When people think of writing for a college student newspaper, they may immediately think of it as preparation for a career in journalism. I began writing for my undergraduate student newspaper, the La Roche Courier, my freshman year at La Roche College. I served as a contributing writer, associate editor and editor-in-chief. I did not join the student newspaper staff out of career necessity; I was initially a child and family studies major and not pursuing the fields of journalism or photography. I was motivated to join by a general love of writing and a desire to be involved in a campus activity. At that point, I was also not yet interested in student affairs, and I did not see the student newspaper as preparation for such a career. Many of the skills I learned during my years on the Courier staff, however, transferred seamlessly to my experience as a current graduate student in student affairs. Even though at first glance the connections between the two may not be readily apparent, a student newspaper experience can be excellent preparation for a career in student affairs.
The transferable skills between student affairs and my student newspaper experience became apparent with one of the first assignments in my Foundations of Student Affairs class at Carlow University. The assignment was a Functional Area Exploration project, and it required me to conduct informational interviews with student affairs professionals. Reaching out to the professionals and conducting the interviews was second nature to me because of my student newspaper background. Formulating questions for the informational interviews was also familiar territory. Writing for the Courier helped me to understand the importance of asking open-ended questions, as opposed to inquiries that will prompt a “Yes” or “No” response. The Courier also provided me with experience to let interviews unfold naturally, and to be unafraid of asking questions I did not originally plan for. These experiences helped to make my interviews for the Functional Area Exploration project confident and informative encounters.
As a writer for the Courier, I also interviewed various members of the campus community. I would not have had the chance to interact with many of these individuals if it were not for the Courier. The Courier provided me with the opportunity to foster relationships with individuals and to be open to hearing their stories. This is significant for me as a graduate student because fostering relationships is at the core of student affairs. I have learned in my classes and informational interviews that student affairs professionals cultivate relationships with many individuals inside and outside the campus community. Fostering relationships is also at the heart of Relational Cultural Theory (RCT), a theory that is discussed in many Carlow student affairs courses (Schwartz, 2017). RCT proposes that it is in our relationships with others that we experience important growth (Schwartz, 2017). The interpersonal skills the Courier helped me to hone were useful for my graduate assistant experience with a Carlow bridge program and my current internship.
The fields of journalism and student affairs have ethical guidelines that can aid professionals in decision-making. A college’s student newspaper provides its staff members with opportunities to clarify ethical values and to practice decision-making based on those values. As a Courier staff member, I had to be mindful of journalistic values and ethical responsibility in the areas of interviewing, writing and layout. For example, it was important to not misquote interviewees, to ask permission before recording interviews, to correctly attribute photography credits and to publish a correction when mistakes occurred. Being mindful of these values can be good practice for ethical responsibility in the student affairs field. Student affairs professionals may confront ethical dilemmas in the workplace, and having experience with observing ethical values can be helpful.
My experience with the Courier in undergraduate school has helped to ensure my smooth transition to the graduate level. I can see how writing for a student newspaper can have implications for someone pursuing student affairs. A student newspaper experience requires many skills, such as interpersonal skills, that are critical to the student affairs field. Perhaps the greatest commonality, however, is the relationships both fields emphasize. As a writer for the Courier, it was important to share stories and the campus community voice. In my first year of graduate school, I have heard many times that students’ stories are a compelling focus in the student affairs field. I urge higher education professionals to connect with their campus student newspaper writers and encourage them to consider a career in student affairs, especially if telling stories is what drives them. Writers may find that they can channel that passion into student affairs, where students’ stories are a critical part of a mosaic built on relationships and a sense of community.
Schwartz, H.L. (2017, Feb. 20). Relational practice: The currency of student affairs. Retrieved from https://www.naspa.org/
Lauren Villella is a first-year student in Carlow University’s Master of Arts in Student Affairs program.