of you as well.

I have a lot of hope for what 2021 may hold: Vaccinations for COVID-19, new presidential (and vice presidential) leadership of the United States reflecting the diversity of the nation who will attend to the actual needs of the people, stimulus relief for those suffering the financial crises of 2020, the overturning of hate-fueled executive orders, experienced leadership in the U.S. Department of Education, and the potential to return to in-person community again in the latter part of the coming year. While hope is a strong and positive motivator, my dreams as of late are making me increasingly aware that I need to do more and better to manage my “now.” In conversation with many of you, I know a lot of you are feeling the same way. In case it helps you too, here are the five things I am already doing to manage my “now.” I would love to learn the things you are doing that seem to be working for you. Although they may seem obvious, they are not always so simple to achieve:

      • Go outdoors every day, even for just a little while, and take deep breaths.
      • Recalculate your previous definitions of productivity – Set your goals based on tasks or time limits, whichever comes first. I usually say to myself at the start of each project, “I want to do these (3) things today or spend (2) hours on it, and then stop whichever comes first.”
      • Create space to check-in with each other before jumping into task. If you feel safe, be vulnerable and open to sharing how you are doing/feeling to reinforce the importance of our human connectedness.
      • Find a different song, short story, poem, or something from the creative world to inspire you every week. Start your day taking in the beauty in art.
      • Put on shoes with firm, supportive soles at least every other day ☺.

I share my own struggles and journey with you because we have a long way to

go in recovering and rebuilding our lives, our work, our field, and our society. With our colleagues in the American Council on Education and the Washington Higher Education Secretariat, ACPA has asked the U.S. Congress for an additional 120 billion dollars in pandemic relief funding for higher education. This is nearly four times the funding approved in the first round of stimulus support for higher education in May 2020. What does this mean? It means financial recovery on college and university campuses is unlikely to stabilize for at least three or more years unless this funding is approved. Even if this funding is approved, financial recovery is only a piece to the puzzle that is the future of higher education.

COVID-19 has disrupted sense of community on campus. In many ways, our definitions of community needed interruption, particularly those areas perpetuating white supremacy, anti-Blackness, and marginality and exclusion. Like you, I have heard many students and colleagues beautifully share that going “back to normal” should not be our goal because “normal” wasn’t working. With vaccinations and physical health improving over the next few months, I call on our institutional leaders to identify how we WANT to rebuild our campuses and communities – and not just from financial and operational definitions. Can you imagine higher education as a “people first” industry, in which finances, planning, and operations are certainly important to success, but do not define it? I have added this hope to my 2021 list and will commit to providing leadership for our field in centering our humanity in collaboration with other association partners who also share this vision for our campuses.

Let’s use these next few months to ask ourselves some critical questions:

      • What did we learn about ourselves in 2020?
      • What did we once emphasize as critical that now seems less important?
      • What did we observe or grow to understand about student learning and development during this recent period of time, and how should this new knowledge shape our futures?
      • What can you change to be “people first” in your world and work?

I am considering these issues daily and admit that it leads to more questions than answers right now. Perhaps that is what all of my dreams involve an inability to escape my circular constraints. I trust that my hope will guide these questions towards metaphorical windows or doors of new opportunities or ways of living and being. 2020 has been painful, but so have many of the “normal” or “business as usual” frameworks we have relied on for centuries and decades in higher education and student affairs. I ask that you join me in a hopeful, yet critical imagining of our future. The chance to be a different industry is ahead of us following this period of unprecedented disruption. Let’s work together to maximize our collective and individual voices, talents, and perspectives in creating new dreams.


Chris Moody
ACPA Executive Director