Keeping Sight of the Forest: Student Affairs and IR Partnerships to Support Student Success by Sophie Gublo-Jantzen

I invite you to look into the future with me. Picture a commencement photo, and try to identify which students were first-generation; which were from underprivileged urban backgrounds; who overcame rural poverty; which students were gay or lesbian, bisexual, or transgender; which students struggled with homelessness throughout part or all of their undergraduate studies; what students are undocumented; who has been incarcerated? We discuss many of these issues at length as higher education professionals with a strong calling to support and educate students around the topic of social justice. For many years, the literature may have told us that those students would not persist to earn a degree or credential, but through our commitment to uncovering truths and supporting students, combined with student resourcefulness, resilience, and determination, our efforts have helped the outliers achieve their academic goals.

As the study of higher education access, equity, and persistence has developed, many exceptional scholars and practitioners have supported underrepresented students through campus programming, academic publications and presentations, and collaborations between scholars, professional staff, and administrators. The work that has been done thus far has helped countless at-risk students to set and achieve their goals, no matter when or how they gained access to educational opportunities. For other groups, it is essential that scholars reaffirm their commitment to understanding how various aspects of a student’s identity converge, informing his or her intersectionality, and to support successful outcomes for students whose marginalized status transcends visible indicators of disadvantage. Mainstream media outlets and higher education journals alike have recently published stories of homeless college students who are determined to be successful, rural students who are seeking a space for support and understanding, first generation college students who are navigating a new environment with limited cultural or social capital, and other vignettes illustrating just how far-reaching the concepts of diversity and disadvantage can be. What I have noticed about many of these stories is that students who fit these descriptions are not a homogenous group. As I go forward with my own research interests, and applying them as an Institutional Research professional who studies attrition patterns and retention support in higher education, I’m committed to including the voices of scholars who explore issues of disadvantage and barriers to completion for students who may not look like the student population at my own institution. I believe that sharing across the boundaries of established research agendas will work to benefit all students, and likewise, benefit researchers and practitioners. As colleges and universities become more diverse, and students come to their studies with more varied experiences, we must also embrace the concept of intersectionality in our work lives and our professional relationships.

While student affairs/student services professionals, higher education researchers, and social justice educators work diligently to establish best practices and generate effective supports for students whose success may be at risk, students may reject some of the institutions with the greatest resources to provide assistance and dedicated professionals who are well educated in how to offer needed supports, instead choosing institutions that are an undermatch for their attributes, whether test scores, course grades, or measured writing and thinking ability. More distressing is the evidence that students who enter college from a background of disadvantage, may not persist to degree completion due to a perceived lack of campus support – despite genuine efforts by student affairs professionals to provide the requisite support systems for student success. As individual campuses and state systems of higher education institutions bolster their efforts to reach underrepresented student populations, organizations like the National Student Clearinghouse are supporting efforts to understand the trends at a high level. With national studies like the Student Achievement Measure project, institutions have access to data that may help shape appropriate interventions and support systems for their unique student population.

I’d like to make another invitation to you. As student support practitioners, educational researchers, and social justice advocates, please consider reaching out to your institution’s Office of Institutional Research staff. While much student support work relies on instinct, personal relationships, and one-on-one interactions with students, by partnering with colleagues who work with institutional data and benchmarking, it is possible to find important patterns among those essential personal relationships. Where higher education and social justice advocacy meet, there is an undeniable calling to assist students in every way we can. By joining with colleagues who do different work than the work you do – be it a different institution, a different research agenda, or a different department within your institution – by embracing intersectionality both personally and professionally, I believe we are better equipped to serve students by acknowledging their varied backgrounds and diverse lived experiences. In addition to national initiatives to explore and understand trends in college persistence and completion, IR staff may have access to institutional level data regarding enrollment, longitudinal data exploring persistence and graduation, and access to statistical software that allows for the juxtaposition of demographic features with attrition patterns, for example. In addition to partnering with institutional research staff for existing institutional data, there may be opportunities to collaborate across campus for effective and efficient data collection through homegrown and/or purchased student survey instruments. As an institutional researcher who shares the calling to social justice work, I feel compelled to use my talents in a way that will benefit marginalized students, and I look forward to working with colleagues on my own campus and others to support student success.

Dr. Sophie Gublo-Jantzen is a Senior Associate for Assessment and Institutional Research at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York. She has also conducted field research to explore the needs of resource deficient K-12 schools and college access for first generation rural students. Sophie has presented her research on rural students at ASHE and NACAC: Critical Components conferences. Dr. Gublo-Jantzen earned her EdD in Higher Education Leadership from the University of Rochester in 2015.

Down in the Dm’s: Social Media’s and Music’s desensitization of Rape Culture by Michael Williams

You don’t have to be a private investigator to comprehend the memes or lyrics in current popular music that perpetuate sexual assault, you just have to take heed with a conscious ear. Women Against Violence Against Women, defines rape culture as a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. As a devoted music lover and social media blogger as well as Student Affairs Professional on the campus of Norfolk State University, some colleagues and I worked on a traveling presentation entitled “Down in the Dm’s: Social Media’s and Music’s desensitization of Rape Culture.” We represent the campus in numerous capacities covering; student activities, housing and residence life, and learning communities.

For me, the topic started off as a curiosity in Title IX and Student Conduct, the sway came when I saw a meme that blatantly said “Rape isn’t funny. But it is pretty cheap”, accompanied with a $4 price tag. Then I heard the popular lyrics of Rocko’s, Rick Ross and Future’s U.O.E.N.O. I deleted that song from my iTunes playlist after I recognized social media and music was numb to rape culture.

My colleagues and I immediately felt that we needed to educate our student population on the tactics social media and the music industry  uses to serene rape culture. The state of Virginia has identified three populations that are often marginalized in the reporting of domestic violence, rape, and stalking which includes, African-Americans, elderly, and those with limited English proficiency. Norfolk State proudly services, largely African-Americans, which compelled us to do something to empower and educate our scholars.

We wanted to have a courageous conversation about a sensitive area often muted and steered away from on college campuses and within the African-American community. We sought ways to identify fables and misconstructions, ways to contest behaviors, provide resources, and engage in transfixing honest conversations. We used the ACPA/NSAPA Social Justice and Inclusion competency to identify rape culture as an avenue of multiple identities and sociopolitical perspectives, while also connecting our campus values or integrity, civility, and engagement.

Immediately, my colleagues and I began to question how our campus and society viewed rape.  We wanted to ensure we were adding value to the dialogue around rape but we were unsure how we should direct this presentation and dialogue given such a short period of time (1 hour). Hesitant at first, we thought our word choice in piecing together the presentation would be repulsive and offputting but then we realized that when the problem is not addressed often or at all on some college campuses by practitioners, this provides room for common misconceptions. It seems that Student Affairs Professionals often have lives that are detached from work and family and moreover, we fail to identify the liquid characteristics that transition from home to work and vice versa. The team I have the wonderful pleasure of working with did great job adjusting to the climate and understanding the importance of this presentation regarding our art, music, literature, and student population. We shared something special, we revealed personal experiences, testimonies, and counsel to change the culture of rape.

During our first run through the presentation with our office staff, we outlined some popular songs in music that questioned the lyrical content and agenda. As mentioned earlier, U.O.E.N.O vividly depicts rapper Rick Ross verse, “Put a Molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it, I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.” Lyrics such as this often reassure male sexual aggression by assisting the perpetuation of ownership of women as property, drug and alcohol usage. Aside from reassurance of damaging behavior, dangerous lyrics like this lend themselves to a  desensitization to rape culture.

During the presentation, we asked “How does the African-American community educate on Rape Culture?” This provided us with an opportunity to have an insightful conversation and provided beneficial information that my colleagues  proud of our ability to seek resources and collaborate across campus. However, the question of how to translate what we often take for granted as “Student Affairs Speak” to our students still lingered. Running through the presentation with other student affairs folks provided us the opportunity to share best practices regarding how to have such difficult conversations. We discussed that being experts of our own experiences does not discredit the experiences of others, the importance of “I” statements, the ideology of “male privilege” and confidentiality.

The journey to developing this presentation was one of a valuable lesson of self-identity. It takes courage to identify personal fallacies and even more courage to speak on misconceptions and myths in society. I’m thankful for my university and colleagues (Zia and Tariq) for starting the conversation with me on how to educate and elevate the campus climate at Norfolk State University.

Michael Williams is the Coordinator of Male Initiatives at Norfolk State University. As coordinator, he organizes academic and social programs for male students. Previously, Michael served as a Resident Hall Educator and co-advisor for Brothers4Brothers, a male mentoring program at Ferrum College in Ferrum, Virginia. Michael is a graduate of California University of Pennsylvania where he earned a Master of Science in Exercise Science and Health Promotions. He obtained a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science from Chowan University in Murfreesboro, North Carolina.