Check out the highlights from the HESA Program’s latest e-newsletter.
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.”
Check out the highlights from the HESA Program’s latest e-newsletter.
The UConn HESA program is pleased to be participating in ACPA’s Virtual Convention as a whole program this year. Between March 1-17, ACPA 21 will offer a wide variety of educational, scholarly, and networking programs. ACPA21 aims to center attendees’ experience, focusing on building community, dedicated to a strong curriculum, and embracing the future of ACPA’s Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization.
ACPA-College Student Educators International is the leading comprehensive student affairs association that advances student affairs and engages students for a lifetime of learning and discovery. A key focus of ACPA‘s work is the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization, through which the association directs resources, energy, and time toward addressing racial justice in student affairs and higher education around the world. Many of our HESA program faculty have been actively involved in ACPA, including in commissions and communities of practice. Since we signed up for whole-program registration in the fall, our students have also had memberships to ACPA and been able to participate in year-round programming.
Although we are excited for everything that ACPA 21 has to offer, we are particularly enthusiastic about the five programs that were accepted from faculty and students in the HESA program. We have provided a full list of these sessions below. Convention registrants can access all of them, and the other great convention content by logging in with your ACPA account information to the virtual convention platform.
|Session Type||Date & Time||Title||Presenter(s)|
|Research-in-Process||Monday, March 8, 2021, 2:30-3:30pm||The Personal is Professional: Exploring Emerging Student Affairs Professionals’ Intimacies||Ashley N. Robinson, Sade Erinfolami, Tania Flores, & Trevor Madore|
|Research-in-Process||Monday, March 15, 2021; 1:15-2:15pm||Anti-Blackness and the Monolith Construction of Higher Education Latinidad||Luz Burgos-López|
|Convention Program||Monday, March 15, 2021; 3:45-4:45pm||An Institutional Transformation Approach to Recruiting Racially Minoritized Faculty||Milagro Castillo-Montoya, Ashley N. Robinson, Luz Burgos-López, & Jillian Ives|
|Research-in-Process||Tuesday, March 16, 2021; 2:30-3:30pm||Finding Our Voice: Combating Anti-Blackness and COVID-19 in Higher Education.||Saran Stewart, Milagros Castillo-Montoya, Jasmine Sindico, Irvine Peck’s-Agaya, Nicole Hyman, Alquan Higgs, Rachel Wada, & Kiara Ruesta|
|Research & Practice Poster||Supporting Undocumented Immigrants in the Current COVID-19 Era||Kenny Nienhusser, Omar Romandia-Diaz, Kiara Ruesta|
As we reach the end of Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), we want to highlight and celebrate some of our HESA faculty and educational leadership doctoral students’ recent contributions to scholarship, practice, and activism in higher education. Our faculty and students are uplifting Latinx voices and experiences, contributing to the policy and public discourses, and centering, celebrating, and pushing the boundaries of Latinidad in student affairs and higher education.
In this post, we highlight program faculty Dr. Milagros Castillo-Montoya and Dr. Kenny Nienhusser, recent graduate Dr. Joshua Abreu (‘20G), and current Ph.D. student Luz Burgos-López. Though all of their work integrates and spans research, public engagement, service, and activism, we have put specific publications and projects into those categories below. We hope that you will learn more about and engage with their work as we end this month of celebration and uplift, and well beyond.
Castillo-Montoya, M. & Verduzco Reyes, D. (2020) Learning Latinidad: The role of a Latino cultural center service-learning course in Latino identity inquiry and sociopolitical capacity, Journal of Latinos and Education, 19:2, 132-147, DOI: 10.1080/15348431.2018.1480374
Nienhusser, H. K., & Oshio, T. (2020). Postsecondary education access (im)possibilities for undocu/DACAmented youth living with the potential elimination of DACA. Educational Studies, 56(4), 366–388. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131946.2020.1757448
Nienhusser, H. K., & Oshio, T. (2019). Awakened hatred and heightened fears: “The Trump Effect” on the everyday lives of mixed-status families. Cultural Studies « Critical Methodologies, 19(3), 173–183. https://doi.org/10.1177/1532708618817872
While Dr. Nienhusser’s scholarship does focus on undocumented students and about 80% of undocumented immigrants are Latinx, he does not hold this as synonymous to Latinx. In other words, the undocumented community comprises a diverse membership of individuals from a wide array of racial/ethnic identities.
Dr. Nienhusser on the Hablemos de Política podcast. The podcast episode, which is in Spanish, though it did not focus on the U.S. Latinx population, provided an overview of the U.S. higher education system and current issues, including cost of college, international students in US higher education, and undocumented students. The podcast audience is for Spanish-speaking audiences in the US and abroad.
Dr. Joshua Abreu’s article in La Galería magazine, “Gaining Political Power and Losing Bodegas: A Dominican-American Paradox” reflects on community voter engagement in Dominican-American communities, engaging with the tension of increasing voter participation at the same time of increasing gentrification in communities like Washington Heights.
In a recent article in The Crime Report, which was informed by his dissertation research, Dr. Abreu critiques and provides recommendations for criminal justice education. Dr. Abreu highlights the importance of examining instructional equity in Criminal Justice education, “given that about 40 percent of criminal justice degree recipients are either Latinx or Black college students.”
Service and Activism
At UConn, Dr. Nienhusser serves as the faculty director for La Comunidad Intelectual, which is a learning community with a residential community component focused on supporting students who are a member of or have a strong appreciation for the Latinx diaspora.
Ph.D. student Luz Burgos-López is actively involved in activism and community engagement, including founding the online community Non-Black Latinx in Higher Ed: Addressing Antiblackness in Comunidad, the purpose of which is “for non-Black Latinx folx to engage in unpacking our antiblackness in ourselves, our familia, our community, and within our field of higher education.” Luz’s research interests focus on antiblackness in constructions of Latinidad in higher education, and she will also be presenting a scholarly paper titled “The erasure of Blackness and role of Antiblackness in the Construction of Higher Education Latinidad” at the upcoming Association for the Study of Higher Education annual conference.
Luz has also recently co-founded Colectivo Bámbula, a coalition of anti-racist Eduvists cultivating Puerto Rican liberation politics, artistry and scholarship with the intent to re-imagine and honor ancestral knowledge and work towards the decolonization of the past, present and future.
Long before Brenna Turer (HESA ‘19) found her path in UConn’s Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) master’s program, she knew she would work in education. As an undergraduate at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, she earned her English/Language Arts teaching certificate and was planning to become a middle or high school teacher. At the same time, she worked as a resident assistant (RA) on campus and found herself increasingly drawn to working with students outside of the traditional teaching role.
Upon completing her bachelor’s degree, she decided to follow that growing passion and took a position as a Hall Director at High Point University in North Carolina. That role solidified her desire to pursue student affairs as a career, and so she began to apply for graduate programs. “I wanted a program that would let me continue my practice and also gain the theoretical grounding that would help me support students in all areas of learning,” says Turer. The UConn HESA program, she decided, was just that program.
The most rewarding part of the HESA program, says Turer, has been the relationships she’s built. For her graduate assistantship, she works in UConn Residential Life as an Assistant Residence Hall Director.
“There are some RAs I’ve been supervising since my first semester here at UConn,” says Turer. “I’m so fortunate to get to work and learn with them. A lot of them are getting these awesome jobs or applying to graduate programs themselves now. I feel lucky to be a part of that growing process.”
She also emphasizes the importance of the relationships she’s formed within HESA. “I came in thinking that my faculty advisor, Dr. Castillo-Montoya, would really be the only person I could go to,” she says. “She’s been amazing, but there’s also support all around; other members of my cohort, other faculty members, and practicum supervisors. It’s been especially great to be on the student end of things again, sharing class time with other HESA students.”
Graduate school is not without its challenges, but Turer says she’s managed to learn from the difficult parts. “There was new leadership in my residential area this year, and change can be challenging when you’re working with a group of people,” says Turer. “I learned how to advocate for my students and their voices, and also to help them be open to the change themselves.” As a student and practitioner at the same time, she faces diverse demands on her time that make balance and prioritization key. “A student in a previous HESA cohort once told me, ‘whatever you do, find your people,’” says Turer. “Sometimes it can be hard to find time to spend with ‘my people’–my partner, my friends–but it’s so important. I love going hiking on the weekends, visiting different breweries, just going on adventures.”
Turer’s advice to incoming HESA students is keep things in perspective. “HESA is such a fantastic community and it’s easy to get so wrapped up in the day-to-day, but sometimes you need to remember that there’s life outside of HESA,” says Turer. “Get off campus sometimes; remember that this is one of many parts of your life.” She also highlights the importance of finding your own way in the world of student affairs.
“You don’t always have to follow the ‘typical’ student affairs path; there are so many different paths you can take!” says Turer. “Know who you are, trust yourself, try not to compare yourself to others, and it will all work out.”
UConn’s Department of Educational Leadership (EDLR) offers a rich and diverse curriculum that prepares both undergraduate and graduate students to be educational leaders in our ever-changing world. The “Courses and Curriculum” series highlights innovative courses within EDLR’s catalog that are changing the education game for the better.
The Department of Educational Leadership’s (EDLR) master’s program in Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) boasts a robust curriculum that prepares students to be well-rounded and reflective student affairs practitioners. EDLR 5105: Structured Group Dialogue in Student Affairs is both an innovative and integral part of the HESA curriculum, giving students a space to consider how dialogue, and intergroup dialogue specifically, can be a tool to explore their own racial identity and socialization, as well as the identities and processes of socialization of others. Students in the course are continually asked to reflect on the personal, professional, and educational implications of their learning. These insights and processes help the students learn how to dialogue with others who have varying perspectives given their own identities and socialization– a much-needed process on college campuses today.
Students in EDLR 5105 engage in dialogue with each other as an entire class as well as in smaller, intra-class groups. One of the major aspects of the course is the Intergroup Collaboration Project (ICP), which, as the closing project for the course, encourages action as a result of learning. Students work alongside their cohort members in assigned groups to create visual representations of their learning, specifically around race and intergroup dialogue in student affairs practice. Through the ICP projects, students dialogue across differences to arrive at an understanding of that year’s selected theme: in 2016, the theme was “allyship;” in 2017 it was “social responsibility;” and in 2018 it was “disrupting race talk.” These visual representations are then shared with the larger UConn community in the form of a HESA Gallery Walk, which engages the larger UConn community in dialogue about race and higher education.
The course is co-taught by Dr. Milagros Castillo-Montoya (she/her/hers) and Danielle DeRosa (she/her/hers). It was Castillo-Montoya who lead the charge several years ago to update HESA’s existing groups-based course. As part of her research on teaching in higher education, she had begun to explore intergroup dialogue, and in the winter of 2015 she was part of a six-person UConn delegation that attended the University of Michigan’s intergroup dialogue training program. Upon her return, she worked with the department chair to incorporate her valuable training into the course, which was first offered in its renovated form in the fall of 2016. The course, which follows the University of Michigan model, is co-taught by design: its two instructors have different social identities which are aligned with focus of the course. In UConn HESA’s case, the central focus of the course is race.
The course is divided into four phases: Forming and Building Relationships, Exploring Differences and Commonalities of Experience, Exploring and Dialoguing About Contentious Issues, and Alliance Building and Social Responsibility. In each phase, says DeRosa, students are both learners and teachers: “My favorite part of teaching this course is learning with and from our students. Students in the HESA program think deeply about the ways in which college campuses can be more inclusive. As a community, we are each able to contribute from our own unique perspectives and lived experiences.”
Castillo-Montoya reaffirms the importance of bringing one’s unique identities and experiences to the course. “My lived experience as a Latina, first-generation college graduate from a low-income background informs my teaching of this course. So does my research expertise in teaching and learning in higher education,” says Castillo-Montoya. “From these experiences, I understand that the content of the course isn’t something ‘out there’ to be learned; it is inside each of us as we unpack our own assumptions and understandings about ourselves, others, and society relative to race. Then we can consider how those things impact our practice”
For DeRosa, her experience working with Husky Sport, a campus-community partnership between UConn and a community in the North End of Hartford, has been important to her ability to complexly and responsibly co-teach this course. “I have had to examine my own positionality as a white woman engaged in work in a neighborhood mostly comprised of people of color. I’ve had to do a lot of the work that we are asking our students to do in the course, and this is work that I continue to invest in; the process of learning about and unlearning our own socialization never ends. It can be helpful to share the journey of understanding my own racial identity as I connect with students.”
Kayla Moses (she/her/hers, HESA ‘20), a student in the course this past fall, says she has learned a great deal about the impact of socialization and the power of her identity. “Within the context of this course, I became more aware of how the world around us, along with our personal stories, can impact the way that we think and develop,” says Moses. “I became more aware of my position as a woman of color and how that has affected my learning. This course allowed me to not only expand my understanding of how my identity can help me relate to my current and future students of color, but also to realize that sharing the load with white peers and colleagues is the only way that this work can be done effectively.”
Fellow student Steven Feldman (he/him/his, HESA ‘20) says that the course opened his eyes to important differences between one-on-one and group dialogue. “In one-on-one conversations, it is more difficult to avoid or disengage from conversations about race, but in group conversations, it is easier to fall into racialized scripts of behavior,” says Feldman. “When this happens, white folks like me tend to stay silent either because we do not feel like we have the tools to talk about race yet or because we are experiencing the discomfort of talking about race. This course challenged me to reflect on my identities and consider the consequences of my words and behaviors in group contexts.”
Castillo-Montoya and DeRosa, who just completed their third year teaching this course together, say it was their best co-teaching semester yet. Along with several of their students, they recently presented on the course at the 2019 ACPA (College Student Educators International) Annual Convention in Boston, Massachusetts. “Having this course makes UConn HESA one of only a handful of programs in the country that includes education on intergroup dialogue as part of their curriculum for future higher education and student affairs practitioners,” says Castillo-Montoya. “Practitioners in the field are increasingly competent in social justice and inclusion, and we want our graduates to be well prepared for their work with diverse students on diverse college campuses.”
“EDLR as a department has supported the development of this course from the outset,” says department head Dr. Jennifer McGarry. “We sent several faculty members to participate in the intergroup dialogue training at the University of Michigan, supported time and space to share about that experience, and encouraged the faculty who took part to integrate their learning with other opportunities to study, participate in, and lead dialogue about race. EDLR is committed to the course, the instructors, and the students: we see this teaching and learning as integral to who we are and what we value.” EDLR 5105 aligns with the Department of Educational Leadership’s mission to “inspire and cultivate innovative leaders for positive change” and Neag’s mission to develop leaders dedicated to improving education for all. The Department of Educational Leadership is proud to have talented teachers such as Dr. Milagros Castillo-Montoya and Danielle DeRosa doing the important work of opening and deepening dialogue on college campuses and beyond.
Alfredo Ramirez (HESA ‘19) didn’t begin his undergraduate career thinking he would eventually pursue a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs. But thanks to his undergraduate experience at Montclair State University, Ramirez realized he had a passion for the field. As an undergraduate, he was actively involved in a host of student clubs and organizations such as residential life, student government, student programming, the student leadership office, and many more. These experiences led Ramirez to his current path in UConn’s Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) master’s program.
Ramirez has a busy schedule in the HESA program, including coursework, a faculty-led mentorship, and a graduate assistantship. In his assistantship for the Department of Student Activities-Leadership and Organizational Development, Ramirez works one-on-one with UConn students as they complete their undergraduate experience and transition into the next phase of their lives. “I enjoy getting to support my students and watching their growth as leaders from day one of the semester to the last day of the year. There is a special component of watching some of my students graduate and prepare to take the next steps in their journey, and it means so much to me that they allow me to be a part of their journey,” says Ramirez.
Balancing school and the rest of his life can be a challenge, says Ramirez. At the end of the day, though, Ramirez is thankful for the opportunity to build relationships with other members of his HESA cohort and to improve himself as a professional in this field. Ramirez says that his HESA cohort, faculty, and his advisor Dr. Castillo-Montoya have been an enormous source of support, in school and beyond, as well as his family, fiancee, and friends.
While the majority of his time is dedicated to HESA, Ramirez makes sure to spend time with friends and family. Originally from New Jersey, Ramirez enjoys exploring New England’s unique attractions: watching the Red Sox at Fenway Park, eating an authentic lobster roll, and visiting local breweries. Ramirez’s favorite local spot is the popular diner the Cosmic Omelette in Manchester, CT. Ramirez also enjoys baking, reading, and theatre. Nevertheless, says Ramirez, “it’s important to come back to these little things– they ground you.”
To prospective HESA students, Ramirez notes that graduate school is not easy: “In order to really learn, you have to know that you want to come here. You have to really want it– it can’t just be for fun.” Ramirez likens graduate school to being behind the scenes at an amusement park: “when you step from a student leadership position out of undergrad into a masters student affairs program, you go from being a participant of all the great things a park has to offer to the person who is making the decisions which can be a tough transition for folks. The process though is worth it.”
When faced with challenges, Ramirez urges students to keep an open mind in all areas of their personal and professional lives. “Navigating the system can be difficult at times,” he says. “It’s important to maintain your own sense of self and allow your personal values to flourish in the many relationships you will build.” Ramirez reminds students to “not be afraid to change or ask yourself questions. This is what grad school is all about.”
For Denée Jackson (HESA ‘19), pursuing a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs was a natural choice. As an undergraduate student at UConn, she was deeply involved in campus organizations such as the African American Cultural Center and her sorority. This involvement led her to first an internship and then, upon graduation, a staff position in the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life. The opportunity to work with college-age students, says Jackson, is one she cherishes.
“Universities are where magic happens,” says Jackson. “Students are figuring out who they are, how they want to change their world, what they want to do with their little slice of the universe; it’s really cool to be a part of that.”
In the university setting and outside of it, Jackson is dedicated to pursuing equity and uplifting the most marginalized populations. One challenging aspect while she’s in school full-time is balancing her studies with her desire to do community organizing and other activist work. “I’ve had to put some of that on hold for now, at least outside of UConn,” says Jackson. “But I’m always trying to educate myself and stay up to date on social issues.”
One of Jackson’s most rewarding experiences as a HESA student was her practicum last fall with ScHOLA2RS House, which is a learning community for Black men on campus. The HESA practicum program gives HESA students the opportunity to gain experience with effective facilitation and the design of intentional learning environments. For Denée’s fall 2018 practicum she mentored a group of students in ScHOLA2RS House, connecting with them regularly to make sure they had the resources they needed. A highlight, says Jackson, was going with her students to the annual conference of the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C. She enjoyed the practicum so much that she’s stayed connected: for spring break this semester she will be joining ScHOLA2RS House for a study abroad week in Brazil.
Through Jackson’s successes as a student, life has not always been easy. Her mother, who she describes as her “biggest cheerleader and advocate,” passed away in November of 2018. “It’s going to be a challenge going into this next semester without her,” says Jackson. “But I have my brother and my dad, I have my friends.” The HESA community has been there for her, too. “Faculty, staff, my supervisors, my cohort,” she says. “They helped ground me and remember that there are bigger things beyond
grades, beyond HESA. They’ve been really supportive.”
Jackson’s current goal for her upcoming final semester (and beyond) is balance. “I’m working on looking at my life and my well-being holistically,” she says. “I’m trying to feed my soul on all levels. Cooking, going to the gym, doing yoga, meditating, travel: it can all seem like a stressor when I’m busy, but then when I do it, I find it helps so much. It becomes a pillar.”
As a HESA student, Jackson likes being able to design her experience to suit her goals. Many students move directly into their careers after completing a HESA master’s program, but Jackson is pursuing a different path: she plans to begin a doctoral program after graduation.
“There’s a path that’s sometimes considered to be ‘typical’ student affairs, but if your interests don’t align with that, it’s okay,” she says. “There are lots of ways to pursue what you’re interested in, and people will support you along the way.”