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Reframe Podcast: Episode 16

How Miami University Diversifies Diversity Through Student Affairs Education

sahe students

In this episode, we talk about Miami University's Student Affairs in Higher Education program, and how its emphasis on critical self-reflection, personal transformation, and its ability to diversify even the concept of diversity itself make it one of the most unique and innovative programs of its kind.

Read the transcript

James Loy:

This is Reframe, The podcast from the College of Education, Health and Society on the campus of Miami university. 

In this episode, we talk about Miami University’s Student Affairs in Higher Education program, and how its emphasis on critical self-reflection, personal transformation, and its ability to diversify even the concept of diversity itself make it one of the most unique and innovative programs of its kind. 

(Music Down

Life across most college campuses, just as it is now across many aspects of society, is changing. 

And fast.

Kathy Goodman:

College students today are more diverse than ever in all kinds of ways. We try hard as a faculty to talk about diversity as more than just race, right. So we are trying to bring a wider perspective to what diversity is.

James Loy:

That’s Dr. Kathy Goodman, EHS assistant professor, who is working closely with her colleagues in the department of educational leadership to address this issue.

As wave after wave of profound demographic shifts, widening socioeconomic gaps, contrasting cultural perspectives, and more, all continue to transform educational landscapes in dramatic and sometimes unexpected ways, most universities are scrambling to evolve in tandem.

The good news is that these shifts can lead to vibrant cultures rich with progressive learning opportunities. However, they can also create tension, especially for institutions unable to navigate the uncertainty that such rapid change can bring.

Between these dynamics, very often, stands the work of student affairs professionals, who are responsible for facilitating campus climates that are responsive to both culture and conflict.

From residential life and career services to academic advising and beyond, their job is to humanize the college experience by building a supportive environment that brings together many different students from many different backgrounds.

Across Miami University, nowhere is this approach more accurately reflected than throughout its own Student Affairs in Higher Education program, or SAHE for short, where issues surrounding social justice, inclusion, and diversity are clearly taking center stage.

Kathy Goodman:

Student affairs educators have always taken the lead on difficult topics related to diversity. They are the people to face issues related to race, related to LGBT, related to gender, and help students grow and understand these topics, both with who they are personally and then how to navigate in a diverse world. 

James Loy:

At Miami, both structurally and thematically, the SAHE program is systematically embracing diversity in numerous ways, and with considerable success. 

Here’s Dr. Stephen Quaye, EHS associate professor of student affairs: 

Stephen Quaye:

We intentionally recruit and retain students of color. So racial ethnic minoritized students. And over the past . . .  I’ve been here five years. Over the past two years we now, actually enroll more than half. So to me that is a dramatic shift of actually recruiting, but then also graduating and retaining more students of color.

James Loy:

And this same approach has also translated to faculty as well, as EHS has taken every opportunity to expand its non-traditional demographic profile. 

Dr. Kathleen Knight Abowitz, EHS department chair of educational leadership, talks about this ongoing transformation:

Kathleen Knight Abowitz:

We had some key retirements and have consciously hired to bring in a cohort of faculty who do research related to diversity. And so when we looked at who we wanted to become, we thought about prioritizing the needs of diverse students and the needs of student affairs professionals being prepared to educate on campuses that were diverse.

James Loy:

This progress has been attributed, in part, to SAHE’s success attracting, retaining, and graduating such a high percentage of students of color or ethnic minorities. It’s starting to show student that when they come to Miami, they will have someone who will potentially understand what they are going through. It helps create that social support, that network.

But, what’s more, it’s also been instrumental to the type of content SAHE students encounter as well. 

Kathleen Knight Abowitz:

And as a result, the curriculum has transformed as well as the kinds of research faculty do.

James Loy:

Throughout EHS, diversity is more than just a numbers game. It’s more than how many people there are of a certain demographic or ethnicity. That is, it’s about more than just race. 

It’s also about how the educational experience itself helps students think in socially conscious and culturally relevant ways. And it’s about the practical skills and the critical self-awareness they gain in the process.

Kathleen Knight Abowitz:

So, like, an example of faculty research in that is Elisa Abes, who is looking at kind of students with disabilities and their developmental trajectories in college, right, which nobody has really studied, I don’t think, in any real way. So that’s an example of how our program is helping forward the research agenda of the 21st century campus, as well as preparing our graduates to address all kinds of student issues.

James Loy:

Another example is the work of EHS assistant professor David Perez. By studying Latino male success, Perez is pursuing a paradigm of asset-based education, rather than a deficit-based model. 

Again, Dr. Knight Abowitz:

Kathleen Knight Abowitz:

That’s important because a lot of 20th century models have to do with seeing non-traditional students or non-white students as needing repair, or needing help or needing fixing in some way. And so even when you are not thinking about Latino male student successes, that asset-based approach is something our students are going to bring into the workplace. And that will have a positive impact on how they work with students and what kind of students they see as potential leaders, and all of those things. 

James Loy:

Other topics also cover often overlooked aspects of student life such as spirituality, religion, and atheism. 

While typically neglected across many institutions, this area is of growing interest among student affairs scholars, especially when considering the variety of belief systems that many students use to derive meaning and purpose. And to bridge this gap, Dr. Goodman leads a course specifically designed around religious diversity and interfaith engagement.

Kathy Goodman:

It gives the students who are in it the chance to think about what it is they believe and learn how to articulate that. And then the final piece of the course is, okay, so now that you’ve thought about this, what are you going to do in your own practice? How are you going to support differing students with differing beliefs? And how are you going to provide opportunities for this area of development?

James Loy:

SAHE students also learn similarly practical and applied strategies to engage in uncomfortable conversations, acknowledge tensions, and open productive dialogues to reduce the cultural conflicts that still rage across campuses today. And in many of Dr. Quaye’s classes, these hot button issues are addresses directly.

Stephen Quaye:

I teach a course specifically about engaging issues of race in the classroom. We train people to facilitate dialogue about race, class, privilege, and power, etc.

James Loy:

According to Dr. Quaye, it is often very easy for many people to become defensive when confronted with biases, assumptions, stereotypes, or racism. So he actually teaches students how to practice self-awareness, how to resist urges to become defensive, and more.

Stephen Quaye:

We also teach a concept . . . the difference between shame and guilt and how that looks different and manifests in dialogue space. So I think that is another practical tool. I think something else that we do . . . I help students understand how to just name what they are seeing is happening. I think sometimes when it comes to race and racism, we talk around it rather than actually saying specifically that this has to do with race and being able to talk about it. So I would say that is another critical skill that students develop as a result of that class.

James Loy:

This emphasis on self-awareness is a core pillar of the program, and it threads throughout most of the curriculum and often in innovative ways. In addition to her work on spirituality and atheism, Dr. Goodman, for example, also teaches a course on what she calls “critical whiteness.”

Kathy Goodman:

In my opinion, it is the new way to think about diversity. Like, the old way was, essentially, and I’m just going to be really blunt, right, but it was like, okay, here are majority white students and we want to help them be better people, understand diversity, appreciate diversity, stop being racist. So we have them study the “other.” So they take a course in race relations. They take a course in African American history. They take a course in diverse religions in the world. So it helps them understand the other, but it does not help them understand themselves, and the role they play in creating a less racist world.

James Loy:

Goodman helps students think about what it means to be white, how the concept has developed over time, and the embedded assumptions and privileges it can carry.

This, she explains, helps students turn the focus back onto themselves, to consider why things might be the way they are, how barriers to diversity and inclusion are built into policies and institutions, and how exclusionary thinking can be easily perpetuated even without conscious intent. 

And, of course, this type inquiry is not exclusive to white students alone. The critical and reflective components of SAHE are carefully instilled into all students.

Kathleen Knight Abowitz:

Like, our students, as part of their comps process, they have to develop a philosophy, a praxis philosophy, and it’s very much informed by all the self-work they do along the way. And so they leave this program with a lot of mission and purpose. And I think that that brings a kind of maturation to them as professionals that you won’t necessarily find in all student affairs programs.

James Loy:

Here, it’s about doing the hard and sometimes soul-searching work needed to meet the challenges of a dawning 21st century society, one that can be far better equipped to nurture tolerance, understanding, acceptance, and equality wherever and whenever possible.

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*Intro/outro music used in podcasts: "Tech Toys" by Lee Rosevere