This is How We Need to Rethink the Work of Student Affairs

Business Meeting

by Daniel Fusch and Caleb Tegtmeier (Academic Impressions)

The challenges facing our students and our institutions are more complex than in the past, and no single, siloed office can address these challenges adequately. That’s why some institutions have been forming student affairs innovation hubs to bring together a more diverse crew of creative minds from across campus and put them to work on improving the student experience.

One of these institutions is Seattle University, and we recently interviewed Seattle U's vice president for student development, Michele C. Murray, Ph.D., and Seattle U's assistant vice president for student development, Monica Nixon, Ed.D.

Rethinking Our Work

Murray and Nixon suggest that the one-stop shop approach to serving specific student demographics (such as transfer students, for instance) has several flaws. When Seattle University set up an office to serve its transfer students, Murray notes, "the great thing was that we had one full-time staff person completely committed to those transfer students. The downside was that the transfer students felt siloed. They weren't introduced to the fullness of the student experience, and that issue was replicated across multiple student populations."

"Another unintended consequence of the siloed way of using one-stop shop areas to serve specific student demographics -- is that the students feel that we see them in only one way. When do we stop being 'transfer' students and become SU students? they asked.

We were responding to a need, but there were unintended consequences.

We need to not just create new functions and new offices, but a new way of approaching our work."
Monica Nixon, Seattle U

Nixon notes that this takes some humility. The way that most student affairs offices work, she cautions, "is working for some students, and is working extremely well for a small group of students, but there are also students we aren't serving as well as we could be." Seattle University's goal is to flip this equation and effectively deliver a transformative student experience for the vast majority of students.

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