Northwest Association of College & University Housing Officers

Presidential Reflections: Past, Present, and Future Part One

By Shelly Clark

This is the first part in a three part series brought to you by NWACUHO’s Presidential Trio which consists of our Past-President, current President, and President-Elect. Shelly Clark, our Past-President, shares her reflections in our first segment. 



“You can’t turn an aircraft carrier 90 degrees.  The most sustainable change in direction of an aircraft carrier is to make small incremental changes over the course of a number of years.  Making small incremental changes dramatically changes the trajectory without breaking the ship apart.”

– Dr. Larry Roper

While I was completing my Masters degree at Oregon State University, I had the opportunity to learn from Dr. Larry Roper about the process of creating organizational change.  Dr. Roper often described the long term vision, sustained energy, and wayfinding skills needed for creating significant organizational changes as being a similar process as changing the course of an aircraft carrier.  Putting too much strain on the framework of the aircraft carrier breaks the ship apart, not changing your course will lead your ship to running aground.

2008 – 2011 was a time of great change in our Association.  It was a time where we defined our Association core values and purposes, filed for non-profit status in Oregon, and in 2011 officially became a 501(c)6 retroactive to the date of incorporation.  In 2012 our Association celebrated their 50th year as an Association. (http://nwacuho.org/about-nwacuho/history-and-background/)

Under the leadership of Josh Gana (the University of Washington), Steve Fitterer (Mt. Royal University) and Richard DeShields (Central Washington University) our Association embarked on creating the first version of the NWACUHO Master Plan in 2011-2012.  The goal of this master planning document was to be able to give our Association guidance as we were charting our path for the next few years. When questions about the direction, decisions, and rationale for our path came up; we were able to center ourselves on this master planning document.  In 2017 it was time to reinvest in our Association master planning process and realign our Associations actions with the voices of our membership. Our Association leadership, again guided by the voices of our Association, then authored our 2017-2021 Master Plan. You can find our current Association master plan here:  http://nwacuho.org/about-nwacuho/masterplan/

You might be saying, “That is great history, Shelly, but why does this matter now?  Why is this an important enough conversation point for it to be featured in The Soundings?”  Part of the role of serving as Past-President to our Association means that I have a responsibility to listen to the voices of our Association and recommending action to our Board of Directors.  Serving as Past-President means that you have had the opportunity to develop competency in understanding the long term vision of our Association, have the sustained energy to serve our Association, and have an acute understanding of our Associations wayfinding processes.

We are currently mid-way through fulfilling our 2017 – 2021 Association Master Plan.  We have completed some tasks, are in process of completing others, and have some work that has yet to begin.  If you have feedback on how we are doing or want to call our attention to something that has been omitted in our planning process I invite you to contact our President-Elect, President, or myself.  You are also invited to contact any member our our Board of Directors. Contact information can be found here: http://nwacuho.org/about-nwacuho/board/  

Believe it or not, we will soon begin work on our 2022 – 2027 Master Plan.  Before you know it, we will be reaching out again to our Association to learn more from our membership about their vision for our Association.   


Shelly Clark is currently the Associate Director of University Housing at Western Oregon University. She is the Past-President for NWACUHO.

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Cognitive Impacts of Financial Stress and Strain

Author: Olivia Stankey

“Students attending college in today’s society are doing so following the worst recession since the Great Depression” (Serido et al, 2014).  This reality has implications on our students for both their current and future financial lives. The financial decisions students make in their years of undergrad will have an effect on the rest of their lives – positively or negatively.  It is more important than ever that our students know how to navigate the financial realm around them. Unfortunately many of our students are not coming into college equipped with this information.

Financial Literacy is defined as, “a person’s ability to process economic information as well as make informed decisions about financial planning, wealth accumulation, debt, and pensions” (Lusardi & Mitchell, 2014).  As a sub-portion of Financial Literacy, Student Loan Debt Literacy is defined as, “The ability to identify, understand, interpret, and navigate student loan options, principles, and practices associated with responsible borrowing and debt management” (Lee & Mueller, 2014).  Taking a moment to reflect, if you have student loans, do you know how to identify, understand, interpret, and navigate this realm? Who taught you what you needed to know about finances? Student loans? Who is teaching our students?

In addition to the overall importance of learning to have agency over your own financial life, being under financial stress and strain, as many of our students are, has actual cognitive consequences.  Financial Strain is defined as, “financial demands that tax one’s ability to manage those demands [and] is a source of stress among college students” (Serido et al, 2014). According to the study done by Serido and colleagues (2014), there are five cognitive consequences for individuals under Financial Strain:

  1. Limited view of potential financial options
  2. Blind-spot for long term effects of financial decisions
  3. Not enough time spent gathering relevant information
  4. Errors made in their assessments and predictions
  5. Oversimplification of their decisions

Thinking about your students, have you seen this happen?  Have you seen a student sign up for a credit card to pay their late student tuition bill without thinking about the interest rates?  Have you seen students express financial strain but then not visit the Scholarships and Financial Aid office? What ways have your seen this phenomenon affect your students and what can you do about it?

There are a number of proactive actions you can take as a professional to support your students around financial literacy and alleviating the effects of financial stress and strain.  Below are three action steps you can take with no financial expertise required, as you may also be under financial stress and strain.

  1. Get to know the students that you work and interact with.  There is a significant amount of shame around financial need, so getting to know the student and building trust is the first step in helping the student help themselves.  
  2. Become familiar with that your campus does to help students in financial need, from financial assistance to counseling for stress.  
  3. Look for opportunities to save students money while protecting student anonymity, such as meal plan donation programs, offering full meals at programs instead of snacks, scholarship forms that are one page or less to complete, and not providing an entrance fee to services.



Lee, J. & Mueller, J. A. (2014). Student loan debt literacy: A Comparison of first-generation and continuing-generation college students. Journal of College Student Development, 55(7), 714-719.

Lusardi, A. & Mitchell, O. S. (2014). The economic importance of financial literacy: theory and evidence. Journal of Economic Literature, 52(1), 5-44.

Serido, J., Shim, S., Xiao, J. J., Tang, C., & Card, N.A. (2014).  Financial adaptation among college students: Helping students cope with financial strain. Journal of College Student Development, 55(3), 310-316.

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Membership Engagement Committee

NWACUHO, like other organizations, can only exist and flourish if the membership is engaged.  This is an organization of members for members.  As the name suggests, the Membership Engagement Committee provides opportunity for members to give back to the association and provide input to the Board on ways to improve our members’ experience.  For more information visit us at the NWACUHO table in the exhibit hall and at http://nwacuho.org/committees/membership-engagement/

Co-Chair: Scott Etherton

Scott is the Director of Housing and Conferences at Willamette University.  He previously worked at Oregon State University, Pacific Lutheran University, and Linfield College.  In addition to several roles in Housing and Residential Life, he has also worked in HR and Equity and Inclusion offices.  Scott became involved in the Membership Engagement Committee to help build up NWACUHO as he believes that the association has much to offer our profession, our institutions, and because of the support NWACUHO has given him throughout his career.

Board Member:  Christine Zapisocki

Christine is the Manager of Housing and Residence Life at the University of the Fraser Valley. While Christine has worked in post-secondary education for over sixteen years, she is a new professional when it comes to student housing. In her previous roles Christine worked in HR, employee training and development, and faculty. Christine became involved in the NWACUHO Board as part of her professional development in the field, to build relationships with colleagues from other institutes and to contribute to the Association.

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ACUHO-I Foundation Representative

2019 Elections

We are currently accepting self-nominations from interested parties to serve as the ACUHO-I Foundation Regional Cabinet Representative for NWACUHO. If you are interested, please contact past-pres@nwacuho.org. The ACUHO-I Foundation Trustees, working in concert with the ACUHO-I Executive Board, has aligned its structure and operations to actively engage the ACUHO-I membership in fundraising efforts. Critical to this effort is the work of the Regional Cabinet. Regional representatives engage in active fundraising throughout the year, and serve as liaisons between their individual region and the Foundation. Their conference activities, as well as year-round stewardship, serve to connect regional members with the important work of both the Foundation and the Association.


This position’s term of service will begin January 1, 2019 and conclude December 31, 2020.

Upcoming Meetings

  1. January meeting: January 28-29, 2019, Chicago, Illinois
    1. Jan. 27- Arrival
    2. Jan. 28 from 8:30am-5:30pm
    3. Jan. 29 from 8:30am-12:00pm
  2. NWACUHO Annual Conference- February 11-13, 2019, Portland, Oregon
  3. ACUHO-I Annual Conference- June 22-25, 2019, Toronto, Canada
  4. New Board Member Training- October 2019
    1. This is only required in the first year on the cabinet.

When traveling for Foundation business, it is the responsibility of the Regional Foundation Representative’s institution to pay for travel expenses such as hotel, conference registration, and airfare. 


  • Regional Cabinet Representatives will serve a minimum of one two-year term
  • Regional Cabinet Representatives must have a strong network of connections to members and corporate partners from within the region and an interest in helping the ACUHO-I Foundation advance its fundraising efforts
  • To be eligible for one of this position, the volunteer must have a record of lifetime giving of at least $250 or more and $100 annually while serving as the Regional Representative.
  • Attend upcoming meetings

A full copy of the job description is available here.

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Greetings from the PACURH Board of Directors

Authors: PACURH Board of Directors


My name is Aubrieann Hale (She/Her/Hers) and I am the PACURH Regional Director for the 2018 – 2019 academic year. The PACURH RBD and I are excited to introduce ourselves to y’all!

I am currently a senior studying sociology/social services along with law and justice at Central Washington University. I am a first generation, low income and independent student, this serves as a founding point to make me who I am and has gotten me to where I am today.

My goal for the year in this position is to promote self-care and transparency within the region. Being in positions like this can be difficult especially when there are only few individuals representing hundreds of others. Information that we as a board see will ultimately impact campuses and I want to make sure that all of their voices are being heard! Each institution is different and each have their own voice, if we are able to be transparent with the region it builds trust. Having trust in the region and those who advocate for the region is important. Self-care is extremely important to me, being in positions like this can be stressful and it is important to take time for yourself. If I am able to show those around me that i am taking self-care it can help show others that its ok to take time for yourself.

Froggie Love,

Aubrieann Hale



My name is Katie Shigo and I am super excited to be PACURH’s Associate Director for NRHH! I am currently hosted at Southern Oregon University where I’m pursuing a degree in History and Art History. In my spare time you can find my nose in a book or you can find me hanging out with my betta fish, Orion. My main goal for this position is to create more resources for chapters to use for new member orientation. I would also love to encourage more ways to recognize the Service aspects of each NRHH Chapter.



My name is Jackson Smith (He, Him, His) and I am the Coordinating Officer for PACURH Relations. I am hosted at the University of Oregon where I am studying Psychology and WGSS (Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies). As the COPR, I am the primary point-person for all of PACURH’s National Communications Coordinator – I have 1:1’s with each NCC, answer any and all questions that they may have, provide resources relevant to their positions, and provide information that is relevant for their professional development!


My name is Ryan J. Hill and I am the Regional Advisor for PACURH. I am hosted at the University of Alaska Anchorage where I serve as the Associate Director of Residence Life. I have lived in Anchorage for the past 5 years after leaving the University of Georgia where I complete my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I have been involved in the NACURH organization since 2009. I am avid Lord of the Rings and Golden Girls fan, and I love all types of Asian cuisines.

As Regional Advisor, my goal is to support the Regional Board of Directors in achieving their goals and ensuring they are serving the region to the best of their abilities. I also want to be a resource to schools advisors in the region as they work to create the best residential experience for their students. I also want to create closer ties with NWACUHO and WACUHO in order to help develop our professionals, update agreements between our organizations, and encourage more institutions to create permanent advisor positions for consistency. I look forward to working with all of you over the next two years.



My name is Daniel Altamirano and I will be serving as the Pacific Affiliate Associate Director for Administration and Finance for the year. I am beyond excited for the adventure and work ahead of me. I am coming into my final year of undergraduate studies at Pacific University in Oregon, where I am hosted. I am studying Social Work and I additionally keep myself busy with a variety of other clubs and activities, such as NRHH and RHA! A personal goal I have for this position is to help the Pacific region maintain their achieving momentum, which would result in winning more regional awards at the NACURH Annual Conference. Our region is made up of extraordinary individuals; It’s time for everybody to know that.


Daniel Altamirano


Hello from California!

Mariah Rivera (She her hers)
Coordinating Officer for Spirit and Bidding
Sonoma State University, California

I am a Global Environmental Studies major with a minor in Astronomy. I would like to go to the moon one day.

I am a small town girl from the Central Valley in California. I am self driven and am committed to bringing spirit and cheers to the PACURH region! I am the first person from my institute to be a member on the Regional Board of Directors in twenty years so this is a really big deal for everyone at SSU!

I ran for the RBD because I attended the RLC conference for the first time at University of Oregon and I instantly fell in love with the community itself. I love how inclusive this PACURH community is and I’m excited to bring endless cheers and share my passion with the rest of the region!


Hello Everyone,

My name is Mariela Frias! I am currently the coordinating officer of communications and technology (COCT) for PACURH. A little about myself is that I was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. I went to the most diverse high school in the nation. Fun facts: I like to talk, network, and meet new people everyday. I really just want to make sure I am doing the best I can to keep everyone updated on the things within PACURH.


Gabrielle Buist
Coordinating Officer for Presidents
Pronouns: She, Her, Hers

Undergraduate student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa majoring in Kinesiology and Communicology
Loves hanging out with friends, decorating planners, and anything Disney Pixar! First student from institution to serve on the Regional Board of Directors
While serving as president institution was recognized at NACURH for the RHA Building Block of the Year award.

Build upon the connections between Presidents, create platforms to sustain relationships of support, and work to improve our organizations.

Use boardroom as an opportunity to host icebreakers and team builders to build connections between institutions. Use regional chats as an opportunity to promote safe sharing spaces and have presidents engage with one another. Share and recognize RHA, President, and institution achievements through social media pages and promote/facilitate dialogue as well.

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Here’s to the Managers Who…Sincerely, your New Professional

Author: Kristin Davick

Here’s to the Managers who answer our questions even when you have 180 unread emails you have 3 minutes a day to answer.

Here’s to the Managers who proof read job applications, write reference letters, send along job postings, and offer words of encouragement in terrifying times of transition.

Here’s to the Managers who are just as tired as we are, but someone motivate us to move forward, take care of ourselves, and lead with our hearts.

Here’s to the Managers who inspire us to challenge the process. It can be scary to question well-established programs and policies, but you make it safe to do so.

Here’s to the Managers who ask us what we think, and believe that we have an important voice at the table. Your new professional might not believe in themselves the way that you believe in them.

Here’s to the Managers who let us cry in their office. Often. (Maybe that’s just me?).

Here’s to the Managers who pull us softly away from crisis mode, and help us see the bigger picture.

Here’s to the Managers who show us what it means to beautifully dance the line of boss, friend, confidant, and professional.

Here’s to the Managers who have never lost sight of putting students first – at every level, and in every decision. You show us that we are all a team with the same vision.

Here’s to the recently hired Manager that is doing the best job they can to learn how to support their New Professional. We see you trying, and we appreciate you immensely.

And lastly, here’s to the Managers who gave us our first shot, wrote us thank you letters, told us that they were proud, gave us ground under our feet to walk forward on, and made our first bumpy steps into the professional world a safe and meaningful journey.

Here’s to you.


Your New Professional

Kristin is a Residence Life Coordinator at Mount Royal University.  

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Authentic Social Justice, Part Three

Author: Sam Bass

The first two entries of my honest social justice series have focused on coming to terms with the “ugliness” of social justice, such as recognizing our biases, the ways we fail both personally and as an entire profession, and the painful emotions that come with social justice work. These are crucial topics I wanted to cover first, and I have rooted these conversations in my own experiences, but I never want to forget the joy I’ve been able to experience by being unashamedly myself in my professional social justice world.

The most rewarding aspect of “being myself” is, of course, with students. A particularly powerful moment came from a student who was taking a temporary leave of absence so that she could recover from a rather rough depressive episode. She said she felt so unprepared to be depressed while in college; she had to go out of her way to find resources and it was difficult to find people to relate to. Specifically she said she has never heard or seen a “success story” of someone like her. I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to self-disclosure, but in this case it seemed not only appropriate, but necessary. I told her how for most of my undergrad and grad experience I was depressed and I had a long history of self-harm. I then said, “But look at me now; we’re in my very own office, and my Masters degree is hanging on the wall there.” While I think that’s a narrow vision of success, she was seeking an example of someone who had a mental illness and still achieved that “traditional success.” That student has since visited campus and made it a point to visit me. Seeing her out of crisis was one of the most heartwarming moments of my career. I would not have had this connection with her if I thought, “Self-disclosure is inherently bad.” Instead, I was honest and vulnerable, and as a result a student felt like she could achieve her goals.

While I hope this anecdote is not too self-congratulatory, I think it is important to revel in these moments. All sorts of people in our field have moments where they have served as an example for people who were seeking a role model. This can be tough, though, as it often leads to a disproportionate amount of emotional labor. Staff and faculty of color across the nation have shared countless examples of when they have been expected to do this extra work because the number of people available at the institution to do it is so small. At its worst this emotional labor is overwhelming and exhausting. At its best it reminds us why we do what we do.

Authenticity has also allowed me to build connections with students across difference. A few years ago I worked with a group black students who had experienced a number of racial harassments in the hall. I had no idea what I was doing or what I could say that could possibly be helpful. So I finally said, “Look, I know I’m a white guy, and I have no idea what experiencing racism is like, I do know what experiencing anger is like. I have to let it out before I explode. What do you all do to process anger?” Once I addressed the white elephant in the room, the students were much more open with me. While I wasn’t able to end all racism in the world that night, I was able to sit with these students as they processed the injustice they were experiencing. I hate that they had to go through it, but if I had to be there I’m glad I could provide even a little bit of support.

Again, I hope this anecdote does not convey a false sense of righteousness, but rather a lesson I learned about acknowledging my privilege that I wanted to share with others. I have failed many more times than I have succeeded in my social justice work, but the relationships I have built with students has been my life-source in this job. I once had a student who said he felt like he could be himself around me because I did the same, and that is a compliment that will never be outdone for me.

I want to briefly discuss that I have also experienced the joys of closer friendships with colleagues because of my authenticity. By bringing my whole self to my work I have received incredible support from my peers and my supervisors. Now, I also have the privilege because of my other identities to be more open about my sexuality and mental illness. I also have the blessings of a gracious and understanding team, providing me a workplace I hope you have, as well. Not everyone is in an environment where they can have that, and it’s heartbreaking. I hope if you’ve stuck with me through this series you will find ways to make your departments safe for this authenticity.

I still have a wild storm of thoughts in my head that I was not able to find words for, but I am content with the honesty I hope I brought to you all. I have loved my short time in the NWACUHO region, and I’ve been impressed with the work I’ve seen you all do. It is my humble hope that in sharing my thoughts with you all I was able to contribute at least a little something to the work we pour our hearts into. To be fully ourselves is the best way to live, but it’s not always pretty. I hope by embracing the ugliness, extending love to ourselves and others, and continuing our own education we will be able to give all students the experience and joy they deserve. Until next time, stay safe, content, and honest.

Sam is a Residence Director at Gonzaga University. He received his BA in English with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies from the University of Northern Iowa and his Masters of Science in Education from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. The best way to contact him is by email at bass@gonzaga.edu.

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Authentic Social Justice, Part Two

Author: Sam Bass

Emotions are increasingly derided as detrimental to social justice work, but I think this does a disservice to all of us. It is true that “white tears” or “male tears” derail conversations and recenter the privileged, and we should continue to challenge those “tears” when they happen. My discussion of emotions is more internal, though, at least initially. For example, when engaging in a social justice conversation, I try to analyze the feelings that occur when I talk. Do I feel scared? Satisfied? Angry?

If I’m satisfied because I feel like I showed everyone how “woke” I am, then I need to reevaluate why I’m taking up space in the conversation. To do that, though, I have to be honest with what I’m feeling, and I have to be honest about why I’m feeling it. I cannot work against my self-righteous, white-male savior complex until I am honest with myself, and if I can’t work against that complex, then I can’t effectively do the social justice work that needs to be done for my students and my institution. Satisfaction is an emotion I want to encourage all of my white colleagues to look for, since we do not often discuss our own self-righteousness.

The emotion I struggle with the most is a combination of sadness and anger, but with a very specific manifestation. This manifestation is intersectional, and highly prevalent in marginalized communities that still experience noticeable privilege. In my case, I call it White Gay Syndrome. I’m certain most of us have seen a conversation in which we are discussing one marginalized identity, but then someone brings up theirs instead. I’m sure this is often done with good intentions, an attempt to connect with others experiencing something “similar but different.” Unless it’s coming up in an intersectional way, though, it runs the risk of derailing the conversation.

While I tend to avoid bringing up my identities during conversations of race or gender, internally I often shut down for a moment because of it. In the same way that some people say, “You can’t tell me I have privilege; I’ve worked for what I have” I think “Don’t say I’ve had it easy; I’m gay and depressed!” On a good day I move past it, but it was such a hang up I decided I needed to really sit down with myself and figure out what was going on.

While reflecting on my White Gay Syndrome I thought of John Green’s quote from The Fault in Our Stars: “Pain demands to be felt.” What I realized was that I had not properly processed the pain I have as a gay man with mental illness. I realized that I could not truly hear about people’s experiences with racism, sexism, etc. because I thought that their pain somehow made mine less valid. I had to work for years to finally internalize that my pain was real, which allowed me to hear other people’s stories more sincerely. The pain that someone experienced after being racially profiled by the police does not negate the pain I felt every time I was called disgusting for being gay. The pain of a woman being harassed or assaulted does not negate the pain of spending years self-harming to cope with depression. Once I accepted that this pain was real for me, I didn’t have to defend my own experience, because bringing up my pain when discussing other forms of discrimination is a way for me to deflect the guilt I have for being a white man. It tells others, “I don’t care that you’re discriminated against, let’s talk about me,” and that does nothing but allow oppression to continue.

When planning a series on honest and vulnerable social justice, it was important for me to include that story about pain, because we are a field that loves social justice conversations (to a point). We have sessions during our professional and student staff trainings or we have discussion groups, and those can be too easily led astray by our own emotional needs. Emotions are a basic, instinctual aspect of our lives; they have informed our actions for as long as we have existed. We cannot escape them, but we try, and that holds us back. When we are held back in social justice work, the most marginalized and vulnerable are harmed. In this way, discussing emotions are integral to social justice.

I have primarily discussed analyzing one’s own emotions, but to bring this emotional awareness to interactions with our residents is imperative. If we aim to have students who are “multiculturally competent,” then we need to walk with them in their emotional journey, as well.

As I have discussed emotions in social justice I have focused on the word “pain.” I think pain is the root of many issues in social justice, so this was no accident. But I also do not want to feed into the narrative that having a marginalized identity is all doom and gloom. Personally, the “gayest” aspects of my personality are some of my favorite things about myself, and I am sure people with all sorts of identities feel the same way, so that is the focus for my third and final installment to this series: the joy of vulnerability. Until next time, stay safe, content, and honest.

Sam is a Residence Director at Gonzaga University. He received his BA in English with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies from the University of Northern Iowa and his Masters of Science in Education from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. The best way to contact him is by email at bass@gonzaga.edu.

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Authentic Social Justice, Part One

Author: Sam Bass

When I was first working on a series to contribute to Soundings it was about the intersection of pop culture and social justice. I had a lot of thoughts about the topic, but as I wrote them down I thought, “Other people could say this better than I can. I’m not an expert on this.” While perfect expertise is impossible, particularly in a social justice context, I thought about what I was qualified to speak on: my own experience. I thought about the role authenticity and vulnerability have played in my career thus far and how they have allowed me to have sincere conversations that went beyond lip service to social justice.

I think it is crucial to position oneself culturally before entering conversations like this, since it informs the perspective I am about to share: I am a white, middle class, gay man with a Masters level education (and a bit of mental illness thrown in for good measure). Also worth noting is that I am not well read on the popular literature regarding vulnerability; I’ve maybe seen one or two Brené Brown videos. Rather, most of this series will be informed by the lessons I’ve learned as a professional, a student, a therapy frequenter, and a flawed person trying to engage in social justice work.

It is relatively common knowledge at this point that a white person can study critical race theory, do research, or read testimonials of people of color, but it will never provide a true understanding of the lived experience. We can discuss how race has been constructed historically, we can understand how systems perpetuate racism, but we will never fully know what racial oppression is like. In the same way––and much less frequently discussed––a person of color can study critical race theory or analyze how whiteness operates systemically, but they will never fully know what the lived experience of white people is like. That is why we need to be vulnerable about it, because too often our authenticity is filtered through guilt, fear, shame, or self-righteousness. We need to be “ugly” about our experiences. While I am going to center this first entry of my series around race, it is crucial to understand that this call for “ugliness” applies to all aspects of our personhood. For the sake of clarity and concision in this post, however, I feel that my experience with authentic social justice in a racial context has yielded the most noteworthy examples.

Full honesty in our privileged experience is more important than ever, particularly in our Housing and Residence Life roles. Just recently a white student at Yale called police on a black student because she fell asleep in a residence hall common space, stating she was “somewhere she wasn’t supposed to be.” (see also: black men at Starbucks or indigenous students on college tours). We need to be honest with our colleagues, our students, and ourselves if we wish to fight this narrative of the “suspicious person of color,” because we can too easily contribute to it ourselves.

One of the most powerful moments of my first professional year also serves as a relevant anecdote. After one of our social justice sessions for our Fall RA training I had a staff member (a white male) ask to meet individually to further discuss some concepts he was struggling to understand. During this conversation he described how he “does not see color.” Of course he meant this in the well-intentioned way that says, “I respect everyone, no matter their race.” Still, I simply told him, “You do see race, though.” I then shared a story about a time I went into a gas station, and right after me there was a black man wearing a hoodie with baggy pants. I told my RA that because of this man’s race and appearance I had an initial fear; I held my breath and watched him more closely than the other people in the store. I explained how I had to “check myself” and say, “Damn, I was really racist just now.” Lo and behold, the man was just getting a snack like I was. I was actively experiencing the racism that has led to so much violence against black people.

After this story, my RA said, “Yeah, I’ve had moments like that, too.” With that realization, he quickly moved from “I don’t see race” to acknowledging his whiteness. Later in the semester he had an incredibly educative moment with a white resident who thought everyone should be able to say the “n-word.” The RA called out the initial behavior in the moment, and then had a follow up conversation with the resident, where it became apparent that he had never had such a conversation about race, yet alone been called out for something.

By being honest about my racism, my RA was given “permission” by a fellow white person to express something we are never supposed to admit. He was able to acknowledge out-loud that he has had racist thoughts, words, and actions. He was then able to interrupt another moment of racism with his resident. White people will never be able to be authentically anti-racist until we accept that we are racist, but that takes a significant amount of emotional work, and a space to openly admit these feelings. White Housing and Res Life professionals have unique power and opportunity to give that space to our students.

We also need to do this with ourselves. I find that many of us as professionals are able to identify racial dynamics and the ways in which it manifests in our institutions. I also find, however, that we give ourselves enough of an “out” to avoid the next step of self-reflection. For example, we are often quick to observe, “This is such a white school.” I have heard this at literally every institution I’ve worked at or attended. It’s an important and valid observation. We bemoan the fact that higher education is still a system that privileges whiteness, but we typically say this while scanning the room, looking at all the whiteness that isn’t ours. I have never once heard a conversation that takes the next step: What does it mean to be white with a seat at the table? With a finite number of seats at the table, how do we reconcile our own need to be employed and our professional goals with the fact that we are contributing to the disproportionate whiteness we supposedly hate? I am by no means able to provide an answer to these impossible questions, but I want to bring them up since I think it’s crucial for us to self-reflect when we discuss race on our campuses.

We will not be able to serve our students or campuses until we come to terms with all the ugliness of social justice. This honesty will allow us to move beyond the hollowness of our buzzwords, where even now I worry that I’m saying nothing when I talk about social justice, diversity, or inclusion. We must use honesty and authenticity to reach this point, and be okay with the fact that we won’t always look “good.” It will be “ugly” no matter the subject, be it race, gender, sexuality, ability, and so on, but our students need us to do dive fully into this work with all the brutal honesty we can muster.

As my series continues I will explore more specifically the role emotions play into our social justice work, and later on I will discuss the joys that can come from authentic social justice work. (Those will also be much more concise, I promise). It is my hope that this will be a helpful series that motivates rather than discourages; that I provide helpful examples rather than present a false idea that I have it all “figured out.” Part of fulfilling these hopes is conversation with others, so though this series is still ongoing, please feel free to reach out. Until next time, stay safe, content, and honest.

Sam Bass is a Residence Director at Gonzaga University. He received his BA in English with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies from the University of Northern Iowa and his Master of Science in Education from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. The best way to contact him is by email at bass@gonzaga.edu.

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Professional Development Highlights

Author: Katie Bartel

Paraprofessional roles offer the space to make mistakes and learn to take on professional responsibilities in a forgiving environment. Throughout my two years in the paraprofessional role of Residence Coordinator at the University of British Columbia, I’ve engaged with many books, presentations, and professional development initiatives that have shaped my leadership and approach to my work in Residence Life. In this post, I would like to share my top picks of books, videos, workshops, and other initiatives that have been the most impactful for me as a paraprofessional. I hope that this list offers a taste of the many professional development options for paraprofessional staff and that you consider these specific resources as ways to support the staff at your institution.

BOOK: The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More, and Change the Way You Lead Forever – Michael Bungay Stanier

This book was really influential in my approach to supporting residence advisors. I began my Residence Life journey with the Residence Hall Association and National Residence Hall Honorary councils where I became used to providing specific advice and direction to colleagues. This worked well to ensure action and accountability, but it was not effective in supporting the learning of those I was advising. This book teaches what questions to ask to get your employee (or student staff) to critically analyze their challenges and generate their own approach and solutions instead of relying entirely on direction from above. Although the book was written for a more corporate readership, the approach it describes is incredibly transferable to a Residence Life audience. It is especially applicable when it speaks to advising on challenges where you are not an expert. My staff have appreciated the balance of support and challenge that this approach has informed this year.

WORKSHOP: Growth Mindset – Kari Marken

“I don’t have a professional job offer… yet.” Growth mindset is about approaching life as a continual opportunity to learn and grow, to focus on trying new and different things and working on challenges rather than fixating on what you believe you can or cannot do. UBC Educational Strategist Kari Marken presented a growth mindset workshop during my first Residence Life staff training that I still remember today. With a good blend of cognitive evidence and interactive activities, Kari illustrated the impact of embodying a growth mindset and encouraging a growth mindset in others in a Residence Life and personal life context. I would highly recommend sharing a version of this workshop or message with incoming student staff or paraprofessional staff to promote a positive learning-centered approach to the work they do with residents.

VIDEO: Everyday Leadership – Drew Dudley

This TED TALK [https://bit.ly/1kYLC8w] is about redefining leadership as “lollipop moments,” or small, everyday acts that have a substantial impact on others. There are many times in Residence Life where I have experienced a “lollipop moment” and have recognized that there is power in small gestures. As part of my closure and transition reflection, I’ve asked my staff to identify the most influential experiences of the year, and every single one of them identified a small gesture or initiative or moment that stuck with them and that has impacted the way they approached their role. Small gestures can mean absolutely everything to students you’re supervising, residents you’re supporting, and colleagues you’re learning with. Learning to recognize and appreciate those “lollipop moments” takes a lot of pressure off of leadership and creates space for every leader to have an equally impactful influence on those around them. This short video would be great to share as part of your orientation or training curriculum to inspire and motivate your staff to believe in themselves as everyday leaders.

INITIATIVE: UBC Residence Coordinator Projects

This year, UBC Residence Life redesigned their model of Residence Coordinator projects to allow the paraprofessional staff to experience aspects of student affairs outside of Residence Life. Working with campus partners on projects anywhere from student assessment to career support to educational support programming allowed my RC cohort to build their network, develop a broader skill set, and approach their work with Residence Life from a new perspective. Working on an assessment project this year with the UBC Faculty of Science, I also learned a lot about project management and adapting to a new workplace culture, which is valuable in any professional position I may hold in the future. I highly recommend connecting your paraprofessional staff with campus partners or skill-building projects to prepare them for the breadth of student affairs roles that may interest them post-graduation.

Katie Bartel
Residence Coordinator
University of British Columbia

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