Fostering Critical Hope (Part 2 of 3) What is Critical Hope? | Shea

written by: Heather D. Shea, Ph.D., 2023-2024 ACPA President

Author’s Note: This is the second of a three-part series for Developments exploring the concept and application of critical hope as adapted from the presidential address I offered at the 2023 ACPA Convention in New Orleans.

I distinctly remember one of the first books I read in my master’s program – a book called “When Hope and Fear Collide” by Arthur Levine and Jeanette Cureton, which described college students in the 1990s as motivated by a conflicting sense of hope and fear and positioned student affairs educators as those to both nurture students’ hope and also help them confront and overcome their fears (Levine & Cureton, 1998).

While Levine and Cureton’s book might have painted an overly simplistic picture of college students of the 90s, the juxtaposition of a generative and hopeful path–while acknowledging real and tangible fears – indeed a critical hope – is a path forward for us as an association as well as a profession.

Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade defined critical hope as the “ability to realistically assess one’s environment through a lens of equity and justice while also envisioning the possibility of a better future” (2009).

As one of those hopeful college students of the 90s that Levine and Cureton depicted, I acknowledge the fear we experience.  That is why cultivating hope is so critical. Much like gratitude, hope can be more of a practice we develop, rather than an emotion we await. Hope is critical to us – together – contributing to the field and being restorative to the profession. 

I’m not talking about toxic positivity–or a naive hope. Rather I’m talking about our collective responsibility to assess reality, acknowledge fear, and dream of the possibilities of a better future.

Audre Lorde said, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

I have learned from a lifetime of dealing with anxiety and depression that I exist far more productively when I wade into uncertainty and acknowledge that I, like all of us, will likely make mistakes. I notice the fear I experience, but I don’t let it become me. I am at my most effective when I nurture adaptable and flexible expectations, embrace my imperfection, foster trust, and love in my colleagues, rather than allow uncertainty to limit me, I embrace it as a possibility. Sometimes the things you want in life that scare you the most can turn out to be the most worthwhile. 

HOW though do we do this? I believe we must work to create trust, foster accountability, and support, and keep a hopeful outlook on the future informed by the realities of the present.

In her book Critical Hope: How to Grapple with Complexity, Lead with Purpose, and Cultivate Transformative Social Change (2022), Kari Grain emphasizes that while hope can have a transformative effect, it is insufficient in moments of despair or when facing deep injustice. She argues that hope must be accompanied by action; otherwise, it is naive at best and can lead individuals to relinquish their power and agency to challenge and change oppressive systems.

Collectively, with critical hope on our side, we can harness our power and agency to understand and then address issues facing students that are keeping them from realizing their goals, to disrupt systems of oppression, to close opportunity gaps, and to amplify the voices of activists whose identities are often under attack. It gives me great hope to work alongside colleagues on my campus to advocate for more opportunities, greater access, and more resources to do this work.

So, then the question remains: How do we cultivate this hope, especially in times of tragedy, fear, pain, and campus crisis? I hope to provide a worthwhile answer in the third and final part of this essay in the next issue of Developments.

review Part 1 | continue reading Part 3

Breaking Out of the Silo in Student Affairs | Rosenbery, Davies & Hood


Sam, a recent grad and new professional, finds themselves already getting frustrated in their new role as a Conduct Coordinator. In grad school, Sam found opportunities and connections in abundance. Since transitioning to a full-time role, Sam has felt siloed within their functional area. As a Conduct Coordinator, Sam now primarily engages with conduct-related matters and finds limited exposure to other areas within the university. This shift has left Sam feeling disconnected from the broader campus community and unsure about how to navigate seeking connections / collaborative relationships.


Isolation, Conduct, New Professional Experiences, Transition

Primary Character:

Sam (They/Them/Theirs) is a 24 year old Black non-binary new professional at New Yollie University (located in New York City) working as a Conduct Coordinator. Sam recently graduated from University of Highstart’s M.Ed program in a cohort of 37 graduate students. Sam is from Phoenix, AZ, and does not have any family or friends that live in New York.

The Case:

Having recently completed their M.Ed. program at University of Vermont, Sam’s transition from a large cohort of 37 HESA graduate students to a full-time role as a Conduct Coordinator at New York University was marked with anticipation and excitement. The previous summer, Sam had completed an internship at UWindy (located in Chicago, IL) and loved the thrill of living in a city. Sam was sure that New York was going to be no different, and that making connections would be easier in a more diverse and populated environment.

The first few weeks at NYU were full of introductions, training sessions, and paperwork. Sam was the only Conduct Coordinator that was hired and was on-boarded solo. Most of Sam’s coworkers have been at NYU for two or more years and are in their upper twenties to lower thirties. At times Sam felt lonely, but the excitement was in the unknown, and the busy days coupled with fresh faces kept Sam entertained during the onboarding process.

As the energy and engagement of training and introductions to other staff started to fade, Sam noticed a shift. Sam’s role as a Conduct Coordinator, while vital, was singularly focused on conduct-related matters. Sam’s days were spent mostly in the office and around the same people every day. At first Sam was inspired to be working with other professionals with more experience, but as time went on and everyone returned to their normal office routine, they became frustrated with the rest of the team’s lack of openness to new ideas.

During the day, Sam began to think about graduate school a lot. Sam started to miss the constant exchanging of ideas, the camaraderie of late-night paper writing sessions and shared passions, and the opportunity to hear about what other departments on campus experience or were up to. Each day Sam felt more disconnected as they continued to think about what they were missing in their experience.

In hopes of combating their feelings of isolation and in an effort to check out what other offices were up to; Sam went to NYU’s annual involvement fair. Sam chatted with students and professionals while visiting many tables of offices of colleagues they met during their onboarding and student organizations on campus. Sam started to connect which offices had      strong relationships and collaborated often. Sam started to reflect on their department and longed for the kind of collaborative relationships that other departments had with one another.

When Sam returned to their office, Sam started to think about what they could do to meet other professionals outside the Office of Conduct, and how the office of conduct could collaborate with other offices on campus. Sam began to wonder how they could encourage their department to do more outreach. Many of the other professionals in the office had been there for a while and Sam heard many of their colleagues combat new ideas with “That’s not how we do things,” and “Well, this is how it’s always been.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did Sam’s role as a Conduct Coordinator limit their interactions and collaboration with other departments? What impact did this have on their sense of connection with their colleagues and the broader campus community?
  2. Considering the resistance to change within the office of conduct, what strategies or approaches could Sam consider encouraging more outreach and collaboration? How might they navigate the response, “this is how it’s always been”?
  3. How can organizations effectively balance maintaining traditional practices while also embracing innovation and change? What benefits and challenges might arise from finding this balance?
  4. How might Sam enhance their feelings of connectedness, and get involved on campus outside of their office?
  5. How can Sam’s supervisor assist them in finding opportunities to interact with other professionals outside of the office?

Author Bios

Alex Rosenbery (She/Her/Hers and They/Them/Theirs)- Alex is currently serving as a Coordinator for Residence Life at the University of North Carolina Greensboro where they oversees two apartment style continuing student buildings and serves on the Student Staff and Professional Staff Recruitment committee(s). Alex has obtained her bachelor’s degree from the University Illinois at Chicago and their master’s degree from Clemson University.

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.

Just a Regular Student and His Soapbox | Steele Payne


This scenario focuses on the experience of Sarah, a white woman working as an un-tenured adjunct faculty member at Local Community College. Sarah teaches several public speaking courses every semester, but she has seen a recent uptick in enrollment among non-traditional students since tuition has been made free at the state level. While a diversity of viewpoints can enrich the classroom experience, Sarah also has witnessed students’ political sentiments becoming increasingly extreme. During her students’ final presentations, one student stood out in his choice of polarizing content, forcing Sarah to decide quickly how to respond.


political extremism, free speech, public speaking, non-traditional students

Primary Characters:

Sarah (she/her/hers): white woman; un-tenured adjunct faculty teaching public speaking course at Local Community College.

Rob (he/him/his): white male; non-traditional student at Local Community College enrolled in Sarah’s public speaking course; 5-10 years older than Sarah.

Context and Case:

Sarah is a white woman who has been teaching public speaking as an adjunct faculty member at Local Community College (LCC) for nearly 10 years. Her course acts as a general education requirement, and Sarah has always approached the class as a unique opportunity for students to explore ideas, interrogate information, and share their thoughts using the communication tools the curriculum provides. While she may not politically or culturally align with her students’ viewpoints or experiences, she prides herself in providing a space where all her students can apply what they have learned through classroom dialogue and structured presentations. More specifically, her course is designed so students’ learning progresses from informative/ceremonial speeches to the culminating persuasive speech at the end of the semester. With minimal guidance, students are allowed to select their own topics to research and present.

Recently, her class sizes and overall teaching load have increased due to greater demand—the state has made community college tuition-free, resulting in a broad increase in enrollment. Her class rosters include not just 20-year-old “traditional” students, but also high school dual-enrollment students, students with veteran status, and students who have been in the workforce for many years but are returning to pursue different career paths. Rob, a white male returning from the financial industry, is one of these non-traditional students.

Overall, diversity of experiences and backgrounds enriches the classroom conversations. However, as her courses expand, Sarah has grown alarmed by an observed uptick in politically polarized students. More specifically, during the final, persuasive speech of the semester, Rob chose to argue in front of 25 of his fellow students that far too much “fake” news is presented as mainstream, factual content. For evidence, Rob relied on perceived mistreatment of former president Donald Trump, arguing that more conservative social and/or cable media outlets are not given the same amount of exposure as their liberal counterparts. Rob argued that “fake” information about the 2020 presidential election was accepted as the truth, resulting in a stolen election and the wrong political candidate being elected president. Thus, Rob asserted that moving forward, conservative voices must utilize severe tactics in order to be heard, making the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021 both justified and inevitable.

As Rob’s presentation continued, Sarah’s surprise turned into concern. Until this moment, Rob had not shown signs of holding these types of views. He seemed to be using her classroom assignment as a soapbox for sharing his polarizing opinions, and his fellow students were a captive audience. Sarah must determine her next steps. How might she respond?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are Sarah’s job responsibilities in this situation?
  2. How might Sarah draw upon cultural, situational, or institutional norms when deciding how to respond?
  3. Regardless of how Sarah chooses to respond, who needs to know about this situation?

In addition to scenario-specific questions, you may find value in exploring questions through the lens of Boettcher and Salinas’s (accepted book publication) Institutional Intelligence Model. More specifically, Sarah’s experience raises legal, ethical, and identity-related issues that can be explored through IIM-specific questions:

  • The Law: What institutional policies, procedures, or processes are applicable to this scenario?
  • Ethics: What are the relevant ethical issues in this scenario?
  • Identity: How might characters’ social identities affect how this scenario would unfold?

References and Resources: 

Boettcher, M. L. & Salinas, C. (2024). Law and ethics in academic and student affairs: Developing an institutional intelligence approach. Routledge.

Author Bio:

Kayla Steele Payne (she/her/hers) is a doctoral student in the Teaching and Learning program at Clemson University. Her research area of interest involves faculty response to student political extremism in the higher education classroom. More specifically, she is interested in how faculty choose to adjust their curriculum and/or pedagogy in relation to student behaviors or viewpoints they interpret as extreme.

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.

Supporting Students with Differing Beliefs | King


 In a world of differing views and beliefs, it can be challenging to support all students in the way they need while balancing personal beliefs. In this case study, a graduate student will be faced with a challenging event proposal from a student organization that conflicts with her personal views. Will she be able to balance her personal beliefs with her responsibility to support all students?

Keywords/Phrases: Campus Activities, Student Support, Challenging Beliefs


Bennett Alexander – (he/him) He is a senior at Oceanwest University and the President of the Advocates for All organization. He identifies as White, heterosexual, and religious.

Alaina North – (she/her) She is a sophomore at Oceanwest University and the President of the Proud to be Me organization. She identifies as White, bisexual, and non-religious.

Morgan Tile – (she/her) She is a graduate student in the Higher Education program at Oceanwest University and serves as the Graduate Assistant for Campus Activities in the Office of Student Engagement. She has only been in the role for about a month. She identifies as biracial, pansexual, and religious but non-practicing.

Terrence Green, M.Ed. – (he/him) He is the Director of Student Engagement at Oceanwest University and has been in the role for eight years. He did not follow the traditional Student Affairs route and instead has experience working as an Assistant Principal of a Middle School for five years prior to switching fields. He identifies as Black, heterosexual, and religious.

Elizabeth Fort, Ph.D. – (she/her) She is the Vice President of Student Affairs at Oceanwest University and has been in the role for two years. She has a long history of working in Student Affairs, and recently finished her Ph.D. program studying the effects of practitioner bias in student support. She identifies as White, heterosexual, and non-religious.


Oceanwest University is a private, four-year University with about 10,000 undergraduate students and 5,000 graduate students. Oceanwest is not religiously affiliated and has a strong mission statement that includes a commitment to a diverse and inclusive campus with the goal of creating a sense of belonging for every student. Oceanwest prides itself on supporting all students and allowing space for challenging conversations about differing views to prepare students for life after graduation. 

Case Study

The door slams shut, and the room suddenly goes cold. Terrence takes a seat behind his desk and lets out a sigh. Morgan feels uncomfortable with the tension in the room. She is nervous at the thought of being in trouble because she is someone who always does things by the book and avoids getting in trouble at all costs. Some may say she is a bit of a people pleaser. Terrence begins to tell Morgan why he has called her into his office today, “So, I am guessing you know why you are here. I received a phone call this morning from Vice President Fort who had a lengthy conversation with the parents of Bennett Alexander, a student you worked with last week? Dr. Fort explained that Bennett feels that his freedom of speech is being violated and that he was told his beliefs were wrong. Would you please care to explain what happened here?” Morgan takes a deep breath before starting the story.

About a week ago, Morgan was working in her office after finishing her one on ones with her student staff for the day. She heard a knock at the door and looked up to see a student standing in the doorway. “Good morning, my name is Bennett. I was told you were the person to talk to if I need help coordinating an event for my organization?” Morgan invited Bennett in to take a seat and tell her more about his organization and event proposal. Bennett explained that his organization is called Advocates for All and works to provide a space for religiously conservative students on campus to gather and discuss current issues. They believe that equality means all people were created equal and should be treated as such. Morgan shifted uncomfortably in her seat and with a sterner tone asked what his event proposal was.

Bennett shared that his organization would like to host a panel with guest speakers. The topic of the event would be “The Negative Impacts of Promoting LGBTQ+ Rights in the Classroom”. Morgan was taken aback by this proposal. As a pansexual woman, she fought the outrage that was boiling up inside her and tried not to have an outburst at this student sitting in front of her. She asked, “So what exactly is the goal of this panel?” Bennett explained that his organization believes that teaching about LGBTQ+ rights is convincing students to believe things that they do not actually believe, and that bringing professionals to campus to discuss this topic more would help students better understand why LGBTQ+ issues were being taught and what the potential negative impacts could be. Morgan told Bennett that Oceanwest’s mission is to promote a safe environment for all students of all backgrounds and identities. Bennett said he gets that, but that every belief has two sides and both sides deserve space and time to be discussed. Morgan acknowledged that but told Bennett that this event would be too harmful for the LGBTQ+ population and he would need to think of a different event. Bennett told Morgan that she was silencing the voices of the students in his organization and that she “would regret this decision”.

Terrence asks Morgan to explain the reasoning behind her decision, and she was confused that Terrence was not supporting her on this issue. Morgan explained that she was following the university’s mission and she thought this event would be more harmful to the student body than informative. Terrence asked if attendance to this event would have been mandatory for all students, or if it would have been voluntary. Morgan tells him he is not sure, but that she assumes attendance would be voluntary. Terrence explains that while it may be harmful to have this event take place, Advocates for All is well within their right to hold this panel and students could choose whether or not to attend which minimizes the harm. Terrence instructs Morgan to call Bennett in for a meeting where she will apologize for the confusion, explain that she is new to her role and made an honest mistake, and help him coordinate the event. Morgan tells Terrence that she cannot in good conscience support this event, and Terrence explains that he understands that and how hard this can be, but that their roles are to support all students no matter their own personal beliefs. Morgan is frustrated but tells Terrence that she understands and will do as he asks.

Morgan holds the meeting, and Bennett accepts her apology and is excited that the event will be happening. They discuss the details and Morgan helps him reserve the spaces, think of marketing ideas, and talk through event logistics.

That night, Morgan is restless as she tries to go to bed. She cannot believe that she is being forced to give up her own beliefs and not only support an event like this, but to assist in the planning. She decides to do something a little drastic. The next morning, Morgan reaches out to a student who she has been able to grow a strong relationship with during her short time at Oceanwest. Alaina is the President of the Proud to be Me organization which promotes LGBTQ+ advocacy and support on campus. Morgan tells Alaina about the upcoming event and asks if she would be willing to organize a protest to show the Advocates for All the harm they are doing. Alaina tells Morgan absolutely and gets to work.

Morgan feels relieved, but that relief immediately vanishes when she gets called into Vice President Fort’s office the next day. Apparently, Alaina did not organize a peaceful protest, but she instead organized a rally of students who threw all sorts of objects and profanities at anyone attending the event causing multiple hospitalizations. Vice President Fort explains that the campus police are investigating and Alaina told them that Morgan was the one who asked her to protest. Vice President Fort says the university is exploring its options related to addressing the incident, the students involved, and Morgan’s role in the situation.

 Discussion Questions

  1. What are the ethical issues for each character in this case?
  2. How do you balance personal beliefs and your duty to support all students?
  3. How should the university respond to Morgan’s actions?
  4. Would you have done anything differently if you were Terrence? If you were Morgan? If so, what? If not, why not?


Author Bio

 Chris King, (he/him) is a current second-year graduate student in the M.Ed. Counselor Education – Student Affairs program at Clemson University and serves as a Graduate Community Director. He received a B.S. in Educational Studies, Social Welfare & Justice, and a minor in Human Resource Management from Marquette University.

Rookie Knight | Jurkiewicz & Friedrichsen

This scenario follows Clara Bishop, a first-year student, who is trying to join the chess club at her university. The chess club is very large and popular here, and it is said that it can be very selective with its members. Clara is at university on scholarship, and misses her meeting with her scholarship advisor, Julia. Clara sends Julia an email apologizing for missing the meeting, and Julia sets up a virtual meeting instead. During the meeting, Clara discloses some information about why she missed the meeting – an event known as “Rookie Knight” – that is alarming to Julia.

Keywords: hazing, student organizations, mandatory reporters

Primary Characters

  1. Clara Bishop (She/Her/Hers): New member of the Chess Club; first year; scholarship student
  2. Julia Scramble (She/They): Graduate Advisor Scholarship Program
  3. Taylor Queensly (She/Her/Hers): President of the Chess Club; senior
  4. Geoff Kingston (He/Him/His): Vice President of the Chess Club; junior

Campus Context

Castle University is a public university nestled in Providence, Rhode Island. There are about 20,000 undergraduates enrolled in the institution. The Chess Club at Castle University is very prestigious and was one of the first organized clubs created at the University.

Opening Context

Hi Julia,

So sorry about missing our meeting this morning. Chess club has been taking up a lot of my time. I actually missed all of my classes before our planned meeting. My legs have been so sore after our last chess event, so I haven’t been able to walk anywhere.

Can we reschedule for later this week?


Clara Bishop

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are your initial responses to this email?
  2. How would you follow up with this student?

Later That Day

In a virtual meeting later that day with Clara, Julia asks how the Chess Club has been going. Clara discloses that she was very stressed out leading up to the “Rookie Knight.” Clara states that she has been sore since that event. Julia asks for more information about “Rookie Knight” as they are unfamiliar with this event.

Clara is initially hesitant because she was told not to talk about it by the President of the Chess Club. Clara says, “All of the new people and I who want to join the club were invited over to the Vice President’s house off-campus for “Rookie Knight”. During the week leading up to the meeting, some of the current members would come up to those of us who wanted to join and give us clothes or props, and a white or black bracelet. I was supposed to be a “Knight,” so they gave me a stick horse, but other students who were supposed to be “Rooks” were given things like bags of bricks. We were told that we had to keep these with us and wear the clothes and bracelet for the full week and bring them to “Rookie Knight.”

Clara continued, “When we got there, all of us were brought to the garage and there was a large chalk chessboard on the floor. It was weird because there were only 32 of us and I didn’t see some of my friends that were also interested in the Chess Club. We were told to grab our props and stand on either side of the board wherever our pieces were placed. Once we were all in our places, we were told that the President and Vice President would be controlling us and we would be playing “Human Sized Chess.”

Julia listens attentively, which encourages Clara to share more about the event. “At first we thought it would be really fun, and we all were really excited to play. But then when the first piece got out, the President said that they had to go and wait in the basement and told us that the losing team would not be allowed to join the chess club. We got worried and started trying to give advice so that our teams would win, and the President and Vice President would stop the game for a few minutes to yell at us every time we did, making the game take longer. The president also told us that if we sat down at all we would not be allowed to join the club. I got out probably about 40 minutes of standing and moving around, and I went down to the basement. We weren’t able to see or hear what was going on, so we had no idea who was doing better until new people came down and shared updates.”

Clara’s voice cracks. little as she finishes her story. “The game lasted for another 30 minutes at least before all of the players with white bracelets were brought to the basement. Some of them were crying, and all of the players with black bracelets were brought back upstairs. We sat in the basement for a few minutes before the Vice President came down and started yelling at us, telling us he was disappointed in us and that we weren’t good enough to be in the chess club. He screamed for about 10 minutes while the other team was upstairs cheering. As the Vice President was about to leave, he turned back and said ‘Just kidding! Welcome to the chess club! You’re all in!’ and started laughing at us. We all came upstairs and there was food and cake in the garage, and chairs for us to sit in.”

Clara realizes she has told Julia everything and states she doesn’t want anyone to get in trouble and it all worked out in the end. She does not want to leave the chess club. Clara asks Julia not to tell anyone else about it, and says she is worried she might lose her scholarship for talking about it.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can Julia support Clara during the meeting?
  2. How would you define what happened to Clara and the other newer members?
  3. What were the red flags before, during, and after Rookie Knight?
  4. Why might Clara say that what happened worked out okay in the end?
  5. What are Julia’s next steps? Think about policies, student support, education, etc.
  6. What education do President Taylor and Vice President Geoff and other members of the Chess Club need related to leadership, personal values, organizational ethics, and campus policy?

Sara Jurkiewicz (she/her/hers): Sara is a second-year graduate student in the College Student Personnel program at Bowling Green State University. Sara’s assistantship is with Fraternity and Sorority Life.

Gavin Friedrichsen (he/him/his): Gavin is a second-year graduate student in the College Student Personnel program at Bowling Green State University. Currently Gavin is working full-time as a Coordinator for Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution in BGSU’s Office of the Dean of Students.

Revisiting the Basics | Heinzman


A residential student returned to the halls intoxicated from a fraternity party alleging they were sexually assaulted. The suitemates reached out for help and the individual took more substances. The student was released from the hospital only an hour after transport.


Campus Police, Greek Life, Hospital Transport, Residential Community, Residential Community, Sexual Assault, Suicide Attempt, Title IX


  • Angela Johnson (she/her) – Resident Assistant (19), Sophomore studying biology on the pre-med track. She is currently taking the Emergency Medical Technician class because she hopes to volunteer with the College Emergency Medical Services team the upcoming semester. Angela has been an exemplary RA! She actively engages with her residents, is on time with administrative work, is attentive and engaged at staff meetings. As a first year RA she is standing out on the team.
  • Sarah MaCaslan (she/her) – Resident of 728, first-year in-state student (19). Within her suite, she always tries to include everyone and make sure they spend at least one night a week all together. Sarah wanted to join a sorority because she was timid in high school and wanted to make more friends. She was thrilled when she was invited to join her top choice sorority. She has been busy attending events and getting to know the other women in the organization. She gets along well her suite mates. Her roommate Jill also went through the sorority recruitment process but is in a different organization. Sarah does not spend much time in the residence hall.
  • Jill Goldman (she/her) – Resident of 728, first-year out-of-state student, age 18. Jill picked this college because it is close to where her family used to live. They come back every summer to visit. She knows the area well. She participated in sorority recruitment and was invited to be a member of her first choice which is the same organization as her mother. Jill loves her roommate Sarah. They get along very well. Jill likes the other women in the suite. She was really nervous about living with people but she is happy it is working out well.
  • Christy Tucker (she/her) – Resident of 730, first-year in-state student (18). She picked this college because it was as far from home as she could get while remaining in the state (a requirement for her parents to help her with college). She was academically strong in high school but seems to be enjoying the social aspects of college. Christy has been involved in a few minor incident reports related to noise but there was nothing else. There are no known issues within the suite. Everyone is getting along well. They enjoy spending time with one another at meals or going out.
  • Alex Briney (he/him) – Residence Hall Director On-Call – Alex has been working for the college for two years. He attended a graduate program at rural institution. He loved the institution and wanted a new experience of working at an urban campus. The first year was a challenging as Alex transitioned to the full-time position and learned to set boundaries. He is feeling much more confident in his position this year. Alex oversees the apartment complexes on the other side of campus and has not spent much time in this residence hall.

Important Information

  • Rooms 728-730 are connected by a shared bathroom
  • Assume all protocols were followed at the time of the incident.
  • SRMH – Southern Regional Medical Hospital (one of three local hospitals)


You are the Director of Residence Life at a mid-sized public institution located in a mid-sized metropolitan city. The on-campus student population is predominately first year students. There a many nearby private apartment complexes which cater to the student population. These apartment complexes are so close that students frequently walk to campus, and city residents do not always know which buildings are run by the institution and which are privately owned. About 10% of the student population live farther away from campus and students frequently use ride shares as there in limited public transportation (only operational during the day).

In the early hours of a Wednesday morning, you are notified by the on-call Residence Hall Director that a student was transported to one of several local hospitals for public intoxication. You are informed that the person was alert, a little argumentative, and the EMS team evaluating the student determined it was best to transport the student to the hospital for a more thorough evaluation. According to the information your received and the institution’s standard operating procedures, no action was required by university staff in the moment and follow up in the morning was appropriate.

On Wednesday morning, you are in your office and you read the following incident report related to the overnight call:

On Tuesday, September 23rd at 11:30pm Resident Isobel MaCaslan knocked on Resident Assistant (RA) Angela Johnson’s door. MaCaslan explained that suitemate Resident Christy Tucker asked to speak to the RA Johnson but did not want public safety contacted. MaCaslan explained to RA Johnson that Tucker, MaCaslan, and Resident Jill Goldman were out at an off-campus fraternity party when they began feeling unsafe. MaCaslan and Goldman called a ride home and tried convincing Tucker to come with them, but Tucker refused. After MaCaslan and Goldman had gotten back to the Residence Hall, Tucker showed up telling them Tucker had been sexually assaulted at the party.

Upon hearing this, RA Johnson went to room 728 where Tucker was sitting on the floor crying. MaCaslan and Goldman were in the room as well. RA Johnson tried to talk to Tucker for a while but Tucker was switching between sobbing and yelling. RA Johnson could not get Tucker to calmly talk to RA Johnson. Tucker was slurring her speech and was unable to focus. RA Johnson called Campus Safety at 12:28 am. RA Johnson went to meet EMS at the building entrance. Before RA Johnson went to meet Campus Safety, Tucker asked for food. RA Johnson left Tucker with MaCaslan and Goldman as she went to meet Campus Safety. While RA Johnson was escorting Campus Safety and MaCaslan was making food, Tucker drank half a bottle of Nyquil and took 5-6 Cyclobenzaprine.

At 12:30am, Goldman contacted RA Johnson (who was waiting for EMS) stating Tucker had taken more prescribed pills and was fading in and out of consciousness. Campus Safety and EMS arrived at 12:38am. Upon arriving on the scene, EMS used a sternal rub to wake Tucker who was unconscious. The sternal rub woke Tucker who immediately began to yell and swear at everyone. Tucker insisted they were fine and did not need to be transported to the hospital. Tucker said it is their norm to drink Nyquil and take pills every night to sleep. Tucker was screaming at RA Johnson for calling Campus Safety. Tucker was screaming at their suitemates for not letting them sleep and for leaving them at the party. Tucker became so worked up that she was incoherent. Campus Safety and EMS told Tucker they needed to transport Tucker to the hospital because of the loss of consciousness. Tucker was loaded into the ambulance and transported to one of the local hospitals.

RHD Alex Briney (RHD on-call) was called by RA Johnson at 12:48am. Tucker was taken to the hospital at 12:50am. RHD Briney collected the relevant information and relayed it to the Director of Residence Life.

At 1:32am Tucker began calling MaCaslan and Goldman as well as sending threatening messages. Tucker arrived back at Freedom Residence Hall at 3:40am where she began knocking loudly on MaCaslan and Goldman’s door and her door 730 (Resident Tucker did not have her key) as well as screaming. Tucker then went to RA Johnson’s room loudly knocking and screaming to open the door. Residents on the floor called Campus Safety. At 1:35 am, Campus Safety arrived at Freedom Residence Hall.  All of the students gathered in the hall immediately scattered into rooms with closed doors. Campus Safety did a complete walk through of the building, passed through the seventh floor again. There was not further noise or disturbance. Campus Safety left the building.

As you finish reading the incident report, your office phone begins to ring. On the other line it is your supervisor, the Dean of Students, who has also just finished reading the incident report. Your supervisor wants to know your plan.

Discussion Questions

  • What information do you (the director) need to gather to assist with follow up?
  • What immediate steps do you need to take?
  • What are the mid-term and long-term steps you would take?
  • What offices need to be involved?
  • How do you support your staff?
  • What additional training does your staff need to be prepared for situations like this?
  • What (if any) procedural changes would you like to address?
  • What (if an) relationships need to be strengthened to help prevent situations like this from happening again?

Advanced Discussion Questions

Imagine that you are new to the department. During your first six months, you have learned that the department is very siloed and communication between departments has been challenging because everyone is so focused on making their programs succeed. Which office would you want to work with to better support this student in crisis and her suitemates? What steps would you take to build relationships across campus?

Author Bio:

Joy Heinzman (she/her) is the Associate Director of Residence Life at the College of Charleston. She started at CofC in July 2017, as a Residence Life Coordinator then as Assistant Director for Residence Life. Joy attended the University of New Hampshire and earned a dual bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Psychology. She attended graduate school at the University of Maine where she obtained her Master’s in Education in Student Development in Higher Education. Before coming to Charleston, Joy was a Residence Hall Director at Christopher Newport University and the Assistant Director of Student Learning Initiatives at James Madison University.

When Community Isn’t Constructive | Hassenstab


This case study focuses on a sexual misconduct incident within Fraternity and Sorority Life. The issue involves student leaders as well as the university’s Title IX office. Student conduct, well-being and safety are also discussed.

 Keywords: Fraternity and Sorority Life, Student Leadership, Conduct, Safety and Well-Being


  • Emery (she/her): Chapter President, Delta Nu sorority.

Emery is a second-semester junior at State University and a third-year member of Delta Nu sorority. This is her second term on the sorority’s Executive Board and her first semester as Chapter President. Previously, she served as the Vice President for Standards and Ethics.

  • Marley (she/her): Vice President of Standards and Ethics, Delta Nu sorority

Marley is a second-semester sophomore at State University and a second-year member of Delta Nu sorority. This is her first term on the sorority’s executive board, previously serving as the chapter’s Wellness Chair.

  • Maddy (she/her): Member, Delta Nu sorority.

Maddy is a second-semester sophomore at State University. This is her first year in Delta Nu sorority, having gone through sorority recruitment as a sophomore earlier in the year. She has been a highly involved member since joining and has always been in good standing with the chapter.

  • Quinlan (she/her): Executive Chapter Advisor, Delta Nu sorority.

Quinlan is in her third year of advising the Delta Nu chapter at State University. She spent two years as the Standards and Ethics Advisor and became the Executive Chapter Advisor at the beginning of this school year. Quinlan was an active member of Delta Nu at a different college as an undergrad and worked as a full-time Leadership Consultant for Delta Nu in the year after she graduated, prior to taking the advising position with the chapter at State University. She has been Emery’s advisor for the past two years, and the two have a very honest and trusting relationship.

  • Stephanie (she/her): Fraternity and Sorority Life Coordinator, State University.

Stephanie is in her second year as the Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) Coordinator at State University. She was hired for the role immediately after graduating from State University’s Student Affairs program, during which she served as the Graduate Assistant for FSL.

  • Kristy (she/her): Title IX Coordinator, State University.

Kristy is in her 13th year as the Title IX Coordinator at State University. She frequently deals with issues relating to student organizations and has a strong understanding of the FSL community at State University. She and Stephanie have not worked with each other on any other issues prior to this situation.


State University is a mid-sized, public institution in the Midwest with a total enrollment of 12,000 students (9,000 undergraduate, 3,000 graduate). Fraternity and Sorority Life at State University is relatively small, with the campus having four fraternities, five sororities, and three multicultural Greek organizations. Approximately 10% of the total student population is affiliated with one of these chapters, with the average chapter size being 60 members.

Case Study

Emery, the current Chapter President of Delta Nu sorority, paces back and forth in the hallway of State University’s Student Union. She has just left a meeting with the university’s Title IX Coordinator, Stephanie, about an ongoing issue between members of her chapter and one of the fraternities on campus, Omega Sigma. It’s only February, two months into her presidency, and she can hardly believe the intensity of the issues she’s had to face.

The concerns with Omega Sigma began a month earlier when Delta Nu’s Social Chair announced that the sorority had been paired with Omega Sigma for their upcoming mixer. These mixers help promote a sense of community among chapters on campus. Each fraternity and sorority has to partner with every other chapter on campus at some point during the academic year; these functions are generally opportunities for the paired chapters to socialize. Failure to partner with every other chapter on campus would result in the offending chapter being placed on social probation through the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life the following semester, causing the chapter to lose the privilege of hosting any formal or semi-formal events.

In the week following the mixer announcement, Maddy, a sophomore who was in her first year of membership, asked to meet with Marley, Delta Nu’s Vice President of Standards and Ethics. In that meeting, Maddy shared concerns about the reputations of several Omega Sigma members, including screenshots of inappropriate and suggestive messages that were sent to Delta Nu members, including Maddy. Maddy expressed concern for the safety of her sorority sisters and shared that she and other sorority members would be more comfortable if the chapters did not host an event together. Marley assured her that she would express her concerns to the Chapter President, Emery, which she did the following day.

After discussing Maddy’s concerns, Emery and Marley brought Quinlan, their sorority advisor, into the conversation. Not wanting to put chapter members in harm’s way, they called a meeting with Stephanie, the FSL Coordinator. During this meeting, with Maddy’s permission, they shared the screenshots that had been shown to Marley and expressed their concerns about the upcoming mixer. Stephanie explained that it was FSL policy for them to host an event with every chapter and was unwilling to make an exception, citing that it wouldn’t be fair to the other chapters on campus if they were not all held to the same standards.

Fearful of facing social probation, Quinlan assisted Emery in making a formal Title IX complaint through State University’s Office of Compliance and Equity Management. Kristy, the Title IX Coordinator, processed the complaint and was willing to meet with the sorority officers and Stephanie about the situation. Unfortunately, they were unable to reach a resolution during the meeting, as Kristy did not have jurisdiction over the policies of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, and Stephanie was adamant that the fraternity members had not violated the FSL Code of Conduct, as no inappropriate actions could be proven.

As she mulled over what had happened in the meeting, Emery couldn’t help but feel as though she was caught between protecting her sorority sisters and maintaining the chapter’s good standing on campus. She could never have imagined having to face such intense situations prior to being in this role, and she didn’t know what the best course of action was. All she knew was that acting in the best interest of her sisters and keeping the chapter in good standing at the same time seemed impossible.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do we protect the well-being of members while fostering a robust FSL community?
  2. How do we protect the well-being of chapter presidents and standards chairs while still giving members trusted individuals to go to when these types of situations arise?
  3. What are some ways that the Title IX Coordinator and the FSL Coordinator could work together more effectively in addressing this situation?
  4. How might the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life work proactively to address or educate about situations of sexual misconduct among members of the FSL community?

Erin Hassenstab (she/her) is an advocate for an accessible, meaningful college experience for all students. A second-year master’s student at Clemson University, she is obtaining her M.Ed. with a focus on Student Affairs. In addition to her degree program, she serves as the Graduate Assistant for Residential Learning. Her involvement across her college campus on numerous executive councils led her to want to help other students have a meaningful college experience that would equip them with skills to help them succeed in their professional lives.

Gossip and the Gray Area: Navigating Friendships and Boundaries between Students and Staff | Gonzalez


This case study examines ethical leadership issues for both student leadership roles and university employees interacting closely with students, specifically looking at gossip and overstepping boundaries. Graduate students in Student Affairs graduate programs may struggle to name inappropriate behaviors or report them properly if they have not had to do so before or if they lack a role model or mentor to demonstrate how to hold peers and students accountable. This can be particularly difficult when the behaviors are not necessarily violations of policy but rather contribute to a negative environment or culture.

Primary Characters

Giovanna (she, her, hers, ella) – Giovanna is a first-year master’s student in the Student Affairs in Higher Education program. She is an out of state student, excited to work with the Center for Multicultural Engagement and specifically in advising multicultural student organizations for her Spring Practicum experience. She was a member of her undergraduate institution’s Association of Chicanx Activists (ACHa) and is eager to serve as the primary advisor to the organization as part of her practicum.

Anais (she, her, hers, ella) – Anais is a junior pursuing a degree in Behavioral Neuroscience with hopes of becoming a pediatrician in an underserved community much like the one she grew up in. She is one of three programmers in ACHa for the academic year and is passionate about community service and wellness.

Cameron (she, her, hers) – Cameron is the Assistant Director for Student Organizations within the Center for Multicultural Engagement. She was the graduate assistant for the center in the previous academic year before she was offered a full-time position.

Daniel (he, him, his) – Daniel is the Director of the Center for Multicultural Engagement and both Cameron’s and Giovanna’s direct supervisor in their respective roles.

Keywords: student organizations, student leaders, peer influence, advising

Context and Case

Institutional Context

Sagewood University is a medium-sized private, liberal arts university in the Southwest region of the United States. Throughout SU’s history 16-20% of its undergraduate students identify as Hispanic or Latino, and Latino/a/x students have built strong networks within the institution as well as enduring identity-based student organizations. Other minority groups have also formed respective student organizations though their overall number of students participating in these groups are consistently low. SU’s Center for Multicultural Engagement has been a steady supporter of these student organizations as well as a respected and well-known office on campus.


Giovanna is a month into the spring semester of her first year in the Student Affairs and Higher Education master’s program at Sagewood University and feeling positive about her practicum site. She was initially hesitant to work in the Center for Multicultural Engagement as an advisor to the Association of Chicanx Activists (ACHa) and program coordinator for Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April in collaboration with the university’s Women’s Center. As a former ACHista (member of ACHa) at her undergraduate institution, she was nervous to sell herself short by potentially repeating an experience she had as an undergraduate. Those fears quickly subsided as she met executive board members and learned about the various issues they advocated for. She enjoyed attending body meetings and looked forward to one on one’s with each executive board member.

Today, Giovanna meets with Anais, one of three programmers in ACHa. Anais’ passion area is health and wellness, and she enjoys incorporating that lens into ACHa’s activism and community service. With Sexual Assault Awareness month on the horizon in April, the e-board unanimously voted for Anais to lead programming efforts and speak on behalf of ACHa at any public events. ACHa participates in annual programs such as relationship skill building workshops, Take Back the Night march, and Denim Day among other campus-wide events in collaboration with the campus’ Women’s Center.

Anais’ big task now is to present ACHa’s efforts at the next Multicultural Commons Coalition meeting and encourage peers to participate. The coalition meeting includes executive board members and regular members from the campus’ Black Students Union, Asian Students Association, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA), and International Students Organization.

When Giovanna mentions the coalition meeting and asks if Anais has thought about what she would like to say, Anais grows quiet and looks down at her feet. Giovanna lets Anais know that its normal to be nervous and they can work on her remarks together if she’d like. “It’s not that,” Anais says. Giovanna is uncertain about what to say next; she has never seen Anais like this and is concerned. Anais says, “I don’t want this to change how you see me, but I was sexually assaulted in my freshman year. I went through the Title IX process, and nothing really happened, and I’ve gone to counseling for this so I’m better now, but I just don’t know if I can handle being the face of all our Sexual Assault Awareness events.” Anais continues to share how she wants to be a team player and support her peers, especially since they believe in her so much, but she is unsure if she can handle being immersed in the topic from here until May.

Giovanna asks if Anais has shared this with any of the ACHa executive board members; she’s seen their dynamic and believes that if they knew, they would understand and ask someone else to lead. Tears welling up, Anais shares, “I want to, but I just don’t think I can. We’re all friends but everyone always gossips and shares each other’s business with everyone, especially in the coalition.” Anais continues, “I even feel weird right now because I’m talking to you about this and not Cameron. But she also talks a lot with the e-board members about people’s lives and I don’t want them talking about me.” Giovanna feels heat coming to her face- she is struggling to imagine Cameron gossiping with students, especially as a new full-time employee.

Before leaving her one on one, Giovanna tells Anais that she will discuss this with her supervisor, Daniel, without letting Cameron or the executive board members know, to see if there are alternative ways for Anais to engage with the events without necessarily leading them. Giovanna knows Cameron has a good relationship with Daniel and the various executive boards as she had been the graduate assistant for the Center for Multicultural Engagement last year. Giovanna feels awkward approaching him with this topic and sharing Anais’ concerns about gossip. While she has not personally seen Cameron engage in gossip with students, Anais’ words and emotions feel too vulnerable to ignore.

Discussion Questions

  1. How might you have responded to Anais in this conversation? How would you navigate Anais’ concerns regarding a full-time staff member engaging in gossip with students?
  2. What responsibility does Giovanna have in this situation? What about Daniel?
  3. What follow-up (if any) should there be with Anais? With Cameron?
  4. What are Anais’ options in this situation? What coping strategies might she use to support herself, or seek support from Giovanna if she remains the lead for SAAM programming?

Author Bio

Alexa Gonzalez (she/her/ella) is a second-year student in Clemson’s Master’s of Student Affairs program and currently serves as a Graduate Community Director. Prior to coming to Clemson, Alexa graduated from the University of San Diego in 2021 and worked at San Diego Community College’s Dreamer Resource Center.

Because of How I Sound: Regional Dialects and Institutional Response | Farmer


Boucher et al. (2013), along with Kinzler and DeJesus (2013), have shown negative perceptions toward those speaking with a variation of the “Southern” accent, even when saying the same thing as a more “Neutral” speaker. This case follows a first-generation college student from the southeast, now in a different region of the U.S., who experiences just that. Other students, staff, and faculty respond consciously or subconsciously to this situation in different ways, while the student finds solace in others with similar struggles.


First-generation college student, dialect discrimination, institutional intelligence model, sociocultural theory

Primary Characters

Riley Miller—First-year student, Howell University (he/him/his). Riley is a first-generation college student from a rural area of the Southeast. Coming from a blue-collar background, Riley’s father works in a large factory that gins cotton during the week and operates a sawmill part-time. His mother worked at the local grocery store as a cashier and is now unable to work physically. The Millers raised four kids in a small, run down trailer.

Riley is the only one of his siblings to go to college—he was chosen for a new scholarship that Howell is offering to those from economically disadvantaged areas. Riley’s academic performance was above average, which was quite the feat, considering he was still working a job himself and providing as best as he could for his family. Before travelling to the northeast to attend Howell, Riley had never been outside of his home state. While the scholarship is a full-ride, he had to work extra shifts at his landscaping job back home in order to afford to move his few items up to the university.

Sarah Rae Hoosier—Junior, Howell University (she/her/hers). Sarah Rae is a first-generation college student who grew up in an environment very similar to Riley’s. She was raised by her grandparents—h er father passed away from a drug overdose when she was an infant and her mother was incarcerated several years ago and is still in prison and has no contact with Sarah Rae. Sarah Rae was also an average student academically but attended Howell on a volleyball scholarship (this was the only scholarship she received). Without this scholarship to Howell, she would not have been able to go to college.

Dr. Johnathan Pratt—Chair (he/him/his).  Dr. Pratt grew up in an elite suburb in the northern Midwest. Now in his sixties, he serves as the Department Chair for economics at Howell, a position he has held for the past 10 years. Dr. Pratt is known for running a tight ship and having a singular focus on academics. If he’s not editing journals, or in his study which is a library of textbooks, he is teaching the economics core course, ECON 1000, which lays the foundation for students. He made sure when he took the Department Chair role that he retained this teaching appointment, as he wants a students’ first impression of higher education to be with him.

Callie Owens—Staff Conflict Manager, Howell University (she/her/hers). Callie is a young, energetic, and empathetic employee who started at Howell eight months ago. She grew up in, and obtained degrees from, the west coast. When Callie’s husband got a lucrative job in the area, Callie moved and recently started as the Staff Conflict Manager. She works with the campus Ombuds, human resources, and other key campus partners to assist with conflict resolution and mediation among staff.

Randolph Hamlin—Director of the Ombuds Office, Howell University (he/him/his). Mr. Hamlin has been assisting in Faculty and Student conflicts in the Ombuds Office at Howell for the last 23 years. Because he has had this position for so long, he has become increasingly lax in his duties. He is from the same town that Howell is in but has such a reputation for his longevity at the institution, some may say he has “Checked out.”

Institutional Context

Howell University is a private, research university in the Northeast. Howell’s has a reputation for academic excellence. The tuition is high, the GPAs are high, the snowfall is high, and the research dollars accumulated by faculty at Howell are also high. To graduate from Howell is very prestigious. Within the past several years, Howell has instituted a scholarship program at the undergraduate level, to assist in recruitment of students from disadvantaged areas and backgrounds. The general public has been wary of this effort, with social media comments saying that it was just to “Check a box” and that a few scholarships to students from a tough upbringing is a drop in the bucket to Howell’s expenditures and is just a way for administrators to say they’re “trying” to improve diversity (economically, demographically, etc.) at the university.


Riley was nervous as he attended his first class, ECON 1000, at Howell University. He still couldn’t believe he was at a place like Howell. He thought back to hearing his name called for the scholarship during his senior year of high school. He blushed and walked up on stage, speechless. He knew he had performed well academically, and that Howell chose those with great potential from areas with little economic opportunity or mobility. But he had so many other responsibilities and worries in his life with his family, that he never dreamed something like this scholarship would be possible. He remembered his mom was so proud, she told everyone at Sunday School that week. But his dad didn’t really say much other than in his slow southern drawl, “Don’t get the big head with that award.”

Riley had kind of chuckled internally when he went to the cafeteria for breakfast that morning. He thought fondly back to breakfasts that “Mama” cooked. Grits, homemade sausage gravy, biscuits, and Riley’s favorite—the “Fried ‘taters.” But breakfast at Howell wasn’t the same. Fruit trays, bran muffins, a custom yogurt station. It was good, but wasn’t what Riley was used to.

As he sat in class, toes tapping with nervousness, Dr. Johnathan Pratt walked in sporting a white beard and a thick wool blazer. Riley thought to himself that he needed to get some thick wool clothes – It wasn’t this cool in September where he was from. Dr. Pratt announced to the class of fifteen, his name, accomplishments, and reputation. He did so in a way that was poetic, fancy, and embellished. He then asked the class if they would introduce themselves, giving their name, background, and what brought them to Howell.

Riley marveled as he heard his classmates introduce themselves. The students were from all over the country, and the world. Oregon. New York. Canada. China. Indonesia. Belgium. Riley’s toe-tapping got faster the closer they got to him. He thought internally that he had nothing that would match up with these students. They had perfect 4.0’s. Travelled globally. Liked English literature, the ballet, playing the saxophone. Even the way they spoke matched Dr. Pratt’s tone and style. Finally, it was Riley’s turn.

Riley knew he had inherited a drawl from his father and mother. Where he was from, you were looked at oddly if you didn’t speak that way. Even so, Riley did his best to hide that as he scrambled to think of something and cautiously uttered:

Hey y’all, I mean…ever-body…uh, hi everyone. Um, my name is Riley Miller, and I’m from a purty sma—I mean um a little town, a place, down south. I ain’t…I don’t, I mean, got any big umm stories to tell…we didn’t have much to do ‘cept work. On Sund-ee (clears throat)…Sun-day….we’d all go eat dinner at mamaw’s…uh granny’s…um um my grandmother’s house, and so that was fun. But yeah, I’m tickled…um, happy I mean…to be here.

Riley could see everyone in the class cringing as he let out a final statement to try and save it with humor, “And my diddy…my father… told me to learn summ’n. So, I’m here to learn summ’n.” That comment didn’t save his introduction. The class looked at Riley as if he had three heads.

Dr. Pratt mumbled under his breath (loud enough for the entire class to hear) that he knew who wouldn’t be presenting during group projects. The class laughed. He then interjected to the class that they should address this body with professionalism. He reiterated that it was no place for colloquialisms or backwards speech. This was a place of higher learning, and he expected everyone to carry themselves as such. He cajoled the class to speak a “Standard” and “Proper” way, and that to not do so would most certainly result in not living up to what Dr. Pratt called “The Howell Standard.”

Riley didn’t speak the rest of the class. For the next week, Riley shuffled into the class, sat in the back, and kept a low profile. He was so self-conscious; he became a recluse in his dorm. He didn’t want to speak for fear of being singled out and looked down upon. He didn’t want to venture out because he constantly compared his hand-me-downs to the expensive clothes of the other students. He didn’t ask questions in class, or look for clubs to join, or even call home to check on his family.

Two weeks in, he got up the courage to go back to the cafeteria. He choked down another bran muffin, and granola yogurt. A young woman sat down by herself a couple of seats away, on a phone call. He was surprised to hear a familiar twang in her voice as she talked with her earbuds in. This was the first time since Riley had moved to Howell that he had heard someone speak in a dialect similar to his. There was that drawl! Riley feared he had forgotten what a drawl was. After she hung up, Riley went to introduce himself.

The two hit it off immediately. Sarah Rae Hoosier was from the state next to his, and she too had roots that showed in her voice and way of life. They connected as if they were lifelong friends who had been reunited. Riley told her about feeling like a fish out of water, and what had happened in ECON 1000 with Dr. Pratt—saying that he felt discriminated against “Because of how I sound.” Sarah Rae encouraged Riley, saying that she had felt much the same when she came two years ago. But during this time, she became familiar with the works of James Gee, and Rosina Lippi-Green’s book English with an Accent. These works and others, grounded Sarah Rae in her own identity, and confirmed what she knew (and subsequently passed along to Riley) that their way of talking—while different than most around Howell—was as complex, unique, and deserving of respect as any other. She pointed out that the students from across the globe now at Howell spoke differently than Dr. Pratt and other professors—but because those ways of speaking didn’t necessarily have negative connotations like the way she and Riley spoke, those students were not reprimanded or stereotyped. Sarah Rae encouraged Riley to speak to a campus Ombudsperson about this incident and the way he was feeling.

Riley called and emailed the Ombuds but could never get a follow up or a meeting. Riley then reached out directly to the director of the office, Randolph Hamlin, on Hamlin’s individual email. He had reviewed Mr. Hamlin’s bio on a website and felt this situation—and lack of response—needed running up the ladder to him. Unfortunately, the result was the same. No response to emails. No calls back to Riley’s voicemail. When Riley would stop by, the door would be closed with a sign that said “Out.”

One day while checking at the Ombuds office and seeing Mr. Hamlin’s door closed again, Riley noticed a young woman sitting in an office on the other side of the hallway. At his wits end, he went in and introduced himself and asked if she knew when Mr. Hamlin would be back. She sighed and said she didn’t know either and apologized for the frustration. She introduced herself as Callie Owens, Staff Conflict Manager. Riley liked her personality and empathetic spirit. “Mind if I sit down?” he said, and she obliged. He began to pour his heart out to Callie, who listened intently. When he concluded, Riley mentioned that he knew she could not do anything because she was there to help staff with situations, and not students. Callie said that she would see what she could do—she was new too but wanted to help him. Riley went out the door with his head hung low, but at least at peace that he had shared it with someone.

Callie was appalled at the behavior of Dr. Pratt and felt it needed to be brought up to the Dean and maybe even the Chancellor. But this wasn’t her purview–It was Mr. Hamlin’s. He was supposed to work on student and faculty issues. Being new, she was afraid that reporting this would put her under the microscope, and worried that Mr. Hamlin—a man who had been there over two decades—would throw her under the bus for “Going above his head” on an issue that should be his, and that administration would not take her anonymous report seriously because it had to do with a legendary faculty member. Still, she empathized with Riley and felt he was being prejudiced against just because of the way he sounded. Callie wrestled with this internally for the next week, with no sign of Mr. Hamlin in his office.


Discussion Questions

  1. How should Callie balance wanting to help Riley while keeping in mind her new position at the university? What does her body language say about her initial feelings of the university that she has gathered in her short time there?
  2. What are things about the university that Callie needs to know and understand to help Riley and do her job effectively? How might she go about getting that information?
  3. How can both Riley and Callie—new in their student and staff roles at Howell respectively—find their place, implement change, and remain true to their ethics?
  4. What should the university’s response be to Dr. Pratt? What repercussions would be appropriate?
  5. What are other areas where Riley may be struggling at Howell? What other questions could he ask Sarah Rae in regard to how she overcame similar struggles? What other questions might Cassie ask Riley in order to provide him the best support?


Boucher, C. J., Hammock, G. S., McLaughlin, S. D., & Henry, K. N. (2013). Perceptions of Competency as a Function of Accent. Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research, 18(1), 27–32.

Gee, J. P. (2015). Social linguistics and literacies : ideology in discourses. Routledge.

Kinzler, K. D., & DeJesus, J. M. (2013). Northern = smart and Southern = nice: The development of accent attitudes in the United States. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 66(6), 1146–1158.

Lippi-Green, R. (1997). English with an Accent. Routledge.

Author Bio

Jeremiah Farmer (he/him) is a PhD student in the Literacy, Language, and Culture program at Clemson University. In his full-time role, he works as a Student Services Manager for Clemson’s Department of Automotive Engineering. Motivated by his upbringing and love of storytelling, old traditions, and the agricultural lifestyle of times gone by, his intended research topic centers on biases against, and perceptions, of the “southern accent” (of which there are many variations), how that may lead to accent dilution or loss in certain geographical areas, and techniques and cultural shifts to preserve these old dialects specifically. Before working in higher education, Jeremiah spent over five years in the country music radio industry. He holds a Master of Human Resource Development (MHRD) from Clemson University, and a BS in Political Science from Appalachian State University.

Working in the Crosshairs: Complex Decision-Making in Anti-DEI Political Times | Evatt


Student affairs practitioners are faced with myriad decisions each day, some of which conflict with their personal beliefs and institutional values. This case highlights the complexity of decision-making in the era of anti-DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) legislation. As with many public universities in the South, the institution finds itself in the political crosshairs of anti-DEI legislation, thus having a ripple effect on campus life. Cam, the Assistant Director for Student Activities and Leadership, experiences internal conflict while supporting a student organization’s Anti-DEI Celebration Rally. This scenario provides an opportunity for exploration and reflection on the tensions between policy enforcement and equity-minded decision-making.


  • Cam (he/him) serves as the Assistant Director for Student Activities and Leadership in the Office of Student Engagement. Cam, a white, queer, cis-gender man, joined the institution two years ago after graduating with his master’s degree in Higher Education Student Affairs (HESA). He has developed strong relationships with students and colleagues over the last two years and prides himself on being a social justice advocate for minoritized students on campus. Cam advises the 400+ registered student organizations on how to effectively lead their student organizations while at the same time upholding the University’s policy expectations.
  • Erin (she/her) is an undergraduate student majoring in political science and serves as the newly elected president of the Smoky Mountain Freedom Allegiance Club. She is a prominent student leader on campus and is known for mobilizing students toward action.
  • Edwards (she/her) is the Vice President for Student Affairs at Smoky Mountain University and has served in this role for the past 22 years. Although committed to student development and engagement, Dr. Edwards is perceived by students and colleagues as being “out of touch” with current student needs and DEI practices.


This case is set at Smoky Mountain University (SMU), a regional, public four-year institution located in the Southeast region of the United States. SMU is a predominantly white institution and enrolls around 15,000 students (12,000 undergraduates, 3,000 graduates). As a public institution, SMU is part of a state system of higher education and is governed by a Board of Governors composed mostly of conservative-leaning business leaders and politicians. According to the institution’s mission statement, the university seeks to “prepare students to meet the great challenges facing our state, nation, and our world.” Furthermore, SMU shares the following DEI statement on their website: “We affirm the importance of a diverse and inclusive campus community, one that is enriched by persons of different backgrounds, perspectives, cultures, socioeconomic status, and other diverse characteristics.” Similar to most public universities in the Southeast, SMU finds itself in the political crosshairs of anti-DEI legislation. The majority of student affairs practitioners at SMU embrace the values of equity and inclusion and pride themselves in creating welcoming and inclusive spaces where all students can take part in campus life. However, they often find themselves having to tip-toe around DEI topics because they are not sure what they can and cannot say. This unspoken institutional norm between talking about equity and putting words into action (McNair et al., 2020) plagues staff, faculty, and administrators at the institution.

Case Study

It is around 12:30pm on a Wednesday, and Cam is finishing lunch in his office before his next one-on-one student meeting. It has been a fairly calm week, and he is looking forward to some downtime this weekend after a hectic start to the semester. As he looks at his calendar, he remembers that his 1:00pm meeting is with Erin, the newly elected president of the Freedom Allegiance Club. The club has an active membership roster of 125 students, and according to their constitution, the mission of the Freedom Allegiance Club is to “protect and defend conservative values and mobilize others toward action.” The club is known around campus as a group who is not afraid to push hot button issues, especially through a politicized agenda that will garner attention. While in the food court the other day, Cam overheard a group of students exclaim that, “Freedom Allegiance Club is fueled by racists and homophobes… All they do is create an unsafe place.”

Cam had a good working relationship with the previous club president, but this is the first time Cam and Erin have officially met. During the meeting, Erin shares that the Freedom Allegiance Club is planning to host a Celebration Rally on campus in favor of the anti-DEI legislation that has passed in states across the country over the last several months. The event is scheduled for this coming Friday afternoon (two days from now) with nearly 500 people having already RSVP’d on social media. According to Erin, the club is expecting a “huge turnout” on the main University Quad, and they have contacted local news stations for coverage of their event. When Cam asks Erin the purpose of the event, she says that the club wants to generate excitement on campus in support of anti-DEI legislation. During their meeting a few weeks ago, many members felt that the university administration does not support conservative students on campus. Erin shares that the goal of the event is to “rally the troops around our ideals and to call out radical left beliefs that are harming our country and local community.”

Much to Cam’s surprise, the club has already completed all the required space reservation agreements and coordinated the appropriate event setup needs through the Events and Reservations Office. As he reviews the approved forms, he thinks to himself, “How did this event slip through the cracks without follow-up?” As they wrap-up their meeting, Erin shares that Cam is the only staff member that explicitly knows about the rally. Although Cam wants to maintain trust with the student, he realizes he has a responsibility to share this information with others. Cam tells Erin that he plans to review their event needs in greater detail and will be in touch with additional information. The meeting concludes around 1:35pm. About 20 minutes later, you receive the email below from Dr. Edwards, Vice President for Student Affairs:

Hi Cam,

I have received several messages of concern from the Chancellor’s Office and faculty members about a rally that is allegedly taking place this Friday on the Main Quad in favor of recent Anti-DEI Legislation. Looking at the Freedom Allegiance Club’s social media pages, it appears that over 500 people have already confirmed their attendance at the event. Of greater concern, it appears that many of the attendees are not current students or campus affiliates, and the event has been promoted widely to public audiences. In fact, I received a phone call just a few minutes ago from a local news station asking if I would like to make a public comment on the event and the university’s stance on DEI-related issues. Please share with me your recommendations on how to ensure that all students on both sides of this issue are being fully supported and that we are maintaining equitable practices. As you know, this is a tedious topic on our campus, so please give it your fullest attention to detail. Thanks for all that you do for our students.

After meeting with Erin and reading Dr. Edwards’ email, Cam feels deep internal conflict and a sense of responsibility. This event runs counter to Cam’s core values and ideals of equity and inclusion. Importantly, he is aware of the harmful impact this event could have on minoritized students, faculty, and staff on campus. At the same time, he is responsible for upholding university policies so that all students, regardless of ideology and beliefs, have access to campus space and resources. He finds himself struggling to navigate the situation.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the tensions that Cam needs to consider in preparing the campus community for this potentially controversial event?
  2. How can Cam use university, state, or federal policies or guidelines to inform his decision?
  3. How might Cam mobilize others to support him in this endeavor? Which individuals or groups need to be at the table in this process?
  4. How can Cam ensure minoritized community members feel safe and supported in the coming days and beyond?
  5. Looking internally, how might Cam reflect upon his own positionality and values to make deeper meaning of this experience to enhance his leadership capacity in the future.


McNair, T. B., Bensimon, E. M., Malcolm-Piqueux, L. (2020). From equity talk to equity walk: Expanding practitioner knowledge for racial justice in higher education. Jossey-Bass.

Author Bio

Dr. Dustin Evatt (he/him) serves as an Assistant Professor of Practice in Higher Education at Western Carolina University where he teaches courses in the Higher Education Student Affairs (HESA) program, Educational Leadership doctoral program, and the undergraduate Leadership Minor. Before joining faculty, Dustin worked as a scholar-practitioner in higher education for over 13 years in the areas of student engagement and leadership, career development, equity and inclusion, and young alumni engagement. Dustin’s research explores critical leadership and equity-mindedness in college administrators and students using critical whiteness and queer theories. Originally from South Carolina, Dustin received his Ed.D. from Appalachian State University, M.Ed. from the University of Vermont, and a B.S. degree from Winthrop University.