When I think of my college experience and what kept me there, it wasn’t the academics. I had the opportunity to meet a few faculty who impacted my experience beyond the classroom, but that wasn’t true every semester. This was especially untrue when it came to core classes that didn’t relate to my passions. The things that kept my spirit alive and developed me were my mentors. My mentors were found in different departments throughout the institution, not necessarily in the classroom.
When I think of the importance of academia, it would be a disservice to not include the staff members who are helping students navigate their self development. It would be a disservice to not include the individuals who help put students back together when they feel unseen and unheard. The folx who provide advocacy and representation for students when discrimination happens in the classroom. I am not writing this to further expand the gap and misunderstandings of faculty and staff, but to emphasize the importance of both positions in higher education.
This has been heavy on my mind for some time, but even more so with our current circumstances surrounding virtual and hybrid learning. The lack of care and thought put into the decision making of bringing students back to campus did not put character development at the forefront. At a time where students will be missing out on programming and community, student development and student growth will take a major hit. As students are pouring into their academics this semester, there needs to be programs developed to ensure they are taken care of personally. This is especially true for Black and Brown students.
Reflecting back on long nights I spent making sure I secured an A, or at least an A- to assure I was able to stay involved with the many organizations I joined, I remember it wasn’t an easy task. I remember my supervisor in Residence Life pushing me outside of my comfort zone to think of life beyond college. Academics are very important but I don’t remember half of the equations I learned in statistics or how to properly use SPSS. I do, however, remember the grit and resilience I developed. I remember learning efficient interpersonal and communication skills through leadership positions I was introduced to by mentors.
Education is important to me, not only education, but equity in education. The significance of making sure students are receiving the resources they need to succeed. Equity, to me, does not mean receiving the same exact resources because it’s more than that. Yes, I would like to receive the same materials as my classmate, but I also may require more due to my circumstances and that should not be a problem if I do. There should not be red rape involved with policies that effect disadvantaged populations. On many occasions, this is where staff come in. The staff that will fight tooth and nail to advocate for their needs.
When I think of Higher Education and my role as a staff member, I remember why I took this route and how important it was for me to develop students outside of the classroom. This is not a one person job. One position is not more important than the other when it comes to developing a student to be socially competent. We have a duty in our roles to provide students with the skills advocate for themselves, as well as others.
Higher education should not be presented as a hierarchy when student’s lives are at stake. The amount of hours Student Affairs employees put into making sure a student’s whole self is developed, should not go unnoticed. What is a piece of paper when they graduate, without the confidence and aptitude to apply all they have learned? Student involvement and development This is the real world, students know it and we need to start treating it as such.