Last week I had the pleasure of attending the 2017 American Colleges Personnel Association (ACPA) Convention for the first time in my academic career. I have made my way to many conferences over the past couple of years, and out of all of them ACPA is the most outstanding conference.
There were many highlights of the conference for me personally, but the most memorable for me were the diversity, equity, and inclusiveness measures ACPA planned thoroughly to ensure that anyone and everyone felt welcomed to the conference. The first measure I noted was the provision of gender-neutral bathrooms that were free for everyone of any gender to use at any time. Based on the current political landscape, there has been much fallout and have been many opinions about gender-neutral bathrooms and which gender-nonconforming or non-binary gender persons have the ability to use these bathrooms. On the first day of the conference, I thought there would be hoopla and arguing about the bathrooms. Instead, even as I walked up to them, I noticed people in- and outside of the gender binary walk in and out of the bathrooms with no issues at all. This was a powerful moment for me personally that changed the way I looked at and interacted with ACPA. This moment showed me the power of socially just work and how widespread change can impact groups of people by building a foundation on diversity, inclusivity, and equity.
Though this was my first time at ACPA, I picked up on trends of diversity, equity, and inclusion in other facets of the conference. One of the more memorable trends for me was ACPA’s stance on and commitment to racial justice. At the conference, ACPA released a document titled Strategic Imperative on Racial Justice Talking Points that showcased its stance on racial justice. This document illustrated that ACPA will now allocate resources towards solving and addressing issues of racial justice not only in the U.S Higher Education system but also globally. ACPA’s racial justice focus is one that is “intersectional, intentional, and directed” (ACPA, 2017). ACPA also noted that the focus of this racial justice work is to reduce forms of oppression for communities of color by revolutionizing higher education by making it more equitable for all oppressed people.
The racial justice document that was released highlights why ACPA’s focus will be racial justice in lieu of social justice, why everyone has a place in racially just work, how to gain knowledge in doing racial justice work, and how racial justice work provides the most equitable outcomes for all individuals, even those who are not racially oppressed. This work is not to solve the oppression of one group, but ACPA’s goal is to produce intersectional changes for intersectional people by using the lens of race as a starting place.
Another observation that I noted was how equity and inclusion is embedded in ACPA relative to the coalitions and commissions within the association. Of particular note is the Commission for Two-Year Colleges. While many higher-education professional associations have grown over the years to welcome community college professionals and include some content specific to the two-year context during their conferences, few have done so for over five decades. Being a graduate of the community college that led to an undergraduate transfer to a research university, I understand and appreciate the added value of a community college education. As a graduate research assistant for OCCRL, I can appreciate how community college origins are rooted in social justice and fostering equity for diverse learners. Hence, it is exciting to see the parallels and collaborations between two- and four-year student affairs practitioner scholars through this venue. It was also nice to see our Dr. Eboni Zamani-Gallaher, director of OCCRL, presented with an ACPA Diamond Honoree Award, presented to those with outstanding and sustained contributions to higher education and to student affairs.
Because of ACPA’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, I will attend the annual ACPA convention year in and year out. This is because I see my morals, values, research, and life’s work exemplified through the decisions ACPA has made. Many conferences around the U.S. talk the talk in regard to trying to build a community that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive, but to my knowledge very few are as bold in taking steps to actualize their espoused vision, values, and mission beyond what is rhetorical. I will say that ACPA still has a long way to go in terms of accomplishing its goals for people of all social identities, and that ACPA as an organization, similarly to ourselves as scholars and practitioners of higher education, is still aspirational, and I am looking forward to the work to come.