Review of “Affirmation, Support, and Advocacy: Critical Race Theory and Academic Advising”
As a first-generation college student, I leaned heavily on the academic advising office throughout my entire undergraduate collegiate career. I was a student within the Comprehensive Studies Program (CSP) at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. CSP is a learning community and academic unit serving 3,000 undergraduate students annually, many of whom identify with populations that have been historically underrepresented in higher education such as Black and low-income students. I would not have graduated without the CSP office and their academic advisors. I worked for the program as a summer peer advisor as well, which is how I found my way into student affairs. I really wanted to be an academic advisor. I applied to many advising positions and was never hired for any. However, student affairs professionals do a bevy of advising and guidance across student needs. I chose this article because of my own personal interest and experience, as I desire to direct academic support offices like CSP. I also selected it due to how influential, both positive and negative, the advisor relationship can be on a Black student’s matriculation and success.
Author Dr. Jasmine Lee attempts to bridge the gap on critical race theory (CRT) to practical application within higher education by examining the interactions of academic advisors at predominantly white institutions (PWI) and the Black students that they service. Positioning this as a conceptual piece, Lee is concerned with academic advising practices that account for a longstanding history of anti-Blackness in our society, higher education, and how that all manifests in the lives of today’s Black students. Academic advisors can benefit from a critical race theory-to-praxis model that will improve their work with Black students attending PWIs. This approach offers non-Black academic advisors the opportunity to practice what they should be teaching other students as they develop cultural competency skills and what they should be desiring out of an anti-racist institution.
This praxis places a specific focus on the experiences of racialized oppression, power, and privilege within our society and higher education institutions. Black students experience racism at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) at a higher rate, and in unique ways than other students of color. Black students also reportedly experience their campus climate differently than their white counter parts. With this stark difference in collegiate reality for Black students, academic advising offices at PWIs are saturated with white advisors, further isolating Black students on their campuses. Some of these white academic advisors lack the competency and consciousness to holistically, properly support Black students, specifically. Lee views affirmation, support, and advocacy as areas that white advisors can improve in, leading to a more inclusive and supportive environment for Black students at PWIs.
Affirm, Support, Advocate: Praxis in Advising
Black students are having significantly different collegiate experiences than their white peers, particularly in academic advisor relationships and interactions. Per Lee, academic advisors play a vital role in the overall achievement of a college student yet Black students have struggled with them for years. This issue between academic advisors and Black students is evident in higher education research spanning 40 years, illustrating a prevailing impact to the persistence, success, and graduation of Black students. Because of the persistent racialized experiences in a space that was originally designed to fail at “meeting the needs of diverse students” (p. 79), incorporating CRT into practice enables academic advisors to challenge the dominant standard on academic advising. This article serves as a call to weave CRT into every day advising practices by offering emotional support to the very racialized experiences of Black students, supporting them on campus holistically and outside the advising office, and advocating for the rightful inclusion and respect of their presence at PWIs. However, academic advisors cannot begin to do any of that without understanding and properly employing CRT tenets like racial realism and counter storytelling in their work with Black students.
To effectively engage in praxis, academic advisors must understand CRT tenets like racial realism and the power of counter-storytelling as they service Black students. It does Black students a disservice to deny the presence and impact of racism on Black people, and the historical persistence of this oppression. Black students are expected to thrive on the campuses of PWIs where founding presidents and trustees funded various university endeavors with the illegal sales and purchases of enslaved African people (Wilder, 2013). The history of Black people in America is too momentous and sensitive to not account for the impact that racism may have on a Black student’s experience. Lee argues that affirming the racially harmful experiences of Black students means academic advisors should “assume and progress as if these reports are based on factual accounts and act accordingly” by “acknowledging and affirming the student’s experience” (p. 81). Uplifting voices by listening to Black students and their stories can help strengthen relationships, thus maximizing and enhancing the student experience, specifically the student-advisee relationship. Imagine being a student and being hurt by a faculty member or peer and turning to the person whose job it is to support you as you navigate college and they do not believe what happened to you. That could be detrimental to a student’s experience and that is what Lee attempts to draw attention to – that advisors are disapprovingly impeding on the overall experience of Black students because they lack key knowledge in areas like CRT. While Lee furthers their praxis argument by incorporating daily exercises like microaffirmations and intentionally creating counter-spaces for Black students, I believe that much more is needed beyond listening and maintaining awareness.
Moving From Awareness to Action
I believe that incorporating CRT into advising practices requires a genuine, firm commitment on the advisor’s end. Lee suggests that “advisors can support Black students by maintaining awareness of the common experience of students on their campuses, particularly those associated with race, class, and marginalized identities” (p.82). Awareness without action is not enough. Some actions described by the author included conversations with students about current events and campus climate. While I do understand that creating a safe space for discourse is needed, what is the advisor tasked with after informing a student of their awareness? Awareness as a task could keep white academic advisors immobile at the action level because they believe being “in the know” may be good enough. Are advisors upkeeping these same awareness principles in the larger society, and not just on campus climate issues? Along with awareness, I desired a more direct call out to the actions of white academic advisors in their interactions with Black students. I am not sure the article clearly described harm perpetuated by advisors in their service of Black students. For me, that directness addresses the realism and pervasiveness within the oppressive actions of white advisors. It acknowledges the very real harm Black students are silenced or unbelieved about. Explicitly name microaggressions and how these things manifest in student-advisor relationships. For example, I know several Black peers who were deterred from STEM-specific majors by their white academic advisors after making assumptions on their abilities and aptitude. I need everyone to be clear on what exactly white advisors are doing along with what they could be doing so we can eliminate the harmful occurrences. Future work research on CRT within academic advising may be able to lean into this framing further to capture the unique action of the theory’s full application more accurately.
Future Research and Conclusion
Leveraging CRT, the author desires to bridge the gap on theory to practice within academic advising (p. 83). It made me reflect on how academic advisors are initially trained and oriented into the role. Especially when I think about how academic advisors are often fresh graduates of master’s programs. I believe this work to be anti-racist and the work to foster safe environments for Black students specifically must be ongoing. That will require action on the institutional side as well. In the case of academic advising offices and their subsequent hiring and training, it is important to project deficits on the institution, and not the student or their needs. Lee also notes that the implications and suggestions for academic advisor to increase their support, affirmation, and advocacy of students can be extended to faculty and other university staff. Future research could investigate critical race theory being woven into their practices and interactions with students, beyond pedagogy and instruction. From Lee, academic advisors at PWIs could be playing a more critical role in the lives of Black students. However, there is an abundance of work needed on the advisors end to fully understand the experiences of Black people and Black students beyond conversations and awareness.
- Ladson-Billings, G. (2005). The evolving role of critical race theory in educational scholarship. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 115–119.
- Mitchell, R. W., Wood, G. K., & Witherspoon, N. (2010). Considering race and space: Mapping developmental approaches for providing culturally responsive advising. Equity & Excellence in Education, 43(3), 294-309.
- Solorzano, D., Ceja, M., & Yosso, T. (2001). Critical race theory, racial microaggressions, and the campus racial climate: The experiences of African American college students. The Journal of Negro Education, 69(1-2), 60–73.
- Reflecting on your undergraduate academic advising experience, what are things your advisor did contributed to your belongingness at the institution?
- Were there any interactions that negatively impacted your belongingness?
- How can advising offices overall improve their support of Black students, leveraging critical race theory?
- What does this theory-to-praxis work look like for Black students within specific disciplines and colleges (i.e., engineering, performing arts, kinesiology, etc.)?