Are You Competent Enough?

Whether you are a seasoned student affairs professional or an up-and-coming graduate student looking forward to being in the field of student affairs, you’ve heard of the ACPA/NASPA competencies. Student affairs professionals are constantly comparing their work to these competencies. For those who have forgotten the competencies, no shame friends, they are as follows:

  1. Personal and ethical foundations,
  2. Values, philosophy, and history,
  3. Assessment, evaluation, and research,
  4. Law policy, and governance
  5. Organizational and human resources
  6. Leadership
  7. Social justice and inclusion
  8. Student learning and development
  9. Technology
  10. Advising and supporting

Student affairs professionals can measure their work based on the benchmark grading system found here. After reading theses competencies and hoping that you are not foundational (because who wants foundational competence) professionals find themselves asking, am I correctly applying theory to improve my practices? Do I know how to lead effectively whether I have positional power or not? Are my practices equitable and promoting social justice? I do not have the answers to these questions. I do not know if my practices are the most inclusive. I do not know if I am incorporating theory the best way I can. I am also unsure if my leadership style will be respected without positional power (as a black woman I know the answer to this, but that’s a blog post for another day).

I do know two things. The first, we are all competent. ACPA and NASPA should not measure our capability to be practitioners. The second, the word competent is rooted in whiteness. Historically, people of color and other minority identities have been oppressed by white people who said they were not “competent” enough to be seen as equal human beings. To have these standards that “other” people and demonstrate how “incompetent” they are creates elitism in student affairs. There should be standards, but not competencies. Whether professionals fully understand a subject, idea, or concept or not, they are competent people who are fully capable of being a student affairs professional.

Instead of measuring the items above by competence, measure them in value. In this field, we should not be measuring someone’s competence. We should be examining how they value the items listed above and how they show up in their practices. If these were values, instead of competencies professionals would have a deeper sense of connection to each of them because they will not treat these items like they are subjects to be mastered. Values cannot be mastered. They are things we continuously reflect and work on. Values are things that knowingly or unknowingly inform all that we do.

Our values are important to us. Our values inform our standard of behavior. Our values define what is important to us. The question is not if we are capable of being student affairs professionals. We chose this field. We did the work to be a part of this field. We are competent. The question is, do our values align with those of the field? We all have the capacity to be practitioners, but we all do not value social justice and inclusion. So as professionals we have to ask, is it more important to measure competence or how we intertwine the values of the field into our practices?

Doretha Benn
East Tennessee State University, 2016
UVM HESA Class of ’18


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