Reflection on Competency 2

Posted on December 3, 2008. Filed under: NODA Internship |

During my internship I had planned on learning about the transitional issues SJSU students faced when entering into the institution. In particular I was hoping to see what issues were unique to students at a large, urban institution. While I was not afforded the opportunity to ask students first hand what they were experiencing, I myself dealt with several transitional issues and will speak about my experience because I think it is in many ways similar to some students’ experiences. First off, for anyone coming from a small or medium size town, living, studying and carrying on daily business in the heart of downtown San Jose is daunting. As far as colleges go the university is quite compact but in many ways it looks and feels like part of downtown. Many of the buildings are tall and imposing and the pace of life is very fast. Dealing with the need to escape the city’s noise in order to study, sleep and maintain balance were key issues for me and also for many new students. It is also important that students recognize the plethora of distractions and ways to spend money that lay just a few blocks away from campus and find ways to avoid being overwhelmed by the pull towards downtown. Student must also develop “street smarts”. Some of the neighborhoods around the campus are not particularly safe and therefore knowing which areas are safe and which aren’t, general safety tips and how to utilize campus public safety are highly important.

I think that the one of the most unique and important transitional issues that many SJSU students probably face, is that of dealing with increased diversity among their peers, staff and faculty members. This issue not only relates to transitional issues but also the needs and goals of an extremely diverse student body. Particularly for students who are used to being in the ethnic or racial majority, SJSU can be an extremely daunting place. Each and every student will be attending class, doing group projects, getting involved in organizations and living with students from different cultures than themselves. Because this is such a universal experience among SJSU students I had thought that the school would devote a decent amount of programming to addressing issues of diversity during orientation sessions. While the acceptance of diversity was addressed in a few of the student life skits and also brought up during one of the small group meetings among peers, I’m not quite sure that it was enough information or well-timed. The conversation in small groups often centered upon what had happened during the skits and was held late at night on the first day, when many students were already tired and ready to relax. I’m not quite sure what type of programming would have been better or if it was wise to rely on OAs to lead these discussions. If nothing else I would have liked to have sat in on a few of their small group discussions with students to see how they addressed the issues surrounding diversity from the skits. However, I did not want to limit the peer-to-peer discussions or give up my one hour of rest during the 12+ hour day.

One of the things that I found interesting about SJSU was that they have a lot of ethnically based student organizations, Greek houses, and events. While this allowed for many groups to create smaller communities within the larger campus, these communities were far less diverse than the student population as a whole. Having reflected on this, I have two very different views on the matter. On the one hand, I belief that providing students with the opportunity to isolate themselves from the diversity of a campus like SJSU is counterproductive because these students will eventually have to go into the multicultural workforce and not know how to communicate, work, and accept people’s differences. On the other hand, I realize that as a white person, I have always been afforded the privilege of easily retreating to a place where I was in the majority. This retreat did not require a particular club, organization or event and therefore did not allow for others to critique it as isolationism or counterproductive. Therefore I am left with the belief that ethnically based organizations may be a need of institutions like SJSU. At the same time, if I were to work for a similar institution in the future, I would be interested to talk with leaders of the various organizations and create ways for them to work together and collaborate on projects. Collaborating could increase budgets, efficiency, and promote inter-cultural communication and understanding.

Another one of the populations of students that SJSU accommodates more than other schools I have attended or worked at is students that entered college needing English and math remediation. Academic advising programming is set up to address this group. At least 20 minutes or so of the first day’s advising meeting was usually spent addressing remediation issues. Student schedules were largely determined based on remediation requirements and orientation scheduling was often based around when students test scores would be arriving. Because of the nature of the test scoring timeline, some students came to orientation before their scores were in and therefore were unable to register. In addition, the large number of re-admitted students created a huge headache towards the end of the summer, when remedial courses filled up. Some students were unable to get into these courses during the first term and therefore were extremely limited in terms of course offerings due to prerequisites requirements. Having never been at a school where this was such a large issue, I cannot compare services or support for these students. If I were to work for a school that serves this population in the future, I would want to work to ensure that there would be enough openings in remedial courses to meet the needs of students. I also found it problematic that some advisors and others referred to students and remedial. To me this seemed rather insulting and could have a reverse affect of making students feel confident in their upcoming success. I was very careful to refer to remedial courses, not students whenever I referenced this issue. This is a population of students whose needs and issues I am more sensitive and thoughtful about now.

As far as relating our programming to specific student development theories, I think the most solid connections could be found in the area of student engagement and involvement. There was a great deal of emphasis placed on making sure students knew about all the ways to get involved on campus, both academically and through extra-curricular activities. I also think that a great deal of our programming addressed the various challenges that students may face when they came to campus and what types of support they could expect to get from SJSU faculty and staff. Although not as transparent as the others, I believe that the diversity programming and advertising of cultural groups provided students with venues in which to start exploring their various identities. Having the opportunity to develop community and celebrate one’s ethnic heritage is an important piece in this process and orientations provided students with a step in this direction.

Once again, I would have liked to have had more time to discuss these issues with my supervisors. I did get the chance to meet up with the Director of the SJSU Multicultural Center and discussed some of the issues with her. I also discussed several of these issues at length with the other NODA intern. Having bi-monthly meetings with my supervisor(s) would have been a great way to ensure further discussion about these issues.

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