Gwen Dungy is the Executive Director of NASPA –Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. She’s a stellar leader of our professional organization, a wonderful, thoughtful speaker and a delightful person. And she appears to be a fan of the show True Blood; even with her presentation title Student Affairs as Shapeshifters, I didn’t expect her to mention the character Sam Merlotte!
I wasn’t surprised, though, that her presentation at the NASPA Region III Summer Symposium was both fun and thought-provoking. She started by asking us to gather in groups based on the decade of our first job. Each group created a list of features of students and the student experience that characterized our particular decade. It was fun to do and informative to listen to each group’s list. Then Gwen asked us to talk about the ways Student Affairs had shifted to meet the needs of students.
One participant gave a great example in the area of parent programs. As parents wanted to become more involved, at first staff tried to push back. Now, though, we recognize the benefits of family involvement and have learned to work with parents to help channel involvement into actions that work for students and universities. In a conversation later, one staff member commented on the changes in the laws and legal realities of the 80’s. She said she remembers that advising student groups became less enjoyable when the laws changed. One example from my career was the major changes we made when the ADA came into effect. The number of students served and the variety of services changed significantly. A program that barely existed previously became significant.
International programs, responses to sexual assault and harassment, risk management, mental health concerns, career development, the use of technology… the list goes on and on. At New Student Orientation, I often end my welcoming remarks by telling students that each year the new class comes in and changes UTSA in some way and that I look forward to seeing what they make of UTSA. And each year our job is to do our best to find ways to respond to what they bring to our university. Shapeshifters, indeed.
(featured above: Dr. Stan Carpenter, Texas State University, Dr. Gage Paine, The University of Texas at San Antonio, and David Tuttle, Trinity University)