Posted April 14, 2015 by Missy Burgess 

Four Speakers Discuss Changing Demographics

ACUI Talks
From top to bottom: Tammy Tibbetts, Michael Kimmel, Jeff Pelletier, Anne-Marie Nuñez

One of the highlights of recent ACUI annual conferences has been a keynote session devoted to ACUI Talks, in which four presenters get 20 minutes each to share their unique message with you. For someone who has a short attention span like me, this is one that I always enjoy! It provides me the opportunity to learn about multiple topics and captures my interest for the entire session. This year’s session brought together four individuals who presented their notions and research surrounding the ideas of diversity and inclusion, particularly demographic trends in our current student population.

Michael Kimmel kicked the conversation off by discussing men and masculinity. He shared results of his research on young men ages 16 to 26. He discussed the idea that it was in fact women who made the idea of gender visible, and he reminded us that “privilege is invisible to those who have it.” He shared the importance of confronting men’s sense of entitlement and bringing privilege into the conversation. The inner researcher in me wanted to know where the research went next after this first talk. How do Kimmel’s results play out when you include race or gender identity or sexual orientation in the conversation? What are best practices in encouraging and fostering a type of environment for these critical conversations?

The next speaker was Anne-Marie Nuñez, a Ph.D. faculty member at the University of Texas–San Antonio, who spoke about the importance of supporting and fostering Latino student success. She noted that only 3% of female tenure-track faculty in the United States are Latina, while the percentage of Latina students is much higher. She shared seven issues that Latino students face in coming to college, including lack of academic, financial, social, and cultural capital; family concerns; campus racial/ethnic climate; and assumptions that others have about Latinos. As I am in a state without a large Latino population and at an institution where the percentage is likely even lower, I began to think about whether these issues may be even greater for the students I know. It was clear to me that I also met Kimmel’s definition of privilege from the first talk—many of these issues had been invisible to me.

The third speaker was one of our own, fellow union professional, Jeff Pelletier. Pelletier spoke about the needs of student veterans on our campuses. By sharing his own story as a veteran, he also reminded us that each person has a unique story and that it is theirs to share or not share as they choose. Some of the issues veteran students face include mental health, employment, and identity. We already provide many services in these areas, but it is important that we consider the needs and mindset of student veterans and apply these services and resources with great intentionality. I appreciated that Pelletier ended his talk with the advantages of hiring student veterans as student employees and skills and strengths that they can add to a team. Being a veteran is an identity our students may have that is less visible to us, but as we do with all students, we need to think about how to best meet the needs for each of these students as individuals.

Finally, Tammy Tibbetts, founder of the nonprofit She's the First, spoke to us about the place for first-generation college students on campus. Her organization works to mobilize these students to raise funds and awareness to help provide access to education for young women abroad, many of whom are the first in their families to go to college. She shared that first-generation students are often overlooked as being “philanthropically poor” but that their strong sense of purpose and incredible potential to be change agents can be huge strengths. By forming campus-based chapters of her organization, she brings students together for philanthropic purposes, and these students find a group where they fit in and identify with, thereby increasing their own success.

What do we take from these sessions? For me, it was the reminder of the privilege I have as an educated woman from a middle-class background. It was the recognition that each of our students has an individual story. Each student also has multiple identities—which helps to remind me to truly listen to individual students’ stories and not place them in any particular needs box based on my assumptions.

Finally, how do we bring these ideas and conversations to our campuses? Who are the stakeholders who need to be at the table? Who provides the reminder that our students are not just the one identity or area that we may serve them in, but whole people with many needs and strengths? What is the potential if we saw some of these challenges for the strengths they give the students? With more questions than answers, I head back to my campus ready to move forward, one step at a time.

Missy Burgess

Missy Burgess is the Associate Director for Student Involvement at University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh.

Missy supervises student leadership and involvement staff in the Reeve Memorial Union, including volunteer service, student organizations and emerging programs, Reeve Union Board, leadership, diversity and inclusion, and greek life. She holds a bachelor’s from Southern Illinois University–Edwardsville, a master’s from Kansas State University, and a Ph.D. in educational leadership from the University of North Dakota.

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