Student Affairs staff pen chapters in new Opportunity Gap book

Book Cover Did you know?

Three Student Affairs staff members recently penned a few chapters in the publication of "Closing the Opportunity Gap: Identity-Conscious Strategies for Retention and Student Success." The authors included: Andrea Arzuaga, coordinator for the Office of Multicultural Student Success; Sara Furr, Director for the Center for Identity, Inclusion and Social Change; Nydia Stewart, coordinator for the Office of Multicultural Student Success.

The book focuses on the retention and success of underrepresented students during their college career. Instead of aiming for an identity-centric framework where the racial and gender identity of the student is the focus of the intervention, the book turns to an identity-conscious approach. The focus of outcomes are alternatively tied to student success in regards to persistence, term-to-term credit completion, and timely graduation with student identities in mind.

The editor of the book, Vijay Pendukar, who now serves as an Associate Vice President for Student Affairs at California State University, took some time to answer a few questions.

Q. Where did the idea for the book come from?

A. In the 2009-10 academic year, associate vice president of Student Affairs, Rico Tyler, asked the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs to consider a new direction: an explicit focus on retention and student success. The office rebranded to the "Office of Multicultural Student Success" and we worked to innovate a series of new programs to try and address the numerous equity gaps faced by undergraduate students at DePaul.

Over time, it became clear that we were actually pioneering a new paradigm, one that blended the insights of critical multiculturalism with the strategies from the national movement for student success. At the national NASPA Conference in 2014, I presented an SA Speaks TED-style talk on the intersectional model we'd developed over the last four years, as well as the potential gains for our field if we adopt this approach broadly.

The President of Stylus Publishing was in the audience and he approached me with the offer to write a book because, in his words, "No one in higher education is doing student success work like this."

The chapters present tested programmatic interventions on a case-by-case basis that were found effective for students of color, working class college students, and first-generation students. Arzuaga wrote her chapter on the family engagement for first generation families and families of color. Furr focuses on the identity-conscious approaches to first-year, peer-to-peer retention programs in her chapter. Stewart discusses social capital and identity-conscious leadership development curricula for students of color.

Q. How can this book be utilized by Student Affairs professionals?

A. The book is really designed to be a "how to" manual for student affairs practitioners that are looking to support student success by innovating programs and services in ways that empower students of color, low income students, and first-generation students to succeed holistically in college. Each chapter is laid out to offer a theoretical framework, a programming model, and action steps that student affairs educators can use in a variety of contexts, from orientation programs, to career development, to leadership workshops.

Q. Many of the chapters are written by current or former employees in Student Affairs at DePaul—what is unique about the perspective and experience of DePaul employees when it comes to closing the opportunity gap?

A. It's no surprise that this unique approach was homegrown at DePaul University. The mission wholly supports an identity-conscious paradigm for student success because of the belief that the human person matters. Paying close attention to issues of human dignity calls us to realize that identity, in its numerous social constructions, is at the heart of how people learn and experience university life. When the team in the Office of Multicultural Student Success was tasked with focusing the department on retention and student success, the paradigm that developed organically in our office was reflective of DePaul's investment in human dignity, as well as a preferential option for those on the margins.

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