The Many Pathways of SDA

As most of us have probably gathered by now, the SDA program focuses a lot on inclusion. Whether this means fostering inclusion among the folks that comprise our SDA family, the diverse students we serve, or some other aspect of inclusion, we recognize as a community that this is an important value for us.

For this reason, I have been surprised and disillusioned by the frequent lack of inclusion of a certain population of SDA students, which I belong to: those who work off-campus. It is my perception, and I think it’s a fact, that most students in the program work on-campus, whether as a graduate assistant, full-time employee, or non-GA part-time employee. Seattle U seems like a great place to work, and a great avenue for cultivating and practicing the ethics and skills we are learning in the program; therefore, kudos to you! Nevertheless, students who work off-campus–some in non-student affairs positions–constitute a substantial group in the program, and yet we often go unacknowledged.

To show that I am not just creating an excuse to complain, let me offer some examples. Much of the SDA/SUSDA programming that occurs, including Preview Days, centers on graduate assistantships, both in language and in content. Those who did not interview for or did not obtain a GAship have expressed feelings of exclusion and inadequacy because of this (myself included), and have had to constantly remind others that off-campus work is a viable option for putting our student development theory into practice. Additionally, SUSDA meetings take place at 4:15pm and are usually finished by the time folks like me make it to campus from our jobs. What message does this send to those who work off-campus? Is it one of inclusion? Does it promote our involvement in SUSDA? I’m sure I’m not the only one who has found myself thinking, “Welp, there’s another meeting/webinar/program I can’t attend…maybe I should just stop reading these emails.”

I write this post not to chastise or begrudge any of my fellow SDA community members who hold on-campus positions; rather, I write this post to raise awareness. Let us remember that there are many pathways which led each of us to this program, there are many pathways we pursue while here, and still many other pathways we take upon completing it. So, the next time you are about to use “GAship” to reference all SDA student employment, think carefully about your words and the inclusion they do or do not afford. If you work off-campus and have felt excluded because of it, I encourage you to advocate for yourself and demand opportunities to contribute. If you are in a leadership position and have influence on programming, please remember to accommodate off-campus folks.

After all, SUSDA’s motto is: Development in action. Let’s do that! Thanks for reading. :)


5 thoughts on “The Many Pathways of SDA

  1. LIndsey,

    You need to realize that a high percentage of grad students in the SDA program and similar grad programs around the country work on campus in GA positions so it is in fact the norm. I would go so far to argue that it is a required part of the program if one wants to be competitive in the job market coming out of grad school. I didn’t have any sort of on-campus position when I was in the program but I was constantly encouraged by professors to apply what I was learning in my assistantship, as if it was assumed everyone had such a position. You are right… it is not very inclusive, but that’s just the way it is. You will need to get used to it.

    Class of ’09

  2. Brian, thanks for your response. If we always used the rationale that what is deemed “the norm” is what should dictate how a culture is constructed or how people in that culture should be treated, we’d all be automatons in a very repressive environment! As you are probably aware, the same logic has been applied to justify the exclusion of many different demographic groups. Additionally, I have to disagree with your assertion that having a graduate assistantship is required to be successful upon completion of the program. Many of the students who work off-campus (myself included) actually work at other college campuses in entry-level positions or beyond. So, these are still perfectly legitimate avenues for applying the program concepts. Nevertheless, we still work off-campus, which presents certain barriers for us, especially when we are chalked up to being a “minority” whose needs don’t need to be taken into account. Fact: there are not enough graduate assistantships for every student admitted to the program. According to you, the program’s culture should still be defined by the graduate assistant’s experience. I disagree.

  3. Lindsey, you are completely misreading my point. I am not saying that that is how it should be; I’m saying that is the way it is. I’m not saying the program should be defined by the GA position experience; I’m saying it is defined by the GA position experience, hence the constant referrals to one’s “GAship” that you and I both experienced. My message to you was to get used to be because it won’t change. It should change, but it won’t.

    Nor did I say that you need a GAship to succeed in the field (I’ve succeeded just fine without one). I said you need one to be competitive in the job market. A GAship provides valuable work experience but also looks great on a resume. You are right, there simply aren’t enough GAships for all students in the program. So what sort of message does it send to employers that these applicants had a GAship and those ones didn’t? Now if you can snag some other part-time position on campus or if you are already in the field you can probably accumulate enough experience to compensate (and I probably should have qualified my initial comments to acknowledge as much). But the point I was trying to make is that GAships or the equivalent experience are assumed as the norm once the job hunt starts and if a person doesn’t have that sort of experience he or she will be at a disadvantage in the job market.

    I really don’t think we disagree on this. Believe me, I am the last person on the planet who needs a lesson on the dangers of normative thinking. Everyday I am in this field I am challenging assumptions and proving people wrong. But “outsiders” like you and me need to recognize the system as it is, not as it should be. Go ahead and make a fuss and write letters and talk to people about it, but the system works for the people it was designed to work for. And everyone else will have to forge their own path. That’s what I did.


    • I’m sure you’re right, Brian, that we agree more on this than not. I also recognize that the world isn’t going to turn in my favor on every issue that makes me feel excluded–I don’t expect that. I’m just curious to know why you perceive this as being stagnant? Why do you feel that student affairs grad programs (SDA in particular) are GAship-focused, despite the large presence of students working in other institutions? Why do you think this won’t change, particularly if folks are raising it as problematic? I’m also curious to know just a little bit about you, if you care to share. Where are you working now? Did you work while in the program?

  4. Although I appreciate the insight from both sides, the blog is first and foremost meant to build community. Please know that SUSDA encourages individuals to speak/write about their own experiences and expects that thread comments are written with respect in mind. Therefore, please do not write in a tone that could potentially sound degrading and that could discourage others from writing posts in the future. If you would like to further discuss this, you can email me at Thank you.


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