Teaching Campus Crisis Management Through Case Studies: Moving Between Theory and Practice


Emphasis on Crisis Management in Student Affairs Work

The ability to manage emergencies has become a highly sought skill within the field of student affairs. From entry level to more senior positions, there is an expectation that campus employees will accept the responsibility of responding to and managing emergencies as they arise. Given the prevalence of unique emergency situations on today’s campuses, this expectation is not unfounded. In fact, the establishment of new positions that focus completely on coordinating the emergency management tasks on a campus is a growing trend (Farris & McFreight, 2014). Outside of the people who are filling these new positions, often with a law enforcement or public safety background, campus professionals often receive little to no prior training to aid their ability to respond. Preparation for student affairs professionals typically comes in the form of on-the-job training and experience.

Recently, there has been greater recognition of the need for crisis management skills and competencies within the field of student affairs. The two leading student affairs professional organizations in the United States—NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and ACPA-College Student Educators International—worked together in 2009 to develop a list of professional competency areas that should be common for all student affairs educators. The original competencies were adopted in 2010. A recent update to the ACPA/ NASPA Competencies was adopted in 2015. Across both versions of the professional competencies, two out of ten competency areas make specific mention of crisis management skills as a necessary component (ACPA & NASPA, 2010, 2015). These two areas are organizational and human resources (OHR) and advising and supporting (A/S).

The competencies publication suggests specific foundational, intermediate, and advanced outcomes that student affairs educators should be able to exhibit in each competency area. There are two outcomes in the OHR competency that are related to crisis management skills, and three within A/S. On an intermediate level, those who are proficient in OHR should be able to explain how different types of crisis management intervention and response systems interact. On an advanced level, competency in this area is evidenced in the ability to participate in the development, implementation, and assessment of campus crisis management systems (ACPA & NASPA, 2015).

Moving to A/S, the outcomes are more specific to the application of crisis management skills on an interpersonal level. Foundationally, educators deemed to be proficient in A/S should be able to determine when it is appropriate to enact a crisis management intervention and with whom. On the intermediate level, competency is seen in the ability to initiate and apply appropriate interventions and responses. Finally, on the advanced level within this competency area, a proficient educator should be able to lead crisis interventions (ACPA & NASPA, 2015).

The suggested uses for the adopted competencies include: a manner for current student affairs educators to self-evaluate their own proficiencies and plan their professional development; a guide for those who hire and supervise student affairs educators to use when developing position descriptions and performance evaluations; and a guide for student affairs graduate preparation program faculty to use when either reviewing and developing learning outcomes, or advancing their research agendas. It is suggested that “the lists of foundational outcomes [in each competency area] should inform minimum expectations for master’s level graduates” (ACPA & NASPA, 2015, p. 10) of these programs. To assist with the on-going education of student affairs educators and their overall preparation to manage campus crises, both ACPA and NASPA have established interest groups (i.e., the ACPA Commission on Campus Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and the NASPA Campus Safety and Violence Prevention Knowledge Community) in the past decade that focus on providing their organizational members with resources and information related to campus crisis management. Furthermore, a study examining the types of crisis management training included in the curricula of master’s level courses in student affairs preparation programs found that some of the concepts and competencies deemed as important for the field are being taught to graduate students (Trahan, 2012).

This is all promising information; if knowledge of crisis management systems and the skills to implement a successful emergency response are important competencies for educators, including crisis management in graduate curriculum and in professional development opportunities is essential to ensuring a competent and prepared work force. Trahan’s (2012) study examined the inclusion of crisis management in graduate program curricula, and found that there is still much room for improvement. Faculty respondents varied in the importance placed on different crisis management concepts and skills for graduate students. Additionally, faculty beliefs about the importance of a topic did not always translate into the topic being included in the curriculum. One proposed reason for this finding is the fact that graduate preparation programs are already content heavy and it is difficult to identify how to include new content, regardless of its importance to the profession.

While not all student affairs graduate programs include a crisis management component in the curriculum, some do. This article presents research findings from a study of a crisis management seminar offered in one such program. The goal of the study was to test a particular pedagogical method for helping students to develop crisis management skills and competencies. Specifically, the focus was on the use of case studies as an educational tool. Case studies are often used in courses to allow students to practice applying course material and concepts. This article examines the learning potential provided by a cumulative, collaborative, sequential case (defined in the following section) to enhance the crisis management skills of student affairs professionals. The setting for this study was a crisis management course enrolling both full-time campus professionals and graduate students in a student affairs preparation program. 

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