Letter from the Executive Director

“The Great Resignation:” Higher Education and Student Affairs Edition

When I transitioned from working on a college campus four years ago to the association industry supporting higher education, my focus shifted from listening to the voices and needs of students to the perspectives and issues of professionals who support students. Over the last year, I have had numerous opportunities to really listen to and observe how the dual pandemics (COVID-19 and racial injustice) have hammered student affairs professionals and much of the higher education community. Although my travel to campuses, institutes, and meetings subsided, this left more time to spend connecting with ACPA members virtually. The themes of exhaustion, anxiety, being stretched beyond capacity, and feeling unappreciated by institutional leadership show up in nearly every connection. These commonalities are even more present among Black and professionals of color who have been overwhelmed by the demands placed upon them to assist campuses in managing both pandemics, while white colleagues responded to just the health crisis. But these themes, exhaustion, anxiety, being stretched beyond capacity, and feeling unappreciated, were common in conversations before the COVID-19 pandemic began – they were amplified and magnified during the last 19 months. By now, most have heard the term “the Great Resignation,” attributed to Texas A&M University psychologist Anthony Klotz. In truth, most student affairs and higher education professionals have not only heard of “the Great Resignation,” but they have likely experienced it in one way or another.

In truth, higher education is not the only industry experiencing this employment crisis. But we feel the effects of the crisis because it is our jobs and lives most directly. From my own experience, every restaurant, store, online purchase, travel plan, etc. I make now comes with a warning about staffing shortages and possible delays in service or attention. Now, we are witnessing the rise of inflation for the foreseeable future and it is hard to imagine how we will find new ways of living. Maybe the way we are living now is not temporary? None of us wants these challenges to be permanent, so we have to continue to come together to fight for the world we want to create and live in.

Much like other industries, the challenges facing higher education right now are not simple, and the solutions are even more evasive and complicated. Why? The “Great Resignation” in higher education cannot be attributed to just one or two causes, as there are many issues at play simultaneously. I was watching the November 12, 2021 episode of ABC World News Tonight with David Muir when I realized that while we desire quick fixes, we will be working in these conditions for a while to come. ABC World News Tonight reported that a record number of Americans quit their jobs in September 2021, 4.4 million to be precise. Prior to September, August 2021 was the previous resignation record with 3% of the U.S. workforce leaving their positions during that month. So, what exactly is going on and how does the “Great Resignation” affect higher education and student affairs? Here are some of the reasons:

  • Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the New York Times reported (as of November 16, 2021) there have been more than 763,000 related deaths in the U.S. and more than 5 million worldwide. This is a significant portion of the U.S. population, and we have lost many contributors to the local and global workforces.
  • Colleges and universities have been further depleted by the mass number of retirements occurring within the large Baby Boomer cohort. Numerous outlets have reported on the acceleration of retirement announcements over the past year, particularly among senior leaders in higher education and among faculty to a lesser extent. This has hit administrative arenas of the institution most hard, as campuses scramble to fill senior leadership roles and create interim coverage plans for the time being. This retirement acceleration has occurred during a global pandemic, and campuses have not had the opportunity to strategically fill vacancies or assess the impact of those exits throughout the organization.
  • We also know that enrollments in student affairs and higher education graduate programs have been on the decline for several years. This is not the case at every institution, but it is true at many. With fewer degreed administrators entering higher education, there is a net gap between the mass number of retirements and the new investments in the future of the field.
To summarize so far: We’ve lost many lives, senior campus leaders have retired, and we have a fewer professionals entering our field. These conditions alone are each crises. Next, we layer in what we realized about life and work during the pandemic:
  • Numerous institutions furloughed or eliminated staff positions – this has left a bad taste in the mouths of those in our field who were directly affected by those decisions and by those who were asked to stretch to cover the responsibilities of vacant or cut positions. Many have now left higher education altogether and others have moved to higher ed-adjacent jobs where they can still connect with their passion for learning but in a different context or non-campus setting.
  • During the pandemic, institutions were challenged to be flexible to continue delivering courses and experiences for student learning and development. In focusing so much on students, we failed to focus on colleges as employers and their obligations to their own workforce. Corporate America was far ahead of higher education in breaking the traditional 8am-5pm week mold in favor of hybrid or remote work arrangements before the pandemic. I have always been struck by higher education’s claim to be leaders of innovation in the world, yet be so resistant to change. When will we realize that college campuses are not 8am-5pm businesses and that flexible work arrangements can be accomplished in our industry as well?
I mentioned previously that I was a campus-based professional before my current role with ACPA, and now that I am in a job that allows for flexible and remote work arrangements, I know first-hand that a lot of life happens between 8am and 5pm, Monday through Friday that we need to give people the space and flexibility to manage. From daycare needs to school pick-ups and doctors’ appointments to home deliveries, I can now get all of these accomplished while easily working more than my required 40 hours per week.
  • Finally, we must realize that the global loss of lives and the mass retirements are not just issues in higher education. The data from “The Great Resignation” alone suggests that jobs are opening everywhere and in every industry. As a community, we need to be concerned that we are and will continue to lose our most talented, our most diverse, and our greatest assets to other jobs with better pay and more flexibility if we do not make strategic and bold actions now to retain our employees. What is already a difficult series of conditions on campuses could become much worse if we do not pause to assess, ask our staff what we can do to see them in their wholeness, and put every dollar and effort behind retaining them. If we do not take these actions, we will contribute to our own Great Resignation within higher education. If you have not already read it, I encourage you to review a recent article featured in Inside Higher Ed (November 3, 2021) on this topic.

I hope you can better appreciate the intersecting and swirling nature of the many challenges affecting higher education and student affairs in campus settings right now. If nothing else, there will be no quick fixes and together we will be figuring it out for the next several years. In the meantime, I ask that institutional leaders center the humanity and the needs of your employees: Embrace relationships and people over profits and efficiencies. Invest in the experience and livelihood of your staff, take care of their mental and emotional health, and provide opportunities for joy and celebration – even in the small moments and successes! We will need each other right now from the wisdom and experience of those thinking of retiring or in senior leadership roles and the energy and innovation from those just beginning a career in higher education. Listen to each other because the ways out of these challenges will only happen when we work together.

Chris Moody, Ed.D.
ACPA Executive Director

From the Editors

Hello, all.

As we approach the end of 2021, it is a time of reflection, celebration, and – hopefully – recuperation. In many ways 2021 has felt heavier and more difficult than 2020. As the pandemic emerged and evolved last year, many of us were propelled forward by a combination of adrenaline, fear, creativity, community, and anger. It was the pandemic. It was the ongoing violence against People of Color. It was the disconnect between people as individuals that pushed us further from points of connection in the middle to extremes where we were alienated from one another.

Then 2021. We certainly have not resolved all of the issues of 2020 (and the years before). But this year has felt different. Heavy. Exhausting. Many of us have innovated, adapted, and adjusted ourselves to the point of being completely depleted. Self-care and “take time for yourself” – if not complete myths – are at least no longer sufficing. As individuals and as a profession, we are beyond replacing the old with more of the same. We are now compelled to rebuild in new and better ways.

We do not pretend to know what the end result of the “Great Resignation” will be. It is a catchy phrase to be sure, but it remains to be seen what the lasting impact will be. We are in the midst of a moment to learn about people who are choosing to leave why they are choosing to leave. To make assumptions is inappropriate. We should be asking “Why isn’t this working for you?” and “What has changed?” instead of thinking we already know.

Coming out of a time of social isolation and social distancing, as we are able to reconnect, we can do that in a variety of ways. This issue of Developments includes articles about (re)building connections and professionalism post-pandemic, how to navigate new institutions, and the importance of assessment among other things. There is hope in each of the pieces in this issue, and as Grace Paley said, “The only recognizable feature of hope is action.” Just as the authors here have acted in support and transformation of student affairs, we hope each of you as readers find a way to put action to your hopes, as well.

We can appreciate the lessons of 2021 and still be glad to see it go. We can hope for something better in 2022, but it is incumbent upon us to make the changes to make things better.

Keep up the good (and hard) work.

Michelle L. Boettcher & Reyes Luna, Editors

So, Your Book is Coming Out, Now What?  Marketing Your Book Effectively

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

You successfully completed the writing, editing, and revision process, reviewed the page proofs and cover art, finished the index, and your book is in press. Congratulations! But you aren’t done with the process yet. Now it is time to think about marketing your book effectively to get it into the hands of people who will benefit from reading it. Two things to be mindful of as you step into this next phase of your book publishing journey are raising awareness for your book and helping it gain a reputation for excellence.

Raising Awareness

In our information age, with people being constantly bombarded with information, it can be difficult to rise above the fray and get noticed. That said, there are ways to be strategic and help your book gain attention, especially by people who would benefit from its content. First, consider timing conference presentations around the release of your book. When submitting conference proposals, it is important to have a good sense of when the book is coming out. You want to be sure that the book is in print when you present about it so that you can refer your audience to the expo hall and encourage them to buy it. Better yet, have some flyers with discount codes, or even a table with books for purchase, at your presentation. That way, when the audience is excited about your topic, they can immediately purchase the book.

Another way to raise awareness about your book is to share the release with the people’s whose hands you want it in. Consider what listservs, social media groups, and other affinity groups are closely associated with your topic and send them advertising about your book. Your efforts may be more targeted and personalized than your publisher’s efforts, and thus, will likely be more fruitful. Also, consider your institution’s marketing and communications team as allies in promoting your book. They may want to feature your work in publications or on social media. You also might consider putting information about the book in your signature line of your email and social media accounts so that people who engage with your frequently can learn more about it.

Gaining a Reputation

In addition to raising awareness about your book, it is important to help shepherd its reputation for excellence. One easy way to do so is to encourage people who share with you that they liked your book to write a review for it on amazon, google, and other review sites. These ratings will encourage other people who stumble on your book, but don’t necessarily know your work, to take a chance and buy it. In addition, you might consider how to get the book reviewed by a journal. A bit of internet research may be required to see if a journal collect books for review. Your publisher also might be able to provide guidance on effective ways to encourage reviews of your book.

Finally, as you move from publishing to marketing, it is important to keep in touch with your publisher. Let the publisher know what conferences you are attending so that you can mutually capitalize on any opportunities to partner in raising awareness about your book.

Based on a True Story: Using Theory to Analyze Disney’s Film “Safety”

As higher education professionals, we are constantly trying to apply theory to practice. However, it can be challenging to make those connections especially when first learning this information in graduate school and/or as new professionals. While case studies are an excellent way for student affairs professionals to practice their understanding of theory, it can sometimes be challenging to see theory impact a student’s academic journey.

Films are an excellent way for student affairs faculty to bring media into the classroom. Hunt (2001) supports the use of media in the classroom. “Because of the drama involved, students often become engaged in a film’s storyline both intellectually and emotionally and are therefore better able to identify the links between the story details and related course concepts” (Hunt, 2001, p. 632). Additionally, Cummins (2004) explored a similar approach when discussing ways to apply film to understanding leadership. “Modern media, however, can offer the perfect opportunity to combine concepts in an integrated, natural flow that closely mirrors everyday happenings” (Cummins, 2004, p. 144). Therefore, using film may appeal to more learning styles and allow for more classroom collaboration and discussion related to applying student affairs theory to practices.

Beyond the classroom, student affairs practitioners can apply theory to media to fine-tune their own theoretical applications. Analyzing films with a theoretical lens allows for ongoing professional development practice and creative thinking through application to popular culture mediums. Furthermore, by watching student development theory exemplified through character behaviors, student affairs professionals may feel more inclined to start conversations with colleagues about issues addressed in the film. Students may see aspects of their college journey represented in the film and be encouraged to see how they have combated challenges and how they have progressed throughout their higher education experience.

We initially chose Chickering’s (1969) theory because the theory is one of the most familiar theories in student affairs and in higher education in general. The theory describes different vectors or stages students move through throughout their entire academic journey to establish their purpose or goal in life. However, Chickering’s (1969) theory is not the only theory that can be recognized in the film. As McElrathbey has several intersecting identities and faces various challenges, multiple theories can be applied to the film Safety. We hope that by applying Chickering, this article acts as one example of how theory can be applied to popular culture and used as a case study, training tool, or professional development technique.

Overview of the Series

This article is the second of a two-part series on using film and media to discuss contemporary college students. This series was created to provide different perspectives on film analyses and usage within higher education, utilizing the Disney film Safety as a foundation for the series. The first article provides an in-depth summarization of the film and speaks to how the film can be viewed with a student affairs lens, offers a critique that speaks to gaps in higher education, and connects McElrathbey’s journey to the experiences of contemporary college students. This second article in the series provides a brief overview of the film and discusses the application of theory using Chickering’s theory of student development as an example.

Disney’s Safety was set at Clemson University where we work, so we took viewing the film as an opportunity to see how Disney portrayed a student’s experience on our campus. Although the creators and writers of Safety may not be student affairs professionals, student development is a strong theme of the film. The film provides an opportunity to explore student development theory in a way that can be examined, dissected, discussed, and deeply understood by graduate students, faculty, and practitioners in the field. We hope this series provides opportunities for practitioners to reflect on their practice, create discussion of contemporary college student issues, and find ways to incorporate film and media into their daily practice.

Film Overview

Disney’s film Safety is based on the true story of former Clemson student-athlete Ray “Ray Ray” McElrathbey. The movie focused on McElrathbey and his younger brother Fahmarr who is living with their mother, who struggles with drug addiction. After moving into his residence hall and beginning practices as a Clemson Football player, McElrathbey learns his mother has been sent to a long-term rehabilitation program and his brother will be sent to foster care. McElrathbey jeopardizes his NCAA eligibility by secretly bringing Fahmarr to live on campus.

However, the secret does not last long as McElrathbey’s roommate, friends, and coaches learn about Fahmarr living on campus. This news spreads and his coach, community church members, and professors try to help McElrathbey support Fahmarr. Once the story becomes public, both Clemson’s Compliance Office and the NCAA learn of the story and inform McElrathbey that he could lose his spot on Clemson’s Football Team and as a result of NCAA violations. Ultimately, McElrathbey appeals to the NCAA to testify about why he should not have to choose between his brother and his college education. Finally, the NCAA allows McElrathbey to remain on the team and receive his benefits while serving as his brother’s legal guardian.

Applying Chickering to Safety: Identity Development

Throughout Safety, student development theory can be applied to McElrathbey’s academic and athletic journey. Chickering’s (1969) student development theory explores how college students develop as they learn to manage and move through seven vectors (Patton et al., 2016). The seven vectors include:

  • Developing Competence – This vector includes “intellectual competence, physical competence, and interpersonal competence” (Patton, 2016, p. 297).
  • Managing Emotions – “In this vector, students develop the ability to recognize and accept emotions as well as appropriately express and control them” (Patton, 2016, p. 298).
  • Moving Through Autonomy Toward Interdependence – This vector takes place when students make decisions and think critically on their own yet begin to understand they are connected to others within their community (Patton, 2016, p. 298).
  • Developing Mature Interpersonal Relationships – “The tasks within this vector include development on intercultural and interpersonal tolerance and appreciation of differences as well as capacity for healthy and lasting intimate relationships with partners and close friends “Patton, 2016, p. 298)
  • Establishing Identity – Identity includes an understanding and “comfort” with a sense of self (e.g. gender, sex, ethnicity, etc.) (Patton, 2016, p. 298).
  • Developing Purpose – This vector relates to the idea of students developing a sense of their long-term career aspirations (Patton, 2016, p. 299).
  • Developing Integrity – This vector includes “humanizing values, personal values, and developing congruence” (Patton, 2015, p.290).

It is important to note that Chickering’s theory is dynamic; therefore, the vectors do not need to be completed in order. Watching the movie using a theoretical lens, such as through Chickering’s (1969) vectors, viewers can see a student’s (aka. McElrathbey) development (Cummins, 2004). The following sections provide examples of Chickering’s (1969) vectors applied to scenes that capture McElrathbey’s student development.

Developing Competence

As a student-athlete, McElrathbey strives to find success as both a scholar and athlete. The film begins with him establishing competence in these areas. His experience is complicated by his familial commitments.

Developing Competence “involves both a person’s intellectual competence and physical competence to gain and acquire necessary skills for success within higher education” (Patton et al., 2016, p. 297). Specifically focusing on the protagonists’ experiences as a student and an athlete, one way this surfaces in the film is McElrathbey’s time management related to academics, football, and family. Patton et al. (2016) wrote “intellectual competence involves acquisition of knowledge and skills related to a particular subject matter” (p. 297). While “physical competence comes through athletic and recreational activities, attention to wellness, and involvement in artistic and manual activities” (Patton el al., 2016, p. 297-298). McElrathbey’s experience exemplifies both.

At the beginning of the film, McElrathbey strives to establish the competence to be the best student-athlete he can be. He tries to find the necessary skills to manage his time between football, classes and caring for his brother. Like other college students, McElrathbey struggles to feel competent and confident in all three of these areas. With McElrathbey’s commitment to schoolwork and to helping Fahmarr, he lacks the physical competence needed to be energized and mentally prepared for the demands of football.

At one point, McElrathbey’s girlfriend Kaycee becomes worried about his ability to manage everything. He responds, “I’m sorry. I was planning to come, but then I got pulled into something last minute that I couldn’t get out of… I’m sorry. I’m just running late. I’ll make it up to you. I promise” (Hudlin, 2020, 33:50). Throughout the film, the viewer watches McElrathbey struggle to develop the competence to balance priorities, including taking care of Fahmarr, the physical demands of collegiate football, and being a dedicated student in the classroom.


Developing Mature Interpersonal Relationships

Developing Mature Interpersonal Relationships speaks specifically to how “experiences with relationships contribute significantly to the development of a sense of self” (Patton et al., 2016, p. 298). For example, McElrathbey builds relationships with his brother Fahmarr and Kaycee.

Safety reminds student affairs professionals of the multiple roles college students must navigate during their developmental journeys. The most vital relationship in the film is between McElrathbey and Fahmarr. McElrathbey knows that he must develop a mature relationship with Fahmarr and become more of a parent than a brother in the film. This requires McElrathbey to make sacrifices that put his collegiate career in jeopardy.

Fahmarr looks to McElrathbey as a role model. Once McElrathbey learns his mother is in a rehabilitation program and Fahmarr is home alone, he decides he needs to step in to help his brother avoid foster care. Thus, McElrathbey must navigate his identity of being a student-athlete and being a system of support for his younger brother. However, McElrathbey is first under the impression that stepping in as a parent or guardian of Fahmarr is temporary. As Fahmarr is walking away with the social worker and getting ready to be sent to foster care, McElrathbey says, “I’ll take him. It’s just thirty days, right?” (Hudlin, 2020, 24:49). This choice is just the first example of McElrathbey’s conscious choice to develop a deeper relationship and take care of his brother. If it were not for this decision, McElrathbey might not have moved through this vector in a way that allowed him to continue to grow throughout the film.

After McElrathbey temporarily retakes custody of Fahmarr for a second time, he sets an expectation with Fahmarr regarding their relationship. McElrathbey brings him to the side of a road by a street sign and gives his brother to paths to choose from saying:

So right now, I’m all you got. And I’m risking everything for us to have a real life, but you will not disrespect me anymore. That’s it. North, you do what I say and when I say it. South, you go back to the system and wait on mom. Your choice. (Hudlin, 2020, 1:05:47)

Fahmarr chooses north. This interaction strengthens the relationship by clearly defining each person’s role.

In addition to his relationship with his brother, McElrathbey develops a mature relationship with his girlfriend, Kaycee. Kaycee and McElrathbey build a connection from the beginning of the film when Kaycee opens the bookstore for McElrathbey to pick up his school supplies after hours. McElrathbey quickly finds friendship and trust with Kaycee as she is in one of his classes.

After becoming close friends, McElrathbey asks Kaycee on a date. Like other college students, this could be McElrathbey’s first adult romantic relationship. McElrathbey, at one point, struggles to find time to spend with Kaycee because he is trying to hide Fahmarr on campus. However, McElrathbey eventually chooses to be honest with Kaycee. He explains to her the challenges he and his brother face.

For example, McElrathbey initially lied to Kaycee about his family and said his mother was a traveling nurse. However, once Kaycee finds Fahmarr’s undergarments in the residence hall laundry room, McElrathbey admits his “mother isn’t a nurse; she’s a drug addict” (Hudlin, 2020, 1:01:24). Once Kaycee processes the information, she agrees to help McElrathbey and remains his girlfriend. This moment in the film is an excellent example of college students’ vulnerable decisions to maintain mature relationships.

Developing Purpose and Integrity

Developing Purpose includes “developing clear vocational goals, making meaningful commitments to specific interests, and activities establishing strong interpersonal commitments” (Patton et al., 2016, p. 299). Developing Integrity is “humanizing values, personalizing values, and developing congruence” (Patton et al., 2016, p. 299). Out of all the vectors that McElrathbey moves through, this is one of the most significant as he discovers what is most important to him. While McElrathbey may initially think his purpose is to be a student or a football player, he realizes his goal is much larger. His purpose in life is to support his brother.

Additionally, McElrathbey needed to understand his values to request an appeal and hearing with the NCAA to fight for the support he needed to help Fahmarr. At the end of the film, McElrathbey speaks about how engaging in the NCAA Eligibility Appeal process required him to choose between football and his family. McElrathbey demonstrates development in this vector when he says, “There’s no going back for me. I’m Fay’s brother, his father, and whatever else he’ll ever need me to be, but these men are my brothers too” (Hudlin, 2020, 1:49:27). For any college student, especially a student-athlete, this would be a tough decision. However, by the end of the film, the audience sees how McElrathbey’s purpose and integrity have developed. He describes that he is willing to give up his education and athletic career because of his ultimate goal and purpose of being a parental figure to Fahmarr. This decision required integrity and self-reflection and is ultimately the reason the NCAA grants McElrathbey’s appeal and offers extended support to help him and Fahmarr.

 Utilizing Safety in the Classroom

Analyzing Safety with a student affairs lens is just one way to connect student development theory to popular culture. The assignment guide below lists different ways student affairs faculty, students, and professionals can utilize the film in training and classwork. Using these creative ideas can help future student affairs professionals better understand the ways Chickering’s work can be applied. As student development theory is one of the fundamental teachings of the field, using it in a creative format helps student affairs professionals recognize development in students like McElrathbey and others. As student affairs faculty members empower the next generation of higher education professionals, we have created the assignment below to brainstorm different ways the film can be utilized both inside and outside the classroom.

Out of Class Viewing Assignment

Faculty often assign textbook readings to understand or expand on topics to be discussed in class. Rather than posting a reading assignment, consider having students view the film individually outside of class. If you have hesitation about the subscription required to watch the movie, a month’s Disney+ subscription costs less than a textbook at $7.99 per month. Students can watch the movie together or do a Disney+ group watch viewing of the film. When viewing the film outside of class, assign a discussion board or create a viewing guide or discussion questions for students to consider, so they actively engage with the film. While watching the movie, ask students to take notes for an in-class group discussion or a short reflection assignment.

In Class Viewing Assignment

Students could also benefit from watching the film in class. Instead of preparing a lecture for that day, consider showing the film. Safety is 2 hours and 3 minutes, so this may need to be a multi-day lesson plan depending on class length. Faculty can encourage students to think about the representation of different theories while viewing the film or assign groups of students to a specific student affairs theory. Additionally, if wanting to focus on Chickering specifically, other groups can be assigned different vectors to find examples of the vector throughout the film. Finally, an in-class viewing could serve as a case study. After viewing the film, students can present their ideas to the rest of the class and describe what they would do as student affairs professionals to help a student like McElrathbey.

Asynchronous Vector Scene Selections

Rather than making students watch the entire film, instructors could select specific scenes demonstrating Chickering’s vectors. Students can then write or speak about their key takeaways from the scene(s) and how they saw the different vectors depicted. We have selected the following scenes as examples of the vectors. However, professors could also approach this activity with a flipped classroom model and ask the students to look for examples of scenes in the film where they see the vectors illustrated and why.

  • Developing competence (5:03 – 16:13): In these scenes, McElrathbey is learning how to manage to be a student-athlete, and the different skill sets his athletic and academic identities require. He struggles to learn how to manage his time, build relationships with teammates and classmates, and answer his brother’s calls.
  • Managing Emotions (53:13 – 57:30): These scenes showcase McElrathbey’s emotions as he learns that his mother has decided to extend her rehabilitation program. His dedication to Fahmarr became more to manage on top of McElrathbey’s schoolwork and athletic career. In these scenes, McElrathbey shifts from angry to sad to mentally and physically exhausted when trying to decide his next steps for his younger brother.
  • Moving Through Autonomy Toward Interdependence (1:06:43 – 1:15:00): Here, we see what McElrathbey’s life is like once he moves off-campus with his brother and they begin a new autonomous life without having to sneak around the campus residence halls. McElrathbey steps into fatherhood quickly by finding support for Fahmarr’s schooling and schedule while also managing his own college student responsibilities. Several members of the community begin to reach out and support McElrathbey.
  • Developing Mature Interpersonal Relationships (1:01:26 – 1:02:53 and 1:40:09 – 1:43:29): In these scenes, we see McElrathbey begin to use self-disclosure with Kaycee about Fahmarr and have a mature discussion with his mother about relinquishing her parental rights. In both selections, McElrathbey is vulnerable and has open and honest communication that allows the relationships to grow and develop. Although these conversations are hard, they are necessary to cultivate mature relationships.
  • Establishing Identity: (1:26:46 – 1:34:01) Although establishing identity is conveyed at multiple points in the film, this selection has a wide array of areas where the vector can be applied. In the movie, McElrathbey is seen as a brother, a parent, a student, and an athlete. It may also be a good idea to ask students to list other examples beyond this scene where McElrathbey’s identity is developing.
  • Developing Purpose and Integrity (1:49:27 – 1:54:59): This scene demonstrates when McElrathbey has fully understood his roles in life and what guides his values. He had determined his purpose of being both a student-athlete and supporting his brother. His testimony demonstrates his integrity to stand up for his values and why he should pursue his purpose. The end of the film speaks to the life that McElrathbey provided for Fahmarr by stepping in as his sole caretaker, so his mother was able to focus on her recovery as a result. This decision speaks to McElrathbey’s commitment to upholding his values of family, academics, and athletics.


We encourage you to consider how you might incorporate different films and student affairs theories into your own professional growth, training, and development. Chickering’s (1969) student development theory provides one example of using popular culture as a catalyst for discussing student affairs in everyday life. Beyond Chickering’s theory, viewers might also use Kohlberg’s (1976) theory of moral development, Perry’s (1968) stages of intellectual development, Yosso’s (2005) cultural wealth model, Crenshaw’s (1989) concept of intersectionality, and others to analyze this film. We recommend watching the movie and noting what vectors you see. Additionally, consider your favorite higher education films and look for moments where student affairs theories can be applied to them. Disney’s Safety is not only an inspiring sports film but an innovative way to see how student affairs professionals can play critical roles in helping students like McElrathbey grow and develop throughout their academic journey.

Film Discussion Questions

  1. Do you agree with the analyses of Chickering to McElrathbey’s development? Why or why not?
  2. What other development theories could you practice applying to the characters in Safety?
  3. What other films can you see Chickering’s Theory of Student Development Theory applied in characters and why? What vectors can you see at specific points in different films?
  4. What other theories do you feel apply to this film? How so?

Theory-Based Discussion Questions

  1. What other alternative sources do you know of that you might use to explore applying student affairs theories (i.e., podcasts, TV shows, TedTalks)?
  2. McElrathbey is a cisgender, Black/African American, male student-athlete. What theories can you use beyond Chickering’s to analyze McElrathbey’s identity that focus on the intersectionality of his various identities?
  3. Beyond viewing a film, what other settings can graduate students or new professionals make connections between student development theories and popular culture (i.e. workshops, lunch and learns, lesson plan, student training activities)?


Chickering, A. W. (1969). Education and identity. Jossey-Bass.

Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 139-167.

Cummins, R. L. (2007). Can modern media inform leadership education and development? Advances in Developing Human Resources, 9(2), 143–145.

Hudlin, R. (Director). (2020). Safety [Film]. Disney.

Hunt, C. S. (2001). Must see TV: The timelessness of television as a teaching tool. Journal of Management Education, 25(6), 631-647.

Kohlberg, L. (1976). Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive-development approach. In T. Lickona (Ed.), Moral development and behavior: Theory research and social issues (pp. 31-53). Harper & Row.

Patton, L. D., Renn, K. A., Guido, F. M., & Quaye, S. J. (2016). Student development in college:

Theory, research, and practice (3rd ed). John Wiley & Sons.

Perry, W. G. (1968). Forms of intellectual and ethical development in the college years : A scheme. Jossey-Bass.

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race, Ethnicity, and Education, 8(1), 69-91.

Author Bios

Erika Lynne Forslund (she/her/hers) M.Ed: Is an Academic Advising and Coaching Specialist in Clemson University’s Academic Success Center. Erika also received her M.Ed. from Clemson University in May 2021, and a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro in May 2019.

Shauna Hines-Farmer (she/her) is an Assistant Director for the Cooperative Education Program at Clemson University. She completed her M.Ed. at Clemson University in 2021, and B.A.s in Exercise and Sport Science and in Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2018.

Drink It All In!

written by: Taylor Jones, Chandler Stafford, & Mimi Benjamin

Elizabeth Whitt’s “’Don’t Drink the Water?’: A Guide to Encountering a New Institutional Culture” (1997) provides guidance to practitioners as they transition to a new campus. Using the travel metaphor, Whitt offers an overview of culture as well as travel tips for those entering a new campus environment. These tips can be helpful to new professionals as they start their student affairs careers as well as graduate students encountering a new campus and/or new roles. Dr. Mimi Benjamin, Professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, has shared this chapter with Student Affairs in Higher Education graduate students since she started teaching full-time in 2013 after serving as a student affairs professional.

In her first year of teaching, Mimi included Whitt’s chapter as a required reading in a student affairs administration course for second-year students. Students told her how valuable that reading was, stating that they really needed it when they first started the program as they transitioned to their graduate roles, many of which were on new campuses. When she started teaching the introductory course in the first semester of the program, Mimi shifted the reading to that class. While discussing the reading, she always starts the conversation with students by asking, “How many of you started your assistantships not long ago and thought, ‘This new institution or department is not doing this right’?”. Students laugh, raise their hands, nod their heads, and then engage in an enlightening conversation about how there are many ways to accomplish goals in the various functional areas. They begin to recognize that their experiences at one campus provided them with a view of just one of the many ways that student affairs work is done. This discussion opens their eyes and perspectives to various ways of enacting student affairs work.

This reading came up again recently, as graduating students talked about how it was on their minds during the job search. And while the advice is timeless, it seemed like a good time to look at how some of the “travel tips” might be translated for 2021. As a result, Chandler and Taylor, recent graduates of the IUP Student Affairs in Higher Education program, along with Mimi, came together to reiterate Whitt’s advice with a 2021 twist.

“Read the Guidebooks Before You Leave Home”

As Whitt (1997) noted, the importance of reading about an institution is crucial to your transition. This includes but is not limited to reviewing the mission statement of the university, looking into the core values held by the academic side of campus, and understanding the student affairs philosophy. However, reading is not the only way you can learn this information. It might be better to hear someone’s perspective about the campus culture. This can come in the form of setting up inquiry Zoom meetings with your future coworkers and supervisor(s), watching promotional videos for university recruitment, and participating in virtual or in-person campus tours. Keep in mind that professionals and institutional resources like these will be tailored to match the university’s mission. If you want to learn more about the students’ perspective of campus, watching YouTube or TikTok vlogs of their everyday lives is a great indicator as well. Look at what students are saying about their institution on social media. Twitter posts, Facebook statuses, and Tumblr posts (do students even use Tumblr nowadays?) can serve as great resources for a new professional trying to gauge student perception. Utilizing all these methods will aid you in receiving a comprehensive view of campus culture.

“Identify Your Own Cultural ‘Baggage’” 

Take an inventory of your personal and professional values and how your beliefs and assumptions have been influenced by your previous lived experiences. Determining your own philosophy or beliefs about student affairs work and the type of environment you would be most successful in can assist in narrowing your job search and increasing overall job satisfaction. How much student contact do you want to have? Do you want to supervise undergraduate students? Would you want to work at a Historically Black College or University (HBCU), Predominantly White Institution (PWI), or a Hispanic Serving Institution (HIS)? These questions can be a starting point for better understanding your own values and how those can influence your work within student affairs. These questions can ultimately determine the level of “fit” that you have with a particular institution or position. And while there are concerns with the concept of “fit,” which can be considered coded language for enacting further inequities in higher education and student affairs (Reece, Tran, DeVore, & Porcaro, 2019), finding a place where your various identities are valued and can be expressed is important. You want to establish a list of “non-negotiable criteria” which will help you select the positions that you are going to apply for (Virtue, 2011, p. 24). There may be times when it seems impossible to find a place that meets all your non-negotiables, so a certain level of flexibility and perhaps prioritization as a new professional is likely necessary.

Workplace relationships and institutional politics can be areas in which you should conduct an inventory of assumptions and expectations. When beginning your search, thinking about your personal life as well may determine if you are limited to a certain geographical area. Although there is a certain level of fit that is needed when it comes to these personal values, there is still something to be said for most growth occurring when you are outside of your comfort zone. It is also important to take note of how your own identity on social media can impact or influence your new role. As important and valid as it is to maintain your own thoughts, beliefs, and opinions on social media, you also do not want to isolate or alienate certain students who may need to come to you for support or help.

Get to Know the [Locals]” and “Find a Guide”

Getting to know your colleagues is a necessary part of transitioning into a new position. These colleagues can be within your office or outside your department. Virtue (2011) said it best, “Making connections both inside and outside of your division will be a priceless tool in helping make a smooth transition” (p. 24). This also applies to those who do not work at or attend the institution, as they might be important campus partners. In conjunction with these external stakeholders, try to create alliances with those people on campus who have influence. If you and your department feel strongly about something that needs to be changed or have concerns about a serious course of action, having an ally with more professional capital or political power is extremely helpful. This will aid in building your professional support system and encourage inter-institutional and external networking.

This support system, as noted by Dr. Kimberly Griffin (TEDx Talks, 2015), should consist of a group of individuals rather than one person you rely on. It is easy to fall into the habit of only consulting with your supervisor when you start a new position. However, you must branch out and create a “Justice League” of professionals to help you through your journey. Having allies in various functional areas and departments on campus will work in your favor if you want to shift responsibilities or even leave the institution for another. Making connections with those off campus in the surrounding areas will also benefit you just in case you want to work with them on a campus-specific initiative or a community service learning opportunity. Networking opens doors so you must put in the effort ahead of time considering your future career goals.

“Experience Local Color”

When beginning a position at a new institution, new professionals sometimes struggle with adjusting to an entirely new set of norms and expectations (Renn & Hodges, 2007). There are a variety of campus traditions or activities that you must gain a clear understanding of, or certain events that you may be asked to run which require you to conduct some research. We would be remiss to not mention the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on higher education and what that may mean for new professionals as they enter the field. What aspects of “normal” campus life will return? What new methods of interacting and working with students might remain?  During this time, there have been certain resources that have made aspects of college life more equitable for students. For example, Zoom programs, classes, and events, virtual mental health or health visits with professionals have been available, and even attending professional conferences have become less expensive.

As we transition out of the apex of COVID, you may be asked to help reimagine or reinvent some of the traditions or cultural staples of a campus considering safety and health mandates; to do this you must first understand the programs you are being asked to implement. We recommend utilizing social media outlets to research and better understand campus cultures and the surrounding local area that you will be exposed to when you begin your position.

“See the Sights” and “Take Side Trips”

Knowing the environment is essential to fostering a sense of belonging, not only for students but also for new professionals. Take the time to get your bearings. Utilize virtual campus tours to find your way around campus if you do not have the opportunity to work or visit campus in person. If you are working in person, take a trip around campus whenever time allows. Where do the staff like to hang out when they are not in the office? Where do you see faculty members when they are not teaching? Where do residential students congregate? Commuter students? Understanding the space you are in will aid in any programming efforts or even decision-making when it comes to the use of space on campus.

Another indicator of student engagement with campus is assessment data. If you are in a position to do so, try to get your hands on any past assessment data that tracks student attendance of programming or any campus climate surveys that indicate how satisfied students are with the institution. This data will help you make informed decisions and operate efficiently in your office. While you are in the midst of taking your own trips around campus, keep in mind that students do the same thing. It is imperative for new professionals, especially new professionals of color, to “keep their door open.” This visibility of professionals of color on campus will help students of color feel seen and heard and encourage them to continue down their academic paths. Even putting signage on your door letting students know that your office is a safe and open-minded space will encourage students to engage.

“Learn the Language”

There are two distinct types of language that you must become familiar with when starting a new position at an institution. The first is the language of the specific campus and students. This could be the typical phrases, nicknames for buildings or areas on campus, clubs or organization acronyms, and so on. As a new professional, one way to begin to learn this information is to peruse various social media platforms of different organizations on campus and better understand what they are, the position they have on campus, and their values. During this social media search, you can also take a pulse on the students and their thoughts or feelings about the institution to better understand any issues or current events.

The next language that is important to note is that of the student affairs department that you will be joining. Although student affairs as a whole has some agreed upon terminology that is used among ACPA and NASPA, not every institution or student affairs office will be familiar with all of those terms. It is important as a new professional that you do not accidentally ostracize yourself from other offices by assuming that they are familiar with the specific language that is present within student affairs. Taking the time to observe and ask questions before assuming can make the transition easier.

“Seek Storytellers” and “Ask for Directions”

Whitt (1997) summarized both of these tips well, especially when seeking out the histories of institutions and asking questions when necessary. Do not forget that the administrative staff are some of the most valuable storytellers as they often have been members of the university community for longer than some professional staff. If your questions about how to operate within your department are not answered or you notice that some operations do not feel right, always go back to the ACPA/NASPA competencies to make sure those outcomes are being met. You can use these outcomes as a means of assessment for yourself but also those around you. If you have a question about the department itself, reflect on the CAS Standards for your functional area. Having a basis for your concerns about operation is necessary. You do not want to go into a campus culture and expect to change it because it does not adhere to your personal values. Use CAS, ACPA, and NASPA guidelines; that is what they are there for.

“Phone Home”

An area that many new professionals (and even seasoned ones) tend to struggle with in student affairs is self-care (Renn & Hodges, 2007). As you find a new job and transition to a new place that might be anywhere from one hour away from your home to completely across the country, it is important to have a support system. This support system could be your family, friends, cohort members or mentors from graduate school, or even former professors. These supports can be accessed for different reasons and at different times depending on what you need. Friends and family can be there for any personal struggles that you may be experiencing, and former professors or mentors can be there for any professional issues that may arise.

The impact of COVID-19 has shown us the increased availability for meetings and conversations with friends/mentors via platforms such as Zoom or video chats as well as texting, emails, or phone calls. What aspects of these virtual communications can you see yourself using to keep in touch with your support network? Self-care can be relying on your support system and seeking out advice or friendship from people, but it also is finding passions outside of the field of student affairs and pursuing those. If you love to sing or dance or knit or hike, take time outside of the office to do those things and refuel your own personal tank of happiness.

There is an expectation placed on us as new professionals that forces us to feel like we must be putting 150% into our work all the time to prove that we are happy or passionate about what we do, but that is not sustainable in forming a happy and successful life in the long term. Overall, we recommend that you establish and connect with a support system both during your graduate school experience and especially as you transition to a new position post-graduation. Find hobbies or activities that bring you joy and do them. Do not forget that you are not alone in the feelings that you have and that it is okay to ask for help when you need it.

“Travel With an Open Mind” and “Don’t Expect to Change the Culture”

When beginning our assistantships, we felt as though there were so many aspects that were not being done “the right way”. Many times, we enter new positions at new institutions and feel overwhelmed with how many differences there are in certain processes or in the culture than previously existed at our old institutions. These feelings cause us to feel as though we need to enact change and make things better. The problem with this is, we do not take the time to explore or ask questions about the department or the processes before judging them and assuming that other remedies have not already been tried. We have been guilty of this on more than one occasion in both assistantships and practicum experiences.

Every institution is different and has a different method that works for them based on a variety of internal and external factors that you must take the time to learn and understand. Expecting that you already know everything or have the magic solution to issues is a naive and problematic attitude. We recommend first, learning as much about certain processes or the culture as soon as you can and when you have done that, being open to different ways of doing things, and having conversations with colleagues or supervisors about how and why certain things that you find odd are done. You may not be able to come in and change the culture, but you can make small changes that can impact many people. Take the time to observe, learn, and understand before deciding that something is done improperly or unsuccessfully. Then use a helpful and positive attitude to assist your colleagues in making the institution a better place for everyone, especially the students we serve.  

Change is not always easy and encountering new environments can be challenging. If you expect your new institution to be a similar version of your previous one, you will likely be disappointed. But if you are open to the possibilities present in this new place, with these new colleagues and students, you may find your journey to be incredibly enriching. Be open to the exciting possibilities and opportunities, and drink it all in.


Reece, B. J., Tran, V. T., DeVore, E. N., & Porcaro, G. (2019). Debunking the myth of job fit in higher education and student affairs. Stylus.

Renn, K. A., Hodges, J. P. (2007). The first year on the job: Experiences of new professionals in student affairs. NASPA. 44(2), 367-391.

TEDx Talks. (2015, March 15). Mentors: through research, in practice, and on reality TV | Kimberly Griffin | TEDxUMaryland. [Video] YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkOhoUJhJV0

Virtue, E. (2011). Making the transition from graduate assistant to new professional. Campus Activities Programming, 44(1), 22–25.

Whitt, E. J. (2004).  “Don’t drink the water?”: A guide to encountering a new institutional culture.  In E. J. Whitt (Ed.), ASHE reader on college student affairs administration (2nd ed., pp. 649-655). Pearson Custom Publishing.

Author Bios

Taylor Jones is a 2021 graduate of the Student Affairs in Higher Education program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She is currently working in the Residential Life Office as a Residence Director at Johns Hopkins University.

Chandler Stafford is a 2021 graduate of the Student Affairs in Higher Education program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She currently holds the position of Transfer Admission Counselor at Illinois Institute of Technology.

Mimi Benjamin is a Professor in the Student Affairs in Higher Education program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

How One Campus’s Decentralized Academic Support Units Built Community to Serve Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Pandemic

Little did we know, March 13th, 2020, a typical Friday before spring break, would be the last day of campus normalcy for a long time. That weekend, in response to the growing COVID-19 global pandemic, the state of Ohio announced indefinite lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus. Suddenly, college students, faculty, staff, and leaders across the country, including at our institution, The Ohio State University (OSU), were faced with an unprecedented conundrum in the middle of the spring semester. The impact of the pandemic was wide-ranging and immediate: students were asked to move off campus and return to their homes to finish coursework remotely; faculty and staff were weighed with figuring out how to continue their work remotely; buildings closed; education abroad trips, research studies, graduation ceremonies—all cancelled. It was clear that this was only the beginning of uncharted territory.

During the weekend of March 13th, the Tutoring Services Manager for OSU’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI), Zayd Abukar (co-author), knew things were going to change drastically. Abukar thought deeply about how he could adapt a unit that provides tutoring and Supplemental Instruction services to students from underrepresented or underserved backgrounds with as little interruption as possible. Instead of waiting, Abukar decided to move quickly in developing a plan to transition the unit’s services to the online platform—a feat which had never been done before. To drive his planning, Abukar garnered the assistance of his graduate administrative associate at the time, Dr. Graham Knight (co-author), as we reflected on the following questions:

  • What does our unit do at its most basic function?
  • What institutional tools and resources do we have access to that will allow us to execute that function?
  • Considering our mission and our resources, what is the simplest model for using those tools to execute that function?
  • How can we make thoughtful, clear, and accessible policies and procedures for both students and our staff so that they know how to engage in the receipt or provision of these familiar services via this new, unfamiliar platform?
  • Finally, what are the most effective timeline and outlets for disseminating this information to ensure all relevant parties have what they need to successfully adapt?

We knew there would be bumps and adjustments to make during the early phases of implementing these plans in response to the pandemic. Our objective, however, was never perfection; instead, our priority was to make sure our most academically vulnerable students were not abandoned in arguably one of the most difficult periods of their college careers.

Ultimately, ODI’s Tutoring Services successfully pivoted to offer online services the first day back from spring break. Several academic support units on campus needed more time to adjust, while others ceased providing services the rest of the semester altogether. Between the start of lockdown and the end of spring, all eligible students who requested academic services through ODI received them. ODI then continued to offer tutoring services into the summer (the first time summer tutoring had been offered in several years) to provide continued support during students’ adjustment to online learning.

The Challenge

At a broader level, institutional leaders were still concerned. While the “Pass/No Pass” option extended to students in Spring 2020 was an effective short-term measure, longer-term it was unsustainable. If the pandemic was going to extend into the 2020-2021 academic year, the institution would have to be prepared to provide students quality online academic support services. Surveys and focus groups conducted at the end of Spring 2020 further highlighted students’ desire for these resources in the semesters to come. At OSU, with one of the largest enrollments in the nation and a highly decentralized academic support structure, this was going to be a challenge.

Early May 2020, the question loomed: how to bring together the more than 20 highly-differentiated academic support units across OSU’s campuses to equip them with a uniform set of tools, resources, and support to so they could successfully shift their operations to the online platform during the 2020-2021 academic year? Each unit has distinct target populations, organizational structures, resource allocations, cultures, policies, procedures, and specializations, housed across areas such as diversity and inclusion, residence life, athletics, academic colleges, and more. Under normal circumstances, the decentralization of the institution’s academic support services carries an array of strengths and advantages. In this scenario, however, a piece-meal approach leaving individual units to figure out how to adapt would likely lead to inconsistent levels of success and was not going to suffice. 

The Charge

Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. James L. Moore III, decided to act. He understood that if our institution was to meet the needs of our students in 2020-2021, then it was critical to begin the work of unifying these units as soon as possible. He approached Abukar, a staff member in his organization, and charged him with the following task: establish a community of practice to assist leaders of academic support units across all six OSU campuses in transitioning their services. Dr. Moore appointed Abukar as chair of this group.

Abukar began compiling information on all the academic support units at OSU. His next step was to solidify the structure of the group in terms of purpose statement and activities. Abukar enlisted Dr. Knight to serve as vice chair for the group, and together we built a model. 

The Model

We began by establishing the group’s three-fold purpose: track, monitor, and respond to the need for offering online tutoring services; share and promote best practices and resources (e.g., instructional, technological, etc.) for online tutoring services at OSU; and create a community of practice for professionals who provide tutoring services at OSU. The name of the group would be the Tutoring Services Resource Group (TSRG).

Purpose in mind, we pondered the frequency and duration of the meetings. They needed to be regular enough to provide a sense of community and provide timely information, but not so frequent as to distract from the daily work of participating members. Similarly, the meetings needed to be long enough to cover the relevant material and provide a platform for discussion, but not so long that they lost a sense of purpose and unnecessarily ate into participants’ schedules. We eventually decided on a structure of one 90-minute meeting per month. Participation in meetings was strongly encouraged among academic support units but was not required. We were also going to supplement our live meetings with the maintenance of a shared folder of TSRG notes and resources that leaders could access and utilize at their own leisure.

The Engagement

We recognized the importance of building a logical progression of meeting topics that aligned with the flow of the academic year and the specific issues that arise at different times. The inaugural TSRG meeting in May of 2020 was introductory. In addition to allowing members to meet and learn about each other’s units, we also established expectations for the group. We made clear in this initial meeting that while we had been tasked with leading the group, we were not experts, we did not claim to have dominion on anyone’s unit, and everyone’s input was welcome. In the second half of this meeting, we reflected on how each unit adapted differently in the immediate notice of campus closures. This allowed us to gauge attendees’ familiarity with transitioning to online services and highlighted the most important subjects to discuss in future meetings.

The remaining summer meetings focused on critical aspects of transitioning to an online delivery model. In June, we addressed standards and best practices for online tutoring, following Association of Colleges for Tutoring & Learning Assistance (ACTLA) guidelines. This included bringing in the Director of Academic Support from Johns Hopkins University to discuss her campus’s implementation of online academic support services. In July, we shifted to potential threats to academic integrity posed by online delivery. This meeting featured the university’s Coordinator on Academic Misconduct to provide units with guidance, such as training staff members (i.e., tutors, peer educators) on how to avoid academic misconduct risks. A third guest, from the University of Maryland’s Division of Student Affairs, joined us in August to discuss best practices and tools for data collection and assessment, as for many units this was their first time providing online services.

In late September, with a month of online delivery under our belts, we discussed what each unit was seeing in terms of engagement with their services. The consensus was that it was lower than the same time the year prior. We spent the remainder of the meeting focused on strategies for driving participation. Our approaches included: how to leverage OSU’s data tools for strategic outreach; partnering with front-line colleagues; and querying students about their needs.

The October meeting was deeply informative. We invited and heard from a panel of student staff members from various units across multiple OSU campuses, who were tasked with assisting students remotely for the first time. Recognizing TSRG’s position as a representative group for all of OSU’s academic support services, we drafted a report on major themes and findings from this panel and shared it with senior-level administration.

Our final fall meeting took place just after Thanksgiving break. Unit leaders reflected on what we learned from the semester and from each other. We also discussed how we could prepare for the upcoming spring semester. By the end of autumn, much of the original purpose for the group had been accomplished. Nevertheless, members expressed they found value in continuing to meet, so we held two more meetings in the spring 2021 semester to build on the discussions we had and keep up the support we had for each other.

The Results

The establishment and preservation of this community of practice is among the most significant and lasting results of TSRG. Over 20 units participated at some point, including all regional campuses and all the largest academic support units. Among the more surprising and gratifying things that emerged from the group was the interest expressed by units outside of the “academic support” realm. Representatives from areas such as University Libraries, the Institute for Teaching and Learning, the Office of Distance Education and eLearning, and OSU’s student success and data analytics platform (“OnCourse”) were among our most consistent attendees. Word would reach leaders in these units, they would request permission to join, and we would always welcome them. What is more, they contributed substantially to the group’s understanding of tools available to support units’ transition and adjustment to online delivery.

Key to TSRG’s success was both its voluntary nature, and the fact that it demanded little of participants in the way of time and effort. While each meeting was structured with a specific topic and resources, we also included a block of time for open discussion and knowledge sharing. Units would offer advice to each other, share perspectives from their own experiences, and even connect with each other outside of TSRG. The consistent sharing of resources and guidance allowed for disparate units to adopt and incorporate new ideas and technologies into their practice for the betterment of students. The shared folder we maintained housed recordings of meetings, units’ contact information, and a wide array of other resources.

Like the October meeting, the final 2020-2021 meeting in April culminated in a report to OSU senior leadership. We outlined insights, concerns, and recommendations from academic support leaders across OSU regarding student academic support needs in the 2021-2022 return to campus. Without a centralized academic support structure, the existence of a representative group like TSRG afforded units a greater voice than any one of us could have had independently.


Between May 2020 and April 2021, TSRG accomplished its original charge; most academic support units at OSU successfully offered quality online services during 2021-2022. Unit leaders gained access to best practices, resources, and contacts to meet the needs of their respective operations; and most importantly, a community of practice was established for professionals who engage in similar work throughout the university. Prior to TSRG, there had not been a forum for academic support leaders across the institution as structured and well-attended. While most of our meetings and discussions centered on topics related to supporting students remotely, TSRG became a space to gauge ideas, provide important updates, and lend moral support to each other during one of the most trying periods of our professional careers. TSRG participants overwhelmingly requested to continue the group through 2021-2022, if anything, to sustain the community that had been built.

Since the initial charge in May 2020, we learned several lessons about working through siloed or decentralized organizational structures to accomplish change. The first is to identify, and then articulate, a clear, common, and compelling reason for all parties involved to come together. In other words, there must be a strong “What’s in it for me?” We understood early on that no one was going to be compelled to attend if they could not understand how participation could benefit them and their constituents. TSRG members shared a lack of familiarity with a pandemic, high expectations to adapt services, and little existing guidance for adapting to online formats. Our message was simply, “We all have to do this anyway, why not do it together?

The second lesson we learned was value-added information and resources break down silos. When planning our meetings, we stuck to the mantra that we wanted to make sure that every time someone left a meeting, they left with concrete tools that would directly assist them in their work. Not every unit had the same level of interest in every meeting topic, and that was okay. Our focus was on creating as much value for as many units as possible, and to give them the option to adapt TSRG information for their own purposes.

Lastly, this experience taught us the importance of acting on ideas. Just like we approached moving ODI’s services online in spring 2020, we were prepared to progressively make changes to TSRG as necessary. We were also comfortable with the prospect of discontinuing it altogether if our members felt it was no longer necessary. What was most important to us was that something was done to ensure our units were prepared to serve students. Lack of template often paralyzes people from trying new initiatives that have the potential to be impactful. For us, being clear on our purpose and then focusing on concrete value-added deliverables gave us the confidence to push ahead and accomplish our charge.

Reflection Questions

  1. How did the pandemic bring to forefront the fundamental purpose of your unit, and how did that cause you to rethink the activities required to fulfill it?
  2. Are there multiple units across your campus that have a similar mission or engage in similar activities? What are some opportunities, either within your unit or across your campus, to engage in value-added collaborations? How could you go about initiating them?
  3. What challenges have you experienced when trying to collaborate across organizational silos in potentially impactful ways? What solutions can you think of for addressing said challenges? 


Zayd Abukar (he/him/his) serves as the Assistant Director for Scholarship and Supplemental Academic Services within the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) at The Ohio State University (OSU). He provides strategic leadership and management for a student services unit that provides academic support and financial aid services to students in ODI programs. Zayd is a member of the university’s student conduct board, and co-chairs the institution-wide Tutoring Services Resource Group. Zayd is also a doctoral candidate in OSU’s Higher Education and Student Affairs program, with interests in organizational behavior and underrepresented student success.

Graham Knight (he/him/his) spent the past four years working for the Ohio State University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion as the Coordinator for its Supplemental Instruction Program. Dr. Knight recently received his Ph.D. in Educational Studies with a focus on Higher Education and Student Affairs from the Ohio State University where his specific areas of interest were students from and institutions in Appalachia.

Dismantling the Cool Kids’ Table:  Growing an Inclusive Leadership Educator Community in Student Affairs. Part I: Our Current Status 

written by: Trisha Teig & DaShawn Dilworth


Leadership education in student affairs must address inherent oppressive practices that exclude historically marginalized 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. This part one of a two-part thought paper explores: how can we be honest and reflective about our past in order to realistically impact our present and future?

I remember my heart pounding, loudly enough I was surprised my co-workers could not hear it attempting to leave my chest. Like many other student affairs grad students, I was awaiting the news from potential summer internship sites. I remember the day we were supposed to hear back quite vividly; I did not hear back at all. While it was common to not receive a response on the first day, something felt odd as my number one internship site had relayed clear positive messaging that I would hear from them soon.

My first choice of internship involved the opportunity to work with an extended orientation leadership development program for first-year students – a dream of mine. When I did not hear back, I had the normal reaction of panic followed by questions: What happened? Did I not get it? Was I not good enough? The following day, I reached out. The response completely shifted how I viewed my work in higher education and how I viewed my understanding of identity within the field. The response could be seen as quite simple: “Thank you for your interest as you were a strong candidate and interviewer! However, we selected individuals who seemed they would be a better fit for our office and leadership team dynamic.

Above being disappointed, I was simply confused about what they meant by “fit”. Was it because I did not work in a leadership center in my graduate assistantship? Was it because I did not have experience working in orientation programming? These questions cycled through my head. Then, when I learned who had been selected, I started asking myself another question: Was it because I did not look like everyone else working in this office?

Where We are Coming From

I (DaShawn) am a cisgender, heterosexual, Black man with an invisible disability. Despite countless opportunities facilitating leadership development training for undergraduate students, it took a long time for me to identify as a leadership educator. After attending the Leadership Educators Institute as a first-year master’s student, I began to see  how leadership education was not confined to the walls of a leadership office or center as it did not belong to any one office. However, I soon reached a place of critical reflection on what it means to hold the label of leadership educator and how one obtains it. Through both the internship and job search processes as I described in the story above, I applied for roles centering on leadership training and education but I was often repeatedly not offered those positions. I started to question how the student affairs profession defines a leadership educator given that many of the offices I applied for positions went on to hire cisgender, white Women, which reflected both the leadership and most of the staff in those offices. I started to notice both a lack of Black and Brown spaces in these leadership education spaces, but also how sparingly the title of leadership educator was placed upon Black and Brown practitioners.

I reflected on my experiences of how I was socialized into various schools of thought surrounding leadership theory. From learning about servant leadership at the undergraduate level to a graduate course on leadership education at a large, public research institution, I take pleasure in continuing to expand my praxis as a leadership educator. However, I also question how exclusive the field of leadership education is and how it limits itself to the same scholars promoting the same schools of thought through the same lenses of identity and experience.

I (Trisha) am a straight, white, cisgender, Woman. I identify deeply as a leadership educator. The interaction of my social identities with my professional identity provides an opportunity for reflection and consideration within my teaching and research, particularly noting where I have had access to the leadership educator title and opportunities because of my identities.

I began my professional career in student affairs, progressing from my master’s program to hall director, to eventually an assistant dean of students. Within all of these professional roles, I sought out spaces to facilitate learning around leadership theory and practice. My student affairs training focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion, particularly in understanding critical and identity-based student development theories as crucial factors for professional preparation. Unfortunately, my leadership educator training was significantly lacking in comparison to those other areas. Sitting firmly in my privileged identities, it did not occur to me to link the curriculum on social identity development to how students develop as leaders.

After seven years in the field, I decided to become a leadership studies faculty member. I came to realize my main passion in work was facilitating leadership development for college students and actively engaged the practice of weaving critical and social justice foundations into all elements of leadership education. Creating spaces of belonging is a purposeful practice; I am interested in where we have the opportunity to reframe leadership education and de-center whiteness, masculinity, cisnormative, and heteronormative narratives by intentionally considering who and how we train folks to become leadership educators.

Historical Legacy

Leadership education is a field of study related to the teaching of leadership as both a theoretical concept and an experiential practice (Hall, 2018). With higher education, formalized leadership education grew out of a conversation in the 1980s among student affairs professionals to co-create a collective pedagogy and curriculum for leadership training and development for college students (Watkins, 2018). Currently, leadership education has grown into an entire field of inquiry and practice with over 1,500 leadership centers, schools, and academic majors, minors, and certificates across university spaces (Guthrie et al., 2018). Leadership education has quickly become more expected in the college experience (Watkins, 2018). This rapid growth produced a multitude of offerings deemed “leadership education”. In the past 10 years,  a conversation arose about the need to train graduate students and emerging professionals as leadership educators (Andenoro & Skendall, 2020; Komives, 2011; Guthrie & Jenkins, 2018; Teig, 2018).

The accelerated growth of leadership learning and the need for more formally prepared leadership educators can be seen as an opportunity as we seek to grow strong, purposeful leaders for the future (Chunoo & Osteen, 2016). However, the rapid expansion has also driven the need to wrestle with power and privilege concerning our conceptualization of leadership (Guthrie et al., 2016; Dugan, 2017). Limited scopes of access are being revealed in tracing the lineage of who has been supported in learning to become a leader (Dugan & Henderson, 2021). Much like the history of higher education, leadership development for college students has focused on a small, select (white, male, Christian) audience (Mahoney, 2016; Thelin, 2011).

Critical scholars note leadership education as a high-impact practice (HIP) in higher education and as a foundational space to reify racist, sexist, and transphobic integrated assumptions to leadership development (Stewart & Nicolazzo, 2018; Wiborg, 2020). This lineage continues to fortify the historical legacy of exclusion within higher education created by the hegemonic regimes reproduced by institutions. In the last decade, some scholars began advocating for a reckoning of leadership in its connection with identity, power, and oppression, and a movement towards social justice as necessary to the conversation of leadership education (Beatty & Manning-Ouellette, 2018; Beatty & Tillapaugh, 2017; Dugan, 2017, 2021; Dugan & Humbles, 2018; Guthrie et al., 2016; Mahoney, 2016; Pendakur & Furr, 2016). There is also a larger emphasis on socially just leadership (Chunoo & Guthrie, 2018; Teig, 2017), culturally relevant leadership learning (Guthrie et al., 2016; Chunoo & Guthrie, 2018), and critical leadership pedagogy (Pendakur & Furr, 2016; Wiborg, 2020) to honor, acknowledge, disrupt, and reconstruct the history of exclusion within leadership development.

For all the positive steps forward, we focus this thought paper on how these changes have not permeated across the professionalization of leadership educators and analyze the disconnect between leadership education scholarship and leadership education practice. Little attention has been paid to who is facilitating leadership learning for college students and how their identities, networks, and practices shape students’ experience and access to leadership learning. Without both a depth and breadth of investigating identity, power, and oppression within leadership education, the historical legacy of exclusion continues to permeate the spaces within student affairs geared toward leadership education inquiry and practice.

The Leadership Education Lunchroom

Although the field of leadership education has advanced, there is still a large gap preventing leadership educator knowledge and practices from being accessible to everyone. To use a metaphor for the leadership education community of practice, let’s imagine it as a lunchroom. The long lines are made up of the scholars and practitioners facilitating the learning and development of new leaders: these are the leadership educators. Each group in the lunchroom finds a table to discuss new leadership knowledge and practice. However, one table gets higher status and not everyone is fortunate enough to get a seat there: the “cool kids’ table” (CKT). The members of the CKT are the trailblazers of leadership education: from scholars who helped develop widely used leadership theories or models such as the Leader Identity Development (LID) model to practitioners developing the most lauded leadership development programs such as Leadershape.

It can be easy to see how the CKT creates a sense of awe and a desire to join in the thought-provoking rich conversations presumed to be taking place there. But an alternative perspective would question why the leadership education “cool kids’ table” is so popular and who decides who can join? This creates a paradox in leadership education which permeates within the broader field of student affairs.

Research examining the “hidden who” of leadership education notes a vast majority of leadership educators are white and/or cisgender women (Jenkins & Owen, 2016). Furthermore, a deeper exploration of leadership educator identity development highlights how these professionals must encounter mentors and supportive environments to envision themselves as leadership educators in order to ascribe to that identity (Seemiller & Priest, 2015, 2017; Priest & Seemiller, 2018; Teig, 2018). If we consider how these two data points intersect (social identities of leadership educators + how leadership educators assume that identity) it is helpful to explore where possible exclusions or barriers exist. How and why did the CKT get constructed and how is it being reified in its own image?

We posit this exclusion is rooted in oppressive systems keeping many professionals of Color and LGBTQ+ professionals from holding the title of leadership educator. In relation to leadership education, these boundaries can limit access to what is considered mainstream “leadership knowledge” and create an image of what a leadership educator is supposed to be (including what identities they hold, what knowledge they possess, and where they were educated). In turn, this draws divisions regarding what work professionals may or may not be doing in leadership education, which can further marginalize communities whose narratives may not be centered in the prescription of “leadership education”. These exclusions include three conceptual areas: exclusion by knowledge, exclusion by capital, and exclusion by practice, connected to the historical legacy of exclusion in leadership learning (See also Figure 1). We offer deeper examples of these exclusions and the fears that are produced as their drivers and outcomes.

Exclusion by Knowledge

Leadership education within student affairs is centered on an understanding of leadership knowledge and applied practice for college student development (Komives et al., 2011). The shaping of all disciplines includes canonical theory and foundations; leadership studies in higher education is no exception. However, it is relevant to consider limitations to this traditional collection of scholarship steeped in systems of oppression and require us to “consider who had or has the power to define the boundaries of leadership as a field” (Wiborg, 2020, p. 35). Exclusion by knowledge draws a boundary for who can be considered a leadership educator based on access and understanding of this limited leadership education collection of knowledge.

For example, among the leadership development and education communities in student affairs, there is an affinity for the Social Change Model of Leadership (SCM; HERI, 1996), Strengths (Tapia-Fuselier & Irwin, 2019), and the Leader Identity Development model (Komives et al., 2005). This affinity can have exclusionary effects if expanded critical perspectives are not also examined (Dugan & Henderson, 2021). For example, Tapia-Fuselier and Irwin (2019) analyzed Strengths through a critical whiteness lens to note limitations for students of Color.

The emphasis on training student affairs professionals as leadership educators is still a new endeavor with many HESA graduate programs (Jenkins & Guthrie, 2018; Kroll & Guvendiren, 2021; Teig, 2018). Kroll and Guvendiren (2021) identified in over 200 HESA programs, almost two-thirds (64%) have coursework related to leadership, some of this content is theory and practice-based (36%) or leadership theory focused (5%) but little to none of this coursework is focused on how to develop leadership in others. Considering this data, we question how and if an expansion of leadership education training and access to leadership education scholarship is occurring.

While it can be easy to perceive the normative focus on leadership education knowledge emerging within student affairs as fully expansive, this is simply not the case for many higher education institutions. This knowledge is still siloed in traditional canon, passed down from previous “cool kids” over the years. This can create a large gap amongst professionals based on their ability to attain more recent leadership education knowledge. This gap presents hazards to the field due to the increase of professionals being asked to perform leadership education without any training or formal education surrounding leadership (Kroll & Guvendiren, 2021; Teig, 2018).

Building on this challenge, we posit there is a collective, hegemonic narrative of leadership learning which creates a bubble of like-minded professionals utilizing the same mainstream (white-centric, heteronormative, cisnormative, color-evasive) leadership development content. Recent scholarship in critical leadership studies notes curricular and pedagogical training can offer resources foundational to new student affairs professionals in understanding their leadership educator identity (Chunoo & Guthrie, 2018; Teig, 2018; Wiborg, 2020). Like many fields of study, leadership education is evolving with new research and practices being created consistently; often making it hard for practitioners and programs to stay current. This hinders graduate students in programs who have assistantships or courses that only focus on more “popular” leadership knowledge which can place them at odds with graduate students who have the privilege of being at institutions where scholars are actively conducting new, relevant research (Kroll & Guvendiren, 2021).

We must also consider how many leadership theories are often rooted in white, patriarchal, cisnormative, and heteronormative assumptions of leadership preventing them from applicability to larger populations of students, particularly students of Color (Dugan & Henderson, 2021; Mahoney, 2016; Wiborg, 2020). Although a critical lens is being used to analyze and apply leadership theories in some scholarship (Dugan, 2017), it is taking time for these theories to become both public knowledge and widely accepted. This mirrors how many graduate preparation programs are not currently training their students on how to be leadership educators who educate for leadership efficacy, capacity, and identity through culturally relevant lenses (Guthrie & Jenkins, 2018; Teig, 2018).

While knowledge privileges certain groups who are able to attain that knowledge, such as our proverbial cool kids, through the fortune of being in spaces where that knowledge is sequestered, knowledge proves to only be one piece of the puzzle. Even though knowledge can be limited to certain spaces, relationships and connection to social capital can provide a key into the more privileged areas of the leadership education space.

Exclusion by Capital 

Social capital theory denotes the importance of collaborative relationships to advance collective efforts (Krile, 2014). As a theoretical concept, this seems ideal – we can progress by meeting others and building a network among those who share similar passions. These connections build on one another to progress our overall goals in a community or profession. However, the negative side to social capital is the inherent exclusionary (whether intentional or unintentional) nature of the practice. From professional nepotism (“Have you met so and so? We went to State together!”) to implicit bias (“Let’s hire her, she just seems like the right fit”), the emphasis on professional networks and social capital to advance in leadership educator professional spaces creates barriers.

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. The student affairs profession is a large perpetrator of this mantra. As a highly social and engaged discipline, it is not surprising that we are keen to share connections with those we admire in the profession. These relationships are crucial to building a deep web of learning across our work. And yet, how often do we question this relational intertwining with a critical lens? Student affairs scholars Reece, Tran, DeVore, and Porcaro (2019) explored these questions in hiring “fit” and noted, “the practice of excluding others based on personal compatibility may allow more easily for cultural biases to influence hiring, onboarding, and the development of positive relationships at work” (p. 10).

As we enter the student affairs profession, often who you know, who knows you, and where you went to school are predictors for what type of job you can attain. This is particularly true for anyone who is seeking a role in leadership education (as referenced in the story at the beginning). As a (perceived) highly niche section of a small field, knowing the “cool kids” in leadership education often means doors are opened to you that would be closed for others. An invitation to the CKT offers support and direction, mentorship and sponsorship, opportunity to take on new roles, voice ideas, research and write scholarship, and gives the opening to meet more of the other cool kids’; a self-perpetuating cycle of advancement for some, but decidedly not all who are doing the work of leadership education.

If we dive deeper into the CKT, we notice that the very nature of an elite in-group often encourages new members within the image of themselves. As leadership education is mostly made up of white Women (Jenkins & Owen, 2016), the demographic makeup of those who “do” leadership education on college campuses often reflects our undeniably important and undeniably homogenous foremothers. While leadership education content is slowly making a shift towards inclusive, social justice, and critical lenses, how is this mirror being directed back at who we are socializing into the profession? Additionally, how does this impact which students participate in leadership programming if they do not see their identities reflected in the leadership educators?  If the table is consistently a bunch of straight, white, cisgender Women and men, how does this inherently create an off-putting vibe for folx who do not hold those identities? If most people in leadership learning look the same, come from similar master’s programs, or know all the same “cool kids”, how can this self-defeating cycle come to an end?

Exclusion by Practice 

When one pursues leadership education, knowledge and social capital help professionals enter the pipeline into the field while the emphasis on practice helps solidify one’s place once inside the pipeline. Many practitioners gain access to leadership education knowledge through practical experiences, such as graduate assistantships and internships (Tull et al., 2009). With an emphasis on practical experience within the student affairs job search, it is easy to assume those who have experience in positions with titles specifying “leadership” or work within a leadership center are more qualified for certain roles (Ardoin, 2014). However, to rely on this assumption is to give power to bias and create boundaries on who is allowed into the field. This insulates the field of leadership education within student affairs from new ideas and creates a wall of inequity, decreasing opportunities for practitioners and increasing a lack of representation.

Consider the title of “leadership educator”. Who is given the title and who gets to give the title? For instance, it can be easy to lend the title of leadership educator to graduate students who happen to hold assistantships in leadership offices or do “leadership-specific” work, but this is not founded on any metric. In thinking about efficacy, when does one begin to “feel like a leadership educator” or when does one know they are a leadership educator? Given this, there has to be consideration of how folks internalize the feelings associated with the title of leadership educator as well as experiences and role designation.

Knowing how exclusionary the title of leadership educator can be, the question becomes how do we support professionals who do not have “leadership” in their title? It can be easy to assume the title dictates the type of work done by the professional, but Teig (2018) made the argument professionals are asked to facilitate leadership development regardless of title or formalized training. The process of dismantling this exclusion by practice lies in two areas: professional development and graduate training in student affairs professional preparation programs.

Student affairs is a community based around the principle that practical experiences create stronger and more versatile professionals (Tull et al., 2009; Ardoin, 2014). An element of those practical experiences is professionals challenging themselves by engaging in continual learning in order to align with the pace of the field as it changes. Given that student affairs is not like other fields where there are certifications or exams necessary for continuing education, the field relies on the expectation of professionals engaging in professional development experiences such as workshops, trainings, and conferences to further their knowledge base. The profession has created useful professional development opportunities to address the gap in leadership education training. Programs like Leadership Educators Academy (LEA), Leadership Educators Institute (LEI), and conferences such as ILA and ALE do give some broadening to this need. However, these efforts are band aids or stop gap measures that do not allow for a broad level of access to leadership education knowledge for all student affairs professionals.

Furthermore, these experiences are not necessarily equitable to all those who wish to further their knowledge of leadership education practices. Conferences and workshops often require financial means to attend which places burdens on professionals if their institutions cannot afford for them to attend. Another challenge includes lack of departmental or institutional support in leadership education professional development for professionals who do not work in leadership departments but want to attend leadership-specific experiences. With barriers like these in place, it can be easy for leadership education professional development experiences to become silos of the same professionals sharing the same knowledge, continuing the cycle of privilege and ultimately a large majority of professionals from the space.

In thinking about graduate students, leadership education courses and training in graduate programs are sequestered within a small number graduate programs at large research institutions that often have faculty conducting related research (Guthrie & Jenkins, 2016; Kroll & Guvendiren, 2021). While graduate students at these large research institutions may benefit from the knowledge and relationships with faculty there, this still creates a large disparity across smaller graduate programs or institutions without the same access to that knowledge. There is also the creation of disparities of practice within graduate programs when graduate students who have assistantships within leadership offices are able to see themselves in leadership education in comparison to their peers because of the daily practice of their assistantship. In thinking about the next generation of professionals, there must be serious questions of how we restructure graduate programs to foster environments where everyone can see themselves as leadership educators, knowing they will be asked to “do” leadership education in their full-time roles (Teig, 2018).

Grappling with Fears 

As these exclusions intersect, perpetuated fears contribute to the continuation of a CKT paradigm (See Figure 1). The interaction between exclusions and historical legacies creates fears of retribution, discomfort, rejection, and abandoning tradition. These fears are grounded in a space of perpetuating systems of power, privilege, and oppression and propagate the negative elements of the CKT.

Figure 1
Leadership Educator Exclusions + Fears

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”.

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”.

At the intersection of historical legacy and exclusion by practice is a fear of abandoning tradition. We imagine this fear includes concerns for how the traditional practices integrated into leadership education are impossible to let go, even if they are no longer useful to the profession.

When considering historical legacy and exclusion by capital, we envision a fear of rejection – 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.

In the overlap of exclusions by capital and knowledge, we can see a fear of retribution. Creating a space where your access to the leadership educator title is influenced by who and what you know, if you do push against or disrupt the system in place, possible negative ramifications may influence anyone striving for change. Finally, at the crossing of exclusions by knowledge and practice, we see a fear of discomfort. Champions of the CKT may be uncomfortable in following through with change the current status quo because it has most benefited those who have highest access. Recognizing a system that has privileged you to be a member of the CKT can cause discomfort and stifle the privileged to discourage or ignore calls for growth.

In this article, we have presented a challenging and dark outlook on the current state of leadership education in higher education/student affairs. It is not our intention to offer these critiques without also presenting arguments for how we can disrupt and reformulate leadership education as equitable and accessible for all professionals. In the second consideration of dismantling the cool kids’ table, we examine opportunities to make these changes. We can believe we can collectively disrupt this harmful status quo and move toward a more inclusive leadership education community of practice. In Part II of this thought paper, we will explore how purposeful questions and actions can lead us towards critical change in leadership education in student affairs.


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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.

Enhancing Student Health and Well-Being: Health Promotion Standards for Student Affairs Practice

written by: Sarah E. I. Menefee, Padma R. Entsuah, Alicia K. Czachowski, and Joleen M. Nevers

Student Affairs professionals are essential for enhancing student health and well-being. The Standards of Practice for Health Promotion in Higher Education is a guiding document, essential to Health Promotion work (American College Health Association, 2019). Through examples, this article illustrates how the application of the Standards of Practice can help Student Affairs professionals advocate for important of health promotion processes, create healthy environments, and achieve student health outcomes.

Key Words: health promotion, health, well-being, standards of practice

Student health and well-being are inherently linked to student experiences in higher education and goals such as retention, student satisfaction, graduation rates, and other benchmarks (Institute of Medicine & National Research Council, 2015). The field of Health Promotion works to support student health and well-being, and thus student success. The American College Health Association’s (ACHA) Standards of Practice for Health Promotion in Higher Education (Standards of Practice) outlines key tenets and expectations for Health Promotion professionals. This publication was created based on knowledge, expertise, and current evidence of best practices in Health Promotion in higher education. The Standards of Practice describes the role of Health Promotion in institutions of higher education and informs the future direction of the field (American College Health Association [ACHA], 2019). The purpose of this article is to directly connect Student Affairs professionals to the Standards of Practice and explain how to use it when working with or supervising Health Promotion colleagues, or when leading health promotion processes. By understanding and using the Standards of Practice, Student Affairs professionals can work with and lead Health Promotion process to help enhance student health and well-being.

Through articles such as this, the authors aim to introduce those outside of Health Promotion in higher education to the field, to create better understanding, collaboration, and prioritization of effective strategies for advancing student health and well-being.

Health Promotion in Higher Education

Health Promotion is an evolving field that focuses not just on individual health, but also considers the impact that relationships, culture within communities, policies, and environments have on health and well-being (Bronfenbrenner, 1977). This approach requires professionals to use a “positive, proactive approach, moving beyond a focus on individual behaviour, towards a wide range of social and environmental interventions” (World Health Organization [WHO], n.d., para. 1). It is not enough to educate individual students about certain health topics; efforts must also focus on addressing the social and environmental factors that influence health and well-being (Braveman & Gottlieb, 2014).

Health Promotion is critical to higher education. ACHA states that “[a]t colleges and universities, health promotion serves the core mission of higher education by supporting students and creating healthy learning environments” (n.d.-b, para. 1). In a 2017 commentary, Lederer and Oswalt argue for the importance of Health Promotion for students. They describe how college students experience some health challenges at higher rates than their peers who are not enrolled at institutions of higher education, and how behaviors and health problems formed during college can continue into adulthood and may lead to chronic diseases. Furthermore, they describe the link between negative health behaviors and academic outcomes such as lower GPA (Lederer & Oswalt, 2017).

Health Promotion and Student Affairs

The Student Affairs and Health Promotion fields are complementary, if not connected. Therefore, it is important for Student Affairs professionals to understand Health Promotion processes. The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Wellness and Health Promotion Benchmark Survey (2011) shows that the majority of Health Promotion departments are located within a Division of Student Affairs. Additionally, 64% of the 2018 ACHA Health Promotion Section Needs Assessment respondents stated that they are members of NASPA (ACHA, 2018). Therefore, Health Promotion professionals at an institution of higher education are often, also Student Affairs professionals.

For NASPA, health, safety, and well-being are focus areas.

“Encompassing the areas of substance abuse prevention, violence prevention, sexual violence prevention, mental health, and wellness and health promotion leadership, NASPA’s work in the health, safety and well-being area serves the advancement of knowledge and evolution of practice for higher education professionals focused on all aspects of student health” (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators [NASPA], n.d., para. 1).

Furthermore, the American College Personnel Association & National Association of Student Personnel Administrators [ACPA/NASPA] Professional Competencies Rubric (2016) outlines competencies that are connected to student health and well-being and therefore overlap with Health Promotion processes. For example, the Advising and Supporting competency states that by “developing advising and supporting strategies that take into account self-knowledge and the needs of others, we play critical roles in advancing the holistic wellness of ourselves, our students, and our colleagues” (ACPA/NASPA, 2016, p. 10). In addition, the dimensions of this competency, specifically partnering with others and professional development, are also standards for Health Promotion professionals. Other competencies that are connected to Health Promotion include Assessment, Evaluation, and Research; Personal and Ethical Foundations; Leadership; Social Justice and Inclusion; and Student Learning and Development (ACPA/NASPA, 2016).

Student Affairs professionals who supervise or direct a Health Promotion department have the power to make budgetary decisions or decisions on the direction of division initiatives. In addition, Student Affairs professionals may collaborate on Health Promotion processes, whether or not the Health Promotion department is within Student Affairs. Through this article, we aim to help Student Affairs professionals better understand the processes involved in promoting student health and well-being. By operating from a shared framework, Health Promotion and Student Affairs professionals can strategically and effectively work towards advancing student health and well-being.

The Standards of Practice


In 1996, ACHA appointed the Task Force on Health Promotion in Higher Education to develop professional standards of practice for the field (Zimmer, et al., 2003). The first edition of the Standards of Practice was released in 2001and it was reviewed and updated in 2005, 2012 and 2019 ((ACHA, 2001; ACHA, 2005; ACHA, 2012; ACHA, 2019). The 2019 revision included significant changes such as an expanded introduction, new guiding principles, updates to many sub-standards, a new standard, and the addition of a glossary of terms and resource list (ACHA, 2019).


The Standards of Practice is intended for a wide audience ranging from experienced Health Promotion professionals to those new to the field as well as those with other backgrounds or areas of expertise. The Standards of Practice can be used to better understand and effectively implement Health Promotion processes in higher education. Furthermore, it can be used to guide planning efforts and evaluate how the work is done. Professionals across institutions of higher education can use the Standards of Practice to learn more and advocate for the essential role of Health Promotion for student success.

While there are several resources for Health Promotion professionals in higher education that help shape the field, the Standards of Practice is unique as it uses standards and sub-standards to outline strategies for doing effective Health Promotion work. The document serves as an ideal to strive toward, therefore it is not expected that an institution or professional address every standard and sub-standard. It establishes a clear and consistent understanding of how to do Health Promotion work, allowing those serving their communities to more comprehensively and effectively enhance environments that support student success. Furthermore, in addition to the standards themselves, the publication also offers important background, context, terminology, framing, and resources for the field of Health Promotion in higher education.


The Standards of Practice includes a narrative opening, individual standards, a glossary of terms, and a list of essential Health Promotion resources. The narrative includes a brief history of the Standards of Practice, information about the field of Health Promotion in higher education, and principles that guide the individual standards. This section of the Standards of Practice provides the reader with more context about the field such as the connection to student success and the collaboration required for effective Health Promotion processes. The glossary allows readers to have common language and understanding of the terms so they can appropriately apply the individual standards. Finally, there is a resource section with documents, websites, books, and articles for further reading about key concepts related to Health Promotion in higher education (ACHA, 2019).

Application of Individual Standards

The Standards of Practice is designed to help institutions of higher education successfully prevent health challenges and promote well-being. To effectively do so, it is important to understand the individual standards and their importance for Health Promotion processes. These standards are outlined in Table 1 and are available within the full Standards of Practice publication on the ACHA website. Standards 1, 7, and 8 are likely similar to Student Affairs practice; therefore, the section below will focus on Standards 2-6 (ACHA, 2019).


Table 1. 2019 Standards of Practice for Health Promotion in Higher Education (AHCA, 2019).

Standard Title Applying the Standards
Standard 1: Alignment with the Missions of Higher Education

Facilitate processes that cultivate a healthy community so students can thrive and reach their fullest potential

In order to support student success, health and well-being must be prioritized in all facets of the institutional culture. This includes the mission, vision, values, and strategic priorities across the campus and departments.
Standard 2: Socioecological-Based Practice

Address campus and community health and well-being at all levels of the socioecological model

Interventions should be aimed at multiple levels of the socioecological model, with a focus on the population level, in order to effectively address complex health issues (Glanz, K., Rimer, B., Viswanath, K., 2015).
Standard 3: Collaboration

Effective practice of health promotion in higher education requires a shared responsibility of all campus and community members to enhance health and well-being

Health and well-being are not the responsibility of one person or office. It requires collaboration to ensure that efforts and initiatives to promote campus health and well-being are aligned and coordinated across the institution.
Standard 4: Inclusive Practice

Demonstrate cultural humility and inclusivity

Removing systemic barriers and involving marginalized populations in Health Promotion work is essential to reducing health disparities and achieving health equity among campus populations. (Braverman, Arkin, Orleans, Proctor, & Plough, 2017).
Standard 5: Theory-Based Practice

Understand and apply accepted interdisciplinary theoretical frameworks and planning models that address the well-being of the community

Theories and frameworks outline proven strategies for addressing complex health issues and, therefore should be used to when planning and developing initiatives (Glanz, K., et al., 2015).
Standard 6: Evidence-Informed Practice

Understand and utilize evidence to inform health promotion processes and initiatives

In order to effectively address complex health issues, Health Promotion processes should use the best available quantitative and qualitative evidence to design and evaluate initiatives (Tasmanian Government Department of Health, n.d.).
Standard 7: Continuing Professional Development

Engage in ongoing professional development in order to build skills and maintain up-to-date knowledge of the field

Health Promotion in higher education is an ever-evolving field, therefore it is essential to prioritize professional development to stay informed about current trends, practices, and terminology.
Standard 8: Service to the Field

Contribute professionally to the field both on- and off-campus

To advance the field, professionals must share their knowledge and experience through mentoring, reporting on campus practices, updating guiding documents, and publishing research.

Standard 2: Socioecological-Based Practice

An essential framework in Health Promotion is the Socioecological Model (SEM). This framework, and the associated standard highlight that individual factors such as knowledge, interpersonal factors such as social expectations or peer pressure, and environmental factors such as physical access or campus policies all influence health and well-being (Bronfenbrenner, 1977). The SEM posits that student health and well-being cannot be effectively addressed by targeting only one set of factors; instead, to have the most impact, professionals must address all of them, with an emphasis on the environmental factors (CDC, 2021).

For example, to address the complex health challenge of high-risk drinking, targeting one element, such as knowledge of how the body processes alcohol, is not sufficient to impact change. A more comprehensive approach would combine interventions that target multiple levels of the SEM. These interventions could include strategies for combating peer pressure, examining individual attitudes, shifting social norms, enhancing campus policies, and reducing high risk drinking events. Another community and policy level intervention that can strengthen efforts to address high-risk drinking could be to build relationships with local bars and establish agreements around enforcing campus drinking policies. Working at all levels of the SEM provides a comprehensive and effective approach to addressing complex health issues. Interventions at each level complement and reinforce each other to form a more effective approach to addressing this health challenge.

Standard 3: Collaboration

Collaboration is key to Health Promotion practice. The Okanagan Charter: An International Charter for Health Promoting Universities and Colleges (2015) states, “health promotion is not just the responsibility of the health sector, but must engage all sectors to take an explicit stance in favour of health, equity, social justice and sustainability for all, while recognizing that the well-being of people, places and the planet are interdependent” (p. 4). While many offices on campus have specific responsibilities and initiatives that they solely oversee, Health Promotion processes are most effective when done in collaboration with other departments and offices across the institution (ACHA, 2019). There are a multitude of factors that influence student health concerns, therefore departments outside of Health Promotion must recognize their critical role in supporting student health and well-being.

Standard 4: Inclusive Practice

While the concept of inclusive practice is not new to Student Affairs professionals, its importance to health-related outcomes cannot be overstated. Studies have shown that oppressive systems contribute to poorer health. Marginalized populations are at risk for worse health outcomes due to many factors such as worse treatment at health care facilities and the cumulative stress of systemic racism (Mays et al., 2007, Gee & Ford, 2011). In order to address the health inequities, Health Promotion efforts must address these systemic issues.

When reviewing policies and practices, professionals should be critical of the voices advocating for initiatives and aware of what populations are represented in associated research.  Reducing health inequities requires dismantling the systems that contribute to these inequities and advocating for the inclusion of marginalized populations in Health Promotion processes. Furthermore, it is important to recognize the barriers that may contribute to worse health outcomes among these populations. There is a history of distrust of the healthcare system among marginalized groups due to unethical research practices, misdiagnosis of health issues, and racism in the healthcare sector, among other reasons (Scharff et al., 2010). Therefore, all those doing Health Promotion work should have an inclusive and equity-minded focus. By examining policies and the environments that contribute to health and well-being, professionals will work to remove or minimize these barriers.

Standard 5: Theory-Based Practice

This standard emphasizes that, similar to the field of Student Affairs, theory is essential to Health Promotion practice. Within the Health Promotion field, professionals use a variety of theories from both Public Health and Student Development. These theories have been studied and demonstrate strategies for changing behavior. Common constructs across many behavioral change theories include addressing attitudes, norms, confidence, skills, intentions, and environmental factors that impact one’s ability and motivation to perform healthy behaviors (Glanz et al., 2015). By learning to apply and grounding Health Promotion processes in theory, efforts are more likely to be successful (Glanz et al., 2015).

Standard 6: Evidence-Informed Practice

Effective Health Promotion practice requires review of the best available evidence for, and continued evaluation of, existing programs and initiatives. This standard moves the field past initiatives that show, for example, creativity, but have little to no impact on the health and well-being of the community. Instead, the focus should be on initiatives created based on existing evidence and measured to evaluate success.

Although ‘evidence – based’ is a term commonly used to describe interventions, it is limited. This term was first developed for the medical field as “the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current evidence in making decisions about care of individual patients” (Sackett, 1997, p. 71). However, when developing Health Promotion processes, research-based data is not always available to show effectiveness of interventions. By using the term evidence-informed, the Standards of Practice reminds professionals to use the best available quantitative and qualitative evidence to design and evaluate health promotion processes (Tasmanian Department of Health, n.d.). Evidence-informed data can be found through other institutions, databases, journal articles, local evaluation data, and non-governmental organizations, among others. As an example, with vaping, and other emerging health problems, there will likely be limited evidence of effective prevention strategies. However, professionals can apply proven strategies from related issues, such as smoking prevention, to emerging health problems and then evaluate these initiatives to determine impact.

Importance of the Standards of Practice to Student Affairs

The Standards of Practice is important for advancing health and well-being on college campuses. Those working toward this goal, including Higher Education professionals, can use the Standards of Practice in a variety of contexts. Specifically, the document can be used to improve health outcomes; as a framework to facilitate collaborations with campus partners; and as a tool to advocate for particular approaches or resources.

Achieving health outcomes

Achieving intended health outcomes requires Student Affairs and Health Promotion professionals to engage in a coordinated effort to best meet students’ needs. Effective Health Promotion processes that advance health across campus require evidence-informed practices, the SEM, goal setting, and theory-based practice.

Using evidence from published research and local data, while also building on community assets, helps inform strategies for enhancing student health and well-being. Historically, Health Promotion efforts focused on planning events, such as workshops and trainings, as a way to build individual knowledge and skills. In isolation, these strategies have limited effectiveness in combating complex health challenges impacting campuses (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2021). However, these programs often continue because of their established history on campus. To challenge this narrow scope of continuing historical programs, the Standards of Practice pushes those implementing Health Promotion processes to use evidence-informed strategies that are shown to advance health and well-being within populations.

It is important to think of Health Promotion as a larger strategy that addresses health and well-being from multiple angles. By applying the SEM, professionals acknowledge that individual factors such as lack of knowledge, interpersonal factors such as peer pressure, and environmental factors such as policies all influence health and well-being (CDC, 2021). The Standards of Practice emphasizes that student health and well-being cannot be effectively addressed by targeting only one set of factors. To have the most impact these issues should be addressed at every level of the SEM with a stronger emphasis on the environment and policies that impact the entire population.

As Health Promotion and Public Health have evolved, professionals have identified and published proven strategies to address health concerns in different populations. Establishing best practices requires evaluation of outlined goals and objectives to ensure the initiative achieves the intended outcomes. To increase the likelihood that efforts will address student health issues, it is important to set clear goals and objectives, both for specific initiatives and for improving the health of overall populations; discontinue programs that do not meet intended goals; evaluate new initiatives for effectiveness; and create interventions grounded in available evidence (Fernandez, Ruiter, Markham, & Kok, 2019). In a crisis or when pressured to do so, professionals may quickly implement a program or initiative without evidence of efficacy on the intended behavior or population. These initiatives may not achieve the intended outcomes if there are no clearly articulated goals and objectives, the components of the program or initiative are not consistent with the objectives, or there is no clear plan for evaluation to measure outcomes or limitations. The Standards of Practice emphasizes that effective Health Promotion work draws from an existing evidence base and evaluates goals and objectives.

Working together

Campuses that view health as the responsibility of all can align health and well-being efforts across the institution. The role of the entire institution of higher education in student well-being is highlighted in the 2020 document titled Health And Well‑Being In Higher Education: A Commitment to Student Success, published by a consortium of higher education organizations, including National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA), NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, and ACHA. This document states that “it is time to transcend reactive, siloed, programmatic approaches to health and establish foundational, proactive, well-being initiatives for the campus community” (National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association [NIRSA], 2019, p. 1). Through the joint statement the participating organizations recognize that “by focusing on the whole — the whole person, the whole educational experience, the whole institution, the whole community — well-being becomes a multifaceted goal and a shared responsibility for the entire campus” (NIRSA, 2019, p. 1). The environments that contribute to health behavior are complex and influenced by policies and practices across the institution, and therefore cannot be effectively addressed by one person or department. For example, Health Promotion efforts to reduce stress will be less impactful if faculty have contrasting messages and policies. Similarly, attempts to change campus policies around high-risk drinking should include Conduct Officers and Resident Assistants to ensure enforcement is consistent across the institution. Collaboration across the university allows for a coordinated approach to advance health and well-being across a campus. The Standards of Practice facilitates collaborations by establishing common understanding, goals, and language for advancing student health and well-being.

To effectively address complex health issues, any higher education professional can use the Standards of Practice to ensure messages, policies, and programming will complement and reinforce each other.


The Standards of Practice is an advocacy tool — whether advocating for resources, such as staffing, or for evidence-informed approaches to Health Promotion processes. The introduction of the Standards of Practice describes the complexities of promoting health and well-being on campus. To address the health issues students encounter, it requires specific skills as outlined by the individual standards. Student Affairs professionals are vital advocates for Health Promotion, as they may supervise or collaborate with Health Promotion offices. While it is often easier to justify the need for additional funding and human capital to support students during a crisis, it is important to address student concerns proactively. Prevention initiatives that address the environmental level of the SEM take time to show impact, and thus may be challenging to fund and support. Therefore, Student Affairs professionals can use the Standards of Practice to advocate for the processes, skills, and resources necessary for long-term, proactive prevention strategies to enhance student health and well-being.

The Standards of Practice can also be used to advocate for using best practices to promote student health and well-being. If an institution applies the individual standards, they will be challenged to implement theory and evidence-informed strategies that are evaluated for effectiveness. This document can help institutions shift towards more effective Health Promotion processes and phase out ineffective strategies that exist based on historical precedent.

Using the Standards of Practice

The Standards of Practice is a comprehensive document that outlines how to effectively and proactively address complex health issues impacting college students. Although it may not be possible to achieve each standard and sub-standard, the publication provides an ideal for a campus to strive toward. Because there are so many uses for the publication, the examples below highlight how to apply the Standards of Practice to potential scenarios.

Using the Standards of Practice – Advocacy

Your Student Affairs colleagues are questioning how the Health Promotion staff you supervise are using their time. Your colleagues point out that in the past, the Health Promotion team spent a lot of time presenting to social groups and students in residence halls, however, they’ve noticed a decrease in those educational programs. Instead, the team has been spending more time in coalition meetings and proposing new campus policies.

The Standards of Practice can help to describe this shift in priorities that has likely occurred on many college campuses. The introduction of the document outlines the evolving nature of the field of Health Promotion in higher education. In addition, several individual standards support this type of shift in Health Promotion approaches.

Standard 6: Evidence-Informed Practice can help colleagues recognize the importance of putting time and energy into strategies that have the greatest success in advancing community health and well-being (ACHA, 2019). Educational programs have limited effectiveness in changing behavior and thus should be used sparingly or in combination with more impactful strategies. This standard acknowledges that evidence of the impact of different interventions should lead to the use of strategies that have the largest impact on a community.

In addition, Standard 2: Socioecological Based Practice emphasizes that addressing complex health challenges requires professionals to work at all levels of the SEM model, with a focus on the environmental level (ACHA, 2019). Some may believe that strategies such as presentations, which focus on individual knowledge and skill-building, are the best way to combat these health challenges. Instead of this approach, Student Affairs professionals can advocate for a collaborative, environmental approach, understanding that environmental change requires a coordinated effort across campus. This is reinforced in Standard 3: Collaboration, which highlights the importance of health and well-being as an institutional responsibility, requiring coalition building and committee work to ensure processes are implemented across the university (ACHA, 2019). In addition, there is evidence to suggest that coalition-building is effective for changing culture, tying in Standard 6 again (ACHA, 2019; Butterfoss, 2013).

As someone who supervises Health Promotion professionals, you can use the Standards of Practice to educate colleagues about the importance of this work. In addition, your advocacy will reinforce that Health Promotion efforts that follow the Standards of Practice are best positioned to effectively advance the health of the community.

Using the Standards of Practice – Achieving health outcomes

Your university is trying to implement a comprehensive plan for ensuring minimal COVID-19 transmission. As you explore the various factors that contribute to individual and community risk, you must also consider which campus partners to involve in the planning and implementation of these efforts.

Navigating infectious disease outbreaks, including pandemics such as COVID-19, is a complex issue that requires individuals and departments from across the university to implement a comprehensive strategy. In order to minimize the transmission of diseases such as COVID-19 and reduce the number of cases in the community, it is critical to prioritize Health Promotion and Public Health practices.

As outlined in Standard 2: Socioecological-Based Practice, complex health issues must be addressed at multiple levels in order to achieve the desired health outcomes (ACHA, 2019). In the case of COVID-19, the different levels include: individual ability, attitudes toward, and motivations for following Public Health guidance; skills for encouraging peers to follow strategies for minimizing risk; community norms and expectations for wearing face coverings and practicing physical distancing; and policies related to holding community members accountable for following these practices. In order to work at the different levels of the SEM, it is important to collaborate with partners across campus to ensure this work is done in a coordinated and consistent manner, as outlined in Standard 3: Collaboration (ACHA, 2019). An individual Health Promotion unit cannot achieve those goals on their own; it requires a commitment from the entire university to be implemented effectively.

To enhance COVID-19 prevention efforts, an institution should employ evidence-informed strategies as outlined in Standard 6: Evidence-Informed Practice (ACHA, 2019). When faced with a new or existing health concern, it is important to review existing literature and data to develop a promising strategy based on available evidence to increase the chance of achieving intended health outcomes. For example, while bystander intervention has not been researched as a strategy for this exact context, it has shown effectiveness for other health topics such as sexual violence prevention (Labhardt et al., 2017). Borrowing this concept, bystander intervention skills can be used to encourage students to approach peers who are not following Public Health guidelines such as mask wearing. By evaluating the effectiveness of using existing strategies with new health topics, you contribute to the evidence so others can also achieve health outcomes. This is included in Standard 8: Service to the Field (ACHA, 2019).

Consistent with the Student Affairs field, Health Promotion professionals utilize theory to inform their work, as outlined in Standard 5: Theory-Based Practice (ACHA, 2019). Health Promotion draws on a variety of theories, including public health, student development, and psychology, to develop initiatives that achieve intended health outcomes. For infectious disease outbreaks, professionals can draw on these theories to encourage behavior change—whether that is related to adherence to public health guidance or vaccine acceptance.

At the environmental level of the SEM, universities could establish policies and community expectations related to COVID-19. These policies should consider the impact on marginalized populations, as stated in Standard 4: Inclusive Practice (ACHA, 2019). For instance, does the policy contribute to discrimination against particular populations? How will the policy be enforced, and does it put an undue burden on certain identities? Does the policy provide ample resources and opportunities for individuals to follow it? It is also important that consequences for those who do not follow requirements is equitable and does not unduly burden individuals or populations.

Student Affairs professionals are often the first to be included in such conversations that impact student life. Those who are invited to the table and are familiar with the Standards of Practice are well-positioned to make an impact.

Using the Standards of Practice – Working together

Campus data suggests that students are not getting adequate amounts of sleep, and students perceive that this is impacting their ability to succeed. As a Student Affairs professional, you’ve been asked to sit on a coalition to address this issue, and you aren’t sure why a community approach is needed.

Student sleep habits may be influenced by environmental factors beyond an individual’s control. However, changing an environment is challenging and requires a number of strategies, thus many campus constituents should be involved in the process. Standard 3: Collaboration in the Standards of Practice emphasizes that health and well-being are not the responsibility of only one person or department, but should be viewed as a collective responsibility across campus (ACHA, 2019). Therefore, it is helpful to have a committee or coalition of campus partners collectively working to understand and address this issue facing students. Some departments and individuals to invite to the coalition could include Dining, Housing, Library staff, Residence Life, faculty, and others.

It is important to collect data on the factors that impact students’ sleep to better understand this health issue. It is helpful to collect data using the Socioecological Model (SEM), outlined in Standard 2, to ensure that all potential factors are considered (ACHA, 2019). In the context of student sleep habits, the data collected at each SEM level could include: whether students understand good sleep habits and know how to make time for sleep (individual level); whether students feel pressured by peers to stay up late (interpersonal level); and factors outside of the individual’s control such as class and meeting times, residence hall quiet hours policies, and hours buildings are open (environmental level).

Addressing these factors requires coordination and collaboration across the campus community. For example, research suggests that timing and content of meals can impact sleep quality (Godos et al., 2021). In a committee or coalition setting, the Dining staff can use this information to determine the hours when meals are available as well as the types of food offered. Furthermore, individuals get better sleep in darkness so Housing can use this data to establish policies and practices around when lights are turned off in the residence halls (Pauley, 2004). Some students may also feel pressure to stay awake later because libraries and academic buildings or other study spaces are still open. Leaders from Libraries or Facilities may consider adjusting building hours to limit how late students are staying awake in these facilities.

Though topics such as sleep are typically overseen by campus health or Health Promotion departments, there are opportunities for groups across campus to come together to more holistically address this issue.

Conclusion and Additional Information

By applying the Standards of Practice, Student Affairs professionals can help make significant impacts to student health and well-being on their campus. Having knowledge and appreciation for the most effective ways to impact a population will make all those who use the Standards of Practice vital campus partners in the journey to improve campus health outcomes.

Some professionals may want to learn more about Health Promotion in higher education and there are many additional resources that can provide that additional information and support. The full version of the Standards of Practice for Health Promotion in Higher Education is available on the American College Health Association’s website (ACHA, 2019). Another useful ACHA document is the Guidelines for Hiring Health Promotion Professionals in Higher Education which helps apply the standards to building successful health promotion teams (ACHA, 2014). Both the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) and the Accreditation Association of Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC, n.d.) have sections for Health Promotion (CAS, 2016). The World Health Organization published the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion (1986) outlining actions for Health promotion, while the international Okanagan Charter for Health Promoting Universities (2015) focuses on viewing health more broadly on college campuses. In addition to these resources, there is also a resources section in the full Standards of Practice publication that includes others, particularly for those aiming to learn more about specific subject areas (ACHA, 2019).


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Author Bios

Sarah E. I. Menefee, MPH, CHES has been working in Higher Education for over 15 years. She currently teaches undergraduate Public Health, but previously worked in Health Promotion with many focus areas including mental health promotion and substance abuse prevention. Sarah has held several American College Health Association leadership roles, including Health Promotion Section Chair.

Padma R. Entsuah, MPH, CHES has been working in Health Promotion in Higher Education for almost ten years. With their background in public health, they have worked on education and strategy related to a number of health and well-being related topics such as stress management, sleep, nutrition, physical activity, and sexual violence prevention. Padma has served on many American College Health Association committees and leadership roles, including Chair of the Program Planning Committee.

Alicia K. Czachowski, EdD, MPH, CHES has been working in Health Promotion in Higher Education for more than 15 years. While much of their background focuses on substance abuse prevention, they also have extensive experience in mental health and well-being, sleep hygiene, sexual assault prevention, and assessment. Alicia has served on many American College Health Association committees and coalitions, including as the Chair for the Health Promotion Section.

Joleen M. Nevers, MAEd, CHES, CSE, CSES has been working in Health Promotion in Higher Education for more than twenty years. Their background is in sexuality education, boundaries and ethics, development and implementation of peer education groups, and leadership and mentoring. Joleen has served in numerous leadership positions for the American College Health Association and NASPA and served on committees for the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapist.

Avoiding the Threat of Neoliberalism in Outcome-Based Assessment

written by: Kelly Lee Tatone

My Introduction to Neoliberalism

I attended high school and college during the reign of Reaganomics. The 1980s emerged from the storm of the economic crises and civil unrest of the 1960s and 1970s (Giroux, 2002). The power of 1980s conservative leadership quieted the waters that had been bubbling with energy and effort toward egalitarianism and democratic citizenship. During Reagan’s presidency, policy makers worked to restore the traditions of patriarchy and capitalism (Giroux, 2002; Museus & LePeau, 2019). As students, we were customers and products of the university (Giroux, 2002; Kezar & Posselt, 2019). Gen X graduates were meant to be economically successful, so we, as alumni, would be satisfied, continue to contribute monetarily, promote the reputation of the institution, or at the very least in many cases we were encouraged to support the football team, an institutional marketing tool steeped in patriarchy.

Our satisfaction with the higher education experience was assessed with the measures of success being our level of employment and the amount of our salary, rather than suitable preparation to effectively participate in democratic citizenship (Giroux, 2002). Financial security was the ultimate promise and obligation of the college experience. Higher education assessments mirrored consumer satisfaction surveys, with students regarded as both customer and product. The quality of education centered around earning potential and fulfillment related to the packaged ‘excursion’ of education, intended to keep customers spending at the Ivory Tower. The opinion that education was a public good that benefitted society, and was therefore worth community investment, began to erode, along with pedagogical efforts to guide young people to democratic citizenship and egalitarianism.

I am currently over 50 years old, a non-traditional student, enrolled in a master’s degree program in higher education. I am learning about policies and theories that shaped my undergraduate experience of which, at the time, I was ignorant. It is somewhat surreal to retrospectively gain awareness of external forces taken for granted and the impact they had on my history and life path. An assessment in higher education class taught me that the end of the 20th century assessment in higher education began trending away from understanding student satisfaction to assessing outcomes (Henning & Roberts, 2016; Thelin, 2011). While student satisfaction is still considered, the outcomes of higher education experiences are being centered in assessment (Henning & Roberts, 2016). The purpose of outcomes assessment is to collect information for the institution to determine if programs and activities are having the intended impact on participating individuals. In other words, are the students benefitting from these experiences and gaining knowledge (Henning & Roberts, 2016).

A Call to Action for Student Affairs

This shift may seem progressive, in that determining growth and learning is noble, but the punitive shadow of accountability looms due to the neoliberal sensibilities that linger in the ether of the past (Giroux, 2002; Henning & Roberts, 2016). It is the responsibility of student affairs professionals to guard against the temptation to unconsciously promote the status quo.

Instead, professionals in our field must be hyper vigilant of the typical paradigms, those being the traditionally accepted systems of power and profit. Higher education professionals performing outcome-based assessments must strive to be aware of the threats of neoliberalism. A lack of cognizance may lead to treating students as consumers, rather than people. Further, an ignorance of the dangers of a neoliberal tradition could center institutional, political, or economic interests and could promote hegemonic policies and practices. In this piece, I will provide some background on neoliberalism and the threats the paradigm presents to outcome-based assessment practices, along with a framework that student affairs professionals can utilize to avoid the pitfalls of neoliberal pressures.

Neoliberalism: A Dangerous Ideology

A decade after I graduated with a bachelor’s degree, a professor at my alma mater Giroux argued that neoliberalism was “the most dangerous ideology of the historical moment” (2002, p. 425). The term ‘neoliberalism’ was coined in the 1930s and the theory has evolved through the ages (Monbiot, 2016). The freedoms, from regulation and taxation, promised by the ideology were supported by the wealthy elite, as was the romantic notion that capitalistic competition would reward the deserving (Giroux, 2002; Monbiot, 2016). The ‘greed is good’ attitude that promoted corporate values began in the 1960s and became the ideal in the 1980s, popularized by world leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, reducing government involvement in the economy, as well as investment in the common good of the community, like education (Cahill & Konings, 2017).

Neoliberalism “privileges a market-based, capitalist mindset and economic drivers for public and government-based institutions” (Kezar & Posselt, 2019, p. 4). The growing popularity of privatization over democratization allowed the neoliberal regime to sponsor and endorse consumerism, competition, individualism, choice, and accountability, even in higher education (Gustafson, 2009; Museus & LePeau, 2019). The responsibility for financial success was placed upon the individual person or institution in in lieu of a community investment in progress (Giroux, 2002; Giroux, 2019). The concept of education being a public good, therefore, began to wane and the tools of assessment, or what Museus and LePeau (2019) term “surveillance,” were called upon to measure compliance with the values of neoliberalism, as prioritized by hegemony.

Neoliberal policy makers used the period of economic downturn in the 1970s as further ammunition to insist that deregulation, free markets, and fewer constraints would increase opportunity for free choice, benefiting everyone and making the country stronger (Cahill & Konings, 2017; Gillborn, 2013). In truth, those in power saw the policies of the civil rights era as “not simply rules to protect the public,” but as “unfair rules that constrain good whites’ ability to run the economy” (Hohle, 2015, p. 12). Making education a commodity and, for example, letting the market determine the quality of schools, results in exaggerating the class structure in society, which is, ultimately, in the interests of the white power holders, even though they are quickly becoming a statistical minority (Cahill & Konings, 2017; Gillborn, 2013; Giroux, 2019). The egalitarianism fought for in the civil rights movement was weaponized by the neoliberal white power holders. Neoliberals used the widely and unconsciously accepted racism, classism, and meritocracy to maintain the status quo via interest divergence, a perceived advantage to those in power afforded by the continued oppression of minoritized groups under the guise and rhetoric of freedom, growth, and improvement (Gillborn, 2013; Mills, 1998).

The desired outcomes of the patriarchy, those in control and shaping the practices and policies of higher education institutions, were incentivized to ensure acquiescence of the institutional products, the students; emerging members of the hegemony (Museus & LePeau, 2019). With funding tied to specific desired outcomes, the concern is by whom, why, and how are the desired outcomes being determined. In the currently struggling Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), funding for the schools in the system is tied to a formula based on enrollment, degrees granted, and programs offered. The finance model is overseen by the Board of Governors, (Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, n.d.-b). PASSHE is run by the state and is intended to serve Pennsylvania residents, to make higher education more accessible, especially for rural communities (Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, n.d.-a).

An obvious example of how neoliberalism has influenced higher education is the widely recognized and relied upon U.S. News & World Report classing system for institutions of higher education. Its “Best Colleges” ranking was launched in the early 1980s, in complement with the sweeping neoliberal sentiment. A recent headline in The Washington Post described the competition incited by this list as an “arms race” (Paterno, 2021). It is indeed a contest of prestige based, at least in part, on high stakes testing, which is both inequitable and exclusionary (Mintz, 2021; Paterno, 2021). For institutions, “[m]aintaining one’s position, even for the most selective schools, remains important since the system is self-reinforcing: perceived quality generates prestige levels” (Mintz, 2021, p. 91). This rubric for the educational ‘market’ is frequently utilized in college searches and reinforces the idea of student as customer or consumer (Mintz, 2021).

Neoliberalism in Student Affairs

In the case of student programs and institutional outcomes, if tied to transactionality and consumership by decision makers, consciously or not, the danger becomes that marketability will replace intellectualism and critical thought (H. Giroux, 2002). Institutional submission to state sponsored accountability will come at the cost of agency of the student and the institution and will limit creativity (Raaper, 2019). Programs in PASSHE are victims of this neoliberal idea of performance funding, putting them in competition for the same dollars. As an example, the chancellor has announced plans to eliminate programs and faculty positions due to the declining enrollment and merge schools in the system (Greenstein, 2020).

In developing outcome-based assessments, student affairs professionals should be aware of subtle dangers of neoliberalism. One of which is accountability and the subsequent centering of consumerism in education. In the neoliberal environment, student affairs professionals are called upon to justify their work in quantifiable ways to the institution and various levels of government to qualify for or receive funding (Kupo, 2014; Zerquera et al., 2018). In a study by Zerquera et al., (2018), student affairs professionals were interviewed in an online survey to determine the ways in which they were incorporating social justice in their assessment practice and barriers they encountered. The researchers recognized that these student affairs professionals were “working to reclaim assessment from the traditional, dominant framing of assessment work through neoliberal lenses and advance social justice in higher education” (p. 15). The professionals who responded to the survey indicated they performed assessments typically because they were mandated. They felt overwhelmingly that they and their colleagues were “overworked.” As to the inclusion of social justice practices in assessment, they replied that these were not incorporated because they were not part of what was required and also that “[n]obody is seeking this information” (Zerquera et al., 2018, pp. 34–35). The threat of neoliberal constructs on assessment practices makes guiding resources, by organizations like the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education’s (CAS) and their Learning Domains and Dimensions (Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education, 2008), imperative to the viability and equity of assessment.

A Proposed Protective Framework: SIStor

How do student affairs professionals and those guiding the professionals defend against the neoliberal mindset? First and foremost, they must not assume a guardian or savior role and must practice humility in their work. Further, they must not be oblivious to systemic inequity and their own biases (Steger, 2013). To avoid the influence of neoliberalism in outcome-based assessment I propose that student affairs professionals apply a framework I have designed, called SIStor, which will help us remember to: 1) put Students first; 2) be Introspective; 3) have a healthy sense of Suspicion; and 4) be a proud and practical agitaTOR in the institutional hierarchy.

Each of these practices borrows from CAS standards and social justice ideologies established by higher education scholars (Fraser-Burgess et al., 2021; la paperson, 2017; Roseboro & Ross, 2009; Squire & Nicolazzo, 2019). The CAS domains, and undergirding dimensions represented in SIStor are: cognitive complexity (critical thinking, reflective thinking, effective reasoning); intrapersonal development (realistic self-appraisal, self-understanding, and self-respect); interpersonal competence (meaningful relationships, interdependence); and humanitarianism and civic engagement (understanding and appreciation of cultural and human differences, social responsibility, sense of civic responsibility) (Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education, 2008). As suggested in Table 1, the practitioner should pose reflective questions to help ensure social justice and the centering of students in professional practice.

Table 1

SIStor CAS Domains & Dimensions Questions
Student Interpersonal Competence

·    Meaningful Relationships

·    Interdependence

Humanitarianism and Civic Engagement

·    Social Responsibility

·    Sense of Civic Responsibility

·    Understanding and Appreciation of Cultural and Human Differences

–     Are you serving students?

–     Are you being respectful of students?

–     Are you acknowledging the values and worth of students and their communities?

–     Are you considering the welfare of the student?


Once these questions are considered, ask them again with the most marginalized groups of students in mind.

Introspection Cognitive Complexity

·    Critical Thinking

·    Reflective Thinking

Intrapersonal Development

·    Realistic Self-Appraisal, Self-Understanding, and Self-Respect

Humanitarianism and Civic Engagement

·    Understanding and Appreciation of Cultural and Human Differences

–     Are you cognizant of your assumptions, identity, privilege, and culture?

–     Are you considering other perspectives?

–     Are you using reflection to improve understanding?

–     Are you employing humbleness in exploring implicit biases?

Suspicion Cognitive Complexity

·    Critical Thinking

·    Reflective Thinking

Intrapersonal Development

·    Realistic Self-Appraisal, Self-Understanding, and Self-Respect

Humanitarianism and Civic Engagement

·    Understanding and Appreciation of Cultural and Human Differences

·    Social Responsibility

·    Sense of Civic Responsibility

–     Are you detecting the important questions and issues?

–     Are you building decisions on an ample amount of quality impartial information gleaned from multiple sources?

–     Are you properly appraising the material?

–     Are you identifying and understanding systemic inequities and existing barriers to parity and justice?

–     Are you routinely engaging in critical reflection?

agitaTOR Humanitarianism and Civic Engagement

·    Understanding and Appreciation of Cultural and Human Differences

·    Social Responsibility

·    Sense of Civic Responsibility

–     Are you fully aware of inequitable systems in place and the negative impact on students?

–     Are you able to defend the deconstruction of these systems?

–     Are you able to engage in ethical opposition and advocacy?

–     Are you cultivating and enabling the civic participation of others, especially students?

The SIStor framework centers, above all, a holistic focus on students. In the process of developing outcome-based assessments, put the students at the center and ask yourself if you are: serving students; being respectful of students; acknowledging the values and worth of students and their communities; and considering the welfare of the student. This exercise will help to ensure that student affairs professionals do not treat students as consumers, but instead center students “as democratic agents” (Kezar & Posselt, 2019, p. 14).

The second tenet of the SIStor framework is introspection. Practicing regular and on-going introspection exercises will assist the helping professional become self-aware. Humility in reflection while examining personal bias and privilege will assuage the inclination to bend to neoliberal pressure in outcome-based assessment work. Use the following prompts:

  • Am I (are we) cognizant of my assumptions, identity, privilege, and culture?
  • Am I (are we) considering other perspectives?
  • Am I (are we) using reflection to improve understanding?
  • Am I (are we) employing humbleness in exploring implicit biases?

The consciousness of power and privilege is crucial to developing the ability reference data without assumptive or neoliberal influences, while also resisting the temptation to respond instinctually (Kezar & Posselt, 2019).

Zerquera et al., (2018) found the barriers for social justice implementation in assessment were “centered on the overall understanding across [the] institution of social justice concepts: social justice, oppression, privilege, and power” (p. 24). They place the responsibility to incorporate social justice in assessment needs at all levels of the educational hierarchy. Institutions need to practice what they preach and not just give lip service to the current buzzwords of diversity, equity, and inclusion. There needs to be an investment in genuine awareness and understanding of social justice concepts.

The recommendations resulting from the findings of the study include building systems of support, both personal and professional. Ideally, the institution would value the advancement of social justice initiatives, but even without institutional support, the researchers encourage student affairs professionals to seek out colleagues to build a community in their work. The community should include professionals involved in assessment, as well as those serving in social justice roles on campus (Zerquera et al., 2018).

In addition to individuals and institutions, Zerquera et al., (2018) hold organizations responsible for the work of understanding and self-awareness:

Organizations such as NASPA, ACPA, and the Association for Institutional Research, as well as graduate programs share a responsibility to develop this capacity, for instance, via workshops and explicit foci within curricula – this training must not just focus on development of social justice and assessment understanding, but how to use this understanding to implement change through institutional structures (p. 37).

For those involved in preparing and guiding student affairs professionals, knowledge and self-awareness is important, as is the ability to enact understanding.

Student affairs professionals should endeavor to be what Kupo (2014) refers to as scholar-practitioners, “using scholarship to inform practice and practice to inform scholarship” (p. 91). Engaging in self-reflection allows the practitioner to explore and interrogate their own “framework of values, habits of mind, and the ability to balance and integrate ‘doing’ with ‘knowing’” (Kupo, 2014, p. 89). Introspection exercises will help the practitioner understand themselves and, in so doing, have more awareness as they enter into dialogue with others. The capacity to have deep and meaningful discussions, based on scholarship and practice, and grounded in self-discovery, will lead to the development of fortification skills and a network to defend against neoliberal pitfalls.

Constructive suspicion is a useful tool for a student affairs professional doing work in outcomes-based assessment and the third precept of the SIStor paradigm. It is born of the hermeneutic of suspicion required by Roseboro and Ross (2009) for Black students and teachers. Roseboro and Ross (2009) define this as “an attitude grounded in learned distrust that leads us to critically question schools and the political structures that sustain them” (p. 23).

These questions will help us review our biases, consider our sources of knowledge, examine our values, and interrogate the power structure. Kezar and Posselt (2019) remind us that “[v]alues . . are an integral part of wise thinking. Attention to power begs the question of ‘whose values’” (p. 10).

Finally, the SIStor model encourages the student affairs professional to be an agitator; disturb the status quo and excite the system.

These practices will help deliver justice centered success in out-comes based assessment. As higher education professionals and student serving agents of change, it is our duty to be self-aware and mindful of the pitfalls of neoliberalism in our work. As we participate in outcomes-based education we must guard against allowing students and education to be viewed as commodities to be capitalized upon and instead protect these resources and guide the institution toward nurturing our most valuable asset, future citizens, who will be ready, willing, and able to engage in civic democracy as intelligent, ethical, and caring citizens.

Change is not just needed to address the challenges of our times, but possible. We are facing great challenges in advancing evidence-based social justice practices in higher education. However, the experiences of the participants in this study provide a counter to the dominant discourse that assessment and social justice do not coexist. However, in order to advance it, it will take a critical reshifting of the field. It must happen from within and led by those who best know how. (Zerquera et al., 2018, p. 37)

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways do you see evidence of the influence of neoliberal ideologies more clearly in your personal or professional life?
  2. What will you start, stop, and continue to do to guard against the threats of neoliberalism in your work?
  3. Which three of the introspection questions in the SIStor framework do you feel will best serve you in your self-reflection and growth?

Author Bio

Kelly Lee Tatone (she/her) is pursuing an MEd at the University of Pittsburgh as a part-time, post-traditional graduate student with the support and guidance of amazing faculty, like Dr. Darris Means, who encouraged her to write this piece. She graduated from The Pennsylvania State University in 1990 with a B.A. in English Literature. She is the proud mother of three smart, kind, and caring women, which is her greatest source of pride.


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Reconstructing Professionalism Post-COVID: New Professional’s Hope for the Future of Student Affairs

written by: Hermen Díaz III, Amy B. Wilson, Ph.D., Laura A. Brown

The COVID-19 pandemic has heavily altered the professional environments of millions of higher education professionals across the country, creating new opportunities to think about how and where we work. Remote working environments significantly altered rules of professional engagement and professional socialization within the field of student affairs. It is perhaps too early to understand to what extent student affairs may be changed. That said, it would also be naive to operate from a “business as usual” perspective when returning to in-person operations. There is much to be learned from this critical moment in our profession’s history, particularly as it relates to expectations surrounding the performance of professionalism post pandemic.

The research described below is part of a larger study examining new student affairs professionals’ conceptualization and practice of professionalism. The timing of data collection (spring 2021) allowed for inquiry about the impact of COVID-19 and remote work within the context of professionalism. The findings reveal new professionals’ shifting priorities and emerging values, which has the potential to influence how professionalism is defined and performed. This data is relevant not only to resuming in-person operations but within the field at large, as new professionals’ experience, satisfaction, and retention are critical factors for the field moving forward.

Literature Review

To effectively discuss the changing values and practices surrounding professionalism, we must first understand how individuals develop their professional identity and philosophies of practice. Primarily, research on professionalism in student affairs has focused on the socialization of graduate students in organizational and higher education contexts (Weidman et al., 2001; Ashforth, 2008; Tull et al., 2009). More recent scholarship has focused on new professionals’ ability to make meaning of professional constructs and their capacity for self-authorship (Perez, 2017; Bureau, 2018; Hirschy et al., 2015; Duran & Allen, 2020; Perez, 2020).

Socialization is defined as “the processes through which individuals gain the knowledge, skills, and values necessary for successful entry into a professional career requiring the advanced level of specialized knowledge and skills” (Weidman et al., 2001, p. iii). Tull et al., (2009) found effective socialization increases new professionals’ quality of work-life and reduces attrition in the field. Other researchers have found that new student affairs professionals learn about professionalism through socialization in their respective graduate preparation programs (Bureau, 2018; Perez, 2020).

Internships and graduate assistantships strongly affect the cultivation of students’ internal voice as well as their standards, norms, and values of professionalism, more than coursework (Lidell, et al., 2014). Students observe how mentors and supervisors perform and exhibit professionalism. This performance includes attire, communication, time management, and work style. Research suggests that effective socialization may contribute to job satisfaction, organizational commitment, increased performance, and values development, effectively minimizing role conflict or dissonance (Ashforth et al., 2006).

A key component of developing professional identity for graduate students is the opportunity to acknowledge and engage with tension or compatibility issues between what they have learned, how they are instructed to perform professionalism in the workplace, and their values and beliefs (Perez, 2017; Duran & Allen, 2020; Perez, 2020). Perez (2017) found students’ professional identity and self-authorship are influenced by supervisors and mentors. The development of professional identity and engagement in self-authorship is a critical juncture for graduate students and new professionals because it serves as the foundation for how one sees themselves and others within the profession and within the academy.

Self-authorship is a constructive developmental theory defined by Baxter Magolda (2007) “as the internal capacity to define one’s belief system, identity, and relationships (Baxter Magolda, 2001b; Kegan, 1994)” (p. 69). It was found that supervisors and mentors who encouraged students to explore dissonance between beliefs and experiences elevated a student’s confidence as they reevaluated their graduate preparation and training more critically (Perez, 2017). Those who did not experience opportunities to discuss tension reported feeling reluctant to trust their internal voice and reconsidered working in the student affairs field long term (Perez, 2017). Students commonly encountered these discrepancies in their assistantships, where their training may neither have prepared them for, nor reflected the realities of stricter, bureaucratic professional settings.

While there is a wealth of literature on how graduate students are socialized for the field of student affairs, there is a lack of information on how new professionals comprehend and manage dissonance between their values and standards of professionalism. We sought to further understand how new professionals from the same student affairs preparation program acknowledged and comprehended dissonance regarding their expectations and the practice of professionalism in student affairs. We argue that dissonance may be greater for newer professionals returning to in person operations given the impact of COVID-19 and remote work environments.


This study utilized a qualitative research methodology through a constructivist paradigm to better understand the experience of new student affairs professionals’ (re)construction and engagement of professionalism as result of the COVID-19 pandemic and remote engagement (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Self-authorship served as the theoretical framework of this study as the participants were constantly and continuously engaging in the defining and redefining of personal and professional values associated with the act of professionalism (Baxter Magolda, 2001; Pizzolato & Ozaki, 2007).

We utilized narrative inquiry to understand the participants’ experience while also recognizing the larger constructs and nuances of cultural, social, and institutional realities (Clandinin & Cane, 2000). Participants in this study are higher education and student affairs professionals with less than five years’ experience in higher education administration. Convenience sampling was utilized and a total of 25 participants were selected.  All participants are graduates of the same higher education administration master’s program from an urban college in the northeast region of the United States. Participants were asked “How has COVID-19 and remote engagement impacted your practice of professionalism?” and “Has COVID-19 and remote engagement made you rethink your definition of professionalism?”

Each participant participated in one semi-structured individual interview and one focus group, which allowed participants to reflect on and expand upon initial and generalized findings from individual interviews. Data was transcribed and coded to create a general narrative heuristic (Miles, Huberman & Saldaña, 2014; Riessman, 2005). Utilizing a constructivist narrative research methodology along with a narrative thematic data analysis, we were able to develop a pattern and grouping of data into themes which are shared in the findings (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Miles, Huberman & Saldaña, 2014; Riessman, 2005).


The narratives of new and emerging student affairs professionals around how the COVID-19 pandemic and remote work has shaped, or impacted professionalism produced four dominant themes. The themes center the potential evolution of how professionalism is defined and performed in the field of student affairs post-COVID-19.

Deconstructing Professional Boundaries

One of the more traditional notions of professionalism within student affairs has centered on the establishment of personal and professional boundaries. For many of the participants in this study, they indicated the situations surrounding COVID-19 and remote work facilitated a loosening of those boundaries or a deconstruction of that professional layer, either with their supervisor or within themselves as supervisors.

As Michael stated, I feel like we are able to see a little bit more behind that professional layer. I think some of those boundaries have decreased a little bit. I think my current supervisor is a little bit more candid with us now, as opposed to in the past… I appreciate that.

Similarly, Stephanie reflected on the seemingly more personal nature of the virtual space and the impact this has had on her relationships with colleagues.

It’s [virtual space] made me more empathetic to folks because you’re kind of getting a snippet of like, their day to day outside of work. So, it’s kind of weird, because you would think that in a physical space, we’d have more of these conversations. But I think in a virtual nature, people have been more open about their living situations.

According to the professionals in this study, the virtual work environment facilitated opportunities for professionals to demonstrate a more personal side, one that centers them outside of their institutional position. This level of engagement has been rooted in empathy and understanding for the challenges and unique nature of the virtual work environment. Participants shared that greater empathy and understanding on the part of supervisors and colleagues has altered the perception of boundaries within professional relationships.

John recognized in himself the need to lower what he referred to as his “wall” which was rooted in the belief that he had “to be professional.” For him this meant personal relationships were secondary to work relationships. He reflected on the evolution of his philosophy both pre-COVID, during the pandemic, and his hopes moving forward.

I think when it comes to relationships, boundaries are important, but we also need to be able to breach them a little bit and be vulnerable with them. That’s where my supervisory philosophy has sort of evolved over time. And now with COVID, it’s evolved even more. Because now, I know even further that wow, this relationship building is really, really important now because…we’re in this time where they [my staff] now lack the social attention. They’re lacking all these other support systems, and so I have an even more important role to play, than I did before.

Cori agreed adding, I think the way we used to think about professionalism is totally different now. In my current role, our managers are a little bit more personable now… when we’re in a work setting, we’re constantly talking about work, but now, it’s the whole idea of wanting to know if you’re okay, like, “How are you feeling?”

According to participants in this study, the pandemic and remote work have made professional relationships more personal, blending the traditional boundaries and creating more satisfactory working relationships. With a virtual and remote work environment, the notion of living where you work and working where you live has extended beyond residence life professionals. Participants shared that redefining boundaries has positively impacted their experience and reinforced the value of personal relationships in professional satisfaction.

Showing Up Authentically

Participants reflected on their virtual work experience during the pandemic and noted a greater acceptance and value of professionals showing up as their authentic selves. Participants noted their own openness and acceptance to the “realness” of their colleagues, which may not have typically shown themselves in a traditional work environment. Catherine stated,

People probably aren’t showing up in this virtual world you know, quite exactly the same that they showed up in person and I think that’s okay. I think that’s the kind of the general direction that we’re going in, is that you know, maybe there’s just more real life going on in the virtual world and it’s okay. You know it doesn’t mean that you’re unprofessional or that you’re not, you know, fulfilling that obligation of your job.

Likewise, Tiana spoke to her own ability to show up authentically in a virtual space in ways she felt had not been accepted in person, specifically referencing her natural hair, stating,

I appreciate the fact that it’s [COVID-19] supported the notion that you know, be you, be who you are, show up and do what you got to do because I’ve been doing that for years, but people come at me for going to work like this [reference to hair], you know, but nobody has a problem because I’m at home.

The personal identities and experiences of participants were supported in some ways during the pandemic and virtual connection in a manner that was not always evident when  working in person The welcoming of authenticity while acknowledging life and reality outside of a professional position allowed for participants to engage in their work and personal life in a more seamless and realistic manner.

While some focused on personal, other participants talked about career advancement and how it was enhanced during virtual experiences. John spoke about his hope for the future as he made his way into higher administrative roles with greater supervisory responsibility,

I think that’s like my goal, like 10 years from now, when I’m in [upper administration/leadership] roles, I really want to make sure that [relationships] is the focus, and that people can show up authentically, and people can be themselves…  Most of our awake life is spent in the office at work. People need to feel comfortable, right? And people need to feel like they can be themselves.

The recurring theme in participants’ stories was both a recognition that there has been more acceptance and emphasis on showing up authentically through work during the pandemic. Participants also shared a desire that authenticity would continue to be a value.

Valuing Flexibility

The shift to remote work for many professionals in student affairs and higher education presented a new way of conceptualizing how, where, and when work gets done. Participants appreciated  new flexibility and expressed a desire to see those “lessons” carried over post-COVID-19. Penny spoke of her supervisor, saying,

She’s extremely flexible and I think that has come across in terms of her showing her dedication to us as a staff and like her trust in us, which I think is really nice because I’m a firm believer that if you’re happy in your work and with the people that you work with then that will shine through in your programs and the ways you engage with your students. I think there’ll be a lot of lessons that we carry over post pandemic.

The value of flexibility was also discussed as it relates to productivity in the workplace, some noting the value of having in-office days and work from home days. Prophecy, who has been a full time professional for two years, spoke about lobbying for greater flexibility even before COVID-19. He valued the opportunity to show how his productivity would stay consistent in a remote work environment. He was later frustrated with his campus’ response to limit remote work options, “I guess leadership says it doesn’t apply for everyone. Everybody’s results are not the same. But everybody’s home situation is not the same.” This decision lacked the desired flexibility to engage with the work remotely while still meeting the responsibilities of the position and objectives of the department; this was a continuation of ‘business as usual’.

Abigail agreed and added, “people have the opportunity for that more individualistic kind of professionalism, doing what they need to do to get work done versus what their workplace deems important to get work done, or society deems important to get work done.” Among these newer professionals, there was a strong desire to reconsider traditional notions of how work gets done. Post-pandemic they found themselves lobbying for sustained flexibility.

Challenging Norms of Professional Appearance

In addition to authenticity and flexibility, participants frequently cited a desire to challenge norms of professional dress and appearance. Participants shared that their actions and the quality of their work should speak more to who they are as professionals than attire or how they looked. Tiana said,

COVID-19 has proved my point that what your hair looks like, what your environment looks like, has nothing to do with how well you as an individual can do your job. I evaluate the skill set that you have. I evaluate your ability to connect with people across

demographics. It doesn’t matter where you are or what you look like. You’re still able to rock at what you do, and I feel like COVID-19 has really highlighted that.

Similarly, Tricia stated,

I’m just trying to be more understanding and like I don’t care if you have your camera on, I don’t care if you’re not like dressed like you’re ready for work, I don’t care if you’re laying (sic) in bed taking a zoom meeting. Awesome! I love that for you. I don’t think that affects how you do your job.

Chloe echoed this sentiment and noted the direct impact of remote work on standards of presentation for women specifically. She spoke about the opportunities the pandemic might present to challenge norms of professional appearance moving forward.

I think having the remote work environment has continued to kind of challenge some of the ideas of, you know, presentation of things. I think about even things as small as women wearing makeup, a lot of women wear a lot less makeup now. And should they have to present themselves in a way that looks more professional? No. And maybe we’re kind of getting away from those types of standards. Because we are just in an environment where comfort is important, where safety is important. And it feels a lot more important than doing things that would make you present in a certain way.

The narratives of these new and emerging professionals suggest a strong desire to break from traditional notions of professional appearance and dress as criteria or indicators of professionalism. The remote work environment has facilitated an opportunity to challenge norms of professional dress and center quality of work.

Finally, Penny spoke about how remote work has challenged her own notions about what professionalism looks like. She expressed hope for an evolving definition of professionalism that centers students above appearance.

I think [COVID-19] definitely has made me rethink it [professionalism]. In terms of like, why should this [appearance] matter if we’re getting our jobs done, if we are being professional, if we’re being respectful? If we are, like, doing what is most important and why we came into this field for our students, I think that should be at the top of our minds.

New and emerging professionals were clear about their values and their reasons for pursuing a career in higher education and traditional standards and expectations surrounding professional appearance is one they do not often subscribe to and hope will evolve with a return to campus.


The findings from this study affirm previous research on the socialization of student affairs professionals and the development of professional identity. The remote COVID-19 work experience of new professionals facilitated opportunities to acknowledge and engage in the tension between what they learned about professionalism in student affairs and their personal and professional values and practices. COVID-19 has allowed new professionals to explore this dissonance, some for the first time, resulting in a desire to create a paradigm shift in how professionalism is defined and enacted within the field of higher education and student affairs. Like graduate students who had supervisors and mentors that supported and engaged in the dissonance of learned professionalism and personal values (Perez, 2017, Duran & Allen, 2020; Perez, 2020), current supervisors, institutional leaders and colleagues have the same opportunity to acknowledge, embrace and engage in the conflict of professionalism being experienced by new practitioners in the field. Just as important, is the opportunity to evolve such traditional ideas and practices of professionalism to meet the needs and wants of new professionals, both during COVID-19 and beyond.

The dominant themes of deconstructing professional boundaries, showing up authentically, valuing flexibility and challenging norms of professional appearance, offer ways in which new  professionals are open to challenging traditional notions of professionalism, with COVID-19 serving as a strong impetus for change. Participants in this study supported a definition and engagement with professionalism that is more inclusive of their personal and professional values. This further supports research connecting professional identity development to self-authorship and a commitment to one’s internal voice (Baxter-Magolda, 2007, Perez, 2017). A vast majority of the experiences of professionalism shared by participants in this study aligned with the research and literature, in that professionalism often felt limiting, caused tension between personal values and professional identity and lacked a human centered approach. This study, through the lens of surviving a current global pandemic, shows that new professionals not only want a more authentic and equity centric definition of professionalism, but that such a definition should be enacted and embraced, much as it has been during remote and hybrid work. The seemingly positive narratives above suggest greater alignment between personal and professional values among newer staff, thus, reducing conflict and tension between expectations and experience. The reduction in tension may ultimately contribute to greater satisfaction and commitment to the field; a field where they see themselves not solely surviving but thriving.

Implications for Practice

This exploration of professionalism within the context of COVID-19 and beyond is but a small piece of a larger examination of professionalism in student affairs. However, the work provides some insight into the values of newer professionals and how they believe professionalism should be defined or enacted within the profession. This understanding may help supervisors reduce the dissonance and tension between new professionals’ expectations and experience, reducing the attrition of new professionals in the field.

Specifically, supervisors may help deconstruct traditional professional boundaries by developing more human and equity centered supervisory relationships, that acknowledge individuals’ identities and roles beyond work, creating more supportive environments. Supervisors may also help deconstruct traditional professional boundaries through more transparent and informal communication methods that seek to empower and value individuals at all levels of the organization. Through the deconstruction of traditional professional boundaries and centering individuals in the supervisory relationship, staff may feel more comfortable bringing their true and authentic selves into the workplace. Supervisors can further support staff showing up authentically by creating a safe space in which staff can present as they feel comfortable. This may involve openly discussing what professionalism means to people in their shared space and co-constructing a shared vision that allows for individuality and authenticity. An open discussion about what professionalism looks like in a shared space may also open dialogue around the appearance of professionalism and the opportunity to challenge norms of professional dress. And finally, supervisors should explore ways of increasing flexibility around how and when work gets done. Remote work has allowed for new ways of conceptualizing our work and in some ways enhancing productivity and morale. Supervisors who can leverage the strengths and innovation surrounding remote and in-person work may create a more synergistic work environment that further facilitates the deconstruction of professional boundaries, the ability to show up authentically, and the ability to challenge norms of professional dress.

As many professionals return to full on-campus operations, many will also return to traditional standards of work, despite what we have learned through the pandemic and remote work.  The profession of higher education and student affairs has experienced one of its more challenging eras and we do not yet know the impact this will have on the attrition of staff who are fatigued and burnt out. Instead of returning to “normal” operations, supervisors should consider how they might facilitate a new sense of what in-person work looks like and leverage some of the lessons and strengths facilitated through remote work. Those who take advantage of this opportunity to look at things differently, capitalize on lessons learned through the pandemic, and reconstruct definitions of professionalism, may find a renewed energy and commitment to the profession among themselves and their staff.

Reflection Questions

  1. What did you learn about yourself and how you work best during the pandemic and remote working opportunities?
  2. What aspects of remote work did you find rewarding or positive? Are there opportunities to facilitate those aspects through in-person operations?
  3. In what ways has your definition of professionalism evolved through a remote work environment? As a staff, or a team, how might we define what professionalism means and how it is enacted in our office? 


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Hermen Díaz III, Ph.D. (he/him) is an assistant professor in the Higher Education Administration Department at SUNY-Buffalo State College.  He received a B.A. in Psychology from Grand Valley State University, an M.S. in Student Personnel Administration from SUNY-Buffalo State College and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership from Colorado State University.

Amy B. Wilson, Ph.D. (she/her) is an associate professor and chair of the Higher Education department at Buffalo State College.  She earned her B.S. in Human Development and Family Studies from Colorado State University, an M.S. in College Student Personnel from Western Illinois University and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from the University at Buffalo.

Laura A. Brown (she/her) is a graduate student in the Higher Education & Student Affairs master’s program at Buffalo State College. She earned her B.A. in sociology from SUNY Geneseo.