One of my co-workers and I recently returned home from the National Association for Student Professional Administrators #NASPA18 in Philadelpha, PA. This was the first national NASPA that I’ve attended, even though I’ve been a student affairs professional for more than 23 years. As a technologist and technical manager, NASPA was an interesting experience for me. Here are some thoughts on #NASPA18.
NASPA is Political
From the opening session, NASPA presents a strongly political agenda to its membership. This is defined as “public policy” in the NASPA strategic plan. My home “tribe” of EDUCAUSE generally tries to avoid politics and focus on technology, management, and leadership. While I might agree or disagree with points of the agenda, I’ve always been taught that as higher education administrators, we should stay neutral in our political views when dealing with students in order to train them how to think and form their own opinions rather than co-opt others.
NASPA is Super-Multicultural
As a straight white male, I was definitely in the minority at this conference. Not necessarily a bad thing, but the politics of multiculturalism run strong in the threads of the conference and organization. I personally believe that the essence of being truly multi-cultural is to not focus on our attributes but on our character. In my experience, when one does this, cultural differences tend to disappear. NASPA tends to push multi-cultural differences to the forefront, almost to the point of absurdity. For example, during one of the plenary sessions, half an hour was devoted to asking the indigenous people of the region for permission to hold the conference on their land. Apparently, this is a tradition at NASPA. I wonder if any of the landowners have ever said “no?”
NASPA Values Technology
The conference had a technology track, but what NASPA considers technology is a little different than what IT professionals may think. Most members equate technology with social media, and while this is an aspect of what student affairs professionals do, it’s certainly not the totality nor even representative of what IT does. This attitude in practice is a little surprising considering the fourth strategic goal of NASPA is technology:
Goal 4: Provide leadership for student affairs in integrating existing and emerging technologies.
4.1 Develop knowledge of technologies that enhance the student experience, increase quality, and create administrative efficiencies in student affairs.
4.2 Increase capacity and develop programs to create meaningful engagement and learning about emerging and existing technologies in student affairs.
4.3 Cultivate strategic alliances to advance technological solutions and enhancements that support excellence in practice.
4.4 Implement technologies to increase member engagement, learning, and association effectiveness.
It is because of this fourth goal that I think there is fertile ground for IT to make in-roads at NASPA. Some areas for presentation proposals next year are “Learn to Speak Geek: A Common Vocabulary to Use with IT”, “Project Management for Student Affairs Professionals”, “Co-Opting IT to Help You with Student Assessment”, and “Communicating Business Value: Finding New Technologies to Support Your Work.”
I think NASPA needs what we have, and if we create strategic partnerships with them, we can increase our influence and reputations. If we are able to get over our discomfort at the characteristics of the organization, we may have something to teach them.