The Interview USA
Louisiana State University
Vice President for Student Affairs

Brandon Common

When new students arrive at Higher Education (HE) institutions, Student Affairs teams are responsible for setting expectations for behavior, educating them about important issues, and helping them adapt to their new community. Amid the excitement of new beginnings, ensuring a safe and inclusive environment is paramount. 

Brandon Common, Vice President (VP) for Student Affairs at Louisiana State University, sat down with Max Webber, co-host of The Interview, to discuss the proactive measures his teams take during first-year orientation, and how they continually reinforce behavioral expectations among students. 

Brandon's Journey

Max: Let's start with a brief introduction to yourself and your institution…

I'm Brandon Common, and I serve as the VP for Student Affairs at Louisiana State University. We're a public, flagship, land grant, Space Grant, and Sea Grant university, and those designations speak to the impact we make on our state and country. We're largely known for our athletics piece, but we bring that championship mentality to everything we do, including providing access to higher education for students and supporting the people of Louisiana.

Max: What drew you to a career in Student Affairs?

I graduated with a bachelor's degree from the University of Missouri in secondary education and English, and I started my career as a high school English teacher. I've always viewed myself as an educator, but I only spent one year as a teacher. During my first year teaching a friend introduced me to the world of Higher Education and Student Affairs, and when I thought about my experiences and aspirations, I knew it was a natural match. I view myself as a generalist who loves working in all areas of Student Affairs, from housing and residence life, to Greek life, conduct and campus life. I take a lot of pride in supporting young people and helping to facilitate their success because, when done well, Student Affairs work changes lives. 

Max: How do you create a positive campus environment at Louisiana State University (or LSU)?

We're all about student success, so anything it takes to achieve that goal, whether it be examining our policies and practices, providing high-quality programs, meeting students where they are in regards to what they need, and providing a vast web of support, we do it. Nobody owns the area of student success, subsequently, everyone does their part to help students reach their goals. Our faculty do a fantastic job with their instruction, while our staff do an incredible job helping students find their sense of belonging when they arrive to campus. Everyone is charged with being active members of our community, resulting in a campus environment where students can get the support they need at any time. 

Max: With several fraternities and sororities at Louisiana State, how do you prevent hazing?

Preventing hazing is all about educating students as early as possible. Our student organizations recruit during orientation, so that provides us a perfect opportunity to educate all students about what we expect from members of our community. For our students who decide to participate in Greek life, we also provide new member education to help create the conditions that prevent hazing from taking place. We also try to understand why hazing happens in the first place. Research suggests that sometimes individuals participate in hazing as an attempt to create a sense of belonging, it’s our job to help them understand there are multiple ways to meet this need. We understand that we can't be everywhere at once, but we can educate every student about hazing, bystander intervention, and accountability, and follow through on our policies for unacceptable behavior.

Max: How do you ensure all students are engaged with these important topics? 

Louisiana has a law that states that students who participate in student organizations must participate in annual hazing prevention training. That means all individuals who want to participate in organizations will be exposed to education about hazing and bystander intervention. Our Campus Life team, who oversee our student organizations, work to ensure every student is trained in hazing prevention and help organizations bring in presenters to educate their communities. There are multiple ways to engage students with important topics, but making it compulsory is a great start. 

Max: Aside from compulsory modules, what's the best way to communicate with students about important issues?

Our messaging is always consistent, but whether students will engage with it is another question. We've found that students are much more likely to communicate with those on their level, so creating spaces where they can come together, participate in peer-to-peer learning, and share their ideas is really beneficial. I had the same group of friends throughout high school and college, and since we knew each other so well, we could share our opinions about sensitive topics without affecting our friendship. We try to create a similar bond between our students who are often meeting each other for the first time when they arrive on campus. When they know each other, they can have challenging conversations, listen to each other's views, and still be able to maintain friendships, share what they've learned, and support each other. Ensuring students are communicating effectively with one another facilitates peer-to-peer learning, and ultimately bolsters our messaging. 

Max: In an increasingly polarized political landscape, how do you facilitate conversations across difference among students?

No matter how much they may change, Higher Education institutions will always be places where students can challenge each other’s ideas in a civil way.  What has changed is the effort we put into setting expectations for civility, and the focus we place on programming that talks about differences in background, ethnicity, and thought. We have students from across the world, so we always establish that our campus is a place where they can exchange ideas, so long as that’s done respectfully. Our faculty do a fantastic job of applying those expectations in classrooms, and it’s a big focus in our student organizations too. In particular, Student Government provides an excellent opportunity for students to debate ideas in a structured way, and with the help of our RAs, that dialogue is continued in residence halls. As staff, we recognize that we need to model the behavior we expect from students, and be willing to engage in conversations with individuals whose views may differ from our own. 

Max: What's the best advice you've received during your career?

Many years ago, my mentor encouraged me to be adaptable. The landscape of HE is always changing, as it should be, so you need to be willing to adapt alongside it. When you can welcome new ideas and information, and collaborate with others, you'll be able to thrive in any space.

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Max Webber
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