Student life

Occidental College shifts new student orientation based on Charlottesville

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Occidental College has reworked its program to include questions about the protests.

Charlottesville fallout: Student says he was kicked out of a college for participating

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One says he was kicked out of Pensacola Christian after showing up to the Robert E. Lee statue after the protest with a Confederate flag. Another says he is leaving Boston U over threats for having attended.

Virginia students "take back" their campus with march for unity and inclusiveness

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Thousands march to promote unity, retracing route white supremacists took Friday.

Texas A&M, citing security issues, calls off "White Lives Matter" event

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University cites security risks after organizers linked their plans to the events of Charlottesville.

The downside of faculty members helping students move in (essay)

How did we get to the point in higher education, asks Deborah J. Cohan, where we’re being asked to participate in so many customer-oriented gimmicks?

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Why the Education Department shouldn't ignore student affairs professionals (essay)

As anyone who has clicked on a news website this past week knows, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her acting assistant secretary for civil rights, Candice Jackson, held hearings last week in what they describe as an attempt to better understand the campus dynamics, processes and challenges of sexual assault response.

It is not the first time Capitol Hill has hosted hearings on this topic, and it certainly won’t be the last. But once again some vital voices were missing: those of the deans of students, student conduct officers, campus investigators and hearing officers who live with this issue in their daily lives and may have something useful to say.

I am not taking sides in this long debate about the importance of supporting survivors versus the criticality of protecting accused students. Indeed, this is as false a dichotomy as can exist. The challenges of responding fairly in the context of all that has evolved are ones I have already shared in this space. I would never diminish in any way the devastation survivors must feel, nor do I discount the fear and bewilderment experienced by those who have been unjustly accused.

I just want a chance to sit in a hearing on the Hill, microphone in front of me, and speak to the many people in that room who, I believe wholeheartedly, want to “do this right,” as DeVos said. But no one invited me or, it seems, any of my student affairs colleagues. In addition to the nine students who spoke as survivors and the seven students and two parents who represented the views of those who have experienced a seemingly unfair process, there were 19 “representatives of educational institutions and subject-matter experts” who were also present.

Who were these? A list of the attendees was provided in The Washington Post’s coverage. In addition to three college presidents, there were six lawyers, four employed by colleges and universities and two from private practices. There were eight representatives of education associations. There was a law professor. There was one Title IX coordinator.

I do not mean to cast aspersions on any of these individuals and am grateful for their interest in, and commitment to, this work. I do not doubt for an instant that these are people with thoughtful opinions and useful experience on both sides of this issue.

But Secretary DeVos and Assistant Secretary Jackson, where were the people who are doing this work every day, wrestling with the impossible system that has been created by (1) the Department of Education, (2) journalists and (3) a student culture that reflects the misogyny, alcohol use and casual sex that is part of our broader society? They weren’t there.

So perhaps I can provide some of that missing content. My expertise comes from three decades of working with students, including as a dean of students, overseeing conduct processes and the people who manage them. I am not a lawyer, but I have talked to a lot of them. I am not a survivor of sexual assault, but I have spent a lot of time with those who are. I have never been accused of sexual assault, but I have had a lot of painful conversations with students who have (and their parents).

You invited three college presidents to your hearing. Obviously, these are important leaders from whom to seek guidance. I worked for a terrific president and was grateful for the listening ear, encouragement and got-your-back support he provided when we were dealing with a sexual assault case. He would, however, be the first to say that if you really want to understand what these cases are like on the front lines, you might want to move down the org chart and find the dean or student conduct director who can tell you in exhaustive detail how the irreconcilable demands of fairness and compassion play out in these cases.

You invited practicing attorneys -- six of them. Again, I have worked with superb lawyers and know they understand the laws that influence campus sexual assault response inside out and from angles I didn’t know existed. But they are generally once removed from the anguish and heartbreak we encounter.

You brought before you representatives from national associations. However, the three associations that might have offered a valuable perspective on the process -- NASPA, ACPA and ASCA -- were missing from the list, while two people from the National School Boards Association, which focuses on K-12 public education, were on the list.

What perspective would student affairs professionals bring that the people you invited were unlikely to have? What insights might our experience add to this discussion and assist you in your efforts? I hope I can make a case for our inclusion with some specific examples.

  • Until you have sat in your office looking at a young woman, remembering how her parents spoke to you at the opening of the school year, saying only half jokingly, “Please take care of our girl; she is our greatest treasure,” and listened to her while she recounted an assault at the hands of a classmate, you will not know all you need to know.
  • Until you have sat in your office with a young man -- someone you met in his first semester, saw his timidity and awkwardness and encouraged him to join a student organization to make some friends, someone who still stops you on the quad to say hi and always thanks you for taking an interest in him, who is a semester away from graduating and beginning graduate school -- and have to tell him that he is accused of assault and that institutional policy requires you to remove him from campus pending the outcome of an investigation that, yes, will take weeks, you will not know all you need to know.
  • Until you have taken a call from a lawyer hired by a student’s family and listened while that attorney told you they would work diligently to ruin your reputation and end your career if you could not find a way to resolve this case in favor of their client, you will not know all you need to know.
  • Until you have listened to a mother in agony, insisting her son would never do such a thing, but who wants to respect your title and what you are telling her has happened, or a father in tears wanting to understand how his daughter could have been so badly violated at this school you and your admissions colleagues led him to believe was a caring and reasonably safe community, you will not know all you need to know.
  • Until you have parsed the phrase “preponderance of evidence,” knowing that on the razor-thin edge between 49 and 51 percent rests the future of two or more students and their families, you will not know all you need to know.
  • Until you have been called a rape apologist by some, an ideologically stunted feminist by others, been the subject of petitions or anonymous postings or stood in front of an angry group of students and tried to simultaneously console, educate and challenge them, you will not know all you need to know.

Do you want to get this right, Secretary DeVos? Do you care about holding campuses, and students, accountable, Assistant Secretary Jackson? Then add a fourth group to your hearings: people like me who have felt the weight of responsibility for students’ futures -- indeed, their lives. People who have lost countless hours of sleep wrestling with the demons of uncertainty and dilemma. People who have committed their professional lives to this work, including some who have, like me, stepped away from it in order to restore the part of their hearts damaged by the anger, sadness and unsolvable challenges.

Our work, how we do it and how we feel about it, is not all you need to know. But it is an essential perspective if you really want to understand the crisis of campus sexual assault and the damage it is doing to our higher education communities. Invite us. Listen to us. Ask us how we do it (or why we no longer do it). You have nothing to lose by hearing what we have to say, but a great deal to gain by including us in your efforts.

Your tweaks and wholesale changes to policy -- whatever ends up resulting from your efforts -- will ripple outward to the offices we sit in and into the conversations we have with students in those offices. Surely, a view from those seats is worth your time.

Lee Burdette Williams is a writer and educator in Burlington, Vt.

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Student suspended after tweeting about ex-girlfriend

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It started when a student corrected his ex’s grammar and tweeted about it. Now he is suspended, and lawyers say First Amendment issues are at stake.

Mizzou's new method to try to limit student debt

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Mizzou will ban students from using ID credit cards to buy nonacademic items from campus store, saying it will promote better spending habits. But students can still buy campus massages with their IDs and use their credit cards for other things.

Why college students are anxious about employment (essay)

I got my first real job at the age of 15, as a busboy at Oliver’s Bakery Restaurant, one of Toronto’s busiest brunch spots. I have so many intense memories from that job -- unquestionably Proustian from the strong smells (fresh-baked rolls) and tastes (café truffle torte, still the best dessert I’ve ever had) to bringing Sunday’s first customer, Lois (always arriving before the waitstaff), her coffee and blueberry muffin; polishing wineglasses with steam from a pot of hot water; learning how to punch orders into the computer system (I still recall all the modifiers for eggs -- sunny side up, anyone?); and being bullied.

When I started, I was the youngest busboy by at least two years. A senior busboy -- let’s call him Gord, and not just because most Canadian males are named Gord or Gordie -- would take coffee from my coffee station, often putting an empty pot back on the burner, leaving burned coffee on the bottom (hell to clean). He’d also put his dishes in my bus pans, requiring me to empty them twice as frequently and doubling my exposure to that pervasive restaurant toxin “bus juice,” the dark gray sickly-sweet-smelling liquid at the bottom of each bus pan -- my one bad Proustian memory from that job. Finally, he’d collect tips from the waiters and short me every time.

It’s been a while since I’ve been bullied, but last week I had my first experience on Twitter. In reaction to a recent piece on the link between faculty control of curriculum and the challenge of aligning curriculum to employer needs, a number of faculty members on “Academic Twitter” took to our president’s favorite medium to denounce the argument and me personally.

Ad hominem attacks aside, several academics found “outrageous” the notion that aligning curriculum with employer needs was a goal that faculty members shared. One prominent professor with an army of over 21,000 followers said, “Sorry, that isn't a shared goal. It is a questionable goal, in fact.” She then went on to dismiss the notion that students are focused on employment, saying, “The research shows today’s students consider community and family [not employment].” Another who was more accepting of the notion that students might care about getting a good first job said, “That's a labor-market problem that is not going to be solved by the educational system.”

***

It’s clear that many professors simply don’t believe New America’s finding that today’s students enroll in postsecondary programs for what appear to be mundane reasons: to improve employment opportunities (91 percent), to make more money (90 percent) and to get a good job (89 percent). So if colleges and universities are going to do a better job addressing this now pre-eminent student need, it’s going to be important for faculty members and administrators to understand why employment has become so important to students.

One reason is the exceptionally poor employment outcomes experienced by college graduates during the Great Recession. Most students have older siblings or friends who were underemployed -- often significantly -- for many years. But if this is the main or only reason, employment concerns should diminish as memories of the Great Recession recede (like the fading Lehman Brothers logo on the coffee mug I keep in my bathroom).

But I don’t think they will, because there’s a deeper reason for this shift: most young people have little exposure to paid work.

When today’s college and university instructors were in high school, even if they weren’t working as bussers during the school year, it’s likely they worked over the summer. Maybe they scooped ice cream, delivered papers, mowed lawns or worked as lifeguards. But as Bloomberg reported last week, last summer only 43 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds were working or looking for a job -- down from nearly 70 percent a generation ago. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts teen work force participation will drop below 27 percent by 2024.

Why is this occurring? Bloomberg cites crowding out by older workers and immigrants. Other explanations are stricter teen driving laws and compressed summer calendars. But the most plausible explanation is that jobs like busboy have been devalued by society in general -- and parents in particular -- as useful steps on the road to a successful career.

Instead, students are being encouraged to study and participate in as many extracurricular activities as possible in order to burnish their college applications. Jeff Selingo noted as much in his Washington Post column last week, quoting one expert as saying, “Upper-middle-class families and above have made the determination that college admissions officers devalue paid work and that if you’re not pursuing a hectic schedule of activities you’ll be less appealing to colleges.”

I agree with Selingo that sacrificing paid work at the altar of college admissions and the almighty bachelor’s degree has not only been shortsighted, but harmful. As Selingo noted, his job in a hospital kitchen “was probably the worst job I ever held, but it was the first time I wasn’t surrounded by my peers, so it taught me how to interact with people of all backgrounds and ages. I also learned the importance of showing up on time, keeping to a schedule, completing tasks and paying attention to details (after all, I didn’t want to mess up a tray for a patient on a specific diet).”

So whereas college and university faculty members developed their soft skills in hospital kitchens -- and while I learned to navigate jerks like Gord -- their students are at a material disadvantage in this regard (providing some basis for employers’ increasing complaints about the soft skills of millennials).

This disconnection to paid work has been exacerbated by the rise of unpaid internships during and after college. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports the percentage of college graduates participating in at least one internship is now over 80 percent (up from less than 10 percent a generation ago). Technically, unpaid internships are illegal unless the employer is a nonprofit organization, or unless interns receive college credits. Sadly, by broadly awarding credits for unpaid internships, many colleges and universities are enabling this system of internship peonage, thereby furthering young people’s distance from paid work.

The result is that for most millennials -- and now Gen Z -- there’s no sense of easing in to paid work, no gradual evolution. It’s now binary: at the end of college, switch off childhood and switch on employment and adulthood. The anticipation of this sudden shift is producing a great deal of anxiety around the issue of employment, and the first paid job in particular. (An anxiety that today’s faculty, Selingo and I never felt because we all had a sense we were employable -- maybe not in the jobs we wanted, but we had a clear sense we would be able to get by.) Of course, the crisis of college affordability and the concomitant mountain of student loan debt means this anxiety is all the more acute.

***

I recall a similar sense of anxiety back at Oliver’s. When I was promoted to waiter at the age of 17, I was often tasked with Section 6 -- the restaurant’s largest section, closest to the front with appealing window-side tables. It was all too easy for hosts and hostesses to accede to customer requests and seat all the tables at the same time. And when it inevitably happened -- switch from deserted section to a dozen tables demanding coffees and delicious desserts like the insanely amazing café truffle torte -- I’d find myself in the weeds, literally in a dreamlike-state, unable to process what to do next. Whenever I got Section 6, I spent the whole shift dreading this moment. As I think about it now, while being in the weeds was taxing, the extreme negative feelings I still have for Section 6 can only be explained by the fact that the anxiety was worse.

So when it comes to employability and aligning curriculum to meet employer needs so students are more likely to get a first job, academics could be more understanding. Many of their students are dreading graduation, paralyzingly anxious at the thought of being in the weeds in terms of paid work.

Perhaps the real reason I was bullied last week is that this topic gives many professors anxiety about their own future employment. But as we’ve learned, it doesn’t have to be a binary shift. By talking it through and getting the faculty comfortable with the inevitable evolution of our system of higher education to one that is more aligned to employer needs, I’m hoping to alleviate some of this anxiety.

Ryan Craig is managing director of University Ventures, a firm reimagining the future of higher education and creating new pathways from education to employment.

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Esports quickly expanding in colleges

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The idea of colleges fielding teams for video games, an oddity just several years ago, now supports an athletic conference and is seeing major growth.

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