I had the opportunity to talk to a reporter from the Chronicle of Higher Education about global student affairs and the emergence of the International Association of Student Affairs and Services this last week. I’m curious what will end up in her article but I attempted to make several points that reiterate here:
• Student affairs’ unique contribution to global higher education – The tradition and history of student affairs emerged as a robust and professionalizing area in the U.S.A., although there are numerous examples across history and different cultural contexts that reflect a commitment to holistic and engaged learning.
• Adapting North American models – When those working outside of the U.S.A. seek to implement student affairs perspectives/programs, they need to do this in culturally appropriate ways. The various cultures where student affairs ideas are spreading require this adaptation in order to be respectful and successful.
• IASAS, NASPA, or ACPA? – The reporter wanted to know why IASAS was important and I commented that, while NASPA and ACPA are great organizations, they primarily serve North American interests and they are not truly international. Thus, IASAS is relevant as a place where those in global higher education settings can seek each others’ advice and push forward in their work (until and unless NASPA and ACPA decide to dig deeper into global student affairs practice ideas).
One of the things I find interesting about discussions of professionalization of student affairs is that it seems that there is an underlying assumption that student affairs/services is not “professional” unless it is done by a student affairs staff person (duly trained and experienced). In a global context, this is unachievable (and perhaps undesirable) on both philosophical and practical grounds. Philosophically, the “Student Personnel Point of View” of the early 20th century (U.S.A.) was drafted and published to advocate a perspective of students (holistic), the purposes of learning (for students to develop to their full potential), and the environment in which learning can take place (in/out of class, through experience, student organizations, etc.). While different types of programs and services were proposed, these were not advocated as the exclusive purview of a “professional” staff. Practically, those of us working in settings outside of North America must rely on a variety of colleagues to help deliver a student affairs perspective. There are many in global student affairs work who do not have professional training but have studied, worked, and advocated for the enrichment of student learning through student affairs programs and services. For those of us with student affairs backgrounds from the U.S.A. who work abroad, our role then becomes to advocate for a shared perspective and to differentiate what is unique about universities that are committed to holistic, engaged, and vital learning environments. The beauty of this is that working abroad has actually demanded that student affairs practice abroad return to its roots – advocating, serving as a catalyst, and educating others of the importance of this work.