What Does That Department Even Do?: Examining “Developing a Bad Reputation: The Emergence of Student Affairs in College Novels”

Honestly, when starting to read, “Developing a Bad Reputation: The Emergence of Student Affairs in College Novels”, I had to ask myself, “What exactly does student affairs mean?” The fact that I even had to ask this question means that I am clearly not very connected with the higher-ups here at UA. I know that our VP of Student Life is Dr. Pope, but have I ever met him? Have I ever listened to him speak? I know that like me, many other students feel this sort of disconnect between themselves and the administration of their respective universities. Why is this a common feeling? Isn’t the purpose of the staff and administration of a university (specifically in the position that directs student affairs) to benefit and connect with students to provide them with the most productive experience possible? I believe that this feeling of detachment from the people in power results from the miseducation of students through popular media. By consuming skewed information and stories throughout popular media, populations develop opinions and “knowledge” based on false information. The theory of miseducation is one that I feel can be directly applied to college students’ perceptions of and therefore distance from those that are involved on the administrative side of higher education.

In Michael Hevel’s article, he discusses the representations of deans and presidents of student affairs through multiple media sources. However, student affairs has not always been a thing. In fact, this is a relatively new division of administration, created to correspond to the increase of students in higher education that happened during the 20th century. This main purpose of this field is to focus entirely on college students themselves, listening to and taking actions to meet their various and widespread needs. However, after examining multiple novels and movies, Hegel proved that the most common representation of the position of student affairs is actually quite negative. When first introduced onto the scene of higher ed, deans of student affairs were portrayed as police, monitoring students and criticizing them for unruly or experimental behaviors. It’s almost as if this position was created to be the parent of college students. Relating this portrayal to my own experience, I have never been in any form of contact with our VP of Student Life. Granted, UA is a very large school, but I have never seen Dr. Pope as a parent figure. In my eyes, he’s more of a respected celebrity on campus but not someone that I, personally, am close with. 

Although created to help students, deans of student affairs are portrayed as “outdated and ignorant, focused on discipline and controlling students—without concern for students’ intellectual development.” This depiction does not align with the purpose of the position whatsoever. Deans of student affairs are typically described as being aggressive, hypocritical, and demanding. This is in stark contrast to the progressive professor role, in which faculty members are portrayed as open, critical thinkers, encouraging their students to value knowledge over tradition. This juxtaposition further highlights the media’s increasingly negative thoughts regarding the administrative figures of higher education. 

The ways in which figures involved in student life are represented in popular media has definitely shaped this generation’s perceptions of administration as a whole. Instead of seeing this division as helpful, it is seen as stern and overly conservative. This representation turns students away from an important branch of people trying to help them. It has caused a major feeling of disengagement, as today’s students fear the possibility of meeting with the dean. At the end of the day, the administration side of higher education is extremely necessary to maintain order, and the division of student affairs is one of the most important aspects of the entire administration. Therefore, we need not be afraid of the people who ultimately want to help us succeed.

One thought on “What Does That Department Even Do?: Examining “Developing a Bad Reputation: The Emergence of Student Affairs in College Novels”

  1. Anne–great response! I think it is unfortunate that so many students today feel this ‘disconnect,’ as you described, between them and their administration. After all, they are only in their jobs because we, the students, exist. Relating this information back to your experience, or lack there of with Dr. Pope, really put this problem into perspective for me. It is a major flaw in the higher education system that, with the increasing number of students entering university/college, students feel like they cannot have access to their administrators. How can students effect change at their own institutions if they can’t even communicate with the ones that control a lot of their experience? I agree that the media has mainly casted a negative light on administrators as whole, and I believe it is our chance as 21st century students to re-claim this narrative.

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