Preparing New Professionals in Student Affairs: A Supervisory Model to Maximize Graduate Student Success


Preparing New Professionals in Student Affairs: A Supervisory Model to Maximize Graduate Student Success
Katelyn Romsa
Bryan Romsa
South Dakota State University

Effective preparation for graduate students pursuing work in the field of college student affairs most often includes both a formal classroom experience as well as a supervised practical experience, such as internships or graduate assistantships (Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education, 2012). A formal classroom experience typically consists of specific learning outcomes, regular and structured class meetings, and educational experiences designed by the instructor. This experience is vital to graduate student growth and development but is insufficient in preparing them for the real-world experiences they will soon face. Although supervised experiences have historically been a required component of preparation programs’ curricula (McEwen & Talbot, 1977), strategically designed and executed supervised experiences are vital in preparing new professionals to thrive within the rapidly changing landscape of higher education.

With the constant pace and complexity of changes occurring at higher education institutions student affairs professionals will be required to manage more ambiguous contexts in environments demanding a greater degree of responsiveness (Levine & Dean, 2012; Selingo, 2013). Although the learning that occurs in a classroom is important, researchers have found that having a supervised internship experience in addition to classroom instruction is more effective for student learning and development (CAS, 2012). The effect of intentional design in internship, which includes purposeful actions, often leads to successful outcomes (Bruening, Peachey, Evanovich, Fuller, Murty, Percy, & Chung, 2015).

Given the fast change and complexity of higher education contexts, graduate students will need to develop increasingly complex thinking and intuitive problem solving skills during their practical experiences (graduate assistantships or internships), which will likely generalize to new situations that they may encounter during their first professional position (Reber, 1993; Sheckley & Keeton, 2001). Faculty and site supervisors can serve a critical role in helping graduate students achieve these necessary skills prior to graduation through the development of strategic assistantship/internship experiences.

As faculty members who have had experience teaching graduate students involved in an assistantship/internship experience, we want to provide insights to other faculty supervisors and site supervisors as to the manner and design of a strategic supervised assistantship/internship experience to maximize graduate student success. In this article we provide a supervisory model for supervisors to help them create and design effective supervised experiences to best prepare graduate students preparing to transition from graduate school to work in the field of college student affairs. The intended audience of this article are faculty and site supervisors at all levels, both seasoned and novice, who are supervising graduate students preparing to transition from graduate school to work in the field of college student affairs.

Why is Strategic Supervision Important?
In order for faculty and site supervisors to best prepare graduate students for work in the field of college student affairs, they will need to be strategic in their supervision approach. A relevant question to answer then is, “why is strategic supervision important”? Strategic supervision can be important because it provides supervisors with a road map of how to help their supervisees achieve specific learning outcomes and work responsibilities (Bruening et al., 2015).

Strategic planning was first introduced in the business world in the 1950s and has led to the success of many businesses, and many of its characteristics can be transferred to the field of college student affairs when supervising graduate students (Steiner, 2010). Strategic planning is a mindset or a way of life. It is having a macro level mindset of specific aims or goals as well as a micro level mindset of clearly defined strategies to achieve those goals. It provides both supervisors and graduate students an opportunity to decide goals in advance while simultaneously allowing room for flexibility of those goals (Steiner, 2010).

In our supervisory model, we have essentially created a strategic plan to help supervisors become more intentional in their supervision with graduate students. Our model consists of attitudes, strategies, and practical ideas that supervisors can implement to maximize graduate student success. Our supervisory model is inspired from the work of Janosik, Cooper, Saunders, and Hirt (2014) and consists of five components: (a) conducting a personal skills assessment, (b) setting realistic expectations, (c) developing a contract for the experience, (d) understanding the roles of each person, and (e) assisting graduate students in achieving life-school-work balance.

Conducting a personal skills assessment
A great place to start when beginning a supervised assistantship/internship experience with graduate students is with assessment. Conducting a thorough assessment of the skills graduate students bring to an internship site as well as the skills students need to improve upon is an excellent tool for developing goals and responsibilities for the experience. By completing an assessment, students create a profile of their (a) current skill level and (b) necessary skill level that must be developed prior to graduation. This will allow students to determine ways in which their internship can be a vehicle for them to meet the appropriate skill levels.

How do graduate students know what skills they should be striving to work towards during their internship to best prepare themselves for the field of college student affairs? ACPA and NASPA leaders of the student affairs profession have created a document of 10 competency areas such as advising and helping and assessment (ACPA & NASPA, 2010) that are essential to student affairs practice. A major purpose for the document is to inform the design of professional development opportunities for student affairs professionals by providing outcomes that can be incorporated into student affairs curriculum and training opportunities. In our classes with graduate students, we created a handout that lists these 10 competency areas where students rank their current skill set (on a scale from 0-5 with 5 being excellent and 0 having no skill). Although we only provided this handout to our graduate students in the classroom, we encourage supervisors to do something similar so that they can also be involved in the assessment of the graduate students they supervise.

We also created two qualitative assessment handouts for both faculty/site supervisors and supervisees titled “Interview Your Supervisee” and “Interview Your Supervisor.” Oftentimes when we want to obtain information, we feel stuck in what, when, and how to ask questions. Some of the questions listed on the “Interview Your Supervisee” handout include: tell me about your academic background; what are your professional aspirations?; and what are some skills that you possess that are an asset to this office and what skills do you wish to improve upon? We created the handout to help faculty/site supervisors to get to know their supervisees better as well as to help supervisees in developing a sense of curiosity and a habit of asking effective questions, which will also help them in the future while working in the field of college student affairs.

A major purpose of the “Interview Your Supervisor” handout was to help graduate students obtain information that could be helpful in developing goals. Some of the questions listed on the “Interview Your Supervisor” handout include tell me about your career path, what are the responsibilities of your position, and what do you most enjoy about your current position. We encourage supervisors to also create qualitative assessments and to incorporate them into their supervision meetings with graduate students throughout the assistantship/internship experience.

After conducting a skills assessment with graduate students, we encourage graduate students to then develop their goals for the assistantship/internship experience. Scholars have affirmed the importance of writing down goals in order for them to become a reality (Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 1997). Similarly, if supervisors encourage graduate students to write down their goals for the experience, they will also be more likely to achieve their goals and make the most of their experience.

Setting realistic expectations
After conducting an assessment(s) of graduate student’s skills and developing goals, supervisors will be ready to set realistic expectations for the assistantship/internship experience. This can be broken down into internal opportunities on campus and external opportunities off campus. When thinking about internal opportunities, it will be important for supervisors to discuss how they expect their supervisees to be involved within their office and/or on campus such as attending staff meetings, committees, and/or technology and multicultural opportunities. When considering external opportunities, it will be important for supervisors to discuss how they expect their supervisees to be involved off campus such as attendance at and/or involvement in professional organizations and conferences. We feel that it will be important for supervisors and their graduate students to consider all of the internal and external opportunities available to their students to help them to best develop and improve upon their skills. In addition, it can be a great exercise to help supervisors and graduate students to intentionally design the assistantship/internship experience by linking experiences to goal setting.

Another important area to address with graduate students is the importance of legal and ethical issues. As faculty members we created a legal and ethical issues handout that asked students to write down a list of the major activities they do at their graduate practicum and internship sites such as the following: answering phone calls, handling confidential files, attending meetings where sensitive information is shared, distributing information to students/parents, participating in hiring practices, operating office equipment, supervising others in or away from the work site, and/or planning events. Next, we had them rate the potential of liability of each activity. This is an excellent exercise for supervisors to do with their graduate students as a learning tool to identify the potential of liability as well as to better understand the training that supervisors should provide and expectations they should address with their graduate students to minimize liability and maximize success.

Developing a contract for the experience
Developing a contract is a great way for faculty/site supervisors and their graduate student to write down and outline the goals and realistic expectations they have for the assistantship/internship experience. It will be important for supervisors and graduate students to create the contract at the beginning of the experience, so that expectations are clear right from the start. When we taught graduate students involved in a practicum and internship class, we required our students to take the lead in creating this document, but they were required to ask their supervisors for feedback and approval. Students were to include the following elements in their contract: a purpose statement, goals/objectives, activities, skills or competencies, proposed work schedule and time for each activity, and signatures of the student and faculty/site supervisor(s). We found that it was also helpful to add a section for the faculty/site supervisor’s responsibilities, so that they were also aware of what was expected of them such as: (a) meeting with the student once a week for one hour of supervision; (b) providing orientation and ongoing training; (c) providing feedback to the student; and (d) identifying resources that the student will need to be successful during the experience (e.g., personnel, facilities, equipment, and financial and insurance needs).

Although we required our graduate students to create the document, we encourage supervisors to be contributors. Supervisors could create a list of specific expectations they want to be on the contract before meeting with their graduate students. Being prepared ahead of time will assist supervisors to articulate the roles and responsibilities not only of graduate students but also of themselves.

Most importantly, it is our hope that the contract represents what graduate students hope to contribute and achieve during their supervised experience. Knowing graduate students’ dreams, goals, and ambitions will help faculty/site supervisors to be more intentional in designing the assistantship/internship experience by matching and/or creating opportunities that will allow graduate students to reach and achieve those initiatives. Reviewing and updating the contract throughout the academic year will also be important for supervisors and students to stay on task and make sure that goals are being met.

Understanding the roles of each person
From teaching graduate students involved in an assistantship/internship experience, we have learned how important it is for graduate students and supervisors to understand each other holistically. Graduate students bring much strength to the internship setting such as their skills, experience, and a fresh perspective. Given their role as graduate students, they also bring a wealth of knowledge from the courses they have recently taken or are currently taking (e.g, theories, crisis intervention, multicultural counseling, and administration in higher education). In addition to work and school, graduate students are also balancing their personal lives. We discovered that when faculty/site supervisors understood that their graduate students were balancing many life roles, they had a much greater level of empathy, understanding, and realization of how their student intern’s strengths could be best utilized and stretched. In addition, when the supervisor understood what courses graduate students have taken or were taken, they were better able to have discussions about how real-world work situations connected with their coursework.

While working and communicating with faculty/site supervisors, we found a reoccurring theme of faculty/site supervisors not giving themselves enough credit of the incredible role that they can have on their graduate students professional and personal lives. In other words, the vehicle of students’ learning and development often occurs through a positive working relationship with their supervisor. The importance of the supervisory relationship in students/clients’ development has been supported by several scholars, including Loganbill, Hardy, and Delworth’s (1982) developmental model of supervision. As most solid relationships require an investment of time, it is most often during 1:1 weekly supervision meetings when a supervisory relationship will blossom while supervisors take the time to teach, actively listen, and genuinely care for their graduate students.

Supervisors are not only professionals who provide orientation and training to their students, they are also educators and developmental mentors (Janosik et al., 2014).
We created two handouts to help faculty/site supervisors become the best educators and developmental mentors they can be. The first document we created was a live supervision form where supervisors are to (a) observe and/or listen to their student during a “live” encounter that their student has at their internship and (b) document and provide feedback to the student about that event/experience. We had our faculty/site supervisors do this six times throughout the academic year. We saw how impactful those live supervisions were both to faculty/site supervisors and graduate students in sharing or receiving important feedback, developing goals, and developing their relationship.

The second handout we created was a journal entry handout that graduate students were to fill out weekly and share with their faculty/site supervisors occasionally. Students were to write down a recent event while outlining a description of it as well as their thoughts, feelings, and plans for action because of the event. This handout was a very effective tool for teaching graduate students a way in which they can become reflective practitioners.

Assisting students in achieving life-school-work balance
When discussing the roles of the assistantship/internship experience, we mentioned the importance for supervisors to holistically mentor and educate graduate students. When teaching and working with graduate students, faculty/student affairs professionals may think of students holistically but often think of their primary identity as “graduate students” or “graduate interns” depending upon their role as faculty or student affairs professionals. We encourage supervisors to view graduate students in a balanced triadic order of life-school-work balance. We encourage supervisors to think of “life” at the top of the triangle with “school” and “work” balanced at the bottom two corners of the triangle. In this article we have addressed the school and work items, and now we want to emphasize the importance of the lives or personal needs of graduate students. When considering the personal identity of graduate students, we encourage supervisors to think of graduate students’ well being, which includes their health, happiness, and prosperity.

In our years of working with faculty/site supervisors, we discovered those who were most effective were the supervisors who cared about students as people first and as employees/students second. Contrary to this, those supervisors who lacked a genuine interest or care about the satisfactory condition of their graduate students seemed to have more conflict in their work settings, and oftentimes their graduate students lacked a sense of belonging to their office. We encourage faculty/site supervisors to engage in appropriate conversations with their graduate students to get to know them as human beings. One way supervisors can do this is by asking their graduate students about their goals and aspirations, which will begin a dialogue that will often lead to a healthy and lasting relationship. As graduate students come to understand their supervisor’s care and investment for their lives, they will be even more eager to learn from them and receive their mentorship.

Scholars have concluded that a successful assistantship/internship experience is most often one that is intentional in its design (Bruening, Peachey, Evanovich, Fuller, Murty, Percy, & Chung, 2015). With the constant pace and complexity of changes occurring at higher education institutions graduate students are needing to be more prepared than ever to manage more ambiguous contexts in environments demanding a greater degree of responsiveness (Levine & Dean, 2012; Selingo, 2013). In order to best prepare graduate students for these changes as they transition from graduate school to work in the field of college student affairs, we recommend faculty/site supervisors to be strategic in their supervision approach. It is our sincere hope that our five component supervisory model will provide faculty/site supervisors with a road map of attitudes, strategies, and practical ideas that they can implement to maximize graduate student success.

Discussion Questions
1. How might you apply some of the concepts addressed in this article to your current supervision style?
2. What expectations do you have for the graduate students whom you supervise? How and when have you communicated those expectations to them?
3. What role has assessment had in the development of expectations for the assistantship/internship experience?
4. How can you help graduate students put their goals into practice as they transition to work in the field of college student affairs?
5. How can you assist graduate students in achieving life-school-work balance?

ACPA & NASPA. (2010). Professional competency areas for student affairs practitioners. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from
Bruening, J. E., Peachey, J. W., Evanovich, J. M., Fuller, R. D., Murty, C. J. C., Percy, V. E., & Chung, M. (2015). Managing sport for social change: The effects of intentional design and structure in a sport-based service learning initiative. Sport Management Review, 18(1), 69-85.
Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS).
(2012). CAS
professional standards for higher education (8th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Janosik, S. M., Cooper, D. L., Saunders, S. A., & Hirt, J. B. (2014).
Learning through supervised practice in student affairs (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.
Levine, A., & Dean, D. (2012). Generation on a tight rope: A portrait of
today’s college student. San Francisco: CA: Jossey Bass.
Loganbill, C., Hardy, E. and Delworth, U. (1982). Supervision, a
conceptual model. The Counseling Psychologist, 10(1), 3-42.
McEwen, M. L., & Talbot, D.M. (1977). Designing the student affairs curriculum. In N. J. Evans & C. E. Phelps-Tobin (Eds.), The state of the art of preparation and practice in student affairs: Another look (pp. 125-156). Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Reber, A. S. (1993). Implicit learning and tactic knowledge: An essay on the cognitive unconscious. Oxford Psychological Series, No. 19. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Selingo, J. J. (2013). College unbound: The future of higher education
and what it means for students. Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt.
Sheckley, B. G., & Keeton, M. T. (2001). Improving employee development: Perspectives from research and practice. Chicago, IL: Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.
Steiner, G. A. (2010). Strategic planning. London: Simon and Schuster.

Zimmerman, B. J., & Kitsantas, A. (1997). Developmental phases in self-
regulation: Shifting from process goals to outcome goals. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(1), 29.

About the Authors
Katelyn Romsa, Assistant Professor of Counseling and Human Development at South Dakota State University, has nine years of higher education experience in both practitioner and scholarly roles. Katelyn’s research interests include the evolution of student-faculty interactions, what matters to millennial college students, preparing graduate students for success, and initiatives to improve student retention and satisfaction.

Bryan Romsa, Assistant Professor of Sport Management at South Dakota State University, has been working as a college professor for the last seven years. Bryan’s research interests include cultural learning through a sport tourism experience, students’ perceptions of leadership behaviors through service learning, and preparing graduate students for success. Both Katelyn and Bryan have taught practicum and internship courses to graduate students pursuing a master’s degree in College Student Affairs or Sport Management. Katelyn and Bryan have created several handouts aligned with the five components of the supervisory model.

Please email inquiries to Katelyn Romsa or Bryan Romsa.

The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Contemplating the Rainbow Lotus of Ethical Competency


Contemplating the Rainbow Lotus of Ethical Competency
Jonathan O’Brien, California State University Long Beach

Since January 2016, I have had the pleasure of co-chairing an ACPA/NASPA Joint Task Force, comprised of an amazing group of educators, charged with revising and expanding a set of rubrics aligned with the new professional competency areas (ACPA & NASPA, 2015). These will be helpful tools for individual self-assessment, professional development frameworks, and conference planning.

In one meeting, our discussion turned to how individual competencies tend to intersect as one’s experience increases. Granted, years of experience do not correlate precisely to increases in professional competency, but common sense says there’s a close connection. Actually, this was explained in the introduction to the revised competencies (ACPA & NASPA, 2015, p. 9) and accompanied by a Venn-diagram of ten ovals exploding outward from a center point like individual petals on a giant, psychedelic flower. I started (affectionately) calling this figure the rainbow lotus.

Someone suggested we should color code the rubrics to show how competencies intersect, like they do in the rainbow lotus. Good idea we thought, but the intersections are so subjective and too complicated to explain without some tricky, 3-D printing. Even so, as a faculty member in a preparation program, I remained interested in understanding how competencies intersect as experience increases. The idea seems obvious on its face; yet, it’s unclear what “higher order synthesis and complexity” (p. 9) looks like in practice. Knowing more about these intersections could help educators to design authentic approaches to teaching competencies in professional development, supervision, and graduate curricula.

Ethical Competency is Fundamental
Since this is a column about ethics, I consider here how the other competency areas intersect with the Personal and Ethical Foundations (PEF), which involves the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to develop and maintain integrity in one’s life and work; this includes thoughtful development, critique, and adherence to a holistic and comprehensive standard of ethics and commitment to one’s own wellness and growth. Personal and ethical foundations are aligned because integrity has an internal locus informed by a combination of external ethical guidelines, an internal voice of care, and our own lived experiences. Our personal and ethical foundations grow through a process of curiosity, reflection, and self-authorship. (ACPA/NASPA, 2015, p. 12)

I have already expressed concerns about the present version of this competency (O’Brien, 2016), so here I turn to reviving the idea that ethics is “an integral component of all the competency areas” (ACPA & NASPA, 2010, p. 12), despite the absence of this phrase in the revision. In a field like student affairs, without licensure or credentialing, it’s critical that we consistently emphasize a professional’s moral responsibility to know, internalize, and exhibit competencies and ethical standards. To belabor the metaphor, ethics is the stem that supports the rainbow lotus, not the mere petal it presently occupies.

Ethical Intersections in Practice
To pursue my interest in this idea, I had two goals: (1) to know more about how PEF intersected with the other nine competency areas, and (2) to identify any patterns in the intersections related to developmental level.

To do this, I used existing qualitative data I collected for an on-going study. The sample is a diverse group of Student Affairs professionals (n=49) representing a variety of institutions, job functions, and positions. Each was asked to share a recent incident that exemplified their best practice in a professional situation. I decided to use their years of professional experience as a proxy for developmental level: foundational, 0-5 years; intermediate, 6-14 years; and, advanced, 15 or more years. I know that time in the field isn’t the only factor that impacts one’s competency; but, for this purpose, it seems to be a reasonable indicator.

A research assistant and I individually coded each incident multiple times, guided by definitions of the competency areas (ACPA & NASPA, 2015). After reconciling our coding, we categorized incidents by participants’ years of experience. Finally, we sorted them into one of four categories that we discovered using inductive analysis procedures: influence & authority, diversity issues, misconduct, and student crisis. I present these and other observations below.

The table below displays competency areas intersecting with PEF the most, listed by incident categories, in ascending order of the predominant experience level(s) of participants in the category. Although PEF intersected with all ten competency areas, three did not make this list: Assessment, Evaluation and Research (AER), Technology (TECH), and Values, Philosophy and History (VPH). I’ll discuss these after I exhibit the competency intersections data.

Incident Category & Experience Level Competencies Intersecting with Personal & Ethical Foundations (PEF) Influence & authority Foundational · Leadership (LEAD) · Law, Policy & Governance (LPG) · Organization & Human Resources (OHR) Diversity issues Intermediate · Social Justice & Inclusion (SJI) · Organization & Human Resources (OHR) · Student Learning & Development (SLD) Misconduct Intermediate Advanced · Law, Policy & Governance (LPG) · Organization & Human Resources (OHR) Student crisis Advanced · Advising & Supporting (AS) · Law, Policy & Governance (LPG) · Student Learning & Development (SLD) · Social Justice & Inclusion (SJI)

Each incident category represented a point of intersection among PEF and a cluster of other competencies. I also found that foundational and advanced level participants dominated two categories more than others. Specifically, foundational participants disproportionately reported incidents in the influence & authority category, as did advanced participants in the student crisis category. Data from all four categories are presented below.

Influence and Authority
These incidents (n=24) involved becoming a skilled manager, making difficult decisions, and doing the right thing. Foundational participants were over-represented in this category in which LEAD was the core competency, supported by LPG and OHR. For example, Britt, a recent graduate and new Hall Director, objected to a policy requiring her to “store illegal drugs in my office safe until the disciplinary hearing.” She recalled when she voiced her objection:
My boss is so intimidating and I was very quiet in meetings. I finally brought it up and she was so offended. She shouted, ‘Listen, I have already told you what you’re doing. You need to stop!’ She just shut me down.

Other incidents in this category involved participants at intermediate and advanced levels exerting authority and advancing their positions amid opposition from colleagues.

Diversity Issues
These incidents (n=9) included managing diverse workplaces and supporting the needs of a diverse student body. SJI was the primary competency, but OHR was evident in incidents involving professional staff and SLD was only salient when students were the focus. The category was dominated by intermediate level participants, followed by advanced and foundational. Carlos, founding director of his campus’ LGBTQ center, “felt stabbed in the back” when students
used social media to bad-mouth me for ignoring trans issues. I’m a one-person office with limited resources, so this attack hit me really hard. I’d advocated on their behalf to administration in the past and they totally ignored that.
In other incidents, participants intervened in hiring decisions to diversify their staff, responded to bias incidents, and supported the actions of student protesters.

These incidents (n=26) involved responding to inappropriate behavior of students and colleagues. Participants were typically advanced, some were intermediate, and only one was foundational. LPG and OHR were strongly connected in this category. Yesenia was conflicted about how to respond to a staff member who was intimidating others with a voodoo doll on his desk:

I was trying to be respectful of his beliefs but, at the same time, be a good manager and address a toxic work environment. The doll has a religious affiliation, so that was my primary concern; but it is still an item that represents violence and hate.

Other participants in this category responded to unethical supervisors and disruptive behavior or bullying by students or colleagues.

Student Crisis
These incidents (n=15) included rapid response, case management or altering protocols to support a student. A&S was central to this category, supported closely by LPG, SLD, and SJI. Advanced participants were most likely to report these incidents and none were reported by entry-level participants. For example, when Veneshia was the first person to encounter a freshman who was “beaten and disowned” for coming out as gay, she explained

I immediately contacted our student advocacy department to set him up with services. I also knew the director of financial aid, so I contacted her to arrange for some help from our LGBT alumni scholarship fund. I also fast-tracked his application for the African American themed [residence hall] so he had a place to stay.

Incidents in this category also included creative interpretation of policy and hearing students’ petitions for special consideration or appeals to disciplinary actions.

PEF Interactions with Other Competencies
So, what about AER, TECH, and VPH? Despite their limited intersections with PEF, there is no doubt that professionalism demands that we handle data and use technology ethically and recognize how the values and history of student affairs impact our work. I have some thoughts.

AER and TECH were reported in few incidents (n=2), when research was used to justify controversial budget or reorganization decisions. The scarcity of observations may be attributed to data collection. Typical incident narratives were about intense, personal struggles or deeply moving interpersonal interactions. It’s possible that stories about ethical use of technology or responsible data management were not memorable or compelling enough for participants to share in an interview setting. If asked directly about these instrumental competencies, it is likely participants would have had something to say.

Intersections between PEF and VPH were often hidden in plain sight. Specifically, most participants were reconciling their personal beliefs and goals (PEF; LEAD) with institutional goals and regulations (OHR; LPG). Many had advanced in their career to a point where principles of student affairs (VPH) had become so internalized that they did not distinguish between their values and those of the profession. Entry-level participants felt pressure to downplay the values and ideals they were taught; as one participant said, “I was unlearning everything I learned in grad school. You learn how to do everything right and then you start [working at] your institution and you learn how to do everything their way.” From my perspective as researcher, participants’ actions (at least implicitly) mirrored traditions and values of the profession, but it was unclear if they were motivated by VPH, their moral convictions, or both. I could have asked them directly.

My first goal was to know which competency areas intersected with PEF the most. Here’s what I found:

  • LPG and OHR intersected with PEF most often. At least one of these two was observed in each incident category and across all experience levels.
  • Other intersections with PEF were context-specific. For example, SLD only surfaced when students were the focus. Likewise, SJI was prominent in diversity issues and in student crises, when participants advocated for vulnerable or troubled students.

My second goal was to see if years of experience had any influence on how PEF intersected with other competencies.

  • LEAD was central to establishing authority at the foundational level. In their first years on the job, participants were striving to do the right thing, assert their views, and adapt to the ethical culture of a new institution.
  • Competence was widely dispersed at the intermediate level. Participants were fully immersed in their careers and capable of synthesizing new knowledge with multiple skills to perform their duties in response to a variety of incidents.
  • A&S was central to helping students in crisis at the advanced level. Seasoned professionals actively intervened to reduce harm and tapped into their robust support networks to benefit students.

These points suggest that, at all experience levels, the core of ethical competency in student affairs is working with people and organizations, creating and interpreting policies, and fulfilling obligations as a member of an institution (PEF; LPG; OHR). Beyond this, context and developmental level determines the particular intersections of instrumental (TECH; AER), interpersonal (A&S; LEAD; SJI), and specialized knowledge (SLD; VPH) competencies needed to respond effectively.

The results suggest new avenues for educators and supervisors who wish to build ethical capacity in student affairs preparation program candidates and staff members. Here are some recommendations:

  • Assess ethical intersections and identify areas for development. Rubrics can help to identify ethical intersections among your advanced level competencies. Use your knowledge of these complex strengths to stimulate ethical development of other, foundational and intermediate level competencies.
  • Be explicit about ethical uses of technology. Few participants mentioned this new competency area; nonetheless, ethical use of technology (e.g., access, security, confidentiality, appropriate boundaries, etc.) is a critical proficiency that requires sustained attention and continuous learning.
  • Reflect on the relationship between personal and professional values. Many of the abstract concepts and history learned in graduate school remain relevant. Consider how your ethical foundations align with the customs and ideals that you value most about our field. Be a role model for new professionals and colleagues.

Discussion Questions
Building on the findings and implications reported above, I conclude with questions for further learning and application.

  • Where would you position ethical competency relative to the other nine competencies and various responsibilities of student affairs professionals? Why?
  • Recall a recent incident in which you faced an ethical dilemma or difficult challenge. Which competencies came together in this situation? How and why?
  • What is your understanding of the values, philosophy, and history of student affairs? How do they align with your personal ethics and beliefs? How do they differ?


  • ACPA – College Student Educators International & National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (2015). Professional competency areas for Student Affairs educators. Washington, DC: Author.
  • ACPA – College Student Educators Interantional & National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (2010). Professional competency areas for Student Affairs practitioners. Washington, DC: Author.
  • O’Brien, J. (2016). Ethical perspectives on the ACPA/NASPA Professional Competencies. Developments, 13(4), 39-43.

About the Author
Jonathan O’Brien is assistant professor of educational leadership and coordinator of the Student Development in Higher Education master’s program at California State University, Long Beach. He teaches law and ethics and qualitative research methods. Jonathan has worked at public and private universities in Missouri, Kentucky, and California. His consulting and scholarship focus on assisting students in personal crisis and promoting professional conduct in student affairs practice.

Please e-mail inquiries to Jonathan O’Brien.

The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Autism, Inclusion, and Communication in Higher Education


Autism, Inclusion, and Communication in Higher Education
Beth Brennan
Edlyn Peña
California Lutheran University

The number of students identified with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in schools and colleges is steadily climbing. Currently, prevalence of ASD in the United States is estimated at 1 in 68 students (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). Since the implementation of the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that set the groundwork for inclusion of students with disabilities into K-12 community schools in the United States, the number of students with ASD who have been included in general education curricula throughout their schooling has steadily risen (Kurth, 2015). Kindergarten-12th grade school districts across the country recognize that inclusion for students with disabilities is based not only on legislation but also on a culture of social justice and research which points to benefits for all students (Kalambouka, Farrell, Dyson, & Kaplan, 2007). As a result of these changes, access to supports from early intervention services for very young children with ASD all the way up through high school has meant that “a greater number of these young people are prepared and interested in attending university” (VanBergeijk, Klin, & Volkmar, 2008, p. 1362). Students with ASD who have been included in their community elementary and high schools are now gaining access to post-secondary environments, desiring to have equitable educational opportunities in higher education and to develop into independent and contributing members of society.

Student affairs professionals must become equipped, both in knowledge and practice, to support the growing population of college students with ASD. Today, close to one-third of high school completers with ASD gain access to college (Roux et al., 2015). Nearly 80% of four-year public institutions enrolled students with ASD in the 2008-2009 academic year (Raue & Lewis, 2011), a rate that has likely increased in the last eight years. While these numbers reflect progress in increasing access for this historically marginalized student population, students with ASD experience unique needs and challenges. For instance, research suggests that college students with ASD are at high risk of being disengaged from postsecondary education (Pinder-Amaker, 2014; Shattuck, Narendorf, Cooper, Sterzing, Wagner, & Taylor, 2012), often failing or dropping out due to “sensory, social, learning styles and organizational challenges combined with fatigue” (United States Autism and Asperger Association, 2013, para. 1). Therefore, the importance for student affairs professionals to have an awareness and acceptance of the needs of students with ASD has never been more critical.

While most students with ASD use traditional speech to communicate, estimates indicate that up to 40 percent of students with autism are minimally or non-speaking (National Autism Association, 2016). Current statistics show that while intervention can certainly improve speech capability for students with autism, 70% of students with ASD who are non-speaking develop production of words while only 30% gain phrased speech (National Institutes of Health, 2010). Those students have faced heightened challenges in finding their voice in general education settings. It is critical for student affairs professionals to understand that not being able to communicate through spoken word is not an indicator of cognitive ability. Motivated by the premise that all individuals have a desire and basic right to communicate, student affairs professionals will want to explore ways to include and support students who use alternative means to communicate. While basic rights for all students with disabilities are covered under the law — Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or the Workforce Investment Act (504), and Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) — training for student affairs professionals must extend way beyond basic law in order to provide effective support for students who are minimally or non-speaking.

Supports and Services
Supporting the needs of students with ASD who use alternative means of communication becomes not only a requirement but also a positive focus for campuses that embrace a diverse student population. This begs the question: how does that focus play out in higher education supports and services for student affairs professionals? To help answer that question, we highlight the story of one college student who uses typing to communicate. Samuel Capozzi is currently a freshman at California State University Channel Islands (CI). Samuel did not have a reliable means of communication prior to the middle of his high school trajectory. At that point, Samuel was reading books for younger children and was doing simple math. He describes how, prior to becoming “a typer”, he learned incidentally through his environment and interactions with others. Once he was exposed to typing, Samuel decided to stay in high school an extra year to earn his diploma. The extra time that he spent was filled with accomplishments. Samuel took the National Latin Exam and graduated with honors. He was able to do these things through grit and determination. But he also had a very supportive school community. Samuel describes his experiences at CI this way:

As I understand it, I am CI’s first non-speaking, non-writing student. I simply can’t say enough about Disability Resource Programs at CI. I am truly embraced, and my presence is celebrated on campus. It’s a nice change! What inspires me most is my professors’ delighted responses and even shocked responses when they hear my cogent answers and read my strong essays. I hope to pioneer a path for other students who communicate differently that may come after me. Knowing this helps me forge on when I become overwhelmed! (Capozzi, 2016).

We invited Samuel to speak to over 350 educators, students, and families at the Spectrum of Opportunity: Autism, Inclusion and Communication Conference at California Lutheran University in March, 2016. This conference provided information on supporting students who use typing or letter boards to communicate. Samuel spoke to the social, academic and communication needs of a minimally speaking student with ASD in a university setting. The audience, including student affairs professionals, learned about the supports that were most helpful to Samuel in his university experience.

Campus Initiatives
There are four basic campus-wide initiatives that can set the stage for students who are minimally or non-speaking, like Samuel, to have a successful experience and make those campuses more desirable to all students when choosing a college. These involve initiatives that support a culture of acceptance, foster a culture of diversity, promote a culture of inclusion and focus on the consideration of practical realities.

Support a culture of acceptance
The most basic premise in acceptance of students who are autistic, including those who are minimally or non-speaking, into the campus community is to presume competence in their academic abilities. Lacking the ability to communicate verbally does not correlate with cognitive ability. Nor does it indicate a person’s desire to communicate. Presuming competence in enrolled students with ASD is the first step toward student success. In order to be a truly inclusive campus community, colleges and universities need to support the entire campus community in both learning about autism and increasing a culture of acceptance. As with any transformational change to an organization, sustainable change needs to involve the whole system. Myers, Ladner, and Koger (2011) argue that “current educational practices both alienate students with autism from their neurotypical peers and compel students to hide their autistic traits” (p. 517). A close examination of both formal and informal practices and traditions on campus will reveal weak points in developing a true culture of acceptance. And any proposed practices should not focus solely on the student with ASD adapting to the environment but on adjusting the environment and perceptions of student affairs professionals to the student.

Foster a culture of diversity
All campus conversations about diversity should include disability in that conversation. “As colleges and universities encourage increased diversity in their students and faculty, this is yet another aspect of diversity that must be considered” (Ashby & Causton-Theoharis, 2012, p. 277). Some have argued that not only is disability missing from conversations and initiatives surrounding diversity but that “disability seems harder for people without disabilities to celebrate and see as empowering” (Davis, 2011, para. 6). Autism is a form of diversity. We can look at a student with autism as someone who may learn differently, socialize differently, move differently and/or communicate differently. To truly embrace diversity, a campus must include a spectrum of diversity that includes autism rather than be limited to focus on one type of diversity (e.g.. race, religion). Campus culture that is high in acceptance of all forms of diversity will better support students with ASD including those who are minimally or non-speaking. This more comprehensive view of diversity builds stronger learning communities. Acceptance of diversity that is inclusive of disability will create learning communities that are more welcoming and willing to adapt for students with ASD who are minimally or non-speaking.

Promote a culture of inclusion
Inclusion is not a program. It is what happens when there is a culture of acceptance and diversity. It is a welcoming of contributions that students with autism who are minimally or non-speaking can make in the classroom and campus environment. It is membership in the campus community. It is also a ‘willingness to know’ on the part of student affairs professionals. Student support needs must be specific to the individual student’s challenges. The willingness to get to know a student can validate and affirm the student’s place in the campus community and will help the student affairs professional to design individual plans for support. This also naturally leads to greater retention and student success. In addition, knowledge about the attitudes and perceptions of neurotypical peers toward students with ASD can support the development of appropriate services and support programs (Matthews, Ly, & Goldberg, 2015).

Consider practical realities
Student affairs professionals must also think through the practical realities to support students with complex communication challenges on a daily basis. Particularly when minimally or non-speaking students with autism first transition into the college environment, they will more likely require higher levels of parent involvement in the transition process than is common for typical college students. Student affairs professionals can work with the campus disability office to make sure that all conditions for FERPA are being met if and when parents initiate communication. In addition, minimally or non-speaking students are generally accompanied by a communication partner. The communication partner assists the student with interacting and responding to others inside and outside of the classroom—typically via a speech generating device or letter board. The communication partner is akin to an American Sign Language interpreter for the deaf and hard of hearing. Always speak directly to the student, allowing him/her/hir/their time to respond while they point to letters or icons to construct their comments and responses. Student affairs should continue to work collaboratively with the campus disability office to maintain a supportive and responsive campus experience that involves the student with autism in meaningful ways.

Closing Thoughts
Although it is acknowledged that experiences of students with autism at the post-secondary level have been understudied, student affairs professionals can cultivate knowledge and practices to frame a supportive culture. Research indicates that strong higher education supports have significantly increased enrollment of students with autism in postsecondary education. And that is good news for our communities. Students with ASD bring to the table many qualities that positively benefit the higher education environment. Student affairs professionals may be the best people to highlight those contributions because they are recognized as a good place to start in setting inclusive campus climate.
Of all the constituencies on college campuses, student affairs, by virtue of its historical commitment to differences and the espoused values of the profession, has assumed leadership for creating learning environment that are inclusive, diverse and affirming. In doing so, values of human dignity, equality, and community serve as an appropriate framework for working with students. (Hall & Belch, 2000, p. 9)
When those values are extended to students with autism including those who are minimally or non-speaking, student affairs professionals will model for others the kind of welcoming campuses that make up vibrant learning communities. As Samuel Capozzi (2015) states, we want “to move from mere awareness to appreciation for the unique gifts and abilities of those on the autism spectrum” (para. 3).

Reflection Questions:

1) In your role, what professional development do you think that you would need to be able to support a student with ASD who types to communicate?
2) Based on your personal life experience, what assumptions or perspectives do you bring with you that might be a barrier to working with a student with ASD and what can you do to overcome those barriers?
3) What could your institution do to be more inclusive and accepting of students with ASD?
4) What collaborations and networks with programs or individuals might you develop or strengthen to support minimally or non-speaking students with ASD?


  • Ashby, C. E., & Causton-Theoharis, J. (2012). “Moving quietly through the door of opportunity”:
    Perspectives of college students who type to communicate. Equity & Excellence in
    Education, 45(2), 261-282. doi:10.1080/10665684.2012.666939
  • Capozzi, S. (2016, March 19).  Words from a college student with autism [Web log post].  Retrieved from
  • Capozzi, S. (2015). Acceptance Speech to the Ventura County Autism Society. Retrieved from
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, March 31). Retrieved from
  • Davis, L. J. (2011). Why is disability missing from the discourse on diversity? Chronicle of Higher Education, 58(6), B38-B40. Retrieved from
  • Hall, L., & Belch, H. (2000). Setting the context: Reconsidering the principles of full participation and meaningful access for students with disabilities. In H. A. Belch (Ed.), Serving students with disabilities, No. 91(1). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Kalambouka, A., Farrell, P., Dyson, A., & Kaplan, I. (2007). The impact of placing pupils with special educational needs in mainstream schools on the achievement of their peers. Educational Research, 49(4), 365-382. doi:10.1080/00131880701717222
  • Kurth, J. A. (2015). Educational placement of students with autism. Focus On Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities, 30(4), 249-256. doi:10.1177/1088357614547891
  • Matthews, N., Ly, A., & Goldberg, W. (2015). College students’ perceptions of peers with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 45(1), 90-99. doi:10.1007/s10803-014-2195-6
  • Myers, J., Ladner, J., & Koger, S. (2011). More than a passing grade: fostering positive psychological outcomes for mainstreamed students with autism. Journal of Developmental & Physical Disabilities, 23(6), 515-526. doi:10.1007/s10882-011-9242-4
  • National Autism Association. (2016). Retrieved from
  • National Institutes of Health (2010). Workshop on nonverbal school-aged children with autism. Retrieved from
  • Pinder-Amaker, S. (2014). Identifying the unmet needs of college students on the autism spectrum. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 22(2), 125-137.
  • Raue, K., & Lewis, L. (2011). Students with disabilities at degree-granting postsecondary institutions: First look. NCES 2011-018. National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from
  • Roux, A. M., Shattuck, P. T., Rast, J. E., Rava, J. A., Edwards, A. D., Wei, X., McCracken, M. & Yu, J. W. (2015). Characteristics of two-year college students on the autism spectrum and their support services experiences. Autism Research & Treatment, 1-10. doi:10.1155/2015/391693
  • Shattuck, P., Narendorf, S. C., Cooper, B., Sterzing, P. R., Wagner, & M., Taylor, J. (2012). Postsecondary education and employment among youth with an autism spectrum disorder. Pediatrics, 129(6): 1-8.
  • United States Autism and Asperger Association. (2013). About US college autism project (USCAP). Retrieved from
  • VanBergeijk, E., Klin, A., & Volkmar, F. (2008). Supporting more able students on the autism spectrum: College and beyond. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 38(7), 1359-1370. doi:10.1007/s10803-007-0524-8

About the Authors
Beth Brennan earned her Ph.D. in Special Education in 1997 from Kent State University. Dr. Brennan joined the California Lutheran University faculty in 2011 as an Associate Professor. She currently serves as Associate Dean and Director of Special Education Programs in the Graduate School of Education. Dr. Brennan has worked in supervision and research at Family Child Learning Center in Ohio (a collaborative of Kent State University and Akron Children’s Hospital), as a site coordinator (San Francisco State University) with the Early Childhood Research Institute on Inclusion, and as the Special Education Program Director at Saint Mary’s College of California. Dr. Brennan is a Founding Co-Director of the Autism and Communication Center at California Lutheran University.

Please e-mail inquiries to Beth Brennan.

Edlyn Peña earned her Ph.D. in Education with a concentration in Higher Education in 2007 from the University of Southern California (USC).  After teaching graduate level courses at USC for several years, Dr. Peña joined the California Lutheran University (CLU) faculty in 2009. As an Associate Professor in Higher Education Leadership at CLU, her research currently focuses on social justice issues for students with disabilities, particularly autism, in the preschool through higher education pipeline. Dr. Peña is a Founding Co-Director of the Autism and Communication Center at California Lutheran University.

Please e-mail inquiries to Edlyn Peña.

The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Accreditation: Learning through a Participatory Process


Accreditation: Learning through a Participatory Process
Keith E. Davidson Jr., Indiana University of Pennsylvania

The Commission for Assessment and Evaluation (CAE) is pleased to sponsor this “Views of Assessment” series. Focusing on the experiences of student affairs educators working with assessment, the series highlights reflections from practitioners at different levels in their careers – graduate student, new professional, mid-level, and senior student affairs officer (SSAO). Each article offers rich narratives, personal experiences, and professional examples, as well as instructive wisdom and advice related to assessment practices and implementation. The first article in the series is from Keith Davidson about his experience with the accreditation process at the university level. Writing with candor, Keith’s insights are valuable for professionals wanting to understand more about the assessment process and how they can get involved.

Once every ten years institutions of higher education are asked to embark upon a journey of self-exploration as part of the regional accreditation process. This process generally involves conducting thorough research of the institution to develop a comprehensive self-study document outlining how the institution is in compliance with the accreditor’s standards. In addition, a team of external reviewers also evaluates the institution during an intensive site visit to make their determination as to whether the institution is in compliance. As accreditation is directly tied to an institution’s ability to offer federal financial aid, many in higher education have distaste for the process. As a result, few employees elect to understand the benefits of performing the accreditation process and fewer yet choose to get involved.

According to Racine (n.d.), the development of a self study is “a collaborative and participatory process” (p. 109). In my experience as a graduate assistant working directly with accreditation, Racine’s statement is accurate; however, I think it is more applicable to say the entire process is collaborative and participatory. Unfortunately, the ten-year accreditation cycle and its negative connotation means many graduate students, new professionals, and even mid-level managers may not even know what it is or have an opportunity to get involved until late in their careers. In this next section, I will briefly explain accreditation and share some of my experiences with accreditation as a graduate student to emphasize the learning opportunity this process can provide for those at any level of their student affairs career.

What is Accreditation?
Accreditation as a general term can refer to two different processes by which institutions and programs receive a seal of approval from an external agency. The first form of accreditation, called specialized accreditation, refers specifically to an agency which reviews specific programs, typically academic programs, and provides them with some form of recognition for meeting the agency’s standard (CHEA, 2002). While specialized accreditation is more commonly the realm of academic affairs, regional accreditation impacts the entire institution and is the form of accreditation that will be discussed from this point forward. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA, 2002) defined regional accreditation as a process in which institutions undergo a critical self-assessment and external peer review in order to ensure quality control and assurance. While this definition seems straightforward, it is much more complicated in practice as there are six regional accreditors, each with their own standards and procedures for how to conduct the process.

While each regional accreditor has its own process, there are some aspects of accreditation that are common among them all. For starters, accreditation is a process that occurs in full every ten years with follow-up reports typically around the five-year mark. As a part of the process, institutions must develop a critical self-assessment document that, at minimum, addresses the agencies’ standards of accreditation. A second part of the process includes providing evidence to the agency that the institution is in compliance with all accreditation-relevant federal regulations (MSCHE, 2015). Following the completion of these two areas the agency will select a team of 8-12 peer reviewers to conduct a site visit and review of the institution’s self-study document. The review team will then deliver a report to the regional accreditor who will make a decision regarding the institution’s status with the agency that may include requirements to develop follow-up reports or include subsequent team visits.

In my experience, one of the biggest questions about accreditation that comes up is, “why should we care?” One of the simplest answers to this question—and the one most often stated by administrators—is failure to meet regional accreditation standards results in the inability of an institution to participate in the federal financial aid system. A better answer is the process allows for institutions to gather evidence that highlights the strengths and weaknesses of both institutional and departmental level missions and goals. The analysis of weaknesses is perhaps the most important part of the process as the self study is also the place to put forward recommendations for future improvements. The process can also be an opportunity to develop an institutional culture of assessment and continual improvement if one does not already exist. Accreditation is not meant to be a one-time event that appeases accreditors; rather, it is meant to develop goals for which the institution will be held accountable for over the next ten years.

An institution’s self study document is the most important part of the accreditation process as it represents the institution’s past to the peer review team and starts the process of preparing for the institution’s future. The development of the document should not be an initiative undertaken by the institution’s administration; instead, the document should be created by the collaborative efforts of all members of the institution. Unfortunately, many in higher education are uninformed about accreditation, which leads to them not participating in the process (Wood, 2006).
A comprehensive self-study document is one of the ultimate forms of assessment. To develop the document, a multitude of different data gathering techniques are required such as survey, historical document review, focus groups, interviews, and many more. Given all of the different forms of information collection that are necessary, it should be apparent why individuals from all areas of higher education are needed to participate in the process. Relying on only a finite group of individuals would result in a lack of understanding of the various areas techniques. Furthermore, a diverse group of individuals working on the process increases the likelihood that someone will be an expert on a specific methodology and able to improve data collection in that area.

In my experience, picking the individuals who lead the development of a self study involves more politics than any other institutional initiative. To provide some context for this, consider that most self study documents are developed by a steering committee which generally creates subcommittees to research and write reports on the various standards of accreditation. Now, think about your institution and pick a team of 20 to 30 people from across divisions that would need to be on that committee. My guess is you will find this is not something you can do in five minutes off the top of your head. When it comes down to selecting the steering committee, a lot of factors go into consideration, and that is where politics comes into play. If you work in student affairs, your list would probably include people like the vice president, dean of students, director of housing, and so on; however, appointing 10 people from student affairs and leaving only 10-20 seats left for the other divisions is not providing an equal representation for all campus constituencies.

Decisions have to be made at this level of the process that involve saying the composition of the committee has to be this in order for everyone to be represented fairly. In some cases, one group may need to have more representation than another area because the institution’s mission or values are more heavily centered in that area. This can be where “territory” really starts to come out of employees. For example, not selecting the director of student housing for a spot on the committee may result in someone in that area saying, “My area clearly is not important to the institution.” However, that is not the case. I think the take home message from this section, regardless of position or experience level, is just because your area does not have a direct representative does not mean it is not important. Instead, consider that an appointment to an assessment committee at this level is an appointment to represent a wide campus constituency. Therefore, the three representatives from student affairs who do get appointed to the committee have a duty to represent all areas of student affairs and not just their respective office.

Expanding Your Understanding
While the steering committee may coordinate the accreditation process and the development of the self study, it is often necessary to divide out the work further. Creating subcommittees that are tasked with researching, collecting data, and developing an informed response about one or more of the accrediting agency’s standards generally accomplish this. Similar to the steering committee, the subcommittees often include representatives from various areas of the campus. These committees are often the opportunity for professionals at different levels in their career to get involved. In addition to being an opportunity to represent your office or department, these committees can be an opportunity for an individual to highlight their area of expertise and gain additional institutional knowledge about that area or it can be an opportunity to learn about an entirely new area.

I had the opportunity to work on a subcommittee that was outside of my area of knowledge shortly after starting as a graduate student. The subcommittee I was on covered two different standards that focused on planning, resources, and institutional renewal. Going into the experience during my first semester of graduate school I knew very little about these topics, and the topic of resources meant money in my mind. By the end of the semester, I felt fairly knowledgeable about university monetary resources, but also with the various other resources such as facilities and human. Specifically, with monetary resources, I gained significant knowledge about the limitations put on funding from different sources. For example, I did not realize that funding—at least for my institution—set aside for construction could only be used for that purpose and could not be used to balance out debt in other areas. During subsequent semesters of my graduate program, I was able to utilize the information from the experience to add to classroom discussions and my class assignments. Through this application of the knowledge I was also able to provide my classmates, most of whom worked in more traditional student affairs assistantships, with information about the greater operations of the university.

Institutional Culture of Assessment
In many cases, the subcommittees need to request and analyze assessment data and reports from various offices and departments in order to conduct their research into the standards. For anyone involved on these committees, this can provide a great illustration for the institution’s culture of assessment. According to Henning (2015), a culture of assessment is “a set of pervasive actions and behaviors by staff across an organization, focusing on the use of data in decision making regarding the accountability and improvement of programs and services” (pp. 11-12). Using this definition, subcommittees, which are able to readily find data, reports, and evidence of improvement based on that information, are probably at an assessment positive institution. However, the inability to find this information may be an indication that one of the institution’s weaknesses involves assessment and the emphasis that is placed upon it.

While culture of assessment can be an institutional term, it can also be used to describe divisions, departments, or units (Henning, 2015). While the previous scenario addressed an institutional level culture of assessment, my experiences in my assistantship illustrated more about the culture of assessment within individual offices and departments. Going back to one of my previous topics, politics are also very prevalent in understanding the culture of assessment. For example, no one ever wants to see their department’s issues exposed, and if those topics are brought up as part of a subcommittee’s research the conversations can get pretty heated. In these discussions, it also becomes easy to identify the units that time and time again takes hits to their resources. In many of the cases I observed, programs or offices which were targeted by resource decreases in the past were able to provide more data and evidence of the importance of their programs and how they contribute to student learning outcomes than those programs which where seldom plagued with resource decreases. Essentially, these offices’ prior experience with resource targeting resulted in them recognizing the need to provide tangible evidence of their programs’ success and importance. This in turn led to them developing stronger assessment plans for continual improvement. The establishing of the assessment cycle and use of the data for continual improvement led to a stronger culture of assessment being present within these offices.

Overall, I think the message I took home from this part of my experience was to ingrain assessment into the day-to-day operations of your job. The units I observed which developed a strong culture of assessment from their past experiences did this and as such they were able to provide information that was relevant and useable. They were not conducting assessment processes just for the sake of their annual review or the institution’s accreditation cycle. They were conducting it as a way of improving themselves and defending the outcomes their area has on students.

Role of Student Affairs Professionals
One of my overarching themes throughout this article has been assessment should not be done for the sake of accreditation. Instead, accreditation is a process by which previously gathered information is collected and reviewed in relation to the standards of the accreditor. If anything, the full scale institutional review involved in accreditation should indicate where weaknesses are present, and allow the institution to set goals for addressing those weaknesses over the next ten years.

Accreditation may seem to be too broad to impact the day-to-day operations of student affairs professionals; however, our work is directly connected to the development and learning of our students. As such, it is our responsibility to ensure we connect our work to the accreditation process and ensure our services meet the standards expected by accrediting bodies. The following are my tips for student affairs professionals with regards to accreditation:
· Get involved – Accreditation is a participatory process, but it is only participatory if people choose to get involved. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone and participate in the process to show commitment to your institution and develop professionally. Getting involved does not have to be as intense as joining a committee. Simply participating in an interview or providing feedback on the self study document are less time committed processes to introduce you to accreditation.
· Ingrain assessment in your work – Accreditation relies on the knowledge and information that has been collected since the last review cycle. By building assessment into your day-to-day job duties, you not only assist in the accreditation process, but you also help improve your department by collecting data that is used to improve your programs and show the importance of your work.
· Stay informed – Even if you do not get involved in the accreditation process, at least take the time to understand your institution’s process and keep up-to-date on what is being done. Accreditation impacts every single campus constituent, and knowing what is occurring not only benefits you, but also your office and students.

Regional accreditation is potentially one of the most complex processes experienced by faculty, staff, and administrators at institutions of higher education. While it may only occur every ten years, the process of preparing the self study may take as much as three or four years of work. When you add in that an extensive progress report is generally due around year five and requires some preparatory time itself, it becomes apparent that the accreditation cycle never truly ends. Essentially institutions are constantly engaged in accreditation activities and by the nature of the process assessment related ventures. As student affairs professionals, it is imperative to assist institutions in this process by not only conducting assessments, but also using the data to close the loop and improve the performance and value of our areas. Our role is likely to continue to grow in this process as a result of recent calls by the federal government for accreditors to change their processes to improve institutional accountability. Many of these calls for change push for a greater emphasis on return on investment data such as job placement rates, average graduate salary, and percent of graduates pursing graduate education. Other changes already in discussion include requiring greater annual data be submitted to accreditors by institutions, and shortening the ten-year cycle. Regardless of what accreditation’s future holds, the culture of assessment inherent to the process is something to be embraced by student affairs professionals as it can lead to positive impacts for our students.

Discussion Questions
1. Where is my institution currently at in the accreditation cycle? What areas where previously selected for improved during the last review?
2. How does my involvement in the accreditation and associated assessment processes benefit the students I serve?
3. What is the culture of assessment within my office? Division? Institution?
4. How can I help build a culture of assessment within my office, division, and/or institution, and what skills or resources would I need to do this?


  • Council for Higher Education Accreditation (2002). The fundamentals of accreditation: What do you need to know? Retrieved from
  • Henning, G. W. (2015). Tenet two: Cultivating a culture of assessment. In K. K. Yousey-Elsener, E. M. Bentrim, & G. W. Henning (Eds.), A practical guide: Coordinating student affairs divisional assessment (pp. 11-34). Sterling, VA: Stylus.
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (2015). Verification of compliance with accreditation-relevant federal regulations: Implementation for 2016. Philadelphia, PA: Author.
  • Racine, M. B. (n.d.). Writing a self study report. In Institutional development: Added value through program assessment (Sec. 1.5.1, pp. 107-110). Plainfield, IL: Pacific Crest Faculty Development Series.
  • Wood, A. L. (2006). Demystifying accreditation: Action plans for a national or regional accreditation. Innovative Higher Education, 31, 43-62.

About the Author
Keith E. Davidson Jr. is currently in his first year as an Academic Counselor at Frostburg State University. He is a May 2016 graduate from Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s (IUP) Master of Arts program in Student Affairs in Higher Education. During his time at IUP, he was the graduate assistant for the Office of the Provost’s Associate for Academic Programs and Planning and spent a considerable amount of time assisting with preparations for the institution’s spring 2016 decennial review with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. He holds a B.S. degree in chemistry from Frostburg State University.

Please e-mail inquiries to Keith E. Davidson.

The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

In Pursuit of a Diverse Community


In Pursuit of a Diverse Community
Donna Lee, ACPA President

As we open our campuses to usher in a new academic year, we recognize that we are starting this year at one of the most tumultuous and challenging times in recent years. This has been an especially difficult summer: terrorist attacks around the world, shootings of unarmed black men, attacks on police protecting demonstrators, targeted killing of LGBTQ people, and a presidential campaign in which we hear messages of violence and hate. All of these events and challenges have had an indelible impact on each of us. And it is clear that we all have much to learn as we engage in difficult dialogues in our diverse communities. But have we truly nurtured this diverse community on our campuses?

The process of creating a diverse community is an amorphous one – dynamic and ever changing. Earlier initiatives to diversify our campuses have focused exclusively on demographics and increasing numbers of historically underrepresented populations on campus, especially racial groups. Other approaches have been aimed at developing programs, initiatives, and services, all designed to help students from underrepresented populations succeed in a dominant culture. The deficit in these exclusive approaches is that diversity is perceived as an end – a stagnant, fixed outcome.

Many campuses have since begun to recognize the need to embrace an approach that conceptualizes diversity as core and essential to the mission to educate students for responsible and engaged citizenship and leadership in local and global communities. As such, diversity must become part of the fabric of our institutions, connected and integrated into all aspects of our learning communities. Respect and value for diversity should be reflected in our social interactions, our practices, programs, resources and services, and in a curriculum that represents a body of knowledge that spans diverse cultures, traditions, histories, and values. An important part of the process is a critical assessment of what we are teaching, how we are teaching it, who is doing the teaching, and the contexts in which the learning occurs. How well does our curriculum – in and out of the classroom – teach students about diverse groups? Are students given opportunities to reflect on their own identities, heritage, and cultural traditions? Do we provide knowledge of social issues such as power and privilege, bias, and discrimination? Do we relate diversity issues to students’ majors? Do we prepare students to work with people from different cultural backgrounds? Do we challenge our students to consider the implications of diverse worldviews, perceptions, and values? Do we provide opportunities for students to engage in dialogue across difference? A diverse community is one that is inclusive, welcoming, and respectful in which each member values difference, and at the same time, this diverse community affirms the central importance of our common humanity.

The emergence of a truly diverse campus involves incremental and progressive change. Although diversity issues are broader than merely increasing numbers, progress in educating all students to effectively engage in a diverse and global society can be especially challenging in an environment that is culturally and ethnically homogenous. Underrepresented populations cannot be expected to conform and assimilate into the mainstream culture; instead, all populations should be able to merge to form an integrated campus community that is culturally synergistic, a campus community in which all are affirmed and valued. Boyer (1990) describes this community: “a place where freedom of expression is uncompromisingly protected and where civility is powerfully affirmed” (p.17); “a place where the well-being of each member is sensitively considered” (p.47); “a place where the sacredness of each person is honored and where diversity is aggressively pursued” (p.25).

As we aggressively seek and recruit diverse students, it is imperative that we challenge ourselves to consider the following: Are we prepared to educate a diverse population? Is our campus environment one in which members from underrepresented populations can thrive? Are our curricula, our practices, and pedagogies appropriate for these populations? Of equal importance is the diversity of our faculty and staff. On many campuses, as the racial and ethnic diversity of student populations have experienced steady growth, the same growth among our faculty and professional staff is not seen. The presence of a diverse faculty and staff body provides students with diverse role models and mentors, opportunities to learn from different perspectives and voices, and exposure to new ways of knowing and learning. The research literature suggests that student engagement with diversity not only is related to changes in attitudes, openness to difference, and commitments to social justice, but it is also related to satisfaction, academic success, and cognitive development for all students (Taylor, Apprey, Hill, McGrann, & Wang, 2010). To this end, as we consider issues of diversity and multiculturalism and create dynamic learning environments, we must adopt a comprehensive approach that includes the following components:

1. Learning experiences that expand all students’ knowledge of multiculturalism and its implications as they are prepared to engage in their communities – both local and global;
2. Programs, services, and resources that recognize and address the developmental needs and learning styles of diverse populations;
3. Aggressive strategies to intentionally diversify the campus community. A campus community that is rich in its diversity – across multiple identities – provides the container for this multicultural education, outreach, and support to occur.

Recognizing this need for a comprehensive approach, attention must be given to the inclusion of underrepresented populations, support and outreach to these groups, campus climate issues, the inclusion of diversity in the curriculum – in and out of the classroom. Strategies must be aimed at seeking multiple perspectives and voices, promoting growth through dialogue in the campus community, the curriculum and the classroom, creating linkages between the in class and out of class learning, and building connections between the campus and local and global communities, understanding the systemic issues related to diversity, power, and privilege, and developing a heightened sense of commitment to create positive social change. And the work of creating a diverse community must be shared by all in that community. While departments and administrators focused on diversity play a crucial role, the responsibility for thinking about the implications of diversity must be distributed much more broadly among students, staff and faculty, and administrators. And diversity must be reflected in mission statements, strategic plans, campus priorities, decision-making, and resource allocations.

Our campuses are embedded in a society wracked by ongoing challenges that are deep and confusing and from whose conflicts, violence, and pain they will never be immune. But our campuses are powerful learning containers in which we should aspire both to model what our world could be and to educate those who will be the ones who will improve it. The vision should be to create a campus community that can engage across difference, cultivate empathy, have conversations of respect, and learn and grow from each other as we educate ourselves for a diverse world and create positive social change through a shared responsibility in support of the common good.

In the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.
John F. Kennedy
Commencement Address at American University, June 10 1963

Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. New York, NY: The
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Taylor, O., Apprey, C. B., Hill, G., McGrann, L., & Wang, J. (2010). Diversifying the faculty. Peer
Review, 12(3). Retrieved from

Creating a Culture of Advocacy at the Intersection of Avoidance & Adversity


Creating a Culture of Advocacy at the Intersection of Avoidance & Adversity

by Cindi Love, ACPA Executive Director

How can we, as higher education & student affairs professionals, advocate for full equity & inclusion at the institutional-level?

How can we answer the call for transformation of structural oppression?

How can we demonstrate more effectively the critical role of co-curricular engagement in the realization of human dignity?

There are a few basic activities that seem to catalyze and sustain positive change that I want to share within our higher education community. And, there are some harsh realities.

We are not keeping pace with other global institutions in diversity, equity and inclusion. Many very large for-profit and multinational corporations have been forced to do better because their profits depend on market leadership with finely tuned global acuity and cultural competence.

When I came to work at ACPA in March 2014, the Executive Team of the Governing Board asked me to conduct an organizational audit of effectiveness based on mission, vision and core values. I did so. One of the tools that I used for these types of audits is the Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks (GDIB), a platform launched ten years ago by the Diversity Collegium ( to help corporations and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) systematically address discrimination in their organizations.

At JLM 2014, I reviewed the results with our leaders. We scored slightly below the 50 percent level between Level 2 Reactive and Level 3 Proactive. There was evidence of stalemate in some areas including:

  • Response to the voices and needs of our native, aboriginal and indigenous members
  • Pathways to leadership for persons of color
  • Accessibility for persons with disabilities
  • Full inclusion of LGBT persons
  • Response to the voices and needs of people with certain religious, spiritual and secular identities

Following the 2014 organizational audit, another group of leaders at JLM 2015 completed two sections of the GDIB: (1) D&I Vision, Strategy and Business Case and (2) Leadership and Accountability.

We again scored slightly below 50 percent. The Leadership Pathways Project, Elders in Residence Program, Developmental Pathways to Trans Inclusion on College Campuses, Community Conversations on Racism, the ACPA Bias Protocol and Deconstructing Racism in the Academy Series were all developed to improve our organizational performance in equity and inclusion.

We’ve made progress and we have a lot of work to do.  It is important to understand and accept that inclusion is not a one-time effort or exercise, a project or a program.  It is, in many ways, at the very heart of student affairs work.

Over a decade, use of the GDIB has revealed that organizations must systematically measure what they really want to change. They must understand and identify benchmarks for diversity and inclusion within the macro view of the social and political system and climate in which they operate and in which they are planning transformation. We need only read the headlines about higher education to discern why this external scan is so important.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer, and campus communities may address the same issues from very different religious and socio-political perspectives. These issues must also be viewed against the backdrop of rapid social change, substantial polarization in the political arena, political challenges to the freedoms of expression and religion, and high-profile instances of violence and terrorism. Catalytic events—even those that take place far from a campus—unrecognized needs, and pent-up demand. (AGB, p. 16)

Leaders have to locate themselves within this working environment and ask questions of themselves.  Are they catalyst, compliant or conformist?  Are they committed to creating cultures of advocacy or avoidance?  Are they focused more on risk management than students and staff at risk?  We have to continue to ask the same questions of ourselves as association members.

There is more pressure to commit to diversity, equity and inclusion than there has been in the past. The Association of Governing Boards makes very few public statements to trustees, but on August 25, 2016, they issued CAMPUS CLIMATE, INCLUSION, and CIVILITY.

I highly recommend that you read it cover to cover.  If you do not serve on a Board of Trustees, take a copy to your SSAO, President, Provost or Chancellor and ask them to read it if they have not.

The AGB Board of Directors, in approving this important statement, realizes that some of the recommended practices presented herein will raise concerns. Some will prompt difficult conversations and will challenge boards to address the questions that result. However, governing bodies bear ultimate responsibility to ensure that effective policies are in place and followed in order to uphold institutional mission, values, and educational quality for all who are part of their institutional community.

I was invited to serve on the AGB Task Force that helped identify the complexity of issues, fundamental values and foundational principles that anchor the statement.  Artis Hampshire-Cowan, AGB Senior Fellow and former senior vice president and secretary at Howard University is to be commended for her thought leadership and facilitation.  As you can imagine, the dialogue was intense.

Bottom line, the Report confirms what the GDIB case studies for the past decade reveal, that commitment and action to achieve diversity, equity and inclusion must emanate first and continuously from “the top.” This transformation cannot be delegated to a Director or Division or Department. It belongs first to the people with the most resistance to change and the power to change.  This leadership makes all the difference in whether a campus pursues real equity and inclusion or not.

I was very proud that Fred P. Pestello was chosen for a central quote in the statement.  He is President of Saint Louis University, an ACPA member institution, home of past-President Kent Porterfield and the place where we filmed Deconstructing Racism in the Academy after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

I recommend that you watch his interview on ACPA Video on Demand, and I want to share his quote from the AGB report.

At the outset, we simply talked and listened to one another. We worked to find areas of understanding and agreement— and not dwell on our differences. Throughout those discussions, we in positions of leadership strove to speak using the poetry of compassion, respect, and dignity, rather than the prose of fear, power, and threats.

Fred P. Pestello President, Saint Louis University

Well said.