Shortly after returning from China, I had the opportunity to talk with the Association of Christians in Student Development (ACSD) during their annual conference, themed, “Cultivating Wisdom: Bringing Life to Knowledge.”
While riding the subway in Hong Kong, I couldn’t help but notice the ubiquitous signs and announcements to “please mind the gap.” After multiple reinforcements, I couldn’t help but think that it is precisely in minding (and mining) the gap that those of us in student affairs bring life to knowledge with our students.
We operate at the gap between intellectual (content) and moral self-direction (character development); between what higher education provides and what is required for the 21st century global environment.
We mind the gap because our students are walking a tightrope between optimism and the current difficult realities (student debt, employment and career). They live and think globally and are not sure how to be global citizens. They are the most outward-looking and accepting generation in history and, yet, they are conflicted about embracing diversity.
As student affairs educators, we are uniquely positioned to “mind the gap,” reinforcing experiential learning and helping students reflect on how they develop their values. With the 75th anniversary of the Student Personnel Point of View, we are reminded that student affairs professionals are uniquely positioned to Mind and Mine the gap by basing our work on the philosophical legacy and enduring principles of educating whole students to reach their highest potential and make a positive contribution to society.
Some people can’t write because they have what is called “writers’ block.” Fortunately, this is not a problem for me. I have so much I want to write about that it takes me a while to decide on what not to write about. Returning from a two-week visit to China, I have enough material to write about for some time, but I fear I might bore you, so I’ll just give you a taste.
Over the past weeks, I was fortunate to be among colleagues who participated as presenters in the Macau Student Affairs Institute, which was open to student affairs practitioners from all over China. It is believed to be the first such institute of its kind in China. A colleague created the curriculum and invited many colleagues you know (I won’t call names because these folks have not consented to be subjects in my blog) to do a series of workshops for the participants from China.
I learned an inordinate amount about student affairs in China, both from the institute and from my subsequent visits to Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Shanghai as “Ambassador for NASPA”, as the Chinese dubbed me.
I was truly impressed by the institute participants because they were eager and attentive learners from the beginning to the very end of the two-day workshop in which I participated. They were active learners and they have adopted what they call “total student development.” What I envied was the interest of faculty in student affairs work. The institute included professors from law, psychology, and information technology, all of whom were eager to learn how best to help students reach their maximum potential. It was terrific to have faculty and student affairs staff all working together to support students.
I’m encouraged by my recent experiences with faculty wanting to educate and support the whole student. The day before I left for China, I was making a presentation, along with a former MUFP alum of whom I am so proud, to veterinary medical education doctors about seeing their students through the lens of student affairs. They, too, were eager to support students and to learn what it means to view students from a holistic perspective.
I think our next frontier is to engage with faculty directly in professional development that has heretofore been reserved for educators who claim student affairs as their field. Student affairs practitioners are educators primarily outside the classroom. Why not be ambassadors to academic affairs, working with faculty to use the lens of student affairs in their teaching inside the classroom?