Challenges and Lessons from the Dungy Leadership Institute

This may surprise several of my dearest colleagues - I was never a NASPA Undergraduate Fellow (NUFP).

Hold your shock, friends and NASPA family. I am a legacy of my graduate program and numerous fierce, brilliant mentors (many who happened to have been M/NUFPs) who introduced me to the NASPA network and invaluable lessons of leadership in the highly political spaces found in postsecondary education.

As a queer, disabled, Asian, Multiracial womxn of color working professionally in student affairs since 2012, I have constantly been impressed by the ways my M/NUFP colleagues and students I have worked with have been able to masterfully and seamlessly navigate the field. Sharing the knowledge passed on to me from my mentors and elders, but also engaging in mentorship, leadership development, and professional development are unique opportunities to help students and staff imagine possibilities in social justice-centered careers. I have served as a NUFP mentor and coordinator at several universities, and when the Dungy Leadership Institute (DLI) Faculty application was posted, I couldn’t help but to enthusiastically submit my materials.

Before I knew it, I had been selected and was engaging in curriculum development for DLI. I was surrounded and embraced by senior and mid-level colleagues at different points of their careers - deans of students, assistant/associate vice chancellors, directors and assistant directors, coordinators, and NASPA administrators.  All of these individuals continue to be dedicated to the growth of aspiring student affairs professionals. My faculty colleagues demonstrated critical lenses around diversity, equity, and inclusion, and wanted to create experiences with and for DLI participants that were trauma-informed and centered on empowering people with marginalized identities. As a mid-level professional and the youngest practitioner in the group, I found myself called in to share my own narratives, and was validated in my experiences by co-faculty who would become mentors and role models in supporting and challenging students. I realized that although I didn’t have a terminal degree, publications, and 10+ years of working experience, my ability to connect with students and understand intersections of contemporary issues brought much-needed skills to our institute.

David Surratt - my co-faculty group member, dear friend, and long-time mentor - and I were honored to support a core group of eight students during their DLI journey. The group was lovingly named “Needs more time…” because of our focus on process and experience, rather than results. It was an honor to witness and dive into questions, challenges, intentionality, vulnerability, and hope with our team. Questions about identity, navigating career trajectories, graduate school, and current issues like impact of free speech and political climate caused me to carve more intentional time to recognize my positionality and sphere of influence in my personal and professional roles.

Between individual and group meetings, each student challenged me to think about my praxis as an educator: How do I communicate my values? What identities inform how I show up in my work? How do I engage in radical self-care? How do I role model boundaries? How can I be more transparent in processes? What is mentorship and how are all people in relationship impacted? How do I demonstrate as a role model, in an authentic way, that I care? How do I center the most marginalized in my work and recognize power and privilege? Is student affairs a field that is reasonable for my financial health and wellbeing - and should I be honest about this experience with students? As a mid-level practitioner, how do I continue to stay connected with students and lift as I climb in the institution? Should I even climb?

DLI is a fast-paced, immersive experience that brings together 32 undergraduate students, eight faculty members, two NASPA staff, two DLI directors, and dozens of onsite staff. In 2017, there were two sites: California State University, Fullerton and Pacific Lutheran University, meaning that over 100 students, staff, faculty, and community members were directly impacted by DLI. Since leaving the mystical Pacific Northwest in June, I have found myself mentoring and being mentored by Team “Needs more time…” and the DLI faculty. Between supporting students in exploring graduate school and their first professional roles, to dialogues about recognizing the impact of the end of DACA, trans-exclusive legislation, free speech, the rise of overt White supremacy and nationalism, natural disasters like hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and how student affairs administrators can address injustices, DLI has served as a platform to revisit honest conversations about who we are, where we’re from, and where we’re going. 

I am grateful for the lessons that team “Needs more time…” and the co-faculty (shout out to Nick, Nathan, Jasmine, David, Tiffany, Christine, Viraj, Tolu, and many more) have shared with me from this DLI experience, and am excited to continue to share these reflections and lessons as I unpack them.

Thank you to the students, PLU on-site team, NASPA, DLI directors, and faculty for your labor, radical hospitality, and brilliance. I am hopeful about our potential to make an impact through continued service to our profession. To the NUFPs and faculty: What reflections do you have from your experiences? How will you actualize your potential and serve your community/ies, especially in these trying times? How will you pay forward your lessons and knowledge from the privilege of participating in DLI? So what, now what?


We’d love for you to connect with the Dungy Leadership Institute. Consider hosting the 2019 DLI on your campus or supporting Fellows as a member of the 2018 DLI Faculty.