Empathic Growth Mindset and Equity: A Student Affairs Perspective

Empathic Growth Mindset and Equity: A Student Affairs Perspective

Melissa Janet Romo, Shannen Grace E. Allado
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9746-0.ch004
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Abstract

This chapter explores how student affairs professionals in higher education in the United States can benefit from integrating a growth mindset grounded in empathy in their professional life. The authors examine ways a fixed mindset can impede learning and perpetuate inequities and how a growth mindset can encourage student affairs professionals to see themselves and the students they serve as capable of learning and growth. Therefore, the objectives of this chapter are (1) to provide insight into the meaning of mindset, (2) to highlight how the development of a growth mindset can help student affairs professionals nurture and sustain their capacity for empathy, (3) to examine how empathy supports the building of meaningful relationships with students, (4) how these relationships influence student success more equitably, and (5) provide recommendations on how student affairs professionals can actively develop and maintain an empathic growth mindset.
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Introduction

…if a student affairs professional has a fixed mindset, possesses unchallenged biases, and operates from these biases, they can do direct harm to individual students or indirect harm to groups of students by advancing some students over others.

It is not uncommon for individuals to find themselves on a career path in student affairs in higher education because somewhere along the way, they had a deeply meaningful connection, encounter, or experience as a college student. Perhaps somewhere in their academic journey, they felt out of place in a college environment, they attempted to engage in the traditional college experience with little to no guidance, or they struggled to manage their academic responsibilities and the competing demands of their personal lives. Yet, through their journey, they had the opportunity to participate in a nurturing and transformative environment where a staff member or faculty took the time to support them in a thoughtful and caring way. The experience described at first is not uncommon for college students, especially those from underrepresented and underserved communities. Some students feel isolated and without the knowledge and skills to successfully navigate the often-confusing systems embedded in the college experience (Seider et al., 2015). Traditionally, in the United States (U.S.), student affairs professionals are responsible for providing support services for students who need assistance navigating their academic and personal life. With this in mind, this chapter proposes that student affairs professionals can play a considerable role in students’ academic journeys by taking the time to build trusting relationships, by understanding the whole student experience, and by offering equitable programs and services to support them. These outcomes are easier to achieve if a student affairs professional ascribes to a growth mindset grounded in empathy than holding onto fixed ways of thinking when serving students.

Because the student affairs profession is service-oriented, many individuals put their whole hearts into their work. In other words, they actively practice empathy. Student affairs professionals are likely to be empathic individuals, but sometimes empathy can be challenging to sustain (Raimondi, 2019). Student affairs professionals are often responsible for caring for students with complex academic and personal needs within the college and home environments and may underestimate the emotional nature of the work and the resulting psychological demands. This can lead to high attrition rates and burnout (Lorden, 1998; Marshall et al., 2016; Mullen et al., 2018). Moreover, external pressures and conflicting values can exacerbate the already demanding role, and student affairs professionals can lose sight of their purpose. These issues, individually or combined, can impede empathy, impact student affairs professionals’ job performance, and unknowingly accentuate a fixed mindset (i.e., the belief that people do not have the capacity for change). In addition, student affairs professionals whose job becomes overwhelming can lose their ability to see past their immediate experience, ultimately impacting their ability to maintain a growth mindset (i.e., the belief that people have the capacity for change). Therefore, it is essential for student affairs professionals to be aware of the experiences that challenge their ability to stay focused on the opportunity for growth to ensure they can continue to serve students well (Mullen et al., 2018; Schuh et al., 2011). Engaging in mindful self-awareness is key to cultivating an empathic practice and creating environments and experiences where students feel cared for and seen.

By engaging the principles of growth mindset rooted in empathy, student affairs professionals can transform how service is provided to students by listening and completely understanding the student experience. Therefore, the objective of this chapter is: (a) to provide insight into the meaning of mindset; (b) to highlight how the development of a growth mindset can help student affairs professionals nurture and sustain their capacity for empathy; (c) to examine how empathy supports the building of meaningful relationships with students; (d) how these relationships influence student success more equitably; and (e) provide recommendations on how student affairs professionals can actively develop and maintain an empathic growth mindset.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Holistic: The idea that students are to be viewed as whole individuals – taking into account their intersecting identities, histories, and experiences, as well as their biological, psychological, and social needs – to address their overall wellbeing as a learner in higher education.

Stereotype: The generalized or fixed belief about a person or group of persons because of their racial, ethnic, gender, or cultural background.

Fixed Mindset: A belief and perception that one’s abilities, talents, and skills are fixed traits; that is, they are innate and predetermined.

Empathic Growth Mindset: A belief and perception that one's abilities, talents, and skills can be honed and developed as an ongoing learning process grounded in the ability to understand, sense, and share another person’s emotions.

Empathy: The ability to understand, sense, and share another person’s emotions.

Culturally Responsive: The ability to understand or relate with another person regardless of differences in culture, beliefs, and values.

Student Affairs: Personnel in the higher education setting who serve and support college students' personal, academic, and professional development beyond the classroom; personnel who specialize in direct student support providing campus resources that create opportunities for students to explore their interests and passions during their college experience.

Opportunity Gap: The unequal or inequitable distribution of resources or opportunities between students from low-income communities and more affluent areas.

Growth Mindset: A belief and perception that one's abilities, talents, and skills can be honed and developed as an ongoing learning process.

Higher Education: Postsecondary schooling beyond high school, such as college and university, in the United States.

Equity: An idea of fairness and justice in the way people are treated as they engage with a system.

Empathic Leadership: The act of integrating empathy into decisions, actions, and practices to understand and anticipate the needs of others by being aware of their thoughts, feelings, or experiences.

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