Last week, the University of North Dakota Staff Development Committee sponsored two professional development sessions, comprised of panels of “Students We Don’t See.” The discussion was centered on hearing the stories of current students who may have a significant portion of their identity that is not visible to the average passerby. This panel session idea was generated after a needs assessment revealed that staff members were interested in hearing about current student trends. Those tasked with putting the session together thought, “Who better to talk about student trends than current students?” This session was the result.
Each panel was comprised of a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender student, a veteran, and a single mother. Each panelist was asked to talk about his or her university experience. What challenges have they faced and successes have they achieved? How can we, as staff, better help the student experience? Some of their responses identified issues around being a student in general. (e.g., “I need my professors to realize that life revolves outside their classroom”). Others were related to their specific identity. (e.g., “It was hard to come here after four years of military service when those I went to high school had already been here and graduated”). Students talked about the challenges of getting involved or reaching out for help; they wanted or needed those resources to be shown to them. It also revealed the stories that we may never know about our students, unless we take the time to ask, “How are you?” and genuinely listen to the answer.
The discussions that followed between and among staff members were powerful. How do we better help students in these populations? Who else is out there that we might not be reaching? While recognition was made that these three students cannot represent all the specific identity based communities on our campus, their impact has already been felt with changes being made to office practices and upcoming orientation conversations. These panels truly humanized the student experience on campus.
How do you connect with students to truly hear their stories? Have you reached out to students to see and understand their perception of campus services?
is the Assistant Program Director Student Involvement at University of North Dakota.
In her position, Missy Burgess has responsibility for advising the University Program Council and overseeing more than 270 student organizations. She has a bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University–Edwardsville, a master’s degree from Kansas State University, and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in educational leadership at the University of North Dakota.