The Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) program in the Department of Educational Leadership is committed to creating a learning environment for its students that focuses on equity and inclusion. HESA embraces the lived experiences of students from historically marginalized communities such as BIPOC, across all religions, LGBTQIA+, disabilities, and gender identities or expressions.
Tania Flores, a current student, feels that the HESA program does a great job of incorporating equity and inclusion into the classroom and beyond. A better understanding of equity in practice, she says, has helped her think about her pedagogy and the kind of practitioner she would like to become one day. She says she believes that equity and inclusion are frameworks meant to be practiced and lived every day.
“When we think about the issues of equity and inclusion, it is necessary that we do not relegate them to checklist items and instead conceptualize them as integral parts of the work that we are trying to implement every day within the program,” Flores says. “Our professors do a great job at that. It is not something that ever feels like it is ‘tacked on’; equity and inclusion are a running thread throughout the program.”
HESA also aims to deepen the understanding of equity and inclusion through practical experiences. Practicum and graduate assistantships enable the students to transform knowledge into practice.
“When we think about the issues of equity and inclusion, it is necessary that we do not relegate them to checklist items.”
— Tania Flores, Current HESA Student
Flores was a teaching assistant in the Social Justice Leadership, Equity, and Change Ph.D. course with Dr. Saran Stewart, Associate Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs, and Dr. Frank Tuitt, Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs and Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer. It was an experience Flores calls “transformative.”
“It pushed me to rethink what equity means in practice, not just as a theoretical conception,” she says. “Such an experience allowed me to bring that knowledge into my assistantship and career moving forward.”
‘More Room for Vulnerability’
Shalyn Hopley Malko (she/her/hers, HESA ’20), an alumna of the program and now Academic Success Manager at Clark University, says the HESA program prepared her to engage in equity and inclusion work by emphasizing the importance of engagement with peers in her cohort.
“We all have different lived experiences and identities. Having peers to share those ideas and perspectives makes HESA worthwhile,” she says. “This program helped me take those experiences and put them into a larger context of research.”
The HESA program curriculum fosters collaborative learning enriched with knowledge gained from different life experiences. Students work through the curriculum together with the same cohort of students. Hopley Malko recalls having the cohort as a huge benefit.
“HESA’s structure allowed for a diversity of perspectives that you do not get as a professional, just going about your day-to-day,” she says. “You practice, have an assistantship, and also have your classroom learning. It gives more room for vulnerability, something I think is vital for practitioners with dominant identities who want to engage in equity work.”
“We all have different lived experiences and identities. Having peers to share those ideas and perspectives makes HESA worthwhile. This program helped me take those experiences and put them into a larger context of research.”
— Shalyn Hopley Malko ’20 HESA
Becoming Social Justice Equity Leaders
Another integral element of the HESA program is understanding issues that impact society, how they exist in the U.S. higher education system and institutions, and ways to address them in practice. The faculty at HESA play a vital role in developing leaders who can recognize such inequalities and implement the right policies to dismantle them.
Dr. Stewart (she/her/hers) says that through the HESA program, students become much more attuned with who they are in terms of becoming social justice equity leaders. For her, equity and inclusion in HESA means accepting, nurturing, and supporting students from all backgrounds. Her teaching and research address equity, inclusion, access, critical race theory, and inequities in higher education.
“My research led me to use my capital within higher education as a professor and recenter the voices marginalized within traditional research,” she says. “Equity is providing the resources that the individual needs based on their identities and circumstances. Inclusion is beyond just identities, but their journeys, familial histories, and stories.”
Dr. Stewart also incorporates this mindset in course assignments. For example, she uses analytical self-reflective journals that allow students to use their lived experiences as anchors for knowledge.
“Equity is providing the resources that the individual needs based on their identities and circumstances. Inclusion is beyond just identities, but their journeys, familial histories, and stories.”
— Saran Stewart, Associate Professor, HESA
“We encourage students to bring their whole selves into the learning environment to better understand equity, inclusion, and a lot more. That self-work is essential before they go out into other organizations and do the real work.”
Truth Hunter (she/her/hers, ’14 HESA), current Ph.D. student, is co-instructor for the Structured Dialogue in Student Affairs course. HESA is one of the few programs of its kind that requires a structured dialogue course that focuses on basic approaches to intragroup and intergroup dynamics and implications for personal and educational development of students and student affairs professionals. Truth encourages students, particularly underrepresented students, to develop a scholarly identity, which affirms their intellectual contributions and distinct perspectives in the academy.
“What’s revolutionary about inclusive learning in the intergroup dialogue class is that I am positioned as an instructor to honor what each student brings into the classroom and then think about how the class curriculum can meet students where they are,” she says. “As an educator, I think equity is about removing those barriers that prevent someone from excelling.”