Teaching Critical Thinking

by Kristen Abell

We are almost constantly surrounded by reports of what is happening in the world today, what with everyone being a reporter on social media. As I paged through my Facebook and Twitter feeds today and saw all that was going on in Baltimore, it became increasingly apparent to me that the one thing we’re not exposed to is critical thinking. What does this mean?

In my opinion, critical thinking is the ability to view differing perspectives and identify what is most likely the truth in the information that is being provided, and then evaluating that information to come up with your own opinion about the events taking place. (Although if someone has another definition of critical thinking, I’d be open to hearing it).

If I depended solely on the media to provide my news, I might see that several police have been injured in Baltimore (but no mention of citizens), there have been massive riots and looting, and this is all occurring over the death of Freddie Gray. If I look further, I can see that it’s likely there have also been citizens hurt – whether by police or other rioters, that there were peaceful protests happening, as well, and this is most likely a result of a much longer systemic oppression of the African-American community in Baltimore (and the United States), and not just the death of one man. But the question remains – how did I come to learn to look deeper, to apply critical thinking to the reports with which I’m surrounded? How do we teach this to our students?

I think there are a number of ways we can do this – discussing current events with students, asking them to report from differing perspectives, etc. – but I’m interested in how our student affairs colleagues specifically are doing this. Are you having these conversations with your students? Are you engaging them in discussion that pushes them to think outside their possibly limited viewpoint? More importantly, are you engaging in these practices yourself so that you can role model this for them?

Please share in the comments below if you are using innovative ways of teaching critical thinking – I’d love to find out more about how we’re teaching this very necessary skill in today’s world.

Teaching Critical Thinking

A Reflection on Authenticity

By Kathryn Magura

I talk a lot about authenticity. To me, a core tenant of a person’s integrity is reflected in their authenticity. Authenticity in who they are at home, at work, with friends, and most importantly when no one else is watching.

I am also a big fan of most social media platforms. I am frequently an early adopter for new social media options, and love being able to connect with people all over the world around common topics. That said, I think people quickly forget their authenticity when provided the opportunity to hide behind social media and the internet.

A few months ago I wrote about why I think Student Affairs professionals should care about Gamer Gate. There is sadly a lot of evidence on how women are treated deplorably online in ways men are not. Heck, the actress Ashley Judd made news recently about how her Twitter bullies had gotten so bad, she was seeking legal options.

Back in the world of Student Affairs, there was a lot of discussion last week, lead in part by this post by my co-editor Niki, about the dark side of Student Affairs professionals who hid behind the anonymity of the social media platform Yik Yak at the recent NASPA conference.

What is it about social media and the internet that allows people to think they can say what they want without consequences online? Where is intent vs. impact in the thought process? Would you say the things you say online (anonymous or not) to someone’s face?

Those who know me well have heard me say that I try to always be my authentic self online. If you look at my Twitter feed, or see what I post on Facebook or Instagram, you see the real me. If I ever feel that I am misrepresenting who I am as a person, I will part ways with that social media platform.

We talk a lot about digital identity and how your online presence follows you everywhere. How help people see that authenticity matters in the digital world too?

If you aren’t sure if you should post about that event, or make that comment about someone’s photo, try this tip I learned from my colleague in student conduct: Think about whether you would say those things if your grandmother was watching. If the answer is yes, proceed. If the answer is no… well, turn off the damn computer.

A Reflection on Authenticity

Yik YUCK: Anonymous Social Media at a Student Affairs Conference

by Niki Messmore

Social media platforms that provide anonymity are rarely used for the force of good. The opportunity to step outside of social norms is tempting when provided an opportunity to be anonymous on the internet. So what happens when a small number of individuals at the 2015 NASPA Conference (#naspa15) begin using the app Yik Yak?

The following: Yaks complaining of sessions, trying to hook up, sexist and sexually suggestive remarks about women, body shaming, entitlement of a ‘vacation’, etc. However, on the positive side there are Yaks with thoughtful ideas and social justice education. A full list of screenshots has been compiled on Storify, along with some Twitter commentary.

Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with Yik Yak. This social media platform is like “The Force” from Star Wars – it exists and can be utilized by either the Light or the Dark Side, depending on the character and the choices of the people using it.

So why do a small number of individuals out of a conference of 8,000 people opt to embrace the Dark Side? Dr. John Suler of Rider University argues in the article “The Online Disinhibition Effect” (2004) that there are six factors why people engage in nasty antics on the internet – dissociative anonymity, invisibility, asynchronicity, solipsistic introjection, dissociative imagination, and minimization of authority.

That’s deeper than my word count will allow. However, Suler had a nice summary: “Rather than thinking of disinhibition as the revealing of an underlying “true self,” we can conceptualize it as a shift to a constellation within self-structure, involving clusters of affect and cognition that differ from the in-person constellation.”

So it’s not necessarily that we are seeing the “true selves” of these likely Student Affairs professionals and graduate students when they make awful anonymous statements, but rather we are seeing an aspect of these folks under a certain set of circumstances.

That still doesn’t make the issue any less awful.

I am absolutely disgusted and appalled by the sexually suggestive remarks about women that were made [link]. Some appear benign, perhaps even categorized as compliments rather than harassment, but the individual who wanted to “call dibs” on the “Jennifer Lawrence look-alike” is a total creep. And the body shaming comment [link]? Please have several seats.

Besides exposing some sexism and sizism, the Yaks have also shown something that we already know – some folks believe that conferences are vacations. Now, sometimes people have to fully fund their conference attendance so I say they can vacation their little heart out. But the entitlement of some people, such as this Yak, is eye-wincing. Comments like this also go back to the issue of “work-life balance”. To be honest, we probably don’t have any balance because we waste so much time discussing this subject, but there is something seriously wrong when student affairs professionals feel their conference trip is the only time they get to be away from students…

The responses to these Yaks has been interesting. Many have harshly condemned the yaks, a few have joked about it and don’t take them seriously, and some see the Yaks as part of a larger professional crisis.

Regarding the latter, I have to say this: Student Affairs does exist in external formulas when it comes to the profession’s credibility. I’ve seen quite a few tweets worrying how these Yaks could ruin ‘everything we’ve worked for’ to make ourselves credible to faculty, administration, and other key populations (something I think we need to stop worrying about altogether). But let’s stop that hand-wringing right here: Student Affairs has problems, yes, but so does every other profession. Academic Affairs is always in the news for scandals, whether it is the behavior of professors smoking on airplanes or the many accounts of racism, and sexual harassment/assault. We’re gonna be alright, #SAfam.

So, how should we respond?

The statement by NASPA was a great addition to the chorus of folks calling out the behavior on Twitter. I hope we continue to have this conversation within professional development for staff and graduate students. Additionally, I hope that we can be professional in these conversations online and offline – already I’ve seen comments that I perceive as unprofessional in the method of how they are critiquing the #naspa15 Yik Yak people.

PLEASE watch this TedTalk by Monica Lewinisky (“The Price of Shame“) that has been receiving acclaim lately. Recognize that cyber-bullying hurts – this is for both the people that have been mentioned on YikYak as well as how we treat the people who made the mistake of posting harmful and sometimes disturbing comments.

In addition, please read this series of tweets by @BlackGirlDanger on how we shouldn’t publicly shame people who mess up and instead provide space for them to do better. Remember – even Darth Vader was able to redeem himself from the Dark Side.




Yik YUCK: Anonymous Social Media at a Student Affairs Conference

Social Justice Discussions in #SAchat

by Niki Messmore

Social justice (the process and goal of dismantling systemic inequities) is performed and discussed in a variety of methods within the professional field of higher education and student affairs. An emerging avenue of social justice education is social media, including Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. Erica Thompson of the ACPA Digital Task Force approached me to ask about proven practices in social justice with digital technology and I’ve been reflecting on the overall status of student affairs and SJ education online. This reflection will include a case study: my observations related to the posting of a blog post titled “Why I Feel White Folks Shouldn’t Run Multicultural Affairs” by Jerad Green.

If we were all on Larry Wilmore’s The Nightly Report segment “Keep It 100” and the question was “Is student affairs fully committed to social justice?” I’d throw bags of weak tea at anyone who said “Yes”.

Although social justice is an espoused value of student affairs and can be found within the ACPA & NASPA Professional Competencies, we are still working towards bettering our policies, curriculum for graduate students, professional development, and more towards fully embracing social justice. There’s a lot that can be done.

One way we can further our progress? Social media.


On January 21, 2015 Jerad Green posted the above-mentioned blog post on the Student Affairs Collective, a website that originated the #sachat weekly chats and backchannel for folks within the field to post thoughts, articles, questions and to connect with one another. Green’s blog post led to a flurry of activity on Twitter that demonstrates how SA professionals connect on social justice topics in a public forum.


  • White Fragility: “White fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves”, a term coined by Robin DiAngelo. White fragility was very real following Green’s blog post. There were a number of white student affairs professionals from various backgrounds and time in the field who reacted defensively. Some comments included: believing it was unfair that someone could deny them a job based upon the color of their skin and bringing in their other marginalized identities to demonstrate personal expertise on understanding racism.
  • Coded Racism: There were comments from white professionals that stated Green’s post was “reckless”, someone should have helped him write a “more appropriate” article, and they were worried for Green’s professional future for writing the piece. These tweets are examples of a (subconscious?) maintenance of institutionalized racism and a push for respectability politics. They do not acknowledge that Green had the right to engage in storytelling of his own experiences and perspectives…even though it is critical to hear the perspectives of people of color on issues related to multicultural offices in higher education.
  • Dissonance and Personal Growth: There were individuals who displayed resistance to this idea that race matters in selecting multicultural directors and engaged in a colorblindness approach. However, after interacting on Twitter with the author and others, the were resistant individuals who demonstrated growth in better understanding where the blog post was coming from.
  • A Continued Conversation: It can be difficult to have follow-up on social media conversations. As we have began to see the national cry for justice in the wake of the events in Ferguson dissipate, folks are often looking for the next shiny thing to discuss. However, writing response blogs is a good way to keep the conversation going. Dr. Dafina-Lazarus Stewart, Associate Professor of higher education and student affairs at BGSU, wrote an excellent response blog post that captured multiple sides of the topic.

In many ways, engaging in social justice discussions on social media is similar to other methods of communication. There are risks, certainly. It is very easy for message tone to be misinterpreted and the format (especially Twitter) is incredibly limited. One concern is that SJ topics often require nuance and it is difficult to pack everything one needs to have an educated exchange of ideas in 140-character tweets. Additionally, folks are sometimes worried about their professional reputation since social media is a public forum and there may be repercussions for their statements.

On the benefits of SJ discussions on social media, it does allow for professional development with colleagues around the world and help to break folks from the bubble of their own office/institution. Overall, I believe it creates a forum for a topic that is often ignored in higher education and provides easier access to educational opportunities.

What do you think? Is it beneficial to engage in social justice discussions on Twitter hashtags like #sachat? Or is it more harm than good?

Tweet me at @NikiMessmore with your thoughts!



Social Justice Discussions in #SAchat

Book Review – Social Media for Educators: Strategies and Best Practices by Tanya Joosten

By Jennifer Keegin

I was drawn to this book based on the title and was interested to see what strategies and best practices would be listed.

The author, Tanya Joosten, studies communication technology and has held numerous editorial and advisory council positions. She has taught online courses and as well as “blended” courses while managing campus emerging technology projects.

The first chapters are “Why Social Media?” and “Preparing to Use Social Media?” and are pretty much what you imagine they would be about – trying to convince educators that connecting via social media is important with some stats to back up the concept.

“Social Media can have a positive impact on education professionals through the development of a network of colleagues, building of community, and engagement of its membership.”

It explains Twitter and hashtags, and the need for authenticity.

Pedagogical Needs:
1. Increasing communication and contact
2. Engaging students through rich, current media
3. Gathering and providing feedback
4. Creating cooperative and collaborative learning opportunities
5. Providing experiential learning opportunities

Part Two is called “Social Media: What Do We Do With It?” and the answers are Increased communication and contact with students, developing a richer learning environment, and building cooperation and feedback.

I myself did not gain much from this book because it was basically preaching to the choir, but it was a handy reference for anyone who is trying to justify just how important social media is in order to communicate better with students – meeting them where there are if you will – and how it takes time and money to do it properly.

Book Review – Social Media for Educators: Strategies and Best Practices by Tanya Joosten

Student Storytelling

by Kristen Abell

This past semester at my institution, our marketing and communications division embarked on a project about which I have to admit I’m really excited. We are telling the university’s story through the words of our students. How are we doing this? I thought I’d share a little about our digital storytelling process for others who might be interested in doing something similar.

We started by scheduling a four-hour block (which turned into a six-hour block by the end of the day) in our student union on campus in which to recruit students and have them tell their stories. Each student filled out a two-page questionnaire asking them such things as how college has inspired them, what they admire most about the institution, etc. After filling out the questionnaire, students were whisked into a makeshift photography studio with our professional photographer. While they were being photographed in a variety of poses (we even had one student do some breakdancing for us) against a white background, they were also interviewed by our staff to get a richer story about who they were. Once they completed this photography session, they then went onto our second photography session with one of our graphic designers. These photos were more casual with the campus as our backdrop so that we could use them with various social media. Finally, students shot some short videos telling us about themselves, where they hoped to go after our institution and what they loved about the campus.

But this was merely the first step in our process. After getting all the data, so to speak, we then had to process it. Pictures were selected and edited, interviews were crafted into stories, and videos were edited. We then began the process of sharing all of our great student stories with the world.

First, a student Q and A was posted on our university website with pictures. This then got shared on Twitter and Facebook. After that, we posted several images and quotes to a Tumblr site, as well as Vine videos and Instagram shots. We have been using the hashtag #UMKCGoingPlaces to designate these posts.

Overall, the response has been very positive, although we hope to have more engagement with our posts as we continue to build on them. We are actually headed out to do our second round of storytelling today on our second campus. We’ve changed a few things – we scheduled students ahead of time and had them fill out their questionnaires and email them back this time – less handwriting interpreting for us. But I have to admit, I’m really pleased with how this project has turned out, and I look forward to seeing more students as we continue to hold these storytelling sessions. Almost as importantly, the rest of the staff with whom I work is equally excited – this project has been lots of fun for all of us, and it has been a great reminder to us of why we’re here.

How are you telling your students’ story?

Student Storytelling

Tone Policing in Student Affairs: A Case Study on #Ferguson Discussions

by Niki Messmore

In the hours and days following the decision of “no indictment” from the grand jury convened to hear the case of State of Missouri v Darren Wilson, folks in student affairs have struggled to find meaning alongside the rest of the world. Many folks within student affairs have utilized Twitter hashtags and Facebook groups related to the field to begin discussions, ask questions, and engage with one another.

Sometimes these discussions get tricky and result in less than positive feelings.

The Beginnings of a Case Study
The facebook group ‘Student Affairs Professional’ with over 13,000 members had an interesting batch of posts that led me to wonder what are the rules of engagement in regards to social justice discussions within the field.

Perhaps two hours after the “no indictment” decision from Ferguson on 11/24, one professional (the ‘original poster’ aka OP) posted a question (that I am summarizing) asked folks what they were expecting on their campuses and if they were afraid of riots and violence happening. This post we will call the ‘Original Thread’ aka OT.

Now…that question made me highly uncomfortable. I personally feel that the grand jury decision was in error and that Darren Wilson needs to go through a full criminal trial. To ask such a question so soon, when justice for a young black men was lost? It didn’t feel appropriate. Further, the question seemed awash in white fear because automatically connecting Ferguson to riots on our college campus? I feel that line of thought stems from systemic racism.

Within that comment thread, I posted a very balanced statement, gentle challenge, and added that I’m more worried about riots from sporting events than Ferguson on college campuses. Around 2-3 others posted a comment as well, most in the form of a pretty gentle challenge.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

The post got deleted – which is perfectly understandable because the OP likely realized they made a mistake and probably did not want to be anyone’s after-school special as other group members used her post as a learning tool.

Then there were posts created calling out questions for why the OT was deleted. I posted my assumption from above. Then there were some folks engaging in what I would call ‘tone policing’.

What’s Tone Policing, Preciousss?*
Tone Policing: The act of shaming someone for responding in a manner that does not fit into proper polite society, particularly when it is a member of a marginalized population responding to a member of a privilege population. Tone policing occurs when a person is called out for a seemingly ‘harsh’ response.

Tone policing is harmful because (via: TooYoungfortheLivingDead.tumblr.com)
1. “Marginalized people often do not have the luxury of emotionally distancing themselves from discussions on their rights and experiences.”
2. “Tone policing is the ultimate derailing tactic. When you tone police, you automatically shift the focus of the conversation away from what you or someone else did that was wrong, and onto the other person and their reaction.”
3. “Tone policing assumes that the oppressive act is not an act of aggression, when it very much is. The person who was oppressed by the action, suddenly is no longer a victim, but is “victimizing” the other person by calling them out.”

 Back to our Regularly Scheduled Program: The Case Study
Now, within this second thread in Student Affairs Professionals on 11/25, there were some professionals tone policing. Some comments (without citations because while the comments are public I am not trying to bring attention to them – we are trying to understand symptoms of a systemic issue, not point fingers) include:

  1. “We are all educators and another educator asked a seemingly harmless question only to be criticized to the point of feeling like they had to remove a post?”
  2. “And what if the OP was a grad or a new pro asking advice looking for guidance and instead was given criticism to the point that they felt the need to stop the discourse and remove the post.”
  3. “We boast about being an open, friendly, and educational profession; yet we are quick to put another professional on the stake for something we see as alarming or uneducated. Were’s their teachable moment?”
  4. “Are there better ways the original question could have been asked? Sure. Could people have pointed that out differently? Absolutely.”
  5. “We need to allow questions to be asked or statements be made, and not shame people to not asking them or sharing their opinions, probably especially those that make us most uncomfortable, whether we find them right, wrong, or otherwise.”
  6. “But again – we are shaming the original poster into redacting her question. Why is it not okay for her to feel supported…and challenged- in a civil way? If we need to think about the broader subject, great. I get it. I agree. But nobody should feel bad enough about a question (which was certainly asked without malice and minus a lack of concern) to delete it rather than learn from those who should be peers.”

This was all extremely disheartening to read, especially when I had participated in the OT and read all the comments except the last one before it was deleted. The gentle challenges of the commenters to the OP were very civil. In no way at all did the commenters need to rephrase how they were made. In fact, due to the perceived racial identity of the OT and most of the commenters, I read the tone policing comments as something that contributed to oppression (unintentional or not). When people respond to your questions or comments in a way that you read as hostile, it is best to remember these tips for dealing.

Why are we so quick to rally around those with privilege?
Truly, I understand that it can be difficult for people with privilege to seek understanding of systems of oppression (hello, I have a ton of privileges). It’s not easy to be vulnerable and ask questions. It is equally not easy to be from a marginalized group when your privileged questions create harmful impacts.

We grow best in discomfort. Gaining an understanding in social justice is not easy. It can be painful to peel back the layers of our ignorance as we work past feelings of guilt, shame, and denial. But we need to hold people accountable for their questions when needed because that will help them learn. As writer Ngọc Loan Trần proposed, let’s call in people from our community to a higher level of understanding.

At the end of the day, don’t expect conversations on social issues to be just rainbows and puppies. It’s going to be messy – and that’s a good thing.

Have you ever experienced or witnessed tone policing? Share your thoughts in the comments or with me on Twitter @NikiMessmore.


PS: If you want to discuss the current events of Ferguson, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and the accompanying movements, ACPA is having a community conversation on Dec 9th at 4:30pm EST.

*even serious topics get a Lord of the Rings joke, because I’m cool like that

Tone Policing in Student Affairs: A Case Study on #Ferguson Discussions