College and university campuses and environments provide a setting of immense growth and innovation. They are a magical place of self-discovery, of passion, of talent, and of promise. An additional goal that is sometimes forgone or forgotten, however, is that of cultural competency and humanity. As Student Affairs professionals, we have an obligation to our students to prepare them for the world as best we can. Faculty have this same obligation, and most students enter the world prepared for enriching the lives of those around them. The keyword there is most.
With the onset of dramatic decisions by the NFL and the Ray Rice case of domestic violence (click here if you’re unfamiliar), it has me wondering: where does the misconception of being “Superman” start for students, and what can collegiate environments do to emphasize humanity among “star” individuals? Don’t get me wrong, most athletes and other professionally-bound students (sports or other) are passionate about sports and/or about sportsmanship in their area; however, neglect of those anomaly cases does no one any favors at the collegiate level, professional level, or at home. For example, Student Affairs administrators likely don’t see athletes much unless you work in sports administration. But, you never know which of your students know these athletes and can impress a higher level of humanity and moral reasoning among them. The same goes for students professionally-bound for music, medicine, law, or any other selective profession that requires a tough balance between confidence and egocentric Superman thoughts. College is a network, and sometimes it just takes one student to spread a concept.
The goal of higher education is to achieve much more than academic success. Students are going to be part of the “big picture,” if you will, after graduation and must be prepared on all fronts. This means knowing how to approach and collaborate with all individuals, have an open mind, and be ethical in decision making. Whether a student is the Student Government President, the captain of the football team, or the star scholarship singer who will probably get a record deal, it is vital for administrators to remind these students that they are human.
Student development is inherently individualized, and it is impossible to pinpoint when this ideal of being “superman” becomes more than a fantasy, but college administrators can do their part to bring students down from Cloud Nine. If you have students that are interested in professional sports, professional fine arts, or a highly selective career path – consider the following:
1) Encourage Service-Learning. Service-Learning (long-term) has been proven to positively correlate with students’ “understanding of and commitment to social justice, multicultural competence, and civic engagement” (Einfeld and Collins, 2008, p. 95). Service-Learning can be a true eye opener for students and increase their sense of community and want to be committed to the greater good of that community. I truly feel that this component should be required for most majors, if not all, to provide a core foundation of civic competence to students.
2) Cultivate a Mentorship Program. There will always be students pursuing the elite status (especially those in fine arts and athletics) that may not go the college route. These students never have the option of a service-learning program or the advising of student affairs professionals, so at some point our students must become ambassadors to the community. Having a high school to college bridge program or mentorship program may be a key operation to advancing students’ civic competency, respect for others, and cohesion with an interest group. It doesn’t take long to realize that you can reach students on an unprecedented level when you pair them with someone who can talk on their level or who has been in their shoes.
These are two small steps that any one of us administrators can take, and these are two steps closer to helping our collegiate communities and communities thereafter become more interconnected, forward-thinking, and humane toward others. Even if you’re an academic advisor, you know that college is not all about the academics. Students are left in our hands to shape into better people, and it’s crucial to ensure we’re taking the steps to do just that.
Einfeld, A. and Collins, D. (2008). The relationships between service-learning, social justice, multicultural competence, and civic engagement. Journal of College Student Development, 49(2), 95-109. DOI: 10.1353/csd.2008.0017
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/7/73/Superman_shield.png (Image URL)
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