A day in the life of my job includes buying ad space from a local newspaper, working with a freelance designer, planning the graduation ceremony, issuing a press release, and managing a campus website. One thing it rarely includes is contact with students (unless that’s on Facebook). I no longer work in student affairs, but I’m sure glad I got my start there.
Because of my experience and graduate education in student affairs, I know how colleges work. I’ve got a pretty good handle on student development in college. Although it’s different in every case, I even understand how college affects students. I can apply this knowledge to marketing, program development, assessment, or telling my campus’ story to invested community members. I truly feel that if I didn’t get my start in student affairs I wouldn’t understand the heart of an institution of higher education: the students.
I was surprised when colleagues asked me if I understood how orientation worked, how a conduct situation should be handled, or if I knew what FERPA was. It was even more disconcerting when I realized how timid students were when they occasionally came into my office in the administrative wing of the building. For a bit, I was like a fish out of water. Then I realized I was more like a fish who’d evolved to walk on land, but retained knowledge of what it was like under the sea. I can only imagine how difficult it is to work on campus and not understand what our students are going through or how I’m impacting their life. Regardless of our place on the organizational chart, we should all strive to understand our students.
Chances are, not everyone on your campus has the depth of training in student development and higher education administration that you do. What are our campuses doing for staff members like that? Should an understanding of student development theory be an expected competency of any university employee? What about the history of higher education, identity development theory, or an understanding of oppression and privilege? Does that background help them better serve students and the institution, regardless of their role?
If you’re “classically trained” in student affairs, have you taken time to reflect on the foundation that’s been built for your career? Do you think your education and experience has prepared you for leadership roles in higher education or any other industry?
I no longer work in student affairs, but I’m still a student affairs professional.