A Message from the President

One of the top questions I got the last few months, and throughout the ACPA 2022 Convention is: am I excited to be ACPA President?

In full honesty I struggled to answer that question. Usually, I tell folks that I have been so focused on the logistical transition– the committees, convention meeting schedule, onboarding, etc. that I haven’t had much time to consider the emotional transition. I also struggle to answer this question because I cannot quite get behind the word “excited.”

One of the feelings I am holding overall is WEARY, specifically about the state of higher education. The dynamics of COVID-19 along with ongoing violence toward people of color, divisive politics, climate change, just to name a few have exacerbated existing challenges for students, faculty and staff generally and specifically for those navigating historically and systemically marginalized social identities. In addition, my inbox, social media feeds and conversations with colleagues tend to focus on the following:  “The Great Resignation,” “Burnout,” and a “Return to Normalcy.” On a personal note, I also felt a mixture of anxiety, curiosity and grief leading up to Convention 2022. I knew this gathering would require us to engage differently and that some members would not be joining us

Despite these feelings, I believe fully in ACPA’s resiliency and knew no matter what dynamics our first in-person event would bring, our attendees, members and leaders would face them with intentionality and strength. And that’s exactly how our attendees showed up! I felt the excitement from first-time attendees and the sense of homecoming from our returning and members truly energized me. I am in AWE with how we gathered in St. Louis and in deep gratitude for the ways Convention instilled a sense of love and possibility for me and our Association.

Now returning to my opening question: Am I excited to be your next ACPA President? Perhaps the most authentic answer I can offer is that I am INSPIRED to be your President!

During this upcoming year, I am eager to lead the Association in partnership with our members and leaders on the following strategic priorities:

  • Continue our momentum on our Strategic Plan while implementing Universal Design and Accessibility 
  • Rev up our planning and communication for ACPA at 100 Years Celebration
  • Launch a Presidential Task Force on Campus Expectations for Navigating COVID-19
  • Explore ways to critically evaluate “Higher Education Employment in the 21st Century”
  • Continue to serve as a leader in research and scholarship through Association collaborations and new publication mediums
  • Advancing the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization through skill building and action planning.
  • Strengthening our efforts to return to in-person professional development events with specific focus on ACPA Convention 2023 in New Orleans

I believe fully that ACPA is uniquely aligned as an Association to address tough sociopolitical issues currently facing the field of higher education. I extend an invitation and hope that you join us as we continue to boldly transform higher education!

Andrea D. Domingue, Ed.D.
2022-2023 ACPA President

A Message from the Executive Director

I am writing this reflection on my first day back to work following the ACPA22 Convention in St. Louis. Like many of you, I was personally uncertain of what it would be like to return to in-person professional development, networking, and community as the world and higher education still grapple with the COVID-19 health pandemic. Just as the convention was beginning, many locations were ending mask mandates. While the Omicron variant was no longer at peak, we were still experiencing high rates of positive cases of the viruses and all-to-many folks were still dying. Packing to get on an airplane seemed strange, and then actually getting on the airplane was a complete out of body experience. Maybe it was hyperventilation from trudging through the airport to catch my flight with a thick KN-95 mask on, but it was more likely my anxiety that I was once again traveling and heading to a gathering with not just hundreds but thousands of other people.

For months ahead of convention, I tried to imagine what it would be like to be back in person. I had grown accustomed to developing relationships over the Zoom screen. Those who know me best will understand when I say my introverted self was content with not going back to an in-person experience. Even though I had a role in deciding we would hold the ACPA22 Convention in St. Louis as planned, rather than a second year of virtual programming, I will admit that I was nervous, anxious, and pessimistic. During the health pandemic, I was starting to convince myself that entirely virtual experiences might be our future. With the right infrastructure, virtual gatherings are certainly less expensive to attend and can cost less to implement. In transparency, ACPA financially netted as much profit during the ACPA21 virtual convention as we do most in-person conventions, so affordability of virtual offerings is a major bonus in comparison. And for this introvert, conventions can be exhausting. I was not nearly as tired after the 3-weeks of online engagement during the ACPA21 virtual convention as I am after spending the week in St. Louis. Score another point for virtual.

Today, I feel differently. Why? Because I was with “my people,” my ACPA people. I don’t get to be around those people when I go to the grocery store, to pick-up take out from my local favorite restaurant, or when folks are muted and off-camera during Zoom meetings. Their and my wholeness cannot be captured by even the best ring lighting or fancy background scene. But to be in person, even masked and with some physical distancing, we could feel the exuberance, the love, the joy, and the passion in a way that the best camera angle could never provide. Having now been back together in St. Louis, I can wholeheartedly say that I was surprised by how much my head, my heart, and my soul needed to be in this connection space again. Although the masks made it a bit tougher to recognize faces that I had not seen in at least two years, the joy and celebration experienced by all in attendance was nothing short of magical and memorable. I would be unable to count the number of people I heard talking about how much they needed to be back in our community. What I didn’t know was how badly I needed it too.

From now forward, when I experience folks expressing that virtual is our future, I will be tremendously skeptical because we humans, thinkers, feelers, and lovers, in all our complexities, need personal interactions with people who connect with our values and our fullness. We need people who will celebrate us, challenge us, and go through the tough things in life with us. In these moments together – in real life – we transcend and transform into more full versions of ourselves, rather than as a transaction in a small box on a screen. When I was engaging with folks throughout convention, I heard countless stories of people brought to tears because of how much it meant to be back together in-person in St. Louis. I heard folks sharing deeply personal reflections and pain they experienced over the past two years that could now be released into a community of healing and care. I witnessed many who said they felt refilled enough to go back to campus and back to work reenergized to take on our increasingly challenging work.

Virtual and hybrid experiences are certainly here to stay, and this introvert welcomes the increased attention on how technology can be used for good. But the last week or so at the ACPA22 Convention in St. Louis have shown me the overwhelming power of community and that we are stronger and more vibrant when we come together to support, cherish, and celebrate each other. If you were not able to join us, we missed you and hope you will connect with someone from ACPA22 to let us share a little of our overflowing hearts and minds with you soon. And hopefully again, in-person, in New Orleans for the ACPA23 Convention (26-29 March 2022).

Chris Moody, Ph.D.
ACPA Executive Director

A Note from the Editors

Hello, all. We hope that many of you are returning after a wonderful chance to reconnect IN PERSON with colleagues at the national convention. Ideally, you will bring back hope, energy, inspiration, connections and reconnections, and ideas to create transformative change across higher education. We would like to offer a special thanks to everyone who made the event happen and to the city of St. Louis for your hospitality.

As you prepare for the rest of the spring term and look ahead to summer and the coming fall, we are excited to share a set of great articles with you. In this issue you will find four pieces on leadership including Vernon Wall’s reflection and words of gratitude about his presidency through the turbulence of 2020. At a time when kindness and care are essential, we also have an article on developing a compassion toolkit with ideas about how that might work on your campus.

Finally, we are excited to share three personal perspectives in hopes that more of you will share stories about your experiences in an effort to make our profession personal in visible, vulnerable, powerful, and transformative ways. Our authors have done just that. Dr. Dax Boatwright shares his family’s legacy from slavery into higher education. Wen Xi writes about her experience as a child of immigrants and how that informs her work. And Dr. Rachel Wagner shares her strategies for communal care—and she shares a couple of recipes, too!

The work you do is important. The work you do is difficult. The work we do is in the midst of a critical review and assessment—internally and externally. Ideally the pieces in this issue of Developments will provide you resources as well as a sense of connection to others doing this challenging work.

Take care of yourselves as you take care of others. Enjoy the work of your colleagues shared here. Finally, please consider what wisdom, reflections, innovations, moments of joy and struggle, and opportunities you might want to share with ACPA. We look forward to your future submissions.

Michelle & Reyes

All I Know So Far | Vernon A. Wall

My ACPA Presidency officially began after the Business Meeting at the ACPA Convention in Nashville in March of 2020.  I returned home to Washington, DC excited to serve the association and ready for the challenge – or so I thought.  I then flew to Myrtle Beach, SC to speak at the South Carolina College Personnel Association (SCCPA) annual meeting.  At that conference, attendees began to receive texts from their campuses as our country was realizing that “something was coming”.  After my keynote, an attendee asked the question: “How do you feel this thing called COVID will affect us on our campuses?”  My response: “I have no earthly idea – however, what I do know is that student affairs professionals are problem solvers and we will figure this out . . .together.”  On my flight back to DC, a flight attendant passed me a note that said: “We hope to see you soon.”

So much has happened in our world and our country since March of 2020.  The first Governing Board meeting after the convention was held on April 10, 2020.  I remember being weirdly nervous.  With so much going on, would people show up?  Would they ask us to reschedule?  As I logged onto Zoom, I watched my computer screen populate with boxes of smiling faces.  One by one, they came.  They all came.  I believe that folks felt that with everything going on, our time together could be a time to re-center and support each other.  It became an oasis of calm in a very chaotic time.  Each month, your Governing Board met to conduct the business of the association.  With many associations (us included) fearing the impact of multiple pandemics on our existence, we knew that our task was an important one.  I am so proud of what we accomplished – offering virtual professional development opportunities for our members, advancing our strategic priorities, continuing to be fiscally sound and offering an outstanding virtual convention (thanks Bernie Liang!) to name just a few.  None of this would have happened with the tremendous support of our incredible International Office.

As I reflect on my time as Vice President, President & Immediate Past President, there are 5 takeaways that I’d like to share:

  • During my presidency, I limited the use of the word “resilient”. While I understand the intent of this word when used in the context of student affairs professionals on campus, I also know that professionals from historically marginalized groups might not resonate with word as readily.  “If there weren’t barriers and systems of oppression on campus, we wouldn’t have to be resilient.” ACPA must continue to listen to the voices and stories of our members.
  • Student Affairs professionals have a history of being problem solvers on campus and we proved once again that we can and will rise to the challenge. Your creativity and flexibility (all with a consistent thread of support for students) did not go unnoticed.  ACPA must continue to provide professional development opportunities to assist members in navigating what is to come as universities look to what campus life looks like as we live with COVID.
  • Constant problem solving comes at a cost. I know that many of you are just exhausted.  Much has been written lately about the “Great Resignation” – however, I have reframed this phenomenon to the “Great Re-evaluation”.  As a profession, there have been times throughout the years when people have left our profession for various reasons.  What is important for us to evaluate is how does the current context of our campus culture contribute to this dynamic?  How do we support each other as we navigate our career challenges?  ACPA must use its member data to assist in this examination and provide additional research to further strengthen student affairs and higher education as profession.
  • Senior Leaders on college campuses do not see “equity and inclusion” as a skill that they must develop. Similar to supervision, budgeting, counseling, cultivating alumni and working with constituents we must all examine the areas that we need to grow in as we continue to develop campuses that are welcoming to all.  ACPA must continue to provide resources for members to operationalize the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice & Decolonization on their campuses.
  • Students look to us more than ever. If the last two years or so have taught us anything it is that our work is crucial to the success of the college experience.  As students grappled with the complexities of virtual and hybrid learning; as students responded to moments of hate on campus, in our country and in our world; as students felt alone and unheard; we were there – as always.  ACPA must never forget that student development and support is at the core of who we are as an association and as a profession.

In her song “All I know so far”, singer and songwriter Pink speaks of strength through struggle:

And when the storm’s out, you run in the rain

Put your sword down, dive right into the pain

Stay unfiltered and loud, you’ll be proud of that skin full of scars

That’s all I know so far

It has been an honor to serve the association.  Be well.

Vernon A. Wall
2020 – 2021 ACPA President

Remembering the Scars They Caused | Boatwright

written by: Dax Boatwright

I write these words thinking of my oldest known ancestor whose identity was erased through rape and enslavement in Wrightsville, GA. In spite of the defilement of her body and the forfeiture of her life because a majoritarian patriarchal society saw her as a tool instead of a person, she survived. Because of her resilience, our family survived two generations of slavery (that we know of), two generations of economic exploitation through sharecropping, and two generations enduring racial apartheid more commonly known as Jim Crow.

If I could speak to her, I would want her to know that seven generations later as I stand on the shoulders of her descendants, the waters of oppression still overtake me. Some members in our family remain justifiably cynical of achieving equality, yet others believe there are signs that the water will begin to recede. Regardless of whether or not that time will come, I choose to tell our story because while she was reduced to an object to build a nation, her lasting legacy is her family, that – while scarred – continues to live on.

In similar fashion to many other Black families, I was nurtured to pursue a higher education degree as a means to break the cycle of systemic oppression that is endemic to the lived experiences of the Black community. Higher education was presented to me as a vehicle for better employment opportunities, personal development and an overall higher quality of life. However, what I was not told was how the system of higher education in the United States was built on the dehumanization of Black people, and while slavery has been abolished for over 150 years, the attributes of inequality, inequity, indignity, and control remain present at PWIs.

Maintaining these characteristics at PWIs produces Black student experiences rife with racial micro-aggressions (Johnston-Guerrero, 2016; Linley, 2018; Rael, 2002) and racist campus climates (Nadal et al., 2014; Van Dyke & Tester, 2014) that produce negative Black student experiences (Harper, 2012; Harper & Newman, 2016). Therefore, the purpose of this essay is to examine the connection the higher education system in the United States has to slavery. Through my positionality, I will demonstrate how slavery and its legacy has impacted my family. Lastly, I will conclude with examples of how the legacy of slavery continues to impact the Black community, recommendations for how higher education institutions can improve Black student experiences, and discussion questions for student affairs professionals to consider.

Slavery at Predominantly White Institutions

The origins of the higher education system of the United States trace back to slavery. Additionally, many higher education institutions in the United States have an association with slavery. For example, Nathan Lord, President of Dartmouth College, defended chattel slavery in the United States as a “condition better than any condition Africans would have otherwise enjoyed” (Lord & Presbyter, 1854, p. 23). As such, Nathan Lord was promoting a property interest in whiteness by reducing enslaved Black people to tools used to uphold white superiority (Delgado & Stefancic, 2000, 2001).

Beckert and Stevens (2011) affirmed that large-scale slave traders gave substantial donations to Harvard University – for instance, Isaac Royall, Jr., a slave trader who in 1779 bequeathed land to establish Harvard’s law school. Support of this kind turned a fledgling university into a higher education institution with the largest academic endowment in the world. Similarly, Clarke and Fine (2010) detail how local banker John Brown generated a massive fortune based on investing in the slave trade and building a fleet of slave ships, which provided the finances to establish Brown University. Likewise, Georgetown University wanted to end its involvement with slavery by the 1850s, but instead of emancipating their enslaved labor, they sold their captives to two oppressors in Louisiana for $115,000, which is approximately $3.6 million when adjusted for inflation (Rothman, 2017). In addition, Rutgers University benefited from the “wealth accumulated by colonial aristocracy” based in chattel slavery, which would establish this institution (Fuentes & White, 2016, p. 43). Dozens more institutions in the United States have an association with slavery, but this essay focuses on The College of William and Mary, Yale University, and the University of Alabama to examine the depth of the associations higher education institutions have with slavery.

The College of William and Mary

The College of William and Mary received funding from taxes of tobacco crops cultivated by enslaved Black people (Meyers, 2007). Furthermore, enslaved persons oppressed by President James Blair were a part of the labor force that built many of the buildings on campus (Meyers, 2007). The College of William and Mary also received appropriations from the General Assembly, which the college used to purchase over 2,000 acres of land for a forced labor camp and seventeen enslaved Black people in 1718 (Meyers, 2007).

Records from The College of William and Mary describe the decrepit accommodations and constant buying, selling and renting of enslaved people (Meyers, 2007). The faculty routinely applied the dismissive narrative of inferiority, thereby erasing the humanity of enslaved people from the inception of the institution up to the Civil War (Meyers, 2007). The college did engage in anti-slavery actions such as its 1760 affiliation with a school for Black children, employing anti-slavery law Professors George Whyte and St. George Tucker and awarding an honorary degree to abolitionist Granville Sharp (Meyers, 2012). However, these acts do not diminish the culpability of this higher education institution operating a forced labor camp for 90 years (Meyers, 2012).

Yale University

The origins of Yale University also have ties to slavery (Dugdale et al., 2001). John Davenport, founder of New Haven, Connecticut, Timothy Woodbridge, a founder of Yale College, and Jonathan Edwards, preeminent Yale scholar, all oppressed Black people (Dugdale et al., 2001). The prominence Yale University enjoys today comes from its foundation in slavery. The first endowed professorship, scholarship fund and endowed library fund are the result of transactions dependent upon the institution of slavery (Dugdale et al., 2001).

Philip Livingston endowed the first professorship at Yale University (Dugdale et al., 2001). Livingston was an oppressor, inheriting a family business from his father Robert who created his fortune by investing in the Margriet, a vessel of oppression transporting sugar, tobacco and enslaved Black people (Dugdale et al., 2001). In Robert’s will, he bequeathed to Philip his wealth, his manor and six of the 12 enslaved Black people he oppressed in captivity (Dugdale et al., 2001). Philip invested his inheritance in the family business becoming a well-known auctioneer of oppression and acquiring four additional vessels of bondage (Dugdale et al., 2001). Yale University accepted his donation at the apex of his involvement in oppression and used his donation to fund its first professorship (Dugdale et al., 2001).

Dugdale et al. (2001) recounted that Bishop George Berkeley was not only an advocate of oppression, but also used Christianity as a vehicle to command obedience and servitude in enslaved people. Berkeley purchased a forced labor camp in Newport, Rhode Island and donated the land to Yale University when he returned to Europe in 1731 (Dugdale et al., 2001). Yale University then turned payments from the land into scholarships; moreover, its first scholarship remained funded for 50 years because of money generated from enslaved labor (Dugdale et al., 2001). Rev. Jared Eliot, one of Yale’s earliest graduates, generated agricultural success from the oppression of Black people (Dugdale et al., 2001). In his will, he bequeathed a significant donation produced from enslaved labor for the Yale University library system (Dugdale et al., 2001).

University of Alabama

Like the College of William and Mary and Yale University, the University of Alabama also has sordid origins because of its association with slavery. Faculty, students and the University of Alabama owned enslaved people (Brophy, 2011; Gibney et al., 2008). Enslaved people forcibly made the bricks that built the University of Alabama which promoted their inferiority and continued bondage (Gibney et al., 2008).

Additionally, monuments of Confederates, plaques commemorating the systemic oppression of Black people and buildings named after despots adorned the campus while the bodies of the enslaved lied in unmarked graves unrecognized by the University of Alabama (Gibney et al., 2008). At the onset of the antebellum South, institutions began to excise abolitionists’ values and replaced it with a cruder more dehumanizing philosophy based on slavery. In 1837, Basil Manly became the President of the University of Alabama and throughout his tenure; he oversaw campus improvements, stabilized order, and recruited prominent faculty members (Gibney et al., 2008). Most egregiously, President Manly lectured on a social order championing the status quo of the South dominated by white society with enslaved Black people ensconced in the bottom caste (Gibney et al., 2008). These instances along with others constitute the initial experiences of Black people in higher education in the United States.

Education has long-standing historical roots in Black culture as a process for overcoming barriers to freedom and continues as a viable remedy for addressing socioeconomic oppression (Felder, 1987). As Lincoln (1969) asserted, “the relevance of the Black American’s education to the prevailing socioeconomic structure [is] the logical end to the struggle” (p. 219). Ladson-Billings (1998) addressed the plight of Black Americans and the need for educational attainment to provide the counter-story to the majoritarian narrative of social inequity endured by the Black community. Therefore, understanding how slavery has disenfranchised generations of Black Americans is vital to examining and understanding the lived experiences of the Black community.

The Origins of the Scars They Caused

In its infancy, the system of higher education in the United States purposely erased and acted as vital pillar in the purposeful degradation of generations of innocent Black people. However, I am a member of the few Black American families who can trace their ancestry back to slavery. My family is rooted in the state of Georgia. Our lineage of oppression traces back to Moses Pullens, an oppressor and forced labor camp owner in Wrightsville, GA. His nephew, Frank Hicks, raped an unknown enslaved woman, which produced Jasper Hicks.

Jasper, a mulatto, as he was identified on the United States Federal Census of 1880, carried favor with the Hicks family but remained enslaved. The oral history of my family details Jasper living a favored life, but the society of oppression created by English despots shaped the culture of Georgia during his time. He eventually married an enslaved woman named Charlotta. Together, they had nine children, among them my direct ancestor Angeline Hicks (1869 -1948) who married Frank Pullens. Angeline, born directly after the abolition of slavery in the United States in 1865, experienced a hard life defined by fieldwork and survival. Bootlegging alcohol and sharecropping on the same land that enslaved her parents, Angeline and Frank had seven children, including my great-grandmother, Cora Pullens (1892 – 1980). After decades of backbreaking fieldwork and societal marginalization, Angeline and Frank were only able to pass down skills in sharecropping to the next generation.

Inheriting the strength of her parents along with the crumbs from the oppressors table, my great-grandmother and her husband Bubba Robinson were also sharecroppers of Moses’ land of bondage, the same stretch of land that enslaved our family for two generations and trapped my family for two more. My great grandparents had seven children, five girls and two boys. Yearning to escape the life of a sharecropper, my great uncles migrated south, eventually settling in Fort Pierce, Florida to pursue better opportunities. After establishing themselves, they sent word to their sisters, among them my grandmother Agnes Robinson (1927 – 2006) and eventually they and my great grandmother moved to Fort Pierce. My great grandfather never had the opportunity to experience the beauty of a Florida sunset as he became gravely ill and died a young man in Wrightsville.

My grandmother had three children, one boy and two girls, the youngest my mother. My grandmother, never shy of hard work, labored during the Jim Crow era at the Gladiola Flower Camp, the Greyhound bus station, and was the executor of the estate for a wealthy elderly couple. At the age of 65, she worked as a citrus worker at a local packinghouse well into her mid-70s. She instilled her belief of hard work in my mother and guided her to apply those values in pursuit of a bachelorette degree. My grandmother’s counsel proved fruitful as my mother graduated with her bachelor’s degree in speech pathology out of a desire to help people like her sister who had a speech impediment. Ultimately, her path would lead to a distinguished career in state government culminating in 39 years of public service. According to my mother, she along with all the members of her generation, were expected to go to college because of the increased opportunities associated with being a college graduate. As such, those same values ingrained in my mother now serve me as I am the first in my family to earn a doctoral degree and I use those same principles in my practice as a higher education professional.

Due to the lived experiences of my ancestors, my position finds me as the carrier of DNA comprised of trauma, psychological manipulation, and degradation. My Black skin bears the scars of the discrimination, ostracism, prejudice and hate purported by societal institutions created by and solely for the progression of majoritarian culture. Moreover, this culture of oppression maintained the names of my ancestor’s oppressors while erasing her name from history.

Therefore, I am a product of generational oppression instead of an extension of a great African civilization. Many white American citizens will inherit wealth while I inherit a long-standing, hollow promise for diversity and inclusion in American society. I live and operate in a country that still refuses to apologize for the destruction of my native civilization and centuries of bondage suffered by my ancestors. I exist under the guise of the American Dream, a dream forged from the blood of my ancestors and the exploitation of my community with the treasure largely reaped by the majoritarian culture. Despite the historical circumstances that are highly influential in the lived experiences of Black Americans, the persistence and strength demonstrated by my family generation after generation does not negate the continuous marginalization of Blackness endemic to the United States. Regardless of our achievements and predilection to assimilate to a society built by us but not for us, the scars still remain. In essence, since the independence of the U.S. in 1776, my family has existed in perpetual disrepair because of the inhumane, economically exploitative and prejudicial customs instituted by majoritarian patriarchy to regulate Black life in this nation.

The Legacy of the Scars They Caused

In many ways the perpetual disrepair experienced by Black Americans has been exacerbated by a global pandemic and civil discontent. As I reflect on the summer months of 2020 while the United States was in the throes of COVID-19 and simultaneously enduring the civic unrest sweeping across the nation, I can see the legacy of slavery that defines the generational oppression of Black people. This period of time undergirds the scars worn not just by my family, but many families within the African Diaspora. Ahmaud Arbery became the iconography of Black life in this nation. The killing of Breonna Taylor serves as the motif of innocent Black lives lost to police negligence. The murder of George Floyd became my generation’s Emmett Till, however, instead of an open casket, my generation has a video of his murder that remains on the internet for perpetuity.

Therefore, as I reflect on the dehumanization suffered by my ancestors, it is evident that the generational scars of oppression remain etched in the lived experiences of Black people. Scars can represent healing, but they also serve as reminders for pain inflicted and harm done. These scars, in particular, also represent the defiance of majoritarian patriarchy to only tacitly acknowledge the inhumanity suffered by innocent Black people instead of instituting a full, unambiguous redress of the suffering the Black community continues to endure. Moreover, as prospective Black students pursue a higher education degree to mitigate the impact of societal oppression, I recommend higher education institutions do the following to ensure these spaces are accommodating to their academic and social needs:

  • Create spaces for continuous dialogue between administration, faculty, staff and students to understand how the remnants of slavery continue to negatively impact the lived experiences of Black students. By implementing this recommendation, higher education professionals have the opportunity to gain additional insight about the lived experiences of Black students and enable connections as well to increase the sense of belonging among this student population.
  • Create an office dedicated to promote the success of Black students. The intent of this office should be to support, educate, and foster meaningful relationships with Black students. Moreover, campus partners should collaborate with this office on institutional initiatives designed to produce a more inclusive campus environment.
  • Re-examine existing policies to assess their impact on the matriculation of Black students. Administrations should ensure a review of institutional policies occur on an annual basis to optimize opportunities for all student populations to have a more equitable experience.
  • Use theoretical frameworks in your practice to reinforce your understanding of identity. For example, A Conceptual Model of Multiple Dimensions of Identity by Jones & McEwen (2000) underscores how a single identity can be understood, how identity relates to other dimensions of identity and the elements used to engage in the nuances of identity. Most pointedly, the authors state that individuals who identify with the majority identity in higher education institutions have “the responsibility to help students from majority statuses understand the implications of taken-for-granted identities” (Jones & McEwen, 2000, p. 412-413). Infusing this concept of understanding identity informs higher education professionals of how individuals, in particular, those from disenfranchised populations of how they make meaning of their contextualized influences that inform their identity.
  • Administrations should stop the practice of issuing social justice statements as a response to civic injustice against Black people. These statements represent a frail, hollow acknowledgement that are baseless and forgettable, and therefore do nothing to recognize or support Black student populations. Instead, colleges and universities should respond with a list of actionable solutions designed to promote diversity, equity and inclusion which represent tangible support and an additional opportunity to make meaningful connections to Black students.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does my institution discuss, showcase, and understand the lived experiences of Black students on campus? What does it currently do and what is missing that it could be doing? Who should lead that work?
  2. Given the scars and history that Black students in higher education carry, how is my institution successfully maximizing opportunities to connect to Black students? What gaps exist and what can be done to address those gaps?

Historically, Blackness in this country has experienced inhumanity, erasure, exploitation and marginalization. In its infancy, the system of higher education in the United States willingly supported that experience through its association with slavery. After the abolishment of slavery and enduring racial apartheid, higher education institutions were promoted as incubators of human development. Yet, the development of Black students in these spaces continues to be met with apathy, indifference and a preference for detachment from the issues that maintain the societal oppression of the Black community (Harper, 2012; Harper & Newman, 2016; Johnston-Guerrero, 2016; Linley, 2018; Nadal et al., 2014; Rael, 2002; Van Dyke & Tester, 2014). Therefore, as Blackness exists in a racialized hierarchy adhering to the interest of majoritarian patriarchy, it is incumbent higher education professionals understand the generational disadvantages that accompany Black students when entering these spaces. As such, colleges and universities need to apply consistent, substantive efforts to understand, connect and reaffirm their commitment to Black students. Doing so will amplify the influence of higher education in the Black community, which will provide additional opportunities to these students in a more equitable learning environment.

About the Author

Dax Boatwright, Ph.D. is a student affairs practitioner at Florida Atlantic University. He graduated from Florida Atlantic University in summer 2021 with a Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership. Dax earned an educational specialist degree in Educational Leadership and Policy from Florida State University. He earned a master’s degree in Applied Social Science with a concentration in Political Science and bachelor’s degree in English from Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University. His doctoral dissertation focused on exploring the influences of Black American alumni giving to a PWI historically associated with slavery. Boatwright’s research interests include philanthropy, affinity development, social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education institutions.

 

References

Beckert, S., & Stevens, K. (2011). Harvard and slavery: Seeking a forgotten history. Harvard University.

Brophy, A. L. (2008). What should inheritance law be? Reparations and intergenerational wealth transfers. Law & Literature, 20(2), 197-211.

Clarke, M., & Fine, G. A. (2010). “A” for apology: Slavery and the collegiate discourses of remembrance—the cases of Brown University and the University of Alabama. History & Memory, 22(1), 81-112.

Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (Eds.). (2000). Critical race theory: The cutting edge. Temple University Press.

Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2001). An introduction to critical race theory. Critical race theory: The cutting edge. Temple University Press.

Dugdale, A., Fueser, J. J., & de Castro Alves, J. C. (2001). Yale, slavery and abolition. The Amistad Committee. http://www.yaleslavery.org/YSA.pdf.

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The Compassion Toolkit: One University’s Efforts to Actualize an Institutional Value | Demetriou, Jones, Lewis, Maré

written by: Cynthia Demetriou, Candace Jones, Deanna L. Lewis, Jeannette Maré

In our university’s strategic plan, compassion is a core value. Well into the COVID-19 pandemic, we, four colleagues (an administrator, a staff member, a faculty member, and a graduate student) at a large, public institution, asked our campus community to participate in a half-day, virtual event about compassion. Our goal was to catalyze a campus-wide conversation about compassion, to share how we can put compassion into action on a daily basis, and to consider what more we could do. The event included workshops, a panel discussion, small-group activities, and approximately 400 participants. Many of these participants also submitted documents to a “Compassion Toolkit” made available to the entire campus community after the event.

In addition to collecting information from participants, we contacted scholars at the university who were researching compassion to ask for toolkit submissions. Post event, we qualitatively analyzed the contents of the toolkit to (1) describe what compassion looks and feels like on campus, (2) describe how the campus attempts to put compassion into action, and (3) create recommendations for promoting compassion on campus. We share our findings in the hopes that other institutions will benefit by learning from our experience.

Background

National strains and stresses profoundly influence the college experience and educators across the country are called upon to respond to our times in meaningful ways by engaging in compassion (Reneau, 2020). Universities today are serving as care-giving organizations within and well beyond the classroom. Part of the challenge, some argue, is that universities themselves are toxic environments increasingly run like corporations, lacking positive cultural values, and perpetuating social and economic inequities (Smyth, 2018). Others turn to the university as a beacon of hope believing that higher education has the potential to transform our nation’s troubled circumstances through compassionate engagement and discourse as well as ethical decision making, socially responsible leadership, and a commitment to community development (Rockenbach, 2020).

Furthermore, some scholars and practitioners believe it is higher education’s responsibility to cultivate compassion among our students and future leaders (Daugherty, 2020) and that there is an urgent need for students to learn caring values in higher education through the curriculum as well as through institutional values and leadership (Clouston, 2017). We, believing the latter, are eager to respond to Waddington’s (2017) call for higher education to identify strategies and techniques for leaders, faculty, students, and staff to advance compassion (Waddington, 2017). Student affairs leaders have been identified, in particular, as key compassionate leaders needed to heal social and political divides on campus (Hephner LaBanc, 2019). As such it is essential for student affairs professionals to have a working definition of compassion.

In a review of social science literature, Strauss and colleagues (2016) synthesized definitions of compassion and ultimately proposed that it is an affective, cognitive, and behavioral process.

Compassion consists of five elements: recognizing suffering, appreciating suffering as a universal part of human experience, feeling empathy and connection to individuals in distress, enduring uncomfortable feelings in order to be accepting of and open to someone else’s suffering, and being motivated to act to alleviate suffering (Strauss et al., 2016, p.19).

Compassion is often confused with empathy. Empathy involves sensing the emotions of another individual and being able to imagine the experience of others; however, empathy is not always coupled with action (Cuff et al., 2016). We understand compassion as action to ease the suffering of others and that this action should be foundational to educational experience. The Compassion in Education (CoED) foundation is an international organization aiming to position compassionate thinking in the center of educational experience (CoED, 2018). The foundation asserts: “Compassion compels us to treat everybody with absolute justice, equity, and respect” (CoED, 2018, p.4). The ways we treat one another through daily activity is paramount to the educational experience overall and the success of students.

Researchers are exploring the role of compassion in the student experience. In one study, more than 70% of students reported that they identify with characteristics of compassion as well as thoughtfulness, loyalty, and determination (Seemiller & Grace, 2016). Moreover, research has found that compassion can be developed among college students through purposeful, educational experiences (Plante & Halman, 2016) including activities fostering shared community values as well as student engagement and sense of belonging (McCarty et al., 2013). Scholars call for opportunities to teach life skills including mindfulness and self-compassion to support student achievement and graduate resilient students from college (Mantzios et al., 2020). Also, academic performance has been strongly associated with self-compassion and interventions to strengthen coping and life skills are recommended as part of student success plans (Egan et al., 2021). Collectively, these findings show that it is possible to influence compassion and broaden its presence on campus.

For this broadening to occur, investments are necessary. Developing humanist values on a college campus, including kindness, empathy, and compassion, necessitates investment in time and resources to provide meaningful and continuous engagement with students (Keeling, 2020). This work depends upon advisors, faculty, staff, peer mentors, and student affairs professionals with whom students frequently turn to for support (Reynolds, 2011). It is important to note that these caregivers themselves need compassionate attention, care, and guidance. If individuals who provide care and compassion are not themselves supported, the caregivers are likely to suffer declines in wellbeing (Lynch & Glass, 2020) which can negatively impact work performance.

Consequently, campus leaders must supervise, manage, set vision, and lead with compassion to advance the collective system. Despite the cost and the challenge inherit in this work, universities are implored to advance compassionate action and education as it will result in graduating well-rounded persons as opposed to “just an individual with a credential” (Keeling, 2020, p. 54). Given the importance of this work, we sought to shine a spotlight on compassion at our institution and document the experience.

Methodology

This work took place at a public, research, land-grant institution situated on native, ancestral lands. The university is designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution serving approximately 44,000 students, many of whom are first-generation and Pell-eligible.

The toolkit includes 118 submissions from 25 campus units including academic colleges, student affairs departments, cultural centers, and administrative departments such as human resources. Submissions included word documents, PowerPoints, infographics, videos, journal articles, books, and video. Additionally, recordings and materials from the half-day event were posted as part of the toolkit.

Thematic analysis, a widely used qualitive technique, guided our exploration of the toolkit. Thematic analysis identifies recurring significances that can aid in the appreciation of phenomena (Saldana, 2011). We sought to identify specific patterns of meaning regarding the phenomena of compassion on campus. Our analysis began with a holistic reading followed by inductive coding (Johnson & Christensen, 2012) where we reread the text labeling words and phrases with codes representing salient ideas. We repeated the cyclical process of interim analysis throughout the study (Johnson & Christensen, 2012). We discussed the data, created memos, and constructed matrices of codes alongside representative quotes from the toolkit. We developed themes as we considered the codes in relation to one another. With the themes we sought to describe patterns in the data to help us understand how the campus community puts compassion into action daily.

Throughout this project we intentionally looked for tangible take-aways to share and encourage compassion in higher education. The way we collected, organized, shared, and analyzed the data was informed by our intentions to identify strategies to improve education through compassionate action.

During analysis, we reflected on our biases. Each author works from a lens of care, kindness, and compassion which influences the way we see the data. Our hopes, aspirations, and biases cannot be removed from this work. Nonetheless, we made best efforts to employ strategies to establish trustworthiness and credibility including negative case analysis, external audit, and member checking (Creswell & Guetterman, 2019).

Findings

We first sought to describe what compassion looks and feels like on campus. We found that it included kindness, respectfulness, cultivating a sense of safety, valuing people as individuals, promoting collaboration, acts of services, clear communication, and availability of healthcare including mental health resources. We then identified seven themes describing the ways in which campus partners work to build an environment rich in compassion.

Resources for Personal Growth

Campus partners put compassion into action by providing students, faculty, and staff with resources for personal growth. The toolbox includes multiple recommendations for self-care, tools for personal reflection, and professional development exercises. For example, a student affairs office submitted a one-page guide, developed by a staff member, about how to eliminate negative thoughts and instead use positive self-talk to alleviate the suffering we inflict on ourselves through criticism and unhelpful ruminating on past experiences or things that went wrong. Another tool, submitted by an academic support center, is a series of breathing exercises to increase one’s capacity to remain calm in stressful situations such as tests or exams.

One additional example is a self-assessment, provided and created by the office of human resources, designed to help leaders reflect on the question: “Are you a compassionate leader?” This assessment prompts individuals to reflect on their mindsets and beliefs as well as provides tips for being a compassionate leader. The assessment urged practicing self-compassion because “focusing on your own well-being – by getting enough sleep, eating healthy and exercising – sets you up to make better decisions.” The assessment describes compassion as an unending work in progress requiring constant “fine tuning.” This includes taking time to reflect as a leader and using that reflection to be “more responsive and less reactive.” It also noted that individuals can enhance their own professional development through mindfulness and meditation self-training.

Acts of Service

Acts of service, including community service projects and fundraising events, were identified as tools for promoting compassion and community building. For example, the Graduate and Professional Student Association shared that they show compassion by “providing resources to student-parents, providing mental health resources and communications, offering social gatherings and engagement opportunities, as well as providing emergency response and advocacy.” Through peer-to-peer support, students sought to spread compassion. The same association organized a Food and Mutual Aid Drive where students made deliveries across the city providing donated food, masks, and paper goods to peers. Other units, including administrative units, described collaborating as an act of service. In particular, when a person or a team step in to help another department or individual challenged with completing a difficult task. This was described as a way to alleviate the suffering of those who were stressed and overworked.

Continuous and Clear Communication

We identified communication, including interpersonal dialogue, group messaging, and recognizing the work of others, as a key component of a compassionate environment for working and learning. Campus partners highlighted the importance of communication as a tool to advance compassion. The Graduate College, for example, suggested “asking discovery questions as opposed to giving advice” when talking with students so as to provide students space to express themselves in a safe, supportive manner. The Office of Teaching and Instruction provided guidance for instructors to intentionally “ask students how they are feeling and what is working well” during class.

Others pointed to the positive power of recognition as a potent form of communication. The College of Business recommended “Nominating peers for college-wide award recognition” and the Office of Leadership Development noted, “Sharing appreciation for the people you are connected to encourages a positive work environment.” Through these examples and others, toolkit artifacts repeatedly referred to communication as essential for compassion.

Student Support Services

Strategies for providing student support services compassionately were provided by academic advisors, career development counselors, instructors, and learning specialists. A specific strategy is to be mindful that a student may be going through challenges that you cannot see such as food insecurity or a tumultuous family relationship. Strategies also included thinking about where a student is in their academic journey when they come to a service area. For example, an agitated senior may stop by an advising office because she is having trouble accessing her transcript. Before judging the student’s behavior, the advisor may remind herself that seniors are often anxious about college ending, career next steps, and the uncertainties of the future.

In the toolkit, learning specialists shared how scaffolding tools such as planners and graphic organizers can be tools of compassion to alleviate stress and disorder when a student is struggling academically. Additionally, instructors noted that differentiating academic support such as tutoring based on student need and individual circumstance can be form of compassionate practice. Taking the time to understand where a student is in her learning and then adjusting the learning strategy is such an approach.

Scholarly Contributions

Student affairs professionals and administrators often work in silos from research scientists on campus. As part of this project, we invited researchers at our institution who are investigating the science of compassion in psychology, sociology, nursing, neuroscience, and communications to share their research as part of the event and toolkit. For example, a neuroscientist submitted his research to the toolkit. It provided evidence for the ways in which compassion can be learned, developed, and practiced. Another example is research on daily meditative practice and its influence on the development of compassion. This research was included and the activity recommended as a based tool for community members to integrate into their activities whether that is in the classroom with a project team or individually. Event participants greatly valued this connection to campus-based researchers. While some of the research was highly technical, most studies included some tangible mechanism to apply a finding to daily activity. The researchers appreciated the interest in their work, and they were grateful for our efforts to understand real-world implications of their research that may improve the quality of individual lives at the university.

Mental Health Support

Providing ample resources for, and referrals to, mental health resources was identified as an important tool for building a compassionate campus. The campus community submitted several artifacts in the toolkit pertaining to mental health. For instance, the Learning Center provided mental health resources with tips on identifying common signs of compassion fatigue, which includes “fatigue, emotional distress, or apathy.” The resources provide information on how compassion fatigue can be reduced by “paying attention to your health behaviors, particularly eating, sleep, and exercise; practicing self-care; and creating a support system.”

The Graduate and Professional Student Association shared documents describing the “You Are Not Alone” campaign they initiated to “start conversations around mental health and graduate school.” Mental health referrals and resources were shared by the office of Counseling & Psychological Services and cultural centers. These artifacts noted the importance of raising awareness for mental health needs, and that such awareness may lead to a more compassionate campus.

Safe Environments

Toolkit artifacts described faculty and staff act with compassion as a strategy to create “safe environments.” Inclusivity and safety are described as critical to developing a compassionate learning environment. The toolkit includes panel discussion dialogue in which faculty explored the idea that practicing self-compassion and responding to others compassionately is “an empathic acknowledgement of one’s own humanity and vulnerability” and that it is beneficial for “cultivating safe spaces and environments through empathic listening and non-violent communication promotes an inclusive and compassionate environment.”

Additional artifacts in the toolkit address creating safe spaces through compassion. For example, a diversity office noted that it seeks to advance compassion by creating safe, and inclusive environments. It does so by engaging in education and advocacy events, such as “hosting community health fairs in collaboration with organizations to provide free health screenings to the community, as well as sponsoring anti-racism speakers, and facilitating Spanish for All events throughout the year.”  As another example, the Honors College shared that it creates and fosters “a diverse and inclusive climate where scholars of all backgrounds are welcome, safe, and valued” so as to promote an environment in which “diversity of thought, experiences, and identities, are respected.”

Recommendations

From our findings, we offer seven recommendations (see Table 1) to promote compassion on campus. Our first recommendation is to appreciate the holistic development of students, faculty, and staff. This necessitates care and concern not just for academic and professional development, but for physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. Concern for holistic development may be demonstrated through providing tangible supports and resources. For example, university administration cannot simply say that they care for the psychological well-being of students; rather, they must demonstrate care through readily available psychological services and trained academic staff who can make informed mental-health referrals.

Secondly, we recommend providing opportunities for individuals to engage in service and volunteer opportunities. In our analysis, we noted that opportunities for service and volunteering appear to be important for students as well as for faculty, staff, alumni, and donors. As such, we recommended that both on and off campus constituents are invited to participate in activities such as food and blood drives, school supply donations, and fundraising to support students in need. In the toolkit, we saw that alumni and donors value the opportunity to give back to the institution and remain connected to the values of the university by participating in service and giving opportunities. This may help build a legacy of giving and an intuition’s reputation as a caring, compassionate organization.

The third recommendation is to deliver explicit training on best practices for compassionate communication. Modern institutions of higher education include multitudinous, wide-ranging platforms and methodologies for quick and often fragmented communication. On a daily basis, individuals communicate through email, text, social media, virtual meetings, in-person meetings, learning management systems, chat bots, class discussion, and group chats. The availability, speed, and abundance of mechanisms for communication lends itself to ample opportunities for miscommunication. It is recommended that college and university educators learn strategies for compassionate communication across all platforms and modalities. The toolkit includes specific strategies for approaching communication with patience and intentionality so as not to overwhelm students and faculty with multiple or conflicting messages. Devoting time, energy, and training for compassionate communication is strongly recommended for all institutional partners. This includes not just suggestions for best practice, but opportunities and occasions to recognize the work of others and affirm the contributions of diverse individuals throughout the institution.

We recommend training on compassionate educational practices. In the toolkit, compassionate educational practices in the classroom included teaching through student-centered approaches, asking students how they are feeling and what is working well in class, allowing students to collaborate, soliciting input on grading criteria, and adopting flexible deadlines. We noted compassionate educational practices outside of the classroom including student support staff asking appreciative questions as opposed to giving advice and practicing active listening. Similarly, toolkit artifacts highlighted that educational leaders could lead more compassionately by active listening, candid feedback, and practicing self-compassion. Academic advisors were highlighted as critical to providing compassionate care to students during critical points in their academic journey. Advisors can be trained to ensure they meet students with their full attention and are available as students navigate their college experience. Regardless of the reason for the visit, advisors can ensure students are supported with empathy, kindness, and care.

At research universities, faculty members, laboratories, and centers investigate compassion in many disciplines including neuroscience, psychology, sociology, communications, nursing, and business. We recommend faculty and staff who work directly with students, reach out to local researchers to see if there are actionable insights from compassion research that can be applied in the college setting. Furthermore, university administrators are encouraged to acknowledge compassion researchers, support their work, and, when relevant, share their findings with the campus community.

The final two recommendations are inter-related: make mental health resources easily accessible to community members and provide guidance on how to make referrals and implement best practices for creating safe spaces for work and learning. Having easily accessible mental health resources was described, in and of itself, as a form of compassion. We recommend faculty and staff receive training on how to best make referrals to mental health resources so that the information is communicated timely and compassionately. As part of this training, we recommend increasing knowledge of, and implementing, best practices for creating safe, welcoming spaces. In particular those in positions of power (instructors, supervisors, and leaders) are called upon to critically examine their influence and privilege as a necessary part of acting with care and compassion. Throughout this project, participants shared that colleges and universities can promote compassion by creating and fostering a diverse and inclusive climate where members of the campus community from all backgrounds are welcome, safe, and valued. Compassionate campuses respect and affirm diversity of thought, experiences, and identities. Furthermore, institutions can create a safe, and inclusive learning environment by engaging in education and advocacy events covering topics such as anti-racism, equity, and social justice.

Strengths, Weaknesses, and Implications

Strengths of the study include encouraging dialogue on ways in which to promote compassion on campuses during a time when it is greatly needed. In a historical period of political and social unrest, this study encourages campuses to consider compassion.

Our knowledge of the research site, its culture, and its history are assets to this study. We are concerned community members at the institution studied. We invited our colleagues to submit documents to the toolkit and then analyzed these documents ourselves. It is true that we bring our biases and history at the university to the project. It is also true that we want what is best for the people and community of the university, and that influences the way we see the data.

There are limitations to this study. For one, not every department or unit on campus participated in the event or submitted to the toolkit. Furthermore, the compassion into action event and toolkit were implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic when resources and morale were low due to institutional budget cuts and furloughs. Lastly, it is important to note that the individuals who participated in the event and those who contributed to the toolkit represent a small percentage of the campus population. While we describe acts of compassion and efforts to live out the value of compassion, our work does not judge whether or not, as a whole, our university is a compassionate place.

This study has implications for faculty, staff, and students. Given the current political landscape, social injustice, and the global pandemic, infusing compassion into university life is needed now more than ever. As our campuses continue to diversify, it is imperative that institutions promote compassionate care, and safe, inclusive learning environments for students from all backgrounds and identities. Infusing compassion into daily activities, roles, and relationships may aid in better supporting marginalized and minoritized individuals. Another implication of our findings is the potential to use compassion as a leadership style. By operating from a compassionate lens, university leaders can support members of the campus community through uncertain times.

We do not claim that if you implement each recommendation from the toolkit that you will have a fully compassionate campus. While our analysis of the “Compassion Toolkit,” identified actions taken to promote compassion, it is important to note that we did not study the outcomes of these actions. Our goal was to catalyze a campus-wide conversation, create a practitioner toolkit, and make preliminary recommendations that can be of service for continued efforts and exploration. Future research is needed to appreciate which of the recommendations and strategies are most effective.

Conclusion

Compassion can be developed through intentional educational experiences (Plante & Halman, 2016). How, exactly, we do this as higher education leaders is unclear; however, this study shares some initial recommendations. It describes one institution’s efforts to live out its espoused value of compassion. We encourage colleges and universities to ask their campus and its constituents, “How do you put compassion into action on a daily basis?” This exercise in and of itself served as a catalyst for months of critical conversation and reflection. We offer our themes and recommendations to be of service to our fellow college and university educators; however, perhaps the most powerful take away we can offer is to engage your campus in creating your own campus toolkit. The activity of calling upon campus partners to consider and document how they put compassion into action daily is a potent activity for strengthening your campus community and can lead to prolonged reflection and thoughtful dialogue on one of the most critical values of our time.

Discussion Questions

  • What does compassion look and feel like at your college or university?
  • How can your campus community attempt to put compassion into action?
  • What can you do to promote compassion in higher education?

References

CoED Foundation (2018). Bringing compassion into education and learning: The second strategic plan. http://www.coedfoundation.org.uk/pdfs/CoEd_Foundation_strategic_plan.pdf

Clouston, T.J. (2018) Transforming learning: Teaching compassion and caring values in higher education, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 42(7), 1015-1024. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2017.1332359

Creswell, J. W. & Guetterman, T. C. (2019). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and

evaluating quantitative and qualitative research (6th ed.). Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.

Cuff, B., Brown, S., Taylor, L., & Howat, D. (2016). Empathy: A review of the concept. Emotion Review. 8. 144-153. 10.1177/1754073914558466.

Daugherty, E. J. (2020). Free Speech in the Academy: Living Our Values During Challenging Times. Journal of College and Character21(3), 151–156. https://doi.org/10.1080/2194587X.2020.1781661

Egan, H., O’Hara, M., Cook, A. & Mantzios, M. (2021). Mindfulness, self-compassion, resiliency and wellbeing in higher education: A recipe to increase academic performance, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2021.1912306.

Hephner LaBanc, B. (2019). Leveraging Student Affairs to Heal the Social and Political Divide Within Our Campus Communities. Journal of College and Character20(1), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1080/2194587X.2018.1559199

Johnson, C., & Christensen, L.B. (2012). Educational research: quantitative, qualitative, and mixed approaches (4th ed). SAGE Publications.

Keeling, R. P. (2020). Cultivating Humanity: The Power of Time and People. Journal of College and Character21(1), 49–55. https://doi.org/10.1080/2194587X.2019.1696835

Lynch, R. J., & Glass, C. R. (2020). The Cost of Caring: An Arts-Based Phenomenological Analysis of Secondary Traumatic Stress in College Student Affairs. Review of Higher Education43(4), 1041–1068. https://doi.org/10.1353/rhe.2020.0030

McCarty, S. M., Mullins, T. G., Geller, E. S., & Shushok, F. (2013). The Actively Caring for People

Movement at Virginia Tech and Beyond: Cultivating Compassion and Relationships in

Residence Halls. Journal of College and Character14(4), 373–380. https://doi.org/10.1515/jcc-2013-0047

Mantzios, M., Egan, H., Cook, A., Jutley-Neilson, J., & O’Hara, M. (2020). Wellbeing and the NSS: The potential of mindfulness and self-compassion for an enhanced student experience, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 44:3, 300-310, https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2018.1541970

Plante, T. G., & Halman, K. (2016). Nurturing Compassion Development Among College Students: A Longitudinal Study. Journal of College and Character, 17(3), 164–174. http://doi.org/10.1080/2194587X.2016.1195749

Reneau, C.-M. (2020). Facilitating Grace: Choosing Community Over Chaos. Journal of College and Character21(2), 140–147. https://doi.org/10.1080/2194587X.2020.1741391

Reynolds, A. L. (2011). Counseling and helping skills. In J. H. J. Schuh, S.R., Harper, S.R. (Eds.), Student services a handbook for the profession. (5th ed. / [edited by] John H. Schuh, Susan R. Jones, Shaun R. Harper, and associates.). Jossey-Bass.

Rockenbach, A. N. (2020). Character Education for the Public Good: The Evolution of Character Capacities in and Beyond College. Journal of College and Character21(1), 6–13. https://doi.org/10.1080/2194587X.2019.1696834

Saldana, J. (2011). Fundamentals of qualitative research. Oxford University Press.

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Strauss, C., Lever Taylor, B., Gu, J., Kuyken, W., Baer, R., Jones, F., & Cavanagh, K. (2016). What is compassion and how can we measure it? A review of definitions and measures. Clinical Psychology Review47, 15–27. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2016.05.004

Smyth, J. (2018). The Toxic University. Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Waddington, K. (2017). Creating Conditions for Compassion. In The Pedagogy of Compassion at the Heart of Higher Education (pp. 49–70). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-57783-8_4

Tables

Table 1
Recommendations for College and University Educators
1. Make a commitment to, and provide resources for, the holistic development of students, faculty, and staff

 

2. Engage on- and off-campus community members in service learning and volunteer opportunities

 

3. Deliver explicit training on, and the implementation of, best practices for compassionate communication

 

4. Train faculty and student service professionals on compassionate education and pedagogy

 

5. Highlight, support, and affirm research on compassion and identify actionable insights for practice

 

6. Make mental health resources easily accessible to community members and provide guidance on how to make referrals

 

7. Implement best practices for creating safe spaces for work and learning

 

Author Biographies:

Cynthia Demetriou, PhD, currently serves as the Associate Provost for Student Engagement, Enrollment, and Retention at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Candace Jones, MA, is the Elon Academy Assistant Director for College Access at Elon University in North Carolina.

Deanna L. Lewis, DrPH, PA-C, MBA, is a faculty member in the College of Public Health at the University of Arizona.

Jeannette Maré, MA, founder of the nonprofit Ben’s Bells, is a doctoral student in the Communication department at the University of Arizona.

Sexuality, Gender, and the Student Government Presidency | Michael A. Goodman

written by: Dr. Michael A. Goodman

According to Victory Institute (2021), a nonprofit focused on increasing the number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people in public office, there has been a large increase in the election of LGBTQ people in U.S. politics. However, LGBTQ individuals are significantly underrepresented in elected positions (Victory Institute, 2021). As of June 2021, there were 986 known out LGBTQ elected officials in the United States; the organization posited that 28,116 more LGBTQ leaders would need to be elected in order to achieve equal representation (Victory Institute, 2021). More recently, Gallup found that the percentage of U.S. adults who self-identify as LGBT or non-heterosexual increased to 7.1% (Jones, 2022). Thus, 35,876 more LGBTQ people would need to be elected to public office to achieve equitable representation (Victory Institute, 2022).

Despite college student government (SG) being a form of public office (Goodman, under review), and although not considered in Victory Institute’s data, the election of LGBTQ individuals to college SG is a form of representative leadership that is worth exploring (Goodman, 2021a, 2021c, 2022). Given the dearth of literature on SG presidents–and LGBTQ people in SG specifically–this article is guided by the following research questions:

  1. What are the experiences, perceptions, and identities of college SG presidents who served during the 2021-2022 academic year? Specifically, what are the experiences, perceptions, and identities of those who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and pansexual (LGBTQP) in some capacity, and compared to their heterosexual peers?

A review of literature is warranted and the following section examines existing scholarship including empirical research, book chapters, and institutional press.

Relevant Literature

The role of identity among SG presidents is an area that continues to be explored. For example, scholars have studied the role of women in SG, and found that while women were involved in SG, they were less represented in president and vice president roles (Miller & Kraus, 2004). Further, Workman et al. (2020) suggested SG was a “boys’ club” that led to a “chilly climate” for women (p. 44), and that SG was less tolerant to mistakes, supported inherent biases against women, and that women had to work harder than men to be taken seriously by peers. In a study of Black womyn SG presidents at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hardaway et al. (2021) found that experiences were interwoven together as race-gendered, and “rooted in the intersectional crossroad shared by womyn who stand in one of the most powerful, standpoints in which two prominent systems of oppression come together” (p. 147).

Hotchkins and McNaughtan (2021) found that Black student leaders attending a PWI enacted social justice as a way to resist, reorganize, and restructure exclusionary campus systems like SG funding policies. In another example, Hays (2020) found that student leaders of color at dominantly white Christian institutions gravitated toward peers, faculty, and staff who understood and identified the same as them; one participant who was involved in SG described that students of color saw a lot of white people in SG and did not think they could fit in, and therefore did not try. The lack of representation drove participants in Hays’ (2020) study to become leaders at their institutions.

Next, there are few known studies that center on openly LGBTQ students involved in college SG. However, in two articles on openly gay men in elected SG, participants described representation and their visibility as out and elected to be of great importance (Goodman, 2021a, 2021c). Yet, to be visible as openly gay in their elected roles was also complicated. Participants grappled with internalized homophobia, and Men of Color participants specifically recalled having to work at least twice as hard and up to ten times harder than their white and heterosexual peers as a result of their race, sexuality, and leadership role (Goodman, 2021a).

Elected LGBTQ students are often notable “firsts” in the discourse on the evolution of diversity in SG. In 2020, Claire Murashima was elected student body president at Calvin University, a Christian university in Michigan. Murashima (2020) wrote, “In the 102 years that Student Senate has existed, we’ve never had an openly gay student body president… I’m proud to be the first” (para 1). Identifying as bisexual and queer, Murashima (2020) wanted other queer students to see themselves in their story. Murashima (2020) shared, “I’d feel as if I’d made a mistake as student body president if I did not use my platform to do so” (para 3).

Such a representation is ongoing, as many SG “firsts” continue to be publicized by institutions and the students themselves. In addition to Murashima, Ky Freeman was elected SG president at Indiana University in 2021. Freeman was the first openly gay, Black male president in the institution’s history (IU, 2021). Additional notable “firsts” include Jack Baker, the first known openly gay SG president in the U.S. (Anderson, 1972; Dilley, 2002; Goodman, 2021a), as well as significant institutional firsts like Toni Luckett, who was elected the first out lesbian, Black SG president at The University of Texas at Austin in 1990 (Weiner, 1990).

The significance of “firsts” associated with historic elections also includes the election of Alberta Hamm, the first known transgender person elected college SG president (Blotcher, 2002; Obituary, 2019). In 2002, Hamm was elected SG president of Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) as an openly transgender woman (Blotcher, 2002). Hamm ran against four other students in a conservative area, and with great knowledge of the role and issues on campus (Blotcher, 2002). She went on to serve two terms as SG president of HACC (Obituary, 2019). More recently, Abel Liu was elected SG president at the University of Virginia and is the first transgender person to hold that role on campus (Goodman, 2022; Wyant, 2021). Each of these elections shed additional light on the ways identity intersects with college SG. More broadly, the literature serves as a reminder of the challenges and successes that exist at this intersection of identity and college SG.

Study

This study is the result of data collected and analyzed from a public survey on the experiences, perceptions, and identities of college SG presidents. The survey was open to college SG presidents from November 2021 through January 2022, and respondents must have been 18 years of age or older and serving as college SG president during the 2021-2022 academic year.

Methods

This Institutional Review Board-approved survey was made up of 35 questions, comprised of number of committees served, number of meetings with administrators, percentage of voters in student body election, personal demographic information, and perception questions based on a five-point Likert scale (with five being Strongly Agree and one being Strongly Disagree). Surveys were distributed in public social media posts on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and through email by way of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators Student Government Knowledge Community.

Individual respondents must have been presently serving as a student government, student body, or student association president at a degree-granting institution for higher education in the United States. Respondents granted consent before being presented with survey questions, and 242 total surveys were started. Descriptive statistics illuminate data from 218 completed surveys, which were processed using data cleaning techniques (Allen, 2017; Salkind, 2010). Respondent fill-in-the-blank numbers were averaged in cases where an improper number or percentage was written in. A statistician used R, a statistical computing software, to run descriptive statistics and cross-tabulation reports. These reports were then examined through univariate analysis and with frequency distribution(s).

Limitations

This article focuses solely on the nuances associated with SG presidents’ gender and sexuality. While this study contains findings of self-identified sexuality descriptors, the level of respondent “outness” is not known (e.g., one may identify as gay or bisexual, yet not be as public as others). Additionally, this study is based on responses from 218 SG presidents, a small sample size compared to the larger body of U.S. postsecondary institutions.

Findings

Geographically, LGBTQP respondents were least represented in the South and Mid-Atlantic regions. Five (2.39%) respondents identified as transgender, and three (1.38%) as questioning/unsure or preferred not to disclose. Similarly, regarding gender, 10 (4.78%) individuals identified as nonbinary in some way, with 97 (46.41%) identifying as man and 98 (46.89%) as woman. The breakdown of sexual orientation weighed heavily heterosexual (142 at 67.94%), however, there was a notable number of bisexual respondents (22 at 10.53%). Additionally, four SG presidents identified as lesbian (1.91%), 13 as gay (6.22%), 14 as queer (6.7%), and five as pansexual (2.39%). In the overall sample of respondents, 24 (11.48%) identified as African American/Black, 18 (8.61%) as Asian American/Asian, 12 (5.74%) as Hispanic/Latino/a, and 120 (57.42%) as white. Considering the 142 heterosexual respondents, 20 (83.33%) of the African American/Black respondents identified as heterosexual, as well as 10 (55.55%) of Asian American/Asian respondents, seven (58.33%) of Hispanic/Latino/a respondents, and 85 (70.83%) of white participants.

When asked if they see others of the same sexual orientation as them in SG, the most variation came from bisexual and gay presidents. Bisexual (n=22) respondents responded strongly disagree (9.09%), somewhat disagree (18.18%), neither disagree or agree (31.82%), somewhat agree (31.82%), and strongly agree (9.09%). Gay (n=13) respondents responded strongly disagree (7.69%), somewhat disagree (30.77%), neither disagree or agree (23.08%), somewhat agree (30.77%), and strongly agree (7.69%). Consequently, heterosexual respondents shared that they strongly agree (47.88%) and somewhat agree (28.87%) to seeing students of the same sexuality as them in SG (totaling 76.76%).

Next, 27 (41.54%) LGBQP respondents were involved in high school SG (compared to 48.59% of heterosexual respondents). On average, gay respondents were involved in college SG for 3.5 years and bisexual respondents for 2.75 years. The only question that asked about additional student involvement (as also done in Templeton et al., 2018) was sorority/fraternity (SF) affiliation, in which LGBQP presidents were largely missing. Just 12 (19.05%) of LGBQP respondents were members of a sorority or fraternity, compared to 51 (80.95%) of SF-affiliated students who identified as heterosexual.

Finally, 80% of LGBQP respondents either strongly or somewhat agreed that college SG felt like public office. Further, 83.08% of LGBQP respondents strongly agreed they had relationships with campus administrators (compared to 80.98% of heterosexual respondents). Of those LGBQP individuals, 100% of gay and pansexual respondents strongly agreed that they had relationships with administrators. In sum, these findings bring forward emerging data regarding gender, sexuality, and the college SG presidency during the 2021-2022 academic year, in particular, the experiences, perceptions, and identities of those who identify as LGBTQP in some capacity and compared to their heterosexual-identified peers.

Discussion

While SG remains a predominantly heterosexual space, it is encouraging to see emerging data regarding the number of LGBTQP SG presidents. Earlier this year, Gallup found that one in five Generation Z adults in the U.S. identify as LGBTQ in some way (Jones, 2022). The number of bisexual SG presidents in this study, for example, is noteworthy and may align with the comfort of being out among Generation Z students (Moskowitz et al., 2021). As SGs are seen as “the formal face of the student body” (Miller & Nadler, 2006, p. 11), to be out and elected is a courageous act for those who fill these positions. Representation is an important part of the role of SG (Goodman, 2021c; Kuh, 1995; Laosebikan-Buggs, 2006), and is heightened in the context of identity and position. In this case, it is important to know the sexuality and gender demographic makeup of SG presidents, much like the work done annually by Victory Institute. The relevance of Victory Institute is that this research highlights existing data on LGBTQP collegians similarly serving in public office (in this case, collegiate public office; e.g., see Goodman, 2022; Goodman, under review). It is important to know the sexuality, gender, and racial makeup of SG presidents because identity is highlight politicized in the U.S., much like elected leadership roles. To know the sexuality, gender, and racial identities of SG presidents may help provide an additional glimpse into the experiences of these students, and at this intersection of their identity(ies) and elected role.

In U.S. politics more broadly, LGBTQ elected leaders of color grew at a greater rate than their white peers, however white LGBTQ elected officials are still overrepresented (Victory Institute, 2021). This overrepresentation is also the case in the college SG presidency. For example, as elected gay Men of Color work harder than their heterosexual peers (Goodman, 2021a), the intersection of sexuality, gender, and race remain an important consideration. Percentages of LGBTQ representation in U.S. politics are still incredibly low; two U.S. Senators (out of 100), nine U.S. Representatives (out of 435), two governors (out of 50), and six mayors out of the top 100 cities are LGBTQ (Victory Institute, 2021). If SG is a form of public office (Goodman, under review), numbers such as these and those in this study are necessary to understand the “big picture” of student leadership today. Perhaps to value LGBTQP SG president elections as significant and relevant, then, as a step toward the 35,876 leaders yet to be elected in order to achieve LGBTQ equality in elected office (Victory Institute, 2022).

Recommendations

Practice

First, recommendations for student affairs practice include continued support for LGBTQP students with attention to the leadership nuances and intersections provided by elected SG. Understanding the identities of those in SG may help administrators and advisors better support LGBTQP SG officers. Further, knowing who makes up college SG can help faculty teach about student involvement and leadership with gender and sexuality in mind. Graduate students, then, can anticipate an evolution mindset regarding student development theories and models surrounding student involvement experiences. For example, if graduate students are learning about early LGB identity development models and theories, more recent data on student involvement of LGBTQP students may help them think critically about the evolution of these models and theories.

Next, administrators and advisors can be mindful of advising and advocacy tactics when working with SGs, and in particular SGs with openly LGBTQP leaders. For example, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill (HB 1557) and Tennessee’s proposed textbook and instructional materials ban (HB0800) may have LGBTQP student leaders feeling particular vulnerable as publicly out, even in the collegiate context. As SGs have taken on issues such as debating Chik-fil-A’s presence on campus (Goodman et al., 2021), student affairs practitioners may create space for openly LGBTQP students to talk about their experiences with local and state legislation about LGBTQP people, broadly and in education contexts.

Support for LGBTQP SG presidents (and officers) can come in many forms. Student affairs practitioners can create inclusive leadership training for students and communities and allow leaders with shared gender identities and sexualities to caucus alongside one another. This may even involve engaging openly LGBTQP SG presidents with campus LGBTQP faculty/staff affinity spaces, or a Queer Equity Center should one exist. Graduate students and new professionals might also consider the ways identity “firsts” exist on their campus and throughout history. For example, a course or work project might be to illuminate the identities of SG officers over the history of the SG organization. Or practitioners could bring in panelists who previously served in SG and who identify as LGBTQP in some way. A panel such as this would allow students to ask questions about their experiences as a way to inform current practices.

Research

Next, though this study is consistent with the number of respondents in studies conducted by Lozano (2018) and Templeton et al. (2018), future iterations will aim for a larger number of SG presidents. Future research might also include more detailed statistical relationships between respondents and perception questions, specifically, which was not the primary scope of this article. Additionally, future qualitative research may allow respondents to elaborate or rate levels of outness, in and in tandem with SG. For example, much like that of students also involved in FS, scholars might consider studying additional spaces of campus involvement such as a Residence Hall Association, student trusteeship, NCAA or club sport, or academic honors group. Further, future qualitative research may aid in (better) understanding the intersection(s) of gender, sexuality, and race, and the salience of these identities in SG spaces. Qualitative research on SG presidents who identify as LGBTQP may also be nuanced when exploring this population through the lens of institution type, size, and geography.

Similar to the support for openly LGBTQP students in the south, it is worth understanding the experiences and identities in state-by-state contexts, and outside of a region more broadly (e.g., Mississippi and Florida, rather than “the south”). To understand representation in state contexts would allow future research to illuminate vulnerabilities in these regional contexts and based on current events and discourses in various states. Knowing the LGBTQP makeup of SG presidents in a particular state may be significant, particularly in locations where anti-LGBTQP legislation is written and enacted. For example, bills prohibiting healthcare for transgender youth and restrictions on identification documents (ACLU, 2021) are topics that might impact an openly LGBTQP SG leader. Research on their perceptions of and lived experiences related to current events and issues in their state would be useful in further telling the story of the college SG presidency, and SG leadership experiences more broadly.

Conclusion

The election of LGBTQP students to college SG offers a path toward more expansive visibility. Representation, and specifically the identities, perceptions, and experiences of LGBTQP students in representative spaces, is important to know and understand. And yet, gender, sexuality, and identity do not exist in a vacuum. To better support this population of students involved in SG is to interrogate more deeply who is and can even show up to be involved on college campuses. As Gallup reported that the number of LGBT people in the U.S. doubled between 2012 and 2022 (Jones, 2022), such a question remains for those LGBTQP students in college SG. Perhaps such increase will appear in SG spaces as well. Perhaps, over time, LGBTQP students will, too, gain equitable representation.

References:

Allen, M. (2017). The SAGE encyclopedia of communication research methods (Vols. 1-4). SAGE Publications, Inc.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). (2021). Legislation affecting LGBTQ rights across the country 2021. From https://www.aclu.org/legislation-affecting-lgbtq-rights-across-country-2021

Anderson, B. (1972, April 10). Students give Baker a vote of confidence. Minneapolis Tribune, 1B-2B.

Blotcher, J. (2002, September 3). Behind the headlines: “Just one of the girls.” The Advocate (p. 20).

Dilley, P. (2002). Queer men on campus: A history of non-heterosexual college men, 1945-2000. Routledge.

Goodman, M. A. (2022). Former student government officers navigating multiple/minoritized identities in collegiate and post-college public office. Journal of Campus Activities Practice and Scholarship, 4(1), 22-32. https://doi.org/10.52499/2022003

Goodman, M. A. (2021a). Openly gay undergraduate men in student government: Out, visible, and elected. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. Advanced Online Publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/dhe0000273

Goodman, M. A. (2021b). Presidents as practitioners: The lived experience(s) of former student body presidents working in higher education, student affairs. Journal of Campus Activities Practice and Scholarship, 3(1), 34-45. https://doi.org/10.52499/2021013

Goodman, M. A. (2021c). Re(-)presentation and advocacy: Openly gay men and the work of elected, undergraduate student government. Journal of College Student Development, 62(6), 692-707.

Goodman, M. A. (under review). Student government as public office: Experiences of former college student government officers in elected public office.

Goodman, M. A., Arndt, A., & Parks, B. (2021). Leadership is political: Social justice and college student government. In C-M. Reneau & M. A. Villarreal (Eds.), Handbook of research on leading higher education transformation with social justice, equity, and inclusion (pp. 141-155). IGI Global. DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7152-1.ch010

Hardaway, A. T., Smith, T. C., & Lee-Johnson, J. (2021). Black womyn student leaders at

HBCUs: The race-gendered experiences of former student government association presidents. In Understanding the work of student affairs professionals at minority serving institutions (pp. 135-152). Routledge.

Hays, S. (2020). The leadership stories of students of color at dominantly white Christian institutions. Growth: The Journal of the Association for Christians in Student Development, 19(19), 19-34.

Hotchkins, B. K., & McNaughtan, J. (2021). Examining the continuum of Black student leadership: From community to college and beyond. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 29(42), 1-19. https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.29.4695

Indiana University (IU). (2021, July 27). Freeman first openly gay Black male elected IU student government president. Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs. From https://diversity.iu.edu/news-events/news/2021/202107-iu-student-government-president.html

Jones, J. M. (2022, February 17). LGBT identification in U.S. ticks up to 7.1%. Gallup. https://news.gallup.com/poll/389792/lgbt-identification-ticks-up.aspx

Kuh, G. D. (1995). The other curriculum: Out-of-class experiences associated with student learning and personal development. The Journal of Higher Education, 66(2), 123-155.

Laosebikan-Buggs, M. O. (2006). The role of student government: Perceptions and expectations.

In M. Miller & D. P. Nadler (Eds.), Student governance and institutional policy: Formation and implementation (pp. 1-8). Information Age Publishing, Inc.

Lozano, J. (2020). Bridging the divide: Exploring the connections between student governments and higher education governing boards. Studies in Higher Education, 45(9), 1878-1891. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2019.1593351

Moskowitz, D. A., Rendina, H. J., Alvarado Avila, A., & Mustanski, B. (2021). Demographic and social factors impacting coming out as a sexual minority among generation z teenage boys. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, Advance Online Publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/sgd0000484

Miller, C., & Kraus, M. (2004). Participating but not leading: Women’s under-representation in student government leadership positions. College Student Journal, 38(3), 423-427.

Miller, M. T., & Nadler, D. P. (2006). Student involvement in governance: Rationale, problems, and opportunities. In M. Miller & D. P. Nadler (Eds.), Student governance and institutional policy: Formation and implementation (pp. 9-18). Information Age Publishing, Inc.

Murashima, C. (2020, October 16). I am Calvin university’s first openly gay student body president. Calvin Chimes. https://calvinchimes.org/2020/10/16/i-am-calvin-universitys-first-openly-gay-student-body-president/

Obituary. (2019, November 8-10). Alberta Hamm: 1941-2019. Patriot-News. https://obits.pennlive.com/us/obituaries/pennlive/name/alberta-hamm-obituary?id=11993324

Salkind, N. J. (2010). Encyclopedia of research design (Vols. 1-0). SAGE Publications, Inc.

Templeton, L., Smith, A., & MacCracken, A. (2018). Student voice index. NCLC: National Campus Leadership Council. Washington, D.C.

Victory Institute. (2022, February 18). New LGBTQ Gallup data reveals enormous gaps in LGBTQ political representation; LGBTQ people hold just 0.2% of elected positions. Victory Institute. https://victoryinstitute.org/news/new-lgbtq-gallup-data-reveals-enormous-gaps-in-lgbtq-political-representation-lgbtq-people-hold-just-0-2-of-elected-positions/

Victory Institute. (2021). Out for America: A census of out LGBTQ elected officials nationwide. Victory Institute.

Weiner, G. (1990). Luckett scores sound victory. The Daily Texan, pp. 1-2.

Workman, J. L., Hull, K., Hartsell, T., & Weimann, T. (2020). A chilly climate: Experiences of women student government association presidents. Journal of Campus Activities Practice and Scholarship, 2(2), 39-54.

Wyant, R. (2021, March 24). UVA’s Abel Liu makes history as first trans, Chinese-American student council president. NBC29. https://www.nbc29.com/2021/03/24/uvas-abel-liu-makes-history-first-trans-chinese-american-student-council-president/

Author Biography:

Dr. Michael A. Goodman is an Assistant Professor of Practice in Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Texas at Austin, and serves as a Co-Coordinator for the Program in Higher Education Leadership. Goodman is a former undergraduate and graduate student government president, and resides in Austin, Texas.

You Can Go Your Own Way: Student Leader Development Pathways | Notari, Toich, Sessa, Bragger

written by: Catrina Notari, Margaret Toich, Valerie Sessa, Jennifer Bragger

Developing student leaders is a major objective at many universities and colleges across the United States, with patterns indicating an increase in educators tackling this challenge in learning and practice (Dugan & Komives, 2010). According to the International Leadership Association, more than 2,000 curricular and co-curricular leader development programs (LDPs) exist at institutions across the nation (Guthrie et al., 2018). How to best approach developing student leaders is a gray area, with scholars and practitioners often leaving students to their “best guess” regarding how to proceed (Allen & Hartman, 2009). Some researchers have suggested that embracing service-based opportunities allow students to reflect on their own values, sense of self, and how they engage with their peers as a means towards leadership development (Dugan & Komives, 2010; Jones & Abes, 2004). In addition, most leadership development scholarship has focused on single interventions (Fernandez et al., 2021; Giroir & Austin, 2019; Strawn et al., 2017; Posner, 2009; DiPaolo, 2002), ignoring the reality that many students participate in multiple leader development opportunities during college. Little research to date has focused on leader development trajectories across interventions and over time. The purpose of this article is to highlight student leader development pathways students take while in college. Developing an understanding of the pathways that include all leader development activities will allow us to better understand the different ways student leader development unfolds during college and what students gain as a result.

Leader Development in Students   

A leader influences others by organizing, directing, coordinating, and motivating their efforts in pursuit of a shared goal (Drath et al., 2004). Leader development is about enhancing the capacity of individuals to experience, participate in, and understand leadership roles and processes (Van Velsor et al. 2010) and can be accomplished both within a natural process (Day & Zaccaro, 2004), planned interventions, or a combination of the two. Furthermore, Conger (1992) suggested that to develop into leaders, students must develop a conceptual understanding of leadership, build leadership skills and competencies, grow and change as individuals, and receive feedback regarding how they are doing with all these things. Research supports the notion that students learn these different leadership aspects depending on their specific experiences, whether academics, leader development programs (LDP)s, or leadership positions (LPs) (Sessa et al., 2014; Sessa, 2017; Stech, 2008).

College student leadership research frequently focuses on evaluating specific leadership development programs. Recently Fernandez and colleagues (2021) evaluated the outcomes of a two-year LDP and found that 42.9% of program alumni had a position change after the program. Giroir and Austin (2019) discussed the benefits of a graduate student honor society in developing both professional and leader identity. Posner (2009) examined the effects of a co-curricular LDP for business majors from their freshman to senior years. Results indicated that program participants reported significantly higher implementation of leadership practices (i.e., modeling, inspiring, challenging, enabling, and encouraging) than non-participants in their senior years. Similarly, Egan et al. (2020) found that participants in a four-year LDP successfully transferred leadership learnings to their jobs post-graduation.

Based on the existing scholarship, it appears that leader development opportunities increase leader behaviors and desire to lead. However, these studies do not assess all possible leader development opportunities students may participate in during their college careers. What are the benefits of participating in a co-curricular LDP, having a minor in leadership, and being president of an honor society? While these studies certainly highlight that there are benefits to each of these experiences, the multiplicative longitudinal benefits are not as clear. Undergraduate education is a unique time for students to develop or increase their leadership knowledge, skills, and abilities during their college years (Mayhew et al., 2016). Given the number of developmental opportunities that college students have, understanding the trends of participating in these various activities is pertinent to understanding their consequences. The purpose of our study is to begin to understand, when given an array of possibilities, which leader development pathways students choose, leading to our research question: What leader development pathways do students choose to pursue during their time in college?

Methods

Participants

We identified five institutions based on the following criteria: (1) The school had a first-semester, first-year LDP or academic course, (2) There were continued opportunities to participate in leadership via clubs and on-campus jobs, leadership majors, minors, or certifications, and LDPs during all four years of undergraduate education, (3) Schools differed from each other in terms of size, research classification, location, and demographic makeup of students. Three of the five colleges/universities had first-semester LDPs that were co-curricular, while two were curricular programs. See Table 1 for definitions of leader development opportunities across all five institutions. The schools differed in size (four large, one small), Carnegie classification (one baccalaureate, one master’s, three doctoral), and public/private (four public, one private). A total of 423 participants were drawn from 1,820 first-semester students enrolled in leader development programs across the five schools for an original response rate of 23%. One hundred seventy participants responded to all four years of surveys. Students were direct from high school with 68% women and 32% men, 49% Caucasian, 14% Asian, 14% Hispanic, 8% African-American, and 15% from another racial group or multiple racial identities.

Data Collection

Participants were sent emails containing instructions and a participation link during all six years of data collection (all four years of college and two years post-college). To maximize the data collected, students who did not complete the previous year’s survey were given a comprehensive survey the subsequent year to capture missing information. Results from each data collection point surveys were compiled into a single database. Additional data and surveys were also collected from all participants, though this data was not used during mapping the leader development pathways.

Measures

Leadership Experience

Students indicated which leadership opportunities they completed in their freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years during each year of data collection. These included coursework, declaring a leadership major, minor, or certificate, internal and external LDPs, and on-campus LPs (including paid, unpaid, elected, selected, and volunteer). In addition, each institution’s administrators identified on-campus LPs (e.g., Resident Assistants, elected Student Government positions) before collecting the data.

Alternate Surveys

Additional surveys were created to bolster participation for junior and senior years. Students that did not complete the sophomore year survey received a survey that asked about freshmen, sophomore, and junior year leadership opportunity participation during the junior year data collection period. Like junior year, senior year alternate surveys were created for those who did not complete the junior year survey or the sophomore and junior year survey, and students indicated which leadership experiences they participated in during those years.

Coding Pathways

We used quantitative descriptive analysis to code and identify student leader pathways (Loeb et al., 2017). Quantitative descriptive analysis is a data simplification technique to identify qualitative patterns in data. Two graduate students separately coded participation in academic, LDPs, and LPs for all four years of participants using a compiled database. To determine reliability between the two coders, kappa scores were calculated (Fleiss’s kappa = .87). Discrepancies were discussed and resolved with consensus coding. These codings were compiled onto participation sheets that contained participant identification numbers, freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year leadership participation as described above. See Table 1 below for a summary.

 

Table 1
Definitions for Participation Categories
Category Definition Subcomponents Na
Academic Participation in leadership-focused coursework and/or declaration of university-specific leadership major, minor, or certification program. Coursework 71.2%
Major/Minor/Certification 8.2%
Leadership Development Program (LDP) Involvement in co-curricular (organization or university program), curricular (course-focused program), and external leadership development programs (e.g., LeaderShape, participation in leadership conference). Leadership Development Program (co-curricular and curricular) 74.7%
External Leadership Development Program 21.8%
Leadership Position (LP) Acquisition of a formal leadership role and title in student-led organizations, work, or community organizations. These roles were either elected (formal election process), selected (requiring an application or interview), or volunteer (selecting into a leadership role). Elected Position 55.9%
Selected Position 70.0%
Volunteer Position 24.1%
Note. Each year’s survey contained items specifically measuring each of these variables. Ns refer to the percentage of participation in that category at any time between freshman and senior year.

aTotal N=170.

 

One faculty member and one graduate student examined each student’s participation sheet individually to examine trends in involvement across the participant’s undergraduate career. We sorted participants with similar overall participation trends based on type of leadership participation. The types included academic participation, LDPs, and LPs. We created pathways based upon which types the participants chose, including one type of participation, two types, or all three types. Finally, we provided a second faculty member not involved in the initial round of coding with a list of pathway definitions and sorted all participants based on the provided definitions. Coders agreed on participation sorting at 84.5% agreement (Fleiss’s kappa = .82).

Quantifying Amount of Participation

We used hierarchical cluster analysis to determine if there were significant differences between students who may have categorically followed the same pathway but had a significant difference in the quantity of participation (Dymnicki & Henry, 2011; Henry et al., 2015). For our analysis, we used SPSS version 27 (I.B.M. Corp., 2020) to conduct a hierarchical cluster analysis. The method chosen was ‘between-groups linkage,’ and the measure used was ‘counts’ using ‘chi-square’. The result showed three clusters with participants who completed up to three areas of participation in the first cluster. The second was 4 to 11 areas of participation, and 12 or more areas of participation were the final cluster. These three clusters, we labeled low, medium, and high levels of participation. We combined pathways and clusters such that each pathway was divided by low, medium, and high rates of participation.

Post-Graduation Interviews

In the final survey, we included an item asking participants if they would like to be contacted for an interview. As a result, we were able to schedule interviews with 16 participants. Interview questions were designed to establish credibility of the surveys as we had interviewees verify their participation in the activities, they noted on the survey including types, amount, and year. In addition, we asked questions regarding why participants participated in specific opportunities and what they gained from those experiences. For the purposes of this article, we summarized a few of these interviews to exemplify different pathways. The interviews were not coded for this study but were used for illustrative purposes.

Results and Findings

Students followed several different pathways as they developed themselves as leaders during their four years. See Table 2 below for a breakdown of our pathways (from the descriptive analysis) crossed with amount (from the cluster analysis)  and the number of students who followed each pathway. Our dataset did not have any participants who only participated in LPs because our participants were drawn from either an LDP or an academic course in their freshman year offered through their institution.

 

Table 2
Pathways
  High Participation Mid Participation Low Participation
Definitions 12 or more total areas of participation 4 to 11 total areas of participation 3 or fewer total areas of participation
N N N
Academic Only academic participation     13 7.6%
LDP Only LDP participation     6 3.5%
LPa Only LP participation      
Academic/LDP Academic & LDP participation 4 2.4% 3 1.8% 5 2.9%
Academic/LP Academic & LP participation   26 15.3% 6 3.5%
LDP/LP LDP & LP participation 9 5.3% 29 17.1% 5 2.9%
Mixed Participation in all 3 categories 28 16.5% 35 20.6% 1 0.6%
Note. Total N= 170. Ns are how many participants are in each pathway.

aCould not have positional only because of the way we collected the data.

 

To better illustrate a few of these pathways, we provide 5 brief summaries from our student surveys and interviews below. We chose these summaries because they vary by amount of participation based on our cluster analysis (low, medium, or high) and type of participation based on our descriptive analysis. Table 3 uses the same formatting as Table 2 but only provides the information for the interviewed participants, illustrating the broad scope across pathways these interviews covered.

 

Table 3
Interview Pathways
  High Participation Mid Participation Low Participation
Definitions 12 or more total areas of participation 4 to 11 total areas of participation 3 or fewer total areas of participation
N N N
Academic Only academic participation            
LDP Only LDP participation         1 6.25%
LPa Only LP participation            
Academic/LDP Academic & LDP participation            
Academic/LP Academic & LP participation 1 6.25% 1* 6.25% 1* 6.25%
LDP/LP LDP and LP participation 1 6.25% 1* 6.25% 1* 6.25%
Mixed Participation in all 3 categories 4* 25% 1 6.25%    
Note. Total N= 16. Ns are how many participants are in each pathway.

*One interview from this group was included in this article within the example summaries.

aCould not have positional because of the way we collected the data.

 

The first example is a student who had a high level of participation in leadership courses, LDPs (internal and external), and LPs.

(David), a communications major, began his college experience in his University’s LDP. He applied for and joined an additional LDP that year, which is a program for a select group of students. He mentions this about these early LDP opportunities: “I feel like my entire college experience was put on a different trajectory because of [LDP]. I don’t know what would’ve happened if I, I couldn’t possibly tell you what my life would’ve looked like at [University] if I didn’t have that experience beforehand.” As a result, he continued his leader development for the next three years. In his sophomore year, he continued with both LDPs, took a required leadership course, and joined a student activity campus advisory board. In his junior and senior years, he continued all experiences from sophomore year and added a new role as a New Student Orientation Leader. He additionally joined Alternative Spring Breaks (a national program where students spend their spring break doing a community service project as a group) to gain more service experience. During these years, David also attended the Lead 365 National Conference, NODA National Conference, and NACA National Conference as a part of the LDP programs. (David) is now employed as a recruiter for a human resources company in New York City.

This second example is a student who had a mid-level of participation, beginning with her University’s LDP but spending most of her time in LPs.

Although (Lilith), an English and Theatre major, was involved in her school’s LDP her freshman year, she spent all four years participating in various groups, some as a participant and some in LPs. In her freshman year, she applied and was selected for two LPs. One position was unpaid as a tour guide and student ambassador. That led to a paid position in the Office of Admissions as a Student Coordinator during her second semester, which she continued through all four years of school. When discussing her position within the Office of Admissions, she stated, “I loved the interpersonal connection that I made with everyone, and just being able to evolve and grow as a person, which is what I really wanted out of my college experience.” She also joined a sorority, which required her to volunteer for LPs each year, resulting in roles as Public Relations Representative, Standards Representative, Events Coordinator, and Parliamentarian. In her sophomore and junior years, she worked with [university organization], which helps first-year students transition to college. She was also heavily involved in several groups and clubs in a non-leadership capacity. She was involved with her campus’ performing arts theatre sophomore through senior year, adding in her campus’s theatre festival her last two years. She was also involved with the campus chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, an honor society for English majors, during her sophomore and junior years. Finally, she worked as a barista at the cafe on campus her freshman through her senior year. (Lilith) currently works as a freelance product listing specialist.

The third example is a student who had a mid-level of participation, beginning with his University’s academic leadership program and held some LPs.

(Jared), a business administration major with a concentration in human resource management, opted into his school’s leadership course his freshman year through his school’s Honors College, and he then spent all four years participating in various clubs and groups in LPs. He went on to take three more honors leadership courses throughout his time as an undergraduate. When discussing these courses, (Jared) stated that they “enhanced the experience a lot more and encouraged a lot more collaboration and leadership than just ordinary classes.” In his freshman year, he began to seek out leadership opportunities, and the Dance Marathon group at his school offered for new students to join in LPs to begin gaining leadership experience. For all four years of school, he was the leader of a group of about eight to ten people, varying throughout the semester. They were solely responsible for all of the fundraising initiatives for Dance Marathon. In his sophomore year, he joined his campus’s Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) group on campus. However, he would not hold a leadership position with SHRM until his Junior year, when he became the vice president. (Jared) stayed in this LP until he graduated. As vice president, he was in charge of a lot of the documentation pieces, making sure that they were meeting the requirements needed to be certified as a chapter and engaging members by booking speakers for events and meetings. (Jared) now works as an HR specialist.

The fourth example is a student who had low participation through her University’s academic leadership courses and LDP.

(Jamie) was a marketing major and was enrolled in her University’s honors program. She was in the program for her freshman year only and took one academic leadership course. In her sophomore year, she transferred to a different, larger university. After which, she started joining more clubs and gaining a couple of LPs in her junior and senior years. In her junior year, she joined ‘Women in Business’ as their event planning coordinator and became a member of her school’s American Marketing Association chapter. When discussing why she chose those organizations, she stated, “I just wanted to be around people who also liked marketing and hopefully gain some more experience in marketing and business-focused clubs.” In (Jamie’s) senior year, she left the ‘Women in Business’ club but remained in the American Marketing Association chapter and was elected their vice president. She now works in freelance financial positions.

The fifth example is a student who had low participation through his University’s LDP and held few LPs.

(Tommy) was a pre-medicine major and was enrolled in his University’s LDP his freshman year, though he would not complete the full program. Despite not completing the program, it seemed to have a lasting impact. He stated it “helped [him] be more introspective” and “more responsive and sort of lean on [his] strengths.” His freshman year, he would join a pre-professional organization, the pre-physician’s assistant (pre-PA) club and stay in it throughout his senior year. However, he would not hold any leadership positions within the club. His sophomore year, he joined a charity organization on campus and became a part of the fundraising team. Junior year, (Tommy) became a captain of part of the fundraising committee and held the position through his senior year. (Tommy) now works at a hospital in their clinical research department as a data coordinator.

Discussion

The purpose of this study was to determine the pathways that students choose when presented with an array of leader development possibilities, including academic, LDP, and LP opportunities. Although students chose a number of different paths, interviews suggested that most paths emerged based on serendipity or chance rather than on preplanning, aligning with the theories of Allen & Hartman (2009) on how students choose areas of leader participation. While there will always be some element of chance during leadership development–being elected (or not), being selected (or not), we believe that with goals and forethought, students can be encouraged to pick and choose leadership development opportunities that are right for them and their situations and that are balanced in terms of developing a conceptual understanding of leadership, building leadership skills and competencies, growing and changing as individuals, and receiving feedback regarding how they are doing with all these things (Conger, 1992).

The pathways chosen by students suggest that only a little over one-third of college students take advantage of a mix of leader development opportunities. Each type of leadership opportunity we measured provide different skills from each other- academic opportunities provide students with leadership theory, LDPs provide a place for students to learn new skills, and LPs allow students to apply what they learned in both academic opportunities and LDPs- and it is concerning that two-thirds of our participants missed out on one or more of these pieces (Sessa et al., 2014; Sessa, 2017; Stech, 2008). We found that some students within the highest cluster of participation had over thirty areas of participation in just four years, while some stopped participating completely after just one LDP or academic program. These various factors come together to create the pathways, which can help to suggest future directions for research and suggested best practices for practitioners, both of which we discuss further before.

Limitations and Implications for Research

All of our participants were already interested in leader development prior to entering their freshman year. It would be expected that motivation to lead, or the motivation to participate in leader development programs within this study, would be significantly higher than non-participant students because selecting these programs would reflect some aspect of willingness to lead. In addition, this sample fails to take into account students who take on leadership roles later or differently. Finally, as we saw, our sample, for various reasons, did not allow us to explore all possible pathways.

We intend to further analyze these pathways by taking a closer look at the qualitative data from the interviews. For example, there is some indication in the interviews that paths emerged based on serendipity or chance rather than on preplanning which aligns with research by Allen & Hartman (2009). Future research should include all students who participate in leader development to determine if all available pathways are followed. In addition, future research can address why students choose the pathways that they do.

Finally, we can explore if and what are the consequences of the different pathways at the end of college and post-college. Exploring the consequences of pathways can help to illuminate lingering questions regarding the effects of missing one or two areas of participation or if there is a point at which too much participation can actually harm development. For instance, can students truly take advantage of everything these opportunities offer if they are involved in too many at once, and can they still learn theory and skills and then appropriately apply them? Time is a finite resource, and we believe it unlikely that students would be able to take full advantage of leader development opportunities in such an instance.

Practical Implications and Recommendations

What can we do to improve college students’ leader development throughout college? In this section, we outline some suggestions for college faculty and administrators to help students plan and develop their leader development pathway in a well-rounded and balanced manner as Conger (1992) suggested including developing a conceptual understanding of leadership, building leader skills and competencies, growing and changing as individuals, and receiving feedback regarding how they are doing with all these things. The following recommendations for postsecondary educators and administrators may help students develop their leader development during their college years.

Community of Practice

We first suggest creating a leader development community of practice (CP) across the institution. Pennington (2005) highlighted common problems that leader development programs face–duplicated efforts, the absence of collaboration, and a lack of faculty support. This CP serves two functions that solve these problems. First, interacting as a CP of faculty, administration, and staff who share an interest in leadership will provide continual development within the CP itself. The positive influence on students will emerge as the CP members continue to develop in their understanding of leadership and in their practice as leaders. As a result, staff can communicate and model more developed leadership practices with students.

The second function is knowing who is doing what on the topic of leadership across the institution, which can help CP members mentor students to consider a broad array of possibilities. Further, interactions between CP members and students build meaningful relationships, allowing for conversations regarding leadership and leader values, shaping of the leader, and improving educational outcomes (Dugan & Komives, 2010). For example, if a faculty member knows that a student they are advising is an athlete, they can point them to the student-athlete leader development team advisor to find out how to join. Additionally, students who split their time between two or more departments, such as having two majors, a dual-major, or a major and a minor, would benefit from cross-communication between the departments they are involved in so they can develop a unified leader development plan.

Leadership Mosaic

In addition to communities of practice, it is useful for an institution to familiarize itself with the concept of a leadership mosaic and its own leadership mosaic. The concept of a leadership mosaic comes from Scroggs, et al. (2009), who described the available leader development components on campus as a mosaic since it is impossible to understand the full picture from one singular piece. Understanding the institution’s leadership mosaic is not only about the final product but also about the purposeful placement of each part to create the whole picture. In this way, it’s not only important to provide students with a variety of developmental opportunities but also to assist them in choosing the correct opportunities in order to fill in their own mosaics.

To create the mosaic, we suggest inventorying your institution’s leader development opportunities, what categories they fall under, and what undergraduate year they become available to students. For categorizing opportunities, we suggest the categories we used to develop the Pathways– academic, LDPs (internal and external), and LPs (include and note paid/unpaid, elected/selected/volunteer positions). Each category provides a different piece of the mosaic– academics help students understand leadership theory, LDPs allow them to grow their skills, and LPs provide first-hand experiences to apply the theories and skills they have learned (Sessa et al., 2014; Sessa, 2017; Stech, 2008). In this way, each piece of the mosaic builds upon the others until a complete image is visible. Creating an inventory not only improves the visibility of opportunities to students but also for faculty and staff who may not be aware of the programs and opportunities offered by other departments.

Advisement Program

Implementing an advisement program composed of interested faculty, staff, and administration can guide students in their leadership growth and development and organically create a leadership pipeline (Komives et al., 2006; Rosch & Stephens, 2017; Egan et al., 2020). In addition, a program where higher-level students mentor lower-level students can also be put in place. This structure would add to senior students’ leader development while guiding newer students. We suggest designing the program to help each student develop their mosaic by assessing where they currently are in their leader development and helping direct them to where they need to be and how to achieve it. The purpose of the program would be to encourage students, to the extent possible, to consider developing a conceptual understanding of leadership, build leadership skills and competencies, grow and change as individuals, and receive feedback regarding how they are doing with all these things. Leadership development does not occur automatically simply as a result of doing leadership-related activities (Day 2001).

Institutions also need to keep track at a high level of who is doing what. Implementing such a program would allow for the tracking of students and their leader development through all four or more years of their undergraduate education. Often, once a student is in a leadership role and is visible as a leader to others, they tend to get elected, selected, and appointed into additional leadership roles over other students. Rather than allowing a few students to take on many leadership roles, the focus should be on encouraging many students to take on a few roles. While Komives et al. (2006) found that immersive experiences facilitate leader development, Sessa et al. (2018) found that students learn valuable leadership lessons by switching from holding an LP in one organization to another. It would benefit all students’ leadership development to experience the depth of a few roles rather than the breadth of many roles. In this way, it additionally allows for more students to take on the available LPs and further their leadership development. Each aspect of possible participation we studied (academics, LDPs, and LPs) all have different benefits and encourage growth in differing areas of leadership. These areas help create well-rounded leaders who are just as comfortable in LPs as they are with theory and personal development. Additionally, theory and development will impact a student’s ability to lead in various situations effectively. Many higher learning institutions boast that they are shaping future leaders’ minds, but few actually are. Students are finishing their education with gaps in their leadership development, and they are not the effective leaders that they could be.

Addressing Needs and Barriers

Leader development and mentoring programs will need to be flexible and adaptable, considering student level of development, needs, and context. There are possible barriers for some students regarding the opportunities they can choose. Just as students are presented with an array of developmental opportunities, various constraints in a student’s personal life may limit or entirely prohibit participation in developmental leadership opportunities.

For example, the prevalence of students who do not attend college directly after high school is increasing, with 40% of undergraduate students being non-traditional (over 25 years old, low-income, employed full or part-time) (CLASP, 2015). Additionally, almost all of the institutions we collected data from had students that came from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Demands on personal life from financial constraints to familial obligations may take priority over attaining an LP or taking part in an LDP. Students may also be more motivated to pursue paid positions, influencing a more diverse membership. In fact, Salisbury et al. (2012) found a positive relationship between off-campus employment and leadership capacity. Mentors and coaches can help students identify barriers and turn them into opportunities in which students can be encouraged to use their leadership knowledge and skills in all aspects of their life. Knowledge and skills can cross over between collegiate settings and outside settings.

Leader Development Portfolio

Students should be encouraged to develop a leader development portfolio (Sessa, 2017). This would be a systematic and organized collection of evidence that the student can use to monitor, understand, and communicate their change and growth in leadership knowledge, skills, abilities. The portfolio would help the student understand and take control of their own development as a leader.

Summary

In this paper, we outline common pathways found in our study and use those to suggest procedures that institutions can apply and implement that will allow students to make better decisions and take control of their pathways with guided intent.

Reflection Questions

  1. How may the benefits of leadership development opportunities differ by what leader development opportunity is participated in? Should students try to participate in academics, LDPs, and LPs?
  2. What is the leadership mosaic in our school? What are our strengths and developmental areas?
  3. How can we (and should we) encourage students to participate in multiple leader development opportunities? How many is too many?
  4. What barriers may be present that limit students in participating in leader development opportunities? How can we eliminate them or help students work around them?

References

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CLASP. (2015, January 14). Yesterday’s Non-Traditional Student is Today’s Traditional Student. The Center for Law and Social Policy. http://www.clasp.org/resources-and-publications/publication-1/CPES-Nontraditional-students-pdf.pdf

Conger, J. (1992). Learning to lead: The art of transforming managers into leaders. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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Day, D. V., & Zaccaro, S. J. (2004). Toward a Science of Leader Development. In D. V. Day, S. J. Zaccaro, & S. M. Halpin (Eds.), Series in applied psychology. Leader development for transforming organizations: Growing leaders for tomorrow (p. 383–399). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

DiPaolo, D.G. (2002). Voices of Leadership. The Journal of Leadership Education, 1, 62-77.

Dugan, J. P., & Komives, S. R. (2010). Influences on college students’ capabilities for socially responsible leadership. Journal of College Student Development, 51(5), 525-549. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.2010.0009

Dymnicki, A. B., & Henry, D. B. (2011). Use of Clustering Methods to Understand More about the Case. Methodological Innovations Online, 6(2), 6–26. https://doi.org/10.4256/mio.2010.0033

Egan, John D. (2019). Exploring Alumni Valuation of an Undergraduate Leadership Program. Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1946. https://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/etd/1946

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Komives, S. R., Longerbeam, S. D., Owen, J. E., Mainella, F. C., & Osteen, L. (2006). A leadership identity development model: Applications from a grounded theory. Journal of College Student Development, 47(4), 401–418. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.2006.0048

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Pennington, P. (2005). The leadership pie: Grab your piece before it’s gone!  Journal of Leadership Education. 4(1), 75-78. https://doi.org/12806/V4/I1/AB1

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Rosch, D. M., & Stephens, C. M. (2017). Campus involvement as a predictor for durable leadership development in conjunction with leadership program participation. Journal of College Student Development, 58(7), 1107-1112. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.2017.0087

Salisbury, M. H., Pascarella, E. T., Padgett, R. D., & Blaich, C. (2012). The effects of work on leadership development among first-year college students. Journal of College Student Development, 53(2), 300-324.

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Author Biographies:

Catrina Notari is a current Ph.D. student in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Her research interests include leadership development, shared leadership, workplace psychological constructs, and psychometrics.

Margaret Toich is a current I/O Psychology Ph.D. student at The University of Tulsa. Margaret’s research interests include leadership development, personality in selection contexts, and survey response effort.

Valerie Sessa is a professor of psychology at Montclair State University. Professor Sessa’s research focuses on leadership learning and development in college students as well as how team members co-construct the emergence of leadership in their teams.

Bragger is a professor of psychology at Montclair State University where she teaches in the graduate programs and is the director of the Leadership Development and Civic Engagement minor. Her research interests include servant leadership, leadership development, stereotype threat at work, work-family conflict, and faith in the work place.

Part II: Reimagining Leadership Education in Student Affairs Through a Critical Lens | Teig & Dilworth

written by: Trisha Teig & DaShawn Dilworth

Abstract

Leadership education in student affairs must address inherent oppressive practices that exclude certain groups based on historical legacy, knowledge, capital, and practice. We have come to a point in the leadership educator community of practice to move beyond the cool kids’ table in the lunchroom – Part II of this thought paper explores: How do we purposefully redirect our actions to reflect a growing and inclusive leadership educator community in student affairs?

In the first article in this series, we asked leadership educators to reflect on the current status of leadership education within higher education and student affairs while also considering the historical legacy of oppression in the leadership space. At first glance, these considerations and reflections can create feelings of hopelessness and cynicism. While it can be easy to become disillusioned from the weight of attempting to change the oppressive practices and ideologies woven into the daily conceptions of leadership, we are asking our audience to do something much harder: to have hope for the change we want to see in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. To clarify, we do not mean for our fellow leadership educators to engage in a form of “blind hope” or simply hoping for change to happen. Rather, we are asking for individuals to engage in the practice of critical hope (Dugan, 2017).

Leadership education has changed since its inception into higher education and student affairs and continues to transform with the continued growth of practice, ideation, and research that pushes the boundaries of what we understand leadership education practice to be. Critical hope is necessary in this process as both a means to critique the status quo, such as the concept of the “Cool Kids Table” (CKT),  and as a labor of love for leadership education and a hope that it can grow to be a more inclusive, liberatory space than it is currently. Critical hope asks us not only to critique and restructure but to also dream more boldly as we build towards ideas about the future.

Hope is also not a stagnant or singular place of being it is a constant cycle of engagement, disengagement, and re-engagement. When describing her experience learning and growing within social movements, Alicia Garza (2020) reflected that our connections to social movements are like “waves that ebb and flow” (p. 20).  She describes the waves through  the lens of our environment and how our context determines our connection to them, but ultimately, we “recommit to them over and over again even when they break our hearts, because they are essential to our survival” (Garza, 2020, p. 20).

How we practice, teach, and research leadership should mirror Garza’s (2020) process of riding the waves. We must account for a new world beyond the status quo. While we may be dissatisfied with or cynical about the potential for change within leadership education, ultimately, we are responsible for changing its direction in creating the future we need. In this paper, we put forth alternatives to the “Cool Kids Table” (CKT) to address the barriers we previously outlined (Teig & Dilworth, 2021) for a direct opportunity to broaden the access and impact of leadership education. Our list is not meant to be exhaustive or finite but to provide an opportunity to think more critically about the structures within leadership education that continue to create barriers rather than bridges. Ultimately, we seek to take action to transform into a deeply inclusive leadership education field.

Addressing Exclusion by Knowledge

Leadership knowledge is seen as a key element to leadership education; crucial scholarship and practices of leadership education both coincide with and guide how we practice and teach leadership  (Komives et al., 2011). In addressing the barriers created by the sequestering of leadership knowledge, we must create and enact structures that both expand access to and allow for cross-pollination of knowledge. The CKT concept operates through the consolidation of knowledge to a select few. Additionally, the CKT concept relies on the assumption that these ideas are/will be available to everyone with an unspoken penalty levied against those who do not have access to this knowledge.

One way to make knowledge more open is through expanding access to research related to leadership education outside of “typical” academic journals and periodicals such as the Journal of Leadership Education, the Journal of Leadership Studies, or New Directions for Student Leadership. It is not to say these journals are not essential sites of information regarding leadership education and should not be frequented. However, we must think more intentionally about how to share our knowledge outside of the traditional research circles. Scholars of leadership education most often place our research in tried and true academic spaces rather than focusing on sharing out to the widest audience possible. When it comes to academic journals, it is also necessary to question how requirements for submissions are structures to uphold “typical” narratives (in representation, methods, and theoretical faming) regarding leadership education. Do these narratives promote conformity towards a singular ideology of how leadership education scholarship should be produced?

Cross-pollination, or the collection and collaboration of interdisciplinary ideas across disciplines and communities, is another idea that must be taken more seriously within leadership education. Collaborative and communal practices expand not only access to leadership knowledge but also quality and reliability of that knowledge. Because knowledge and practice are inherently interwoven, there have to be extensive considerations of how practice impacts knowledge. This is especially true when working with different student populations while being open to new concepts we learn from students.

While some of this work is currently happening in leadership education, it is still important to note where it is not. It is incredibly easy for new ideas and ways of conceptualizing leadership to be dismissed because they do not connect to conventional understanding in leadership education. If knowledge and ways of knowing are truly dynamic, then we invite you to consider these questions surrounding knowledge as a form of capital:

  • Leadership education practices and leadership theories are evolving. How do we as a community increase access to new knowledge across all functional areas where we engage with leadership development?
  • In what ways are curriculum and practical experiences in graduate preparation programs evolving to engage the topic of leadership education within the roles of future practitioners?
  • In the space of practitioners, how is leadership knowledge being challenged and expanded to create more extensive programming for new knowledge building among students and professionals?
  • As scholars, how are we utilizing critical frameworks to create more impactful leadership theories which are asset-based and focused on student populations often ignored by the “popular” leadership models (Dugan, 2017; Dugan & Henderson, 2021)?

Addressing Exclusion by Capital

Exclusion by capital may be one of the most difficult factors to deconstruct and reconstruct in the leadership education landscape in student affairs. Because we integrate our new professionals through a process of socialization into a community of practice (Priest & Seemiller, 2018; Seemiller & Priest, 2015, 2017), the rights of passage which make this journey significant may also be the elements perpetuating exclusion. As we attempt to unravel the complexities of social capital in our field, three key factors arise to consider. First, we must consider mentorship and sponsorship from a purposeful and inclusive, critical lens. Next, we must examine our practices of connection and hiring within the field. Finally, we must explore how programs who are doing exemplary work in critical, culturally relevant leadership education can expand their capital beyond their institutional scope to extend the circle of connections.

While we know mentorship and sponsorship are crucial to success for new professionals, particularly for women of color, white women, and LBGTQ+ community members (Friday, 2014; Scott, 2022), the practice of mentorship/sponsorship should be envisaged and executed critically. We want to highlight important conversations occurring in spaces for people of color and queer folx to enhance and emphasize their efforts and journey. This is being done beautifully in small spaces of student affairs, but we contend this has not intentionally transitioned to be a common practice within leadership education. We can learn from and apply mentorship/sponsorship practices as intentional access points to disrupt exclusionary practices.

Connections and relationship building are deeply ingrained in student affairs. We must adopt critical hiring and retention practices informed by diversity, equity, and inclusion scholars (Newsome et al., 2022). These efforts should carefully insert safeguards to disrupt implicit biases and broaden the scope and scale of our searches and retention strategies. We must redefine our expectations of who has been prepared for or served as a “leadership educator” and who can therefore be hired to assume these roles. We must be aware of the environment perpetuated in our leadership educator spaces, including considering the impact of whiteness and anti-Blackness on the culture of the office or department on minoritized leadership education professionals (Belisle & Dixon 2022; Bondi, 2012; Stewart, 2019).

Finally, we encourage practitioners to notice, consider, and explore possibilities when highlighting “best practice” leadership education programs in higher education/student affairs. Yes, we can and should be learning from these programs. Yes, they are crucial factors in expanding knowledge within the field. And yes, exemplar programs facilitate a continuation of the CKT conundrum. Programs that are held up as strong examples can hold significant capital or influence in the field. As a result, these programs can inadvertently (or intentionally) overshadow, minimize, or lead to the disregarding of individuals and programs not associated with these paragons of the field.

As we grapple with troubling the practice of exclusion by social capital, we invite you to consider the following questions:

  • We recognize the power of mentorship and sponsorship relationships – but how does this practice perpetuate systemic exclusion (Frazier & Bazner, 2022)? How can we call to question intrinsic bias within them and intentionally make practices more inclusive?
  • How can the work of connecting others dissuade new people, perspectives, ideas from coming in?
  • Where does hiring “fit” translate to someone who has similar ideas/experiences/identities to the existing team or leader? How does this correlate to how we hire within leadership education? How do we expand resources to ensure appropriate focus and support considering diversity, equity, and inclusion in hiring (Fradella, 2018; Reece et al., 2019)?
  • What schools are known because of their faculty who then connect others in the field? Where is this practice positive and where is it negative? Can this be better managed?

Addressing Exclusion by Practice

Leadership education training should not be limited to short conferences, intensives, or institutes such as Leadership Educators Academy (LEA) or Leadership Educators Institute (LEI). While these opportunities are impactful, they are not comprehensive and cannot meet the need of all student affairs professionals expected to do leadership education work. Learning to become a leadership educator can take place through investment in professional development across multitude of development opportunities (including LEA and LEI). Creating opportunities to both learn about and challenge contemporary leadership education ideas helps professionals affirm their work while also introducing new ideas about how this work can be done.

As part of learning about and challenging leadership education, we can and should foster the development of graduate students as leadership educators across all graduate preparation programs (Kroll & Guvendiren, 2021; Teig, 2018). Student affairs professionals are consistently asked to perform leadership education. Entry-level housing professionals are expected to facilitate leadership development for resident assistants to prepare to support their residents (Manz, 2016). Orientation professionals develop extensive leadership training for orientation leaders to welcome new students to campus (Barnes, 2015). Campus programming boards and student governments require training (Aymoldanovna et al., 2015; Brill et al., 2009; Wooten et al., 2012) on leadership actions to support the needs of the entire student population (Hastings & Kane, 2018).  Student organizations such as Black Student Alliance, Latinx Student Organization, and PRIDE need support navigating leadership and campus environment (Dunkl et al., 2014; Renn & Ozaki, 2010).

Given the breadth of this work across functional areas, it is important for student affairs faculty to train incoming professionals as leadership educators. By becoming not only familiar with historical models of leadership theory but also challenging problematic theories of leadership we can continuously shift the needle of leadership education competency. This provides new student affairs professionals with knowledge and skills and prepares them to support the leadership learning needs of their future student leaders in a multitude of capacities.

Teaching leadership in this way must be expanded in order to combat current exclusionary practices. Expanding graduate leadership education courses, in turn, makes the teaching and crafting of leadership education within student affairs foundational to how all future graduate students are educated.

  • If we believe the ideology “leadership is a continual process with no finite arrival”, how are we training employees and students to reimagine the contemporary practices in leadership education?
  • How are graduate programs in higher education/student affairs prioritizing systematized leadership educator training as a significant practice in preparing new professionals?

Facing Our Fears

In article one, we proposed the perpetuation of the CKT was influenced by fears inherent in these systems of exclusion. The fears included fear of retribution, discomfort, rejection, and abandoning tradition. We self-impose boundaries framed in fear and then these boundaries limit how we understand and see ourselves as leadership educators. In Harro’s (2000) Cycle of Socialization, she framed fear as a core factor perpetuating oppression. To understand and address fear, Harro (2000) envisioned liberation through self-love, balance, joy, and support as crucial elements in disrupting cycles of inequity.

 

Figure Description: Four circles overlap to create a Venn diagram showing how foundations of a historical legacy of exclusion and specific exclusions of capital, knowledge, and practice interact to support and perpetuate fears. The overlap of the top circle, exclusion by knowledge, with the left circle, exclusion by capital, creates the space for fear of retribution. The overlap of the top circle with the right circle,  exclusion by practice, produces the space for fear of discomfort. The bottom circle, historical legacy, overlaps with the left circle, exclusion by capital, to produce the space, fear of rejection. The bottom circle overlaps with the right circle, exclusion by practice, to create the space, fear of abandoning tradition. In the middle of the Venn diagram, where all four circles overlap, sits the “cool kids’ table”.

Troubling Tradition as Opportunity for Innovation: At the intersection of historical legacy and exclusion by practice is a fear of abandoning tradition. We encourage our community to consider, how often does “tradition” no longer serve the communities we support in leadership growth? How can we learn from alternative perspectives of understanding leadership to broaden our pedagogy and practice (Liu, 2020)? When are we blindly following tradition without reflecting on the impetus of its narrative?

Re-writing Rejection:  When considering historical legacy and exclusion by capital, we face fears of rejection. These include fear of rejection from the prevailing leadership education spaces if you are not a perfect fit or do not have access to the known cool kids who can support your leadership educator development. Addressing this fear is incumbent upon all current leadership educators who help facilitate the socialization into the leadership education realm. Can we re-write how we extend our networks and welcome others (particularly others from minoritized identities) into our spaces through mentorship, sponsorship, and purposeful intervention?

A Rebuttal to Retribution: In the overlap of exclusions by capital and knowledge, we can see a fear of retribution if efforts for change are not accepted by those who hold power. Many of us would envisage retribution as an overt act of dominance to enforce control. We contend the more invasive and concerning factor of this fear is represented in a more nuanced, insidious nature. If we fear the possibility of not progressing in our careers by not using the correct language, texts, or ideas, and we internalize this trepidation even if it has no grounding, we fall prey to an invisible fear of retribution. A call to disrupt this harmful pattern can include affirming young professionals and scholars in emphasizing new ideas and critical lenses to leadership learning (Dugan & Henderson, 2021).

Engaging Dissonance, Embracing Discomfort, Enabling Support: “Champions of the CKT may be uncomfortable changing the status quo because it has most benefited those who have highest access” (Teig & Dilworth, 2021, p. 4). Student affairs practitioners have long touted the strength of cognitive dissonance as a space for growth (Bresciani, 2008). Taylor and Baker (2019) noted that pushing for discomfort for the sake of dissonance without enabling a supportive learning environment can lead to damaging results. We invite our community to embrace the dissonance of knowing leadership education has not been accessible to all as a catalyst for examining how discomfort can lead to growth. We further encourage conversation to provide a supportive environment to engender this development beyond the fear of discomfort. By acknowledging and considering how privilege has benefited those with access to the CKT, we can own the discomfort in the effort for needed change and support one another to tread an alternative path.

Hoping and Dreaming Forward

Leadership education in student affairs practice has reached an impasse. As scholars, practitioners and life-long learners, we have the challenge as well as the opportunity ahead of us to reshape the entire landscape of leadership education. Yet, transition inevitably produces growing pains. Fear and the interlocking structures of oppression continue to serve as roadblocks to the world of leadership education we imagine to be possible. However, as we mentioned before, the journey to dismantle and create a more inclusive, liberatory leadership education practice requires hope. Again, this is not a myopic version of hope that we will somehow stumble upon the future we want. Rather, it is a critical and steadfast hope that fosters a sense of constant movement towards the future we want to see for leadership education within higher education and student affairs.

With critical hope, the exclusionary lenses and subsequent fears mentioned in our first article and above are navigable barriers to be noticed, discussed, and overcome. We invite student affairs professionals to join in this conversation and consider:

  • Leadership education must purposefully move towards inclusion and justice. This is affirmed by the newest National Leadership Education Research Agenda (Andenoro & Skendall, 2020) as well as competencies of ACPA and NASPA. However, the actual practice of living out this value offers significant challenges we are still collectively navigating.
  • Higher Education/Student Affairs must focus on promoting alternative lenses of teaching and studying leadership. These alternative lenses already exist and are also continuing to be developed, but they must be distributed and adopted in a deep and purposeful manner across the practitioner and academic arenas of the field.
  • We must engage in a deep conversation on mentorship, sponsorship, and hiring fit in consideration of identities. In a deeply relational field, inclusion for some can often be exclusion for others. Where are we addressing this issue in leadership education?
  • Higher Education/Student Affairs must consider how we do the work of leadership education and prioritize leadership educator training in graduate education. We cannot continue the cycle of expecting student affairs professionals to facilitate leadership learning if we do not offer comprehensive training on how to be a leadership educator.

The other component that must go in tandem with a sense of hope is a will to dream. Dreaming is necessary in constructing a reality that is yet to exist because we must push ourselves outside of the boundaries that were constructed before us. We must dream as if we are creating worlds of science fiction, worlds where power and authority are shared equitably along with knowledge being completely accessible. Science fiction is a relevant comparison because oftentimes constructing the worlds we need means imaging and seeing futures for ourselves that can seem impossible, imaginary, or utopian. We are asking fellow leadership educators to not simply imagine what the field of leadership education would look like without the barriers created by fear and oppressive forces. Instead, we seek to imagine beyond the elimination of barriers to the construction of a new and dynamic leadership learning reality.

As a community of practice, leadership educators in student affairs must engage in this space of dreaming and critical hope to move beyond the “Cool Kids’ Table.” Reifying insular, nepotistic, and legacy-driven connections and narrow theoretical framings limits the opportunity for opening to a new, expansive, and welcoming space for the leadership education profession in student affairs. There are great opportunities for scholarship to understand how and where leadership educator preparation is occurring; this needs to be a priority in research moving forward. The communities of leadership education and student affairs must work to make visible and disrupt barriers caused by systemic practices persistent in our professional spaces.

Doing this work will ensure a more accessible, diverse, and inclusive leadership educator field for the future. When we expand beyond the CKT, we eliminate questions of worth and “fit” experienced by educators whose ideas could transform the field. And some may ask, “If we move in this direction, then is everyone is a cool kid?” We contend the dismantling of oppressive systems and practices simultaneously begins to fade the desirability of being/becoming a “cool kid” as the concept is inherently exclusionary. When we move beyond the CKT, we move beyond the ideology of knowledge, capital, and practice as something only meant for a predetermined, select few. When we disrupt this ideology, we create novel processes for newer professionals to facilitate their growth in knowledge, skills, and abilities to join the conversation, dreaming into critical hope and creating a more inclusive and expansive field of leadership education.

References

Andenoro, A. C., & Skendall, K. C. (2020). The National Leadership Education Research Agenda 2020–2025: Advancing the state of leadership education scholarship. Journal of Leadership Studies, 14(3), 33-38.

Aymoldanovna, A. A., Zhetpisbaeva, B. A., Kozybaevna, K. U., & Kadirovna, S. M. (2015). Leadership development university students in the activities of student government. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 197, 2131-2136.

Barnes, J. W. (2015). A legacy of leadership: Involving returning orientation leaders in recruitment and selection. Journal of College Orientation, Transition, and Retention, 23(1), 137-150.

Belisle N. & Dixon M. (2022). I am Black and … —Complexities of being a marginalized multiracial higher education and student affairs professional in times of heightened racial tensions. In M.P. Johnston-Guerrero , L.D. Combs, & V.K. Malaney-Brown (eds). Preparing for higher education’s mixed race future. Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi-org.du.idm.oclc.org/10.1007/978-3-030-88821-3_4

Bondi, S. (2012). Students and institutions protecting whiteness as property: A critical race theory analysis of student affairs preparation. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 49(4), 397-414, DOI: 10.1515/jsarp-2012-6381

Bresciani, M. L. (2008). Global competencies in student affairs/services professionals: A literature synthesis. College Student Journal, 42(3), 906–919.

Brill, K., Croft, L., Ogle, J., Russell, S., Smedick, B., Hicks, M., & Coats, J. (2009). Competency guide for college student leaders—Newest project by the NACA education advisory group. Campus Activities Programming Magazine.

Dugan, J. P. (2017). Leadership theory: Cultivating critical perspectives. Jossey-Bass.

Dugan, J. P., & Henderson, L. (2021). The complicit omission: Leadership development’s radical silence on equity. Journal of College Student Development, 62(3), 379-382. doi: 10.1353/csd.2021.0030

Dugan, J. P., & Humbles, A. (2018). A paradigm shift in leadership education: Integrating critical perspectives into leadership development. In J. P. Dugan (Ed.) New Directions in Student Leadership: No. 159, Integrating critical perspectives into leadership development, pp. 9-26. Jossey-Bass.

Dunkel, N. W., Schuh, J. H., & Chrystal-Green, N. E. (2014). Advising student groups and organizations. John Wiley & Sons.

Fradella, H. F. (2018). Supporting strategies for equity, diversity, and inclusion in higher education faculty hiring. In S. Gertz, B. Huang, & L. Cyr (eds). Diversity and inclusion in higher education and societal contexts. Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-70175-2_7

Frazier, C. J., & Bazner, K. (2022). Who gets tapped by whom?: Cross-racial mentorship in student affairs. In H. Pichon, & Y. Mutakabbir (Ed.), African American leadership and mentoring through purpose, preparation, and preceptors (pp. 89-100). IGI Global. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-7998-8206-0.ch005

Friday, Y. C. (2014). The impact of mentorship and sponsorship on the job satisfaction of female student affairs administrators (Order No. 3617408). Available from ProQuest Central; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global; Social Science Premium Collection. (1527107887).

Garza, A. (2020). The Purpose of power: How we come together when we fall apart. One World: New York.

Harro, B. (2010). Sticks & Stones: Understanding implicit bias, microaggressions, and stereotypes. In Readings in diversity and social justice, M. Adams (Ed.), pp. 1-9.  Routledge.

Kroll, J. R. & Guvendiren, J. (2021). Student affairs practitioners as leadership educators?: A content analysis of preparatory programs. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice. doi: 10.1080/19496591.2021.1975547

Manz, J. W. (2016). Exploring resident assistants’ demonstration of socially responsible leadership (Doctoral dissertation, Virginia Tech).

Newsome, A., Folkes, A., & Marchlewski, L. (2022). Equity tank: A model for critical inquiry and change. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. https://doi-org.du.idm.oclc.org/10.1037/dhe0000385

Priest, K. L., & Seemiller, C. (2018). Past experiences, present beliefs, future practices: Using narratives to re(present) leadership educator identity. Journal of Leadership Education, 17(1), 93-113. doi:10.12806/V17/I1/R3

Reece, B. J., Tran, V. T., DeVore, E. N., & Porcaro, G. (2019). From fit to belonging: New dialogues in the student affairs job search.  In B. J. Reece, E. N. DeVore, E. N., G. Porcaro.,V. T. Tran, & S. J. Quaye, (Eds.), Debunking the myth of job fit in higher education and student affairs (pp. 1-26). Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Renn, K. A., & Ozaki, C. C. (2010). Psychosocial and leadership identities among leaders of identity-based campus organizations. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 3(1), 14.

Scott, T. M. (2022). Supporting Black women’s career Advancement: The power of mentorship, sponsorship, and community. In H. Pichon, & Y. Mutakabbir (Eds.), African American leadership and mentoring through purpose, preparation, and preceptors (pp. 153-179). IGI Global. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-7998-8206-0.ch008

Stewart, D-L. (2019). Ideologies of absence: Anti-Blackness and inclusion rhetoric in student affairs practice. Journal of Student Affairs, 28, 15-30.

Seemiller, C., & Priest, K. L. (2015). The hidden “who” in leadership education: Conceptualizing leadership educator professional identity development. Journal of Leadership Education, 14(3), 132-151. Doi: 1012806/V14/I3/T2

Seemiller, C., & Priest, K. L. (2017). Leadership educator journeys: Expanding a model of leadership educator professional identity development. Journal of Leadership Education, 16(2), 1-22. doi: 10.12806/V16/I2/R1

Taylor, K. B., & Baker, A. R. (2019). Examining the role of discomfort in collegiate learning and development. Journal of College Student Development, 60(2), 174-186.

Teig, T. (2018). Higher education/student affairs master’s students’ preparation and development as leadership educators. [Doctoral dissertation, Florida State University]. http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/2018_Su_Teig_fsu_0071E_14646

Wooten, B. M., Hunt, J. S., LeDuc, B. F., & Poskus, P. (2012). Peer leadership in the cocurriculum: Turning campus activities into an educationally purposeful enterprise. New Directions for Higher Education, 157(1), 45-58.

Author Biographies:

Trisha Teig is a Teaching Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies at the University of Denver. She teaches and researches leadership development, inclusive leadership, and gender and leadership.

DaShawn Dilworth (he/him) is a Student Conduct Coordinator in the Office of Student Conduct at Virginia Tech.

Beyond Collegiality: Community Care in Academia | Rachel Wagner

written by: Rachel Wagner

Will this person be a good colleague?  That’s a question that surfaced in multiple ways for me as I participate in various faculty searches at my institution. Peers and administrators wonder aloud how we might measure this. They speculate about what evidence a candidate could provide that indicates they will be a good colleague. The answer is typically about service. Will the future colleague take leadership for a project or a laborious task? Will they help recruit? Help advise? Will they say yes to students to serve on a committee or supervise an independent study? Will they do, so I can do less.

Such conversations are commonplace and, given the budget freezes since the start of the pandemic in 2020, predictable. Yet, the pandemic has caused me to think differently about doing less. Witnessing  the burnout of former colleagues and students has caused me to pause. The ensuing great resignation has reinforced how our few services and social nets are more taxed than ever. And as the pandemic continues and wreaks havoc on underserved and under resourced communities, I conclude (as many disability activists have argued) that these systems are insufficient. We must be our own collective solutions. Scholars refer to this as mutual aid (Spade, 2020) or community care (Piepzna-Samarasinha, 2018). Centering independence, these solutions acknowledge the inadequacies of our current social and political systems, and turn to the creative and generative ways our disabled, queer, people of color, and poor communities have worked together and around to cultivate care tending despite systemic neglect and life-taking circumstances.

The current state of the U.S. impacts so many of my loved ones. Folks find themselves—as is the practice of our profession—doing more with less. Folks found themselves risking more with serious consequences; returning to classrooms and workspaces where they might be exposed to an unforgiving virus. People have had to isolate and quarantine and live in ways that actively contradict interdependence and community. And while the introvert in me has greatly appreciated the respite from dinners and parties; the caregiver in me began to wither. So when last semester, a colleague shared a bit about the challenging circumstances they were facing, I saw an opportunity to help both of us. Not to be someone else’s savior, but because I believe that we are interconnected.  When we embrace interdependence we recognize that each other’s needs can be met when community members have space to make requests and other community members have opportunities to surface what they can contribute.

When my colleague, who is single and parenting a toddler during a global pandemic while seeking tenure, admitted that she was nearing a breaking point, I realized three things: (1) I cannot help her with work—we have different sub fields and our current projects don’t align; (2) I cannot help her with childcare because someone in our household is immunosuppressed and I cannot justify the risk of possibly contracting COVID-19; and (3) I love to cook, and I am really good at it. Helping with meals is a substantive contribution; meal planning, food shopping, and actual cooking is ridiculously time intensive. So cooking is what I did for 12 weeks. Got her through most of the semester by adding a half dozen more servings to my weekly meal prep. I find meal prepping to be akin to a moving meditation (with sharp knives). It ensures that I cook once and eat several times. And being in the kitchen reminds me that sometimes there are immediate rewards to the work we engage in. Delicious rewards. This is comforting for those of us who have devoted our careers to student development. We do not always get to see the results of our efforts. Meal prep gives me a feeling of accomplishment, something that I treasure when much of my impact as an educator and scholar is incremental or hidden from my awareness.

It was not the first time I chose to feed my colleagues. As a director of student housing, I spent two years in a lunch sharing group where each member took responsibility for feeding the group one day a week. We understood that it was easier to cook once for five than to cook five times for one. And that space offered so much more than calories. It brought a group of queer and/or disabled, and/or people of color together to share heart joy, heartbreak, and heart work. It helped us survive an institution that was not built with us in mind. And neither last semester nor the time with our affectionately dubbed Creta lunch group was the last time I parlayed my cooking talent into a community act.

Last week I spent three hours chopping lettuces and herbs, boiling noodles, poaching shrimp, and rolling rice paper wraps. I was putting the finishing touches on my household meal prep and packing up some containers for a friend and colleague who is recovering from a recent illness. This latest act of community care compelled me to reflect on cooking-as-care-tending. While the act of cooking inspires and centers me, doing it for a living is a different story. I worked for years as a caterer and cook. If cooking as a profession wasn’t so hard on the body, I probably would have done it longer. But it’s hard on the knees, the feet, the circulatory system, and the back. It’s hot, and long, sometimes tedious, and terribly hard physical work. Yet, I like to cook for others. It is soul satisfying to feed folks.

So, now I cook as a way to take care of myself, family, friends, and students. I get paid in smiles and satisfied groans. I get rewarded with an outlet for my creativity that taxes different abilities than academia. I get paid in stories of other meals, other dishes, other cuisines, and other people who cooked for my loved ones. And I get the satisfaction in knowing I made a useful and tangible contribution; that to paraphrase Martha Nussbaum, I located the sweet spot where my unique skills and talents could catalyze someone else’s flourishing. I learned how being in community is a necessary action in a time when mutual aid is more necessary than ever. It feels good to give, to apply my gifts to someone else’s survival. The rewards of doing more in the service of all of our survival, and eventual, thriving? Abundant.

What can mutual aid look like in our student affairs spaces? Meal chains? Rotating child care? Running errands? Accompanying folks to appointments? Normalizing remote work? Welcoming dependents to offices, programming, events, and services? As we meet one another’s needs, what might we gain? What stories, what psychological gifts, what ease, what world-making possibilities might we proliferate?

A couple of recipes to stimulate your engagement in community care:

Mushroom Risotto

Ingredients

Love, care, joy

Mushrooms, cheap and/or wild (expensive unless you forage, I do not), whole and dried

4-5 cloves of crushed/chopped garlic

1 large white or yellow onion

2 Tb Grapeseed Oil (or other high smoke oil)

2 Tb of butter (or more oil if vegan)

Fresh thyme (if you have it, otherwise optional)

Fresh oregano (if you have it, otherwise optional)

Ground black pepper to taste

Salt to taste

1 Cup dry white wine (or stock or water if you abstain)

5-6 cups of chicken/beef stock or water

2 Cups Arborio rice

Parmesan Cheese

  • Buy lots of mushrooms, whole and dried
  • Chop whole mushrooms and reconstitute dried (read the package for instructions)
  • Sauté a few cloves of crushed/chopped garlic with half a white or yellow onion in a high smoke oil (I like grapeseed)
  • Add a few knobs of butter (or more oil if vegan) and a bunch of mushrooms in batches. Do not crowd the pan. You want there to be space between mushrooms, so they pan roast instead of steam.
  • If you have fresh thyme or oregano, throw it in with some salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper (turns out, seasoning is most of what the chef-y folks call technique. Most home cooks don’t use as much salt as restaurants do).
  • Let the mushrooms get happy. Don’t turn them too much but watch so they don’t stick/burn. You want the heat to roast them and give them a bit of a crust.
  • When all the mushrooms are done, deglaze the pan (pour the liquid over the brown and greasy bits and agitate them with a wooden spoon because as Carla Hall says, the flavor is in the brown) with a little dry white wine or chicken or vegetable stock (even water works here, beef stock would be good too, but I use whatever I have. Except shell/fish stock.)
  • Add enough liquid until you have six cups. Add all those mushrooms back in (should be at least two cups). Bring the stock to a slow boil. Let it bubble gently until at least ⅓ reduced (4 cups). This might take a while. Bask in the earthy aromas from the pot.
  • Separate mushrooms and set aside. Keep mushroom stock on a simmer while you start the rice.
  • Get a good heavy bottom pan or Dutch oven. Start more high smoke oil and add the other half of the onion (fine dice or mince) and more crushed garlic (to taste. I love garlic).
  • Get it glistening and happy and add your arborio rice. (most ratios are 1:1.5 for risotto—so 1 cup of rice needs 1.5 cups of stock/liquid; but I let taste and texture be my guide. Depending on the age of your rice and the humidity of your air, it could take more or less). Let the rice be coated in the oily garlicky oniony goodness.
  • After it has toasted 2-3 minutes, deglaze with a ½ cup of dry white wine (or stock or water). If using wine, cook down so you get the most of the underlying flavor notes without the alcohol.
  • Begin adding ladlefuls of stock while stirring over medium low heat. Lower heat and hot, not boiling stock are your pals here. You want to coax out all the creamy starch from the rice. Move it around a lot. You will be adding liquid every few minutes and stir, stir, stir for at least 25 minutes.
  • Get in a rhythm. Breathe with it. Or move your hips. Feel your body as you make food magic.
  • When it is creamy and unctuous and the texture is satisfying, add in the mushrooms, good parmesan and taste before you add salt. Parmesan—especially parmigiano reggiano is pretty salty.

If you need to keep it vegan—Mike Symon has an amazing vegan parmesan that is ground cashews, nutritional yeast, and salt. It’s ridiculously good.

Dish it up to the ones who need their heart nourished along with their bodies. It will not disappoint.

Chicken Soup, Bone Broth, or Dumplings: Slightly Less Demanding Options for the Cooking Rookie

Ingredients

Small whole chicken

3 quarts water

2 stalks celery

2 carrots

1 yellow or white onion

3 cloves of garlic

1 bay leaf

Your choice of spice (I like ginger and turmeric, but some folks like thyme or rosemary – you can also do without)

Salt and pepper

**1 can of premade biscuits (optional)

  • Pat your chicken dry and remove organs (in a bag inside the chicken)
  • Place in a large pot and cover with water, probably 3 quarts
  • Rough chop (big knuckle size pieces) of onions, celery, and carrot, add to pot
  • Add garlic, spices, and seasoning
  • Bring to a boil, skim any greasy or grungy looking foam with a big spoon, and boil until the chicken is done (either the skin will pull back from one of the legs, or a thermometer will register 165 degrees Fahrenheit—about 45 minutes at a full boil)
  • Take out the chicken and large chunks of vegetables and let cool. Refrigerate if not using within a half hour. Shred the chicken and dice the vegetables.
  • Reduce heat to a slow bubble (just between low and medium) and let the stock reduce and manifest its brothy brilliance, at least one hour. More if you have time (you can also do this step overnight in a crock pot on low, just make sure that you refrigerate the large vegetables and chicken for use later, or if you want bone broth, pull the chicken meat off the bone and refrigerate and return the carcass and any bones back to the broth. Put it in a slow cooker and give it at least 24 hours. 48 if you want to be extra—spoiler, I am always extra.)

An hour before you are ready to serve, heat the broth up, chop the vegetables small, and shred the chicken you took off the bone. Reunite the delicious morsels with your savory broth.

This is the kind of chicken soup that will deliver physical and emotional sustenance.

*If making bone broth, keep the chicken separate and use it for any number of other things—add dressing and make chicken salad; add salsa and make tacos/bowls/quesadillas; add your favorite sauce and serve over rice (I am addicted to David Chang’s ginger scallion sauce).

**If you want chicken and dumplings, grab a ¼ of a cup of cool water and 3TB of corn starch and whisk briskly to make a slurry. Add to the pot and bring to a low boil; after 2 minutes turn the heat down and gently drop the biscuits in (I cut them into fourths because they will inflate in the broth). Cook through—about five minutes. Taste one before turning off the heat, for quality control purposes, only, of course.

References:

Piepzna-Samarasinha, L. L. (2018). Care work: Dreaming disability justice. Arsenal pulp Press.

Spade, D. (2020). Mutual aid: Building solidarity during this crisis (and the next). Verso Books.

Author Biography:

Rachel Wagner, EdD, (she/hers) is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs at Clemson University. She’s just your average SA pro, gender scholar, cook, @rachellwag.

Surface Pressure | Xianwen “Wen” Xi

Do you remember coming home from school when you were younger and on the table would be a letter addressed to your parents but waiting for you to read? No? Can’t relate? It is a common experience that I never knew was common until I was older. Being the child of immigrants, I often felt alone in the experiences I had. The experience of translating letters being one of those lonely experiences. As long as I could remember, I was my parents’ walking translator, even when I could not understand what I was translating myself. I was tasked with reading legal documents and letters from the government or my school at the age of eight, and I was always expected to know what it all meant simply because I spoke English.

Working in higher education, I often feel like a fraud, like I never fully belong. How can I belong in a college setting when my parents barely made it past middle and high school? I lived two very separate lives for a long time. As student affairs professionals, we all joke about how our families never really “get” our job and how people think we are glorified babysitters for college students, how we never wanted to leave college so we found a job that let us stay, etc. However, most families probably understood some parts of the role like being on call, having staff meetings, supervising and mentoring students, etc.

But for some of us, our families literally could not comprehend any of those aspects of our job. It was quite literally a foreign language to them. Because of this disparity, I made intentional efforts to separate two very important parts of my life: my family and my work. I could not see a world where both could live in harmony, so I never spoke about work with my family. When I tried to in the past, it would be like trying to communicate to my parents in a different language, and I never fully felt understood. I avoided bringing up my family when I was at work because I felt that others around me just did not get it and it felt taxing to explain my relationship with my family to others on the outside.

I want to talk about something I only just recently began to learn more about. I had never heard of immigrant guilt but it was something I felt for a long time. One of the most vivid memories of this feeling was when I was interning. One of my jobs was to answer questions about living on campus and how to apply to live on campus all while sitting at my own desk with a comfortable chair and central air. I was also being paid well and given the flexibility of great hours. I felt like a bad daughter. I was at my internship and enjoying my life while my parents were working long hours on their feet with few or no breaks. When issues came up at home while I was away at this internship, I felt even worse since I could not be there physically to take the burden off my family. It felt like I was cheating the system and I wanted to give the cheat codes to my parents but did not know how to communicate it to them.

Immigrant guilt centers around the idea that children of immigrants grow up constantly aware that our parents gave up their hopes and dreams in order to center their new life around providing for their children. Children of immigrants grow up aware of this tremendous sacrifice and are reminded of it constantly. The thing is my parents never once intentionally made me feel guilty about their sacrifices. They never talked about how they hated working long hours and how they missed a large portion of my siblings’ and my childhood. I just always assumed this guilt on my own. For me it showed up through the subtle intricacies of life growing up such as my parents never being around for dinner because they worked until 11PM or me having to translate for my parents even to this day. All of these experiences shaped the guilt I carry with me.

Something that is also fairly uncommon in minoritized communities is asking for help and seeking therapy. I work in residence life. I have been referring students and colleagues to seek help for as long as I can remember. I tell them it is okay to ask for help and how therapy needs to be normalized. However, I don’t often consider it an option for myself.

In Chinese culture, filial piety and losing face are values intrinsically known from birth. It is considered a shame on the family and an embarrassment in the Chinese community to even admit your family is not perfect. I used to argue with my mother over something I thought was trivial and asked her, “Who cares about this?” but she would always go back to the fact that others in our community would care and talk about it. Even people in the community my mom did not speak to often would care and talk about something I considered trivial. She had to make sure our family saved face. So asking for help and confiding in a stranger about all the issues in your family was out of the question.

Kenna Chick (n.d.) in their article “To Be a Child of an Immigrant” said it best when they lamented how difficult it was to disclose mental health struggles to their parents when their parents worked so hard and gave up everything for them to be happy. It feels like a slap in the face to our families. Like telling our parents that all their sacrifices and working long hours to make sure we were happy were all in vain and they were failures simply because we needed therapy.

Therapy is also costly. Money was always a concern in our family and to this day is a sore point of discussion. My parents spent their whole lives growing up worrying about money and putting food on the table and just as their parents did for them. My parents passed these same concerns to me and as much as I can recognize where my worries about money come from, it is easier said than done to stop the endless cycle of worry. So, to explain to our parents who may not believe therapy to be helpful let alone “worth it” to spend money on it is a difficult conversation to have.

There is also something that often is not discussed but there is a language barrier present even between the child and their family. I know this is the case for me. I can communicate with my parents fine, but when we bring in words like mental health, authenticity, or self-care, it’s like I am speaking gibberish to my parents. Kenna Chick (n.d.) discusses this, saying, “mental illness itself is already difficult to put into words. Describing mental illness in a language that one is unfamiliar with—and where terms for mental health are so stigmatized that they are more so used as casual insults than actual medical terms—makes the conversation nearly impossible and largely unproductive.”

Something else I struggle with in my work is taking time off. I have worked on this throughout the start of my professional career but it is still something difficult for me to do. My parents would work over twelve hours a day and would get one day off, never on the weekends. Throughout the years, my mom and dad would coordinate with their separate jobs to make sure they were both off on the same days. When my parents were off the same day, we would spend the day together, mainly running errands and doing the things my parents had to put off all week. And that is why it is near impossible for me to stop working, even when I take time off. It is something people around me point out all the time. How I can never sit still, how I always have to be working or productive. It was ingrained in my life for as long as I can remember. Now when I take time off, I try hard to do nothing. Some days I am successful, other days I fail.

In a NASPA Blog post, Morgan Rae Glazier (year) talks about how important self-care is in the lives of higher education professionals. It is something we have all heard multiple times. One portion of the blog talks about something I have always been jealous of, which is sharing space with others and how that can be a form of self-care. I have always wanted to share my work with my family, to let them know what I do and share in the good and bad parts of my job. But I know for myself personally, I cannot do that. One reason being that my family does not have the time to hear about my job, they are still working long hours.

Even if time was not a factor, for some immigrant children (myself included) sharing space with our families is not cathartic. As much as I love my family, they are also a huge source of stress and trauma. A conversation with my family is not for checking in or asking how our days were. It almost always centers around a task that I need to help with, a role that I have realized a long time ago will never end for me or a lot of other children of immigrants. Talking to my parents is usually transactional. I am like the cashier ringing up items for someone stopping by to grab something on break before they head back to their own job.

A realization I had recently was that my job became my default excuse to my family. Work was the reason that I gave when I did not have the emotional capacity to take on any more work from my parents. I would tell my parents that I could not speak on the phone for long or sometimes even not pick up at all because I had a meeting. Work was a language my parents understood as to why I could not help them at that moment.

Boundary setting is something I am not perfect with. I learned shortly after my first few years of working in residence life how important boundary setting is to being happy. However, it’s something I constantly struggle with. My family never showed love or affection, love was shown through cooking delicious meals and taking care of others. I took on these values quickly as I had to become a sort of surrogate mother to my brothers since my parents worked a lot. Working in a field that offered me the same “opportunity” to take care of others around me felt safe and familiar.

Working in residential life has made a huge impact on my life in some of the best ways possible. It also helped me realize that I used my job as a surrogate family. I made my job and my students a priority at the expense of myself. It only felt “worth it” when I was focusing on others and not myself. It was like I was trying to mimic my parents’ long work hours in order to prove to them that, like them, I can handle their same sacrifices and it was all worth it.

One last thing I wanted to share are some strategies I have employed to take better care of myself while keeping some core values my parents have instilled in me. For myself, I know it’s not realistic to shun all that my parents have taught me. It is all that they have taught me that has made me the person I am today and I want to honor my parents and their sacrifices as best I can while still prioritizing myself and my wellbeing. I used to think those two goals were on opposite ends of the world, now I know better. Now I have the language to help myself understand how important self-care is.

Be firm but gentle. I struggle setting boundaries with most people in my life, my family being the biggest hurdle. I used to drop everything in my life for my family. Sometimes, I still get the urge to run out of a meeting when my dad calls me just so I can immediately pick up. My dad never calls me to just chat and my anxiety fuels me hypothesizing that he’s calling with bad news when in reality he is just calling to ask about a letter he got in the mail or a phone call he received (usually from telemarketers). My parents now know to voice message me if it’s not an emergency in order to ease my anxiety. It may not seem like a lot to some but setting that boundary with my parents helps me manage the amount of times my stress levels spike and still allows me to be there for them—but on my own terms.

My parents did their best. I remind myself of this often when I find myself frustrated with my parents or asking myself why they couldn’t be the parents who asked about my day or were who I could call for help instead of the other way around. Then I am reminded of something I read in a book that helps me reframe not just my parents but many other individuals in my life. It’s best to assume that everyone is doing their best and one person’s best is different from mine. I said this exact same mantra to my two little brothers recently when our family was struggling. I reminded my brothers that our parents did the best they could with the resources they were given and sometimes, that is all we can ask for.

I am in control of my life. I lived my life for a long time for my family. Some days, I find myself falling back into that role. It’s a comforting and familiar role that I know like the back of my hand. It took moving states away, finding a job I loved, and branching out to really realize that my life needs to be mine first. Spending my young adult life living for those around me left me completely clueless on who I was and what I liked and disliked. I made many decisions based on how they benefited others, leaving myself as an afterthought. Now I know who is a priority in my life. Me. I use this mindset to control what I want my relationship with my family to look like.

Find people that understand parts of you. As mentioned earlier, I still struggle to find a way to connect these two different parts of my life—work and family. I thought that everyone in my two lives needed to understand who I was and my struggles to really be there for me and love me. Now I know that it’s unrealistic for someone to understand all of me. We are complex and so uniquely different that it’s more reasonable to find someone who understands a part of you rather than the whole you. If you have someone who understands the whole you, I applaud you. I am thankful to have people in my life I can go to for work issues and others in my life who can understand family concerns.

One experience helped me realize this. I used to talk to my more westernized friends about taking care of my brothers and they would be shocked when they found out that my parents did not pay me. It was equally a shock to me to even consider that my own mother would pay me to watch my own siblings. That exchange made me feel misunderstood and shameful. Something so common in my life such as caring for my siblings was being judged in a negative light by a peer who I now know was coming from a good place but had their own upbringing that framed their perspective. So find your people who can understand the parts of you that you need to be understood.

Where you work absolutely matters. In our field, we say we are in this helping profession because we love our students and we are not in it for the money. I say yes, that is true but I have learned that where I work matters a great deal as to why I am still in our field. I am lucky to work with people around me who may not always understand my family dynamic (and I theirs) but they understand the parts of me I appreciate: the role my family plays in my life, how important boundary setting has become to me, and how my identity as a child of immigrants shapes who I am as a person and colleague. All these factors and many more help me navigate the field more successfully. When something I have said resonates with another person, I say to them, find a work environment that makes you feel this way—heard, understood, supported. Work is not all we are, but to some of us, work is an important and meaningful part of our lives. We need to invest in that part of our lives and ensure that this part meshes well with other parts of our lives.

It’s odd but writing this reflection has helped me come to terms with this identity I never called out. I always knew I was a child of immigrants. However, I never considered how I would carry this identity with me my entire life. As I continue to grow, I accept that this part of me is crucial to my identity development. From the little lessons I learned from my parents to the larger lessons that impact how I open up to those in my life, it’s all a part of me—now and always. I came to terms with this recently and it has helped me heal more quickly and thus made me happier and more willing to work on a relationship with my parents based on more than being their designated translator. One thing is for certain, this will be lifelong work, it is not one and done. But hey, as we recognize that our students grow throughout their life, so do we as student affairs professionals.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How can our field better support our peers who are children of immigrants?
  2. How do you manage setting boundaries with managing relationships with family and their expectations?

References:

Chick, Kenna. (n.d.) To be the child of an immigrant. Mental Health America. https://mhanational.org/blog/be-child-immigrant

Glazier, M. R. (2018, April 14). Why self-care is important. Blog. https://www.naspa.org/blog/why-self-care-is-important

Additional Resources:

Rathbone, N. (2018, February 20). Why do student affairs educators struggle to set professional boundaries? Medium. https://medium.com/@velocirathbone/why-do-student-affairs-educators-struggle-to-set-professional-boundaries-abb1e6e71d0c

Yip, A. (2020, May 3). To be the child of an immigrant: How I finally learned to let go of guilt and embrace my true self. Linked In. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/child-immigrant-how-i-finally-learned-let-go-guilt-embrace-amy-yip

Author Biography:

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