The Diary of a Residence Director a reflection on issues in student engagement

Week 1

Hello everyone! Before discussing this week's readings I thought I would share a little more about myself. Below I have posted several pictures which describe who I am and what I am interested in outside of my career in Residence Life/Student Affairs. As you can probably tell, I love pretty much all things Italian, but I also enjoy fitness classes at my local gym, watching movies when I am not working or studying, and going out with friends. This is my last quarter in the MSHE program at Drexel!

My travels to Sardegna, Venice, & Tuscany
My favorite things: working out, Italian food & wine, and watching movies.

I look forward to this course and the opportunity to develop my skills and knowledge in order to help my study abroad students succeed while in Rome. I believe that studying abroad is a unique opportunity, one that changed my life forever 5 years ago and put me on my current life path before I had even realized it was something that I wanted to do. It is my goal to make sure each student who participates in our study abroad program leaves Rome having learned something about him/herself and the world around them. As I near the end of my time in the MSHE program at Drexel I continue to reflect on what I have learned over these past 2 years, and how I have begun to incorporate that knowledge in my career.

This week's reading from the textbook focused on equity in engagement for all college students, and the difference between involvement and engagement. The authors argued that "it is entirely possible to be involved in something without being engaged" (pg. 4). Unfortunately, this is something that I witness all too often in my study abroad students. I have found that without strong encouragement and opportunity provided by the Student Affairs staff, many students are involved in the act of studying abroad, but aren't truly experiencing the growth and development associated with studying abroad, because they aren't engaging entirely with the culture and the people surrounding them. As the authors also noted in this chapter, it is the responsibility of the institution as a whole, and particularly of its Student Affairs staff, to ensure meaningful student engagement (pg. 5). This is one aspect of my office that still needs to be improved, and I believe that it is our duty to do so for the good of our students.

While it is uncommon for students to drop out while studying abroad, it is important that students are surrounded by an environment that enables them to persist and succeed academically, spiritually, and psychologically. Furthermore, the authors stated that "simply providing services for students is not sufficient enough to enrich their educational experiences" (pg. 6). Therefore, providing students with events in Italy won't necessarily result in them gaining a better understanding of Italian culture or of themselves while abroad. For example, significant learning from a Tiramisu-making class on campus requires the person teaching them to not only show them how to cook it, but what the ingredients are called in Italian, what the history of Tiramisu is, how it may be made differently from one region to another within Italy, reflect on why it is such a popular Italian dessert around the world, etc. This type of cultural education is especially important for the events hosted on campus, where the students remain in their "American bubble" and are not experiencing the city or engaging with Italians in the situation. What is particularly important, as the authors argued, is to remember that all students are different, learn differently, and come from different backgrounds, and therefore have different educational needs. In order for all students to be successfully engaged, faculty and staff must learn to target each of these differences throughout the students' learning experience.

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

week 2

Two of the readings on diversity for this week I have already been familiar with for a long time, as they were both published in a book which was used in my first quarter of the MSHE program, and I also used them as references in my Co-op project on the effects of study abroad on student development and academic outcomes. These readings by Kuh and Gurin, Dey, Hurtado, and Gurin demonstrate the effects of diversity in education and the role of university staff and faculty in implementing diversity initiatives and promoting inclusion within campus communities. What I appreciated most from Quaye, Griffin, and Museus’s article, was the detailed explanation on the difference between campus climate and campus racial culture. They define campus climate as “the current perceptions, attitudes, and expectations that define the institution and its members” (in Quaye & Harper, n.d., p. 21). Campus racial culture, however, refers to "persistent patterns of norms, values, practices, beliefs, and assumptions that shape the behavior of individuals and groups in a college or university and provide a frame of reference within which to interpret the meaning of events and actions on and off the campus” (in Quaye & Harper, n.d., p. 21). The idea here is that the campus climate is a flexible and changing factor of an institution’s environment based on student demographics, while the campus culture is embedded in the operations, actions, and beliefs of the university itself. I think this is an important distinction in addressing change and diversity on college campuses. Campus culture is a reflection of the mission and values of an institution, of its organizations, faculty, courses, and residence life. Increasing diversity in admissions does not make a campus automatically diverse. As Gurin, Dey, Hurtado, and Gurin argue, structural diversity is only one aspect of a three-fold contribution to campus diversity (in Harper & Jackson, n.d., p. 250). Informal interactional diversity and classroom diversity are also necessary components to promoting cross-cultural learning and helping students to develop skills such as greater communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, as well as an increase in tolerance, understanding, and awareness (in Harper & Jackson, n.d., p. 250-256).

In addition to the readings for this week, I felt that the video on HBCUs was informative and provided a valid argument for their work in educating minorities in the United States. When I first learned about HBCUs, I was torn between the belief that these kinds of institutions are empowering and useful in providing an education to minority students, and the belief that HBCUs negatively impacted the contemporary higher education system by further alienating minorities and emphasizing inequalities among students. After reviewing this video which reported that HBCUs are the #1 producer of black engineers, scientists, architects, veterinarians, nurses, and medical school candidates (2012), I have developed a greater appreciation for the positive role that HBCUs play in educating minority students and ensuring they achieve their greatest potentials. This video, in conjunction with the readings, showed me that we still have a long way to go in achieving equity in higher education. However, HBCUs and PWIs that recognize this and seek the best ways to promote diversity and inclusion on their campuses, are crucial players in helping the United States in attaining a more diverse and equal higher education system in the future.

Gurin, P., Dey, E. L., Hurtado, S., & Gurin, G. (n.d.). Diversity and Higher Education: Theory and Impact on Educational Outcomes. In S. R. Harper & J. F. L. Jackson (Eds.), Introduction to American Higher Education (pp. 249-277). New York, NY: Routledge.

Kuh, G. (n.d.) What Educators and Administrators Need to Know About College Student Engagement. In S. R. Harper & J. F. L. Jackson (Eds.), Introduction to American Higher Education (pp. 189-212). New York, NY: Routledge.

Quaye, S. J., Griffin, K. A., & Museus, S. D. (n.d.). In S. J. Quaye & S. R. Harper (Eds.), Student Engagement in Higher Education: Theoretical Perspectives and Practical Approaches for Diverse Populations (pp. 105-120). New York, NY: Routledge.

week 3

This week’s discussion on international students was especially interesting for me as someone who works in international education with American students abroad. While the readings and videos focused on international students in the United States, many of the same theories, issues, and information apply to American study abroad students as well. The video on tips for international students resonated greatly with our orientation presentations for students when they first arrive in Rome. The idea that a student should do his/her best to get to know and understand the culture he/she is living in, and to try not to stand out as a foreigner are useful tips to help international students stay safe in an unfamiliar setting. The video also mentioned that international students often are not aware of certain things, which makes them vulnerable and targets for those with unkind intentions. This is one of the main topics of discussion at our orientation for students in the hopes of preparing them to face cultural challenges and differences from what they are used to at home. I also liked the video on stereotypes and expectations of international students. It was interesting to hear the difference interpretations of American culture with comments such as “drivers are friendlier” and “they [students] just want to get drunk”. As an American living abroad, I have also witnessed many of the stereotypes that Italians have about Americans and I have witnessed how Italians treat American individuals differently (in both positive and negative ways) than they treat their fellow Italians.

Education abroad, whether it be international students in the US or American students around the world, is a unique opportunity to open your heart and mind to a world beyond the familiar; it is a chance to explore new places, make new friends, and develop new beliefs about yourself and the world, and to take what you learn and foster change and good for others. While studying abroad has its challenges, including visa and permit issues, discrimination experiences, financial burdens, and cultural adaptation issues, it is a journey which millions of students have chosen to embark on, and will continue to choose in contemporary higher education. An important aspect in making these experiences beneficial for students, is for higher education faculty and staff to continue developing the best practices for improved student learning, cultural engagement, and personal development while abroad.

Lee, J. J. (n.d.). Engaging International Students. In S. J. Quaye & S. R. Harper (Eds.), Student Engagement in Higher Education: Theoretical Perspectives and Practical Approaches for Diverse Populations (pp. 105-120). New York, NY: Routledge.

week 4

Engagement of LGBTQ students is not something that I have had experience dealing with despite working in Student Affairs. This is not because we haven’t had any LGBTQ students, but because we do not have any specific resources dedicated to helping them any differently than the services we provide to all study abroad students. Looking at this issue from a larger perspective, however, I believe that addressing the LGBTQ student community is an issue in higher education which will continue to need major attention and advocacy as it becomes more the norm to identify and acknowledge these students within a campus community. The readings for this week discussed the challenges and hardships which LGBTQ students face in addition to the traditional issues of all college students. A common theme was the need for advocates for these students on college campuses; individuals who understand the needs, desires, and struggles of LGBTQ students and can effectively provide guidance and assistance throughout their time as college students. I agree with these assessments, but as an employee of a Catholic institution, I work at a place where these services and accommodations are not available to LGBTQ students except the ability to seek help through the counseling center. I think that it would be an interesting study to further research the needs of LGBTQ students and to develop a guide for faculty and staff who work at religious institutions, in order to help them understand the ways in which they can best serve these students without undermining the religious beliefs or policies of that institution.

week 5

One of the proudest moments of my life was the day I watched my friend Frank walk across the stage at our high school graduation. Frank has a physical disability, which I believe is cerebral palsy, although he has never specifically identified his condition in conversation. What makes Frank an inspiration to many is his determination and perseverance, and his refusal to see himself as different from anyone else. As a result, Frank didn’t stop his education when he received his high school diploma. Instead, Frank pursued a post-secondary education by first attending community college, and then achieving a Bachelor’s degree at Cabrini University in Pennsylvania, where he also lived on campus and participated fully in campus life and academics. At the moment, Frank is also contemplating pursuing a Master’s degree to further his studies and expertise in the field of Communications. His story reminds us that every person deserves an education and the chance to provide a future for him/herself. Frank truly enjoyed his time as a student at Cabrini, and because of his personality and character, he thankfully did not face many of the challenges which students with disabilities may face while pursuing an education. However, his experience in higher education does demonstrate the necessity with which all colleges and universities must assess their ability to provide accommodations to students with disabilities who wish to attend their institution. Despite the physical disability to his legs, Frank is autonomous and relatively mobile. He uses arm canes as much as possible, but sometimes a wheelchair when necessary. His decision to reside on campus required the university to ensure that he was provided with an appropriate housing accommodation for his physical disability. Frank also quickly befriended campus security, as he often required their services to help him get from one place to another depending on the weather. I remember him recounting to me about the time he fell over in his wheelchair after it had snowed and he required help from Cabrini’s DPS to help get him to where he needed to go. These issues demonstrate that colleges and universities have a clear and distinct role in working to not only engage students with disabilities on campus, but to also provide the necessary services for them, including things which we would normally take for granted such as plowing pathways from snow and ice, and having wheelchair-accessible entrance-ways. Frank’s story shows that achieving an education with a disability can be challenging, but nothing is impossible. It is our job as educators and staff members to ensure that all students, like Frank, are able to achieve their dreams.

week 6

As a Catholic who attended Catholic school from pre-school through to my undergraduate studies, I have always taken for granted the issues presented by the readings this week on Christian privilege. Holidays, meals, prayer space, etc. have always been automatically associated with my religious calendar because these things were also representative of the school I was attending. The readings for this week prompted me to think about how unique my undergraduate experience at The Catholic University of America was, in comparison to the campus life and culture which my brother experienced at The University of Pittsburgh for example. Even though CUA has a strong community of Muslim students, as well as students from other religions, as a Catholic institution, only Catholicism is recognized on campus. Until recently, I never thought twice about what it meant automatically having no meat on Fridays during Lent in the student restaurant, or having a chapel, basilica, and a Catholic campus ministry team, or a school calendar which strictly followed the Catholic holidays including Easter break (which my brother never got at Pitt), or attending a certain number of required Theology and Philosophy classes which oftentimes were full of seminarian students and taught by Catholic priests or nuns. The following video advertises the Catholic culture on CUA's campus, claiming that what makes CUA great is its ability to "cultivate Catholic minds". As a private, Catholic institution, CUA has the right to create a campus environment rooted in the Catholic faith and worldview. However, at what cost does this establish an exclusive environment devoid of recognition and acceptance of others?

During my time as an employee for CUA in Rome, I have only had a few experiences in which I was confronted with the reality of the Christian privilege on our campus. My first encounter was with a Muslim student from Saudi Arabia, who often came to me for help on his homework because he struggled with his English writing skills and also with Catholic terminology and concepts in his Theology course. This experience taught me that our courses are designed for students with the assumption that they will understand or have had previous experience with the ideas, terms, and beliefs of the Catholic faith from at least an academic perspective. Another example is the institution’s inability to provide kosher meals to Jewish students. Thankfully, our campus is located in a neighborhood which adjoins the neighborhood known as the “Jewish Ghetto” of Rome, and these students are able to find kosher-prepared meals at restaurants nearby. However, it is fitting with this notion of Christian privilege, that Jewish students who require kosher meals must spend extra money to eat out at restaurants every day while the other students are provided with meals on campus. Similarly, as a Catholic university, we have a chapel on campus, but no other space of prayer or meditation for any non-Catholic students. Recently, a Jewish student came to me and asked where he might be able to say his prayer privately on campus. In order to accommodate him, the staff allowed him to use an available classroom in the mornings. When he asked me this question, though, I realized that there are certain aspects of our Catholic campus which could in some way unintentionally discriminate against students or emphasize feelings of isolation and belonging to a minority religion for those students who are not Catholic or Christian. I think that much more could be done on our campus to promote inter-religious dialogue and to engage with others in a city so ethnically diverse as Rome. This would significantly help in students’ identity development and psychological well-being, as well as the development of cultural and social skills such as effective communication, and an increased understanding and tolerance of others.

week 7

I felt that the study conducted by Astin and Oseguera was the most interesting article compared to the other readings for this week. Based on their research, Astin and Oseguera suggest that there is a significant decline in the equity of higher education in America. I was extremely surprised to see the results of this study which indicated that despite cultural and political attempts to increase attainability and equity of higher education, the number of low SES and middle class students able to afford their education or attend an institution of choice despite tuition expenses has continued to decline. What is upsetting to me most about this conclusion, is the fact that students who merit academically the opportunity to attend high-level institutions, and whose lives would significantly benefit from this experience, are instead increasingly unable to afford or are accepted to these institutions for other reasons. During these past 4 years working in Student Affairs, I have seen a significant decrease in students’ ability to afford basic necessities while abroad. As I did 5 years, many of my students come abroad using the loans that they have already obtained in order to attend college. However, an increasing number of them come abroad with very little money to spend while here, and as a result they end up neglecting basic needs such as lunch or paying for necessary medical visits or medicines from the pharmacy. I continue to notice many students try to save money for their European travels by eating cheese and crackers or ramen noodles for lunch instead of spending a few extra euros to go out and enjoy traditional Italian food while experiencing the city, even if it is just a 4 euro slice of pizza in the adjacent neighborhood where all the restaurant are located. What is most interesting about this, however, is that CUA is a traditionally middle-class institution, many students are from hardworking Irish-Catholic or Italian-Catholic families, who received good high school educations and have had most, if not all of their basic needs met when growing up. As Astin and Oseguera point out, the middle class is continuing to be affected by the current economic demands of higher education institutions in the United States, and it is these students who will continue to suffer if this pattern continues. Specifically, they argue that ‘’as more students from the middle level of parental income are displaced from highly selective institutions, more are ending up in the least selective institutions’’ (Astin & Oseguera, 2004, p. 333).

In my own opinion (and I have no concept of the financial market system), I strongly believe that there will simply come a point when all of it just needs to be erased. All loans will need to be ‘’forgiven,’’ and institutions will need to find a way to ‘’reset’’ their systems from zero. As someone who is part of that middle-class identification bracket, I just don’t see how this decline in equity based on the high costs of educations will continue to properly sustain our country both economically or intellectually. I believe that there are 2 consequences of this decline: (1) fewer people will attend college, thus hurting the social construction and economy in the U.S. and (2) more students will be unable to afford the amenities of a traditional lifestyle, such as a buying a house or a car, or being able to afford to raise children, resulting in economic and social decline due to a lack of consumer existence and reproduction. Based on the data from Astin and Oseguera's study, it seems likely that more students will attend lower-level institutions as this decline increases, thus making it imperative that greater resources are provided to those instead of the high-level ones.

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