| Core Competencies/Skill Sets
Cultural Awareness and Sensitivity
Student Development Theory
Instruction and Training
Higher education’s role in creating an engaged and educated citizenry is as important today as it was in the minds of those who first created institutions of higher learning. Although leadership development has long been a central goal for most colleges and universities, evidence suggests a renewed commitment to cocurricular programs that focus on civic responsibility and social change (Astin & Astin, 2000; Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education, 2006; Dugan, Komives, & Segar, 2008; Higher Education Research Institute, 1996). The evolution of leadership in American society, from an industrial to a post-industrial perspective, is also evident in higher education where educators have high hopes of empowering students to lead lives as leaders beyond the college environment (Roberts, 1997).
The increased focus on leadership and social change is apparent through the increase in the number of cocurricular programs, which has more than doubled in the past two decades, rising to more than 1,000 programs in the United States (Scott, 2004). Scholarly research on the developmental outcomes of students involved in leadership on campus has also increased with the most recent work by Dugan and Komives (2007). The Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership, which is based on the framework of the social change model of leadership development (HERI, 1996), is one of the largest studies on college student leadership to date. It has gained national recognition as more and more universities seek to document their impact on students as well as demonstrate a link between theory and practice. Through this study, the authors found that the single strongest environmental predictor of leadership outcomes was the opportunity for students to engage in conversations across differences (Dugan & Komives, 2007). This has significant implications for the field of leadership education and in particular, the student affairs staff responsible for this area.
The relationship between leadership education and cross-cultural conversations poses a potentially interesting challenge for student affairs staff responsible for leadership education. The ability and knowledge to facilitate multicultural conversations and to respond to multicultural issues is often deferred to those perceived as the diversity experts on campus, who have a more vested interest in the subject and may have had advanced training or education in the area (Pope, Reynolds, & Mueller, 2004). However, Pope and Reynolds (1997) offer a conceptual model of multicultural competence, which unlike other sets of identified competencies, urges student affairs to adopt multicultural competence as a core competency for all professionals in the field rather than a few designated experts. Mueller and Pope’s (2001, 2003) initial research on multicultural competence in student affairs demonstrates a significant relationship between multicultural competence, racial identity, multicultural education, experience and interest variables, and demographic variables.
This study explored in depth why and how racial identity, multicultural education and experiences, and select demographic variables relate to the multicultural competence of student affairs professionals specifically in the field of college leadership education. In addition, this study explored the relationship between the use of the social change model of leadership development by leadership educators and their level of multicultural competence. The social change model was selected in comparison with the use of “The Leadership Challenge” (Kouzes & Posner, 2002) and the Relational Leadership Model (Komives, Lucas, & McMahon, 2007).
Statement of hypothesis/problem
The changing nature of higher education is reflected in the increasing diversity of the student body and the changing roles of student affairs professionals. No longer can issues of diversity and diversity education be considered the responsibility of a relative few experts on campus. Therefore, it can be argued that all campus professionals must enhance their level of multicultural competence to successfully work with today’s dynamic student population. While literature has suggested that graduate preparation and training programs do not adequately provide the necessary multicultural knowledge, awareness, and skills (Flowers, 2003; McEwen & Roper, 1994; Pope & Reynolds, 1997; Talbot, 1992), research has not fully explored how one might develop multicultural competence or what experience or factors may enhance one’s levels of multicultural competence. Further research
is needed to understand the nature of the relationship between racial identity and its positive influence on multicultural competence, as well as the impact of other demographic, experience, and education variables (Miklitsch, 2005; Mueller, 1999; Mueller & Pope, 2001, 2003; Weigand, 2005).
Additionally, current research within the area of leadership education and development has indicated that the opportunity for students to engage in socio-cultural conversations is the single-strongest environmental predictor of leadership outcomes (Dugan & Komives, 2007). However, there has been no research to date on leadership educators and whether they possess the knowledge or ability to properly facilitate these conversations or learning experiences. In fact, there is little research on college leadership educators as a whole, as it is a position that has only evolved in the last 15 years (Dugan & Komives, 2007).
Therefore, it is important to expand upon the limited research on the multicultural competence of student affairs professionals and the limited multicultural education and training in professional preparation programs, as it may help to understand why some professionals have higher levels of multicultural competence than others. In addition, it may provide some insight to the extent that diversity and multiculturalism are included in cocurricular leadership programs and how this relates to the level of leadership educator’s multicultural competence. This study addressed the following primary research questions: (1) To what extent does the use of the Social Change Model of Leadership Development within cocurricular leadership programming predict levels of multicultural competence among student affairs professionals responsible for cocurricular leadership programs? (2) What is the relationship between racial identity and multicultural competence of student affairs professionals responsible for cocurricular leadership programs? (3) What is the relationship between multicultural education and experiences and multicultural competence among student affairs professionals responsible for cocurricular leadership programs? (4) To what extent do demographic variables, racial identity, and multicultural education and experiences predict levels of multicultural competence among student affairs professionals responsible for cocurricular leadership programs?
Data collection for this survey took place between November 2010 and January 2011. Participants were solicited via email through two national listserves affiliated with professional organizations that support cocurricular leadership education and programs on college and university campuses. Invitations were sent to the National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs listserve, which serves as a national resource for professional development for leadership educators. Invitees were asked to both complete the survey themselves and forward the invitation to colleagues who may also identify their primary functional area as cocurricular leadership education. Invitations were also sent to members of the Commission for Student Involvement listserv, which is one of several specific commissions within ACPA: College Student Educators International that focuses specifically on the functional areas of leadership, activities, and service. As mentioned, a similar snowball technique was employed, asking potential respondents to forward the invitation to participate to colleagues and peers responsible for cocurricular leadership programming. Invitations to participate were also emailed directly to professional contacts within the researcher’s network of colleagues who work in leadership programming at colleges and universities throughout the United States (including ACUI members).
Participants for this study were student affairs professionals who self-identified as being responsible for some percentage of cocurricular leadership programs and education at colleges and universities throughout the United States. The sample included full-time student affairs professionals, who have earned at least a bachelor’s degree, including entry level staff (e.g., program assistants, coordinators, or assistant directors) as well as mid-level to senior-level administrators (e.g., associate directors, directors, assistant deans, or deans). Graduate students in student affairs preparation programs who hold (or have held) graduate assistantships or internships in cocurricular leadership programming were also included in the sample as well as some self-identified faculty.
Data collection for this correlational study included three self-reporting instruments. All participants were asked to complete the Personal Data Form (Pope, Miklitsch, & Weigand, 2004; Wilson, 2011), and the Multicultural Competence in Student Affairs-Preliminary 2 scale (Pope & Mueller, 2000). To measure and operationalize racial identity, participants who identified as white were asked to complete the White Racial Identity Attitude Scale (Helms & Carter, 1990) and participants who identified as a person of color were asked to complete the People of Color Racial Identity Attitude Scale (Helms, 1995).
Significant findings and relevance
While this study explored many aspects of student affairs professionals’ multicultural competence, of particular relevance are the findings and implications for leadership educators and their practice. Little literature exists surrounding leadership educators, particularly relating to their ability to create meaningful and high-impact programs and activities for students, which makes the following findings even more significant.
This study’s results provide strong evidence and support for using a model or framework in designing and developing leadership programs. Student affairs professionals who used a model, particularly the social change model, had higher levels of multicultural competence than those who did not use a model or framework. The social change model was the most frequently used model by leadership educators in this study (55.7 percent of participants), which suggests a dynamic shift in the way student affairs professionals are approaching leadership, emphasizing a more social justice- and community-based approach (See Table 1).
Leadership educators should consider using a model or framework in designing and developing more high-impact programs, giving particular consideration to the social change model. The values of the social change model are congruent with multicultural competence, and the use of the model indicates a higher level of thinking with regard to multicultural issues. Based on the Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership data regarding the impact of cross-cultural conversations, it would be prudent for leadership educators to consider ways to enhance their own multicultural competence and to consider evaluating the ways in which multicultural and diversity issues are addressed in leadership programs.
The study demonstrated that leadership educators who used particular methods in addressing multicultural issues in their leadership programs had higher levels of multicultural competence. Workshops, targeted programs (i.e., population-specific), retreats, and full courses dedicated to diversity and leadership were most significantly related, and therefore should strongly be considered as programming methods to potentially further enhance one’s own multicultural competence. Leadership educators who can effectively facilitate diversity workshops or programs focused on diverse populations may be more multiculturally competent. They may also feel more comfortable facilitating these experiences. However, leadership educators may be multiculturally competent, demonstrating strong awareness and knowledge, but lack the skills and abilities to implement theory into practice. An example of this would be leadership educators bringing in their diversity expert colleagues to provide a diversity discussion in their program or course. While this example indicates a level of awareness and understanding of the importance of infusing diversity into a leadership program, it does not necessarily reflect the leadership educator’s skill in facilitating the discussion alone. Indeed, those participants who indicated addressing multicultural issues in leadership programs via guest speakers or through only a section of a course had lower multicultural competence scores. Leadership educators must take responsibility for furthering their own level of multicultural awareness, knowledge, and skills to more effectively infuse multicultural issues into their programs.
Similarly, the significant impact of racial identity development in predicting levels of multicultural competence as demonstrated in this study may also have significant implications for the role and practice of the leadership educator. Leadership educators may have a unique opportunity to not only develop their own racial identity, but through conscious program development and implementation, may significantly affect their staff and students’ racial identity development. For example, conversations about defining leadership can challenge existing assumptions and worldviews about the “typical leader,” which often translates into a physical picture of someone in a dominant group (i.e., white male). More specifically, the opportunities that leadership educators create to engage students in conversations about differences can challenge white students to further develop their racial identity through reflection on their own experiences, potentially causing them to question previously held erroneous beliefs. This opportunity presents a new challenge for leadership educators in not only being comfortable in facilitating these dynamic conversations, but more importantly the challenge to have some level of competence in facilitating these conversations.
In summary, the nature of the leadership educator role may need to be reevaluated in light of recent research demonstrating the high impact of cross-cultural conversations in leadership development (Dugan & Komives, 2007). Leadership educators should also view themselves as diversity educators, finding ways to infuse these important conversations into their leadership programming efforts. Using a model or framework, such as the social change model, may be helpful in creating those opportunities for discussion and also have an impact on the multicultural competence of the leadership educators themselves. However, more professional development, experiences, and training focused on multicultural education would better prepare leadership educators to take on this new role.
Amy Wilson is the associate director of the Center for Student Leadership & Community Engagement at the University at Buffalo and teaches in the student affairs administration program. She earned her Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University at Buffalo and her master’s from Western Illinois University in college student personnel. Wilson’s article is based on her dissertation, which received the first-ever ACUI Dissertation of the Year Award earlier this year.
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