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The student affairs profession in higher education is one that has grown in significance in the last several years. Student affairs professionals serve their academic communities in a variety of ways, but have overarching goals of guiding student development, promoting student success, and overseeing noncurricular educational opportunities. Through my growth and development in this graduate program, my learning has included a variety of topics ranging from the historical evolution of higher education in the United States, to the prevailing theories of student development, to issues regarding race and gender on college campuses.
Three major issues that have remained in the forefront of my mind through this learning journey include the following:
- the critical importance of effective and efficient Title IX adjudication procedures;
- the significance organizational theory and assessment efforts have throughout all areas of an institution;
- the unique role institutions can play in student development regarding mental health and overall wellbeing.
The research in these areas provide theoretical frameworks for successful practice in the field moving forward, for there is still much work to be done. It is our job as student affairs practitioners to continue to make improvements in these areas to continuously promote student growth and success.
Title IX Adjudication Procedures
In this program, my study of Title IX and Student Conduct practices began in my ELRC 7601: Foundations of Higher Education course with the theory and practice of in loco parentis: a legal relationship in which a temporary guardian of a child takes on all or some of the responsibilities of a parent (Garner, 2009). The Latin phrase meaning in the place of the parent, comes from early English common law traditions and is used in the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries in the American higher education system. Specifically, in relation to higher education, the doctrine was the tool used to protect and to “immunize university conduct from legal review when deliberate or intentional actions were taken to discipline students” (Bickel & Lake, 1999, p. 34). Studying the evolution of this doctrine and the transition to student conduct issues, including Title IX, helped my understanding of how Title IX should be practiced most effectively.
The establishment of disciplinary processes for Title IX adjudication within college and university settings has seen polarizing debate since Title IX’s inception. Through my experience as a Title IX Coordinator on a university campus, I have seen the politics, experienced the divisiveness, and witnessed the impact that institutional policy and procedure can have on the lives of students. Though it is a difficult road for institutions of higher education to navigate, “there is still strong and appropriate societal pressure placed on colleges to remain vigilant” to protect against sexual misconduct on their campuses (Edelman, 2018, p. 17). The commitment and effort we have seen from institutions who have committed to addressing sexual violence is truly impressive and has included prevention education, climate surveys, developing skills within staff members to provide trauma-informed care, and a massive increase in awareness of sexual violence for all stakeholders in campus communities.
Through all of the challenges, my philosophy in this area remains clear and steadfast: Student affairs professionals, and particularly those dedicated to Title IX and Student Conduct efforts, must advocate for justice in all cases. An emphasis must be placed on the importance of effective policy and efficient procedure so that students can expect a fair, unbiased, and clear adjudication process. Policies must be continuously evaluated and updated, faculty and staff must be trained on institutional procedure, and an unbiased approach from investigators and hearing officers must assure students that the institution respects the process for seeking justice.
Assessment and Organizational Theory
Banta and Palomba (2015) explain that the overriding purpose of outcomes assessment is to understand how educational programs are working and to determine whether they are contributing to student growth and development. Assessment enables educators and administrators to examine whether students have the knowledge, and skills that students should possess upon successful completion of the program curriculum. The principles stipulated from regional accrediting agencies help colleges and universities build assessment frameworks to guide their practices.
The research also shows that when organizational leaders use a multi-frame approach and incorporate structural, human resource, political, and symbolic structures into their thinking and decision-making, they are more successful (Kezar, 2016). The organizational theory used by student affairs leaders impacts the work of the entire institution. Using each of the frames together can provide a powerful drive for change. It sets the tone and culture of the institution and determines how information is processed as a whole. Organizational theory assists in detecting problems at the institutional level and provides a map to possible solutions.
Before beginning this program, I never believed assessment or organizational theory impacted the work that I do in student affairs. I thought those issues belonged in offices of their own and wouldn’t make a real difference to the operation or effectiveness of an institution. My course work in ELRC 7610: Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education and ELRC 4364: Introduction to Student Affairs highlighted the theories behind these two areas and inspired me to put them into practice. I plan to evaluate both the organizational structure of the student affairs area at my institution to see where processes can be streamlined. I also plan to implement an annual assessment plan requirement for those areas in my division. We must be thinking critically about our operations and our effectiveness because both have influence on the larger institution and those individuals within it.
Student Mental Health and Overall Wellness
A college or university campus is often an environment where both public and self-stigma are heightened, preventing students from seeking treatment for a mental illness due to shame or low self-esteem. Maranzan (2016) uses data from the Daily Canadian Community Health Survey showing approximately one out of every five people with a mental illness “believe they need treatment but do not seek it out due to fears of what others might think” (p. 374). Gaddis et al. (2018) indicate that “because of the uniqueness of the environment of college and university campuses, institutions of higher education also be an ideal place to reduce stigma and the negative association between mental illness and seeking treatment” (p.184). Thus, institutions of higher education have a responsibility to students to increase awareness of mental health and overall wellness and lower the stigma attached to mental illness. By making this issue the focus of my research in ELRC 4249: Understanding and Applying Research in Education, the research helped not only to confirm the importance and prevalence of this issue, but also illuminated the particulars of what universities can do to help.
College can be a difficult time for students where they are away from family, experiencing the stress of a collegiate curriculum, and adapting to pressures coming from peers. However, addition to mental health counseling resources, colleges and universities need to be promoting overall student wellness. The focus on intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual, occupational, financial, social, and environmental wellness will equip students with the tools and strategies they need to enter their careers and become engaged and productive members of society. Universities should strive to implement successful awareness campaigns and integrate teachings into their curriculum so that students can synthesize the ideas into their daily practice.
The importance of effective and efficient Title IX adjudication processes, the significance planning, assessment, and strategic planning can have on the overall operations of an institution of higher education, and the unique position institutions have to set students up for success in regard to their mental health and overall wellness are three issues that I proudly take away from this graduate program. These issues have helped to develop my higher education philosophy and have inspired me to take action in my future career in student affairs. The theoretical framework has been established and it is up to the future leaders in the industry to make the transition from theory to practice.
In my future career, my goals center around these issues and will influence the way I approach my work. I currently serve as Title IX Coordinator for my institution and as I work to develop policy and procedure, I will remember the history and transition of student conduct practice in institutions of higher education in the United States. I also serve as Co-Director of my institution’s Quality Enhancement Plan that focuses on student wellness with a specific emphasis on emotional wellness. Here, I will take into consideration the research and theory of the importance of emphasizing overall wellness and reducing the stigma of mental illness. Finally, I will evaluate both the organizational structure and assessment efforts within my division. The overall effectiveness of operations influence the quality of work produced, an there is work to be done at my institution.