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.

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Teaching Critical Thinking

Reflections on #CCPA15 Spring Institute

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the California College Personnel Association (CCPA) Spring Institute.  You can catch social media highlights curated by the folks at CCPA in this Storify post.  I thought I’d share a couple of my takeaways:

Ascend to what end?

The conference theme was “Ascent: Climbing the Steps of Your Student Affairs Career,” which I found intriguing enough.  Then ACPA Vice President Donna Lee (@DeanDonnaLee) delivered a dynamic lunchtime keynote and brought the discourse to another level when she asked us, “Ascend to what end?”  In sharing some of her professional journey, she encouraged us to reflect on our paths, passions, and purposes.   She also mentioned that ascent doesn’t always mean up, which was a helpful reminder that a professional trajectory need not be a straight slope. Sometimes I feel myself getting caught up in the race to the top and comparing myself to other people.  Checking in with the question of “Ascend to what end?” reminded me to think about my values and to reflect on my journey with that lens.

Think local

If you are not a member of a local professional organization, I encourage you to find one and jump on board now!  Both ACPA and NASPA have regional versions of their national organizations, and many functionally-focused groups also have presence at state or regional levels.  Leadership opportunities abound at this level, and are an especially great entry point for graduate students and new professionals (plug for my CA friends – CCPA elections and appointed position applications are now open).  Professional development programs from these groups also tend to more accessible, both in terms of finances and logistics, as events are typically cheaper and closer than national ones.  And, of course, networking with local colleagues is fun and can be particularly useful for geographically-bound folks looking for jobs.

Gratitude

Shoutouts go to the CCPA Leadership Team and volunteers for putting on a great event, the California College of the Arts for hosting, all the engaging presenters and speakers, and the many enthusiastic participants.

Reflections on #CCPA15 Spring Institute

The Scope of Technology

by Kristen Abell

I am often a bit befuddled by talk of technology in student affairs, as it so commonly focuses on social media – which uses technology, but isn’t necessarily technology in and of itself. I also find it interesting now that I work on website development the number of people that assume I work in IT because obviously, websites = technology (note: I don’t work in IT). Also true, and yet not.

The other day I was talking with one of our IT staff in the hallway. She commented how she could set up new computers for people all day, but she had no idea how to train them to develop or maintain websites. I countered with the fact that I could train them, but when it comes to the hardware, please leave me out of it. It’s a commonly accepted fact outside of technology that if you work in computers, you know everything about them. When the reality is quite the opposite. The more I learn about technology, the more I recognize that I don’t know about the broader field of tech.

I believe that one of our biggest challenges in student affairs is recognizing the scope of technology when we’re discussing it. It is hard to say, for example, that technology should be a competency area without defining what we mean when we’re talking about technology. Do we mean coding? Do we mean learning management systems? Do we mean social media? Or do we mean some combination of all of these things?

More importantly, how do we get away from defining just one of these things – i.e., social media – as technology in student affairs?

At some point, I think we need to define just what are the important areas of technology in which student affairs professionals need to have some competency. I don’t believe we necessarily need to have a cross-sampling of all of them, and I don’t even believe we need a deep understanding of some of them. But as a field, we need to develop standards for what we do need to know and how we might use it. I think there has been some headway in this between NASPA and ACPA, but I’d be curious to know what you believe is important for student affairs professionals to know when it comes to technology.

What should we include in a base level for technology knowledge for student affairs professionals? In a more advanced level? I hope you’ll share some thoughts in the comments below.

The Scope of Technology

To the Complicated Women of Student Affairs: Thanks for Having Me

by Niki Messmore

 

For most of my life I’ve thrived from exposure to ‘strong women’ archetypes. At a young age I witnessed sexism (even if I didn’t quite have the words for it then) and I was in need of seeing someone like me, a girl, be a willful and fearless figure. It helped, of course, if they were awesome at martial arts (Buffy! Xena! My childhood heroes, forever).

As I grew older, female representation in non-stereotypical jobs and in the media became increasingly important. Our society is saturated with men overwhelmingly in positions of authority, from the leadership team of my alma mater while I was a student there to the fantasy books/films I love (…at least Tolkien gave us Eowyn…). It is sometimes very difficult  to imagine what is possible for my life when society dictates that my possibilities are limited.

Student Affairs shocked me when I entered graduate school. Surprisingly, even after being a highly involved student leader and service-learning staff member at my alma mater, I still held this lofty idea that student affairs was all about social justice – one of the core components of our field. I learned quickly that was not completely true.

That’s not to say that the field is not down with social justice, but it’s more so with words than action. Ultimately, student affairs is a profession that operates within institutions that were birthed through injustice (after all, who were the only folk to attend colonial colleges?). It’s difficult to move past that, especially when there are social attitudes that affect higher education. We don’t operate inside a vacuum. Not only does systemic oppression affect the profession, but the profession is made up of individuals who each have unique life experiences influenced by systemic oppression.

Still, I was surprised to learn that even though women make up the majority of student affairs employees, the majority of leadership positions are white and male. It’s frustrating to have this gap between our espoused goals and our enacted goals. And this is just one example of how the student affairs profession does perpetuate systemic oppression rather than tear it down.

This is a difficult truth to swallow when one desires to advance to leadership positions over time and has a love for something that isn’t always seen as women friendly, i.e. technology.

That’s why it is so important that I see other women-identified individuals who take leadership in the profession. Fearless women who challenge themselves and their peers. Intelligent and savvy women who bring new ideas into play and think outside our standard processes. Strong women who balance so much in their lives. Vulnerable women who share their successes and failures. Authentic women who call it like it is. Really, as Maggie Gyllenhall said at the Golden Globes, what is important to see is “complicated women“.

Complicated women-identified folks. (because recognition of the gender spectrum needs to be made)

I’ve had the pleasure of blogging on SAWTT since September 2013 and the opportunity to become introduced into this amazing group of women leaders in blogging and beyond. I am so excited to join Kathryn Magura as Co-Editor, and thankful for Kristen Abell for giving me this opportunity.

I look forward to working with SAWTT crew in this new role and learning more from this wonderful community of complicated women-identified folks. If you’re interested in blogging or just want to chat, tweet me up at @NikiMessmore.

To the Complicated Women of Student Affairs: Thanks for Having Me

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

Choosing a Spring National Conference 2015

By Josie Ahlquist

Around one year ago I wrote a post called “Choosing a Spring National Conference” spelling out the line up for spring national conferences.  I bring you version 2.o for 2015, also including ways you can be part of the conference experience without physically being on site.

There are many decisions that go into attending a conference.  Especially in the spring, a number of national conferences are scheduled to choose from.  Due to the various costs that it takes to attend each of these, for most professionals the likelihood is only attending one, if any at all. 

To help bridge these challenges, every year conferences seem to integrating technology to further their educational offerings and attendee interaction.  For example conference hashtags, as well as live streaming keynotes and educational sessions.  

Please make note of the early bird deadlines that I have gathered.  I have noticed some trends, including early bird deadlines being pushed up weeks early from last year.  I have also noticed three association prices significantly rose since last year, while two others have remained the same.  One association (ACPA) prices dropped across each early bird registration category.

National Association of Campus Activities (NACA)

College Student Educators International (ACPA) 

  • Dates: March 5-8th 2015
  • City: Tampa, FL 
  • Website: http://convention.myacpa.org/tampa2015/
  • Registration: Early Bird February 18th Member $450 Student $190 Non-Member $650
  • Follow Hashtag #ACPA15

National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) 

Association of College Unions International (ACUI) 

  • Dates: April 8-12th 
  • City: San Antonio,TX 
  • Registration: Early Deadline by December 17th Member $795 Students $395 Non Member $1,025
  • Website: http://www.acui.org/sanantonio/
  • Follow Hashtag #ACUI15

National Intramurals-Recreation Sports Association (NIRSA) 

  • Dates: March 30th-April 2nd
  • City: Grapevine, TX 
  • Registration: Early bird February 18th Member $565 Nonmember $735 Student Member $450
  • Website: www.nirsa.org/nirsa2015
  • Follow Hashtag #NIRSA2015

Association of College and University Housing Officers – International (ACUHO-I) 

  • Dates: June 27-30th, 2015
  • City: Orlando, FL
  • Registration: Early Registration April 30th Member $588 Non-Member $798
  • Website: http://www.acuho-i.org/events/ace
  • Follow Hashtag #ACUHOI

For more information about choosing a national conference, check out my post last year that considers four major elements to consider including your conference goals, adding up your costs and receiving institutional support.  

I’d love to hear other conferences to consider in Student Affairs this spring and early summer.  How are you seeing technology fused into the conference experience on-site as well as for virtual attendees?

Personally, this year will be a very heavy conference attendance season, as I share research from many studies I have been working on.  You can find me at NACA, ACPA and NASPA!  Hope to see you there! 

If you can’t attend, follow me at @josieahlquist as I’ll be tweeting out session content!

Choosing a Spring National Conference 2015

Commemorating Transgender Day of Remembrance #TDoR

By Rachel Luna

When I write for this blog, I write from various perspectives: as a student affairs professional, an educator, a tech nerd, etc.  I also write from my perspective as a cisgender woman.  As someone who identifies in this way, I reap multiple privileges, many of which represent safety.  For the most part, I can use the restrooms where I feel most comfortable, people will call me by my preferred name, and I do not have to justify my existence or humanity based on my gender identity.  Unfortunately, for many members of the global transgender community, safety in these ways and others is inadequate or nonexistent.

This Thursday is the 16th annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR).  Held each year on November 20, this day serves to memorialize people who have been killed due to transgender hate or bias.  Events often include a vigil and reading aloud the names of victims who have been killed in the past year (this year’s list is a staggering 11 pages long so far).

A 2013 National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs report shows increases in reports of physical hate violence in 2013 compared to the previous year, with transgender women and people of color among those facing the highest risk of homicide. Data from a national survey on transgender discrimination indicate that 1 in 4 members of the trans* community have experienced violence.  College campuses and higher education are not immune from these social realities as 35% of respondents reported experiencing harassment and bullying in higher education settings.

One way to honor the victims of transphobia is by observing this day and working toward making our campuses and communities safer and more inclusive for all people.  So on Thursday, I invite you to acknowledge and honor the victims of trans* hate, perhaps in one of these ways:

  • Attend a TDoR event – Find an event in your area (check this list of events or this one).
  • Host a vigil and/or dialogue in your community- Create space to host an event in your office, on your campus, or in your neighborhood to honor the victims and reflect on this day.
  • Educate yourself – Enhance your awareness and build your knowledge about the trans* community and issues facing this population.  Read articles (like this one) or visit your campus or community LGBT center to learn more.
  • Honor intersecting identities – I currently work at a health sciences institution, so in addition to memorializing the victims of the past year, I’m screening and discussing a short film regarding transgender cultural competence for medical providers.  You can explore available resources for a variety of intersecting identities, such as the Trans People of Color Coalition and Trans*Athlete.

Resources

Commemorating Transgender Day of Remembrance #TDoR