In Response to Julia Golden-Battle’s Open Letter

Julia:

First, thank you for the courage to raise your concerns about the threats to Student Affairs professionals’ jobs that may be based on their personal social media posts and expressed opinions.

Other than what has been publicly reported, I don’t know the circumstances that resulted in the termination of Dr. Jonathan Higgins from Pomona College. I also recognize that there have been a series of job actions against faculty across the country that may have been based on their personal social media postings. These decisions raise important issues that we need to discuss openly in higher education spaces.

It is critical that we support the right of student affairs professionals to express their opinions freely on difficult and challenging issues that may question established protocols and practices. This is a core value of higher education and the student affairs profession. At the same time, across all of higher education, we are struggling with the challenging intersection of free expression with the sometimes competing issues around being an institutional representative.

NASPA’s Commitment to Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice Statement clearly states that “NASPA affirms the importance and centrality of the values of equity, inclusion, and social justice to student affairs professionals, both in their daily lives and in their work on behalf of and with students and other constituents.”

Of critical importance here is our belief that these values apply to student affairs professionals in both their daily lives and in their work on behalf of and with students. We cannot expect that advocacy and being agents for change ends at the walls of our institutions. We also know that we each bring our own unique identities to our work every day and that this affects the way we interact with each other, our supervisors, and our students. Bringing one’s authentic self to the work we do can only assist to open the proverbial doors that have been closed to many in the past. NASPA endeavors to support and encourage this perspective with our members and leaders.

As a profession committed to these values, it is critical that student affairs professionals have the freedom to express their opinions about race, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation– even if those opinions are difficult to hear, and even if there is disagreement about the values that inform those opinions. Isn’t this what we are asking our students to do? To engage in thoughtful, and sometimes challenging dialogue, even when there are divergent perspectives? At the same time, we need to help professionals navigate instances where there are conflicts between personal values and institutional requirements of the job itself. 

We ask student affairs professionals to serve as advocates for minoritized and marginalized communities. In particular, we ask student affairs professionals to provide support and advocacy for students of color, LGBTQIA students, and students with disabilities. We must support an environment that allows our colleagues to truly serve as advocates and to be wary of messages that create a chilling effect on their expression – particularly in the social media space. We must respect individual student affairs professionals’ rights to make their voices heard without fear of reprisal.

Julia, NASPA is committed to these issues. You have suggested a more active role for NASPA in addressing issues around supervision, hiring diverse candidates, campus climate and the way in which institutions welcome queer and transgender people of color. You also call for creating more spaces for those who work with students with minoritized and marginalized identities. I agree that we must continue to support all of these ideas and challenge ourselves to do more.

As you may know, this past year NASPA created a new Board position to lead NASPA’s efforts around equity, inclusion, and social justice. I have been in contact with Ajay Nair, who is leading this Division about ways we can increase NASPA’s tangible actions in this space. We already have a number of archived online learning initiatives that currently exist which can be found on our Social Justice Signature Initiatives website. And I would agree we need to continue to do more.

Given the heightened concern that has been expressed among student affairs professionals this week, I think there is a real need to elevate these issues and provide a forum for more discussion. I am working with NASPA staff to develop a free, live event to begin an open, authentic conversation about the issues you have raised. I would be pleased if you would be willing to be one of the panelists.

Julia, I value your opinion and truly appreciate your willingness to give voice to what is a critical issue for our profession.

Kevin Kruger
President
NASPA – Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education