June Cover
Volume 82 | Issue 3
June 2014

President's Column: What We Do Matters

Kim Harrington

My career did not begin in the college union and student activities field. However, the union played a pivotal role in my life. I attended the State University of New York College–Fredonia as an undergraduate. At that time, the student population was 4,000, with fewer than 100 black students. I was one of the few black students in my residence hall—often the only person of color in any Kimgiven class. However, all roads led to the Campus Center and as a result, the Campus Center was where I initially met other students who looked like me. It was there that I found my first community on campus. I didn’t work in the union as a student assistant, and I only remember attending one program—a viewing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But the Campus Center was where I connected with student organizations and developed leadership skills that I draw on daily. There, I was encouraged to apply for a resident assistant position and then an orientation job—setting the stage for my current career.

Successful places are people-magnets, as people want to be where others are. Places are destinations that facilitate opportunities for serendipitous and meaningful interactions. Places are safe, both physically and psychologically. Physical safety manifests in the confidence that no harm will come your way while there. Psychological safety makes you feel like you belong, or matter as theorist Nancy Schlossberg would say. Belonging so sincere that you are allowed, no encouraged, to be who you are, on the way to who you will become. I was indelibly affected by the college union. It created a sense of place for me, a place where I mattered.

A few years ago, a Georgia Institute of Technology student leader shared with me how a similar sense of mattering changed his life. An out-of-state student, Paul struggled to connect at Tech. A few weeks into the semester, he was convinced that he wanted to withdraw and attend a school closer to home. That Friday night, he happened to walk by the Student Center and see a set-up for an outdoor movie. He decided to stay and watch. Paul lingered after the event, helped with tear-down, and was invited to join the Movie Committee. Still not convinced Tech was for him, he attended the next committee meeting and discovered that he looked forward to the movie events and planning discussions. Paul served on the Movie Committee for four years, two as chair. Now a successful civil engineer, he credits the Student Center Program Council with his persistence and success at Tech. Paul is one example that what we do matters.

The union is the place where the campus community gathers. It is here where potential and incoming students are attracted to the heart and soul of the campus. Where current students come to see and be seen. It is where the alumni return to reconnect and to remember. Places are not one-size-fits-all, and they require intention and effort to attract and engage the campus community. Union professionals continue to forge the way to make sure that our spaces are places for many. What we do matters.

Success requires that we continue to move forward and embrace change without forgetting what matters. While ACUI celebrates its rich history this year, it is important to note that we did not reach this milestone by accepting the status quo and remaining idle. Our association is driven by a motivated volunteer work force and a talented Central Office staff. We are a thriving association because of our willingness to think critically and reimagine ourselves without losing sight of who we are, what we do, and our core mission. Innovation, collaboration, adaptability, and strategic partnerships are essential for long-term success.

I am excited about this year. We will continue to celebrate our centennial and make an impact through our 100 Hours community service initiative. We will celebrate the inspiring leadership and legacy of our Executive Director Marsha Herman-Betzen as she prepares to retire. We will develop new traditions in our regional structure and contribute to the body of knowledge on college unions through the work of the Research Program Team. We will offer scholarships and reward excellence in our field through the Education and Research Fund. We will move toward our goal to be recognized as a multicultural organization and identify a new CEO of our fine Association.

I am honored to stand with you as we continue to build community, create meaningful places, and enhance the quality of student life all over the world. We have a lot to do and what we do matters.