Social Justice in Student Affairs

What happens when we consider that we are all responsible for creating an inclusive community on our campus for all of our students? This inclusive campus needs to be mindful of the ways in which different dimensions of identities are impacted by our work.

We know that Social Justice is a process and a goal as established in Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice. “The goal of social justice education is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social Justice includes a vision of society that is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure” (Adams, Bell, and Griffin; 2007). As student affairs educators our main focus is to create a campus community for our students and I posit that using this definition of Social Justice should be a foundation for establishing that community. This means a lot about how foundation of our communities need to start, but I’m focusing on how we as professional educators need to interact with this definition and the shaping of our community.

Many of us in Student Affairs think of social justice education (SJE) in a limited way. We think of SJE as specific trainings or workshops. We think of programs where we invite speakers to campus who talk about privilege, power, and oppression. We think about our colleagues who do this work daily in multicultural affairs offices (and we often put the brunt of the work of creating inclusive campuses on our multicultural affairs colleagues). We do a disservice to SJE (and our students, colleagues, and selves) when we think of it in such limiting terms because it’s much much more than one time workshops. It needs to be an integrative part of how we operate in all of student affairs.

In addition to the limited scope of Social Justice Education, when we do engage we generally focus on interpersonal dynamics such as microaggressions but we don’t talk about the systems of oppression that create the culture in which we all internalize and perpetuate microaggressions without even noticing. We talk with students about being “inclusive” (which has really just become addressing language, which is not bad but limited) but we don’t talk about how to avoid recreating the oppressive systems of power and privilege on our campuses whether that be through roommate mediations, program planning, orientation sessions, or relationship development.

While I do not disagree that SJE exists within specific trainings about privilege and oppression we can’t let that be the only time when we discuss privilege and oppression. We frequently think that SJE is going to happen for us and don’t take the time to engage in the difficult work of challenging discrimination and oppression on our campuses. We don’t think about the procedures we have in place and how they impact marginalized students in our communities. We usually tell our students to attend programs about black history month or women’s history month or pride week on our campuses but we don’t go ourselves. We promote programs during heritage months but we don’t talk about real life issues as they happen. We frequently miss opportunities to have difficult conversations with our students, colleagues, and selves based on the events that are occurring around us such as the #BlackLivesMatters movement, the Chapel Hill Shooting, the huge number of Trans* women of color who have been killed in 2015, and the movement for undocumented student support.

In addition to missing more obvious opportunities to learn, I have always mentally compartmentalized the different parts of my job. Until recently, student conduct meetings operated in a mental silo separate from planning programs. I think this reflects how we go through training as professionals. We don’t talk about how the coaching skills that we use in a conduct meeting should (and do!) directly relate to how we develop the learning outcomes for programs. We just have a session on the schedule that shows us how to use the conduct software and what we legally have to cover in that conduct meeting to make sure that due process is met (this is not to dismiss the importance of due process). We don’t always talk as much about what the developmental conversation should look like and how that thought process should mirror what we do when planning for programs or how we supervise staff. How does the intersection of my identities influence my interactions with my students? Am I aware of my internalized biases? How do I continue to learn about those internalized biases and notice when they occur? And this is just on the individual level, there is more work to be done across our divisions and departments.

I would like to challenge all of my colleagues working in student affairs across the world to consider how we can integrate social justice education values into our day to day work. This means a wide range of concepts from interrupting microaggressions that we witness and perpetuate (especially when they’re environmental microaggressions) to recognizing and changing systemic issues that create disadvantages for our students. One activity in particular that I was recently introduced to through Vernon Wall and Kathy Obear was to think about a particular service or program and consider how it does or does not serve particular identities. For example, consider an orientation session. How does that session serve all of the students who attend? Does the skit speak to a wide variety of the experiences of students on campus or just those in dominant identities? How does the registration cost impact students from a lower socio-economic background? How are undocumented students supported? What about Trans* students and their assignments in overnight housing? Without asking important questions about our services and programs we recreate systems of oppression on our campuses.

What happens when we consider that we are all responsible for creating an inclusive community on our campus for all of our students? This inclusive campus needs to be mindful of the ways in which different dimensions of identities are impacted by our work. We cannot continue to plan our programs and services in a “colorblind” manner in which we don’t consider all of the dimensions of identities. Without this important change we continue to recreate oppressive systems that exist throughout our society on campus.

How can we collaborate across departments and divisions to create campus communities that are inclusive for all of our students, faculty and staff? How do we ensure that we honor the individual experiences of everyone while also understanding the systemic issues that influence those experiences? I don’t have all of the answers, but I believe it starts with having these conversations. It starts with asking critical questions about our services and programs. It starts with staff and faculty analyzing their own identities and internalized biases. It continues with cross-functional teams that assist in training colleagues in cultural competence. This is important work that is relevant to everyone on our campuses.

How else do you think we can build inclusive communities on our campuses?

Projects: Goals for 2013

After a moderate amount of thought about the word resolution, I’ve decided that I prefer the term goal to talk about what I want to accomplish here. I think that’s more appropriate for me because it’s action oriented and not necessarily dependent on a new year beginning. I’ll be posting a short series on what my new goals are and how I’m going to implement them. This post is about some projects that I’ve been thinking of and what I want to finish.

Work related:

I’ve had some ideas kicking around about some potential research and assessment projects. I want to do some research around patriarchal masculinity and helping people make meaning of how to change their view on masculinity to be less violent, aggressive, and controlling and how to challenge that in their everyday lives. It’s really about redefining feminism for a lot of people because the definition has been hijacked by conservative media that talk about how radical the movement is. (It has also hijacked radical to be a bad thing when in actually it means to get to the root of something or a departure from tradition; progressive).

I also want to do some work around what meaning students take away from going to a cultural competence or social justice workshop. How much does a student learn and what do participants take away from their experience? I want to explore what makes the session more effective for students. Can the students identify the issues in their real life after the program? How does the information stick and what have they retained after about a month?

As a part of my resident director position, I create a community development plan that I’d like to development an assessment method to go along with it so I can measure how effectively my plan is being implemented. The focal points for my plan should be measurable so I’m going to incorporate an assessment tool in my RAs programming so that it’s easy for them to collect assessment data from their programming. Part of that will be creating new posters based on my community development plan so that the residents are aware of what we’re working toward.


I’ve continued to be interested in web design and projects since my bachelors degree in Information Technology and part of that has been just reading some articles on the web about design. But I want to do more. I recently talked to a friend about creating a portfolio site for him which I’m way behind on. So I’ll be getting more going on that project soon. Another piece of that I’d like to do is work to brand that design as a freelance company type of thing that I could do other projects with. Which would mean creating a design for that page too!

I’ve always been enthusiastic about music and I’d like to get back to being more active with that. I’ve got some old songs that I’ve written that I’d like to re-record and refresh. I also have been playing with new apps on my iPad (mostly from Korg – the new iPolysix app is great! I know I need to explore audiobus too which lets you link up different apps.) so I want to explore more electronic music textures and ideas too.

One of the perks of my job is getting tuition remission and I’d like to use that to explore either design or music technology/production to learn more about some of these interests. Eventually I want to explore doctorate programs that I’ll start in the next couple of years. The problem is in what? Higher ed? Social Justice Education?

That’s what I’ve got on the to-do list for 2013. What do you have left undone from last year that you’re finally going to work on?