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Input and Wisdom From Across the Student Affairs Division

Wall in reception area of the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs

In early winter term 2018, Student Affairs staff heard more about “Our Most Important Work” priorities in meetings with their associate vice provosts.  We also convened three all-staff open sessions, inviting staff from across Student Affairs to participate in brainstorming and further development of these concepts.  During interactive conversations with Post-it Notes, we collected the following collective wisdom.  We thank everyone for their participation!

Our Most Important Work Open Discussion Summary

Divisional Considerations

  • Everyone’s Work - The student experience is everyone’s work. How can we more deeply embed this in our culture?
  • Modeling -  Wellness, Inclusion and Belonging also need to be a part of the staff experience if we want to be able to do this work for students.
  • Connecting and Collaborating -  We need to have a better sense of one another’s work to help students make connections rather than leave them to navigate the university on their own.  How can we set up incentive structures to help collaboration happen?
  • Process Changes - Instead of starting with a "stop sign," Our process orientation needs to be, “How can I help you?" 

Process Ideas and Considerations

  • Student Involvement - Student voices at the table for all of our work.
  • Staff Training - Ensure staff are ready and prepared to do this kind of work.
  • Representation and Involvement - Ensure cross-divisional representation on groups.  Ensure that there are multiple ways for all of the voices of the division to be heard. 
  • Scoping of Goals - The task force work seems large, how can it be scoped and managed appropriately.
  • Communication - Consider how to keep us all updated on the work that is happening on a regular and predictable basis.
  • Accountability - How will we measure success?  How can we incorporate "Our Most Important Work" in the division's performance evaluations?
  • Collaboration -How can we integrate this work with our partners across campus and with one another?

Post-it Notes: Areas of Emphasis and Ideas

Below is a summary of the post-it notes that were collected from each session.  Some of the notes focused on recommendations, some feedback, some ideas and some what they hoped for students.  This summary attempts to capture and categorize these varied forms of information for consideration for each task force.

Equity and Inclusion

  • If we were doing this well - All students would experience a sense of deep, abiding belonging and a belief that there is a place for their identities at Stanford.
  • Students as Teachers - No student would feel the burden of representation and could just be themselves.
  • Staff Training - Build all staff members skill and capacity to work with and build systems for a diverse student body.
  • Systems - Medical records need to reflect students’ pronouns and names.  Club and organizational dues may make our campus less inclusive.
  • Staff Representation - Adequate salaries to recruit diverse and talented Student Affairs  staff.  Ensure staff we have the appropriate staff in the right places to be able to support student needs.
  • Knowledge Building - Create materials and educational opportunities that build social and cultural capital for all students regardless of the support that is available from existing networks.  Ensure that all Student Affairs resources and processes are widely known and are easily accessible to students.
  • Behavioral Accountability - Build mechanisms for trainings and accountability (possibly like sexual harassment) for incidents of bias and hate on campus.
  • Staff Outcomes and Accountability - Get student feedback on their experiences with all of our units to be able to examine who is accessing our resources and if our practices feel inclusive.  Create systemic review process for each unit to look at inclusion practices.  Ensure that this is a part of employee performance goals.

Community and Belonging

  • Student Populations - There is a strong relationship between equity/Inclusion and community/belonging.  It is clear that identity (race, gender, socio-economic background, etc.) is one of the core components in establishing a sense of belonging.  Some parts of the student population that were recommended for us to more fully understand their experience were international students, graduate students and transfer students.  Examine which moments students feel a sense of belonging v. when they do not feel like they belong.
  • Places of Connection - Examine the places that students articulate a strong sense of belonging and try to understand patterns and practices that could be replicated.  Start with the community centers, theme dorms Greek life and some parts of the Row.  Examine how we can make every place a place of connection and belonging.
  • Systems and Policies - Examine how our systems, policies and practices create a sense of belonging or alienation.  How might we create online systems and websites that are inviting, well-functioning, accessible and representative of students?
  • Curation of Opportunity - The proliferation of opportunities may contribute to difficulties in belonging.  Examine opportunities and look for moments and methods for these opportunities to be curated.
  • Responsibility for Belonging - Articulate “who” is responsible for belonging.  Are staff responsible for creating a sense of belonging for students?  Are staff responsible for coaching students to create belonging for each other?  Are "majority" students responsible for ensuring opportunities for belonging for all?
  • Skill Building - What skills are necessary for our student population to create a sense of belonging?  Empathy?  Listening?  Soft Skills?  Storytelling?
  • Representation - Ensure staff that we have the appropriate staff in the right places to be able to support student needs.

Specific Ideas

  • Create spaces for students to have deeper, more meaningful conversations.
  • Bring speakers, researchers and events to unconventional spaces.
  • Creating opportunities for connecting graduate and undergraduate students.
  • Learning grants
  • Encourage coffee chats with other VPSA colleagues.

Mental Health and Well-Being

  • Stigma - Find powerful and effective ways to reframe the fear and stigma associated with discussing sadness, fear, failure and emotional needs.
  • Role Modeling - Create a culture of wellness among Student Affairs staff to ensure effective coaching and role modeling for students.
  • Proactivity - Every role and department has a responsibility in building student mental health and well-being.  We need to find intentional ways to engage with our students at all levels of mental wellness to help build pro-active structures for well-being.
  • Campus Teaching - To ensure that we can all do this work effectively, we need to engage faculty, staff and students in building the skills and capacities to engage with mental health and well-being.
  • Collective Responsibility - This is the work of culture and is our collective responsibility. 

Integrative Learning

  • Faculty and Research Connections - We need to ensure that our work is grounded in current research. We need data to fully understand our student population and track its changes.  We also need to actively connect with faculty to collaborate on student learning.
  • “Whole Student” Learning - Bring together the powerful learning opportunities that happen throughout the university in purposeful (non-overlapping) ways that help students make meaning.
  • Purposeful Learning - Students would graduate feeling they have tools and skills to do good in the world and to thrive.
  • Access to Learning - We need to more effectively mentor students from marginalized groups so they can take full advantage of learning opportunities.

Specific Ideas

  • Student employees in Student Affairs are a key place that we can facilitate learning.
  • Embrace Universal Design for learning.
  • Workshops to build student social capital and increase their communication skills.
  • More intentional connect “theme” dorms to academics.
  • Every student should have access to a paid internship before graduating.
  • Creating professional mentorship programs for credit.
  • Support staff in teaching more wellness courses.
  • Standardize and require service learning participation.
  • University 101 for  four years.
  • If we truly believe in educating tomorrow’s change makers, we need to provide space for them to prototype what they care about, to practice living out their values, and reflect on how this feels. What are the rotational experiences that all students should have during their time at Stanford?  Study Abroad?  What else?
  • Have a "future orientation" that helps students not be fearful of life after Stanford.
  • Innovative coaching and learning resources.
  • Workplace field trips and/or employer/alum visits in classes.
  • Create an app that could guide each student per year of school.
  • Classes or seminars on national/international “hot topics” and how they are playing out on campus.
  • Find opportunities for near-peer mentorship.
  • Build a toolkit for professional staff.
  • A platform for students to synthesize their learning
  • Create a list of all integrated learning experiences that exist now.
  • Student-led courses.
  • Fewer programs, more learning.
  • Online courses from Student Affairs.
  • Study abroad and conference talk-backs from students.
  • Build in opportunities for reflection.
  • Creating mentoring relationships.
  • Interdisciplinary projects and events to showcase the connection between education and work.
  • Navigate career plans.
  • Develop soft skills.
  • Fund more staff at community centers to support a “theory to practice” model.
  • Financial literacy opportunities.

House in Order Input

  • Easy to Navigate Systems and Resources - Students would know about the resources available and have help choosing the ones that are best for them.  In addition, we need to train staff more fully on the  inner workings of the division so that staff can navigate our internal systems.
  • Timely Response 
  • Resource Allocation -  Review the allocation of resources throughout Student Affairs and ensure equitable support for each unit.
  • Infrastructure - We are lacking infrastructure.  We need to examine how to build a collective tech infrastructure so we have appropriate support and oversight.  Also, this will allow us to more effectively and efficiently support students.
  • Assessment - We need alignment and transparency in what we are measuring and what we are finding.
  • Staff Support - Some staff report feeling overworked, unseen and under-resourced.  Some staff report working in an environment of inequality and fear.
  • Communication, Clarity and Transparency - Information would be shared widely, policies would be clear.  Develop more effective communication strategies to get information to students and from students also to staff and from staff. 
  • Shared Student Development Model Based on Four Areas of Our Most Important Work - More centralization of student milestones for points of outreach to provide more opportunities for learning and engagement.
  • Shared Divisional Expectations and Purpose - Clarify role of units and AVP areas to align with larger purpose.  Establish expectations of division and unit leadership to foster healthy organizational environment.