NASPA was an incredible experience this year. Our discussions with other attendees and all the conference sessions were incredibly fruitful. We are continually impressed with the dedication, thoughtfulness, and expertise of the people working in Student Affairs. It’s a field full of dynamic, innovative practitioners, and, as a result, the field is evolving quickly.
Here are five things we took away from the conference this year.
1.) Don’t Silo Prevention Efforts
One of the most valuable takeaways of any conference like NASPA is the opportunity to share ideas with people not just from other institutions and companies but also people from different departments, initiatives, spaces. This sharing helps us collect new ideas and understand different perspectives. It also helps us discover unexpected synergies and partnerships.
We built Think About It to address both substance abuse and sexual violence prevention because research suggested the two issues were deeply interconnected. At USF, they saw this connection and understood that one course was necessary. Similarly, one message we heard again and again this year was the importance of seeing connections between different prevention efforts.
For example, in their presentation, “Hazing, Bullying, and Sexual Violence: Connecting the Dots for Prevention,” Jane Stapleton and Elizabeth Allan suggested that recent research has highlighted the interconnection between Hazing and Sexualized Violence. But while sexualized violence is an important topic and at the center of numerous initiatives on campuses across the country, hazing remains in the shadows. Allan and Stapleton’s thesis was that the kinds of campus or student cultures that encourage hazing also support sexualized violence, and therefore it was important to address the two together. According to Allan and Stapleton, both sexualized violence and hazing involve 1) power and control, 2) issues of consent, 3) rigid gender norms, 4) the normalization of maltreatment, and 5) community norms that silence victims.
Stapleton and Allan pointed attendees to the CDC’s excellent guide, “Connecting the Dots: An Overview of the Links Among Multiple Forms of Violence,” as a valuable starting point for practitioners interested in thinking through these interconnections.
2.) Offer Skills Based Trainings
We all know that getting student buy in can be difficult. At CampusClarity, we incorporate focus groups into our course development process to make sure that what we’re creating resonates with our target audience. Similarly, tailoring a workshop or seminar to your audience is an important way to improve student engagement.
One of the interesting strategies we heard at several sessions was framing training around gender violence, social identity, and bystander intervention in terms of general skills. University of Michigan’s bystander program, Change It Up, is a great example. They framed their bystander training as imparting leadership skills, and, in fact, changed those leadership skills based on the audience they were addressing. For instance, when they addressed Engineering students, they connected their training to Forbes’s list of the 10 qualities that make a great leader. Similarly, administrators at the University of Missouri talked about a course they offered for fraternity members on hypermasculinity. They called the course a “Trojan Horse” because they framed it as a class about leadership. Though they had participants read Michael Kimmel’s book Guyland, they also had the class read Becoming a Resonant Leader, a book on leadership and emotional intelligence that directly pertained to the skills they were teaching.
3.) Be Intentional in your Language
We tell students to be sensitive in the language they use, but it’s as important that we’re sensitive to our language so that we can serve as positive role models for our students. This recommendation isn’t new, but it bears repeating.
For example, in the University of Michigan’s bystander program, the coordinators intentionally chose the language “change it up” and “take action” instead of “step up” or “take a stand” in order to avoid ableist language.
Similarly, Stapleton and Allan talked about “sexualized” violence, not “sexual” violence. Stapleton felt that with the term sexual violence, people sometimes focus on “sexual,” dismissing an action because it was just “flirting” or just a “hook up.” Sexualized violence, on the other hand, places more emphasis on the violence, which becomes the core of the act.
In short, when crafting the language around our campaigns it’s important to be as inclusive and thoughtful as possible.
4.) Engage Student Leaders
We mentioned engaging students in training by tailoring the sessions to their interests. Another important way to engage students (or really any stakeholders) is to identify leaders and role models in the community and reach out to get them involved.
Nearly all the sessions we attended discussed this strategy in one way or another. A stand out example was Occidental College’s Project Safe, a prevention and intervention support program. They reached out to student leaders — like the captain of the basketball team — and encouraged them to work with the program. These leaders bring credibility and visibility to your initiatives and voice other students will listen to and respect.
5.) Think Big
We couldn’t end this post without writing about the inspirational featured speaker, Dr. Jennifer Arnold. Dr. Arnold encapsulated her life lessons into a simple yet powerful acronym: THINK BIG. We conclude with her message because it provides us with a game plan for creating the change we want on our campuses.
THINK BIG stands for
- Try — You won’t succeed if you don’t at least try. Dr. Arnold offered the idea most succinctly in a quote from the great hockey player Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
- Hope — You have to have hope to keep you sustained through long periods of struggle or even just the hard work of accomplishing your goals. Dr. Arnold spoke to the hopes that kept her going, suggesting that even if those hopes in retrospect were unrealistic, they played an important role in her life at the time.
- Initiate — get started…enough said.
- No — You have to ignore the people who tell you “no” or say you “can’t” do something. If it’s important enough, you’ll find away.
- Know — You are the best judge of your abilities and limitations. Don’t listen to naysayers, but know when to say no to yourself.
- Believe — Much like hope, it’s important you believe in yourself and your goals.
- Improve — There is always room to get better.
- Go for it!