Posted March 10, 2014 by Laura Rogalski 

Transformative Learning Opportunities in Higher Education

I am sure that all of us in higher education can relate to the concept of a "transformative learning" experience. A moment in our lives where everything we thought we knew about the world or what we do was challenged, where we had to reflect on how to interpret these challenges in terms of our professional identity, and then to re-establish that identity in a new way.HappyStudents

Lately, I have found myself having to constantly adjust my frame of reference of what I "know" about higher education as the student population I work with and the overall culture of the campus community are so different from any of my past professional experiences. Issues relating to gender equality, racial tolerance and understanding, accountability, and entitlement are all daily challenges on our campus. The point of view that a large percentage of the student population share is one that makes inclusivity and awareness of others a rare view to find on any campus. On a larger scale, the culture of "doing for" the students is apparent on many campuses, which only feeds the fire and diminishes the daily opportunities students have to challenge their interpretation of life itself. The excuse that "they're used to it" or that "there's nothing we can do to change it" are unacceptable for any institution of higher learning. A campus culture that doesn't call for accountability, that expects the "run-around" instead of an honest conversation, and that doesn't put safety and positive student development as a priority runs the risk of losing the community that others preceding them fought so hard to build.

Now, I'm not saying that every interaction with every student, staff, or faculty member is like this but, lately, I have been hearing these sentiments from colleagues and feeling the push back more and more. With a new generation of students arriving on our campuses every year bringing different issues, different ways of interacting and learning, we must constantly learn new ways of interacting and connecting with those students. While we might not understand completely or have the same view points, it is our job to challenge them both intellectually and personally so that they leave our institutions "transformed" into the responsible, inclusive, reflective, and engaged young adults we know they can be. By ignoring the issues or brushing them aside because it's easier than dealing with the headaches accompanied by it, we do a disservice to our students. In regards to the campus culture, as new staff are brought in to the community with new ideas and fresh perspectives, it offers campus administrators the opportunity to step back and maybe learn a new way to approach an old issue.

It takes a lot of work, a lot of frustration, and a lot of patience to change the frame of reference for an institution, as well as for an individual, but the key is having a support system that will accept these challenges in order to build such a community. On the ACUI website, there is a page titled "What is Community," and I think it sums up what I am trying to say very well: "Transformation respects the rights of others to have their own opinions as well as the right of others to change or not to change. ... Community is not a product or destination; it is a process that creates, evolves, and changes as it seeks to be inclusive."

I challenge all of us to, in some way big or small, find an opportunity to provide a transformative learning opportunity for someone on your campus. While you may not change anything, you will have created an experience that could end up making a more positive influence on someone/something.
Laura Rogalski

Laura Rogalski is the Director of Student Activities, Involvement, & Leadership at Trinity College.

She is responsible for the operations of Vernon Social, a multipurpose space on campus, the Vernon Social Programming Board, the Ivy Yearbook, as well as serving as a support for the advising and event planning of any student organization on campus. She has been an active volunteer with ACUI for the past five years, both on the regional and international level. Laura has her master's degree in counselor education with a concentration in student development in higher education from Central Connecticut State University.

Comments

Great posting Larua, I agree 100% with you that we need to look at the new generation of students as an opportunity to learn from them as well as challenge and evolve ourselves as professionals. Do you feel that maybe the lack of willingness from faculty to have an open mind and learn from students is one of the main reasons for alot of the "headaches"?
Comment posted 03/12/2014 1:32 PM
Laura, I agree with you when you touch on the phenomena of the "run around". A lot have students have come to me recently with these complaints and something like this should not become a norm for the university. Issues should be addressed be professionals no matter the headache it will produce. Great Post Laura!
Comment posted 04/26/2014 7:11 PM
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