Featured Workshop: A Panel of Higher Education Student Affairs Experts #NAISAC

It’s taken me awhile but I have finally gathered my thoughts on one of the highlights of #NAISAC – the Student Affairs Panel. The goal of this workshop was “to have a conversation about creating a culture that lessens the challenges students may carry from K-12 to college.” The session offered a wealth of information and encouraged attendees to keep student wellness in the forefront of all we do in K – 12 schools.


The panel included: Shelia Higgs Burkhalter– Vice President for Student Affairs at University of Baltimore, Cindi Love -Executive Director of American College Personnel Association (ACPA) , Kevin Kruger – President, National Association of Student Personnel Administrators(NASPA), and Zoila Airall, Associate Vice President of Student Affairs for Campus Life -Duke University. The panel moderator was Debra Wilson,  from NAIS

Sexual Assault

Shelia Higgs Burghalter from University of Baltimore began by discussing statistics of sexual assault on college campuses. She shared that  20 – 25% of women and 5.4% of men experience sexual assault while in college and that alcohol is usually involved. Sheila’s message was clear that this is an issue that needs to be addressed because college campuses care about the safety of students. Through explicit education programs, orientation activities, statements in handbooks, and mandatory training for all faculty, students, and staff in Title IX policies, colleges are exploring multiple ways to address this issue. Sheila shared that awareness-building and bystander intervention are keys to preventing sexual assault. In addition, on college campuses, there is always support (resources, crisis centers, counseling) for those who have experienced violence, harassment, and misconduct.  When students report assault, the outcome depends on who he/she reports to — reporting officials (mandatory reporters) vs. confidential advisors. In addition, students must be educated on what “consent” is defined to be in the state that the student is attending college. Consent should never be assumed, and students should also understand that drugs/alcohol have an impact on the capacity to give consent. Silence is also not a form of consent.

What can independent schools do to help?

  • Be sure students know the ways they can intervene if a friend is behaving badly or if they are in a situation where help is needed,
  • Offer education programs through High School counselors or trusted adults.
  • Teach students to trust their instincts.
  • Be sure students understand that they should always have a plan – how are they getting from place to place, what to do in different situations.
  • Share the ways drugs and alcohol impacts decision making.
  • Educate students regarding the male/ female stereotypes.
  • Teach students what “consent” means.  

Diversity and Student Activism

Zoila Airall from Duke University tackled the topic of diversity and student activism on college campuses.  Non-acceptance on college campuses has included violence, hate groups, etc. She explained the challenges of teaching tolerance with facilitating rather than lecturing, to resolve issues and maintain safety and trust. Colleges strive to find effective ways of walking in the middle when there is conflict. She expressed that the challenges are very real in these extraordinary times. Zoila asked the question — are the usual ways of doing things working? What else can we do?

What can independent schools do to help?

  • Begin the dialogue in school, home, churches, youth clubs, long before students go to college.
  • Teach civility and acceptance of differences.
  • Teach about bias and stereotypes.
  • Cultivate ability to work across ideas of identity and ideological differences.
  • Look at climate at your school. Does it support all its members? How has it changed since the current election?


Alcohol and other drugs

Kevin Kruger from NASPA then shared his insight into alcohol and drug use on college campuses where most students are underage. Colleges can play a very active role in the prevention of alcohol and drug abuse. Kevin shared that alcohol and drug consumption is in a slow decline in middle/high schools. While there is similar data at college level, the problem is still severe. 60% of college students report drinking in the past month; two thirds admit that it has been binge drinking. One in four report some sort of academic issue as a result of alcohol use. Kevin also shared the startling statistic that 1800 students a year die in some kind of alcohol related incident. Colleges can’t wait until the problem occurs. Prevention is key. Most universities have an alcohol education course. In addition, colleges are beginning to develop more alternative programming on campuses so that students will have other, safer options.   

What can independent schools do to help?

  • Educate students by developing programming around alcohol and drug related prevention.
  • Have discussions surrounding decision-making in social situations.
  • Stay up to date with the science and education surrounding drug/alcohol prevention.
  • Educate parents on the teenage brain.


Mental Health

Cindi Love from ACPA shared her knowledge and expertise about mental health, student well-being, resiliency, and grit. Mental health issues have increased significantly – 60-80% of students with mental illness develop it around the time of transition to college. Statistically 1 in 4 18-24 year olds have a diagnosable mental illness and more than 25% of college students have been treated by a mental health professional in the past year. Students cite depression and anxiety as chief impediments to academic success. Schools emphasize the critical need for mental health training, suicide prevention, peer-run mental health support, walk-in centers, 24 hour crisis hotlines, comprehensive referrals to outside services, etc. These issues of student mental health usually begin before students arrived on campus, and the majority of these students do not self-report. Cindi shared that college students need these key things: unconditional support and positive regard from at least one adult, the ability to self express, and limits and boundaries that are external, but then are internalized. We, as educators, need to impart to students the language and behaviors of resiliency:  “I am = knowing personal strengths, I have- knowing resources, I can- knowing social skills to use.”

What can independent schools do to help?

  • Cultivate close relationships between students and a trusted adult.
  • Provide experiential, project-based learning opportunities so that student can practice effective collaborative skills.
  • Educate parents about supporting their child as opposed to defending their child from fear and danger. Find ways to bring parents into conversation. Have more intentional discussions about decision making. 
  • Teach students stress reduction strategies.
  • Educate regarding the importance of proper sleep development.
  • Have students experience failure; cultivate resiliency and grit.

Moderator Debra Wilson from NAIS then fielded questions. One question that stood out for many of the educators in the room was – If it is healthy for students to experience failure before they get to college, are there ways colleges can relieve the “pressure cooker” of the college acceptance process? If colleges will only accept the top students in each class, how can independent schools cultivate risk-taking and failure? This is a huge challenge for all of us to figure out. The college acceptance process needs to change in order for us to send students who are more self-aware and possess the qualities of learning from failure. In addition, we need to reframe our thinking from the helicopter parent label. We should suggest to parents that, instead of being helicopter or snowplow parents, they should be “hot air balloons-far enough away to celebrate but not interfere.” 

This informative session was filled with good advice for all. Although it can be difficult with all of the many demands we put upon our students, keeping students wellness in the forefront of all we do should be a top priority.


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