Melissa Lantta, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
Editor's Note: Melissa will be presented a NACADA Outstanding New Advisor Award at the NACADA Annual Conference in Chicago this October. If you see Melissa in Chicago, be sure to offer your congratulations!
The issues of social justice and equity are growing in importance across the academy. The Center for Economic and Social Justice (2008) notes that “social justice imposes on each of us a personal responsibility to work with others to design and continually perfect our institutions as tools for personal and social development” (¶7). Although NACADA (2008) “promotes and supports quality academic advising in institutions of higher education to enhance the educational development of students” (¶1), how often do academic advisors examine their roles in upholding social justice through advising?
Advisors are often the gatekeepers for students transitioning into the campus community. If students’ initial transition to college is aided by an advising or orientation program, then students are more likely to make the immediate and positive connections needed to remain on campus (Nutt, 2003). Therefore, advisors are crucial in the establishment of a campus climate that creates a “safe” place for students. Advisors assist students in investigating resources available throughout the campus and support students in the pursuit of their interests and the exploration of their identities.
Advisors can take the first steps towards upholding social justice and equity by creating a “safe” atmosphere where students feel comfortable disclosing confidential information. Advisors should examine the message their physical environments present to students. What messages are conveyed to students through the books, posters, or signs in advisors’ offices? What does the decor say to students about advisors’ views of equity? Would the office discourage a feeling of safety? Does this message extend out of the office to suite, hallway, and building as a whole?
Some campuses offer training opportunities where faculty and staff can become more sensitive to different student groups (Joslin & Self, 2008). One example is SAFE (Students, Staff, and Faculty for Equity) training, which provides participants with a symbol showing LGBTQ students that the advisor’s office is a safe place for support, assistance, and/or confidential disclosure (University of Wisconsin Oshkosh).
Advisors should be cognizant of their personal biases. Advisors should contemplate such questions as: Do we promote equity and give each student what he or she needs? Do our words reflect that we believe students can accomplish their goals regardless of race, gender, etc.? Dialogue with students from backgrounds different than our own can be difficult; people can respond differently based upon their racial affiliation, their communication styles, and desired outcomes (Singleton & Linton, 2006). To ease the anxiety we may feel about dialogue with those different from ourselves, advisors should consider having what Singleton and Linton (2006) call “Courageous Conversations.” This is a process where advisors delve into their own personal biases, determine what steps they can take to promote success in all students, and engage in discussions to promote equity within advising and on campus.
When thinking about equity and social justice across campus, advisors should remember that one of the primary purposes of education is to provide students with the skills needed to function and think critically in a democratic society. Hytten (2006) noted that social justice is vital to the success of a democratic society. Advising goes beyond course selection to work with students on the exploration of their identities within the world. Advisors balance advocacy for students with the integrity of the institution and work to influence policy changes. Advisors can support social justice by urging students to include classes in their schedules that explore multiple perspectives, challenge them to reflect upon any misinformed ideas they may have, and gain a better understanding of people different from themselves (Gorski, 2006). Classes that focus on cultures and people outside a student’s realm of influence can help students learn about the moral and ethical background of complex issues and challenge them to take action against inequity (Shoenberg, 2005).
As student advocates, advisors should examine their institutions’ course offerings and programs. Does the institution offer a social justice minor? Are there classes that focus on diverse issues, such as LGBTQ or racial injustice? Do these classes fulfill general education requirements? What programs are offered at their institutions and what are the admissions requirements for these programs? Are entry requirements equal? What percentage of students accepted into competitive admissions programs are students of color or from other minority groups? What percent of these students are retained in these programs? If advisors see inequalities, it is vital that they take action and speak with departments, colleges, and administration to promote social justice.
The final commitment advisors need to make is to themselves (NACADA, 2004). Advisors should become cognizant of methods of inequality by committing themselves to the goals of social justice and exploring their own personal biases. Intergroup dialogues can be used to raise awareness of issues of inequality, not just from the standpoint of the less-advantaged groups, but how privilege can affect students and advisors alike. This means understanding one’s own social identity and exploring how that identity influences others (ASHE, 2006). The goal of conversations surrounding justice and equity should be that participants take action to prevent inequity and share information with others around them (Singleton & Linton, 2006). These conversations can start as small as discussing these issues within the confines of an advising center. It involves examining questions such as “How do my or our actions affect others or other groups? How are my or our actions empowering or disempowering others?” (ASHE, 2006, p.17). Advisors should look at their sphere of influence and see what actions they can implement.
As some of the first people students meet on their academic journey, advisors have an obligation to promote social justice. When we create a safe place where students feel comfortable disclosing information and searching out resources, we help students meet their needs. Advisors can assist students in discovering their own social identity and becoming well informed of any injustice they see within the campus community. In turn, advisors can help students take action against injustice and make their surroundings safe for their peers. Now is the time for advisors to take action and support social justice.
Undergraduate Advising Resource Center
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
ASHE Higher Education Report. (2006). 32(4); 9-18.
Center for Economic and Social Justice. Defining economic justice and social justice. Retrieved March 14, 2008, from Center for Economic and Social Justice Web site:www.cesj.org/thirdway/economicjustice-defined.htm.
Gorski, P. (2006). Complicity with conservatism: The De-politicizing of multicultural and intercultural education. Retrieved March 5, 2008, from EdChange Web site:www.edchange.com/publications/Complicity_with_Conservatism.pdf
Hytten, Kathy. (2006). Education for social justice: Provocations and challenges.Educational Theory, 56 (2), 221-236.
Joslin, J., & Self, C. (2008). Shared responsibilities: What advisors and administrators need to know to better assist GLBTQA students [CD-ROM/Webinar]. NACADA Webinar Series 2007-2008.
NACADA. (2004). NACADA statement of core values of academic advising. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/Core-Values.htm.
NACADA. (2008). About NACADA. Retrieved February 20, 2008, from NACADA Web site:www.nacada.ksu.edu/AboutNACADA/index.htm.
Nutt, Charlie L. (2003). Academic advising and student retention and persistence. Retrieved March 3, 2008, from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site: www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/retention.htm.
Schoenberg, Robert. (2005). Why do I have to take this course? A Student guide to making smart educational choices. Washington D. C: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Singleton, G., & Linton, C. (2005). Courageous conversations about race: A Field guide for achieving equity in school. Thousand Oaks, C: SAGE Publications.
Cite this article using APA style as: Lantta, M. (2008, June). Supporting social justice through advising. Academic Advising Today, 31(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]