If you count the years that I was an undergraduate student, this June is the fifth June that I’ve been in a Student Affairs environment that has dealt with change. This is also the fifth time I’ve been able to observe those around me handle (or not handle) the change. I almost wish I could do a quick survey of professionals to find out which departments/divisions/institutions are not changing something about what they do between now and the fall. Although, the assessment person in me would cringe at the thought of not changing — thus, not improving at least something!
Typically, what I’m referring to here might be staffing structures changing, new professionals coming in, professionals moving on from a certain institution, offices moving, offices merging, programs ceasing to exist, programs expanding, new policies. This is the change we’re talking about here.
I’m not as surprised when our students, student leaders, or student staff are concerned by the upheaval — this is part of the developmental stages they are going through as undergraduates (see any number of excellent published developmental theorists). At my current institution, we have just hired a new director of my department and a new vice chancellor for student life. In my (expert) opinion, both are great hires. All of the pro-staff know that the exiting professionals are going (or have gone) to excellent positions – moving themselves ahead in outstanding opportunities. However, from the perspective of someone who is not on the division listserv (namely an undergraduate student) they might not know or understand that whole process.
Last year, at this time our department was saying goodbye to an assistant director, filling her position with a new hire, and we did a restructure to add a new full time position. All of the undergraduate staff members were confused and very anxious about who would be their supervisor. What really blew my mind, however, was how some of the Graduate student staff members (yes, my peers) were dealing with these changes. Lines like “Oh my gosh! What are we going to do without our current Assistant. Director???!?” There were lots of little freak out moments.
It just amazes me how some professionals handle this change very well while others are completely baffled and overwhelmed. I agree and can completely empathize that often change might lead to someone losing their job or a job change for the negative. Perhaps my perspective on this will change next year when I’m a professional staff member.
For now, however, I see change as a good thing. Rarely is it what I predicted. I’m usually the one who asks “why” and wants to really understand what we’re doing. But, even when I disagree with the change, I’m usually willing to roll with it or at least give it a try.
In interviews we ask candidates “How do you deal with change?” Is this a good question to ask?
How do you see those around you dealing with change? How do you handle change? How might you handle change better or differently?
Brian Gallagher is a graduate assistant in Residence Life at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis.