Do Not Forget, Student Affairs is STUDENT Driven

Posted on December 14, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Recently I did some research on the different organizational structures predominately seen on college campuses. It was amazing to me how some of them placed students at the center of their organizations and how others chose to see students as the consumers of the resources and services individual or whole divisions offered. This got me reflecting on the true origins of student affairs work and how it was basically created by students for students and how this knowledge should impact my work.

Students were the ones who started the original literary societies, which were not social organizations, but instead served to compliment the educational role of the university by allowing students to talk about serious issues of the day. Students were the ones who originally pushed for ways to connect the things they were learning in classes with current affairs. Students were the ones pushing for the integration of academic and (what would later become) student affairs missions.

Students were the ones who created the original social fraternities. They were the ones who recognized the need to re-establish the close social and emotional connections that they had left behind when they came to college. Students recognized the value of living in communities with shared values and responsibilities.

Student voices and needs have been the driving force in the creation of cultural centers, student unions, recreation centers, dining halls, administration centers, residence halls, and countless other services on college campuses. There are times when I look at this situation and wonder if the student influence is always for the best. Do the new residence halls with their plethora of single rooms and suites promote the same type of collective living and responsibility that the old structures created? Is the attempt to provide a more wide variety of food choices really beneficial to students or does it just allow for more corporate sponsorship? At times like this it is imperative that I take a step back and remember that my job, my area of study, my future career would not exist without student influence.

With this being said, I see several ways that I can use this concept to inform my practice. First and foremost, I must intentionally seek out student assessment of  programs and services and that I provide and also seek extensive feedback on programs and services I am hoping to provide in the future. I must be willing to listen to the innovative ideas that students have even if they do not align with my original plans or visions. I must ask thoughtful questions to find out the reasons why students need or want the services they are requesting. What might at first seem like a selfish or thoughtless idea may in fact be based in the philosophical underpinnings of higher education and student affairs.

I must also work hard to ensure that as many voices as possible are heard. That means recognizing when affected parties are not at the table and voicing my concerns that without their input progress will be slow or completely derailed. I don’t need to latch on to every individual or student groups plight, but I must provide them with the support and resources to get their message out there.

Ultimately I must remember that all the theories I use as the backbone of my practices, many of the resources and support services I employ in my daily work, and many of the auxiliary services I enjoy in my spare time came on the coattails of students who chose to stand up and voice their concerns, frustrations, problems, needs and wants. I owe a lot to them and I must always be willing to listen for the next big thing.

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2 Responses to “Do Not Forget, Student Affairs is STUDENT Driven”

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This is a nice reflective piece, Ruth. I like that you are revisiting history at this juncture in your program. I think the cultural distinction you explore above should be paramount in your thinking as you culminate your degree and look towards entering the job market. What kind of organization, what kind of culture do you want to join? What kind of shared values must be in place between you and the place where you work?

Eric wanted to know if I looked to other professions in order to develop my thoughts on this matter.

I have spent a great deal of time working with non-profit organizations and so I’m sure these experiences had some influence on my thoughts. When I think the service work that I did, I definitely remember times where I was frustrated and sick of my work. These times usually occurred when I had lost focus on the real reason why I was doing the work. Sometimes I’d get bogged down in paperwork or be dealing with a challenging team member or going days without seeing much progress and I’d forget about the people I was actually serving. Once I was reminded of the true reason for my work I usually gained a lot of momentum and could deal more effectively with the frustrations. I see the same thing playing out in my work in student affairs. It will be easy to get bogged down in paperwork, committee meetings, dealing with small fires, and it will become easy to forget who I am actually serving as I do all of these things. I believe that remembering that my professional philosophy (and hopefully my organization’s philosophy) is student-focused and that of the components of my work should be done in order to benefit students will help me to refocus my attention when things become hectic and challenging.

By no means do I think that the service sector and education are the only places where this occurs. I think any profession or at least any person should be able to identify the real reasons why they do their work. If they cannot recognize and describe how their daily tasks are meeting these reasons, then it is probably only a matter of time before reassessment or burnout occurs.


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