Strategies for Educational Success: A Reflection Journal Jenelle Oberholtzer

Week 1: Introduction - Equity in Higher Education

Relationship Between Equity and Excellence in Higher Ed

My first learning objective was to be able to define "equity" and "excellence" in higher education. We started to discuss both of these concepts during our first Live Classroom via Zoom on Tuesday. My take away from the discussion was that equity referred to ensuring equal access to higher education for underrepresented populations (e.g. students from socioeconomic and ethnic minority groups). However, I learned that equity extends beyond meaningful access to include the provision of academic supports to all students, based upon their needs, to improve their learning experience and persistence towards achieving their educational goals. While institutions of higher education (IHEs) excellence is in part determined by it ability to provide equitable student engagement and learning opportunities for all of its student subpopulations (Harper & Quaye, 2015).

Exploring Race-Neutral Admissions Initiatives

During our Week 1 discussion board, we explored the efficiency of race-neutral admissions initiatives in achieving greater equity in higher education. I discussed how IHEs have adopted admissions plans that sought to increase access to disadvantaged students by look at a variety of socioeconomic factors (e.g. family income, family structure, family level of education). Some institutions chose this type of race-neutral strategy as a proxy (i.e. substitute) for race; this is based on the fact that students of color are more likely than white counterparts to meet socioeconomic criteria associated with disadvantaged populations. Initially, I thought IHEs adopted such policies with the intent of focusing on enhancing accessibility to higher education to students who face significant financial obstacles, regardless of their ethnic/racial background. What I discovered is that institutions sought to maintain the diversity of their student body, which is valuable to helping students broaden their perspective by listening to the experiences and interpretations of others, without following affirmative action (often as the result of judicial bans or the burden of proving that race-neutral factors could not achieve the same institutional goals).

Defining Educational Success: Differences Based on IHE Types

Also during our first Live Classroom, Professor Flowers initiated an organic discussion in which we talked about what we perceived to be the meaning of educational success. When Sandra said, "to meet your goals," she verbalized exactly what I was thinking! When posed the question, I considered how students enroll at a postsecondary institution for various different personal and/or professional goals; therefore, each student has their own personal definition of what success is to them. Some may focus on academics, others may also seek to develop other areas of themselves in addition to their intellect. Likewise, success looks different for each college/university from an institutional perspective. Some institutions are dedicated primarily to increasing public access to higher education, such as community colleges; others perceive success in cultivating in-demand skills and competencies, enabling graduates to be more marketable in our knowledge-based economy that values STEM education, such as research universities; and still others would define success in fostering the growth of well-rounded, global citizens who have a strong sense of social responsibility and broad range of knowledge and skills valued in an increasingly diverse society, such as liberal arts institutions.

Key Take Aways from Making Engagement Equitable for Students in U.S. Higher Education

Harper et al. (2015) gave me the following four key learning points:

1) In addition to the amount of energy a student invests in his/her in and out-of-class learning experiences, student engagement specifically is associated with the "resources and organization[al]" efforts an IHE makes to help students become active participants in educationally meaningful learning opportunities, which are achieved through the curriculum and student supports/services (p. 2-3). As such, it is the responsibility of all faculty, administrators, and staff to develop and foster meaningful opportunities for students to feel connected to the campus (p. 6).

2) Students who are actively engaged in (as opposed to simply involved with) academic and extracurricular high-impact learning activities, including conducting "research with faculty, study [away programs], service learning [opportunities], and internships," are more likely to continue further their postsecondary education through graduation (p. 3).

3) An effective method to determine how to improve student engagement at an IHE is to learn from the insights offered by students who are among the least involved with "educationally purposeful activities" on campus (p. 8). In this way, institutional leadership benefit from these students' first-hand experiences as well as help these marginalized students feel that they have an impact on the decisions being made to improve the learning experience for them and their peers (p. 8-9).

4) One of the greatest obstacles students from diverse backgrounds encounter that hinder their ability to gain meaningful access to, and reap the full benefits of, engagement opportunities is the disparity between an IHE's values that it claims to embrace and those that are exhibited through policies and practices (p. 11).

Impact Extracurricular Educational Activities on Other Areas of Development

After reading Kuh's (1993) qualitative study on the influence of extracurricular collegiate experiences on the significant outcomes (according to students) as determined through the analysis of information gathered through a series of semi-structured interviews with seniors at multiple IHEs, I agree with three of the four conclusions posited by the researcher. The study and its findings reinforced my belief that: 1) extracurricular experiences yield significant improvements to students' "learning and personal development," 2) both "academic skills and knowledge acquisition" are more strongly associated by students with the IHE's curricular learning opportunities than out-of-classroom experiences, and 3) the difference in the type of IHE is correlated with the variance in the percentage of students who reported gaining the five key identified outcomes (Kuh, 1993, p. 300-301). I agree with the first conclusion based upon both my understanding of student development theories (e.g. Astin's theory of involvement and Schlossberg theory of mattering) paired with my own qualitative study I conducted for my MSHE capstone, which was a a programmatic assessment of my institution's study away program in cultivating intercultural soft skills. Both the identified theories and my capstone research findings support this conclusion. The second conclusion resonates with my own personal postsecondary learning experience and it was well-supported by Kuh's qualitative findings. And, thirdly, I have learned this week through our discussions and assigned readings that different types of IHEs operate according to different missions. As such, the emphasis on the importance of extracurricular organizations, clubs, events, and learning opportunities varies, as does the number and variation of the opportunities made available at each institutional type. For example, Kuh (1993) found that liberal arts IHEs reported more changes in the "cognitive complexity, knowledge and academic skills, and altruism and estheticism than students at [research universities and institutions in urban settings]." This is aligned with liberal arts IHEs' shared mission of cultivating graduates who can appreciate the differences between themselves and others from different social backgrounds, who truly value and respect diversity and share a sense of social responsibility as a global citizen (Kettering Foundation, 2012).

I disagree with Anaya's (1996) finding that indicated that students' communication development were negatively correlated with increased engaged in extracurricular activities. The researcher indicated that this finding was contradictory to prior research findings and accounted for this difference, in part, as a result of the unique variables used to "measure student learning" (p. 618). I agree with the reason provided for the discrepancy, but I think that prior researchers' variables are more reliable than using the standardized GRE exam scores, given that population examined consisted of students from various backgrounds and standardized tests have been designed for students belonging to the majority. Thus, I believe Anaya's (1996) finding is less reliable.


Anaya, G. (1996). College experiences and student learning: The influence of active learning, college environments and co-curricular activities. Journal of College Student Development, 37(6), 611-622.

Harper, S. R., & Quaye, S. J. (2015). Making engagement equitable for students in U.S. higher education. In Student engagement in higher education: Theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Kettering Foundation. (2012, August 14). Shaping our future: How should higher education help us create the society we want? [video file]. Retrieved from

Kuh, G. D. (1993). In their own words: What students learn outside the classroom. American Educational Research Journal, 30(2), 277-304.

Week 2: Engaging students of color & special purpose institutions

Special Purpose Institutions: Continued Role as Leaders in Higher Ed Equity

This week, I learned more about the continued relevance and significance of special purpose institutions, such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCU), in ensuring the personal and academic growth of students of color. One of the key points that still resonates with me came from Dr. Rochon, President of Tuskegee University, in which he articulated how individuals who think that HBCUs and other special purpose institutions are not as relevant in contemporary society given the progress that has been made to improve accessibility of higher education for students of color and the passing of civil rights legislation do not fully understand or appreciate how they are leaders in the persistence and graduation of students of color as well as promoters of equity in higher education and centers for achieving social mobility (Salzburg Global Seminar, 2012). He explained how HBCUs, for example, are the source of a disproportionate share of graduates of color in the U.S. (Salzburg Global Seminar, 2012). Given the statistical significance of the role of special purpose institutions in conferring postsecondary degrees to students of color, it is evident that these institutions are adept at creating a truly engaging learning and social environment for the students they support. I agree that special interest institutions are helping to counter the effects of the "perfect storm" we learned about, which consisted of a combination of three factors: a) deficient adult literacy rates, b) the increased demand for higher education graduates equipped with skills needed in a knowledge-based economy, and 3) the influx of larger numbers of workers willing to accept meager pay (Dobbs, 2007).

Cultivating Succeess Through Conducive Learning Environment for Students of Color

Some of the take aways that I gained from this week on elements that are tied to institutional measures of success for these target populations are: 1) outreach and mentoring of targeted audiences should begin prior to students entering secondary school, 2) the integration of culture and curriculum, 3) hiring empathetic (or culturally sensitive) faculty and staff who reflect diversity of their student body, 4) cultivating a positive racial climate, and 5) aligning institutional principles (or values) with demonstrated initiatives (Global Seminar, 2012; Kuh, 2009; Leech Lake Tribal College, 2009). Early outreach can help underrepresented students to get the support they need to prepare for the rigors and challenges of adapting to college life. It also enables them to get connected with resources that can improve their likelihood of successfully applying, getting accepted, and matriculating. By infusing culture intro coursework, students can feel connected to what they are studying and potentially gain appreciation and insight regarding the applicability of what they are learning to their personal lives (Leech Lake Tribal College, 2009). By hiring culturally sensitive and representative employees, institutions can help students feel supported by mentors who share common experiences and they can feel comfortable going to for advice. And resources and support should be invested in strengthening of cultural safe spaces, which include cultural student organizations, as a result of their impact on helping students to foster a sense of belonging and safety (Quaye, Griffin, & Museus, 2015). Peer support groups for underrepresented students are also important because their existence enables students to create another informal support network of people who experience similar struggles and can encourage one another (Quaye et al., 2015).

Forming Connections with Prior Coursework & Daily Work Experiences

While reading Quaye et al. (2015) and Griffin (2013), I started to make connections with information I had learned in a prior Race and Ethnic Relations course I had taken during my undergraduate program. I credit the previous class with helping me to deepen my appreciation of the economical disadvantages that are tied to historical social inequity that helped motivate institutional leaders to embrace affirmative action policies (prior to more recent activities by some to ban race oriented admissions tactics). Both the former and my current class emphasis that damaging effects of persistent racial tensions and prejudices have on students of color as well as their informal support networks within their community (e.g. same-ethnicity faculty/staff/administrators, family members, advisors, etc.) (Griffin, 2013). They helped me to realize how student affairs professional, and faculty, often play a critical role in fostering of successful students and graduates and, consequently, to the effort of strengthening enrollment equity and social mobility. Griffin (2013) opened my eyes to the need for institutions to better support their diverse faculty members, who often invest additional energy to work with what some would classify as at-risk students.

Actions I Can Incorporate In Workplace

Now that I can recognize the burden it can be on students to serve as "native informants," I will strive in the workplace to do my part in lessening this burden for my peers from diverse backgrounds, by trying not to put them or minority students under such pressure (Quaye et al., 2015). I can help improve the cultural climate at my institution my not underestimating the influence I can have on students of color by expressing interest in their well-being, being dedicated to delivering exceptional quality service, helping to strengthen their sense of mattering (e.g. recognizing/remembering students, actively listening to concerns/challenges). Recently, I dedicated my efforts in employing strengths based advising with students of color, by helping them to discover how to harness their own successes to address new problems. I also dedicated more time to actively listening in conversations, which resulted in positive feedback from international students of color feeling important/valued at our institution. In those conversations, I learned about how these students tend to feel marginalized when employees prioritize what is convenient ahead of what is in the best interest or will better meet the needs of the student.


Dobbs, L. (2007, February 5). US education - The perfect storm [video file]. CNN. Retrieved from

Griffin, K. A. (2013). Voices of the "othermothers": Reconsidering black professors' relationships with black students as a form of social exchange. The Journal of Negro Education, 82(2), 169-183.

Kuh, G. D. (2009, December/November). What student affairs professionals need to know about student engagement. Journal of College Student Development, 50(6), 683-706.

Leech Lake Tribal College. (2009, October 24). Leech Lake Tribal College: Making a difference [video file]. Retrieved from

Quaye, S. J., Griffin, K. A., & Museus, S. D. (2015). Engaging students of color. In Student engagement in higher education: Theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Salzburg Global Seminar. (2012, October 5). The role of HBCUs in achieving equity in higher education [video file]. Retrieved from

Week 3: Engaging international students

International Students' Influence on Creating an Enriching Higher Learning Experience

International students play a significant role in the cultivation of an enriching learning environment at U.S. colleges and universities. These students contributing to the financial strength of an institution, the result of often paying higher tuition and fees as well as making up a sizable percentage of student researchers and grant writers, which generate the institution other sources of funding and recognition among scientific organizations (Lee, 2015). Their significant participation in STEM academic programs and initiatives also helps to attention from prospective students, donors, and grantfunders. International students are also key contributors to building a diverse social environment on campus, one in which students are encouraged to explore new perspectives as well as debate and actively participate in academic circles (Hanassab & Tidwell, 2002). Thus, international students are an important sub-population of learners at a college/university that institutions should support to improve persistence and student satisfaction, especially given their strategic, capital, and academic contributions (Hanassab et al., 2002). But, how can student affairs professionals best support international students? We must first assess their needs, perhaps using a survey tool which would help to quick collect this feedback from multiple students as a low cost method.

Compounding Challenges Experienced by International Students

International students whose primary language is other than English would be likely to encounter a language barrier while attending an American college/university (Lee, 2015). Language barriers often only exacerbate some of the challenges that many international students experience, regardless of their English fluency, which pertain to challenges building meaningful relationships with peers, which is important in developing an informal support network while studying abroad (Tseng & Newton, 2002). Some of the key findings Tseng et al. (2002) learned from their qualitative study was that international students often employ soft skills in effort to maintain their well-being, including (but not limited to) seeking guidance when facing difficulties, fostering a strong relationship with their faculty and advisors, and developing "cultural and social contacts" (p. 596). Forming an informal support network help all students to cope with frustrations as well as gain a sense of camaraderie and mattering, which ultimately influences their persistence (Schlossberg, 1989). Furthermore, Lee (2015) points out that students who experience a language barrier may face challenges both with regard to academic performance and socio-cultural adjustment while abroad, which have the potential to lead to social isolation or even depression. The needs of an institution's international students may vary based upon where the students hail from, thus it is important to provide the necessary supports by way of the student affairs personnel to complement the attention of staff who were dedicated to international recruitment (Lee, 2015). A needs assessment could help student affairs professional to identify the specific needs of the students they serve, which will be valuable information in developing support programming for this target subpopulation.

Recommended Practices for Professionals Supporting International Students

After reviewing the learning content for Week 3, there are several recommended practices that student affairs professionals working with international students can engage in to help meet common needs of this constituents.

Enhancing International Student Orientation Programs. First, it would be beneficial to incorporate into the international students' orientation programming information on how to avoid being taken advantage of by predatory domestic individuals seeking to profit from international students' lack of familiarity with the social norms of the U.S. (International Student TV, 2008). The orientation program should include suggestions for areas to safely travel in the surrounding community as well as less reputable areas that may be advisable to avoid (International Student TV, 2008). Giving a session on American Culture 101, if you will, in which students can learn some of the key social norms of the society, which will help them to adapt to life and learning in the U.S. Furthermore, hosting a discussion that enables international students to interact and collaboratively identify what their own social values are from their home countries and comparing them to those they were advised are exhibited in American culture could help them to strengthen their intercultural awareness (International Student TV, 2008). By holding such programs, international students can work on forming relationships with peers who may be experiencing similar challenges, which could become the start of their informal support network, as well as recognizing the professionals that work at the college/university that can serve as resources and professional support (particularly for those who are dedicated to serving international students).

Accelerated English Language Learning & Bridge Programs. The development of a bridge program or accelerated English Language Learning (ELL) program could also prove to be a valuable asset to students who face more intense language barriers (Northern Arizona University, 2008). By learning college-level English either concurrent or prior to taking college-level classes on campus, international students can be better prepared to more actively engage in their discussions in class, completion of academic assignments, as well as in developing relationships with domestic students.

Service Delivery with international students in mind. From my personal interaction with international students at my institution, I have heard that it would be beneficial for the college/university to be mindful of the needs of international students when delivering certain services. For example, it is important to provide dining options that are viable for students from different religious and cultural backgrounds. My institution recruits several students from Saudi Arabia, thus many of those students practice the Muslim faith. The food that is offered should include options are not subject to cross contamination with pork products. Furthermore, all institutions should strive to have their required textbooks up to date a few weeks prior to class, so that international students in particular have the ability to order their textbooks and start to get familiar with the material a week or two prior to classes starting. This will allow enough time for students to get a head start in fulfilling the assigned readings, which would especially be valued by students who need to take more time when reading due to language barriers. Thus, as Hanassab et al. (2002) concluded, colleges and universities need to educate their employees on the varying needs of international students. And while there are some shared needs among students from similar backgrounds, just like any other constituency, there are also needs that vary on a personal level (Hanassab et al., 2002).


Hanassab, S. & Tidwell, R. (2002, Winter). International students in higher education: Identification of needs and implications for policy and practice. Journal of Studies in International Education, 6(4), 305-322.

International Student TV. (2008, April 13). Tips for international students [video file]. Retrieved from

Lee, J. J. (2015). Engaging international students. In Student engagement in higher education: Theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Northern Arizona University. (2008, June 6). Northern Arizona University international student video [video file]. Retrieved from

Schlossberg, N.K. (1989). Marginality and Mattering: Key Issues in Building Community. New Directions for Student Services, 48, 5–15.

Tseng, W., & Newton, F. B. (2002). International students' strategies for well-being. College Student Journal, 591-597. Retrieved from

Week 4: Engaging Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Trans* Students

Identity Development During College for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual (LGB) Students

Students may find they are able to explore their sexual identity during their time at a college or university given that postsecondary institutions campus cultures often provides a sense of security to students as they start their independent journey of personal development, while they transition into early adulthood (Drexel University, n.d.). College is a time of personal growth and exploration for many undergraduates, but for lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) students, their exploration or acceptance of their sexuality can add additional stresses to their experience. For example, while adapting to a new social environment and forming new connections for their informal support network, LGB students may fear encountering discrimination from their peers or anxiety when determining who they can trust (Cornell University, 2012). This complicates to some extent the struggle that some college students face with finding a sense of belonging (i.e. acceptance) in a campus community. In addition, LGB students must consider the ramifications of coming out to various social circles while in college (Stewart & Howard-Hamilton, 2015). As a result, some LGB students may face challenges related to selectively coming out (Drexel University, n.d.).

Strategies To Empower & Support LGB Students

Strategies that I learned this week that can help LGB students have a positive learning experience include the establishment of safe spaces, if they are they are lacking on campus; incorporating sexuality into the curriculum; supporting the creation and strengthening of LGB student organizations; and connecting LGB students with positive LBG role models (Stewart et al., 2015).

Establishment of safe spaces. Colleges and universities should provide safe spaces for students who feel marginalized while they are questioning their sexuality or as a result of identifying with a non-heterosexual, minority group in a typically "heteronormative" environment (Stewart et al., 2015; Drexel University, n.d.). These spaces provide a designated location for LGB students and allied students to meet, share experiences, encourage one another, debunk myths, and meet with trained and empathetic professional staff who can provide resources and support for students facing LGB issues (Cornell University, 2012). These safe spaces have the opportunity of serving dual purposes in 1) supporting LGB students directly as they navigate issues and 2) educating other members of the campus community about LGB identities (Stewart et al., 2015). Just this past week, I was excited to learn that my institution established such a safe space dedicated to LGBTQ students called, Haven, which offers confidential, staff-led support (Susquehanna University, 2017). This initiative was led by the university's Center for Intercultural & Community Engagement.

Incorporating sexuality into the curriculum. Academic leadership should make efforts to incorporate in class discussions related to topics including sexual identity, homophobia, "heterosexism and heteronormativity" in society (Stewart et al., 2015, p. 131). This can be achieved by developing new courses or learning objectives for existing courses under different departments (e.g. history, sociology, psychology, creative writing, art, human resource management, communications, public relations, etc.). Additionally, addressing some key resources available to students while they explore their sexuality should be offered as part of orientation programs at college for incoming students.

Supporting LGB student organizations. Similar to how students of minority ethnic/racial backgrounds should be provided opportunities to socialize with other peers that share similar backgrounds, LGB students should also have student organizations to help them to connect with one another to serve as an informal support network (Stewart et al., 2015). As discussed previously with other minority groups, the way to counter feelings of marginality is to put into place supports that help students to foster a sense of belonging and mattering to their campus community (Schlossberg, 1989).

Connecting LGB students with positive LBG role models. Additionally, it is important to help LGB students to be able to connect with positive role models that are in their community. Colleges should have programming in place to encourage faculty and staff to mentor and advise LGB students on campus. This type of connection can help motivate LGB students, help them to expand their informal support network outside of their peers, and recognize that their college/university also respect and value the contributions of LGB individuals by hiring representatives of their community that can help ensure that the voices of this student subpopulation are heard and supported.

Engaging Transgender Students

Given that there is less research existing on the needs of trans* students and theories on how to meet those needs, it is essential for colleges and universities to make a conscious effort to gather information from primary sources: their own trans* students (Marine & Catalano, 2015). By collecting information from trans* students regarding their experiences and needs, institutions can harness that information to help develop strategies to better support them by allowing their feedback to drive decisions. In addition, trans* students could also benefit from the establishment of safe spaces on campus where they can discuss concerning issues, struggles, etc. without fear of being further marginalized or even not taken seriously. Another way that colleges and universities can better support this growing population is by providing employees with opportunities for professional development by way of learning best practices in serving students belonging to this community (Marine et al., 2015).

Strategies to Engage & Support LGBTQ Students

Colleges and universities can implement some of the following initiatives to better support its students who identify with marginalized gender identity groups: assessing whether or not policies and protocols should be updated to better serve the needs of LGBTQ students. Institutions should consider when reviewing their own policies, particularly when it comes to communicating about students with external parties, such as their parents (or guardians) and employers (jacob750, 2012). In addition, they should consider ways that they can improve the student's learning experiences. In one video I encountered this week (see below), I was excited to learn that my institution was succeeding with regard to addressing the needs of students by harnessing students' preferred (i.e. chosen) name and using that to display for instructors on rosters other system functionality such as grading, to help students to be addressed in a way that they feel comfortable (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2015).

Key Take Aways on Supporting LGBTQ Students

My key take aways from this week were to remember that although these minority groups are often grouped together, each have unique needs, experiences, and identities (Stewart et al., 2015). Furthermore, other forms of identity have led to the development of "communities within communities" among the LGBTQ population (Stewart et al., 2015, p. 122). While LGB students and trans* students may face similar adversities in a heteronormative campus community and society at large, the fact that their key difference lies in two different components of human identity lead to both groups facing some unique challenges related to discrimination and fostering that sense of belongining on-campus (Stewart et al., 2015). The solutions that are proposed for both populations tend to revolve around increasing awareness (i.e. education) among the heterosexual and cisgender majority, providing resources and trained, supportive staff to help students traverse their personal development, and fostering connections with other similar students on campus as well as faculty and staff who can empathize with their experiences. Together, I believe these strategies can create meaningful opportunities to help improve students' learning experiences.


Chronicle of Higher Education. (2015, September 3). 'Ask me': What LGBTQ students want their professors to know [Video file]. Retrieved from

Cornell University. [CornellUniversity GALA]. (2012, December 6). Cornell University's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender resource center [Video file]. Retrieved from

Drexel University. (n.d.). Week 4: Strategies for educational success [PowerPoint presentation]. Retrieved from bbcswebdav/pid-5012934-dt-content-rid-25167126_1/courses/21772.201625/ Week%204/Week%204%20Presentation/index.html

[jacob750]. (2012, November 3). Transgender college students [Video file]. Retrieved from

Marine, S. B., & Catalano, C. J. (2015). Engaging lesbian, gay, and bisexual students on college campuses. In Student engagement in higher education: Theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Schlossberg, N.K. (1989). Marginality and Mattering: Key Issues in Building Community. New Directions for Student Services, 48, 5–15.

Stewart, D., & Howard-Hamilton, M. F. (2015). Engaging lesbian, gay, and bisexual students on college campuses. In Student engagement in higher education: Theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Susquehanna University. (2017). Campus activities: Haven. Retrieved from

Week 5: Engaging students with disabilities

Factors that Contribute to Underwhelming Campus Climate

Although students with disabilities were not well-represented at colleges and universities in the past, their numbers among postsecondary learners has increased over the years since the passing of legislation including, but not limited to, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (Beilke, J. R., & Yssel, N., 1999). However, despite the gains achieved through these legal mandates, students with disabilities continue to face challenges that inhibit them from fully engaging in the campus community (Beilke et al., 1999). While some of those challenges include false preconceptions on the part of peers, as well as some university employees, others include a lack of familiarity with the needs of this subpopulation from the administrative standpoint and a lack of empathy and "understanding" from instructors (Beilke et al., 1999). This seems especially true for students with "invisible" disabilities, such as learning disabilities, autism, and depression. When combined, these negative attitudes, stereotypes, and misinformation held by faculty, staff, and peers contribute towards a "chilly [campus] climate" for students with disabilities (Beilke et al., 1999).

Altering the Atmosphere on Campus to be More Receptive & Supportive of Students with Disabilities

To counter these factors, higher education institutions should seek to educate their faculty and straff about disabilities in order to demystify and clarify the challenges students with disabilities may face, providing the training and tools to support these students to get the most out of their learning experiences and personal development. In this way, employees will feel better prepared to understand and fulfill the needs of this growing subpopulation of students. It is equally important to showcase how students with disabilities offer unique perspectives on-campus and how they are, in fact, significant contributors to the campus community. Faculty and staff can be more inclusive of students with disabilities within the campus culture by, first, keeping an open mind (i.e. being "prepared to be surprised") (Institute for Community Inclusion, 2010). In Massachusetts, the Inclusive Concurrent Education (ICE) program enabled students with intellectual disabilities to have access to a collegiate learning experience through partnerships with community colleges, while they were in the transitional age between adolescence and adulthood - having completed four years of high school yet not having earned their diploma yet (Institute for Community Inclusion, 2010). When students with disabilities joined classes, their cohort of peers often benefited from their unique perspective, which is influenced from a different life experiences, as well as motivate them to put forth just as much dedication as these students who truly felt privileged to be going to college (Institute for Community Inclusion, 2010).

Connecting to Prior Work Experience at Office of Developmental Programs, Autism Services

While watching ICE's video regarding this program in Massachusetts, I was able to reflect upon my experiences while I worked in the Pennsylvania Office of Developmental Programs, particularly in the Bureau of Autism Services. From my previous work experience, I know that there are education systems in which students with intellectual and developmental disabilities often go without services by opting to graduate from high school, which results in the lose of their supports from the K-12 system, while they are not yet old enough to be eligible for adult services that often do not start until they reach age 21. Thus, leaders often refer to this gap in service delivery as the 'rabbit hole' (Wall, N., personal communication, October 26, 2015). To bridge this gap, programs such as the ICE should be supported by higher education institutions as well as federal and state departments, to foster continued social and intellectual development, the strengthening of in-demand soft skills, and to make up for some lost services as a result of enrolling in college-level coursework.

Tactics to Strengthen Engagement for Students with Disabilities

Some of the strategies that I learned this week on how students with disabilities can be better engaged both inside and outside of the classroom include faculty members utilizing "accessible" settings that are conducive to meaningful learning opportunities as well as "universal instructional designs" (Brown & Broido, 2015, p. 197). Additionally, colleges and universities could look to their Office of Disability Services for both educating current employees about "invisible" disabilities, in devising interventions with their student affairs staff, and in the assessment of learning outcomes and other inclusive initiatives to determine their relative value and efficiency (Brown et al., 2015, p. 201).

I strongly agree with the recommendation of other offices collaborating with the Office of Disability Services, which can be valuable resource in helping to counter false preconceptions and stereotypes and help the campus community to perceive disabilities as another factor that contribute towards the overall diversity of the student body, which will ultimately help their other students for interactions with other people with disabilities in the future. I also truly believe that by including students with a variety of different disabilities in the student body, that all students who have the opportunity to learn with them will benefit from an enriched learning experience because of their different life experiences, which ultimately shape their unique perception of our world. This reminds me of a short video that was featured in one of my last In-Service Learning Retreats while I worked at the Bureau of Autism, which is driven home by the speaker, who has a positive outlook on her autism, much like Temple Grandin (see below).


Beilke, J. R., & Yssel, N. (1999, September). The chilly climate for students with disabilites in higher education. College Student Journal, 33(3), 1-7.

Brown, K., & Broido, E. M. (2015). Engaging students with disabilities. In Student engagement in higher education: Theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations (2nd ed.), pp. 187-207. New York: Routledge.

Institute for Community Inclusion. [communityinclusion]. (2010, March 1). The inclusive concurrent enrollment initiative video [Video file]. Retrieved from

King, R. (2014, November 21). How autism freed me to be myself [Video file]. TED. Retrieved from

Week 6: Engaging religious minority students

Acknowledging & Addressing Christian Privilege in Higher Education

Early in the week, our assigned readings pointed out the common ways that colleges and universities perpetuate Christian privilege. The alignment of scheduled breaks, menu choices with Christian holidays and dietary practices as well as the accessibility to facilities for practicing Christian worship are three key ways that many colleges and universities contribute to the persistence of Christian privilege (Ahmadi & Cole, 2015; Seifert, 2007). Additionally, religious minority students may have fewer faculty and staff are likely to share, and consequently represent, their faith or support their spiritual development (Ahmadi et al., 2015). These environmental conditions that collectively can lead religious minority students to feel marginalized on college campuses (Ahmadi et al., 2015). Ahmadi et al. (2015) argues that this has the potential to hinder their spiritual and other facets of personal development as well as their academic performance.

Supporting Religious Minority Studies on Campus

Given the aforementioned ways that colleges and universities can set religious minority students up for disadvantage, they can similarly work towards being consciously aware of them and furthermore countering these disadvantages by offering this sub-population with the supports and flexibility that they equally deserve. For example, colleges and universities should provide dining selections for students who adhere to religious dietary restrictions, such as offering a variety of Kosher foods for its Jewish students, alternatives meats to beef as well as a variety of vegetarian options for its Hindu students, and menu selections untainted by pork products for its Muslim students. This would be comparable to the courtesy often extended to Catholic students who abstain from eating meat aside from fish on Fridays. For students who pay for board expenses, it is only appropriate for the institution to provide viable sustenance options. Furthermore, Ahmadi et al. (2015) shared how the provision of such dietary needs can help dining halls to realize their potential of serving as "facilitat[ors] of natural conversation [for students from diverse backgrounds]". This sentiment was shared by members of the Leicester College community (Pukaarnews, 2014). Another way that postsecondary institutions can support its religious minority students is by implementing academic policies that require faculty to be accommodating of students taking personal religious holidays during the semester (e.g. flexibility in completing assignment around and striving to avoid deadlines on major religious holidays such as Diwali, Yom Kippur, and Eid-al-Adha in the fall semester).

Establishing Safe Spaces for Religious Community, Worship, and Dialogue

In Week 6, I broadened my awareness for the need to foster save spaces for also religious minorities to connect with and have open conversations with their fellow believers as well as those who follow different spiritual faiths (Ahmadi et al., 2015; Seifert, 2007). This was a topic that I touched on in our weekly discussion, as a supportive solution to addressing religious minority student organizations that were at odds with one another after a proposed pamphlet that Jewish students found offensive that was planned to be distributed by a Muslim Student Association. These safe spaces can be established for two key objectives: 1) providing a space for religious minority students to assemble with peers who share their religious faith, which can cultivate a stronger sense of mattering and community, and 2) providing a space for students from different religious backgrounds to communicate with one another and share their different perspectives for academic discourse, which can help all students to broaden their worldview and learn from other religious groups (Adhmadi et al., 2015; Schlossberg, 1989).

The provision of spaces for underrepresented students to meet with other members of their minority faith allow them to study, practice, or otherwise express their faith, support one another by forming an informal network of peers, and an opportunity to establish mentorships with faculty or staff who can serve as role models and advisors for concerns that the students feel they need guidance from an experienced student support professional or instructor (Admadi et al., 2015; Seifert, 2007). Astin & Astin (2003) also indicated that college student participants in their study voiced their "expectation [for their institution to play an active role in furthering their] spiritual development" (p. 4). By providing a safe space for students of multiple backgrounds to congregate and talk about topics of interest or particular relevance, they will be providing a social atmosphere that has the potential to help them grow spiritually, by helping them to identify, challenge, or reaffirm their faith.

Demonstrating Commitment to Spiritual Growth & Religious Plurality

Colleges and universities should also sponsor events that encourage all members of the campus community to join with minority religions to learn about their culture and shared values (Pukaarnews, 2014). These interfaith organizations/group events can provide opportunities for self-evaluation and reflection (Seifert, 2007). The video below captures such an event as well as the positive testimonies by members of religious majority and minority representatives across Leicester College's campus (Pukaarnews, 2014). Ahmadi et al. (2015) posits that these safe spaces can benefit all students; religious minority students can feel included on campus as the result of their institution offering such accommodations, spaces, and sponsored events and majority students can become attuned to privileges they may take for granted.


Ahmadi, S., & Cole, D. (2015). Engaging religious minority students. In Student engagement in higher education: Theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations (2nd ed.), pp. 171-185. New York: Routledge.

Annenberg Media. (2016, April 1). What it's like being Muslim in college [Video file]. Retrieved from

Astin, A. & Astin, H. (2003). The spiritual life of college students: A national study of college students' search for meaning and purpose. Higher Education Research Institute. Los Angeles, CA: University of California, Los Angeles.

Pukaarnews. (2014, May 13). Staff and students get a taste of Sikh culture at Leicester College [Video file]. Retrieved from

Schlossberg, N.K. (1989). Marginality and Mattering: Key Issues in Building Community. New Directions for Student Services, 48, 5–15.

Seifert, T. (2007, May-June). Understanding Christian privilege: Managing the tensions of spiritual plurality. About Campus 12 (2), 10-17. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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