- Developing Multicultural Competence for Preparing Student Affairs Professionals Through a Study Away Program
Higher education in the United States is becoming more racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse. Given this increasing diversity, developing multicultural competence for current and preparing student affairs professionals (PSAPs) must become more intentional and clearly articulated within graduate preparation programs and further supported by subsequent, continuous professional development (Pope, Reynolds, & Mueller, 2014). Pope and Reynolds (1997) defined multicultural competence in student affairs as “the awareness, knowledge, and skills necessary to work effectively and ethically across cultural difference” (p. 270). They also highlighted multicultural competence as “a necessary prerequisite to effective, affirming, and ethical work in student affairs” (p. 270). As such, student affairs professionals must continually find ways to become more multiculturally competent as they progress through their careers (for a more detailed overview of multicultural competence and creating multicultural change on campuses, see Pope et al., 2014; Pope & Reynolds, 1997).
Grand Valley State University’s (GVSU’s) Master of Education in Higher Education program uses study abroad experiences to develop multicultural competence for PSAPs. The leaders of the program decided to regroup and brainstorm on ways in which we could continue to emphasize multicultural competence expanding beyond our study abroad and traditional course offerings. The solution was the development of a study away program, which is an experiential learning opportunity with a travel component within the United States. With support from GVSU’s Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center, we developed “Minority-Serving Institutions: History, Culture & Student Affairs.” This course was designed to examine history, culture, and student affairs administration at U.S. minority-serving institutions (MSIs) using an antideficit framework. As such, the course was developed recognizing U.S. MSIs as necessary and critical institutions in U.S. higher education. During the first year, while highlighting all MSIs during the course, we emphasized historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) by visiting Atlanta, Georgia, which provided opportunities for participants to learn more about Atlanta’s six HBCUs and visit local historic and cultural attractions. Ten students participated.
Students participated in three predeparture meetings to prepare for the trip. During the first day, participants were introduced to and discussed the histories of HBCUs. The second [End Page 1056] day included a focus on the U.S. civil rights movement and the role HBCU students played in that movement. To wrap up the predeparture sessions, in pairs, students researched and presented on five of Atlanta’s HBCUs. For many students, these predeparture sessions served as an initial introduction to HBCUs, their roles in U.S. history, and how their histories and traditions might shape student affairs divisions at the institutions. These sessions prepared students for the travel component of the course.
We stayed on the campus of Morehouse College for 10 days. The residential experience was beneficial for students because they had ample opportunities to interact with students, faculty, and staff at Morehouse College and the other local HBCUs. Early in the trip, participants visited the childhood home of Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK), Ebenezer Baptist Church, the MLK National Historic Site, and the Auburn Street Historic District—all activities that highlighted a connection between HBCUs, U.S. history, and the U.S. civil rights movement. Building on these connections, we included a day trip to Birmingham, Alabama, where we visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and 16th Street Baptist Church. By visiting these historic attractions, students saw how HBCUs are a part of U.S. history and U.S. civil rights as HBCUs and their alumni were often part of the history we covered as they visited these sites (e.g., MLK was a graduate of Morehouse College; HBCU students were often involved in and led parts the U.S. civil rights movement).
During the trip, students also heard from three different panels. The first panel included students from Morehouse College, an all-male HBCU. The second panel included students from Spelman College, an all-female HBCU. The final panel included student affairs staff at Morehouse College, who spoke to the reasons they chose to work at an HBCU while highlighting the culture of student...