I am a faculty member, but I began my career in higher education as a student affairs administrator. My experiences working in residence halls, as a judicial affairs officer, on a programming board and in student life make me a bit different from your average faculty member. How? I appreciate the work that those in student affairs do.
This past week I had the privilege of giving the closing keynote at the Georgia College Student Personnel Association annual conference. GCPA is a spirited group of young (and slightly older) people who care deeply about students. As I was told I could present on anything I wanted to, I decided that empowering students of color would be a great topic. I care immensely about this topic and I wanted to push the student affairs professionals to care even more than they already might have.
When preparing for the talk, I reached out to my Facebook friends for some suggestions. I know what the research says about empowering students of color and I know what I do in practice, but I wondered what others around the country thought. I received some great suggestions (just another reason why I love Facebook!). Here they are:
1.) Regardless of your race or ethnicity, you can serve as a mentor and role model for students of color. You can reach out to them, provide enriching opportunities and give people a chance to shine.
2.) When you serve on search committees, you can push to have a diverse student affairs staff so that students of color have a multitude of different role models to emulate.
3.) Create a road map for student success. In fact, create many different roadmaps to success and share these with students of color. Break down barriers to student success. We usually know what these barriers are yet we don’t do anything about them. If you give people the tools to be successful, they usually can rise to the occasion. How do you do this? You tell people stories of success — either your own or those of others. Talk about the ways that others overcame adversity.
4.) Once students of color are ready, place them in positions where they are the role models. This gives them leadership opportunities, experience, self-confidence and inspires other students of color.
5.) Make all of the resources that foster student success crystal clear! Student affairs professionals hold many resources that enable achievement. The problem is that for first generation, low-income students — of which many are students of color — college is something new; a major mystery. When I talk to students of color, I bluntly tell them how to get everything I think they deserve while in college.
6.) If you ask for their input on student committees, listen to it. There is nothing worse than being asked to sit at the table with a gag on! It’s often more disrespectful than not being asked at all.
7.) Help students identify their passions. Too often in life, people don’t figure out what they really want to do in life until they are old. Sometimes it’s too late. Spend time with students of color discussing their futures. If you don’t have enough time one-on-one, do it in small groups. While you are doing this, teach students how to have a full, balanced life as well as a career.
8.) Create opportunities for students of color to bond together within racial groups, among other students of color and with the majority students on campus. Research shows that students of color gain self-confidence from exposure to diversity as they see their own value and worth when interacting with others. Of course, research also shows that Whites benefit from interacting with students of color as well.
9.) Student affairs professionals need to take racial incidents on campus seriously (not that you don’t — but you can always do better). We need to realize the ramifications of these incidents, and communicate the actions of the institutions to students of color so they are not left wondering, angry and scared. This is the right thing to do, but it is going to be a necessity soon. One of the number one reasons that students of color don’t give back to an institution when they graduate is that they have negative experiences on campus. As the demographics of the country change — with a majority of the country being minority by 2050 — institutions will need the support of students of color more than they do now. It’s probably a good idea to start making sure students of color have positive experiences at our institutions.
10.) Creating better opportunities for students of color means that we have to educate White students as well. We need to make sure that they learn that their world is not the only world, that their perspective is not the only perspective and that they have much to learn from those who have varied experiences. In order to foster this learning, you as student affairs professionals need to be open to this same kind of learning and be vocal about your learning process to all students. Share your self-discoveries.