Many student affairs professionals devote time and energy into creating meaningful college experiences for their students. With the goal of connecting with students, administrators often find effective and accessible ways to reach their various populations. Both Tinto (1987) and Astin (1984) acknowledged that the connection a student feels with their college environment is crucial to a student’s retention and progression to graduation.
After a recent experience, working with an administrator who I feel had a workspace that was inaccessible to students who did not associate with the dominant faith on-campus, I began to wonder how and if practitioners were intentionally making their workspaces accessible. While making a workspace completely accessible to all students is a challenging task, thoughtful and conscious actions may result in stronger connections with students.
I asked some colleagues in the field to examine their workspaces and to consider how they have intentionally made their workspace accessible to the students they work with. The steps they’ve taken to create access for their students have encouraged me to consider the many ways I can improve my workspace, and I hope they inspire you as well.
Sarah, University of West Georgia
I work in the office of First-Year Experience and spend the majority of my time creating programs for first-year students. While student interaction is not a main focus of my work, I occasionally have first-year students in my office. I keep pictures of our family up and around the office. I want students to know that I am proud of my family (same sex partner and biological, adopted, and foster children of different races) in ways other people are proud of theirs. Without saying anything, I want our students to know that I respect their diversity, as well as the diversity of others.
Jovannys, California State University, Fullerton
My name is Jovannys and I am the Health Education Graduate Assistant for the Student Health and Counseling Center at California State University, Fullerton. I am responsible for advising the alcohol tobacco and other drug (ATOD) chair of the Peer Health University Network (PHUN). I work with the ATOD chair to develop ATOD programming for the CSUF community. In addition, I also coordinate a group of volunteer peer facilitators for a harm reduction alcohol program and many other duties as they arise.
I try to make my space a safe space for students to meet with me or to just chat about what they are going through. I have pictures of my family and of my friends to remind myself and students that I have a life outside of work. I can be serious at work, so pictures of me smiling or with my tongue sticking out hopefully lighten the mood. In addition I have a sign in support of undocumented students and a button in support of LGBTQ campus community. Ideally it shows students that I am aware that all students face different struggles and my office is a space where they don’t have to be on their guard. I have a chair for students to sit on the opposite end of my computer so that when students come talk to me I can focus completely on them and not be distracted. The last most important item in my office is my drawing of a redwood tree with a quote from Audre Lorde regarding self-care. It reminds me to remain grounded, focused, and in tune with myself so that I can remain helping others.
Craig, Portland State University
In my work, I attempt to make space for students to be their authentic selves. Students are often encouraged to perform in a way that others feel will result in a more successful path, whether in their education, career trajectory, or life path. Queer and trans students face additional pressures by families, peers, faculty, supervisors, and larger society to fit into heteronormative structures and confining gender roles. I keep personal artifacts in my office to give students space to ask about me and know who I am, including personal and professional histories. I encourage students to ask me questions about places I have worked and what the personal artifacts represent, which I have found provides space for students to talk more about themselves and reflect on who they are and who they hope to be. My goal is to help students see that they can be successful while sharing their whole selves with others.
Robin, University of California, Santa Barbara
I work in Judicial Affairs which means my workload varies from meetings with faculty and students to answering phone calls/emails to preparing files for conduct matters. I also do work in a conference room for hearings and meetings.
I make my workspace accessible to students by keeping my door open, displaying photos of my family and a large photo of my beloved vacation spot, Lake Tahoe. I also have a magnet on the side of the file on my desk, which identifies me to students as an ally of Dream Scholars. My chair faces the student(s) and I lean in when talking to them, to make them comfortable.
Alfredo, University of California, Davis
Instead of a desktop we work with laptops, this allows us (staff) to move the computer so it is not between the student and myself. I think that having a set up where there is a computer in between the student and the staff member creates a physical divide that emphasizes the power dynamic that is already imposed by the university.
I have a rectangular desk, which is against the wall so the chair for those who need to meet with me is adjacent to the desk instead of across. This allows me to remove the other barrier that the desk can become. I like to have signs up in my office but I never do it with the intention of informing people what things I believe in or fight for. I only put up specific things that are close to my heart and I have passion for. Some of these issues might even be controversial to some students; for example, posters for Solidarity for Freedom for Palestine.
Additionally I like the idea of having fun things and goodies for students. I keep toys (legos, kush balls, etc) and candy and snacks as a way for students to feel like they can come in with no reason or feel like if they are intimidated to come in then they can use that as a reason.
Vivie, DePauw University
It is not pictured in this photo, but I have another desk behind me where my work study students are. We tend to keep fun music playing in the office all day, and all the seats are adjusted to be level to eye-contact with whoever happens to stop by. I have my rainbow flag, dreamcatcher, and fun photos of our office’s events and my friends and I on Ellen and hanging out with Richard Simmons to give an open/lived-in vibe that reflects my style. I also keep a random giraffe amongst a bed of “thank you” cards to my right, to remind me that even though our work seems thankless, it really is worthwhile. I intentionally repainted my office to something vibrant, hoping that it would be soothing and not intimidating for students who wish to discuss difficult topics with me.
Alyssa, University of California, Merced
I serve as the Program Coordinator for the Violence Prevention Program at UC Merced. We provide prevention education and advocacy to students, staff, and faculty regarding issues of sexual assault, dating/domestic violence, and stalking. As program coordinator I am responsible for the coordination and facilitation of all educational programming and collaborations regarding these topics. I also train and supervise our student peer educators.
Since UC Merced is a young and developing campus some departments are still in temporary buildings or portables. My department is set up in a portable towards the back of the campus which is not as easily accessible to students. My office is a cubicle, with enough space for two people. Because of the nature of my position and the topics my department addresses, it is extremely important to have cross campus support and collaboration, so the majority of my day is spent out and about on campus and not really in my office. I use my office space mainly to complete paperwork and prep for presentations. This allows me to meet with students, staff, or faculty in other spaces on campus like the library, other meeting spaces, and our cafe, which is centrally located on campus.
In the times where I do need to use my office to meet with students, I try to model professionalism by keeping my office organized and clean. Books, binders, papers are all stored or filed in the correct place so that I can easily find what we need to complete our task. This being said, I also try to make my space comfortable and relatable for students. I keep pictures of family and loved ones on my desk, have inspirational and social justice posters on my wall, and post up any fliers with cool upcoming events or programs. This gives us opportunity to start conversations about life outside of academics or being a peer educator, so that students also feel comfortable asking for support in times of stress. As a young professional, I think being close in age can be very helpful in terms of creating a sense of connectedness between me and students, but it can also create a very lax environment. I think it is extremely important to relate to students while also modeling leadership and professionalism. This is why I try to create a office space that fosters both of these necessary elements when working with students.
Emanuel, Portland State University
I work in a Cultural Center that is frequented by students who want a place where they can feel a sense of community. Student will study, eat lunch, have meetings, or just hang out. I do my best to make sure that the center is safe space where everyone can feel at home and comfortable. I try to push my student workers to be very friendly and inviting to visitors of the center. I also ensure that my space is has a friendly atmosphere by sometimes playing music. The couches in the space are also very comfortable allowing student a homey feeling to the center. By also featuring a microwave and fridge students can heat and store their meals and add to the feeling of home in the center. The large murals in the space also give a strong sense of heritage and culture that is not found in other spaces on campus.
Alison, University of West Georgia
Working in career services, students are in and out within 20 minutes for resume or cover letter critiques. So I keep my desk free of clutter and leave space for the student and I to look over the materials they bring in. I keep a resource binder out, filled with examples to give out to students and The Beatles poster on the wall just makes me feel wise beyond my years.
Thank you to my colleagues, who graciously sent me their thoughts and photographs,
Astin, A. W. (1984). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of college student personnel, 25(4), 297-308.
Tinto, V. (1987). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition.
Stacie Taniguchi is the Multicultural Center Program Coordinator at Portland State University. She can be reached at email@example.com.