Ms. Yvonne Pitts
Graduate Hall Director for Fraternity and Sorority Life
A lot has happened over the summer that has caused a lot of controversy and tensed race relations in America: the Zimmerman verdict, the release of films Fruitvale Station and The Butler , Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, etc. Words and messages of intolerance and ignorance, as well as messages of black feminism and social justice blanketed my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds. These words raced through my feeds as if they were in competition with each other—this wasn’t a debate, this was a virtual war.
I remember being at a Justice for Trayvon rally this summer and thinking, “What can I do as an educator?” Sure, I could continue to participate in rallies and protests, state my views on my social media sites, and have intellectual debates and conversations with colleagues about that state of the black community. And as much as I love a good rally or protest, there had to be something I could with my role as an educator to affect change in our country. The answer came to me a couple of days ago: actively integrate the principles cultural competence in my everyday work.
For me, the term “cultural competence” has a deeper meaning than our usual diversity education. The word “diversity” has become so overused these days that it has lost much of its meaning and people shudder at the very word. Gather a group of your students and announce that today you plan on teaching them about diversity education and wait for their reaction.
Cultural competence isn’t just an idea; it’s a skill. It’s the ability to effectively interact with people of different cultural backgrounds, encompassing awareness of your own culture, your attitude towards and knowledge of other cultures, and the relational skillset needed to communicate and relate across these differences. By integrating the principles of cultural competence throughout my own everyday work and work with my students, I can begin to shift their paradigm from tolerance, to acceptance, to appreciation. So while I may not be able stop another Oscar Grant death or keep Miley Cyrus from twerking, I can influence how my students interpret and respond to such incidents. And while I could not stop George Zimmerman from shooting Trayvon Martin, maybe I can stop future Zimmermans. Just think, if George Zimmerman had any sorts of cultural competence, would he have seen Trayvon Martin as a threat or danger?
Educating my students on cultural competence is how I plan to fight social injustices (as well as still attending a few rallies and protests here and there). What will you do?
Residence Hall Director
Health in Higher Education Region II Rep
New York University
It is that time of year again when most of us are scrambling to prepare for the arrival of our students, or are just recovering from the fun and excitement of welcoming first-years and returners. No doubt we are putting in a lot of long days of preparation, training, and creating the tone our students will experience for this coming academic year.
As students arrive on campus, there is a frenzy of excitement, new connections, reunions with old friends, and lots of ideas about what the coming year will look like. No doubt they are looking forward to engaging in campus traditions, sporting events, and academic projects. But with so much to consider, plan, and think about, it is easy for students’ schedules to fill up and for personal time to become a lesser priority. Often, meals become grab n’ go less than healthy options for the sake of time and convenience, exercise habits fall by the wayside, time for reflection and rest is replaced with late nights of studying and socializing.
How can we counter the multiple pressures students experience that so easily turn their attention away from self-care and health? Collaborating with different departments including student health centers, public safety, campus clergy, wellness offices, dining services and athletics to provide programming and information to students about their general well being is essential. Additionally, Peer Mentors and Resident Assistants can be great resources for helping to establish a culture of health among students.
Having student staff program early and often in the academic year for health related activities such as yoga, running for the beginner/advanced student, nutrition dinners, meditation, and time management sends the message that self care and health is important and achievable for college students. Having peer leaders in each residential or commuter student community take the lead in connecting with students about healthy living could increase engagement and make participating in these kinds of programs appear to have a social as well as an emotional/physical benefit.
Being in Region II, we all experience cold long winters. Setting these habits in place early in the academic year, before the winter blues set in, could benefit many students by establishing healthy habits, understanding how to stay active, eat healthy, and maintain emotional well being throughout the academic year. Now is the time to set the tone of health and wellness for our students.
I wish you all the very best with your openings and welcome celebrations!
Manager of Graduate Student Services
Administrators in Graduate and Professional Student Services
Region II Representative
New York University, Sackler Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences
At the annual NASPA conference in Orlando earlier this year, some of the attendees of the pre-conference sponsored by the knowledge community AGAPSS, Administrators in Graduate and Professional Student Services, regrouped poolside for some informal mingling. Having attended the AGAPSS pre-conference biannually for the past decade, I realized I wanted to become more involved in the leadership and efforts of the knowledge community. I always left the pre-conference feeling energized, having found professional kindred spirits, where the line “Dorothy, you are not in undergrad anymore,“ would be met with smiles and nods indicating we are all speaking the same language. I always came away from the pre-conference with some wonderful ideas for programming to try on my own campus albeit on a smaller scale or with potential ways to deal with challenges in a new light.
Having heard there might be an opening to represent the knowledge community at the regional level, I pondered how I would contribute to AGAPSS and its mission. Diving into a leadership role would take some work outside my comfort zone as my personality profile can best be described as an extroverted introvert. Post pre-conference poolside, I had the good fortune to sit next to Lisa Brandeis, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs at Yale and former AGAPSS chair. I recall this stellar prompt from Lisa who took the opportunity to describe how a conversation might transpire between me and potential future members of AGAPSS should I choose to get more involved.
Lisa said, “What are you doing for graduate students on your campus?”
I began to recount my job responsibilities concerning my work with graduate students at the NYU Sackler Institute. When Lisa realized what I was doing, after about my 3rd job function, ‘orientation, registration, graduate school liaison, she said, “No, that is how you begin the conversation, what are you doing for graduate students on your campus?”
We laughed at the roundabout exchange and with my interest officially piqued, I was nominated and accepted the role of Region II representative for AGAPSS in May. Be forewarned Region II members, if we meet, I will be the one with the follow-up question, “What are you doing on your campus for graduate students?” AGAPSS is a professional home to share best practices, scholarship and advocacy efforts as it pertains to graduate students and related services.
If you work with graduate students, please save the date and join us at the AGAPSS drive-in on Friday, October 18, 2013 at Lehigh University. It will be an opportunity to discuss top issues of the day affecting our work with graduate students as well as a tremendous networking opportunity on the professional development front as well.
For more information about AGAPSS, please go to: http://www.naspa.org/kc/agapss/default.cfm
Kerry W Foxx
Associate Director, Office of Student Activities
Student Affairs Parterning with Academic Affairs (SAPAA) Region II KC Rep
The mission of the SAPAA Knowledge Community is to provide a forum for interaction among student affairs professionals serving in an academic unit and/or those who are interested in the collaboration between student and academic affairs. The former speaks, in my opinion, to a growing realization in Student Affairs of the need to support professionals across Institutions – as opposed to only those functionally silo’ d into Divisions of Student Affairs – who administer day-to-day operations, manage crises, supplement classroom learning, etc. in ever-increasing numbers in academic and auxiliary units. It makes perfect sense. Our profession is growing; and, our support systems must grow as well. The later part of SAPAA’s mission, however, is a bit more complicated to digest.
I tend to think of functional units within Student Affairs as small businesses or non-profits that function independently from one another. This statement may not resonate with everyone but really think about it. It’s been my experience that Directors typically have a great deal of autonomy with respect to administering office budgets, managing staff, setting office policies, organizing the office environment, etc. Certain units in Student Affairs – oftentimes Residence Life – are auxiliaries and generate their own operating budgets while others are funded by donors and/or grants with loose ties to the Student Affairs hierarchy. TRIO programs are a great example of this grant-funded paradigm. Obviously, we all answer to a higher authority: senior administration in Student Affairs as well as at the institutional level. However, in the day-to-day operation and administration of offices, we operate fairly independently. Academic Affairs, in my experience, operates similarly: as a decentralized organization. It is this organization of our Student and Academic Affairs units that makes the concept of partnering as stated in SAPAAs mission so complicated.
Let’s say that the Career Center – which is housed in Student Affairs – partners with the Psychology Department to host a panel entitled “What to do with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology”. Is this a Student Affairs: Academic Affairs collaboration? Or, is the Career Center simply partnering with the Psychology Department? This example may seem like semantics but it speaks to a critical issue that gets little attention when talking about collaborations between Student and Academic Affairs: scope. It’s fairly easy for individual units in Student Affairs to build beneficial and lasting partnerships with departments or units on the Academic Affairs side of the house. I would wager that the majority of collaborative relationships fit this model. It’s a lot more complicated and subsequently less common to see divisional-level or macro-level partnerships between Student and Academic Affairs. An example of this type of partnership is Learning Communities at Syracuse University. The Office of Learning Communities has two directors: one is an associate provost on the Academic side and the other a residence life director on the Student Affairs side. Decisions related to the growth and development of the community are vetted and approved by both sides of the house; and, most importantly, both sides have a vested interest in the success of the program which brings me to the second issue: understanding.
Let’s be honest with ourselves for a second. Student Affairs professionals are not always the best at collaborating. Now I’m sure that we could all name multiple occasions when we have reached out to colleagues about being involved in a new program, training our student leaders, or joining a committee to think about something. I was recently asked to facilitate a training program for a group of students; and, I frequently ask colleagues in other units with expertise in certain areas to do training for certain students and student groups. There is nothing wrong with reaching out to colleagues for this type of support; it’s just not collaboration. Collaboration involves the mutual construction of something that has mutually agreed upon goals and expectations as well as investment. When was the last time a colleague sat in your office and asked about your office’s goals, priorities, challenges, and/or strengths? When was the last time you asked colleagues those same questions? Understanding is a necessary step to the development of true collaborative partnerships. We get so bogged down, however, in our day-to-day stuff that we seldom take the time to understand our own strengths, challenges, expectations, goals, etc. let alone those of our colleagues. In terms of Student and Academic Affairs collaborations, understanding becomes all the more important as a necessary step in the development of collaborative relationships because (1) our work is different, (2) our loyalties are different, and (3) our priorities and understanding of what constitutes success are oftentimes different. It is for these reasons that understanding is such a critical part of the collaborative venture; and, if understanding is a necessary step then relationship building is a necessary first step in the process.
I have worked at various types of institutions during my career in the Academy: big and small institutions, liberal arts colleges and research one institutions, as well as secular and religiously-affiliated schools. A common theme that has resonated with me throughout my career at these diverse institutions has been the difficulty associated with building trusting relationships. Colleges and universities – despite the size of their student populations – are fairly complex organizations with multiple and oftentimes competing priorities. This complexity coupled with strained budgets, insufficient human resources, as well as the campus environment – which oftentimes organizes people into office spaces based on affiliation as opposed to function – makes relationship building all the more challenging. Mutually beneficial collaborative partnerships require the creation of trusting relationships across offices, functional areas, and divisions. In the ever changing and political landscape of the American University, building relationships with stakeholders from across campus is the only way to both determine and stay abreast of changing priorities, expectations, goals, challenges, etc. These relationships, which are built on a foundation of trust and understanding, are a necessary – though challenging – first step in the process of building mutually beneficial collaborative partnerships. When I started my career, I found relationship building pretty daunting. I didn’t know where to start. Here are a few tips:
- Start from a place of introspection. Identify the goals of your office? Understand the expectations that your supervisor has put on you with respect to the office’s priorities? Consider and re-consider opportunities for growth in your office. Deepen your understanding of the priorities in your Division.
- Next, Identify stakeholders on your campus who have expertise or an interest in areas that meet the goals and priorities of your office or Division. Ask your supervisor for help in identifying these people if you need it.
- Invite those people out to lunch to learn about their work, their offices, their priorities, etc. I have been consistently surprised at how willing people are to talk. Take good notes.
- If and when you are ready to approach one of the stakeholders, it is vital that you begin from a place of humility and flexibility. Don’t approach people with a fully realized idea when collaboration is the goal but be sure to connect whatever the idea is to their goals and priorities.
Understanding scope, building understanding, and creating relationships are essential to building successful collaborative relationships; and, these ideals must be at the core of SAPAA’s work, education, and outreach. As we look to expand SAPAA’s presence in Region II, we do so with an understanding of both the complexity and centrality of our mission to the short-term work and long-term success of Student Affairs specifically and to the Academy generally. Do you have some other promising practices to share with the Region? Have you created a true collaborative partnership on your campus between Student and Academic Affairs that you’d like to talk about? Are you looking for some advice on getting a partnership started? If any of these questions are true then keep an eye out for more information from the SAPAA Region II KC!
Dr. Julia Overton-Healy
Women in Student Affairs KC Representative
Last week, I met with one of my student staff members, who will be a junior this year. I asked her “What are you looking forward to this year?” She laughed and said “I don’t know. I’m already too stressed to think about that.” We talked a little more—frankly I think she just needed to vent—but after she left, I started thinking about that question for myself.
As we start a new academic year, I took a little time to reflect on why I love my job, this career, our profession. I started a list (I am a world-class list-maker), and after a while I felt it was complete enough, and I taped it on the wall above my computer screen. I want to remind myself as the year wears on, what felt happy, hopeful, energizing, and exciting before the pressure settles in. I want to be able to look at that list when it’s been a rough day, and find renewal.
I’m no Pollyanna. I know there will be days when it feels like nothing went well. When my day’s to-do list got longer instead of shorter. There are never enough hours in the day to get it all done. The budget is too small, the expectations too large. Days when I missed a meeting, a memo, a moment. I know it gets very, very difficult some days to keep looking forward.
But I don’t want to give in to the gloom, the stress, the grind. I know I owe it to myself, my students and my colleagues to be better than that.
And so, I wrote myself a reminder of why I do what I do, and the ways I find joy in my work. I will add to it as the days go by. It will shift and change and evolve. But it will be authentic and it will buoy me. Who knows? It might be a predictor for all the wonderful things coming my way this year.
I don’t know what might be on your list (I hope you make one), but I hope it is meaningful and true and real for you. And so we begin again… What are you looking forward to this year?