Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How the other staff lives...

Well, I am at the ACPA student services conference in DC (my second student services conference in 3 months--the last was NASPA in Seattle). This kind of conference is outside my discipline, so I don't know people here...which is weird, sometimes lonely, and yet educational and interesting.

As a faculty member, we often don't spend a lot of time with student services staff. They seem to be a diverse crowd at the conferences--many people of color and LGBTTQQI folks (yes, all the letters are necessary, I swear)... They tend to be younger than faculty, for sure. I have been quite taken aback by how young the housing directors, student life directors, diversity staff members, etc. tend to be. To an outsider who is attending these conferences for the first time, the folks at the ACPA conference seem to be a little dressier and more research oriented than at the NASPA conference, but both seem committed to having some fun while they learn and network. I have no idea how many folks are at the ACPA conference, but there are TONS of sessions. I know there were over 4,000 people at the NASPA conference, which makes my disciplinary conferences seem teeny.

I have been impressed by the spirit and thoughtfulness of the gatherings. They remind me a little of women's music festivals, though the attendees aren't quite as ardent about policing everyone. :-) They don't have a chem free section, but they do offer AA meetings. At ACPA, there is a gender neutral bathroom that is not only marked in the hallway, it is listed in the program! (If only our campuses were that good.) There are interest groups and receptions for every identity group imaginable, and the conference listings include MANY programs around diversity topics.

The student services presenters also spend a great deal of time talking about us faculty types: how to get us more involved in advising, mentoring, and working with student groups; how to partner student programming with academic programming; working together with students at risk of failing or struggling with mental health issues; engaging faculty in recruitment efforts; identifying potential areas for collaboration with academic departments, etc. It feels a little strange to be "one of them" for someone else. Thank goodness for upper administrators (sorry DD), or we faculty would surely be the worst "them" out there.

The best part of the conferences for me (other than the fantastic venue for ACPA at the National Harbor in Maryland, pictured here) is everyone's commitment to the well-being and success of our students. I sat in a session today on research on 1st generation college student retention, and almost everyone in the room (including me) had been a 1st generation college student. I was proud of all of us, and I was glad that we are all working to help recruit and retain 1st generation college students. (I write this even as I am getting a frantic facebook IM from a student asking for help with applying for jobs...)

Next time you think about what to do with your difficult students, the ones who can't get it together or who seem to be facing personal or mental health issues, remember the hardworking student services staff. They are working hard to help these students, and they are there for you, as well. Look for ways to help them out--teach a first year seminar, do a training for student services staff, participate in a recruitment event, talk to undergraduate students about grad school or getting a job in your field, serve as an advisor to a student group, etc. Yes, we're busy faculty types, but we're all in this together.

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