Ethical Mindfulness in Student Affairs Practice | O’Brien

written by: Jonathan J. O’Brien, Ed.D.

There is never enough time or information to make difficult decisions, particularly when we are caught in ethically challenging situations attempting to balance stakeholder needs with policies and community standards. When overwhelmed by difficult choices, we grasp for solutions. Afterward, as we move on to the next problem, opportunities for reflection on our practices fall by the wayside. However, reflection is vital for personal, professional, and ethical growth. The ACPA/NASPA (2015) competencies urge practitioners not only to acknowledge the importance of reflection, but to proactively build reflective practices into regular workflows. Reflection is an essential foundation for translating insights into concrete actions.

Institutional environments also shape the ethical situations practitioners face and the responses available to them. When policies, structures, and norms conflict with practitioners’ personal values, tension arises, forcing difficult tradeoffs. For example, the recent legislative assault on DEI at institutions around the country has threatened the safety of students and the careers of practitioners (Charles, 2024). Further, when we witness unethical behavior, such as the tragic consequences of harassment and bullying (Hollis, 2024) the experience can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and a loss of purpose. Although there are ethical decision-making models and trusted mentors who can provide guidance when evaluating various courses of action, facing ethical challenges ultimately requires us to strike a balance among competing priorities – namely ethical principles, emotional triggers, and personal values like integrity and self-respect. This takes courage, an important aspect of our work that is often overlooked.  

Student affairs practitioners can experience toxic situations in which core values like care, advocacy, and idealism are thwarted by chaotic, authoritarian, or corrupt institutional cultures and the toxic interpersonal relationships cultivated within them. Experiences can range from mild to severe. For example, a housing professional who witnesses a colleague being bullied may experience moral suffering, as might a dean who must stay silent due to confidentiality laws while facing public scorn for perpetuating systemic oppression. Faced with constraints, practitioners are torn between upholding their personal and professional values and surrendering to an institutional culture that undermines their moral purpose. 

In this article I discuss ethical mindfulness as a means for professionals and graduate students to work through ethically challenging situations. After describing benefits of mindfulness, I apply a framework to my experience to demonstrate how mindfulness can build self-awareness, reflexivity, and courage in ethically challenging situations. Next, I suggest how I have used it with graduate students to help them navigate the challenges they experience in their work. To conclude, I offer some implications and questions for further practice. 

Mindfulness

Regular reflection can help us regain perspective and meaning. Mindfulness practice is rooted in Buddhism and other contemplative traditions; however, spiritual beliefs are not required for mindfulness, only the ability to be fully present and aware of one’s thoughts, emotions, and surroundings in the moment. Benefits of mindfulness practices are well documented, including improved decision-making, stress reduction, improved interpersonal skills, self-compassion, and holistic wellbeing. Mindfulness promotes creativity, resists the pressure to make quick decisions, and encourages consciousness of diverse perspectives, inclusivity, and motivation for positive change. Mindfulness allows one to reflect on past decisions and to recognize potential biases and assumptions emerging from one’s social position and those of our colleagues. 

Ethical mindfulness (EM) is a specific approach to mindfulness that creates space for discernment in the face of ethical dilemmas. Sam and Gupton (2021) offered a six-step framework for faculty to practice being more attuned to the ethical implications of their work. Their approach adapts easily to the context of student affairs. First, practitioners are sensitized to “ethically important moments” (p. 89) and acknowledge them as worthy of concern. Second, practitioners explore personal biases and values, recognizing that an ethical moment can affirm or challenge their values. Third, by articulating ethical implications, practitioners consider consequences for all involved and use rational decision-making processes to articulate implications. Fourth, practitioners reflect on their biases and critically explore the motives, intentions, and assumptions that shape their actions. Fifth, practitioners demonstrate courage by breaking norms and challenging colleagues. Sixth, they take responsibility for the choices they make and commit to being a more ethical person. In sum, we learn to recognize and reflect on the sources of ethical dilemmas and create positive change by finding strength to take responsibility for what we control. 

Applying Ethical Mindfulness 

Before integrating it into my teaching, I share my story with students first, as an example and to build rapport around sharing difficult topics. As a former dean of students, I navigated a turbulent period at a small liberal arts college marked by high staff turnover and shifting priorities due to changes in the campus presidency almost every year. My role involved handling serious student misconduct cases. After a few months on the job, I noticed that whenever I initiated a disciplinary action, the parents of affluent student respondents would step in to bypass the process and appeal directly to the president. This intervention always led to my decisions being overturned in favor of privileged students, undermining my authority and the credibility of college’s disciplinary policies. 

The campus’ moral climate was constantly in flux. Whomever the president was that year was the final authority, and their appeals decisions were driven by outside interests, like parents or a member of the board of trustees. While I was obligated to follow the rules, the people above me undermined my efforts. It was a performance. I was cast as the cruel, inflexible administrator; a scenario in which my enforcing the rules ended with the president or campus legal counsel swooping in to restore mercy and playing me the fool. Each day I went to work, I could feel my soul being sucked out of my body. 

This pattern not only eroded my credibility but also reflected systemic injustice within the college and society at large, favoring privileged over marginalized students and those less privileged. I continually examined ethically concerning moments through the EM lens, and I saw no progress in addressing systemic injustices despite voicing objections. Despite my objections and appeals to the college’s espoused mission to advance social justice, my concerns were ignored. Desperate, I discussed my concerns with mentors and, indirectly, with senior leadership; however, the offensive practices were too deeply embedded in the college’s culture. Finally, I realized I needed to take responsibility by removing myself from a toxic climate, even though it meant leaving my job. I left to pursue a faculty career, valuing a setting where my integrity and professional values would be protected by academic freedom and at an institution where my values aligned with institutional policy and practice. 

In examining this experience through the lens of EM, I took the first step of sensitivity to ethically important moments when I realized how students navigated the disciplinary process based on their connections. I acknowledged these moments as significant, the second step, as I saw how children of the wealthy who were usually white alumni received special treatment while students of color and those without connections had little recourse or leniency. In articulating ethical implications, the third step, I made the high stakes involved apparent, as I saw that justice, fairness, and accountability were continually compromised. I embodied the fourth step of being reflexive and recognizing standpoints and limitations in my reflection on the dissonance between my values and my identity as a white man, and the fluid moral climate at the college. I perpetuated a system that I despised and authorities more motivated to protect themselves than to uphold fair policies manipulated me, whom they obliged to enforce those policies. The fifth step of being courageous was manifest as I objected to the unfair practices and insisted on equitable disciplinary processes. Finally, the sixth step of taking responsibility was reflected in my decision to leave the institution, refusing to be part of an unjust system, and choosing a path that aligned with my personal and professional ethics.

Ethical mindfulness seems more painful than productive. Indeed, it is not a self-care regimen to increase happiness—at least in the short term. Although my experience left me angry and cynical, through regular practice I eventually renewed my commitment to pursue moral imperatives of social justice and fairness in other spaces. Ethical mindfulness is an ongoing process of reflecting that allows me to acknowledge and name the suffering I experience so that I gain control over my responses.

Ethical Mindfulness Assignment

In the last decade, many students have confided in me about the ethically challenging issues they are encountering in their work. Based on my experience with EM, I decided to incorporate it into my graduate and doctoral law and ethics courses. The goal was to guide students through a semester-long, introspective journey using the EM framework (Sam & Gupton, 2021). The learning outcomes were to enable students to recognize, reflect on, and articulate a plan to address ethical implications and improve their practice. In the first two weeks of the semester, students learn to recognize and articulate ethical implications according to Step 1 of the EM framework. They write a brief description of a critical ethical incident from their practice, identifying the ethical principles and values at stake and the consequences for stakeholders (Steps 2 & 3). 

As members of a cohort, the students have already developed group norms and practices as part of their orientation to the program and before they enrolled in my class, such as listening without judgement, not interrupting others, and offering support. Nonetheless, I explicitly state upfront my expectations for privacy. What is shared in class should not be shared without permission. While I encourage students to be courageous in selecting an incident, students are not expected to divulge personal details. Incidents students chose to share range from the ordinary (e.g., difficult supervisors and microaggressive behavior in their work or assistantship environment) to tragic events, such as the impact of suicide and sexual assault on individuals and campus communities. Occasionally, a student will request to pass on discussing their experiences with others. In that case, I am happy to adapt the assignment in a way that still creates an opportunity for self-awareness and professional growth.

Over the next six weeks, students learn about ethical principles and apply them to their critical incidents via individual reflections and in dialogue with peers in class. Students complete the last three steps of the EM framework (Sam & Gupton, 2021) at the end of the semester. They critically evaluate their biases and positionality (Step 4), noting where they courageously challenged norms and systems (Step 5), and took responsibility for aligning their actions with their ethical values and principles (Step 6). It is important to emphasize that taking responsibility may mean seeking help for oneself, offering help to others, or both. The assignment concludes with a plan for addressing unresolved interpersonal and emotional challenges and an affirmation to incorporate EM into their leadership practice going forward.

The feedback from students regarding this assignment has been consistently positive. They appreciate the time during class devoted to exploring the emotional and physical symptoms that surround difficult decisions. Additionally, they value mindfulness as a critically self-reflexive and sustainable practice, which dispels the myth that ethics is only about not getting caught—a factor that often exacerbates anxiety and hinders the learning process. For me, this approach toward ethical decision-making is refreshing, moving beyond how to apply principles and checklists to generic case studies. Mindfulness operates in harmony with ethical codes and standards, fostering confidence in practitioners.

Implications for Practice

The sample assignment is a starting point for those who wish to explore ethical mindfulness and its applications to student affairs practice and pedagogy (see sample lesson at the end of this article). The EM framework can help practitioners to work through ethically challenging situations and articulate their concerns in a thoughtful and compelling way. Activities like journaling and meditation can build mindfulness over time, leading to more instinctively ethical responses. Although finding time in a busy schedule is challenging, practitioners can look for reflection time in their existing schedule, such as the commute, lunch break, or between meetings. Finding a peer interested in mindfulness who is willing to check in occasionally can also help with both the process and the accountability of embedding these practices in work.

For leaders in student affairs, the framework demonstrates the importance of authenticity, integrity, and courage in decision-making. Before launching division-wide initiatives promoting ethical mindfulness, leaders must begin with themselves, pausing to reflect on ethical dilemmas, recognizing their standpoints and biases, and accepting responsibility for their actions. They can set the tone for an ethical campus culture by allowing employees the space to engage in dialogue around ethical dilemmas and challenging situations, rather than immediately demanding solutions. Integrating mindfulness into professional development and highlighting examples of how it has been used effectively is also recommended. 

Graduate preparation faculty can incorporate mindfulness practices into their introductory seminars and practice-based courses. The sample assignment demonstrates one approach instructors can take to integrate ethical reflection into coursework. Applying EM to real-life critical incidents from students’ practice provides students with tools to recognize and respond to challenges while building courage, reflexivity, and ethical discernment.

Ethical mindfulness is a process that individuals can use to recognize, reflect deeply on, and take responsibility for addressing ethical challenges. Practicing ethical mindfulness requires ongoing self-reflection and examining one’s values, beliefs, and biases – not an easy task amid the demands of professional life. Yet the rewards of greater integrity, responsibility, and shared commitment make the effort worthwhile. Benefits increase when leaders prioritize ethics by creating space for dialogue and modeling ethical discernment in professional practice and relationships. Though difficult, with commitment ethical mindfulness elevates both personal and institutional integrity. 

Questions for Further Discussion

    1. What are some effective strategies for integrating mindfulness training into staff development programs at your institution? What challenges do you foresee?
    2. How might administrators foster a climate where all employees feel empowered to have courageous conversations around ethical issues?  
    3. The sample assignment demonstrates one approach for facilitating student reflection on ethical decision-making in student affairs graduate preparation programs. What other co-curricular approaches could complement this type of reflective assignment?

References

American College Personnel Association (ACPA) & National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA). (2015). Professional competency areas for student affairs educators. Retrieved from http://www.naspa.org/images/uploads/ main/ACPA_NASPA_ Professional_Competencies_FINAL.pdf.

Charles, J. B. (2024, January 16). Amid national backlash, colleges brace for fresh wave of anti-DEI legislation. Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/amid-national-backlash-colleges-brace-for-fresh-wave-of-anti-dei-legislation

Hollis, L. P. (2024, January 22). Dying to be heard? Inside Higher Education. https://www.insidehighered.com/opinion/views/2024/01/22/tragedy-workplace-bullying-opinion

Sam, C. H., & Gupton, J. T. (2021). Ethical mindfulness: Why we need a framework for ethical practice in the academy. Journal of the Professoriate, 12(1).

Sample Lesson Ethical Mindfulness

This lesson plan was adapted from my graduate-level course on law and ethics in higher education. The units are distributed over a 15-week semester. Unit 0 is preparation for the first unit that is dedicated to ethical mindfulness; thus, it can be assigned early in the course syllabus or as part of the initial communication before a training session begins. Topics and activities can be adapted to fit the audience and readings should fit the goals of the learning program.

About the Author

Jonathan J. O’Brien, Ed.D. (he/him/his)
[email protected]

Jonathan teaches Law and Ethics, Leadership, and Qualitative Research Methods in the master’s and doctoral programs at California State University, Long Beach. His research and consulting focus on ethical leadership in student affairs and higher education.

The Importance of Mental Health Training in Faculty Development | Vega, Talamo, Coleman

written by: Blanca Elizabeth Vega, Antonio Talamo, Casey Coleman

Mental health training is an overlooked, yet increasingly necessary aspect of faculty development. Faculty development is understood as a process that involves pedagogical and organizational strands and enhancement (Kaylor & Smith, 1984). The pedagogical strand involves content knowledge and teaching skills development. The organizational strand is concerned with how the faculty member understands themselves as part of the organization related to aspects such as employment security and working conditions affected by campus culture and climate (Kaylor & Smith 1984). We argue that providing faculty with mental health training ensures pedagogical and organizational development in two ways: 1) by enhancing the teaching and learning experiences of faculty and students and 2) by participating in a healthier campus climate and culture for all campus stakeholders. 

Utilizing our personal narratives, we share our experiences from a mental health first aid course facilitated in the Summer of 2023, specifically for faculty at Montclair State University, a large public Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) in New Jersey. The Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course is offered throughout the year to faculty, staff, and students at no cost to them. The course is offered and sponsored by the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) Office. The Office of Faculty Excellence (OFE), a faculty development office at Montclair State University worked with CAPS and organized the MHFA course specifically for faculty development purposes. The session was open exclusively to 25 faculty members, on a first come, first serve basis. Additionally, faculty were offered a $250 stipend for attending the training. The training was not a requirement, and the stipends were funded by a grant from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). Typically, community members who attend are not provided incentives to attend the training and it is not mandatory. 

Dr. Blanca Elizabeth Vega is an Associate Professor and Graduate Program Coordinator of the Master of Arts in Higher Education program in the Educational Leadership Department. Antonio Talamo and Casey Coleman are Assistant Directors in their respective areas in the Student Affairs division and co-facilitators of the mental health first aid training. Together, we share our experiences and recommendations for future mental health trainings specifically geared for faculty on college and university campuses.

Mental Health and Higher Education 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental health consists of social, emotional, and psychological well-being that guides how individuals work with others and handle individual stress (April 2023). College students specifically are susceptible to stress as they are adjusting to a new academic environment (Acharya et al., 2018). College students are in a developmental stage in their lives marked by transition and social pressures that contribute to depression and other mental health conditions (Hartson et al., 2023). According to researchers who studied the survey responses of 90,000 students across 133 campuses, over 60% of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem (Eisenberg et al., 2023; Lipson et al., 2022). Mental health issues such as depression can result in “anxiety problems, substance abuse, poor academic performance, suicides, risky and violent behavior, and puts them more at risk of mental disorders later in life” (Acharya et al., 2018, p. 655). Further, suicide is the second leading cause of death in college students (CDC, May 2023). Based on the 2021 National Survey of Drug Use and Mental Health it is estimated that 0.7% of the adults aged 18 or older made at least one suicide attempt (American Foundation for Suicide, 2024).

One way college campuses have addressed rising mental health issues among their students is by providing stakeholders with mental health awareness courses or training. One example is the Mental Health First Aid course. According to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing (NCMW, 2024),  

Mental Health First Aid is a course that teaches you how to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. The training helps you identify, understand, and respond to signs of addictions and mental illnesses (para 1). 

Training faculty and other higher education professionals to recognize warning signs of mental health crises contributes to a four goals: 1) allows faculty to understand the warning signs of mental health before signs reach a crisis level, 2) diminishes stigma associated with mental health, 3) provides faculty with an added layer to address pedagogical issues by sharing support systems with students, and 4) allows faculty to participate in creating a more supportive and knowledgeable community. 

We write this to contribute to the call for more awareness and training for faculty who work with postsecondary students. We wish to extend this call for awareness to discuss training and explore how these lessons from these trainings can be implemented in pedagogical and organizational ways. 

Narratives

This commentary serves as a reflective opinion piece, written with colleagues who provided the training and a faculty member who engaged in the training. Combined, our perspectives serve to provide faculty members with best practices in pedagogy such as syllabus production to encourage more supportive postsecondary environments. While we also feel mental health first aid training is important for practitioners, we wish to highlight and encourage more faculty participation in this kind of training. We provide our narratives to support our ongoing development as concerned members of higher education interested in improving conditions for students in postsecondary education.

Blanca’s Experience with Mental Health Training

Although I have been a professor for seven years and a HESA professional for 18 years prior to that, mental health training was not a core part of my education. Having a student affairs background, I value the role of mental health and well-being in our students’ lives. As such, I was excited about the MHFA course. The training was for a total of eight hours with a lunch break. The training was led by two Montclair State University student affairs professionals, Antonio Talamo, Assistant Director of the Student Center & Commuter Life and Casey Coleman, Assistant Director of Student Involvement. Three things stood out to me as part of this course: 1) a guiding framework for faculty to remember important points regarding mental health first aid; 2) structure of the classroom to facilitate discussion between faculty and the facilitators; and 3) discussion of related case studies. 

The ALGEE Plan 

Antonio and Casey began the day with describing the ALGEE framework (NCMWb, 2021). Guided by the ALGEE action plan, we learned that ALGEE stands for the following:

    1. Approach, assess and assist with any crisis – assess the risk of suicide or harm and look for signs of trauma and high anxiety.
    2. Listen to the person non-judgmentally.
    3. Give the person reassurance, support, and information.
    4. Encourage the person to seek appropriate professional help.
    5. Encourage the person to seek self-help and other support strategies (para 4).

 By sharing this framework, faculty were reminded that we were not being trained to address mental health issues. The training’s purpose was to provide faculty with awareness about areas of mental health that might show up in our students. While the training did not specifically address issues in the classroom, since the participants were all faculty, we contextualized the work from our teaching experiences. We discussed what we were likely to witness among our students and how mental health training could support our work in classrooms. 

Classroom Structure

Antonio and Casey did not just facilitate discussions, they also modeled good practices in the classroom that can signal that they care for their students.

They structured the classroom in such a way that allowed students (or faculty, in this case) to be comfortable. Faculty were seated at round tables which made small group discussions much easier and the tools I needed for that day (e.g. pens, markers, paper, and name tags) were laid out on the table. The structure of the classroom and the use of round tables helped me just enough to know how to proceed when I was lost about next steps. Round tables made me feel connected to my colleagues who attended that day, many who I did not know and created less distance between faculty and the facilitators. 

Case Studies

Throughout the day, I learned a great deal about the different types of mental health crises that students can experience or face. We touched on the ways personal histories, cultures, and job-related expectations could be barriers to seeking mental health. We learned that possible signs of distress among students include lateness, disappearing from class, and turning in assignments late or not at all. When students show these signs, I can approach them with the ALGEE plan non-judgmentally and with flexibility. Yet, the message was clear: untrained professionals, even those who are well-intentioned, should not address mental health crises without support from other colleagues who are trained. However, faculty can at least be aware that crises do happen, and we can find ways in our classrooms to provide students with awareness that we care about their mental health. 

Antonio – Mental Health Training Co-Facilitator

As someone with a counseling background entering Higher Education, I felt that my niche was always identifying students who needed help at any stage of their distress. I was naive to think that the things I learned about in my master’s program were commonly known ideas for how to better support humans and particularly to support students. When our division announced that they were offering a Mental Health First Aid Instructor certification, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to use my training in a way that provides other individuals a structured approach to mental health. So far, I have certified mostly college students, but it was my session with the faculty members that really opened up my eyes about the importance of this topic and the lack of knowledge around it. 

As someone who has solely worked in Student Affairs and having taught some courses as an adjunct, I believe that faculty play an integral role in identifying those early warning signs of student crisis. Of course, Student Affairs professionals have access to their group of students whom they may supervise, advise, or mentor, but you can argue that faculty see their students more consistently. For example, a professor who has the same class twice a week may notice sudden changes in attendance, participation, attitude, and appearance. They have a better gauge for a student’s tendencies and therefore can catch struggling students before they are in crisis. 

What was interesting to me as I co-led conversations during the Mental Health First Aid training with faculty is that what we discussed was not unfamiliar to the faculty. They noticed some of the signs and symptoms in students. The main issue I saw was that the faculty members were not quite sure how to approach the situation or what the resources were available on campus. The latter was an easy thing to address as the university provides a generic syllabus with resources available. However, truly understanding a student’s concern and approaching it with care is something somewhat unfamiliar to some individuals in the classroom. Once someone learns how to approach an individual and better understands their signs and symptoms, they will be more effective at supporting them.

Casey – Mental Health Training Co-Facilitator

As a staff member and an adjunct faculty member, I have the unique opportunity to connect with students inside and outside the classroom and I see firsthand how students are struggling. As a student affairs professional, it is my job to help students ease into their experiences. One way is by openly discussing mental health and destigmatizing it. 

However, we learned that crises exacerbate the mental health of college students. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the mental health crisis in the world. This is especially true with college populations. Many who experienced disruption in their school settings have missed fundamental aspects of socialization which can lead them to struggle to manage their emotions. These emotions and experiences can indicate greater concerns with their own mental health. The disconnect we experienced during COVID-19 is not something we have fully recovered from, and this isolation and fear can create higher levels of anxiety. Many students missed major moments such as proms, graduations, and driver’s tests. Delays in or entirely missing these major life occurrences have caused stress and feelings of isolation among our students.

When I first learned about Mental Health First Aid, I did not know if I was qualified to lead these sessions.  After going through extensive three-day training as a Mental Health First Aid Trainer and recognizing that my role is highly student-facing, I realize I am more than qualified to educate the community on Mental Health First Aid. Now I am happier than ever that I get to help change the narrative on mental health. 

Today, armed with this knowledge, I chose to lead with empathy. In getting to understand these students, I find the more empathetic I am in my work, the more authentic students are with me. Additionally, as a Mental Health First Aid Trainer, I can educate our community on mental health awareness and give them the tools that they can to assess situations, listen non-judgmentally, give reassurance, and encourage the next appropriate steps. We push first aid for physical issues, so it is imperative we also advocate for mental health. 

Recommendations for Centering Mental Health in the Classroom

Blanca’s Recommendations

Artifacts like syllabi provide clues about how faculty feel about or care for their students. Through our syllabi, faculty also may demonstrate if we are prepared to work with students should a crisis arise. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was a disastrous and traumatic time, I take from that time some very important lessons supported by existing literature: rigidity versus flexibility (Jones & Vega, 2023). Considering how rigidly students often view syllabi and how the structure and lack of flexibility may affect their mental health, I suggest beginning with the syllabus. This document not only describes the course content but also supports a sense of belonging and student success for students pursuing higher education (Montclair State University, Office for Faculty Excellence, 2024). 

One way to promote more flexibility in your syllabus is to review the academic calendar and implement pause weeks. Pause weeks help students and faculty with time to reflect on the course readings and increase content knowledge. Students in the classes I teach are studying higher education, either working full time or as graduate or research assistants. They are incredibly busy, and it is critical for faculty to remember that while it is important for students to read and engage in assignments, students also need time to think and, most importantly, rest!

Additionally, students need more than academic feedback. Given that our role as faculty demands assessment of learning outcomes, faculty are undoubtedly worried about grading papers and ensuring students are meeting the learning goals outlined for class. What the ALGEE plan reminds me to do as a faculty member is to catch up with students. Create space in your syllabus to meet with your students individually or in small groups. Touch base with them to learn more about who they are as people, not just as students. 

University leaders should consider mental health frameworks for faculty to use should they identify students in distress. As a part of these frameworks, artifacts such as syllabi and physical or online structures of the classroom must be considered. Further, ongoing trainings should be incentivized, readings can be a part of faculty meetings, and data about student mental health should be available for faculty to review. Finally, it is important to consider faculty reflections about self-care for faculty and students. This can be done in new faculty orientations; built into the reappointment and promotion processes; and organized by faculty affairs offices. Success is not just about grades; success can also be how faculty and staff provide students with skills that would encourage them to be healthier adults.

Antonio’s Recommendations 

One of the first things we teach in Mental Health First Aid is that Mental Health First Aiders do not diagnose or treat but assess. Faculty should pay attention to a sudden change in demeanor, behavior, and appearance. Those changes may be signs that something is going on and students need support and faculty may need further assistance to provide that support. 

If faculty notice these signs, providing support can be as simple as sitting down with the student after class and letting them know that you noticed a change and want to support them. The conversation can tell faculty whether there is something more severe going on such as losing a loved one, food insecurity, homelessness, or student stress levels as they navigate midterm week. Before a faculty or staff member approaches a student, they should be prepared for a variety of possible conversations and should have campus resources available. We should also remember that students are already under extreme stress as they are managing and navigating their identities, their classes, and their relationships. Professors should look to provide a space in their classroom where students feel cared for. 

Casey’s Recommendations 

Professors should center their work around the mental health of our students. This approach does not have to be a complicated process. Instructors can foster mental health into their syllabus by listing resources for students at the start of the semester, getting to know students’ names, looking for patterns in student behavior, sharing experiences, and offering occasional check-ins. 

I like to start my classes with a quick thumbs up/ thumbs down activity to gauge how the class is feeling that day. The only way we can break the stigma of mental health is if we start talking about it in the context of our interactions with students. First aid training is common for a reason. Mental health first aid should be just as common. 

As faculty and staff, our well-being is also important to the process of holistic care. When we think of airplanes, we are reminded to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before helping others, a similar approach can be taken for mental health. We should be aware of our own surroundings, we should take care of ourselves, it will help us take better care of others.

Discussion and Questions

More and more higher education leaders are recognizing the importance of mental health awareness for their campuses. As an issue that affects everyone, we have the ability to encourage more awareness of mental health despite our positionality on campus. We encourage you to consider the following questions to begin exploring mental health training on your campuses:

    1. What resources exist in your department, college, or university to support your own and students’ well-being and mental health?
    2. Are all resources updated on your syllabus? With whom can you consult to ensure this is the case?
    3. Who can you partner with (e.g. other universities or organizations) to advocate for  resources such as training or a course on mental health first aid on your campus?
    4. What might your faculty colleagues need to engage in mental health first aid trainings?
    5. What is within your control now that you can do to support students’ mental health?

Faculty can collaborate with other members of their community to build a healthier climate for their students. We encourage faculty and other readers who desire more information about mental health training to consult the counseling staff on your campus; collaborate with offices of Student Affairs; and explore the Mental Health First Aid course from the National Council for Mental Wellbeing: https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org. 

References

American Foundation for Suicide (2024). Suicide Statistics. (https://afsp.org/suicide-statistics/)

Acharya, L., Jin, L., & Collins, W. (2018). College life is stressful today–Emerging stressors and depressive symptoms in college students. Journal of American college health, 66(7), 655-664.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, April 25). About mental health. https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, May 8). Facts about suicide. https://www.cdc.gov/suicide/facts/index.html).

Eisenberg, D., Lipson, S.K, Heinze, J., Zhou, S., (2023). The Healthy Minds Survey. https://healthymindsnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/HMS_National-Report-2022-2023_full.pdf

Hartson, K. R., Hall, L. A., & Choate, S. A. (2023). Stressors and resilience are associated with well-being in young adult college students. Journal of American College Health, 71(3), 821-829.

Jones, S. , Vega, B.E. (2023). We’re Dying Over Here: Seizing the Triple Pandemic for a Radical Liberatory Higher Education. Presented at the American Educational Research Association. 

Kaylor Jr., C. E., & Smith, J. W. (1984). Faculty development as an organizational process. In L. C. Buhl & L. Wilson (Eds.), To Improve the Academy: Resources for Faculty, Instructional, and Organizational Development (Vol. 3, pp. 125-136). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

Lipson, S. K., Zhou, S., Abelson, S., Heinze, J., Jirsa, M., Morigney, J., … & Eisenberg, D. (2022). Trends in college student mental health and help-seeking by race/ethnicity: Findings from the national healthy minds study, 2013–2021. Journal of affective disorders, 306, 138-147.

National Council for Mental Wellbeing (NCMW a, 2024), Get Trained. https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/take-a-course/

National Council for Mental Wellbeing (NCMW b, 2024). ALGEE: How MHFA Helps You Respond in Crisis and Non-crisis Situations. https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/2021/04/algee-how-mhfa-helps-you-respond-in-crisis-and-non-crisis-situations/

Office of Faculty Excellence. (2024). Warming up your syllabus. Montclair State University. https://www.montclair.edu/faculty-excellence/teaching-resources/pedagogical-strategies-that-support-learning/warming-up-your-syllabus/

Rodríguez, M. D. C. F., & Huertas, I. B. (2013). Suicide prevention in college students: A collaborative approach. Revista interamericana de psicologia= Interamerican Journal of Psychology, 47(1), 53.

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About the Authors

Blanca Elizabeth Vega (she/her/ella) [email protected]

Born and raised in New York City, Dr. Blanca E. Vega is the daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants. Dr. Vega is Associate Professor of Higher Education and Graduate Program Coordinator of the Master of Arts in Higher Education program at Montclair State University. Dr. Vega’s was recently awarded a national grant from the Spencer Foundation to explore the experiences of higher education and student affairs professionals with policies related to undocumented students and the Channing Briggs Foundation grant from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) to organize training focused on racialized organizational conflict. Finally, Dr. Vega was recently named a HEAL (Higher Education Academic Leadership) Fellow at Montclair State University where she will explore racially responsive frameworks and servingness in faculty development practices and policies. 

Antonio Talamo (he/ him/his)
[email protected]

Antonio is a first-generation college student and immigrant working as a dynamic higher education professional for nearly a decade. He is also a public speaker with a focus on student leadership and campus culture development. His mission is to influence and impact students and professionals across the globe through his motivational speeches and writings.​ Antonio is also an emcee and personal coach who uses his authentic approach to assist individuals and companies with professional branding, career development, general leadership, and professional growth.  

Casey Coleman (he/ him/ his)
[email protected]

A proud first generation college student, Casey has worked in the field of Higher Education for nearly 10 years primarily within student activities. He believes education is the only true way to change the world and feels fortunate to work in a profession that is dedicated to developing students. When he’s not working, he enjoys coffee, breakfast sandwiches, and scoping out what’s new at the library.

Moving Towards a Globalized Educational Paradigm in Higher Education and Student Affairs Programs | Dadzie, Kharitonova

written by: Benjamin Michael Dadzie, Irina Kharitonova

Introduction: The Imperative of Globalization in Higher Education Programs

In an era characterized by unprecedented connectivity and globalization, higher education stands at the forefront of fostering a diverse and inclusive learning environment. The imperative of globalization in higher education programs has become increasingly apparent, driven by a surge in international student enrollments. Globalization is reshaping the landscape of higher education, with profound effects on its systems, policies, and institutions. Described as the broadening, deepening, and hastening of global interconnectedness (Held et al., 1999, p. 2), this phenomenon has long been intertwined with higher education due to its inherent openness to international exchange and knowledge dissemination, which transcends geographical boundaries. In today’s global knowledge economies, higher education institutions serve as crucial hubs facilitating a wide array of cross-border interactions and the constant flow of people, information, knowledge, technologies, products, and financial resources. While not all universities may prioritize internationalization, they are all impacted by globalization—both as subjects, driving global integration, and as objects, sometimes vulnerable to its effects (Scott, 1998, p. x). Consequently, higher education institutions and the policies guiding them are undergoing a process of reinvention to adapt to the evolving global context.

As revealed in the Open Doors Report (2023), international student enrollment in the U.S. has witnessed an upswing across all majors. Notably, graduate programs have experienced a remarkable 21% increase in international student enrollment, underscoring the growing global interest in advanced education. Education programs, including K-12 Leadership, Higher Education Administration, and Student Affairs, have also seen a 4% increase in international student population (Open Doors, 2023). This shift brings the increasing relevance of global perspectives within education-focused disciplines.

To better understand the importance of global perspectives in higher education programs’ curriculums, we reviewed relevant literature on the increase in international students in student affairs and higher education programs in the U.S. To make this less abstract and more personal, we also examined the challenges and successes international students are experiencing. Finally, we provide recommendations for faculty and practitioners based on our exploration. We have three main recommendations to aid Higher Education programs with their globalization efforts: incorporating global perspectives, increasing transferability of skills, and encouraging collaborative approaches.

Positionality: Who We Are in this Work

Benjamin Michael Dadzie commenced his undergraduate studies in economics education at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. Upon graduation, Benjamin worked as an Administrative Assistant for the University of Cape Coast in Ghana, observing a gap in academic advising at his home university and the higher education industry been mostly administrative in nature. His observations propelled him towards a mission of positive change in student services in Ghana. Benjamin is now pursuing a Master of Education in Student Affairs at Clemson University, where he currently works with Clemson Housing and Dining as a Graduate Community Director for the Shoeboxes. As graduate community director at Clemson Housing and Dining, he has assumed leadership roles in nurturing a supportive, inclusive residential community. Guided by integrity and ethical conduct principles, he has led by example, mentoring Residential Community Mentors to uphold high standards and foster a culture of respect and inclusivity. 

As a second author of this article, Irina Kharitonova, is currently enrolled as a PhD student in Higher Ed Leadership Program at Clemson University where she also works as a Graduate Student Services Coordinator for the Department of Mechanical Engineering. In her role, she consults many international students, facilitating their support and engagement. Being originally from Kazakhstan and having experienced immigration first-hand, Irina finds it possible to easily relate to international students’ challenges. In addition, prior to moving to the U.S., Irina worked as an undergraduate student advisor at the North American-style university in Kazakhstan, where she was able to observe cultural differences between U.S. faculty and domestic students. Being grateful for her experiences that uniquely position her to understand the students’ and staff perspectives, as well as different worldviews based on cultural values, Irina is hoping to create shift towards global thinking in her work with students.

Scholarly Insights: Navigating the Intercultural Landscape

As globalization becomes a central theme, both domestic and international students find themselves at the crossroads of an educational paradigm that demands enhanced intercultural competencies. Multiple recent studies of higher education professionals focus on intercultural competencies, internationalization of higher education, and global mindset. The study by Shelton and Yao (2019) on early career professionals’ perceptions of Higher Education and Student Affairs programs shed light on the challenges graduates face in working with international students and colleagues. According to their findings, the limited exposure to relevant coursework and the emphasis on self-directed global competency development highlighted the need for a more structured and inclusive approach in higher education curricula. Furthermore, Clarke and Kirby (2022) explored strategies and approaches to infuse global perspectives into higher education curricula. Their research provided a roadmap for educators and institutions seeking to create inclusive and globally oriented academic programs. (Clarke & Kirby, 2022).  Kjellgren and Richter’s (2021) work reinforced that fostering intercultural skills is not merely a choice but an imperative for students in an increasingly interconnected world. The systematic review conducted by Guillén-Yparrea and Ramírez-Montoya (2023) comprehensively examined intercultural competencies in higher education, scrutinizing existing approaches to intercultural education and emphasizing the importance of ongoing conversation about integrating global perspectives into educational curricula. 

These publications, to name a few, offer profound insights into the strategies, approaches, and challenges inherent in navigating the intercultural dimensions of global education.

Student Perspectives

As we navigate the imperatives of internationalization in higher education, it becomes clear that the evolving dynamics demand a comprehensive exploration of student experiences. To dive deeper into the nuances of globalization of Student Affairs and Higher Education Administration degrees in the United States., we draw on not only our own experiences, but the personal narratives of other graduate international students in Higher Education programs, as well. We spoke with graduate students from Ghana, Kazakhstan, Iran, and Russia to gauge their preparedness for post-graduate endeavors after studying in the States We inquired about their readiness to work in their home countries upon their return, their ability to navigate academic requirements in the U.S, and their openness to international opportunities beyond their home countries. Additionally, we sought their opinions on the U.S.-centric nature of their program curriculum and how it impacted their educational experience and preparedness for their future careers.”

Given that we as the authors are also part of this population, we did not interview others as outsiders, but we joined with them in reflecting on our experiences. As a result, we worked to create a community of dialogue about our experiences. In addition to our perspectives, we invited. Alina Nigmatullina, a PhD student from Russia majoring in Higher Education Leadership at the Mississippi State University, and Venus Khodadadi, a Clemson University PhD student in Education Leadership program from Iran, who also completed master’s degree in Higher Education Administration from the Western Michigan University. You will read about our insights as well as those of other international students in the section that follows. 

As a staff member supporting many international students, in her interview Irina shared the importance of addressing cultural differences within higher education. While acknowledging the program’s efforts in addressing diversity issues, she advocates for more comprehensive approaches. “A dedicated elective course on international student support or global perspectives in student affairs, coupled with opportunities for internships abroad, could further enhance students’ perspective on the diverse cultural challenges,” Irina suggested. Her current program offers a commendable focus on diversity issues and global perspectives. Given that the U.S. educational system provides specialized degrees for Higher Education professionals attracting students from all around the world, Irina envisions a curriculum beyond borders, fostering a global mindset.

Though fueled by passion, Benjamin encountered challenges in adapting to the curriculum on his journey. Some topics have seemed more tailored specifically (and sometimes only) to the American context. This approach to teaching has posed a hurdle for him in connecting his experiences with specific discussions. For Benjamin, the heart of student affairs lies in inclusivity. His vision extends beyond personal growth; he sees the potential for student affairs professionals to contribute to transformative global change. While the U.S. boasts specialized degrees and diverse focuses in higher education administration, Benjamin recognizes the importance of a curriculum that emphasizes international justice and prepares students with a global perspective in Student Affairs. Thinking ahead, Benjamin plans to return to Ghana with a wealth of experience. “While my heart is set on contributing to positive changes in the Ghanaian educational system, I recognize the importance of gaining more experience in the U.S. before embarking on this transformative journey,” Ben concluded.

One of the interesting trends we observed was the difference in approaches to delivering global prospective in different institutions. Our interview participant, PhD student from Iran, Venus, shared:” My Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program from the Western Michigan University had multiple international students from all over the world- Europe, Phillips, Vietnam, Iran and more, and we all had an opportunity to write papers on policies and procedures in our home countries. For example, if we take a course on academic advising, at the end of the course, as a final project, I will present on advising procedures in Higher Education in Iran, and I would hear from other students presenting on advising procedures in their own countries. It was a great way to learn about higher education around the world! I felt we had a very inclusive environment. “

While in some program’s students may have discussions about global Student Affairs practices in certain classes, other programs allow international students to draw the lines of transferability on their own. Alina, a Fullbright Scholar from Russia, in her academic career completed multiple Student Affairs courses. Her knowledge was obtained through learning about US Student Affairs practices, but she felt prepared to work back home and improve the realities of the post-soviet education system. “Some of the courses that I have taken talk a lot about American Higher education, but most of my professors did a great job drawing comparisons with European higher education system and they were paying attention to me, since we did not have a lot of international students, – Alina shared with a big smile – I was always asked about the procedures back in my home country. The only reason I am not 100% sure this degree translates very well to the work we are doing back home is just because Student Affairs look very different there. However, – Alina continued- The core value of work is still supporting the students. In my faculty role back home, I can still support students in the classroom. It does not matter if your country practices Student Affairs in the way the Unites States do, students everywhere need support.”

Challenges and Recommendations: Towards a Globalized Educational Paradigm

As we reflect on the insightful journeys of several international students within the landscape of higher education, it becomes evident that their  experiences encapsulate both the triumphs and tribulations inherent in the pursuit of a truly global education. The highlighted challenges underscore the imperative for higher education institutions to evolve continually, adapting their curricula to foster inclusivity, diversity, and a genuine understanding of our interconnected world.

Acknowledging the challenges within current higher education curricula, we recognize that the road to a truly globalized educational paradigm is full of obstacles. However, higher education programs can take substantial strides towards inclusivity by incorporating discussions on international justice issues, standardizing global perspectives courses, promoting international internship programs, and fostering collaborative efforts with universities abroad. Three main recommendations emerged in our study: 

Further Exposure to Global Perspectives in Student Affairs and Higher Education Programs: A recurring theme in the narratives is the interest in exposure to global perspectives within existing curricula and the need for more substantial discussions on international justice issues.

Collaborative Approaches: Students should be encouraged to participate in internships and collaboration projects abroad to help build their intercultural competencies as well as global prospective on the state of Student Affairs field and Higher Education administration internationally. 

Transferability of Skills: Interviewees acknowledge the challenge of translating their U.S. education to their home contexts. Despite recognizing programs’ global perspectives and universal skills, we need to encourage discussion of applicability of certain aspects of student affairs in the international students’ home country. 

This transformative journey for U.S. Higher Education programs envisions a future where curricula transcend geographical boundaries and students and educators are equipped with the skills to thrive in an interconnected world. The imperative of internationalization in higher education is not merely a call for change; it is an invitation to pave the way for an inclusive global education that empowers individuals to navigate, understand, and contribute meaningfully to our diverse and interconnected global society.

References

Clarke, L., & Kirby, D. (2022). Internationalizing Higher Education Curricula: Strategies and Approaches. Universal Journal of Educational Research, 10(6), 408-417. DOI: 10.13189/ujer.2022.100605.

Guillén-Yparrea, N., & Ramírez-Montoya, M. S. (2023). A review of collaboration through intercultural competencies in higher Education. Cogent Education, 10(2), 2281845. DOI: 10.1080/2331186X.2023.2281845.

Held, D. McGrew, A. Goldblatt, D. & Perraton, J. (1999). Global Transformations: Politics, economics and culture. Stanford University Press, Stanford.

Kjellgren, B., & Richter, T. (2021). Education for a Sustainable Future: Strategies for Holistic Global Competence Development at Engineering Institutions. Sustainability, 13(20), 11184. https://doi.org/10.3390/su132011184.

Scott, P. (1998) Massification, internationalization and globalization, in Peter Scott (ed.) The Globalization of Higher Education. The Society for Research into Higher Education/ Open University Press, Buckingham, pp. 108-129.

Shelton, L. J., & Yao, C. W. (2019). Early career professionals’ perceptions of higher education and student affairs graduate programs: Preparation to work with international students. Journal of College Student Development, 60(2), 156–172. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.2019.0016.

Yao, C. W., Briscoe, K. L., Shelton, L. J., & Thompson, C. J. (2022). Beyond U.S. borders: A curricular exploration of higher education and student affairs international professional preparation. College Student Affairs Journal, Volume 40(1), pp. 1-16. Copyright 2022 Southern Association for College Student Affairs.

Open Doors. (2023). Open Doors Report. Retrieved from https://opendoorsdata.org/.

About the Authors

Benjamin Michael Dadzie (He/Him/His) is a graduate student at Clemson University, where he is pursuing a Master of Education in Student Affairs. He serves as the Graduate Community Director for the Shoeboxes, where he plays a vital role in enhancing student life.

Irina Kharitonova (she/her) is the Graduate Student Services Coordinator at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Clemson University. She received her BA in Psychology from Kazakh National University in Almaty, Kazakhstan, her MBA with emphasize on Management and Administration from UIB in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and is currently a doctoral student in Educational Leadership program at Clemson. Prior to joining Clemson, Irina worked as a Student Success Coach at Blackboard in the United States, and as an Advising Coordinator and Program Manager at KIMEP, an English-speaking North American-style university, in Kazakhstan.

Exploring the Role of Involvement in Cultivating a Multiracial Identity Abstract | Dean-Scott, Stites, Khan

written by: Dr. Shannon Dean-Scott, Alicia Stites, Mohammad Khan

Abstract

More and more people in the U.S. are identifying as Multiracial; colleges and universities are also seeing this increase in Multiracial students. Through campus involvement, these students often develop their understanding of identity. Our qualitative study examines eight students’ experiences to understand the development of their Multiracial identity through campus involvement. We offer findings, analysis, and recommendations to build more inclusive environments that foster intentional involvement opportunities and significant racial identity development for Multiracial students.

Exploring the Role of Involvement in Cultivating a Multiracial Identity

As the number of individuals in the United States who identify as Multiracial rises, colleges and universities (Hanson, 2024) also see an increase in Multiracial students (Mitchell & Warren, 2022). While many factors contribute to a Multiracial student’s identity development, environments continue to serve as critical influences on how these students navigate college campuses (Giebel, 2023). We build upon Renn’s (2000, 2003) use of Bronfrenbrenner’s (1993) Model of Developmental Ecology by exploring the unique context of involvement at a Hispanic Serving Institution and the influence on Multiracial identity development and engagement. 

Based on findings from a qualitative study with eight Multiracial students, we highlight the reciprocal relationship between the campus co-curricular experience and identity development. We outline insights from involved students about their own perception of their racial identity, their interactions with monoracial peers, and their transformation about understanding race. We also discuss how racial singularities are a driving institutional and social force that plays a critical role in interpersonal relationships and the larger campus culture for Multiracial students. These racial singularities are systemic and pervasive yet generally go unaddressed by student affairs professionals often due to a lack of resources (Mitchell & Warren, 2022). We close the article by offering recommendations for disrupting racial singularities in campus spaces and building more inclusive environments that foster intentional involvement opportunities and more significant racial identity development for Multiracial students.

Historical and Theoretical Context

In order to understand the history of Multiracial college students and their identity development, one must understand the past and current landscapes related to Multiracial individuals.  In 2000, the U.S. census added the ability to select more than one racial identity. Of the 281.4 million people who filled out the census, 6.8 million (2.4%) identified as more than one race (U.S. Census, 2000). During the 2010 census, there was an increase in those who identified as Multiracial from 6.8 million to 8.9 million, 41% of whom were under 18 years of age (US Census, 2010). Many of those individuals are now attending college. As of 2023, 4.3% of the college student population identified as Multiracial and among this group, college attendance has increased by 133% since 2010 (Hanson, 2024). This is important to note when considering what we know about Multiracial students in terms of developmental theory and involvement. The experiences of Multiracial students are under-researched. Our study helps address this knowledge gap.

Current Multiracial identity development theories are built upon other monoracial identity development models such as Cross (1971) and Morten and Atkinson (1983), some of the first identity theories that did not center whiteness. These theories were foundational for Poston (1990) who created models of biracial identity development and Root (1996) who discussed Multiracial identity development; both focused on the healthy development of a racial identity and acknowledged Multiraciality as important. Building on these theories, Renn (2003) created a Multiracial identity development theory that included the psychological, sociological, and ecological needs for college students from mixed racial backgrounds. 

Renn (2003) used Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological model to examine Multiracial college student experiences. She considered the holistic influences of the individual (person), the environment (process), the immediate surrounding (context), and changes in development (time). Renn’s (2003) theory highlighted the importance of peer culture and belonging as critically essential components of developing their Multiracial identities. These include public spaces, and private spaces for students to reflect and discuss their identities with others (Renn, 2008). These reflective conversations occur in contexts including clubs, organizations, and other involvement opportunities (Renn, 2003). Much work is still needed to understand the complexities and development of Multiracial college students.

Challenges with Current Theories

One challenge with the current set of Multiracial theories is that previous literature focuses on Multiracial categorically and not individual identity groups. Although some Multiracial individuals prefer this designation and feel they have more in common with their Multiracial peers (Gardner, 2014; Hentz, 2019), these theories do not capture the various experiences of different Multiracial students based on their multiple monoracial backgrounds. It would be challenging to capture every Multiracial individual’s unique racial experiences, and yet it is a gap in our understanding of how Multiracial students navigate college environments and develop their identities. Our study responds to the need for better understanding the Multiracial student experience. 

Importance of Involvement for Racial Identity Development

Theories enable some understanding, however, never fully encompass lived experiences of students, in this context for Multiracial identity development. Further, there is literature about how students develop in college, in their racial identities, and how racial identity impacts involvement (Willis, 2017). Involvement increases GPA, satisfaction, and graduation rates (Conefrey, 2021), but can be impacted by their racial identity (Hentz, 2019; Mahoney, 2016; Willis, 2017). However, more research is needed to better understand how involvement impacts identity development.  

We use Astin’s (1999) definition to understand how students develop Multiracial identity through college involvement. Astin (1999) defined involvement as the amount of physical and psychological energy students devote to the academic experience including academics, co-curriculars, leadership, and other involvement. This definition allows us to consider various involvement experiences and nuance the psychological component of involvement. 

The discussion about whether leaders are born or made, whether one is a leader or a follower, and the definitional differences between leaders and managers are just some ongoing discussions and theories within leadership education (Northouse, 2019). Much leadership theory debate stems from one’s paradigm about truth and identity. Involvement theories and leadership theories are closely connected regarding benefits to students. Through sustained and encouraged involvement and various forms of leadership many students find themselves. 

In order to critically examine theories of identity development, involvement, or leadership, one should consider metacognition, critical self-reflection, social perspective-taking, dialectical thinking, and critical hope (Dugan, 2017). Metacognition refers to how we think about theories, whereas critical self-reflection suggests looking at yourself, your positionality, and engaging in self-exploration (Dugan, 2017). Social perspective taking is the ability to adopt another person’s point of view; dialectical thinking implies the ability to hold conflicting or contradictory concepts together (Dugan et al., 2014). Finally, critical hope is the ability to realistically appraise a situation while envisioning a better future (Bishundat et al., 2018). Each of these concepts relies on the ability of the individual to know themselves, their identities, their struggles, their privilege, and to be able to make meaning of their experiences to see other points of view and envision something better.

Taking a critical perspective is not simply knowing the content and the theory, it is about diversifying content and theories. Research recognizes the importance of social identity development within involvement and leadership opportunities (Mahoney, 2016). Further, researchers have looked critically at the role of racial identity plays in involvement (Gardner, 2014; Willis, 2017) and how involvement fosters racial awareness and support, particularly for Multiracial students (Gardner, 2014). Recognizing and valuing the importance of understanding yourself, while also understanding others is imperative for continued development (Mahoney, 2016). Students make meaning of their social identities through relationship with others via involvement which is particularly beneficial for Multiracial students on campus. Our study sought to identify the ways Multiracial students better understood their own racial identity through and because of their college involvement. 

Methodology

To advance the conversation on Multiraciality and student engagement, our study examined Multiracial student experiences in co-curricular activities on an HSI campus. We focused on upper-division students (junior and seniors) active in organizations, groups, or programs. The study focused on the environment and peer relationships with peers to assess the development of the racial identity of Multiracial students through co-curricular involvement.  Our study centered how Multiracial students viewed themselves on campus, in interpersonal relationships, and how the environment shaped their view of race and Multiracial identity. 

This study used a qualitative phenomenological approach.  Qualitative research allows for rich descriptions and an in-depth understanding of a particular time, setting, and experience (Creswell, 2014). Rather than predict phenomena, qualitative inquiry allowed us to understand the intricacies of racial identity development and the role and/or influences of involvement and the environment in this development. Identifying participants as the teachers, phenomenological research provided participants space to share and interpret their experiences (Creswell, 2014)in order to identify common themes across the experiences of Multiracial students.

We conducted our study at a large public state institution in the southern United States with a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) designation. Determined by the U.S. Department of Education, the HSI designation is granted to institutions with  more than 25% of their student population identifying as “Hispanic” (White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, n.d.). At the time of the study, student demographics at the institution reflected that about 4% of the student population identified as biracial or Multiracial. The study included eight Multiracial student leaders, seven of whom identified as women and one who identified as a man. We tailored our selection criteria to include only juniors and seniors, students involved in any form of co-curricular activities, and students who self-identified as Multiracial. We worked with Institutional Research to email junior and senior students who identified as two or more racial or ethnic identities on their enrollment documents. We intentionally sought juniors and seniors intending to interview students who would have had a broader range of involvement experiences. 

We explored students’ perceptions of their racial identity, their experiences in co-curricular activities, and their overall engagement with the campus environment through one-on-one interviews that lasted approximately 60 minutes. We utilized a semi-structured interviews, asking about their pre-collegiate experiences and how the leadership opportunities they took part in impacted the formation of their social and leadership identities. 

We used a three-cycle data analysis process (Saldana, 2009). The first step was transcribing interviews. Next, we individually reviewed and coded each transcript, utilizing NVivo to code and identify essential and salient ideas. We then collectively generated and compiled the codebook. Each code was revisited and sometimes re-coded to craft new co-generated codes that determined the larger categories and themes in the study. In order to ensure trustworthiness, we kept a careful audit trail of all the records and details of the data analysis process. Additionally, we triangulated the data by utilizing multiple researchers and cross validation techniques. 

Positionalities

Each of us came to this research from our own racial perspectives and from a variety of involvement opportunities both in college and within our careers. We believe it is important in understanding our research, to better understand a bit about the paradigms and experiences we bring to this study.

For Mohammad: As a Desi Muslim cisgender man, I value the impact involvement can have on community building and identity development. Being an involved student leader in college contributed to my understanding of the intricate dynamics of cultural assimilation and preservation, deepening my understanding of what it means to belong. While I do not identify as Multiracial, my bicultural upbringing informs my perspective on the nuances of Multiraciality. I understand the vital importance of amplifying the stories and experiences of marginalized students to better inform, analyze, and act for change on college campuses. 

For Alicia: My experience as a biracial, cisgender woman navigating college impacted my motivation to explore and research multiracial identity and involvement in higher education. My own experiences are a narrow scope on Multiraciality and I strive to focus on each unique experience to improve my understanding multiracial scholarship. I currently serve as a co-chair on the Multiracial Transracial Adoptees Network within ACPA that focuses on building community and furthering scholarship. 

For Shannon: I am a White, cisgender woman who grew up in a very racially diverse part of California and spent my first year of college in Idaho where the lack of racial diversity shocked me. My first-year experiences initially lead me to transfer schools and ultimately guided many of my career and research choices. I currently serve as a faculty member in a student affairs preparation program where we intentionally engage in discussions around racial justice and inequities.

We began working on the foundations of this research when taking Shannon’s course on Research Methods in Student Affairs. Over the course of the next year, we combined our individual research interests – on Multiraciality, involvement, and environment – to execute this study. We each contributed our unique insights and leveraged our positionalities to enrich the research. 

Limitations of the Methodology

Although this study offers valuable insight into how Multiracial students understand their racial identity due to their campus involvement, the study did have some limitations. We reached out to various campus involvement offices and leadership professionals to recruit participants. Yet our participants primarily identified as women which limits our findings. Further, our study focused on a specific group of upper-division Multiracial students within a specific HSI campus environment. There are many ways in which our findings are relevant to other contexts, yet it is important to note that Multiracial students elsewhere may have different experiences.

Findings

The three key themes from our study included: (a) self-perception of Multiraciality; (b) societal understanding of Multiracial identity; and (c) ideological views of racial identity. The majority of the students interviewed entered the university with a conscious understanding of their racial identity. We found that students’ interpretation of self, society’s comprehension of Multiracial identity, and how a Multiracial student’s experience shaped their views and actions regarding race were shared experiences for students in our study. In this section, we describe and provide examples of each theme. Additionally, instead of a separate discussion section, we include in our analysis implications and suggestions for student affairs professionals to improve the experience and environments for Multiracial students on campus to excel in their leadership endeavors.

Self-Perception of Multiracial Identity 

The students’ perception of their Multiraciality and how others perceive it shapes how they navigated co-curricular involvement. People unfamiliar to them would often confront them about their appearance within the group or organization. Whether the purpose for questioning a Multiracial person’s physical appearance is out of curiosity or the need to compartmentalize races, the exchange forced Multiracial people to explain themselves.

One participant, Rebecca, recalled accounts affecting her perception of her racial identity, 

Growing up, I used to be like, ‘I’m Hispanic’ and everyone was like, no, you look very White…so I don’t really fit into a certain category. Then I am just Multiracial because I am not specifically a part of this group or this group or this group. I’m a mixture of all.

Rebecca set herself apart from racial identity groups by choosing to identify as Multiracial, which to her does not connect with any particular group. She did not seem to find acceptance or belonging within these groups as a shared singular racial identity.

Multiracial Identity and Language

Aside from physical appearance, knowledge of a heritage language impacted how Multiracial students qualified their identities. Hermine, when deciding to join a multicultural sorority at the start of her college career, stated, “I’m only half Hispanic so sometimes I see Multiracial [people] and they’re speaking Spanish. I’m not sure if I would fully fit into that category.” Hermine was deterred from joining an organization because her language abilities different from others in the group. 

On the other hand, Multiracial individuals may use their language abilities to fit into groups and prove relatability. Rebecca shared, “In a social [setting] to fit in the groups, you know? I would definitely bring up more of my Latina background… And mention some words in Spanish.” Rebecca emphasized aspects of her identity to have a sense of belonging often using her bilingual abilities to fit in. Rebecca seemed very aware that language and sharing personal experiences related to her Latina background and strengthened the connection with others in the group. 

Multiracial Students Frustrations

Students expressed frustration with monoracial people’s lack of understanding and knowledge as a source for the challenges they face navigating their Multiracial identity. Raymond explained how identity confusion stems from monoracial people because, “They don’t have a lot of knowledge on how to approach a situation when someone looks a little different.” He further explained a situation when he and his sister moved to the suburbs, “We didn’t blend in with the white kids… we looked more like their skin tone but our hair was different and there were always fights with [white] people over our racial identity”.  Multiracial people often grow up trying to develop the best explanation of identity for themselves and others. 

Sarah expressed confidently identifying as Multiracial growing up but also faced challenges from others, “Have to be honest, I’ve never really struggled with accepting being biracial, but I’ve just had a hard time with other people just trying to accept me.” Both students expressed how identity expression can be difficult because others are not knowledgeable about their identity. 

Students described a precarious peer culture that led them to question their identity or highlight aspects of themselves to enter peer groups. Sandra noted, “People just sort of ask me ‘What are you?’ I just get confused because I’m like, ‘Are you meaning the city I last lived in?’ I feel like with that question I don’t really understand their meaning.”  Marian said, “I don’t really feel comfortable showing up there [monoracial organization] and kind of feel like I’m taking up space as someone who is very white passing… People have said ‘You’re too white for this, like you’re not actually Mexican.’” Sarah added, “On campus people just always assume that I’m Hispanic and people will say, ‘Wow you look like a Hispanic, like your facial structure’ and I have to reiterate I’m Multiracial.” Alongside interactions with peers, students expressed discomfort trying to enter public spaces and organizations on college campuses. Multiracial students need interactions and spaces that allow them to be authentic, self-explore, and develop their identity.

Perceived Societal Identification of Multiracial Identity 

Multiracial individuals have to navigate their various identities in different spaces.  Sometimes this means representing one identity over another in a certain context or recognizing how phenotypical representation of their race plays a role in the perception of identity. Other times, others racially categorize them with or without their knowledge. Many of our participants discussed how their first understandings of how people perceived them racially came from family. 

Natalie shared how being half Tongan and half white would show up differently based on which side of the family she was with. Natalie shared, “When I am with my Tongan side, I just forget about that other side and I am just Tongan. But when I am with my White family, I stand out more because I don’t look anything like my cousins.” For Natalie, her family reinforced the similarities in racial identities but sometimes neglected her Multiracial identities. 

Similarly, Sarah said,

“My dad is Black and my mom is White and our background is French and Hispanic… 

Growing up with two different sides has always been a part of my life, and you can’t 

choose a side, people want you to choose…  It’s hard for other people to accept.”

Sarah shared that even her family created pressures to choose a monoracial identity over her biracial identity. Participants started to recognize early in life the perception others had of their Multiracial identities and participants’ desire or need to placate to others by privileging one portion of their racial identity in certain settings. 

Others’ need for students to prioritize one part of their identity over others became more pronounced in college. Participants discussed how during college they had to navigate others’ perceptions and their own emotions related to managing multiple racial identities. Marian spoke about a campus club stating, “I’ve always felt like I don’t really fit into one place. As someone who is White passing, I’ve never felt comfortable joining [racial identity based] clubs.” Sarah tried to join the Hispanic Business Student Association (HBSA) and shared,

When I went [to the HBSA], I didn’t like the vibe I was getting because of how I looked… I also tried to join another organization for Latina women and when I went with my friend (who looked more Latina than I did), the president [of the organization] was only talking with her.

Participants often mentioned the struggle to fit in based on their perceived identities. Additionally, some participants also discussed difficulty fitting in based on their Multiracial identities. They were told they looked too much like one racial identity and not enough of another. 

Ideological Views of Racial Identity

Most of the participants in the study shared how their worldview evolved, both as it relates to society as well as their place in it. Students in our study were in the latter part of their undergraduate career. The culmination of their experiences as a Multiracial individual growing up and engaged on a higher education campus, particularly a Hispanic Serving Institution, shaped their perceptions of their racial identity in society. Their views, beliefs, or ideologies shaped how they engaged with monoracial people and how they navigated their experiences within their Multiracial identity. For example, Sandra sought understanding and for monoracial peers and staff to be more open to Multiracial individuals.

I just wish that people can be more knowledgeable and like want to learn more about it [my multiracial identity] cause you know mostly or people that I know that are monoracial don’t want to learn, don’t want to know. And so, I feel it’s their job as well to educate themselves however for us biracial or Multiracial and to provide them less- not lessons, but just teach them as well “Hey, that’s not okay.”

In addition to Sandra wanting monoracial people to be open to learning about Multiracial experiences, she wanted Multiracial people to speak up for themselves more. Sandra’s thoughts were mirrored by almost all participants in terms of a need for Multiracial student self-advocacy. Participants shared how they assessed the world around them and the various spaces in which they navigated and advocated for themselves. 

Natalie said she has come to terms with how she perceives her identity and expresses herself. She reflected on her experiences, saying, “Growing up was a bit of a struggle. Once you’re old enough to realize, it is like trying to find this balance. And it took me a long time to realize it [my Multiracial identity] doesn’t need to be divided down the middle. It’s just both.” 

Multiracial people are often viewed as fractions of racial identities within one person, which is dehumanizing and operates within a deficit mindset. For students in our study, the majority had experiences where peers or family devalued their multiracial identities and instead wanted them to choose between their racial identities. Many participants shared situations where they felt not enough of one racial identity in order to be a member in that group. Instead of dividing themselves, many of our participants found solace in accepting their racial identities wholly. Natalie summed this acceptance up saying, “Being multiracial doesn’t mean a subtraction or some kind of fraction… it is wholeheartedly both”.

Discussion

Although the previous literature on Multiracial student identity development provides a foundation for understanding racial identity, this study expands the literature by looking at this development through an involvement lens.  Much is known about the benefits, generally, of involvement (Conefrey, 2021), and yet this study identified three ways our participants developed their Multiracial identity through campus involvement. The three themes (self-perception of Multiraciality, societal understanding of Multiracial identity, and ideological views of racial identity) all have parallels to previous literature. Our findings also have implications for practitioners and researchers as we consider how to best support the development of Multiracial students.

Involvement in organizational and collaborative spaces with peers provides Multiracial students the opportunity to find community and share similar experiences. These socio-cultural conversations foster personal identity development and provide affinity and language with which to navigate Multiraciality in the academy. These experiences are central to college students’ social identity development and even more critical as Multiracial students seek to identify who they are (Renn, 2008). Renn (2008) highlighted the importance of peer culture and its influence in various areas on- and off-campus. Students enter spaces (microsystems) that directly and indirectly shape them. For many of the participants, their physical appearance shaped the interactions they had with other students. Thus, it is imperative for Multiracial students to find a sense of belonging in physical spaces that allow them to connect with others who look like them and hold shared identities.

Multiracial students also discussed how peers impacted participants’ feelings associated with their Multiracial identity. Through peer culture students may be pressured to express aspects of a shared identity to feel accepted (Renn, 2020).  For many people of color and Multiracial individuals, racial socialization comes early in life through parental figures or caretakers (Gardner, 2014). Yet, college is a time of exploration and development, and many Multiracial students feel they must choose singular identities over their preference for blended identities (Gardner, 2014).  The peer interactions and pre-collegiate experiences inform the students’ context and define the nature of their Multiracial identity. The exposure of Multiracial students to multiple familial and peer contexts provides a forum for dialogue and exposure that is not commonly seen in monoracial experiences. 

When trying to better understand the perceptions from others based on Multiracial identities, it is important to recognize the impact peers have on a Multiracial individual understanding and embracing their identities (Renn, 2008). Racial identity is not only constructed within social relationships, but development is fostered through these constructed social environments. Multiracial students will thrive and gain better understanding of their racial identity if they are involved in environments that foster and accept all facets of their racial identities (Gardner, 2014). The burden of advocacy becomes a challenge when spaces are designed (intentionally or unintentionally) to create barriers or limit full involvement in various student experiences. Student affairs professionals have the ability to positively impact student leaders and to foster spaces on campus where Multiracial students can show up as their whole racial selves.

Implications for Practice

As student affairs professionals, we must educate monoracial individuals on the complexities of racial constructs with an intentional focus on Multiracial students. This means educating students and colleagues about the experiences of Multiracial students and challenging traditional notions of identity. This education and challenge can come in various ways, such as allowing students to identify with multiple races on forms or creating alternatives for individuals to self-identify as Multiracial. By enabling people to identify as Multiracial, we begin to shift the narrative away from the specific multiple singular racial identities that people hold and begin to discuss identity more comprehensively actively including Multiracial persons. 

Student affairs administrators must commit to being intentional about Multiracial student empowerment, particularly in building leadership capacity. The Multiracial student’s journey of understanding self and navigating monoracial spaces provides ample opportunity to cultivate skills and explore personal beliefs and values. We must also evaluate leadership systems and practices on our college campuses, including affinity-based student organizations, student centers, services, and events. 

Student affairs professionals can support Multiracial students by normalizing Multiracial identity in monoracially dominated spaces. Students can be influenced by the environment and culture of the people around them thus impacting their ability to live authentically with one’s racial identity. Practitioners can facilitate this culture by disrupting the normalized monoracial dynamics through conversations and institutional forms. Reflecting on race as a social construct provides an opportunity for both monoracial and Multiracial students to engage and develop an understanding of varying racial identities. 

Throughout their student involvement journeys, Multiracial students reflected on their racial identity and navigated multiple contexts that inform their perspectives on Multiraciality and their relationships with monoracial peers. Our study identified the ways that leadership and involvement opportunities shaped students’ racial understanding of themselves, how others perceived their race, and ultimately their ideological standpoints in terms of understanding race. Through experience and research-based practice, higher education leaders can transform the leadership capacity of Multiracial students with a focus on creating intentional spaces of belonging.

Implications for Future Research

Although this study provides some insight into the experiences and development of Multiracial students in the context of their involvement, more research is needed to truly understand Multriacial students’ identity development. Further research could explore how various types of involvement differentiate how students’ Multiracial identity develops. While this study takes a broader perspective of involvement, additional investigation is required to nuance student organizational involvement versus academic involvement, or whether involvement spaces must specifically address race to foster belonging. This could lead to a greater understanding of how involvement, and particularly certain types of involvement and leadership opportunities, help students develop their racial identities. 

In addition to different types of involvement, it is also important to obtain a larger more diverse sample size in terms of gender identity. A larger sample is needed to allow for the richness of students’ experiences to be explored and determine how these experiences are influenced by other aspects of students’ identity. This study does not address the role of intersecting identities, particularly as it relates to gender and Multiraciality. A larger more diverse sampling would be beneficial for a qualitative study or allow for a quantitative study. In a quantitative study, researchers could explore the relationships between types of involvement in college and Multiracial students’ identity development opportunities, as well as feelings of belonging across various intersecting identities. Additional qualitative studies could emerge from this quantitative assessment that investigate these results using an intersectional framework. As student diversity continues to increase on college campuses, understanding how these identities intersect and influence each other will be crucial in advancing student development and sense of belonging.

Further, while the population of Multiracial individuals grows in the United States, consideration for each growing generation should also be taken into account. The Multiracial population is expected to triple in size by the 2060 census. Thus, there will likely be an emerging population of Multiracial students who are raised by one or more Multiracial parents, which raises questions about the formative experiences of these students, when compared to students who may have monoracial parents. Future researchers need to be cognizant of how parental and guardian influences shape identity development for Multiracial individuals. This shift away from a monoracial lens as the Multiracial populations increase is an important consideration in identity development and should be researched as generational shifts happen. It would be incredible to determine what impacts the development of Multiracial college students and how a more visible populations affects monoracial peers’ perception on Multiracial identity.

Conclusion

While this article provides insight into the involvement experiences of Multiracial college students and their perspectives on racial identity, there is still much work to be done to create better environments (physical and metaphysical) for students to engage with each other around racial development.  

As higher education professionals continue to disrupt dominant narratives around involvement and racial identity, they must pay special attention to the unique experiences of Multiracial students. Whether navigating positional or organization roles, engaging in service activities, or taking part in other leadership development practices, how we support Multiracial students must be intentional and must attend to their unique needs. Our practices should begin with an openness to learn and receive, provide space for identity exploration and empowerment, and reimagine the philosophies and traditions of leadership and involvement. In supporting Multiracial students and their desired co-curricular involvement on campus, professionals must stay informed on current trends, issues, and barriers related to Multiracial student involvement and seek opportunities for advocacy and activism. These practices demand institutional financial and intellectual resources and ultimately allow for creating more equitable spaces for Multiracial students.

References

Astin, A. W. (1999). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Personnel, 40(1)518-529.

Bishundat, D., Phillip, D. V., & Gore, W. (2018). Cultivating critical hope: The too often forgotten dimension of critical leadership development. In J. Dugan (Ed.). Integrating critical perspectives into leadership development. (New Directions for Student Leadership, 159, 91-102). 

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Harvard University Press.

Conefrey, T. (2021). Supporting first-generation students’ adjustment to college with high-impact practices. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 23(1), 139–160. 

Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (4th ed.). SAGE Publication, Inc.

Dugan, J. P. (2017). Leadership theory: Cultivating critical perspectives. Wiley & Sons.

Dugan, J. P., Bohle, C. W., Woelker, L. R., & Cooney, M. A. (2014). The role of social perspective-taking in developing students’ leadership capacities. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 51(1), 1–15. 

Dugan, J. P., Kodama, C., Correia, B., & Associates. (2013). Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership insight report: Leadership program delivery. National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs.

Dugan, J. P., & Komives, S. R. (2011). Leadership theories. In S. R. Komives, J. P. Dugan, J. E. Owen, C. Slack, & W. Wagner (Eds.), The handbook for student leadership development (2nd ed., pp. 35–57). Jossey-Bass.

Giebel, S. (2023). “As diverse as possible”: How universities compromise Multiracial identities. Sociology of Education, 96(1), 1-79. 

Harris, J. C., & BrckaLorenz, A. (2017). Black, white, and biracial students’ engagement at differing institutional types. Journal of College Student Development, 58(5), 783-789.

Harris, J. C., BrckaLorenz, A., & Laird, T. F. N. (2018). Engaging in the margins: Exploring differences in biracial students’ engagement by racial heritage. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 55(2), 137-154. 

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About the Authors

Dr. Shannon Dean-Scott (she/her) is an associate professor in Student Affairs in Higher Education (SAHE) at Texas State University.  Dr. Dean-Scott teaches courses in student development theory, assessment, research methods, and internship experiences in higher education.  Dr. Dean-Scott’s current research focuses on multicultural consciousness of undergraduate students, assessment practices, and teaching pedagogies.  

Alicia Stites (she/her) serves as a Senior Program Coordinator for the Foundation Scholars Program at The University of Texas at Austin. Alicia Stites manages a cohort of mentors supporting first-year students in a yearlong mentorship program focused on student success, academic excellence, and holistic student development. Current research interests include Multiracial identity development and first-year student success.

Mohammad Khan (he/him) is an assistant director for global programs and experiential learning at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University. In this role, Mohammad oversees the operations and marketing of global business courses and domestic experiential learning opportunities for MBA students. Previously, Mohammad held roles in leadership and civic engagement functional areas at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and Texas State University, which prompted his research interests in identity, leadership development, and student engagement.

A Review and Application of “Winning the First Quarter” | Bardusk

written by: Kelly Bardusk

Overview

After five years, Jim Clements transitioned from President at West Virginia to President at Clemson University. After settling into Clemson, he wrote this chapter for the book Leading Colleges and Universities: Lessons from Higher Education Leaders (Trachtenberg, et al., 2018). In this chapter, Clements shared some of his thoughts and tips regarding a successful transition into a new leadership role. Having recently read the chapter, I mapped my own experiences to the reflection provided by President Clements.

Personal Context

My origins stem from recreation by means of team sports and wanting to help people live happy and healthy lives. Coming from a family of primary school educators, I first wanted to be a high school physical education (P.E.) teacher. However, college spring break service trips with Habitat for Humanity inspired me to be more engaged among the community. I completed undergrad with a degree in Sports Management and minors in P.E., Coaching and Wellness. A variety of influences and some thorough self-discovery inspired my motto “with people and for people,” which led me to pursue a Master’s Degree in Recreation Administration complimented by a graduate assistantship in Campus Recreation. Within two weeks in this new environment and culture, I knew I had found my career path.

I am now an 11-year professional in Campus Recreation at Clemson University seeking my Ph.D. in Educational Leadership. I am on a journey of learning and gaining greater perspective towards a destination of continued positive impact with and for people. If you are wondering what that means, me too! Perhaps teaching, perhaps higher ed leadership, perhaps a little of both. I am just trying to prepare myself for the day I decide I need a change. Currently, I am navigating a transition from middle management to executive leadership, where I am refining the way I work with all levels of staff in my organization. I have always found great comfort in leading my teams as a peer, but it is time for me to embrace literal and figurative rising above of the crowd.

As this article focused on transition, I noted concepts for how a leader can serve their followers. I appreciated the relatedness to this article, beginning with a sports analogy and being filled with reflections and stories. President Clements has a way of making a big transition seem manageable, and right now, I am challenging my mindset that I can do bigger, more complex things in my organization. The article brought me a sense of reassurance.

My Experience with Reflection

I am a very reflective person. I do not process information quickly, but rather absorb and marinate. I like to consider multiple angles and take my time in making decisions. With this strategy, I am able to confidently articulate my reasoning, knowing that I have made the best decision with the information available. Admittedly, this approach has also led to much “paralysis by analysis” in my practitioner-based career.

I specifically recall my introduction to reflection via journaling in my junior year English class in high school. The first 15 minutes of every class we would write about anything we wanted, and it quickly became my place to safely process my life’s happenings. I have maintained journaling practices for over 15 years, chronicling relationship drama, big decisions, goals, dreams, and everything in between. I even made reference to my journals in my wedding vows. If this is not yet a tool you use, there are so many types of journals out there; I encourage you to find one that speaks to you and give it a try. Some initial things to consider are aesthetic appearance, lined versus unlined and prompted versus unprompted pages. I personally prefer lined but unprompted pages for my regular journal and love a prompted gratitude journal. Gratitude could be a whole other topic for another time.

Building a Reflective Notebook for Personal and Professional Development

At work, reflection helps me make sound decisions. I think before I speak, which generally keeps me from rash responses. I primarily practice work-based reflection in my head, but I have developed a digital notebook to track personal and professional development topics such as time management and leadership. When I read a good article like this one, I note the key points that stick out to me and consult them when situations arise where I need some inspiration, guidance, or a grounding reminder of my general philosophies. From this article, I noted two concepts that stuck with me. 

The first was a clear and basic explanation of what your followers expect from you: “They are looking for a leader to elevate the good work already being done and remove obstacles that get in the way of achieving the institutions long-term goals” (Clements, 2018, p.11). Too many times we can focus on teams or individuals and “fixing” them when the problems are the obstacles around the team, not the players themselves. I recently attended a strategic mapping exercise for a board that I sit on where our consultant used a similar analogy related to racing. In a nutshell, while looking for a competitive advantage, instead of leadership telling the pit crew to tweak the tiniest things under their race car’s engine, they needed to be filling potholes in the racetrack that was slowing the car down. The product was good enough, but the environment around it was filled with barriers that the leader needed to remove to keep their team efficient and effective. Every leader should remember to fill the potholes for their followers. Of course, this requires leaders to ensure they are aware of these obstacles in the first place.

The second concept that stuck with me was how President Clements classified and described types of former leaders: bubblegum, ghost, or a consultant who knows how to step away (Clements, 2018). The bubblegum leader hovers and will not leave, the ghost is nowhere to be found, and the consultant is the ideal leader who can be reliably called upon for information and guidance but provides space for the new leader to create their own culture moving forward. I explore all of these ideas in the following section taking the ideas from the page to practice.

Putting this Chapter Refection into Practice

Fill the Potholes

As a higher ed professional, we are seeing a shift in focus to holistic wellbeing across the nation. As a recreation professional, this is language and practice that leaders have been using for the past decade. As reports of stress, anxiety, and depression increase to levels beyond anything ever reported, the entire campus community is looking for solutions. At Clemson, extensive dialogue has created a Chief Wellbeing Officer (CWO) position that reports directly to President Clements. She is in her first quarter, and I sent this chapter to her. There is a direct correlation to her position and to the quote of enhancing existing work and removing barriers. With that, there is heightened hope (at least for me) that our CWO will tackle this massive undertaking for our enterprise to accentuate what we do well at Clemson and rally resources. In my leadership role, I need to make sure my team is ready and able to contribute to these coordinated efforts when we are called upon. I am working on our internal potholes.

Do Not be Bubblegum; Do Not be a Ghost.

I lead our Staff Experience efforts for 20 professionals, 6 grad assistants (GAs) and roughly 350 student employees in our department. This is one of my greatest opportunities to directly work with and for people. An already an important job, it has been heightened since the pandemic created the Great Resignation and the nation has seen severe shortages in the hourly-paid work force. Recruitment and retention are key to performing in an organization, and much of my work thus far has revolved around Organizational Support Theory where mutual benefits result when employers create a culture of care for their employees (Kurtessis et al., 2017).

There are committees comprised of our professional and graduate assistant staff who are focused on the student employee experience. Over the past couple of years, we lost staff at all levels and have been re-building. On our team, 60% of the pro staff has two or fewer years of experience in our department, and many came from fields outside of Campus Recreation. I have been a part of our committees for as long as I have been at Clemson, and I did not want our area to lose historical knowledge and perspective, so I remained involved up to this point. We have now stabilized our workforce and recreated our foundation, so it is time for me to consult and step back before I become bubblegum. Ghosting is not my thing. 

Reflection Questions for Your Career

While I have outlined how I have used the guidance in this chapter to inform my own work, I encourage you to do the same. Consider these questions in your own practice and leadership development.  

    • How can you use reflection to your benefit?
    • How do you check yourself for leadership vs management tendencies?
    • How do you navigate each of the types of former leaders described in this article?
    • What potholes do you have in your work? Have you told your supervisor, and even better, have you offered solutions for how to fill them?
    • As you progress in your career, how do/will you maintain doing the things you love?

Reflection Questions as a Leader

    • When do you know when a staff member is ready to lead? 
    • How do you actively enhance the work of those around you?
    • How do you create an environment where team members are comfortable raising concerns and identifying potholes affecting their work?
    • Have you built a brand as a leader who can fill potholes, or do issues die on your desk?

References

Clements, J. P., (2018) Winning the first quarter. In S. J. Trachtenberg, G. B. Kauvar, and G. Gee (Eds.) Leading colleges and universities: Lessons from higher education leaders. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Kurtessis, J. N., Eisenberger, R., Ford, M. T., Buffardi, L. C., Stewart, K. A., & Adis, C. S., (2017). Perceived organizational support: A meta-analytic evaluation of organizational support theory. Journal of Management, 43(6), 1854–1884. https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206315575554 

Trachtenberg, S. J., Kauvar, G. B., Gee, G. (2018). Leading colleges and universities: Lessons from higher education leaders. Johns Hopkins University Press.

About the Author

Kelly Bardusk (she/her) is a Ph.D. student in Educational Leadership at Clemson University. With over 10 years of experience in Campus Recreation, her passion is positively impacting others and encouraging a lifestyle of holistic wellbeing.

I Am a Witness: The Story in Progress | Williams

written by: Travis D. Williams

I Am a Witness: The Story in Progress

During the summer months of 2023, my colleagues and I were requested to set aside time from our busy planning schedules for a week-long student services professional staff training. Initially, I felt annoyed that I had to take a break from my summer preparations, but looking back, I found the experience to be surprisingly rewarding. It was during this training that I stumbled upon the inspiration for this essay.

Usually, when I hear about professional development training, I envision an external expert coming in to provide guidance and resources. However, my former dean of students had a different plan in mind for us. She asked each of us to present on a theory directly related to our respective roles and daily responsibilities. As the former Director for Student Activities and Engagement, I was assigned Alexander Astin’s Theory of Student Involvement. Astin’s theory which suggests that students who actively participate in both academic and extracurricular activities are more likely to succeed in college compelled me to reflect on my own collegiate journey. 

As I delved into the theory, I could almost hear the voice of my late pastor and mentor, the Rev. Dr. Timothy Stewart, using a phrase he often employed when making impactful points in his sermons: ‘Can I get a witness?’ In my mind’s ear, I could hear the response of my late grandmother declaring, “I am a witness,” in agreement. In that profound moment, I realized that I had indeed been a witness to the impact of Alexander Astin’s theory of student involvement throughout my journey. So much so that I am now on the other side of the coin, ensuring that students are engaged and involved. Today, I am here to share a firsthand account of how my involvement in student and campus life reshaped my career path, leading me from pursuing theology/ministry to embracing a role in student affairs.

The Evolution of My Path

On a sunny winter morning, I left Nassau, The Bahamas, to pursue my theological studies in the cold temperatures of Nashville, Tennessee. As a 19-year-old, leaving behind my family and friends was a difficult and lonely experience. However, it also filled me with excitement as I embarked upon new opportunities.

As an international, first-generation student, I have faced numerous difficulties I had not initially anticipated. The challenges of adjusting to a new environment, academic rigor, and financial responsibilities weighed heavily on my shoulders. Fortunately, during this transformative phase, the helpful guidance and mentorship I received from the administrators and professors at my undergraduate Historically Black College, American Baptist College, deeply impacted my life. Figures such as Drs. Jewel Brazelton, LaShante Walker, Jamye Hardy-Willé and Professor Martin Espinosa played pivotal roles in helping me navigate this uncharted path. 

Their support extended beyond academic advice; they encouraged me to tap into school resources like study support and counseling, and most significantly, they urged me to immerse myself in campus life. Initially, my primary focus had been attending classes and returning to my dorm room. However, I underwent a remarkable transformation during those years. 

I embraced a leadership role as the president of the Baptist Student Union, served as both vice-president and president of the Student Government Association and actively engaged in campus activities. Although my studies in Western Civilization, Theology of Death and Dying, and Pastoral Care were fulfilling, I discovered a profound passion for giving back to my campus community and creating transformative experiences for my fellow classmates. 

This newfound dedication was so compelling that it led me to contemplate furthering my theological studies, with the goal of working directly with college students. I wanted to provide others with the same support and opportunities that I had received. In the weeks leading up to my undergraduate graduation, I had a thought-provoking conversation with Dr. Jamye Hardy-Willé, during which I shared my uncertainty about my future, torn between my passion for ministry and higher education. I distinctly recall her handing me a printed sheet of paper adorned with a train. She shared that each section of the train symbolized a different stage of my life and reminded me that I possessed the power to strategically plan and shape my life according to my desires. This conversation not only offered me relief but also provided me a newfound sense of direction. 

I transitioned from my undergraduate studies to graduate school at Vanderbilt University Divinity School with the initial intention of minimizing my involvement in the community. I shared with a dear friend at the time that my goal was to attend my classes, take in the knowledge, and then return home. However, that was not the case. I partially attribute this to my highly active cohort.   

Vanderbilt University (VU) provided transformative opportunities. One noteworthy experience was serving on the interim Chancellor’s Diversity Council, which opened my eyes to an entirely new world of higher education. I had the privilege of collaborating with seasoned professors and administrators for an entire academic year, devising strategies to further the causes of diversity, equity and inclusion on our campus. This experience illuminated the expansive scope of student affairs, extending beyond my daily interactions with administrators. In addition to my campus involvement, I explored my dual passions by working as the coordinator for Religious Life and a teaching assistant at my alma mater, later assuming the role of ministry administrator at a local Presbyterian Church. 

Having engaged in experiential learning on both paths, I made a significant commitment to a career in higher education. This decision is not a renunciation of my love and passion for church ministry or preaching; rather, an appreciation for what halls of Higher Education have offered to me during my development. A few months before my graduation from VU, I began formulating strategies to transition into the higher education realm without having a formal degree in the field. Trusted voices guided me to explore campus ministry, emphasizing that it would allow me to leverage my theological background while gaining valuable experiences and making meaningful connections in higher education. 

Amid the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, I relocated to Norman, Oklahoma, taking on an opportunity to join the leadership team of the United Methodist campus ministry at the University of Oklahoma. During this period, my role in higher education became unequivocally clear: to cultivate environments where students can comfortably imagine (and sometimes re-imagine) their lives within a system that enriches our lives but often demands performance.  

Theology’s Gift: A Skill for Student Affairs

This shift in focus from pastoral Ministry to student affairs has highlighted the profound impact of my theological education on my approach to leadership and personal development. I have discovered that these skills and newfound insights did more; they not only prepared me for a career but also enriched my life. Sitting in the classrooms of Dr. Febbie Dickerson, Professor Martin Espinosa, and Dr. Bruce Rogers-Vaugh prompted me to engage in deep reflection and contemplation of life’s lessons, guiding me on how to live and lead in alignment with a belief system that breathes life into me every day. My theological education and experience have afforded me the opportunity to develop skills in critical thinking, empathy, compassion and awareness.    

When I entered my studies in theology, I initially anticipated an in-depth exploration of Early Church History, Old Testament and New Testament studies, and Christian Doctrine – expectations commonly associated with my degree program, Bible and Theology. However, my programs called me inward, prompting me to reflect on my personal experiences and how I engaged with the Biblical text and the world around me. This introspection revealed a deep realization that I had adhered to ideas and beliefs without questioning or critically thinking about their impact on my life or others. As a result, I began to deconstruct this dangerous belief system. Despite the difficulties and challenges, I have been able to reimagine life and embrace a more flexible framework that fosters growth and evolution as I continue to learn and develop.

Embracing this transformative framework has impacted many areas of my life, especially my leadership abilities and my approach to ministry. This framework has led me to show up with an open mind and heart, ready to offer support while also being receptive to receiving it in any given moment. I no longer presume that I alone have all the answers or solutions to the questions that arise in any space we enter. Instead, I approach situations with a healthy skepticism, prepared to engage critically with the ideas presented, which is antithetical to the traditional core ministry.

Through this approach, I have developed a greater capacity for listening and a deeper appreciation for the lived experiences of others, understanding that these experiences shape one’s perspective and worldview. By taking the time to truly understand a person and everything they bring to the table, I can assist them (if they allow) in strategizing a plan for their journey.

This experience has profoundly shaped my interactions with my students. Although I was not initially prepared for the work of higher education and student affairs within a classroom setting, the lessons from my ministerial work have provided me with a deeper understanding of the personal journey of transformation and self-discovery. 

I extend as much compassion to myself on this journey as I do to my students as they navigate their own paths. I vividly recall an instance when a student confided in me about their mother’s cancer diagnosis and another who had difficulties in sharing their sexual identity with their parents. During those emotional moment, I sat with them, empathizing with their feelings, and provided a few suggestions to assist them through the challenging period. Similarly, an international student opened up to me about their difficulties in meeting their tuition balances and having to be innovative to make ends meet. It is in these very moments that I felt honored to witness their vulnerabilities and deeply grateful to be here to support their growth and development. I have found deep appreciation in learning and listening to my students’ life stories because they often serve as a reminder of how each of their stories and my story connect us.

Bearing Witness

During this life and career journey, I have borne witness to numerous beautiful revelations. I firmly believe that each of us is endowed with the innate capacity not only to survive but to thrive in any endeavor we pursue. My transition from Pastoral Ministry to my current role in Student Success has been shaped and continues to be guided by my deep trust in my abilities and the conviction that they will lead me to truth, light, love, and fulfillment.   

I have discovered and continue to cultivate is my capability to think strategically. This skill equips me with the tools to sketch out various possibilities for my life’s path. There was a time where I thought I was purposed for one pathway, but my experience has revealed that there are more if I open myself to seeing what I did not previously seek and paying attention to things I used to overlook. Through strategic thinking, I have navigated my career and engaged in continuous learning, self-reflection, and personal growth. This gift has empowered me to maximize opportunities and chart my path forward with confidence. 

Reflection and Forward Thinking

As I’m trusting in my capacity and forging ahead on my own journey, I leave with you some reflective prompts. I encourage you to take the time to consider these questions as you think about your own journey, where you are today, and the various possibilities for your future. 

    • How has your trust in your abilities influenced the direction of your life and career?
    • What revelations have emerged from reflecting on the interconnected events in your life, and how have they shaped your path forward?
    • What role does community that does not necessarily share your truths and values play in your personal growth and resilience? 

Similar to Alexander Astin’s Theory of Student Involvement, which emphasizes the importance of active engagement in shaping our experience and outcomes, in his book Holy Play: The Joyful Adventure of Unleashing Your Divine Purpose Kirk Byron Jones suggests that “… purpose is not something we passively receive from God; purpose is something we actively create with God.” May you take proactive steps to shape the life you desire, so that you too can declare, ‘I am a witness.’ 

About the Author

Travis D. Williams (he, his, him) is an imaginator, agitator and a servant of love who believes in the transformative power of self-confidence and community.

Finding Belonging in a Discord Chat Room | Waggoner

written by: Emilie Waggoner

“You don’t have to be an enthusiast to enjoy Hatsune Miku!”

“Bro, I found the sauce you were looking for.”

“Thanks for the rec, I’m gonna go binge read it now!”

Each day, I find myself watching students exchange positive comments, recommendations, and helpful resources with each other. They are constantly talking to each other in a flurry of excited comments and GIFs., sometimes as early as 5:00am when I’m just waking up to get ready to work, all the way until I mute my notifications on the chat at 11:00pm. Students share pictures of themselves in personalized cosplay outfits, their new music covers of anime songs, and they drop their opinions on the latest anime show episode.  

I should have mentioned – all of this is happening online. 

In this article, I examine this engagement via the specific case of the University of Colorado Denver’s anime club and how students developed an online community. From there, I delve into a conversation on how other universities are utilizing new methods of online, in-person, and hybrid spaces to create student engagement and foster student belonging within their campus community. I summarize steps other institutions can take to create similar spaces for their students and how this can build upon current or new efforts to create student engagement in new, exciting ways beyond in-person spaces. 

The Anime Club Makes a Comeback

Back in the fall of 2022, I was approached by a peer mentor asking if we could bring back the University of Colorado Denver’s anime club. I was teaching a class on analyzing Japanese anime and researching ways college students made meaning from engaging with anime fandoms, both online, at conventions, and in their own spaces. I agreed, and with the help of a past anime club president, students started a small seven-person club. 

As of February 2024, there are over 85 members in the CU Denver Anime Club official Discord. Discord is an online chat app that allows groups to build a landing chat page and add different chat rooms off the main chat space. In these rooms, people can tag each other, share music, artwork, and videos, poll each other, and collaborate on shared works. Our club has even set up online gaming nights within a page on the Discord chat. 

While the club has meetings each week on Tuesdays, where students share anime recommendation, watch anime shows, and you can hear the loud sounds of students arguing about their latest anime “hot take”, the Discord group is the most active part of the club. Students have shared before that when they cannot make it to the club meetings due to class, work, or because they just do not feel up to engaging with other people in-person, the Discord has been a space for them to connect and feel like a part of the club. 

Anime in America

As someone who teaches and researches anime, it is not surprising to me that this club has quickly gained popularity on campus. The average age of American anime fans is 24.9 years old (Reysen et al., 2021), anime in America has surpassed domestic box office sales in movie theaters (Hoffman, 2021), and online fandom spaces have been found to be active places where fans engage in critical conversations around race and representation with one another (Fennell et al., 2012). There is even recent scholarship looking at how messaging within anime around accomplishing goals and overcoming challenges has been shown to be motivational and resiliency-building in college student anime fans (Migliorino-Reyes, 2020). To say anime is “just a cartoon” does not honor the real economic, social, and personal impact it has on fans today. 

In fact, anime fandom continues to grow in America. In 2023, Anime Expo in Los Angeles, California became the largest anime expo in the world, with over 392,000 visitors showing up to the expo over the course of four days and generating over $100 million for the local hotels and businesses (Anime Expo, 2023). I have been presenting at Anime Expo for over three years now, covering topics from Marx, Foucault and the popular 2006 anime series Ouran High School Host Club, fanfiction, and its ability to allow for safe exploration of gender and sexual orientation identity formation for college fans, and more. Each time, I ask the audience how many of them are either current college students or will be starting college in the fall, and every time more than half the room raises their hands. It also never ceases to amaze me how many people show up for academic panels on anime; over 150 attended my panel on Marx and Foucault and they were thoroughly ready to unpack capitalism references in a fan-favorite anime show. I even found a Tik Tok comment later that mentioned my panel, encouraging other commenters to go to more academic-focused panels at the expo that weekend.

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic that halted many students’ in-person social lives, living in online spaces in 2024 is something that seems to have continued from the days of Zoom hangouts and Netflix watch party spaces. However, universities and colleges still seem to be grappling with how to create the ideal hybrid environment for classes, student meetings, and campus engagement and belonging. While campuses offer webinars to students for various academic support and career readiness assistance, there is still untapped potential for how institutions engage their students in belonging on-campus, even when they are not necessarily on-campus to begin with.  

Now, this is not to say institutions are not jumping on the popular culture train to engage more with their students in online and in-person spaces. E-Sports have been around for many years on multiple college campuses, and their popularity continues to grow. Just recently, the University of Colorado Boulder announced a new gaming space on campus, filled with Alienware computers, a broadcast studio, and a packed calendar of events for students, both serious gamers and those who just want to play a cozy game surrounded by new friends. In addition, the University of Colorado Boulder is creating events focused on serious discussions on race and representation in gaming, allowing for critical media literacy and forming conversations around equity in online spaces on campus. Spaces like this allow for the integration of the online fandom spaces and campus spaces, which creates belonging on a massive scale for universities and colleges. Again, this work is not new; scholars such as Johns Hopkins University School of Education video game researcher Javon Goard discussed representation in game development, and the International Journal of Computer Game Research continues to publish articles on representation through a variety of lenses. 

Higher Education and Popular Culture: Creating Belonging 

As we navigate the return to campus all these years later, it is still difficult to get students to engage in in-person programs. My institution has had success in some of our larger events, but in our smaller club meetings for workshop events, it is rare to get more than ten students into the space. I believe the pandemic shifted how students choose to interact in-person, and I also believe there is a lingering fear around interacting with strangers in new spaces. Our students spent many of their high school experience being told to isolate or socially distance themselves from others, so we cannot expect them to jump back into pre-COVID days of large crowds of strangers. Coupled with the rise of social media apps such as Tik Tok during COVID-19, students continue to operate in these online spaces with others, and building upon that connection can be a powerful tool for universities. 

In addition, many institutions are facing budget crunches and do not have funding to create an entire video game lounge for their students. However, there are a few ways institutions can begin incorporating online student spaces into their on-campus spaces. One way is by simply creating Discord channels for groups that are naturally formed in online spaces to begin with. If someone is not familiar with creating these types of channels, or needs an overview of how to use Discord, there are a variety of YouTube walkthrough videos available. In addition, Discord provides a full guide on their support website for new users. 

Across fandom history, anime and video game communities typically form in online spaces and historically practice much of their engagement on platforms such as Twitch and Discord. As mentioned, the University of Colorado Denver’s anime club features most of its interactions on Discord and it continues to be the easiest way to bring in new members into both the online community and the in-person club meetings. For example, meetings this spring have doubled compared to the fall meetings as the Discord channel continues to grow. 

Another way would be exploring utilizing platforms such as Twitch, a popular livestreaming broadcast service that was created in 2011, to host video game meetups, fundraisers, or even small competitions for student groups. There are many gamers out there who host Twitch playthroughs, create fundraising campaigns through various speedruns of games (where the main player works to skillfully beat a game in a set amount of time, usually much faster than casual playthroughs), or even host other Twitch players to discuss other pop culture references, such as their favorite anime shows. 

There are also companies that will bring out giant screens and multiple gaming stations for universities and colleges to host large in-person gaming meetups and movie marathons. This is very similar to fandom spaces at expos and conventions, where gaming lounges and anime movie lounges typically hold all-day or all-night drop-in opportunities for folks to watch their favorite shows or play games with new and old friends. These spaces also tend to be low stakes when it comes to student involvement, as students can self-select how involved they want to be with the other folks in those spaces. This type of event could be a great welcome week event for campuses with large residential student spaces, or they could be a great way to have students take a break from studying to connect with others during finals week. 

Next Steps: Working with Students 

Since the main audience for these activities is students, it is important to know what pop culture fan spaces are already popular with your student body. One way to do this is to look at events that have had a pop culture or popular media theme, such as video games, movie nights, or trivia events. For example, at the University of Colorado Denver, our largest event in the fall was a friendship bracelet-making event in the style of the Taylor Swift bracelets that were being made at concerts. Not only was it a relevant pop culture event that was taking place across the world, but it also emphasized connection and belonging. We partnered with our International Student Services Office and spent hours with new students making bracelets and sharing them. I even gave the students in my anime class extra credit if they went to the event and made me a bracelet, which I then proceeded to wear in each class afterward. 

Getting Started 

One way to get started is to ask yourself and others some questions. For example, consider the following: 

    1. What are pop culture topics or trends students at my institution are already talking about or engaging with? 
    2. What courses, student clubs, organizations, or events does my institution host with a pop culture lens? 
    3. In what ways can I incorporate online spaces into clubs, organizations, or events for my students? 
    4. Are there other staff or faculty with interests in this area that I can partner with? 

Another way to begin is to simply ask your student staff or student leaders what pop culture events they would be interested in hosting. The University of Colorado Boulder’s video game lounge was not built without student input, and your students are the best source of information when it comes to what is “in” within pop culture fandom spaces. The more buy-in you get from your students, the more willing they are to begin accessing their social networks to bring more students into those spaces and those events. 

Simply put, think about what your institution already does and how it has attracted students, and build on the momentum of current pop culture trends to create new and interesting programs. Again, many of these pop culture spaces start online, so think through your own internet literacy and ways in which clubs, organizations, and events can integrate online spaces within in-person spaces at your campus. 

Finally, embrace your excitement around pop culture. Anime continues to be my own favorite pop culture and fandom space, and I continue to take in feedback from my students to build up my class, engage new people in the anime club as its advisor, and explore new areas of research for my own personal and professional interests. Pop culture integration within institutional programs, spaces, and organizations can be a powerful way to continue providing access for your students, both in-person and online. 

Hopefully, this gives you some ideas into how you can maximize pop culture and fandom to foster belonging for students at your institutions too. Till then, see you space cowboy! 

References

Anime Expo. (2023, August 8). Anime expo 2023 celebrates 32nd anniversary with attendees from over 60 countries, over 400 exhibitors and 1,000 hours of programming. Anime Expo. https://www.anime-expo.org/2023/08/08/anime-expo-2023-celebrates-32nd-anniversary-with-attendees-from-over-60-countries-over-400-exhibitors-and-1000-hours-of-programming/#:~:text=Hosted%20by%20The%20Society%20for,Expo%202024%20will%20return%20to 

Fennell, D., Liberato, A. S. Q., Hayden, B., & Fujino, Y. (2013). Consuming Anime. Television & New Media, 14(5), 440-456. https://doi.org/10.1177/1527476412436986

Hoffman, J. (2021, May 2). Demon slayer: Mugen train makes box office history. Vanity Fair.  https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2021/05/demon-slayer-mugen-train-makes-box-office-history 

Migliorino-Reyes, J. (2020). The Value of Anime in Building Resilience in College Students During Transition (Doctoral dissertation, Capella University). https://www.proquest.com/docview/2466059700/abstract/CFC6AA0A7B41456CPQ/1 

Reysen, S., Plante, C., Chadborn, D., Roberts, S. & Gerbasi, K. (2021). Transported to another world: The psychology of anime fans. International Anime Research Project: Commerce Texas.

About the Author

Emilie Waggoner (she/her) is the Director of Student Transitions at the University of Colorado Denver, which encompasses First-Year Experiences, the Peer Advocate Leader program, and the Lynx Summer Academy program. In addition, Emilie teaches a class analyzing Japanese anime, and serves as the advisor of the University of Colorado Denver Anime Club. She also presents at multiple state and international conventions on anime in academic research. She is pursuing her doctorate in education at the University of Colorado Denver, where she hopes to research popular media as an educational tool in first-year core classes. 

A Message from the Editorial Team | Boettcher, Babb, Montelongo, Dueñas

written by: Michelle Boettcher, Samantha Babb, Ric Montelongo, Mary Dueñas

Dear ACPA,

As we reach the end of another academic year, we hope each of you has had a number of successes to celebrate. As you reflect on your achievements and challenges, your new initiatives and your ongoing projects, we hope you will consider writing about those reflections and submitting to Developments. We have a highly-engaged group of readers who look for new ways of thinking and doing and articles to share in onboarding, training, staff development, and classrooms. Your work, questions, and areas of curiosity can help fuel the work and learning we do across higher education.

As for this issue, we are excited to share a number of articles with you from creative, reflective, and insightful partners in the work. Not all issues of Developments lend themselves to themes, but this one does. A thread through all of the pieces in this issue is the idea of finding the way. Each of our authors talks about this idea whether it is finding the way

    • into the field of student affairs (Williams)
    • to a sense of belonging (Waggoner)
    • into the role of College President (Bardusk)
    • involvement cultivates multiracial identity (Dean-Scott, et al.)
    • to highlight globalization in higher education (Dadzie & Kharitonova)
    • to incorporate mental health training in faculty development (Vega, et al.)
    • to engaging ethical mindfulness in our work (O’Brien)

Additionally, Executive Director Chris Moody’s submission this time around is the annual business report for ACPA. It is literally how we found our way as an organization through the past year. 

Enjoy this collection of work. Consider submitting your own personal essay, professional reflection, new initiatives, and questions for us to wrestle with. Thanks to everyone for making Developments such a great resource for ACPA. 

Have a wonderful summer. We’ll see you again in the fall.

Michelle Boettcher, Developments Editor ([email protected])

Samantha Babb, Developments Associate Editor ([email protected])

Ric Montelongo, Developments Associate Editor/Reviewer ([email protected])

Mary Dueñas, Developments Reviewer ([email protected])

A Message from the Executive Director | Moody

written by: Chris Moody

Dear ACPA member,

Happy 100th Anniversary and congratulations on making it through (or nearly through for some) another academic year! This year, particularly the spring term has been challenging on many campuses and for many of our members. I hope and trust you have taken the important time of attending to your health, safety, and wellness, and the well-being of those within your circle of professional care and responsibility. 

For this issue of Developments, the ACPA Standard Operating Procedures requires a record of the business transacted by the Association to be shared with you in at least one issue of this publication annually. Highlights of the past year were shared at the ACPA24 Convention Annual Business Meeting, yet we know that some of our members may not have been able to be present with us for those updates. A year in our work can be defined in many ways: Calendar years, academic years, and fiscal years, just to name a few. Because ACPA members typically think about their professional involvement and connection from convention to convention each year, I offer this reflection on ACPA’s most recent year as a summary of the business actions and decisions taken by ACPA governance and International Office for the period between the 2023 Annual Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana through the ACPA24 Annual Convention in Chicago, Illinois, held this past 18-21 March 2024. 

March 2023

    • The 2023 Annual Convention was held March 26-29 in New Orleans, Louisiana, and welcomed 2,052 attendees. 
    • At the 2023 Annual Business Meeting, the members in attendance accepted two Bylaws proposals: The first pre-approved new Bylaws to take effect on March 20, 2024, and the second pre-approved another set of Bylaws revisions to take effect on February 18, 2025. The focus of both proposals was the phased introduction of a new governance model, previously known as the Governing Board and now to be known as the Leadership Council. 
    • Also, during the 2023 Annual Business Meeting, members in attendance approved a third Bylaws change renaming the Emeritum membership type and clarifying eligibility criteria for that type.

April 2023

    • In early 2023, the American Council on Education (ACE) offered ACPA the opportunity to relocate offices within One Dupont Circle in Washington, DC due to the increasing remote nature of International Office staff work. During the April 2023 meeting, the ACPA Governing Board authorized the Executive Director to sign the lease transfer to relocate the ACPA office suite within One Dupont Circle through June 2030. From April through June 2023, the ACPA International Office organized to execute the internal building relocation. 
    • Continuing the work of preparing for the new Leadership Council governance structure approved by members to begin on March 20, 2024, the Governing Board approved new position descriptions for all Leadership Council positions during the April 2023 meeting. This timing was important to have position descriptions prepared in advance of the start of the Leadership Council Nominations & Elections Process. 
    • Director of Equity & Inclusion, Jasmine Lee, provided the annual summary of bias incident reports received to the Governing Board. No submissions were received between the ACPA22 and ACPA23 Conventions.

May 2023

    • Considering the increase in failures of regional banking centers, the ACPA Governing Board approved the opening of a second operating bank account with Bank of America and the transfer of funds from PNC Bank to create a more balanced portfolio of financial accounts. 
    • Aligning with the International Office relocation within One Dupont Circle, the ACPA Governing Board approved the selling, donating, and/or discarding of material assets located in the former suite. 
    • With the support of the Governing Board, the ACPA President appointed the Association’s chairperson (Kathy Guthrie) and members (Lena Crain, Steven Herndon, Alex Lange, Patty Perillo, and Kevin Wright) of the 2025 ACPA/NASPA Professional Competencies Review Task Force. 
    • Director of Research & Scholarship, Flo Guido, proposed a policy addition to the ACPA Standard Operating Procedures related to how to update previously published Association documents when new information or contexts are requested or introduced. The Governing Board approved this update to the Standard Operating Procedures. 
    • The Governing Board approved the proposal from the Commission for Professional Preparation to change their name to the Commission for Faculty & Graduate Programs. 

June 2023

    • The Governing Board reviewed and approved revisions to the 2024 Annual Convention schedule.
    • Following the May 2023 approval of a second operating bank account, the Governing Board reviewed and voted to accept an addition to the ACPA Standard Operating Procedures related to approval protocol for conducting financial transfers between the Association’s operating bank accounts.
    • In addition to the monthly Zoom meeting of governance leaders, the ACPA Governing Board convened in-person in Chicago, Illinois from June 25-27, 2023. During this meeting, the board approved revisions to the Nominations & Elections section of the Standard Operating Procedures in advance of the launch of the 2023 Leadership Council Nominations & Elections Process. The Governing Board also discussed plans and intentions for honoring and celebrating the 100th Anniversary year in 2024 and ways the board might leverage their authorities in marking this important milestone. The discussions around the 100th Anniversary continued during the August virtual meeting of the board, and results of these discussions and decisions were announced later in the year.

July 2023

    • The Governing Board did not meet in July 2023 in lieu of hosting an Association-wide virtual leadership summit on July 21 to share and discuss topics including the 100th anniversary in 2024, proposed changes to the governance model, and equity and inclusion training for leaders. Entity leaders, Convention team members, Senior Scholars, and ACPA Foundation Trustees were among those invited to participate in the virtual summit.
    • Sponsored by the ACPA Foundation, the first Faculty Institute on Racial Justice and Decolonization was held 11-14 July 2024 in Chicago, Illinois, welcoming 36 participating registrants and faculty.

August 2023

    • Following the closing of the financial transactions associated with the 2023 Annual Convention, the Governing Board approved a mid-year, restated budget for fiscal year 2023, reducing a projected deficit from $350,722 to an anticipated net profit of $2,447 due to the success of the ACPA23 Convention in New Orleans.
    • As the Audit & Finance Committee of the Governing Board began finalizing the FY2024 Association Budget proposal, the Governing Board endorsed a multi-year plan proposing a future strategy for International Office staff recruitment and retention that was used to inform the development of the budget. 
    • The Audit & Finance Committee also approved rates and registration policies for the 2025 Annual Convention in Long Beach, California in August 2023, and then approved modifications to the rate structure by adding a non-member International Attendee registration type in November 2023.

September 2023

    • Following nearly a year of extensive discussion and proposal development, the Governing Board accepted and adopted the recommended guidelines from the Future Conventions Task Force related to Future Convention Site Selection. These guidelines were used to begin sourcing future sites for the ACPA27 and ACPA28 Conventions and were subsequently revised again in December 2023 following the rescinding of the California Attorney General’s Travel Ban.
    • Director and Director-Elect of External Relations, Molly Springer and Ray Plaza, presented a proposed Association position statement on Electoral Participation, which was approved by the Governing Board and added to the list of ACPA Position Statements on the website. 
    • Assembly Coordinator for Coalitions & Networks, Monique Atherley, presented a draft Memorandum of Understanding between ACPA and the Coalition for Disability related to documenting expectations for coordination of accessibility-related items within the Association. The Governing Board approved this Memorandum of Understanding and authorized the Executive Director to sign the MOU on their behalf. 

October 2023

    • Director of Professional Development, Kelvin Rutledge, presented a second proposal from the Future Conventions Task Force recommending a set of guidelines for considering future convention site relocation. The recommended guidelines were approved by the Governing Board during the October 2023 meeting.
    • Director and Director-Elect of External Relations, Molly Springer and Ray Plaza, again proposed a new Association position statement on Affirming Access and Accessibility, which was approved by the Governing Board and added to the list of ACPA Position Statements on the website. 
    • 2023-2024 President Heather Shea appointed a new Task Force on Labor Commitments to continue the board’s work and imagining of related opportunities within the Association and appointed Jasmine Lee as Task Force Chair.
    • The Governing Board approved the 2022 fiscal year 990 and 990-T U.S. Federal Tax Forms, as well as the first financial audit of Association records since prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • As part of the 2023 Nominations & Elections Process the Governing Board made the following appointments to the 2024-2025 Leadership Council: Kellie Dixon as Assessment & Innovation Chair, Da’Shaun Scott as Member Recruitment Chair, and Bernie Liang as Member Retention Chair.

November 2023

    • During the November Governing Board meeting, leaders approved the fiscal year 2024 Association Budget, with significant resources dedicated to activities related to celebrating ACPA’s 100th anniversary in 2024. 
    • The Governing Board authorized the International Office to negotiate and sign contracts with Toronto for hosting the ACPA27 Annual Convention and with Atlanta for the ACPA28 Annual Convention. 

December 2023

    • As part of the 2023 Nominations & Elections Process the Governing Board appointed George McClellan as Decolonization Strategies Chair on the 2024-2025 Leadership Council.
    • The Governing Board approved the proposal from the Task Force for Fat Folx/Identities to become the Coalition for Fat Identities.

January 2024

    • The ACPA Governing Board, ACPA @ 100 Planning Committee, and International Office launched the 100th Anniversary celebration on January 3, 2024, by email by sharing exciting plans and resources for this milestone year. This announcement included the offering of 100 complimentary Individual memberships for graduate students, new professionals, and individuals working in U.S. states with discriminatory laws or restrictive practices/policies related to diversity, equity, and inclusion work on college campuses. 
    • In early 2024, the Governing Board announced three renamings in honor of prior leaders of the Association: the Anne Pruitt-Logan Presidential Citation Award, the Nancy J. Evans Voices of Inclusion Award, and the Paul Shang Institute for Aspiring SSAOs. 
    • Following new Bylaws approved by members in March 2023, a task force of leaders, led by 2021-2022 ACPA President Danielle Morgan Acosta, worked throughout 2023 to propose a rewrite of the ACPA Standard Operating Procedures to align with the new Leadership Council governance model. The final SOP proposal in support of implementation of the first phase of the new structure was presented by the task force and approved by the Governing Board during the January 2024 meeting. This approved version of the Standard Operating was approved to be effective as of March 20, 2024, when the new model was to be implemented. In February 2024, the Governing Board also approved the proposed version of the Standard Operating Procedures to be in effect for phase 2 of the new governance structure as of February 18, 2025.
    • The Governing Board approved the proposal from the Multiracial Network (MRN) to be the Multiracial and Transracial Adoptee Network (MTAN). 

February 2024

    • Director and Director-Elect of External Relations, Molly Springer and Ray Plaza, proposed an addition to the ACPA Standard Operating Procedures for when and how the Association would consider making public comments or statements. The proposal was approved during the February 2024 meeting to be effective as of March 20, 2024. 
    • The Governing Board approved the proposal from the Task Force for Online Experiences & Engagement to become the Commission for Online Experiences & Engagement. 
    • The ACPA Foundation proposed a set of Bylaws changes for consideration to the ACPA Governing Board as the formal voting member of the ACPA Foundation. The proposed changes to the ACPA Foundation Bylaws were approved. 
    • In February 2024, the Governing Board also received and endorsed a report from the ACPA @ 100 Committee imagining the future of higher education/student affairs and the Association. 
    • During the February 2024 meeting of the Audit & Finance Committee of the Governing Board, the Committee approved the recommendation from the International Office to refrain from conducting a full financial audit of fiscal year 2023 in calendar year 2024 to refocus cash resources on strategic and anniversary related requests during the 100th anniversary year.
    • Also in February 2024, the Governing Board appointed Robert Reason, Iowa State University, as the 2024-2029 Editor of the Journal of College Student Development. Dr. Reason’s appointment to this role follows a four-year editorship by Vasti Torres, Indiana University. 

While the past year has been both exciting and busy with so much time and attention focused on celebrating ACPA’s 100th Anniversary, I am even more enthusiastic about what is yet to come as we conclude this centennial year and begin our 101st cycle. If you have not already done so, I invite you to watch the recording of this year’s Presidential Address by 2024-2025 ACPA President Dr. Rachel Aho from this year’s Annual Business Meeting to learn more about her aspirations for the year ahead.

Question or feedback on any of these decisions or updates may be sent to [email protected]. A summary of the highlights from 2024 since the ACPA24 Convention will be shared at the 2025 Annual Business Meeting in Long Beach, California on 18 February 2025, and I hope you will join us there as we celebrate ACPA entering our second century of bold transformation in higher education.  

Chris Moody, Ed.D.
ACPA Executive Director

Volume 21, Issue 2 (Summer 2024)

A Message from the Executive Director | Moody

written by: Chris Moody Dear ACPA member, Happy 100th Anniversary and congratulations on making it through (or nearly through for ...

A Message from the Editorial Team | Boettcher, Babb, Montelongo, Dueñas

written by: Michelle Boettcher, Samantha Babb, Ric Montelongo, Mary Dueñas Dear ACPA, As we reach the end of another academic ...

Finding Belonging in a Discord Chat Room | Waggoner

written by: Emilie Waggoner “You don’t have to be an enthusiast to enjoy Hatsune Miku!” “Bro, I found the sauce ...

I Am a Witness: The Story in Progress | Williams

written by: Travis D. Williams I Am a Witness: The Story in Progress During the summer months of 2023, my ...

A Review and Application of “Winning the First Quarter” | Bardusk

written by: Kelly Bardusk Overview After five years, Jim Clements transitioned from President at West Virginia to President at Clemson ...

Exploring the Role of Involvement in Cultivating a Multiracial Identity Abstract | Dean-Scott, Stites, Khan

written by: Dr. Shannon Dean-Scott, Alicia Stites, Mohammad Khan Abstract More and more people in the U.S. are identifying as ...

Moving Towards a Globalized Educational Paradigm in Higher Education and Student Affairs Programs | Dadzie, Kharitonova

written by: Benjamin Michael Dadzie, Irina Kharitonova Introduction: The Imperative of Globalization in Higher Education Programs In an era characterized ...

The Importance of Mental Health Training in Faculty Development | Vega, Talamo, Coleman

written by: Blanca Elizabeth Vega, Antonio Talamo, Casey Coleman Mental health training is an overlooked, yet increasingly necessary aspect of ...

Ethical Mindfulness in Student Affairs Practice | O’Brien

written by: Jonathan J. O'Brien, Ed.D. There is never enough time or information to make difficult decisions, particularly when we ...

Volume 21, Issue 1 (Spring 2024)

A Message from the Executive Director | Moody

Every chance I have to say “Happy 100th Anniversary, ACPA!” is a glorious moment that I am humbled to be ...

Message from the Editor | Boettcher

Hello, ACPA! In just a few days, many of us will meet in Chicago to learn, (re)connect, and celebrate with ...

Fostering Critical Hope (Part 3 of 3) Moving Forward with Hope & Love | Shea

written by: Heather D. Shea, Ph.D., 2023–2024 ACPA President TW: mentions gun violence This is the final installment in the ...

The Myth-Making Literature of Student Affairs Attrition | Surrett

written by: Myles Surrett Abstract In this literature review, I examined student affairs attrition. I also reviewed the progression of ...

Elevate and Innovate: Professional Development and the Art of Design Thinking | Graham

written by: Melanie Graham The Southern Association for College Student Affairs (SACSA) held an inaugural Future of Student Affairs Summit ...

Accreditation Shifts: Higher Education & Student Affairs’ Maturing Student Success Movement | Gordon, Shefman & Heinrich

written by: Sarah R. Gordon, Pamelyn K. Shefman & Bill Heinrich In 2018, we found most accreditors required “student affairs” ...

For Us, By Us: A Student-Inclusive Approach to Redesigning Programs | Kenion

written by: Deja Kenion Introduction Programming is the body of Student Affairs work with the intentions to implement programs/events that ...

Rural Students Self-Definitions and Characterizations of Rurality | Ardoin & Koon

written by: Sonja Ardoin & Kendall Koon There is no single, agreed upon definition of rural in the field of ...

Back to Basics: How the Cycle of Socialization and Liberation Can Be Used in Residential Programming and Curriculum | Samuel & Stewart

written by: Kumi Samuel & Terah J. Stewart, PhD Introduction As a graduate student and faculty member in a student ...

Boundaries Are Non-Negotiable: How to Set Your Boundaries in the Demanding Nature of Your Career in Higher Education | Mitchell

written by: MyKella Mitchell As a higher education professional who has worked in student and academic affairs, my boundaries have ...

Meeting in the Middle: Faculty Perspectives on the State of Graduate Preparation and Entry to the Profession | Harrington & Wilson

written by: Mark Harrington & Amy Wilson Context of Problem As student affairs faculty members we have connected as colleagues ...

Complicated Messes and the Joys of Student Growth: Reflections on Kathleen Deignan’s 46 Years of Leadership in Student Affairs | Jarvis

written by: Judy Jarvis Kathleen Deignan was a leader in college and university student affairs for 46 years, retiring in ...