Now more than ever before in Higher Education (HE), it’s crucial to create and foster spaces that not only support students but encourage them to come together and support each other. This helps them find commonalities, as well as learn to navigate their differences in safe and respectful ways.
GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead Kira Matthews sat down with Jeanine Ward-Roof, Vice President for Student Affairs at Ferris State University (FSU), to discuss how the university environment aids students in this journey, which they can then apply to helping make the world a better place in the future.
I originally wanted to be a journalist — Barbara Walters, specifically! And then I eventually came to realize that all of the skills I’d gained in college actually related to Student Affairs. So I started looking at that more closely as a career, and once I learned I could go to grad school for that, I never really turned back. Every day now, I get to work with students and be a part of their lives, their dreams, excitements, and challenges, so it’s a great way to make a difference in the world.
At FSU, we spend a lot of time thinking about access. Particularly in the rural part of the state, we think about how to let potential students know that college is right for them and that they have the ability to do this. Then, we walk them through how they can afford to attend, and what resources they have.
Once they get here, we have a number of identity centers, from disability resources to multicultural student services to our LGBTQ+ center. In these centers, students can find people who are similar to them, to help with whatever they need, from a comfort or knowledge perspective. We also have incredible staff who are willing to support, advocate, and challenge, and that permeates through our whole division and the entire university.
So it really is building the opportunities to have conversations with students about who they are, what their identity is, what they’re challenged with, what they’re excited about, and how they intersect with others. As we’re doing all of this, we help students understand it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. You’re here on your own merit, you have every right to be here, and you have every right to succeed, and we’re going to do everything we can to help you do that.
That is a difficult part of our work. Everyone comes here with their own set of values. During college, you’re exposed to a lot of different things, and you have to make your own decisions about what to embrace and what to reject. There’s such a vast amount of information out in the world right now on the internet, and it’s not all fact. A lot is opinion, and learning to discern the difference is crucial.
Freedom of speech also fits in; we should have the freedom to share different opinions, but there’s a responsibility to couple that with civility. That’s something that our nation isn’t doing very well right now, so if our students can continue to practice this on our campus, we hope it can allow them to do this when they leave for the outside world.
United Way is all about uniting employees to help donate and volunteer for causes in order to help make the world a better place. For example, this year we had a $40,000 goal, which we surpassed by $154! We host events, such as pumpkin and cookie-decorating contests, silent auctions, and T-shirt sales. Students, staff, faculty, and local community leaders donate their time, or sometimes crafts they make or sell in their stores. So it’s a fun way to be able to celebrate and gather together on campus, but with the notion of making our community and the world stronger.
One, in particular, is our LGBTQ+ resource center. Before, our students who identified as LGBTQ+ relied on each other for support or to be able to find programming. When looking at best practices, that didn’t seem right. So with a lot of hard work, we created our center, where LGBTQ+ students now have support, programming, and advocacy, and can be a part of a community.
Two words: Do It. Every day, you get to work with students who want to make the world a better place, constantly exploring what-ifs, so what better environment could you possibly ask for? Now more than ever, we need people who are willing to be confident, caring, and supportive to everyone going on this journey.
Our students. They have been through so much in the past few years, and they’re still here, and doing amazing work, asking great questions, and they aren’t afraid to say, “Let’s change what needs to be changed, together.”
The Great Upheaval: Higher Education’s Past, Present, and Uncertain Future by Arthur Levine and Scott Van Pelt, which takes a deep-dive look at American HE from a variety of different historical standpoints in order to assess how it got to where it is now, and how we can proceed, using the lessons of the past as a guide. HE today is in a very uncertain place. People are questioning whether they should do it at all and what it means, and I think that if we don’t figure this out, it will potentially derail a lot of people’s futures. So the conversations this book is provoking are crucial.