Balancing Personal Values With Job Responsibilities | McKinney, Davies & Hood


As higher education professionals, supporting students is at the heart of our work. But what happens when our obligation to support our students doesn’t align with our personal values and what we feel is morally right? How do we reconcile these feelings to effectively provide the right resources and support for our students, while still staying true to who we are? This case follows Ashley, a new professional in Student Affairs, as she advises a student being accused of a Title IX violation.

Keywords/Phrases: Title IX, supporting students, personal values

Primary Characters

Ashley (she/her/hers) – Coordinator, Disability Services. Ashley is a cisgender Black woman who self-identifies as a lesbian. She serves as a coordinator in the Office of Disability Services at ABC University. This is her first job after graduating from her Student Affairs master’s program, and she is entering into her second year on the job. She is serving as a Title IX advisor this semester.

Justin (he/him/his) – Undergraduate Student (he/him/his). Justin is a cisgender white man. He self-identifies as straight, although he has been questioning this identity since his ex-partner, Max, came out as gender non-binary. He is a third-year biology major and has plans to go to medical school after graduating. Justin has been accused of a Title IX violation on the basis of gender discrimination and sexual harassment by his ex-partner, Max, following a bad break-up.

Laura (she/her/hers) – Director, Office of Equity and Compliance. Laura, a cisgender Latina woman, has been in her role as Director of Equity and Compliance for seven years and is well-versed in Title IX violation cases. Due to staffing shortages within her office, and a growing number of cases among students post-Covid, Laura has had to get creative. Last year, she launched a program where other staff members on campus could be trained to serve as advisors to students going through the Title IX process. This program has been largely successful across campus, and many professionals choose to participate.

Max (they/them/theirs) – Undergraduate Student. Max is a second-year art history major at ABC University. They came out as non-binary at the end of their first year and feel like they have had a much more fulfilling college experience now that they are able to be who they truly are. However, after coming out as non-binary, Max began to feel like they were not happy in their relationship with their current partner, Justin. Max did not feel that Justin was supportive of their new identity, and over the summer, they grew apart and Max ended the relationship. In October, Max filed a Title IX complaint against Justin, stating that after the break-up, Justin proceeded to harass them in an effort to get back together.

Jarrod  – Assistant Director, Disability Services (he/him/his). Jarrod is a cisgender white man in his early 30s. He serves as Ashley’s supervisor, and up until this point, they have had a great working relationship. Jarrod generally seems to like Ashley, and she feels well supported by him.

Context and Case

Institutional Context

ABC University is a large public research institution. ABC is predominately white, and has a population that is approximately 58% men, 41% women, and less than 1% transgender or gender non-conforming students. Since resuming normal operations and having students return to campus post-Covid, the university has seen an uptick in both student conduct cases and Title IX reports. While the university is working diligently to address these concerns, they are facing staffing shortages in many areas that make this work difficult.


Ashley just started her second academic year at ABC University, working in the Office of Disability Services. So far, she has really enjoyed her job, and loves working at ABC University as a whole. She has found her position to be incredibly rewarding and feels like she is genuinely making a difference in the lives of students, which has always been her goal in pursuing this career path. The one thing Ashley has been struggling with throughout her first year in her career  is feeling disconnected from students. In her master’s program, she was a Graduate Assistant for the Center for Student Activities, where she regularly worked with various student leaders and organizations to plan programs and events. She grew accustomed to having students in and out of her office every day and enjoyed these relationships. In her new role in Disability Services, however, she is finding that she does not see students nearly as much as she used to.

Now that she has been in her job for over a year, Ashley feels that she has a good handle on her job and is ready for some added responsibility. She has heard from colleagues that there are positions she can volunteer with in other offices on campus to gain more professional development experience and have more interaction with students in different ways. After looking into these opportunities, she decides to try out a position as a Title IX advisor with the Office of Equity and Compliance. Through this role, Ashley will go through training regarding the specifics of the Title IX process and how to support students who are going through this process. While not officially part of any hearing, the advisor’s role is to meet with the student who they are assigned to, provide context and answer questions regarding the process of a Title IX resolution, and provide general support and guidance to the student they are advising, whether that be through attending resolution meetings with them, helping revise statements or responses, providing them with appropriate resources, or helping them through the process of deciding how to move forward.

During training for the Title IX advisor position, Ashley really feels that the role will be a good fit. Although this position is certainly out of her comfort zone, she is excited for the opportunity to get to interact with students in a more direct, one-on-one way. She feels passionate about helping students navigate through difficult experiences and feels that this role will allow her to do that in a meaningful way. Additionally, she is excited to get more involved on campus and thinks this will be great professional development experience outside of her current role.

Ashley did not receive an advisor request for a few months, so hadn’t thought much about the role. In late October, however, Ashley got an email from Laura, the Director of Equity and Compliance on campus, letting her know that she had been assigned to her first case as an advisor. After reading the case, she learns that she will be advising Justin, a student who has been accused by their ex-partner of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in violation of Title IX. This originally surprises Ashley – she vaguely remembered that the advisor role could include advising both the accused and the accuser, but in her mind, she had hoped that she would be helping support students who were on the reporting end, not the other way around. She feels an initial sense of moral conflict about this but decides that she will do her best to fulfill her role.

The case states that after Max broke up with Justin, he repeatedly called, texted, and messaged them on social media trying to convince them to get back together. When Max refused, the communication became more hostile and threatening, with Justin saying things like “I’ll make sure you regret this”. Once Max and Justin returned to campus in the Fall, the situation intensified. As Max and Justin had several mutual friends and were involved in some of the same extracurricular activities, Max stated that Justin began to intentionally seek out ways to interact with them face-to-face, despite Max’s repeated requests to be left alone. Additionally, after feeling snubbed by Max, Justin started to refer to them by the incorrect pronouns and encouraged others in their environment to do the same, stating that Max was only “going through a rebellious phase to justify breaking up with him”.

As her advisor role requires, Ashley sets up an initial meeting with Justin to go over the accusation, discuss his thoughts on the matter, and consider next steps. In the meeting, it is clear that Justin is angry at Max for putting him through this process and does not feel like the accusation against him is justified. He makes comments such as “She should have never broken up with me and none of this would have happened” or “She’s just being too emotional and can’t take a joke”. He states that he does not want to comply with the terms of the informal resolution process that would require him to write a letter of apology to Max, as he feels they are blowing this whole thing out of proportion. Toward the end of the meeting, he states that he is not interested in talking about his feelings – he just wants to know what Ashley is going to do to help him make sure this doesn’t affect his chances of getting into a good medical school.

After the meeting, Ashley feels a great deal of conflict. She is troubled by Justin’s responses – she feels that the lack of responsibility and remorse on Justin’s part for his actions in this case are inappropriate, and it seems that his only concern in resolving the case is making sure that it will not affect his future. Although she has not met them, she feels a very strong sense of empathy towards Max, the accuser. As a member of the LGBTQ community and a previous victim of sexual harassment herself, she knows how these incidents can affect a person. Morally, her first reaction to the situation is feeling like Justin should be punished for his actions, and she has no interest in advising him. However, she knows that she has signed up for this role and must do what it takes to fulfill it properly, as every student has a right to support. She wants to discuss this situation with Laura to get her advice, but fears that she will look like a new professional who is in over her head and can’t handle the role, so she decides against it.

Instead, in an effort to help navigate this situation, Ashley goes to her supervisor, Jarrod, for help. She has always had a good relationship with Jarrod and feels that she can talk to him. She explains the situation she is in and looks for guidance to navigate her personal feelings and her professional role. To her surprise, Jarrod’s response is neither supportive nor helpful. He tells her that this is why she should focus on her own work and that if she can’t manage her emotions, she has no business serving in the role. Ashley is left feeling defeated, unsupported, and unsure how to fulfill her responsibility in supporting students while also balancing her own personal sense of right and wrong.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How are Ashley’s personal biases and beliefs impacting her ability to advise Justin?
  2. As Student Affairs professionals, how do we balance our personal views with the responsibilities in our roles?
  3. How should Ashley approach supporting Justin through this process? Does she hold any responsibility in holding Justin accountable for his words or actions? Why or why not?
  4. What resources might be available on campus- both for Ashley personally as well as for her to recommend to Justin?
  5. How could Ashley’s supervisor have responded better or supported her through this role?

Author Bios

Audrey McKinney (she/her/her) – Audrey currently works at the Georgia Institute of Technology as a program coordinator in New Student and Transition Programs. She received her Master of Education in Counselor Education from Clemson University in 2022.

Amber Davies (she/her/hers) – Amber is currently serving as a Residence Director at Johns Hopkins University where she oversees a second year community and serves in capacities including student recruitment and first year experience. Amber has obtained her Bachelor’s Degree from Stockton University and a Master’s Degree from Clemson University.

Kayla Hood (she/her/hers) – Kayla is a recent graduate with a Master of Education in Counselor Education, Student Affairs with interests in social justice theories/practices, intersectionality, and holistic wellbeing. Kayla currently works at Davidson College as the Assistant Director for the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion.