Five Ways to Utilize the New Social Justice Competencies

Back in 2007, ACPA and NASPA came together with the goal of generating a set of standardized competencies for the student affairs profession.  Since the first edition of this document came out in 2009, many student affairs scholars and practitioners have been looking for ways to incorporate them into professional development, academic coursework, and campus programs. Five years later, the newly-revised ACPA/NASPA Professional Competencies have brought a number of significant changes, including the development of the Social Justice and Inclusion (SJI) competency area (formerly known as Equity, Diversity and Inclusion).

The new SJI competencies were created to reflect the importance of how systems of power, privilege, and oppression affect the daily work of student affairs.  They also represent the important shift toward not just considering how we work with “diverse others,” but also how we are all connected as a part of these systems whether we are disadvantaged by and/or benefit from them.  As student affairs scholars and practitioners, it is vital that we incorporate these ideas into our work and continue to build safe and inclusive environments for campus communities.

One of the most common pieces of feedback I hear about these competencies is uncertainty of how to put them to use.  As such, I offer five implementation approaches for consideration.  They are not intended to be quick or simple, but serve as methods of consistent monitoring for the work that we do.  I recommend taking a multi-dimensional approach when utilizing these competencies, as campus cultures require that we engage from multiple directions.

  1. Personal self-reflection: Read through the list of competencies and take stock of which foundational, intermediate, and advanced competencies you currently have. Then set short-term and long-term goals for yourself based on your larger professional development plans.  For instance, if you have a long-term goal of becoming a consultant on issues of social justice and inclusion, you may want to look at some of the advanced competencies that focus on institutional concerns.
  2. Reassess position descriptions: If you have oversight or influence on certain positions within your organization, and you want to be more explicit about incorporating social justice work into these roles, you can take an opportunity to review position descriptions to see if they reflect the work that you are aiming to accomplish. For instance, if you expect your staff members to identify and address bias incidents on-campus, you can add it to the job description and use it as a talking point within your department.
  3. Incorporate competencies into feedback/assessment tools: On the flipside of job descriptions, annual reviews or other feedback mechanisms can also include checkpoints for SJI competencies. Including select competencies will ensure that you have a built-in opportunity to engage in these discussions within your department.
  4. Conduct an organizational inventory: If you are in a position where you have departmental-level responsibilities, you can utilize a more organizational approach to assessing the competencies within your team. Not all individuals are capable of doing all things.  Assess whether you have individuals who can do particular things well within the organization, and empower them to be proactive about doing so.  For example, does your office have someone who is capable of facilitating dialogues about social justice and inclusion?  Identifying the existing competencies within your organization can lead to illuminating skills gaps that may exist.
  5. Integrate competencies into programmatic learning outcomes: When considering educational programs on-campus, you can be intentional and explicit about including relevant SJI outcomes as a part of the planning process. These can include programs that are targeted towards students and/or staff.

So there you have it.  Five ideas to get you started on implementing the new SJI competencies.  If you have other thoughts, ideas, or feedback on this, feel free to let me know at

Vu Tran is a current PhD student at The Ohio State University, whose area of research focuses on issues of age identity and ageism on college campuses.  He has been involved in various forms of social justice education throughout his career, including work with the Asian American Cultural Center at the University of Connecticut, the Program on Intergroup Relations at the University of Michigan, and the Next Step Social Justice Retreat at the University of Vermont.  He has also been involved in numerous ways with the Social Justice Training Institute.  He currently serves as the Vice Chair of Scholarship for the ACPA Commission for Social Justice Educators.

One thought on “Five Ways to Utilize the New Social Justice Competencies

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  1. Here is a sixth way to utilize the SJI competency as well as that of Personal and Ethical Foundations, and Organizational and Human Resources: to shine a spotlight on the shadows of corrosive politics in the profession in order that in the words of the ACPA president “We must do better.”

    The Edge of Student Affairs: Professional Spotlight on Shadow – Professional Competency Response to House of Cards Politics
    “…we 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. 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.” From “Summary of Changes” in the updated ACPA/NASPA Professional Competencies Released; Monday, August 24, 2015


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