Cultivating Student Leaders of Color on Majority Campuses

ATLANTA

To foster an inclusive leadership environment for women and students of color, student affairs representatives must develop both formal and informal relationships with prospective student leaders to create a welcoming and inclusive environment, said Stephanie Ray, associate dean of students at Georgia Institute of Technology, during a presentation at the American College Personnel Association’s annual conference in Atlanta.

“Women and underrepresented students have different challenges than those who’ve traditionally held student leadership positions. As advisors, we need to recognize those challenges and help them think through the process,” Ray said.

African American students at predominately White institutions develop coping skills to deal with the added stress of racial tensions. According to recent research, these students are more likely to cope by avoiding tensions, as opposed to using a communicative effort to deal with the situation.

“Women and underrepresented students need more interaction with faculty and staff [of all colors], and these interactions need to be different. Students respond well when individuals ask questions and show concern,” Ray said.

Cultivating student leaders from underrepresented groups is easier when there are visible faculty and staff of color in leadership positions, said Chad Gardener, a student affairs representative at Old Dominion University (ODU).

Gardener, who is also a graduate student at ODU, noted that students are more likely to get involved in student government when there are others that look like them, reaffirming the necessity of their presence.

Since students of colors are more likely to join culture-based organizations such as a Latino Alliance Network, National Association of Black Engineers or the Asian American Students Association, student affairs representatives need to validate the contributions of these organizations and their leaders.

“Many students in these cultural organizations admitted that the administration didn’t take the club serious. We must validate these students’ experiences,” said Yvette Upton, assistant dean of student and the director of women’s resource center at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Among other suggestions, Upton and Ray suggested that student affairs officials make diversity training mandatory. Studies show that students enrolled in classes that discuss race and gender issues are more likely to be aware of prejudice. The deans insisted that students affairs representatives “create a space” for positive dialogue.

“Students with interest in diversity are more prepared for success because they are open to learning from others,” Ray said.

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