Diversity Among Student Affairs Technology Collaboration Experiences

Next year’s NASPA conference is in Chicago which is only a few hours away. For that conference, I have proposed a panel discussion of student affairs and IT collaborations.  One of the (self-imposed) primary requirements for this panel is that the panelists should have a diverse set of experiences.  But how does one define that?  To put it another way, what am I looking for in these panelists when I say that they should be “diverse?”

When discussing diversity between institutions, several common measures or characteristics often arise (at my research shop we call these and other common characteristics “the usual suspects” since we use them in so many of our analyses): the various Carnegie Classifications, governance/sector (public or private), geographic region, urbanicity, and selectivity.  We could view our panel as diverse if they have experiences from a broad number of different categories listed above.  It stands to reason that many or all of those characteristics may have an impact on how student affairs staff collaborate with technology professionals.  For example, many of those characteristics are related to institutional wealth which surely affects how units on campus collaborate.  It may be easier for wealthier campuses to employ more specialized personnel (e.g. hire more technical staff in the student affairs units rather than depend on or collaborate with other technology units).

It might also be valuable to judge the diversity of the panel by their experiences.  This, of course, brings us further down the rabbit hole because now we have to define what we mean by “diverse experiences.”  One approach that seems to have been useful and practical was to ask what kind of collaborations potential panelists had experienced and categorize those experiences.  Some had experienced a collaboration focused on a single large project.  Others had regularly collaborated with technology professionals on projects large and small as part of their regular, assigned job responsibilities.  And others have experienced collaborations primarily as ad hoc adventures as the department’s most technology-savvy employee.

Similarly, it may also be worthwhile to consider the professional roles or job responsibilities of the potential panelists.  As mentioned above, some have little or no technology component in their formal job responsibilities.  Some have technology management, oversight, or planning as part of their job portfolio.  Finally, some are technology professionals with IT project management or implementation in their position description.

Finally, we might look at the technology professionals with whom the collaboration(s) occurred.  Collaborations with departmental colleagues, student affairs technology professionals, and central IT professionals likely differ in many interesting and important ways.

So what did I do?  It might be fun to say that I carefully analyzed the above dimensions and came up with a panel that represents as many of these dimensions as possible and practical.  But the reality is that I graciously accepted nearly all of the Technology Knowledge Community members who volunteered to assist in any way.  As we moved through the process of broadly brainstorming ideas through drafting the format of the program and finally to drafting the program proposal, volunteers bowed out, found other programs or projects to work on, or simply disappeared.  In the end I was left with a core group of dedicated and experienced professionals who will make an incredible panel.  When I looked at all of the above dimensions of diversity I was pleasantly surprised to see that the panel named in the proposal is indeed quite diverse.

I am very hopeful that this proposal will be accepted and you will be able to benefit from the experiences of these wonderful professionals.  The process of putting together the proposal was very useful and interesting as it forced me to consider all of the ideas above (and more!) as I sought to put together a diverse panel.  Student affairs professionals often speak of diversity as a value and desirable goal and it’s always worthwhile to consider that idea in different contexts.