Blane Harding, Colorado State University
Over the past few decades, eighty-five percent of all immigrants to the United States have arrived from either Asia or Latin America; today Latinos are the largest American minority group. These demographic trends have impacted the recruitment efforts of many institutions and caused many campus administrators to incorporate diversity into their strategic plans. Furthermore, recognizing that diversity extends beyond race to include ethnicity, traditional/non-traditional status, military experience, disabilities, etc., administrators have increased recruitment efforts to attract an increasingly diverse population to our campuses. However, while administrations have focused on recruitment, the efforts to retain these students has largely become the responsibility of others, particularly those involved in academic advising.
We, as academic advisors, must be poised to address this situation. I began my academic career as a history professor and later served as the coordinator of the Black Studies Program. More recently, I have been the academic advisor for the College of Liberal Arts, charged with the responsibility of training our advising team. My background as a history and ethnic studies professor helped me gain invaluable information and experience that allows me to be a more effective advisor and trainer. As advisors, the greater the understanding we have concerning the history, experience, and culture of those we serve, the more effective we become. This historical and cultural information leads to greater credibility and the establishment of a trusting mentor relationship. Advising a diverse student body must be more than just schedule writing; it requires that each of us has a more complete understanding of those we serve.
A well-rounded perspective encourages each advisor to reach the goal of treating people equally. However, this does not mean that we should treat each student the same. When we treat each student the same, we negate the particularity of individual students and waste the historical knowledge we have gained. To treat students equally, we must treat them differently. A focus on their unique differences allows us to address each student’s individual situation and needs. We must distribute our attention in equal measure to precisely what they do not have in common, their unique differences. Equality is a question of the subject rather than the object. It is a matter of how we conduct ourselves toward others, not a question of some equally shared property or condition inherent in them. We need to pay equal attention to all students and focus on them as equal individuals. I am not suggesting that we “step outside our comfort zone,” but instead that we “expand our comfort zones.” Our interactions with students should not only concern their academic needs, but just as importantly, address their personal needs.
How students identify themselves should be a key as to how we, as advisors, establish our credibility and build a relationship. Not all individuals live their lives as “ethnic beings.” Just because we may physically identify a student as Asian American or Latino(a) does not mean that he or she self-identifies in this manner. There is a difference between assimilation, acculturation, and integration. Individuals can develop through any of these pathways. Some diverse students may identify themselves as acculturated ethnics, while others simply identify themselves as assimilated Americans. It would be detrimental to presume a student’s identity if our objective is to nurture a caring and productive relationship. Therefore, over time, we should allow each student to self identify, but building a relationship that allows self-identification takes time and a willingness to give as much as we receive.
The ultimate objective is to raise our awareness. For many, this assumes an external function: we want to become more historically, culturally, and theoretically aware of our students; we want to better understand the rules and regulations of the university; we want to have a clearer understanding of our duties and responsibilities. If we are to truly embrace diversity, we must also become more internally aware. How can we better understand other worldviews if we do not fully understand or question our own? If we are to raise our awareness internally, we must question our own attitudes, values, beliefs, behaviors, assumptions, and prejudices. Only when we have done this, can we truly value diversity and become more effective academic advisors. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Diversity should not be a concept we discuss, but a habit we practice.
Colorado State University
Landis, D, Bennett, J.M., & Bennett, M.J. (2004). Handbook of Intercultural Training. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publishers.
Takaki, R. (1998). A Larger Memory: A History of Our Diversity, With Voices. Boston: Little, Brown and Co.
Aguirre, A., & Turner, J.H. (2004). American Ethnicity: The Dynamics and Consequences of Discrimination. Boston: McGraw-Hill Publishers.
Cite this article using APA style as: Harding, B. (2005, June). The changing face of college campuses. Academic Advising Today, 28(2). [insert url here]