Recently, thanks to the Professional Development Grant, I attended the NASPA (Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education) Region IV-East conference in Madison, Wisconsin.  This conference provided numerous networking opportunities and a welcoming space for idea sharing.  The theme of the conference (Blurring the Lines: Focusing Together on Student Transformation) was embraced by opening keynote speaker Sharon Fries-Britt, current associate professor in the College of Education at the University of Maryland, College Park.  She emphasized that we as student affairs professionals need to be prepared to “leave our lane” and put some “ambiguity” into our work with students.  Thus we should be prepared to address the entire student, which may require us to work in areas that are outside of our comfort zone.

While the conference provided several chances to network with others, I particularly enjoyed and feel I learned the most from the individual sessions.  During a session entitled “Teaching Trans* - Workshop Design In-Between and Outside the Gender Binary,” I gained a great deal of knowledge about how to lead workshops and training sessions focused on exploring the gender binary.  The session included activities that can be used with a wide variety of knowledge and awareness levels and relates directly to some of the work I’m doing here at IUB.  This year, I’ve been working with others to address some of the issues transgender students face on campus.  In addition to this, our office will likely be taking on an increased role in helping these students navigate through the university.  Thus, the knowledge and connections I made during this session will be very beneficial as we work toward providing these services and presenting appropriate training opportunities for our staff and advocates.

Another session, “Adding Clarity to the Blur: An Approach to Academic Integrity,” allowed me to reflect upon our office’s approach to handling academic misconduct cases and ways in which we can better collaborate with others.  The Director of IUB’s Office of Student Ethics was one of the presenters and spoke about concerns and recent initiatives.  Based upon his portion of the session and other ideas shared, our office has already developed some ideas to address broad concerns while also increasing collaboration efforts.

The final day of the conference provided an opportunity to share ideas about intersecting cultural identities and transforming grief into student learning and development.  Both of these areas are of great use to all student affairs professionals, but are notably important for our office since we work with a wide variety of students, many of whom deal with depression or grief.

All in all, this conference was a great opportunity to gain additional insight and knowledge, but was also a terrific way to re-energize my passion for working with students.  This time away from the day-to-day business of the Advocate’s Office really allowed me to reflect upon our current work and clearly see ways we can better ourselves and work more collaborative with others.

Oh…and since I was in Madison on the day before Election Day, I also had the opportunity to see the President.