In January 2016, the Office of Student Advocacy was founded, in the words of President Papp, in order to “address student concerns regarding campus civility, student welfare and other issues that may compromise the culture of belonging at KSU.” The purpose of the Office of Student Advocacy is to serve as a critical component in upholding values of the institutional mission. The office is a space where students can come to share concerns and matters that are important to them and find resources available to them for making a change.
I decided to interview Nicole Phillips, the head of the office. Ms. Phillips plays the part of an impartial party who listens to students, gives them advice and honest feedback based on the situations that affect them, and makes informal inquiries to provide referrals and service to students. If you haven’t already had the pleasure of meeting her, she has worked at KSU for 12 years in the Department for Student Development as the assistant director of the multicultural student retention services, and as the associate and interim director of student development. Among her most notable contributions to KSU is her starting of the African American Male Initiative Program at KSU in 2005.
Short-Term & Long-Term Goals
As of right now, Ms. Phillips is trying to engage in discussions with students about what they think in relation to topics like civility, empowerment, social justice, and bias. It is also important to gather information from students about “day to day concerns that students have. What are the things as an institution that we are doing well?… [How do we] determine if there’s really a flaw or if there’s a disconnect and how do we help make sense of KSU?”
The long-term goal that Nicole Phillips is working on is to make sure that the mission and values of KSU’s student culture are clear, so that people understand what is tolerated and what is not. “A lot of college students have a commonly known creed, or a code of civility. So that’s something I’m looking at exploring more so with the student body: looking at what exists right now that truly reflects the study body and where our thoughts are.”
Communication Through Student Advocacy
As we take into consideration technology and the way people communicate today, we must also take notice of potential situations for disaster. On social media and the internet, students are becoming more micro-aggressive or saying things “on the slick” to offend others. However, this causes gaps in communication and hurts people’s feelings. During my conversation, Ms. Phillips and I discussed the current state of student activism on college campuses, much of which stems from movements like #BlackLivesMatter and incidents at the University of Missouri (Mizzou). I learned about http://www.thedemands.org/, a website where student activists from a various colleges and universities throughout the country have posted their demands for their respective college administrations. KSU is among the many institutions present on that website.
Current Issues & Situations for Changes
Students are the heart and soul of a thriving university. However, some of the issues that students see may not be noticed by the faculty and staff, even though we look to them for guidance. So how do we get the perspectives of mind (faculty and staff) and heart (students) to see the same issues and create impact and change for the body of the university? Some of the things that Nicole has noticed in her interactions with students is that they want to have more quality relationships with their faculty members outside of the classroom, that the financing of education is always an issue, and that there is a difference between the values and community feel between the two campuses.
It is also importance of paying attention to social media and the news as it relates to diversity and social justice to understand the trends and current issues in society. As member of the university, whether you’re a student, faculty, or staff, it is key that we stay on top of trending topics and know what is happening in our society that could affect the culture of our campus.
What About Bias?
Now, when it comes to handling sensitive situations and sharing our opinions on those trending topics we all have bias. Bias stems from our background, our gender, our beliefs, ethical values, and our personal life experiences. Ms. Phillips admits that she has bias related to her experiences as a woman of color of size. “I have to transcend those things, be aware of it, but also hear the whole [situation]. It’s not my job to play judge and jury to anything but to really hear what is happening, consider all the pieces and players, and consider the resources.” A significant part of the goals that Nicole Phillips has within the office of student advocacy is to get others to be aware of their bias, to know them, and accept them but to be able to also listen and try to understand the opinions of others.
Diversity Is Welcome
There are several ways to get involved with the Office of Student Advocacy for Fall 2016-Spring 2017 like the CivOWLity groups on both campuses. The application to join is on Owl Life under the “forms” tab on the Office of Student Advocacy page. The deadline is September 2, 2016. ALL students are eligible to apply.
For more information or to contact Nicole Phillips:
Office Phone: 470-578-3546
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Office Location: Marietta Campus, Wilson Student Center, Suite 230
Owl Life page: https://owllife.kennesaw.edu/organization/studentadvocacy