Not so long ago, in a student affairs division not so far away . . . SA Wars: The Battle Over Students. I’m not talking about an admission battle. I’m talking about battles on our own campuses; battles for “ownership” of students. I’ll give you a sense of what this looks like:
You work in residence life, and you attend a meeting with student affairs folx from other departments in the division, as well as some faculty. In this meeting, there’s some casual discussion about student participation in various activities. To a person, everyone in the room talks about “their students.” There’s nothing wrong with feeling a kinship with the students we serve most directly through our offices, programs, and services. But what I’ve experienced over the years is more a fragmentation.
In the current political landscape (not just since November 2016), higher education is the subject of frequent attacks. It’s only natural that those attacks result in battles on our own campuses. We have to stake our claims, and demonstrate our impact, and our worth. But, what this does is bring about fragmentation. Through attacks from the outside against higher education, we might get a sense that we’re fragmented because of the immense competition for students due to the volume of institutions in the United States. My view is different. We’re fragmented on our individual campuses. We look at and talk about our work in segmented, fragmented ways. As I noted previously, everyone who works in student affairs needs to be mindful of supporting the academic mission of the institution.
So, what do we need to do to address fragmentation? Is it just a matter of not saying “my students?” No, it’s not just that. It’s a mentality. The mentality isn’t about how we refer to students we work with. The mentality has to be about connecting with other student affairs folx, and faculty. We have to talk with each other. We have to get out of our silos, our isolation within our ivory towers. It took me sitting down with a colleague from another department and sharing stories with each other to realize “my” students were “her” students. It’s not about exchanging stories.
A New Battlefront
We have to talk about how our work supports the academic mission, and talk together to identify gaps. Student affairs folx need to have conversations about existing policies, and the effect of those policies not only across departments, but on minoritized students. We have to shift from battling over students, to battle for students – all students.