From Disciplinarian to Change Agent: How the Civil Rights Era Changed the Roles of Student Affairs Professionals
Gaston-Gayles, Joy L.
Wolf-Wendel, Lisa E.
Tuttle, Kathryn Nemeth
Twombly, Susan B.
Berkley Electronic Press
Scholarly/refereed, author accepted manuscript
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Little has been written about the roles and functions of student affairs administrators during the civil rights era. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine how the civil rights era influenced the student affairs profession, paying particular attention to the roles played by student affairs administrators in relation to students, other administrators, and the community. A secondary analysis was conducted based on interviews with 18 student affairs professionals who served on a variety of college campuses during the civil rights era, primarily from the 1950s through the 1970s. Our findings suggest that these administrators took on roles such as educator, advocate, mediator, initiator, and change agent in order to effectively and efficiently resolve issues that arose on their campuses as a result of the civil rights era and the student protest movement. Colleges and universities have been the battleground for many important civil rights concerns, and many authors have chronicled student social movements of this era (Adelman, 1972; Altbach, 1973; Strauss & Howe, 1997). In both northern and southern colleges and universities, integration of African Americans into higher education was a slow and difficult process (Clark, 1993; Cohodas, 1997; Exum, 1985). Once on campus, African American students had to deal with segregation in all types of out-of-class domains including housing, cafeterias, social activities, organized student groups (including athletics, fraternities, and sororities), availability of scholarships, on-campus and off-campus jobs, and access to barber shops and beauty parlors. Student affairs administrators were in the middle of this battlefield and played a key role in representing student demands to the administration and sometimes advocating for change to occur (Clark, 1993; Laliberte, 2003; Tuttle, 1996). Simultaneously, the presidents of many college and university campuses expected the student affairs staff to represent the institutions’ views to the students and to mete out discipline to students who failed to follow the campus rules. These conflicting demands—the desire to support students and the desire to be seen as effective administrators—put many student affairs administrators in precarious positions (Nichols, 1990). Nevertheless, student affairs professionals in the civil rights era served as communication links between the administration and students and experienced enhanced status and advancement to higher administrative positions. In the process, their experiences exerted considerable influence on the student affairs profession itself. By examining the stories of student affairs administrators, we learn firsthand how the civil rights era affected the profession. This article provides a glimpse into civil rights struggles on campus as seen through their eyes. Unfortunately, little has been written about the roles and functions of student affairs administrators during the civil rights era. One study by Crookston and Atkyns (1974) found that during the period of unrest in the 1960s, many senior student affairs officers left their positions. They also concluded that during this period student affairs administrators became known as crisis managers, and most colleges and universities elevated the chief student affairs officer from dean to vice president. In recent research that examined student affairs during the turbulent years of 1968-1972, Laliberte (2003) 1 confirmed the crisis manager and student advocate roles of student affairs administrators. For the purpose of this article, a secondary analysis of the data collected for the book Reflecting Back, Looking Forward: Civil Rights and Student Affairs (Wolf-Wendel et al., 2004) was conducted to examine how the civil rights era influenced the student affairs profession, paying particular attention to the roles played by student affairs administrators in relation to students, other administrators, and the community. The book told the stories of individuals in first person narrative form; however, this article focuses specifically on how participation during the civil rights era affected the profession itself.
Gaston-Gayles, J., Wolf-Wendel, L., Twombly, S., Ward, K & Tuttle, K. (2005). From disciplinarian to change agent: How the civil rights era changed the roles of student affairs professionals. NASPA Journal, 42(3), 263-282.
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