Aspirational Student Development in a Crisis of Contempt

Earlier this month I attended a two-day event focused on policy, politics, and current events and came away renewed by the power of communal learning and examples of courageous truth-telling (particularly by journalists). During the event, I had the opportunity to hear from Valerie Jarrett, who served as a senior adviser in the Obama White House after a long career in the Chicago mayor’s office. Jarrett shared a story of a conversation with her parents, both of whom grew up during the Jim Crow era. She was thanking them for raising her with a belief that she could dare to imagine any life she wanted if she worked (twice as) hard, demonstrated resiliency, and stayed open to luck. Her parents surprised her by remarking that they had never believed any of this. She realized that they had raised her aspirationally, not for their reality but for the one that they hoped she would create.

This is not unlike the work we do in student affairs. We nurture what Tara Yosso (2005) calls “aspirational capital,” the “ability to hold onto hope in the face of structured inequality and often without the means to make such dreams a reality” (p. 77).  

There are days when I feel overwhelmed by the contemporary crisis of contempt, in which dehumanizing others is a tool for political gain or the basis on which to enact violence. But I have to hope that this isn’t a permanent state, that, with our support, the students on our campus will be able to chart and build a future full of better possibilities. In a very real sense, we are educating students aspirationally.

In order to do this, we need to nurture communal networks, learn from those in and adjacent to student affairs, and share the emotional, spiritual, and physical burdens we carry. The NASPA Multicultural Institute: Advancing Equity and Inclusive Practice provides space for this important work. We hope you will share your expertise and practice by submitting a program proposal and that you will join us this December.

Your presence matters at this institute designed to focus on and advance our collective work to create more equitable and just institutions. The call for programs is now open for the 2019 NASPA Multicultural Institute. This year’s themes include questions that have been a part of each institute in some form since the first took place in Las Vegas in 2005: establishing and strengthening pathways for success for minoritized groups and enhancing the innovative praxis of research, theory, and practice. This year's themes lift up pressing questions related to preventing and responding to violence, trauma, and social unrest; balancing and enacting healthy, brave spaces and open expression; and fostering the development of effective civic and democratic engagement for justice.

Share your expertise by submitting a program proposal by July 26 and join us in this important work this December in New Orleans.