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Beyond “Mom & Dad:” Using a Gender Inclusive Approach to Family Engagement

We are fast approaching that time of year when we begin welcoming and onboarding new students and their families. In the world of family engagement, this can mean that we are deep in planning out our communication strategies or are planning events like family orientation and family weekend. As we continue planning and implementing our initiatives, it’s important to take a pause to ensure that our approach is inclusive and welcoming to all members of our community. One way to do this is to utilize gender inclusive strategies in how we communicate to families and how we implement events. 

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DEI Legislation Across the Country

It feels like I come to work almost every day and learn about new bills that members of state legislatures are proposing or are going into effect that seek to limit the work that is being done to make colleges and universities more inclusive (see a map of what is happening in each state published by the Chronicle of Higher Education). This is an assault on the work that so many institutions do to help both students and employees feel that they belong. It also sends messages telling people who are not part of the majority population that they are not equal. This form of government action makes me think of times when this country treated people as less than and codified it into laws. Think of the Japanese internment camps, Jim Crow, the treatment of Native Americans, and Supreme Court rulings. To retain control of the narrative on our campuses, legislation is proposed or passed that identifies what can and cannot be taught. DEI is the current target. 

AHEPPP recognizes the effect these policies have on our members and colleagues. DEI work is hard. It is emotional, stressful and takes a great deal of time to make just the slightest difference. But it is vital to help make our institutions, workplaces, communities, and country more welcoming. Yes, guilt is going to be involved. It comes from learning how to be a better person. So, when a state legislature enacts a bill that says topics cannot be discussed that will make one group feel guilty, they are more worried about people realizing what has been done in the past than they are about what can be done in the future. This affects how people do their jobs, many of whom work at public institutions that are in states that are enacting these laws. I am sure there is a lot of soul searching for those who are in these situations. And some might say that you should get a job in a state that is more welcoming. But it is not always that simple. In addition to the complications of the job search process, there are so many other implications to consider, such as family needs, pay and affordability of housing. It is not always feasible. So, they continue to do the work where they are. 

As a new member of AHEPPP (I joined in 2022) and a new member of the Equity, Belonging and Inclusion Council, it is good to see that the professional organization is looking to think critically about the impact legislation has on its membership and reinforce its commitment to being inclusive. Members of the EBI Council were engaged in discussions about where future conferences could be held, and the impact location has on member participation. These discussions are also being had at the Board leadership level as well, prompting a focus to develop materials to better guide venue decisions for the organization moving forward. I encourage you to complete the recently distributed Climate Survey. Our intention is to better understand membership perspectives on how we are living up to our commitment to be an inclusive organization for professionals that work with family members? And the EBI Council is also discussing how we may support our members who live and work in states where this type of legislation is in effect. It does not look like these trends are going away any time soon. This may sound like a promotion for what AHEPPP is doing. But it is important for people to know that ALL its members are supported and that they are seen and heard. These are challenging times for many people in higher education. But we can work through it by being aware of what is happening and supporting each other. We all need to!

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Reflecting on the Diversity of the December Holiday Season

Originally Posted on December 6, 2019 by Lona Davenport, updated November 29, 2021

December is here, and traditionally in the U.S. that means it’s time for all things merry and jolly. December can be a joyful time, as there is a convergence of festivities and traditions to celebrate this “holiday season.” There also tends to be a heavy focus around Christmas as the pivotal religious holiday and cultural event. In a U.S. society where about 70% of the population identifies as Christian (Public Religion Research Institute [PRRI], 2021), and where a large focus centers on Christmas, how can we recognize and honor other religious and secular holidays that coexist? How do we create spaces, events, and policies that are sensitive to various identities, observances, belief systems, and worldviews?
This article shares ways we can reflect on this topic, helping us move toward a more inclusive December holiday season, as well as a more inclusive campus climate that supports diverse religious identities.

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Don’t Forget About Spring & Summer Enrollees & their Families

The spring semester brings about new beginnings for students and their families. In the previous semester, incoming students may feel more acclimated to their surroundings, have a better sense of support resources and services, and may have met lots of new diverse people both in class and through on-campus social events. It’s important that we ensure that all students and their families feel that same sense of belonging and acclimation in every enrollment period each year.

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Summer Professional Development - The Future of Student Affairs

During the academic year, I struggle to make time for “learning” in the sense of professional development. What I have started to do, to address this gap, is create a folder on my desktop of reports or research projects I want to read in the summer. Even with orientation commitments, I am better able to block off a little time in my schedule to advance my knowledge of the work we do but reading about the great work and research of others.

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We are Family

In the 1980s, pop group Sister Sledge came out with a chart-topping single “We Are Family”. The song became an unofficial gay anthem, played and enthusiastically danced to in clubs catering to LGBTQIA+ populations (although, at the time, “gay” and sometimes “lesbian” were the only commonly used descriptors). The phrase, “, are they family?” became insider code to help identify community members. 

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Supporting Student Parents

Since the creation of our Parent and Family office at Ohio State in 2009, we have focused primarily on the parents and families of our undergraduate students. Though our email communications and programs like Family Weekend and Sibs and Kids weekend are open to everyone, our mission has centered on our “traditionally” aged 18–22-year-old undergraduate students and their families. Obviously, this focus makes sense at Ohio State as we have 44,000+ undergraduate students on our Columbus campus, families who want to be engaged and limited office resources. We have engaged graduate and professional students in some capacity at events like Family Weekend and Sibs and Kids Day, but this has been secondary to our overall focus.

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Fall 2021 Presidential Update

Dear Valued AHEPPP Member,

For the first time in two years, your AHEPPP Board of Directors met in person for a two-day retreat in Raleigh, NC last week. After the hugs and excited greetings, we dove into work and discussed in depth the growth of our association, needs of our members, and our plan for 2022 and beyond.

As many of you have shared, 2021 was, in many ways, even more difficult than 2020. Along with navigating the continued impact of COVID on your campuses, there have been more incidences targeting our Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) community in both professional and personal spaces. Some of our members are hurting, and we hear you. 

AHEPPP recognizes the critical need for equity, belonging, and inclusion in our association, work, and lives, and this continues to be a core value of the organization. The language we use -“equity and belonging” as opposed to “diversity” - is intentional and based on feedback from our members and the newly-formed EBI Council (read more in this Insights blog post). The Board of Directors acknowledges that we have a lot of work to do in this area and, though we may make mistakes along the way, we will never stop striving to be a safe, supportive and inclusive space for all of our members. We welcome the hard work that is ahead of us, and invite everyone to be part of the continued conversation. 

A common theme of our discussions last week was the desire for consistent transparency with our membership. In order to do this, we plan to provide the following to our members moving forward: 1) summaries of the Board’s in-person retreats twice a year; 2) targeted Insights Blog posts that explain the work we do; 3) opportunities to connect in a variety of ways with our membership to make sure we are hearing all voices. We also want to encourage our members to familiarize themselves with the association Bylaws, which outline AHEPPP policies and processes, available on the AHEPPP website.

On the heels of two of the most difficult years of our lives, AHEPPP strives to be a space where we can all provide one another grace and support the collective understanding of our work and appreciation for us as professionals and individuals. We are grateful to be in the position to make change alongside you—our members and our friends. 

Please find our December 2021 meeting notes here, including agenda highlights, 2021 successes, and the 2022 work plan.

Thank you, valued AHEPPP member, for your engagement in and support of our association. I’m looking forward to seeing you in the new year!

Chelsea Petree, Ph.D.
AHEPPP President

Membership Spotlight on Ben Williams

Meet Ben Williams Director of Director, New Student Orientation & Family Engagement at Georgia State University. Ben is the Region 3 Chair and a member of the Equity, Belonging & Inclusion Task Force. Ben will also be hosting an AHEPPP family engagement Spring Summit in 2022 in Atlanta.  

How did you become involved with AHEPPP?
When I got my new role at Georgia State, joining AHEPPP was a top priority and when emails came out I said yes! It's been a great experience.

Tell us how you first started in the field of Parent & Family Relations.
I started working in family engagement when I became the Assistant Director of Orientation at Georgia State. It has been a great opportunity to build a program back up and engage with family members across our 6 campuses.

What has surprised you most about working with parents and family members?
The incredible opportunities to build partnerships that help students and families succeed. Some of my favorite interactions start with frustrated families that allow for us to work together to support their students success.

What changes do you think we will see in the field of parent/family relations in the next 5 years?
I think we will need to focus on how family members are important partners in the enrollment, retention, and progression conversations on campus. Leveraging data to tell our stories of how engaging families help us contribute to student success.

When you're not working with parents and families, how do you like to spend your time? 

As a PhD student and dog dad, most of my time is spent with loved ones and in books. I love my work, but know it is crucial to find ways to recharge my batteries.

What is the last book you read?
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

Who inspires you? Why?

I am continually inspired by my mom, even though she is no longer here. She grew up in the geographic center of Texas with dirt floors and went on to do all sorts of wonderful things. In her final years, she was a House Mom for Delta Zeta at Texas State and reminded me each day it is not our experiences, but how we respond that show who we are.

If you had to eat only one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
breakfast....all the pancakes and bacon. :)

What's in a name? Equity, Belonging & Inclusion

What's in a name? As so many of our institutions have been closely examining what equity, belonging and inclusion means on our campuses, the AHEPPP Task Force deliberately chose its name.

Equity is a practice that understands that not all people need exactly the same resources (i.e. equality).  You may have seen the popular drawing (courtesy of Interaction Institute for Social Change” that simply demonstrates the difference between equity and equality. Equity is what the Task Force is striving for in AHEPPP; not that everyone gets the same resources, but that resources meet the needs of the membership and by extension, our students and families.

Why isn’t “access” included in the name?  The Task Force chose the term “belonging”, as the term access does not go far enough.  It is not enough to give our members access to our organization if they cannot utilize the resources.  Similarly, on our campuses, it is not enough for a student from a minority community to gain access to the college through admission.  True belonging indicates that the student gains admission and intentionally has access to the support they will need to be successful. 

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Leaders Wanted

On behalf of the Board of Directors, I am pleased to announce several leadership opportunities available for AHEPPP members.

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Inclusive Practices and Supporting Special Family Populations

I heard a presenter this week that was talking about goal setting. He said to set a big goal and then little goals in order to reach that big goal. I think this is great advice as it pertains many things we do for parents and families especially when talking about race, diversity, inclusion and social justice. 

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Basics to Build Your Racial Injustices PD

Across our personal conversations, social media feeds, and staff meetings, 2020 has loomed large. Between COVID, quarantining, and racial injustices, many days over the last year seemed relentless. For me, with this additional anxiety, I want to find places in my life that I can do something; how can I make this world I am living in slightly better?

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Revisioning the International Student Experience and Family Support

According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), in the 2018–19 academic year, over 1 million international students enrolled in institutions of higher education in the United States.  This number is double the 547,867 students who were enrolled 20 years prior in 2000–01.  It is estimated that international students add over $40 billion to the US economy each year.  Since World War II, the United States has been a top destination for international student enrollment.

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Addressing Anti-racism with Families

Following the murder of George Floyd this summer, our Division of Student Affairs was charged with adding or enhancing anti-racisism work in every department.  For some, such as the Office of Housing and Residential Education, it was not a difficult task, as the department was already doing a marvelous job of comprehensive anti-racism programming and training with Resident Assistants and the on-campus population.

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