Posted November 8, 2012 by Justin Rudisille 

Instant Replay: Integrating Social Justice into Student Centers

On Nov. 7, ACUI hosted a virtual round-table discussion held about ways that social justice can be integrated into college unions, which was facilitated by Dirk Rodricks from the University of Vermont with contributions from Allen Josey, University of Vermont, and Jane Stachowiak, Berklee College of Music. This post gives insight into some of the topics that were addressed.

The program focused more on how social justice and inclusion can be incorporated into the fabric of college unions and student centers through design, construction, and management, rather than discussing programming examples such as speakers or trainings. With the college union having roots in debate, recreation, and student governance, it is important to remember these traditional roles, while recognizing that changes in campus diversity, climate, and culture influence students’ interactions with the union and its services in new ways.

In terms of the design of union facilities, some items discussed included:

  • Spaces can no longer be created for having single functions, and the functions of spaces can be designed to allow them to be adapted as your students and missions evolve.
  • Commons spaces can provide opportunities for passive programming and artistic expression, and consider what your protocols are for using these spaces.
  • The names used for spaces and rooms in the facility send a message to the campus community, and they can be used to embrace (or confront) your history, tell a story, and honor local resources or legends.
  • Furnishings, technology, and equipment can have a major effect on some student’s experience with the facility, so consider how these can support inclusion and accessibility (e.g., tables with adjustable heights).

In terms of the construction process, the following topics were addressed:

  • Since many contractual items might be beyond your control, influence the process where you can by displaying your values to stakeholders (e.g., inviting contractors and workers to an opening celebration).
  • Make access to information about the process transparent and create opportunities to get all members of the campus community feeling invested and included (e.g., tours during construction).
  • Be sure to really look at who is at the table involved in the decision-making process, as advisory boards or elected representatives are not always truly representative of all students’ perspectives.

In terms of the assessment and management of the union, these considerations were discussed:

  • Getting honest feedback from employees and community members is critical, so be sure to be accepting of feedback and to not dismiss the individual providing it.
  • Messages are projected by the questions you include in surveys, and by how you ask those questions.
  • Some assessment distribution methods are not accessible or easy to complete for everyone (e.g., paper forms with small spaces for writing).
  • Moving from checking boxes to qualitative open responses can provide a more comfortable way for individuals to express themselves, particularly when collecting demographic information.

And finally, topics related to human resource development were talked about during the program:

  • Look at your recruiting and hiring processes to make sure they are inclusive and equitable (e.g., demographics of applicant pools, access to opportunities).
  • Make a commitment to providing training and development opportunities that are available to all employees, which can include social justice components, though this can be challenging to achieve for all employees on different schedules.
  • Audit your policies and expectations for employees to think about what messages they are sending about the type of people who can work there (e.g., dress code, hours).
  • And in general, consider ways in which social justice can be incorporated into position descriptions, employee learning outcomes, and performance evaluations.

A final thought during the round-table was the importance to keeping a curiosity alive for listening to the voices and stories of all students, inviting new people into your processes, and using what you are learning to make improvements.

Let’s keep this discussion going! Take a minute to share below your promising practices for social justice, equity, and inclusion.


Justin Rudisille

Justin Rudisille is the Director of Volunteer & Member Engagement at ACUI.

Justin coordinates the recruitment, training, and recognition initiatives for volunteers at all levels, as well as oversees research initiatives. He liaises with ACUI’s regions, the Volunteer Development Team, the Research Program Team, the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education, the College Union and Student Activities (CUSA) evaluation program, and the awards and scholarships programs.


The second bullet point on human resource development, about reaching all employees with training that addresses social justice. Working in a building with a ton of outside entities/restaurants/banks, this is really important to me, because even though they may be Jane with Dunkin Donuts (love her! she makes the best coffee) or Bob with MIT Credit Union, their proximity here to Student Activities and the Student Center makes them a part of our experience. As building occupants, I hope we can all provide a valuable experience to the MIT community, that is inclusive and open, so that every student is welcome in our building.
Comment posted 11/09/2012 9:26 AM
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