I want to take this moment to acknowledge the important work that we all do, particularly when history is in the making and students are the co-authors.
For any of us who are or have been direct student service practitioners, we know that concerns facing students of color focusing on racism and climate issues—both in the classroom and the campus community—are not new to this moment. Particularly now in the aftermath of all that occurred at University of Missouri Columbia, let’s continue to be strong advocates for our students, let’s continue to ensure our students’ right to express themselves and let’s support their continued personal development and their developing activism.
So how does that play out? It means we engage in accompaniment—moving through this moment and the next alongside our students. This is the dynamic environment we have the privilege of working in at a campus as diverse as Mason. It means doing everything we can in this moment to support our students to succeed in an environment free of racism and other obstacles. And it means showing support to them when they do encounter words or acts of incivility—even when those acts or words are protected by a commitment to freedom of expression. Finally, it means we do the hard work of developing relationships that allow us to push forward and push back when we think that doing so is in our students’ best interests. In fact, students sometimes have a particular perspective of campus life and may not know all that we do to ensure that their rights are upheld even in the moments when they push back against us.
Perhaps most important for us as practitioners is that we must continue to inform our practices and services precisely as a result of our students’ experiences. By doing so, we will strengthen the programs, services, and staffing we have in place to create a student experience that counters the stifling effects of systemic oppression.
There are many ways to stand with and support students throughout their educational journey, and there are many ways to advocate for their success through institutional change. Historically, the work of student affairs has been to provide direct support to students and also to advocate from within for additional institutional commitment, practices, and support. The work of student affairs in offices once called ‘minority services,’ or women’s centers, sexual assault prevention offices, LGBTQ centers, disability services, international services, multicultural affairs, and diversity and inclusion offices, has been central in these efforts. For anyone who has worked in these and other units, you have probably at some point been the bridge between students and ‘administration’ (a word that I believe needs some serious deconstructing) in trying times, raising issues up, looking for support, sometimes working against conventional institutional practice. These are challenging moments to say the least, but I encourage all of us to continue to work with our students and work with others in the institution to improve all that our/your university wants to be.
In a blog posted in the aftermath of recent events, Kevin Kruger, Executive Director of NASPA, wrote: “The student affairs profession has been at the center of responding to student’s civil and legal rights on campus and also to supporting their academic and intellectual pursuits. We must continue to be advocates for their success in postsecondary education and support their activism so that they may graduate and become active and engaged citizens in the communities we wish to build.”
The work we do is the work of student leadership support and development and we are watching powerful student leadership impact universities across the country in very profound ways. Our work in these areas does advance institutional change and we are watching our students work to make clear that necessity. Institutions of higher education like Mason are exactly the place for students to voice their concerns as we accompany them to create the communities we wish to build.
Rose B. Pascarell, Vice President for University Life
George Mason University