The Future of the Student Affairs Profession
by Winona Weindling
Article content is provided by HigherEdJobs.Colleges and universities have had to adapt with the changing political climate of the country. Many professionals have had to reevaluate their place in higher education, none more so than student affairs (SA) staff members who have had to develop methods to meet new and increasingly salient needs of students. Navigating how best to support students from different backgrounds and with different ideologies can be difficult, but if it is done correctly, student affairs professionals have the opportunity to significantly impact their institutions and student development. Below are some strategies for success in this tricky, yet rewarding sector of higher education.
Facilitate Constructive Dialogue
One way in which SA professionals can create change is by facilitating dialogue between students. The political climate has brought attention to polarization on campus, and SA professionals should find ways to maneuver that polarization while allowing differing perspectives to be heard. Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA, recommends that those working in SA "look for ways to create constructive dialog in areas where people see the world differently." In order to avoid these conversations becoming contentions, he recommends focusing discussion on differing views, rather than creating a political debate. For students who want more direct involvement in politics, "become more politically active and involved at the local level" suggests Kruger. SA professionals should encourage students to participate in democracy in addition to discussing different perspectives.
Coordinate Mental Health Support
SA professionals are playing a bigger role than ever in supporting student mental health. Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse are becoming increasingly discussed and visible on college campuses, and SA professionals should work with campus health services to support struggling students. "Addressing mental health among college students takes a concerted effort by the whole staff," explains Kruger. It is important for SA professionals to join forces with other departments in order to ensure students receive the support they need to be successful.
Support Student Identity
Those working in SA should coordinate with different departments and offices on campus as well as local services to support student identity. "It's important to find support for our students related to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and any other areas of identity important to our students," explains Kruger. Providing spaces for low-income students, students of color, and first-generation students to receive support and express their identities will also be crucial as representation for these groups grows on college campuses.
Finally, SA professionals, like many other professionals in higher ed, must face the challenge of contracting finances. "It will be increasingly important to do more with less," stresses Kruger. "It will take some critical prioritization." Using creative staffing strategies and new technology for efficiency, as well as partnering with other groups on campus, can help SA professionals continue to do important work despite increasingly tight budgets.
As the political climate continues to shift, student demographics become more diverse, student needs continue to evolve, and budgets grow smaller, it is important for SA professionals to reevaluate how they can best serve students and best serve their institutions. Although colleges and universities are changing, students are still their highest priority, so the SA role is crucial. Focusing in on prioritized issue areas that are increasingly relevant to today's students is one way SA professionals can help their institutions evolve.