Student affairs’ feats and faults the center of webinar discussion

Photo courtesy of Natalie Tsur.

Faculty gathered at Friends Hall on Oct. 27 for the second part of a Zoom webinar that focused on the state of student affairs across all college campuses. Director of Center for Student Involvement Rick Brown facilitated a discussion afterwards, allowing faculty members to speak on their own experiences in relation to the viewing.

Board Chair Dr. Julie Payne-Kirchmeier and President Dr. Kevin Kruger of NASPA — a member-centered association of Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education — hosted the call, which was projected on a larger screen for all inside Friends Hall to see. Talking points were more geared toward the prospect of student affairs, critiquing potential areas of improvement within the division as both a labor industry and integral resource for both students and faculty.

One of the more pivotal conversations between Payne-Kirchmeier and Kruger focused on expanding equitable opportunities within instructional institutions. “This whole issue of people working from home never happened before,” Kruger said. “I was just at a campus last week and they were managing ways to have their dining staff get some remote work, and for the custodian staff.”

This opened some dialogue between present attendees, which consisted of staff working within student affairs. The concept of remote flexibility appeared more necessary than preferred.

“I remember going to a conference a few years ago and one of the presenters was a nursing adviser and she worked virtually,” said Diana Benavides, an adviser at Center for Student Success. “Here we are, doing that. I do see the increased need for flexibility.”

Brown explained that certain staff members are afforded remote work days, which Benavides described as important to her personal life outside of Ramapo. Others in the room shared that students have shown appreciation for hybrid learning as the college transitions to in-person instruction. 

At the same time, though, David Nast, director of Office of Specialized Services (OSS), raises that there are some “unintended consequences” of remote work. “Yesterday was my first remote day in a long time, and there I was at 6:00 still working, which I got stuff done, but I would’ve left here at 4:30.”

Those in the room described the standard in-person work week as healthier than a remote one, explaining that a separation between work and home is important. On a much larger scale, this has been identified by researchers as one of the major causes for Covid burnout.

The webinar had also emphasized the role which certain staff members take on within colleges as mentors and resources for students. In maintaining a safe and socially conscious environment on campus, Payne-Kirchmeier and Kruger stress that accountability is equally important as recovery.

“Institutions are not perfect,” Payne-Kirchmeier said after emphasizing the primacy of surveying an organization’s cultural and social atmosphere. “How do they recover from it? How do they own the mistake? How do they talk about it? What thoughtful, sustained changes have they put in place and how does that show up in their priorities?”

As the job description for student affairs staff continues to evolve in response to societal issues and concerns, potential career candidates are encouraged to understand the current state of the field at length. 

Nast explained that the position and its tasks are often narrowed in its scope when talked about. Given that this staff only works with college students, the extent to which others understand what it means to work within student affairs is often two-dimensional. This perception of the field therefore inherently underestimates the more nuanced ways in which staff members contribute to the health of the campus and its students. 

“There is no linear path in student affairs,” said Jack Nesmith, coordinator of student activities, reflecting on the webinar. “The honesty of deciding if the field is for you, and exploring that, and encouraging prospective students to really think about — in any career — if this is something they really want to do.” 

Another segment for this event will be organized by Brown in the near future, which will provide all students interested in the field with the appropriate information and exposure to student affairs.