Navigating with Courage

Richard Walker, Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Services, University of Houston

November 22, 2017

The fall 2017 semester has been a whirlwind of experiences and challenges. The Student Affairs and Enrollment Services team at the University of Houston have faced and accomplished the unexpected. They have done so with resiliency and dedication. They have done so with the success of the University and our students at the forefront.

To paint a brief picture of the past three months:

  • Set record enrollment for the largest freshman class and largest overall university enrollment.
  • Survived the worst hurricane disaster in Houston history – Hurricane Harvey. The University had to close for a week at the end of the first week of classes.
  • During Hurricane Harvey the Student Housing and Residential Life staff had to feed and ensure the safety of over 2,000 students who remained on campus.
  • Accomplished a high water rescue of students living in Bayou Oaks, which includes a residence hall and fraternity and sorority housing, when the bayou overflowed during Hurricane Harvey.
  • Many UH students and their families suffered severe losses of homes and cars during the hurricane. Scholarships and Financial Aid along with University Advancement had to spring into action quickly to establish an emergency aid process for students. To date, over $800,000 has been raised to support our students in need.
  • DACA and undocumented students became very anxious with the announcement regarding the pending future of the program.
  • A student committed suicide by jumping from the top floor of an academic building.
  • The demand for Counseling and Psychological Services has been magnified due to Hurricane Harvey, DACA, and a student suicide.
  • A fraternity hazing investigation resulted in the suspension of a chapter for six years and 26 students receiving student conduct sanctions.
  • A student was sexually assaulted during a student tailgate event prior to a home football game.
  • The oldest housing complex on campus experienced a complete power outage requiring the relocation of 267 students for a 24-hour period.

I’ll stop there.

As the leader of a large division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Services entrusted with the safety and well-being of students, enhancing the overall student experience, and ensuring student success, I am tremendously grateful that I am surrounded by a team of dedicated professionals who are resilient and who jump into action without hesitation. The importance of having a team who is committed to serving the best interest of students with an ethic of care so that they can be successful in pursing and achieving their educational dreams is the hallmark of a strong division.

In 2015, I was provided the wonderful opportunity to serve NASPA as the Annual Conference Chair in New Orleans. The theme for the conference was Navigating with Courage. Over the course of this semester I have reflected many times on this theme as we have been faced with one challenge after another. Navigating with courage does require resiliency. The role of Student Affairs professionals is not getting any easier, it is more complex than ever before and becoming more challenging each and every day.

As a Student Affairs professional, you will continuously be faced with challenges. How you choose to navigate through these challenges is critical to your success and the success of your students and institution. I suggest that you navigate with courage and not avoid the challenges. Our students need us. Their success depends on us being there for them and helping them traverse the higher education terrain of today. At the same time, provide support and encouragement to the team of professionals committed and dedicated to serving students. Their strength and resiliency cannot go unrecognized.

Photo credit:  Andrew Kusnerik | Water overcame the banks of Brays Bayou and flooded the first floor of Bayou Oaks residence hall.

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