Bridging the Student/Academic Affairs Divide
Research is beginning to reveal that comprehensive institutional change addressing both campus climate and the curriculum is the right strategy to ensure learning success for all students. Yet, the emergence of diversity as a major educational and student life issue for higher education has exposed how disconnected these two areas of institutional management--student affairs and academic affairs--have been. To provide the best educational environment, campus leaders must work much harder to bridge the student/academic affairs divide. Below we describe several institutional efforts to bring together these two areas of college life in an effort to better prepare students for the challenge of societal diversity.
Iowa State University
Iowa State University has recently developed a new one-credit course, "Dialogues on Diversity," that explores diversity within the context of the Iowa State University community. Taught by teams that include faculty members, staff members, and students, the course provides an opportunity to foster greater awareness of diversity; stimulate thinking and communication about diversity on personal, legal, and strategic levels; and help students develop a better sense of their own values. Students discuss the university environment and ISU policies, such as those on sexual harassment and affirmative action. They explore issues of personal responsibility and community-shared values. The course ends with a session on "Creating Community at ISU: Making an Action Plan." For information about the program, contact Suzanne Hendrich, associate professor of food science and human nutrition.
At Bloomfield College, student affairs and academic affairs staff members have worked collaboratively in a variety of ways on diversity projects campuswide. When the college began its transformation to fulfill its mission to "prepare students to function at the peak of their potential in a multicultural, multiracial society," faculty development was at the center of its efforts. Bloomfield defined faculty development as professional development. Seminars and workshops included all those who teach students--faculty and librarians, student affairs staff members, tutors, and developmental specialists. To define the competencies they wanted students to learn, task forces were created that included members of the faculty, student affairs staff, and academic affairs staff. A competency assessment program is overseen by both the vice president for student affairs and the vice president for academic affairs. One aspect of assessment focuses on recording experiential learning. The Student Development Transcript helps students and faculty members recognize student achievement gained by participating in cocurricular activities. In addition, the faculty's standing committee on faculty development now includes representation from student affairs. Finally, programs in the Teaching and Learning Center are not only open to staff, but staff have been aggressively invited in an attempt to overcome a culture in which such an invitation might seem only pro forma. Even the multicultural study group includes student affairs participation and shared leadership. For additional information, contact Martha J. LaBare, dean of academic affairs.
St. Lawrence University
Since 1987, St Lawrence University's First-Year Program has brought together first-year students in living-learning communities that actively examine issues of diversity and commonality as the students interact dialectically in academic courses and in social life. All first-year students live in residences organized around a required course. Called residential colleges, these living-learning units of fifty students each are staffed by a team that cuts across major structural divisions of the university: students, faculty, and residential life professionals. Each team consists of: three faculty members who team-teach the courses and serve as academic advisers to the students; two or three upper-division students who serve as college assistants; one upper-division student mentor or tutor; and a professional residential coordinator. One of the goals of these residential learning communities is to help students understand how critical intellectual inquiry can directly inform their experience, both subjectively--in individual reflection on identity, beliefs, and values--and socially, in the choices they make in how they live together. Courses taught in this program also involve the development of communication skills, and subject matters are chosen which intersect with many issues students experience as they try to negotiate relationships between individuality and community in the residence halls. For additional information, contact Ginny Schwartz, assistant director of the First-Year Program, or visit their Web site.
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