Transparency: recruitment, interviewing, and hiring in the #SAsearch

In August, the ACPA/NASPA Professional Competencies were updated for the profession. Training camp season of summer was over and the regular academic season was upon all professionals. These competencies and their noted changes regarding Social Justice and Inclusion, as found in the section titled “Summary of Changes,” aimed to frame inclusiveness in a manner that does not norm dominant cultures but that recognizes all groups and populations are diverse as related to all other groups and populations.” This section goes on to state that “Bell’s (2013) definition of social justice further necessitates that social justice include ‘a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure. This definition subsumes the construct of equity as more than a goal, but a precondition of a larger good.’”

Just over a year ago I wrote a widely read blog post called “If It’s broken and we don’t talk about it, is it still broken? The #SAsearch” ( The questions I posed then, as I continue to do today, address this very same vision of society, and profession, in which the distribution of resources is equitable and that this equity is more than a goal, but a precondition of a larger good. Therefore, what is the social justice and inclusion responsibility of this profession as it pertains to what many including myself consider to be broken recruitment, interviewing, and hire processes within many organizations and institutions of higher education, or those supporting higher education? My belief is that employment is a social justice issue and one that is infrequently framed or spoken of as such, because that causes potential discomfort and poses challenges to power and privilege within these same organizations and institutions. Instead, staffing is treated as a game by far too many with tricks, tips, and diverse human beings known in some instance as either red flags or celebrities.

Employment is not a game; it’s a real life significant matter to each of us for different reasons. Among the surface problems of not ever hearing back from employers to unprofessional/unethical behavior of interviewers, there is one example of a deeper social justice and inclusion problem corroding credibility in the profession. This injustice is what I call the “fraudulent search” process. I define a fraudulent search as when a position in student affairs is available on a university campus and that university’s human resources, ethics and compliance, equal opportunity, or other designated university officials state that for available positions an “open search” must be conducted and the individual division, department, or hiring manager has already predetermined the hire, conducts the search process, and hires that predetermined candidate as always intended.

This search process is one that intentionally deceives and breaches a confidence with all applicants seeking out a posted position. To employ the competency of Social Justice and Inclusion directly, I believe the fraudulent search is directly opposed to what CSJE members and all professionals are being directed not to do in order to be considered a competent professional. This specific competency is “…defined as both a process and a goal that includes the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to create learning environments that foster equitable participation of all groups and seeks to address issues of oppression, privilege, and power” (ACPA/NASPA Professional Competencies, 2015).  Improving the practice of conducting searches that removes deceit from the equation and relies upon “representing the department and institution honestly and accurately” (ACPA Ethical Principles and Standards) to me is one of those things we can disagree about the how, but most certainly one we have to talk about consistently. Creating an entire competency for Social Justice and Inclusion gives all professionals the safe space to have the conversation, as well as to hold one another accountable when professionals are not being socially just in all instances, especially in the recruitment, interview, and hiring of staff, be they students, graduates, or professionals.

I believe that other competency areas that inform this social justice matter also include Personal and Ethical Foundations and Organizational and Human Resources to name just two. With these new competencies, and these three in particular, student affairs professionals should find greater affirmation in being successful practitioners and those served by such professionals can bring the “fraudulent search” into the transparency of the light of day and be clearly in line with keeping with the “spirit and intent of equal opportunity.”

  • Organizational and Human Resources: “Assess the costs and benefits of current established political alliances, in particular, their relationships to fostering collaboration and organizational transparency.”
  • Personal and Ethical Foundations “…competency area involves the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to develop and maintain integrity in one’s life and work”


I have observed this practice from the college/university side of the search table and I’ve appropriately raised such concerns when I have. I have also experienced it as a candidate myself during my own job searches. It’s been reported to me through the experiences of numerous professionals who I have assisted in their professional job searches over a fifteen plus year career. When matters of social justice and inclusion are not spoken of on the staff level and the questions of power, privilege, and politics are not permissible to be asked as a professional educator, then how is it possible to “do better,” in the words of ACPA’s president, as advocates for equity, inclusion, and social justice for students and communities and for search processes if professionals sense danger in the doing?

“…a hiring manager will be breaking institutional policy regarding an equal opportunity for full consideration by giving some indication beforehand that a specific candidate will be selected even if the others walk on water. That hiring manager’s manager ought to discipline for such a declaration, as failure to follow policy.” – anonymous head university diversity officer

A “fraudulent search” does not include a fair and equitable outlined promotion procedure or succession plan, when done ethically and with all stakeholders and employees appropriately instructed as to how such matters happen and how every employee remains eligible for such opportunities, when permissible.  No, the “fraudulent search” is one that does the opposite by obstructing fair and equitable, while hurting professional access, opportunity, and career mobility on all professional levels in addition to hurting the veracity of the job search itself and any possibility for a professional or the organization to be an authentic champion of social justice and inclusion work. These hurts do often end up resulting in encouraging professionals to treat employment and competencies as a game. They may promote dishonesty or lack of authenticity, or lead a caring profession to commit other unethical behaviors to succeed. On a fundamental level it violates the very principle of “Do no harm.” “But it happens all the time” people will say, without ever calling it what it is – a “fraudulent search.”  Student affairs as a profession possesses strong ethical professional values and standards and competencies espoused by the field, so, that is the fertile soil to grow from and what everyone else is doing simply doesn’t matter. This profession has higher standards crafted and created in order to influence social justice, not merely imitate it for a brochure, sound bite, or a position description.


Shane is originally from Boston, Massachusetts and graduated from Stetson University with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Vanderbilt University Divinity School with a Master of Theological Studies/Pastoral Care and Counseling, and he possesses a professional certificate in Human Resources. Shane is an inclusive, innovative, and integrity inspired leader with 15+ years of success in higher education and student affairs organizational leadership. He coaches and consults with graduate students and professionals on effectively connecting one’s authenticity & meaning-making in work and life, while he is actively in pursuit of his own next great full time professional contribution. Shane is fortunate to have once lived and worked in both Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park, and he currently lives in Winter Springs, Florida. He can be reached at or @scaddenFNL.  

Speak Up! Step Up! Facilitating Social Action Engagement With Students by Dre Domingue, Ed.D. and Dave Neely, M.A.

Black Lives Matter.  Transgender inclusion and accessibility.  Sexual assaults and gender violence.  Debates about immigration.  These current social issues, among many others, are inciting students to give voice and take action on college campuses across the United States and internationally.  Regardless of the positions students hold on these issues, student affairs practitioners must offer resources to guide students in making informed decisions and facilitate their leadership development as students engage in different types of social action.  While popular, existing strategies including intergroup dialogue and service-learning offer spaces for dialogue, critical-reflection, and introductory interpersonal skill development, these programs are not typically designed to address students’ desire to take immediate action or keep up with the rapid emergence of hotly-contended social issues.

As practitioners committed to social justice, we rely on these leadership and student engagement models as we work to support students in taking action.  In 2010 we co-authored the chapter, Why Is It So Hard to Take Action: A Reflective Dialogue About Preparing Students for Social Action Engagement (Domingue & Neely, 2013).  The chapter presents a written dialogue between the two of us exploring the successes and challenges we have encountered engaging in action in our own lives and facilitating students’ actions for social change.  Drawing  on our personal facilitation and teaching experiences in combination with what we have learned from the literature and trusted mentors, we provided a list of six key suggestions for facilitating social action engagement which include:

  • Placing an emphasis on social action engagement at the beginning of courses or workshops and maintaining this focus throughout the duration of the program.
  • Providing current and historical examples of social action and activism, particularly of other students and young people.
  • Providing frequent and consistent support.

In revisiting this chapter that we began writing five years ago, we recognize some gaps and limitations.  For example, we identified the potential costs and risks of engaging in social action, but we did not explore the significant costs of not acting on our learning and commitments to social justice.  We have also noted that programs such as intergroup dialogue, the Social Change Model of Leadership, and peer education approaches have key limitations.  Many existing initiatives place a primary focus on consciousness-raising and developing cross-cultural communication skills, but do not directly prepare students for thoughtful action.  Additionally, long-term, sustained groups often reach only a small percentage of the students on our campuses, and existing program curricula and course syllabi designed in advance, frequently are not flexible enough to account for rapidly emerging events or social media activism.

In March 2016 we had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop session at the ACPA’s annual Convention in Montreal.  The purpose of this workshop was to provide strategies for practitioners to support college students as they engage in intentional, critically-reflective social action.  We also strived to expand the conversation by inviting participants into a dialogic exchange about useful strategies and approaches.  All too frequently, we work in isolation, seeking to solve problems on our own, or by reaching out to a small number of trusted colleagues on our campuses or in our professional networks.  This workshop allowed participants to draw on the insights and practices of a room full of student affairs colleagues from many different campus contexts.

We began our workshop by inviting participants to share pressing social justice issues they observed on their campuses. Some of those issues included the following:

  • Islamophobia
  • Gender-neutral bathrooms
  • A student walk-out to highlight the prevalence of racial microaggressions
  • Institutional push-back to increasing the number of staff/faculty of color
  • The system-wide consolidation of HBCUs

After generating a list of some current campus issues, we invited participants to break into small group to discuss these challenges.  These small-group conversations were guided by two key prompts:hat is an educator’s role in supporting students to take action? And What are you doing that’s working?. Next, we invited participants to share some of their top strategies. What follows is the compiled list of all strategies shared by the workshop participants:


  • Acknowledge my role & middle person responsibility to students and administration
  • Push the importance of relationships and understanding power in relationships
  • Push them students to name goals and brainstorm tactics
  • Be true to what you know and believe. What can you facilitate? What can’t you?
  • Build coalitions and think about unlikely partners
  • Make connections with academic courses
  • Listen
  • Start small-work with small groups to understand issues, themes and future effects
  • Discuss with peers to see if there are any trends
  • Grow, inform, plan (grow groups, inform larger groups and issues, plan next steps)
  • Engage in one-on-one conversations about students’ engagement and offer support
  • Point students to resources about specific movements that they are interested in
  • Advise students about college/university policies so they are aware if the movement or act violates anything (not to stop them, but to simply make them aware)
  • Find support/mentor safe spaces and people that you can trust with your heart when others may question
  • Consistently ask questions. Learning about social justice should be never-ending
  • Model what you teach
  • Ask how students are feeling about current events
  • Remind/post/promote or co-sponsor events with offices on campus doing social justice- based work
  • Talk about what else I have been up to with student leaders I’m close with
  • Listen to student voices (student leaders, students, student paper)
  • Ask questions
  • Ask how I can serve and support and what does that look like against the expectations as a professional
  • Facilitate conversations, especially with those who don’t know or understand, meet them where they’re at and break down their questions so you can help better answer
  • Reframe perceptions
  • Include student leaders
  • Collaborate with faculty
  • Start with students who want/have the potential to be leaders
  • Bring multiple perspectives to the table
  • Encourage students to develop a focused message
  • Build relationships
  • Hold a program
  • Implement service-learning
  • Educate students about the issues (engage in dialogue)
  • Help them facilitate partnerships (help them make connections to each other and others doing the work)
  • Provide feedback
  • Give them a space to discuss/be heard
  • Show them they have support
  • Make action a priority
  • Trust that people have the wisdom to contribute to identifying and making change around issues
  • Challenge people to get the story directly from those affected and take that learning to inform strategies
  • Find ways to build student leadership with things like coalitions
  • Engage in dialogue with administration and the division of student development
  • Connect with student government
  • Give students space to speak and have their voices heard
  • Involve governing bodies or institutions
  • Connect with local agencies and organizations
  • Invite guest speakers
  • Allow voices to be heard through indirect communication (not removing posters or flyer, etc.)
  • Discuss with student facilitators how/if their actions impact other students (positively or negatively)
  • Don’t wait for an incident to build relationships and train folks
  • Provide space and resources, take direction from students
  • Keep “giving permission.” Encourage action, planting that seed of possibility every day
  • Provide support and spaces for dialogue and action while prioritizing student voice/student driven decisions in those spaces/methods
  • Validate emotion in action/activism

As with many workshops at Convention, 60 minutes was simply not enough time to engage in the topics as deeply as the group desired.  For that reason, we are using this blog post and a subsequent webinar to continue the conversation.  Please share your reactions and join the conversation! Also stay tuned for a webinar on this same topic coming soon!

Dre Domingue, Ed.D. is a higher education consultant who is a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her teaching and scholarship focuses on social justice education, critical pedagogy/facilitation, social identity development, and college student leadership development. Her dissertation and subsequent publications explores Black women college student leaders’ experiences with oppression at predominantly White higher education institutions. Prior to teaching, she held several student affairs positions working in LGBT student services, residential education, and a women’s center. Dre is also the current Chair for ACPA’s Commission for Social Justice Educators.


Dave Neely, M.A. is a Residential Learning Communities Specialist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is also a doctoral candidate studying Higher Education.  His dissertation research explores student outcomes of incorporating aspects of intergroup dialogue into a multi-semester, civic leadership program.  He has taught numerous courses focused on social justice education utilizing experiential education approaches including intergroup dialogue, service-learning, and educational theatre.  He has held multiple positions in student affairs and higher education more broadly, including working as a Senior Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions at New York University.

For more than a decade, Dre and Dave have collaborated on numerous projects related to social justice education and social action, including co-facilitating workshops, co-teaching, and writing a book chapter titled Why is it so Hard to Take Action? A Reflective Dialogue about Preparing Students for Social Action Engagement that was included in the recently-published ACPA book, The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections From Social Justice Educators.