From the President: Why We Struggle

From the President: Why We Struggle

Kathleen Kerr
ACPA President
University of Delaware

I am often asked what distinguishes us as an Association. I do believe our Core Values are unique, and it is imperative that we constantly strive to demonstrate our commitment to them. This is easier said than done, but vitally important. As Robert Fulghum (2004), author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten said: “It doesn’t matter what you say you believe – it only matters what you do.”

At the ACPA June Leadership Meeting, I thought it was important that we do more than just work on Convention planning and hold entity group meetings. In addition, we agreed that we would all participate in two workshops, one on social justice and one on cross-cultural communication, both which have a direct connection to three of our Core Values:

  • Diversity, multicultural competence, and human dignity;
  • Inclusiveness in and access to association-wide involvement and decision-making; and
  • Free and open exchange of ideas in a context of mutual respect.

The idea for the first workshop came from Brian Arao and Stephanie Bondi, past and current chairs of the Commission for Social Justice Educators. It was planned with their assistance, and facilitated by Kathy Obear, Danielle Morgan Acosta, and myself. During the workshop, we asked leaders to reflect on the question, “How inclusive and socially just are the policies, practices, programs, and services of ACPA?” We used the Multicultural Organizational Development (MCOD) model (Talbot, 2003; Jackson & Hardiman, 1994) to analyze where we are as an Association, where we want to be, and how we get there. We considered the MCOD spectrum that presents a range of organizational positions: monocultural organizations, (exclusionary and club); non-discriminating organizations, (compliance and affirming); and multicultural/inclusive organizations (redefining and multicultural). There was no consensus on where we are, although there certainly is a commitment to continuing to create a more inclusive, socially just organization to meet the needs of the full spectrum of our members across multiple, intersecting identity groups. There was also a great recognition that this is a complex process and that around some identities we are more advanced than around others.

At the second workshop, we learned about culture, how it is defined, how it is reflected, and how we can better communicate with colleagues from different cultural backgrounds. Dr. Gary Weaver, our presenter from American University, talked about developing realistic cultural empathy and recognizing differences in both verbal and non-verbal communication styles and the differences between a “to do” culture and a “to be” culture (Weaver, 2013).

In our work, it is easy to anthropomorphize on our campuses and with the Association. My staff will tell you that one of my pet peeves is when they make statements such as, “UD (University of Delaware) Residence Life & Housing will…”. UD RL&H is not a living being. Rather we should state “Who specifically in the department will…” or “Which person in RL&H will…?” The same happens with ACPA. We want ACPA to be different; more inclusive, more socially just; more activist. But who specifically are we talking about when we state these desires?

This is why we struggle.

ACPA is not one being. Rather, we represent 7000+ members and over 200 leaders. According to our own core values, we strive to be inclusive of all 7000 perspectives, opinions, needs, wishes, and desires. Is it possible to have one voice? I don’t think so, and I hope not. Our strength is not only because we are diverse; lots of associations are. Our strength rests in our commitment to constantly struggle to understand how we can become more multicultural, not in a uniform way, but in a splendidly diverse way. This is messy, sometimes frustrating, and never-ending work.

Our commitment translates into daily practice when we plan and manage the Convention and other professional development activities by asking ourselves how we select speakers and sessions that reflect varying viewpoints. How do we select Convention sites where our members feel welcome and safe visiting? Our commitment occurs when we apply universal design principles to presentations, podcasts, workshops, and more. Our commitment is reflected when we attend to who is and who is not involved in the conversation as we make Association decisions, and broaden the process to be more inclusive. It occurs when we challenge ourselves to utilize research and perspectives that are not only Western in origination.

Our strength is in our struggle to continually grow and provide each member and each leader with the skills and tools necessary so that their contributions to the Association make us a better Association and allow us to actualize our Core Values. This is why we struggle.

Please e-mail inquiries to Kathleen Kerr .

Follow Kathleen on Twitter @acpaprez


Fulghum, R. (2004). All I really needed to know I learned in kindergarten. New York, NY: Random House.

Jackson, B. W. & Hardiman, R. (1994). Multicultural organization development. In E. Y. Cross, J. H., Katz, F. A., Miller, & E. W. Seashore (Eds.), The promise of diversity: Over 40 voices discuss strategies for eliminating discrimination in organizations (pp. 231-239). Arlington, VA: NTLInstitute.

Talbot, D.M. (2003). In S. R. Komives & D. Woodward, Jr. (Eds.). Student services: A handbook for the profession. (4th Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass .

Weaver, G.R. (2013). Intercultural relations: Communication, identity and conflict. Boston, MA: Pearson.

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