Hello all! Amizade Global Service-Learning reached out to me after our recent Winter Break program experience in Bolivia (described in my introductory blog here) to write a post-program piece. Please take the time to read the below reflection of this life-changing global experience. I can’t thank Slippery Rock University enough for organizing and engaging us students to learn and grow in such powerful ways.
Hello all! If you’re hoping to call me or hang out in person soon, you may want to wait until after the 19th of this month. I will soon be traveling to Cochabamba, Bolivia to participate in a service-learning experience with students and staff at Slippery Rock. I’m very excited to go abroad once again (I studied abroad in Spain five years ago) and to support a long-term project in a Latin American community.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Who are you going with? And how long will the program be? I am going with staff members and student leaders within SRU’s Office for Community-Engaged Learning as well as other undergraduate students at Slippery Rock. Our team of 12 is getting ready for the upcoming altitude shift (over 7,000 feet!). The trip should be a little over two weeks and I’ll be staying with a Bolivian family via homestay.
Who put this on? This international alternative break is a joint partnership between SRU’s Office of Community-Engaged Learning (OCEL) and the Pittsburgh-based non-profit, Amizade Global Service-Learning. OCEL is the hub for student volunteerism and civic engagement on campus. Throughout the Fall and Spring semesters, OCEL leads long-term service projects within Butler county and the Pittsburgh area as well as short domestic Alternative Breaks during short breaks. One framework that they abide by for their projects is Place as Context; Service-Learning as Strategy; Civic Engagement as the Goal. Below is more detail about their alternative break programming:
The Office for Community-Engaged Learning develops alternative breaks for students to learn about partner communities through the lens of direct service. The knowledge gained through service and pre-departure education will serve as context as students confront the social issues of the partner communities, unpack personal responsibility regarding these issues, and create a plan to continuously address these issues to create positive social change.
Amizade, which means ‘friendship’ in Portuguese, is has been hosting service-learning experiences in multiple countries (including the United States) for 20 years. One important aspect of their work is their focus on Fair Trade Learning, based on the move toward fair trade labor in developing countries. Overall, they focus on how service should be reciprocal and beneficial to all parties participating; they don’t just focus on American students “feeling good” about their service but helping students reflect meaningfully on their global citizenship while providing members of the community served with their own professional development and adequate compensation. Learn more about their work in Bolivia here: https://amizade.org/site/bolivia/
What are you doing there? Part of our days will be service for a local primary or secondary school in Cochabamba, which will include construction. We will then return to our homestay families for the largest meal of the day, lunch, and family time. Every day our team will participate in whole group reflections focusing on our impact, our cultural transitions, and group dynamics. Some days we may travel to a nearby city or go salsa dancing at night, or go to church with our families. I’m
How did you prepare for this experience? There were some logistical pieces like getting my passport ready, getting a few vaccines, and filling out some forms but with a few months of prep time during the semester, it worked out well. One great part of the program was our monthly pre-departure programs touching on topics such as site specific, group dynamics and member roles, cultural humility, and community development through Fair Trade Learning.
Goals: I want to be as flexible as possible during this trip so I’m hesitant to make goals that are too specific, especially before I better understand that context of our service and stay. However, I do have some hopes that I’d like to share below that I will further reflect on when I get back (and through a new post!):
- As one of the four members of our trip who know Spanish, I hope that through this experience I can be less shy speaking the language. I’m excited to be able to connect to my homestay family and learn more about their lives and help my teammates connect as well.
- One of the main reasons I joined our team for this trip was because I wanted to learn more about service-learning and it’s function within higher education, first-hand. Last Spring, I interviewed our site leader, Jeffrey Rathlef, regarding his role as Director of Community-Engaged Learning about this functional area. Through this interview, I gained insight into theories such as Simon Sinek’s ‘Start With Why’, David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, and civic engagement associations such as Campus Compact. I hope through this trip that I can see these models in action and see where I can apply them once I’m back on Slippery Rock’s campus.
3. I will (not hope to!) commit myself to journaling and documenting my thoughts, feelings, unique experiences, and cultural observations during my two weeks abroad. I previously studied abroad in Spain for the summer after my first-year in undergrad and so appreciate the blogs that I wrote my my family and friends. I now realize that I also wrote them to myself, giving myself a glimpse of who I was then and reflections on how hard the transition was at first. I hope it’s a little easier for me now five years later.
4. After the program, program participants and member of the SRU administration will attend a re-entry dinner where we present about our unique experiences. I’m excited to have to opportunity to share what we’ve learned and leave something for future participants in programs like this. Though I’ll be graduating in May, I hope that I can further educate about Amizade’s mission and service-learning to my cohort mates.
Follow along my journey via my Twitter account. I’ll see if I can tweet out pictures and experiences after our long days! I will be keeping a journal of my travel experiences and I’ll be sure to post the highlights before the end of the month. I’ll see y’all again when school starts!
Bonus! Slippery Rock University has posted an article about our trip here: SRU group to practice fair-trade learning during service trip to Bolivia
I’m writing today to share my experience working in a graduate assistantship (or GA) at Slippery Rock University’s Office for Inclusive Excellence (OIE). My goal is to reflect on what I’ve learned in the past year but to also shine light on the experiences of working in a multiculturalism-based GA. If you’re considering a GA in this functional area or would like to learn more, keep reading!
Prior to this GA, my experiences with underrepresented student populations included volunteering for two summers with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Youth Leadership Institute and during the last two years of my undergrad as a model and then executive board member for SPIRIT Fashion Show, a show formed out of the black student advocacy organization at Carnegie Mellon University. Not to mention that I identify as Mexican-American and grew up in South Texas!
When I applied to Slippery Rock’s program and searched through their webpage of available assistantships, this one was my top choice early on. After eight different interviews and three offers in my hand by Spring Break, I chose this graduate assistantship because I knew I had so much more to learn.
At Slippery Rock, the OIE develops programming year-round to address issues of social justice and inclusion on campus, oversees all multicultural student organizations, and hosts a high school to college transition program called the Jump Start. I mainly work with students in Jump Start, which serves first-year and transfer students who elect to move to campus a week early for an orientation on campus resources and who are matched with peer mentors who meet with them once a week to support their academic, social, and personal transition to our university. Here are the three main lessons I learned in my first year in my role:
The importance of having a space. I had not understood the importance of a safe space, a space where students from historically marginalized backgrounds can congregate and relax, until my assistantship at SRU. Not because I couldn’t imagine how a space like this could be beneficial, but because I never had been exposed to and active in one — and I honestly never needed to be. But seeing the Student Development Suite (where the OIE is housed) in such a prominent part of campus is so impactful. It makes a statement. It’s important that these spaces are accessible and noticed while still protected by professionals looking out for the cultural, social, and mental well-being of our students who need and desire the space.
How to make a good first impression. As a GA, I supervise 15 students individually on a bi-weekly basis, a pretty different supervision experience than I had before. My goal for our initial meeting was try to set myself up as someone who may not understand an experience or an identity first-hand, but could empathize and provide a supportive space. During the first one-on-one of the year, I asked each mentor, toward the end of the conversation, if there was anything that they thought I should know that would be helpful for our relationship. The responses ranged from uncertainty about counseling and mental illness to preferred method of contact and “I’m just a really chill person.” This one question opened many doors and truly helped me connect with students, allowing me to better remember their individual needs and preferences.
Getting deep and learning about the lived experience of students. In addition to my daily interaction, supervision, and advising, I had the opportunity to interview a few students to learn more about their personal and cultural backgrounds. Through my Environments course, I was encouraged to a create a semi-structured interview to better understand a specific student subculture’s perception of their learning on campus and create programming ideas. In this blog, I detailed what I learned from three African-American students at a predominately white institution. Ignoring the focus on the university environment, I learned a lot about each individual students’ background, how they felt they fit within overall campus culture and black campus culture, and again, the importance of the Student Development Suite as a space to be supported as themselves. I enjoyed this deep one-on-one experience, which brought me to developing a new philosophy: I work to learn without demanding an education from my students and I am dedicated to supporting them.
My Next and Final Year
This year I’m coming into my second year with more of an understanding of the various experiences and identities that interact within our campus community as well as the different goals our mentors and first-year students want to get out of the Jump Start program. I’ve built great mentoring relationships and friendships on campus that I’m excited to continue as August soon approaches. These relationships are the best part of my work and I’m excited to come in and meet this year’s incoming first-year class. Thank you for joining me and let me know what else I can share!
Hello all! If you’re taking some time to read this blog, you may be interested in hearing more about my life after undergrad. This May, I finished up my first year of graduate studies. I am currently at Slippery Rock University in their Master of Arts program in Student Affairs in Higher Education. I didn’t truly know what the field was until the October before I applied yet I feel that I better understand myself and my interests through the coursework and via dialogue with my cohort mates and faculty.
Here a few of the great things I’ve gotten to do while in my program:
- I got involved! In things like:
- The NASPA Graduate Associate Program, coordinating programs for my cohort and interning at the #NASPA17 Annual Conference in San Antonio, TX.
- The Student Affairs Graduate Association (SAGA), first as a member and then elected as President!
- I joined the SRU Student Government Association Social Justice Committee.
- I presented at two regional conferences teaching about how to get into graduate school and how to connect with student affairs professionals via Twitter.
- I set up this website and I’ve started writing blogs such as In Defense of Career Services and Student Affairs Twitter Resource Guide.
- I’ve maintained a 4.0 GPA these two semesters and have discovered an interest in qualitative research, which I’ll hopefully be more involved with this upcoming year.
It hasn’t all been easy though. I’ve found this year to be one where I’ve had a harder time balancing my school, work, and home life. My 40 minute to-and-from commute has been at times exhausting but I hope to push through this one more year and finally get into listening to audio books and podcasts. If you have suggestions, let me know!
This summer, I am interning in Washington, D.C. at one of the student affairs generalist associations, NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. There I will gain an in-depth experience in association, project, and conference management and be able to continue growing my higher education network. In addition to my internship, I’m using this summer to work on a couple of goals that are harder to attend to during the school year.
Here are three goals that I hope to achieve this summer:
- To create a more specific list of professional development goals for my time at NASPA Headquarters, such as coordinating an assessment and connecting with the Student Career Development Knowledge Community.
- I want to commit myself to writing a blog a month and include insights regarding my NASPA internship experience. I’ve signed up to write soon for Student Affairs First Years so look out for that!
- I will focus energy into enjoying my time in DC and making the most of my summer away from the Pittsburgh area by exploring the city and touring the numerous universities in our capitol.
Thank you all for checking up on me and if you’re interested in hearing more, feel free to visit my contact page!
These recommendations are in part based on research conducted to derive best practices for African-American students on college campuses, particularly those who attend Predominately White Institutions (PWIs). Additionally, a few of these recommendations are informed by hour-long interviews with a three currently enrolled Slippery Rock University students who identify as African-American and/or Black.
1. Hairology: The Black Hair Business – Based on both a recent event hosted by the Slippery Rock University Women’s Center and based on the concerns one of my interviewees, this one event can be developed to serves both the African-American community and educate students from other cultures about Black hair. The event hosted below promoted a couple of Black-owned businesses in the Western Pennsylvania area, outreaching to the community to bring hair care tips and share business acumen and entrepreneurial experience with interested students. This kind of event helps normalize Black hair, recognizes the buying power of Black women (a population often ignored by mainstream businesses), as well as fosters campus partnerships.
2. Microaggressions Trainings and Workshops – One type of stressor that students of color, especially Black students, experience that their White classmates don’t are racial stressors. Microaggressions, a term that encompasses indirect racial invalidation and discrimination, includes jokes based on race and comments that undermine a minoritized student’s success such as “You did well for a ___________.” In addition to the common stresses of attending college (financial, interpersonal, academic, etc.), the added pressure of racial stressors can hurt a student’s self-concept and make them question their ability and their reasons to stay in college. These trainings, if implemented, should be directed toward all community members, perhaps in sessions tailored specifically for faculty, students, staff, etc.
3. Diversity Advisors – Based on an idea from another interview with a Slippery Rock student and information from Penn State, one institutional change that could be that underrepresented students have a Diversity Advisor in addition to their traditional Academic Advisor. The student I chatted with liked this idea since it brought another aspect of inherent support at the institution. These Advisors can work to help students feel included on campus and provide them the tools they need if bias incidents occur.
4. Alternative Black History – One interviewee of mine as well as William B. Harvey, former Vice President and Director of the Center for Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Equity at the American Council on Education, both recognized the inequality of the American education system in not educating students about non-White history. They both suggested universities create programming to educate to all about Black History outside of the ‘designated’ month of February to encourage learning of this history throughout the year. This can be done as programs hosted by a student organization or done more formally through the implementation of this knowledge within first-year seminars.
5. Extensive Transition, Mentoring, and Follow Through – Both Ohio State and Texas Tech implemented extensive transition programming and resources to their Black student populations starting in the early 2000’s and have seen dramatic improvements in these student’s graduation rates. These programs include scholarships, mentorship (from peers and community members), summer bridge programs, and dialogues about race on campus. As a current Graduate Assistant in the Office for Inclusive Excellence at Slippery Rock, I believe our Jump Start Transition Program can be improved with the implementation of campus community members serving as mentors as well.
6. Programming for African-American Men – According to Robert Littleton’s 2003 research article about Minorities in Minorities, he reveals that African-American students have the greatest gender divide in graduation rates, 38% African-American men vs 62% African-American women in the early 2000s. He suggests that there be programming and initiatives such as specific student organizations and mentorship programs for this population of student, in order to promote not only the rate of graduation but their overall undergraduate experience of African-American men. One student I interviewed is a part of one such an organization on Slippery Rock’s campus and believes that it has benefited his growth tremendously as well as his knowledge of Black history and how he incorporates this into his identity.
7. What’s in a name? Labels of Identity – One theme that emerged from the three interviews I conducted was the idea of identity and what my students preferred being called. I distinctly remember one student saying that she preferred being called African-American over being called Black, but not by much. To her, both identifiers contained negative connotations especially the word Black as it is commonly associated with “darkness and mischief.” I can imagine an event about identity as a discussion, students talking about the merits and disadvantages of certain labels while coming to speak to their authentic identities.
8. Hashtag Campaign – Another idea from one of my interviews was to create an awareness of Black history and achievements via a social media hashtag. This specific hashtag (institution-specific or otherwise) can be used to promote Black culture and champion awareness regarding differences this population makes across the world and on the campus, a way for people to see that “Black people are out here helping.” Campus social media channels can partner with departments or student organizations that create this content and share it out throughout the year, not just in February. For example, SRU’s KINGS Org. created the hashtag #Black87 in response to Black History Month’s repeat of the same 13% of Black history each February. You can read more information about #Black87 from this piece by the Slippery Rock University newspaper, the Rocket.
9. Multicultural Graduations – These graduations, which are more of a recent phenomenon, celebrate the successes of students of color on an achievement that they often face more barriers in receiving compared to the majority population. These ceremonies are times to bring family, friends, and mentors together to send-off their students as well as a time for non-graduating to imagine themselves up on the stage. My suggestion is to involve non-graduating students in the planning process so that they feel closely tied to this celebration and the meaning that it holds for all attendees and the university community.
10. Anti-Blackness in Non-Black Spaces – Within the interviews I hosted, most of the rhetoric regarding non-Black people focused on White people, how they didn’t often attend events hosted by multicultural organizations and what it’s like being African-American at a university that is predominately White. I would love to see programming from non-Black multicultural organizations regarding their communities and anti-Blackness that can often abound. This work is work that should be undertaken from all non-Black students, in order to truly be allies to the Black community.
Have you conducted any of this programming on your campus? What other recommendations do you have for working with and educating others about the African-American subculture on American campuses? Comment below with your thoughts and ideas!
This post was created as an assignment for the Spring 2017 section of ‘Higher Education Environments, Cultures, Students’ taught by Dr. Stacy A. Jacob at Slippery Rock University. She can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @stacyajacob.