Northwest Association of College & University Housing Officers

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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Conference Reflections from Scholarship Winner Jade DiTullio Jiang

I was able to attend the NWACUHO conference with the Graduate Student Scholarship award. I feel very grateful to have had the opportunity to be amongst brilliant minds and share knowledge with professionals in my future profession. There were many opportunities to connect with others over breakout sessions, shared meals, and socials. It was fascinating to learn about how other universities and colleges conduct their Residence Life, Operations, and Facilities teams, and how they interact with one another.

One of the breakout sessions that really resonated with me was CAREfully Designed Teams: Deconstructing Bias and Creating Inclusionary RA Selection Practices, facilitated by Rachel Betron, Dan Murray, Marco Polo Ramirez Becerra, and Jes Takla of Pacific Lutheran University.  As we entered the room for the breakout session, we were given a playing card. The session commenced with an energizer where we formed groups without talking and only used our playing cards as signifiers. Once within our small groups of 4 to 5 individuals, one person was asked to sort cards into two groups: hearts and diamonds, and spades and clubs.  We did a second round where we reshuffled our cards and sorted them again into two groups: hearts and clubs, and diamonds and spades.  We were timed during each sorting period to see how long it took for our group to match the categories. This was a great energizing activity to get us into a headspace of how RA interview processes can be when picking similar looking exterior characteristics. Only choosing certain qualities can be exclusionary and limit voices.

Aftering learning about some relevant theoretical concepts that helped shape the PLU’s RA selection process, we were presented with PLU’s RA selection process and their best practices.   Marketing for the RA position is displayed around campus, especially within diversity centers, and not only within Housing.   Informational sessions on the RA role are organized to put all students on an equal playing field with the same common understanding. It was mentioned by the facilitators that these sessions are inclusive to first-generation college students who may not know about the RA position prior to coming to college.  I thought this was a great idea to help share the job description with all students.The rubric for the interviews are provided in advance to the applicants to ensure transparency. I learned how the names and gender markers are removed from applications to avoid any implicit bias.  For Resident Advisors who hope to return a following year, they give a presentation that demonstrates the skills they’ve learned, reflections on the RA role and how it’s shaped them, and their areas of improvement. Additionally, in the returning RA interview process, the RA is given what PLU calls a 360 Evaluation with evaluations from residents, peers, and supervisors. I liked this concept as it allows for a holistic assessment of the RA’s engagement. The facilitators also mentioned about how wearing a suit, or other professional attire, may not always equate to being a successful RA.

It is through inclusive practices that help cultivate successful and diverse RA teams and provide all students with leadership opportunities.  Now post-conference, I am reflecting on my takeaways and researching how universities and colleges actualize care into their mission statements and residential curriculum.  My Master’s thesis will be around care, empathy, and dignity within the residence halls. I will be moving forward as a new professional in this field, continuously striving to carry out inclusive practices. I’m very thankful for this opportunity and hope to attend more NWACUHO conferences in the future.


Jade DiTullio Jiang is a first year Masters Student at the University of Victoria in the Leadership Studies: Adult Education and Community Engagement program.  Please feel welcome to continue this conversation. Email: Jadejiang95@gmail.com or LinkedIn: Linkedin.com/in/JadeDiTullioJiang

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Theory Review Part III: Schlossberg’s Transition Theory

By Olivia Stankey

Students go through transitions and development constantly and consistently throughout their lived experience, as well as during their college years.  I’m sure you can think of at least one student you have worked with that was going through a transition in their lives.  Nancy Schlossberg studied transitions in individuals and designed a wonderfully versatile theory that provides a language and support system around students in transition.

Schlossberg defines transition as, “any event or non-event that results in changed relationships, routines, assumptions, and roles” (Evans, 2010).   Within this definition, she outlines three types of transitions: anticipated, unanticipated, and non-events (Evans, 2010).  The first, anticipated, are events that occur predictably.  An example of this would be a high school student applies to their local state college and gets accepted, attends in the fall.  This transition is predicted and follows through.  Unanticipated transitions are the opposite, they are not predictable or scheduled.  For example, let’s say the same high school student the year before was in a car accident and broke one of their legs.  This caused them to have to go through extensive physical therapy and a couple surgeries.  This transition was not predictable and not scheduled.  Finally, non-events are transitions that are expected to occur but do not.  So, let’s say the same student was working on recovery from their car accident and filled out their college applications, but this time, they did not get in any of the places they applied, therefore they do not attend college in the fall as expected by themselves and their family.  This is a non-event.  A transition was expected to happen, but did not.

As we delve further into these transitions, it is important to keep a few things in mind.  Firstly, many individuals make this mistake, is that the transition is ONLY a transition if the individual experiencing it considers it a transition.  Therefore, it would be inappropriate application of the theory to say that your student is going through an anticipated transition if they do not consider it a transition.  This is because the theory encompasses the understanding of relativity – that meaning making based on transitions is relative, based on context and impact, therefore making it up to the individual.  As such, some events are bigger for others, or have more of an impact (Evans, 2010).

Now that we have the basics down of the theory, let’s look at the four key tenants of the theory: Situation, Self, Support, and Strategies.  These are often referred to as the 4 S’s.  The situation is everything encompassed in the transition situation (Evans, 2010).  What triggered the transition?  Is the transition on time, such as attending college after graduating high school, or off time, such as having to undergo surgery at a young age?  Is the person experiencing the transition in control our out of control in the situation?  (with the aspect of control, the response is always internal control) With the transition, did a role change?  If so, does the individual view it as a gain or a loss?  What is time duration of the change?  Is it permanent, such as the car accident causing the inability to walk, temporary, such as learning to walk again through physical therapy, or uncertain? Does the individual have previous experience with a similar transition?  Maybe they did not get into college the first year, but are applying with success the second year?  What stress is present?  Are there other stressors on the student at the same time?  Lastly, who is seen as responsible in the situation?  All of these questions help get at the details of the situation.  These are all questions in your back pocket of tools to ask students you are working with, especially as they open up to you about the transitions and experiences in their lives.

The next “S” is self.  This tenant looks at the personal and demographic characteristics of how the individual views their life.  What psychological resources does the individual have in terms of coping?  Some concepts to consider here are ego, outlook, optimism, self-efficacy, etc. (Evans, 2010).  Considering and reflecting on these concepts can assist you in determining how to provide support (the third “S”) and help the student with personal strategies (the fourth “S”).

In terms of support, there are three facets: types, functions, and measurement (Evans, 2010).  When putting together a plan of support, please consider these three facets. What type of support is best in this situation? Does what worked for a past student seem to be helpful here or is a new support form necessary? What function does the support serve?  Is it a form of aid? A form of feedback? Maybe affirmation is the support that is needed? What measurement of support is warranted? Is a high level of support needed or a quieter form of support needed?  These are questions to ask yourself as you begin to work on supporting each student you work with in their times of transition.

Lastly, there are considerations of the strategies you implement.  Strategies come in three different forms.  The first are strategies that modify the situation (Evans, 2010).  What can be done about the situation to change it? Can the situation be modified for the better?  The second are strategies that control the meaning of the problem (Evans, 2010).  Maybe the problem is not able to be modified or changed for the better?  Maybe the best strategy is helping the student reframe the situation in their own meaning making?  When students go through a transition, they make a primary and secondary appraisal, often simultaneously: the primary is the perception of the transition as positive, negative, or irrelevant with the second being an assessment of their resources to cope (Evans, 2010).  Keeping this appraisal process in mind is helpful with all transitions, but can be particularly relevant in terms of utilizing a strategy to help reframe the meaning making around the transition. The third strategy type are those that aid in managing the stress in the aftermath (Evans, 2010).  How can you assist the student in working through what happens after the transition?  Maybe the student has an unanticipated transition where they finish their first term with a 1.2 GPA.  This is likely to cause a fair amount of stress for the student.  How can you help the student manage that stress since you cannot modify the situation? What strategies can you deploy to help them have a better term next time around?

Overall, Schlossberg’s Transition Theory is one of the more applicable and versatile theories out there.  As long as the individual sees their experience as a transition, this theory applies.  While it would not be in good form to tell a student that they are in transition, since that is up to them and their relative meaning making, it does provide a great language and internal reflective process for you as a professional to work with each student, whether they view themselves in transition or not.  Keep the plethora of questions in mind, maybe print them out and have them near your desk for one on one meetings with students?  Whether or not they see it is a transition, these questions can still be relevant to their experience and development, as well as your ability to support without causing harm.



Evans, N. J., Forney, D. S., Guido, F. M., Patton, L. D., & Renn, K. A. (2010). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice (2nd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Olivia works as a Program Coordinator for Residential Leadership at University of Oregon. She may be reached at stankey@uoregon.edu

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Theory Review Part II: Chickering’s 7 Vectors

By Olivia Stankey

In addition to Sanford’s Theory of Challenge and Support, Chickering and Reisser’s Theory of Developmental Vectors is one of the foundational theories you may have heard brought up in professional discussions at the NWACUHO conference.

To be totally honest, this theory is a bit of a beast, making this particular post longer than most.  However, it is also super awesome.  This theory was originally studied on white men, which determined the order of the vectors you will see below.  However, with more recent focus on applying theory to the much more diverse student demographics, this theory has been studied again, with differing results in terms of the order that students experience these vectors, depending on the identity focused on.  This current summary guide is going to focus on the original outline of the theory, but I highly encourage you to delve more into this theory and the newer research around its manifestation in regards to varying identities.

A key component of this theory is that it is not a linear progression (Evans, 2010).  Think of this as more of a spiral, where students are likely to go through in the following order (see comment about identity above), but can revisit a vector at any time and many be progressing multiple vectors at the same time.  Individuals who do not apply this theory properly often make this mistake.

The seven vectors, sub-components, and brief overview are as follows:

  1. Developing Competence
  2. Intellectual Competence
  3. Physical Manual Skills
  4. Interpersonal Competence
  5. Managing Emotions
  6. Ability to recognize and accept emotions
  7. Moving Through Autonomy Toward Interdependence
  8. Increased emotional independence
  9. Recognize and accept the importance of interdependence
  10. Developing Mature Interpersonal Relationships
  11. Capacity for healthy and lasting relationships
  12. Establishing Identity
  13. Differences based on gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation
  14. Developing Purpose
  15. Developing clear vocational goals
  16. Make meaningful commitments
  17. Developing Integrity
  18. Humanizing values
  19. Personalizing values
  20. Congruence – matching values with behavior (Evans, 2010)

One of my professors from my time in graduate school remembered these vectors by saying that Chickering liked CEIRIPI (pronounced like syrup) on his pancakes.  This allowed him to remember each vector in shorthand – competence, emotions, interdependence, relationships, identity, and integrity (Foubert, 2016).

Fortunately, each of these stages is fairly intuitive, in that knowing the name of the vector gives you a really good idea of what the vector is all about.  Good naming Chickering and Reisser!

**At this point, if you feel you have a good understanding of this theory, you can stop reading.  The following is an in-depth example highlighting the different vectors. **

In order to explain this theory, let’s take an incoming freshman student and walk them through a traditional four-year undergraduate experience.

The first vector in Chickering and Reisser’s theory is called Developing Competence.  A student in this stage develops a sense of competence in three different ways: intellectual, physical, and interpersonal (Evans, 2010). For the sake of explanation, let’s name our student Claire.  Claire begins her first semester in college by signing up for and attending classes.  During this time, she would be developing competence in her courses through attending lectures, writing papers, and taking exams.  She masters content throughout the semester and begins to build skills needed to understand the material along ever increasing levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  This increase in confidence and competence occurs in an intellectual way, but Developing Competence occurs physically and interpersonally as well.  In addition to being successful in course work, Claire joins an intramural tennis team and moves into a living-learning community residence hall.  Participating in this intramural sport allows Claire to build that same confidence and competence physically, the same way her classes assisted her intellectually.  And the same happens with her living-learning community.  Becoming part of a community and attending programs allows Claire to become aware of the needs of others and her community, while allowing her to feel confident in her place in the community and competence in her ability to contribute to the community.  Throughout her first semester, she moved from a low level of competence and confidence to a high level, successfully making her way through the Developing Competence vector (Chickering, 1993).

From here, Claire begins to form a romantic relationship with someone in her community.  Relationships can bring along a wide variety of emotions, and it becomes necessary to be able to manage these emotions effectively.  In the second vector, Managing Emotions, an individual moves from having little control over disruptive emotions and little awareness of their feelings to having “flexible control and appropriate expression” of emotions (Chickering, 1993).  During Claire’s relationship, she learns to become aware of her emotions, working through them as they come, and learning to process feelings before exploding.  Every time she takes the time to work through her emotions she finds her relationship becoming smoother, and continues to practice this until it becomes almost second nature.  She has effectively learned to manage her emotions.

Now it is time to visit home for the holidays, register for classes, and all around get ready for spring semester.  As Claire visits home, she realizes how much she has learned to do by herself, and while she loves her family, she starts to realize she no longer needs them as much as she did in high school.  She has learned to stand on her own two feet, or in other words, has begun the third vector, Moving Through Autonomy Toward Interdependence.  This vector encompasses emotional independence, instrumental independence, and interdependence (Evans, 2010).  Through realizing she is more independent and less in need of parental support, she is mastering emotional independence.  Claire also learns that she is able to successfully register for classes and feels ready for the next semester.  She is able to solve problems for herself; working through instrumental independence, and as a result of her independence begins to enjoy being a part of her family for sake of the community, not the necessity, mastering the concept of interdependence.

Back at school, Claire really hones in on developing her interpersonal relationships.  She has begun to notice and value differences in those who come from different places and background than her.  She starts attending cultural nights on campus and forming friendships with those with interesting and difference experiences.  She begins to consider options such as study abroad.  All of these thoughts, actions, and considerations encompass the next vector: Developing Mature Interpersonal Relationships.  This vector addresses the development of “tolerance and appreciation for differences” and forming intimate relationships that are “enduring and nurturing” (Chickering, 1993).  However, developing this vector has caused Claire to look at herself more thoughtfully.

Claire now starts to notice these differences in relation to her, possibly bringing up discomfort with her appearance, her gender, her heritage and culture, and more.  She begins to wonder, “Who am I?”.  This wondering and these observations mark the beginning of the Establishing Identity vector.  This vector builds on the ones before it, allowing the individual to utilize past experiences, abilities, and more to work through this large question (Evans, 2010).  Claire, in struggling with her identity, may begin to see a university counselor to work through these identity issues in order to become more comfortable with who she is and develop a sense of self-acceptable and self-esteem.

From here, Claire may enter the Developing Purpose vector.  Let’s imagine she has been successful in her first few years of college and is now entering her spring semester of her junior year.  She is beginning to make commitments as to her career path, look for opportunities to enhance her resume, has been dating someone with the potential for marriage down the line, and has moved off campus and chosen to own and take care of a dog.  These different decisions represent the different aspects of developing purpose: vocational, interpersonal/family, and personal (Evans, 2010). She is making vocational plans by looking for opportunities, shadowing or interning with others. She is formulating plans within her interpersonal and family life with her significant other, such as potential marriage in the future.  And lastly, she is formulating plans for personal interest, such as moving off campus so she has the ability to own a dog, a personal interest of hers.

From here, Claire is finishing her last classes for graduation and prepares for her job after graduation.  She is entering the last vector: Developing Integrity.  In this vector, Claire is tasked with three stages: humanizing values, personalizing values, and developing congruence (Evans, 2010).  As she prepares to enter the work force, she prepares for the reality of balancing her interests with those of others, developing humanizing values.  She also realizes that she may be put in situations where she needs to use her own values to make decisions, and works to solidify the personal values she has developed along the way.  And lastly, she is ready to learn to how to consciously make her values match her actions, where she is able to balance her humanizing values and personal values into becoming a well-prepared individual ready for anything.

As Claire moved through the different vectors of Chickering and Reisser’s Theory of Developmental Vectors, she utilized many different aspects of student affairs, from Residence Life to Counseling to Career Services.  It is rare that one student affairs professional would see the same student all four or more years and be able to assist them or see them go through all seven vectors of identity development.  More likely, one professional may assist a student through a few different vectors. For example, Residential Life assisted Claire in her progress through developing interpersonal competence as a part of the Developing Competence vector with her participation in a living learning community, may have assisted in the Managing Emotions vector if she went to her Resident Assistant with any relationship issues, and so on.  But as she moved off campus, some of the later vectors would not have been developed with the assistance of Residential Life, such as the Developing Purpose vector.

Overall, this theory is complex, but can provide a framework and language around the common experiences and developments our students go through while they are with us.



* Chickering, A. W. & Reisser, L. (1993). Education and Identity (2nd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

* Evans, N. J., Forney, D. S., Guido, F. M., Patton, L. D., & Renn, K. A. (2010). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice (2nd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Olivia works as a Program Coordinator for Residential Leadership at University of Oregon. She may be reached at stankey@uoregon.edu

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Theory Review Part I: Challenge & Support

By Olivia Stankey

With the conference season upon us, it is once again time to gather together and learn best practices and current research from each other.  It is a time of great learning, networking, and conversation.  But sometimes, those conversations can be stressful when a colleague brings up a student development theory that you have not heard of or have not brushed up on in a while.  That is what this blog post and those following are for.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to be providing summary guides for major theories related to student development and leadership, as well as other relevant topics to our everyday practice.  These guides are designed for ease of understanding and translation into your professional practice with students.

Today, we begin with a foundational theory in student affairs: Sanford’s Theory of Challenge and Support.  The essence of this theory is that a student or individual develops through being challenged.  This challenge can be either internal or external, and only occurs if the challenges upsets the current equilibrium of the student (Evans, 2010).  In turn, the student may respond in a variety of ways.

If the challenge is too great and the student is not ready for the challenge, a student may go into a state of retreat, where they cease to develop and pull away from the challenge (Evans, 2010).  This is where support, and your work as student affairs professionals comes into play.  By providing support, you can help prevent this state of retreat.  However, if too much support is provided, the student may reach a state of stagnation, where the support is too much in proportion to the challenge and therefore becomes unhelpful (Evans, 2010).  In order to be most affective, you must provide enough support to prevent retreat, but not so much that the student stagnates in development.  Finding this balance is called Optimal Dissonance (Foubert, 2015).  A simple example of this is the idea that when you are working with a first-year student, they are likely to need more support for any challenges they encounter because they are new to the environment and are already in a state of constant learning, whereas, senior students are likely to need less support as they are familiar with their environment and culture around them and have had time to build higher order thinking and coping mechanisms.

Another key component of this theory is the idea of readiness, which happens when a student reaching a tipping point, either in body, mind, or environment (Evans, 2010).  According to Sanford, this idea of readiness is essential for development, asserting that the student must be ready for the challenge to be successful in developing through the challenge.  Otherwise, they may go into a state of retreat (Foubert, 2015).

In terms of student affairs practice, this theory is often one of the “go-to” theories because of the intuitive nature of the theory.  It makes sense that if a student is being challenged, that they are in need of some support.  Student services are often in an optimal place to provide that support.  However, there is one common misunderstanding to avoid with this theory.  Many student affairs professionals assume that they must be the ones to provide the challenge, when this is not a requirement and often not the case in practice.  Most often, the student’s life situation or the environment has already provided a challenge and professionals can then work to provide the support needed for the student to develop through said challenge.


* Evans, N. J., Forney, D. S., Guido, F. M., Patton, L. D., & Renn, K. A. (2010). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice (2nd Ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

* Foubert, J. (2015). Nevitt sanford: A founding student development theorist in all his complexity. [PowerPoint Document]. Retrieved from https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__oc.okstate.edu_d2l_le_content_1322078_Home&d=DwIFaQ&c=C3yme8gMkxg_ihJNXS06ZyWk4EJm8LdrrvxQb-Je7sw&r=QMxydpjOntoavhIpJb42DQ&m=rCNc_BsbbMRWWmh0eQcbqxUfUs9M902C_JVGbE6O_Cw&s=ZoauoRE8AKz_2LqnaggGbyJ7oVjvbPDFkmQ6S1CAesU&e=

Olivia works as a Program Coordinator for Residential Leadership at University of Oregon. She may be reached at stankey@uoregon.edu

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10 Things to Bring When Attending a Conference

By Olivia Stankey

Getting ready to attend a conference, but do not know what to bring on the professional side?  Below is a list of 10 items that will help you network, learn, and rock your conference with ease.

  1. Business Cards: Meet someone at the conference who has a shared interest? How about a great presentation you’d love to hear more about? Business cards are a great way to exchange information quickly following a session, at conference meals, or any time in between scheduled events. (Pro Tip: If you receive a business card, do not forget to write on the back how you know them or what you connected over. It’s quite difficult to remember after the conference)
  2. Power Strip: Our society uses so much technology that there are often not enough outlets to go around. Bringing a power strip not only solves this potential problem for yourself and others, but also allows for networking with those who also need an outlet. Makes you look resourceful and prepared! (Credit: Alycia Pruitt, Baylor University)
  3. Note Taking Device: People take notes in different ways, from laptops and tablets, to regular pen and paper. Whatever method works best for you, make sure you bring something to take notes on. You never know when a presentation is going to cover exactly what you need or a networking conversation leads to an opportunity you do not want to forget.
  4. Cash: Much of our world runs through cards and apps, but sometimes cash is still needed. Possibly a chance to tip a hotel valet or employee, or maybe pay a local vendor for their art at a street fair happening in town, or even cover a meal from a local food truck.  You do not want to miss out on an opportunity because you forgot to bring cash. With this year’s conference being in Canada, you may want to exchange some cash to have on hand in that currency. (Pro Tip: If you are driving to the conference, make sure you also have cash in the form of low bills and coins as you may run into toll roads, not all of which are card or even bill friendly.)
  5. Receipt Bag: Whether your department reimburses you for travel expenses or maybe you are at a job searching conference, it is never a bag thing to keep track of your receipts. If you are at a conference job searching, it is important to keep your receipts as you may be able to claim them on taxes (same thing for moving expenses). If your department reimburses you for travel, it is important to have the original receipts as proof of purchases.
  6. Copies of Your Resume: When at conferences, it is a hotbed of networking opportunities, from connecting with a speaker with a great presentation to who you sit by at lunch. Having a few copies of your resume on hand in case a conversation turns into a potential job opportunity is a great way to be prepared. It also makes you look organized and prepared.  Secondly, it is a great way to let a potential new mentor know about your past work and school experiences.
  7. Snacks: Oftentimes, conferences provide a few meals, such as during an opening or closing banquet, a lunch here or there, etc. However, many conferences do not provide snacks throughout the day other than possibly coffee or tea. If you are someone who gets peck-ish in late morning or early afternoon, snacks are a must. They are also a great way to make connections if the person next to you is also hungry. (Pro Tip: stay away from foods that are common airborne allergies, such as peanuts).
  8. Water Bottle: Have you ever had to hunt for a water fountain or used your hands to scoop water from the bathroom sink? Staying hydrated is important during conferences. It keeps potential headaches away during long days as well as keep you feeling well even if the room is freezing and drying out your skin. Additionally, you can scope out where you can fill your water bottle ahead of time at your hotel or convention center so you can fill it when convenient, rather than rushing and hunting between sessions.
  9. Medication (Tums, Tylenol): Ever try to sit through a session with acid reflex? How about a throbbing headache? You want to be on top of your learning and networking game at conferences, so being sick is not helpful. Packing medication for headaches, such as Tylenol or Advil, or stomach medication like Tums or other antacids, can really come in handy in case of a mid-afternoon lull. At the risk of being a broken record, they also come in handy for making connections as you may not be the only one in need of medication.
  10. Headphones: Conferences can be draining, especially if you are introverted or need the periodic break from others. Having headphones allows you to kindly let others know socially that you need a break without telling anyone to back off. Listen to your favorite music or try out a new audiobook. Make sure you take care of yourself during the process. (Pro Tip: If you’re feeling on sensory overload and music or audiobooks may add to the problem, putting in headphones and not listening to anything also may help. It sends the same message to others, but does not add additional stimuli to the experience.)

Olivia works as a Program Coordinator for Residential Leadership at University of Oregon. She may be reached at stankey@uoregon.edu


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It’s Time to Engage in Dialogue

By Pamela Altmaier

It was my first year as a Resident Director at Oregon State University. I had the best student staff members, residents that were engaged (like 100 residents attended Friday night Bingo level of engaged), and a living-learning community that fostered dialogue around power and privilege. To this day, that community is one of my favorites.

One day, I had a resident approach me and share that an unknown individual had vandalized her door with a derogatory term based on her racial identity. I listened to her experience as she told me that this action made her feel unwelcome and unworthy. It had hindered her view of the community. During our interaction, I asked what I could do to support her and she requested a community dialogue that would educate others around bias-related incidents and what it meant to be a community member. I was inspired by this request and as a result, began my research around bias-related incidents.

I was excited to know more about what makes someone choose to disclose their experiences with bias to another and how as a profession, we could support students when they do disclose. I must have read every book by Derald Wing Sue over those next few months. I met with my committee members, submitted my IRB, and planned my interview questions.

Before continuing on, the names shared throughout the rest of the story below are pseudonyms meant to protect the identity of the participants in my study.

That excitement completely transformed during my first interview. I met with Stephanie that day; I had my questions ready, recording started, and she started to share her experience where a colleague of mine had targeted her. I am so thankful that I had a recording of her interview, because all I remember is being stunned that a colleague was responsible for the impact and struggle of that student. This feeling only continued throughout the interviews. Seventy-five percent of my participants reported that the individual who targeted them was a university employee. Seventy-Five Percent!

During my interviews, students shared the impacts of these biased actions. They shared the emotional tidal wave that would hit them every time they were targeted. That’s right – every time. Participants shared that these experiences have continued to occur throughout their entire college experience. One participant, Matt, even shared that he became suicidal because he experienced a bias-related incident every day.

Something needs to change! As housing professionals, we need to strive to do better and to change culture.

  • I ask that we engage in dialogue with each other. Based on various involvement, identities, and level of student interactions, housing professionals have a wide range of understanding around power, privilege, and the experiences of students from marginalized identities. Seventy-five percent is unacceptable. We need to educate each other on what constitutes a bias-related incident, the impacts of these experiences, and how every bias-related incident is creating an unwelcoming and hostile environment for students.
  • I ask that we commit whole-heartedly to every interaction that we have with students. Every participant that disclosed to a university employee did so to a housing professional. That’s huge! As housing professionals, we have so many more opportunities to build connection, a sense of belonging, and trusting relationships with students. We have the opportunity to respond and support students through these experiences. What a waste if we don’t listen.
  • Lastly, I ask that every institution – every housing office – has a response plan for bias-related incidents. Students are being impacted and often times that impact is caused by university employees. If we hear the disclosure and do nothing, we are just as responsible. And honestly, we can impact the students just much through our betrayal.

Pamela currently serves as the Area Director for Conduct and Community Standards at Oregon State University. Before this role, she served as a Resident Director at Oregon State University and an Undergraduate Hall Director at the University of Montana. The blog post is referring to Pamela’s Master’s thesis: Students’ Decision to Disclose a Bias-Related Incident, which she presented on at the NWACUHO Annual Conference in Spokane, WA and was named Best in the Northwest Program.

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