Symplicity Convenes Panel of Experts on ‘Strategies for Serving Minority Student Groups & Challenges for Underserved Students’

 In Advising, Best Practices, Career Services, CSM, Events, Student Engagement, Tips and Tricks

On November 10, for our second installment of the CSM Symposium Series, we invited four experts in higher education for a panel entitled “Strategies for Serving Minority Student Groups & Challenges for Underserved Students.” Bringing decades of combined experience, our panel included: Kacheyta McClellan, MBA, CA, Alicia Monroe, Ed.D., Bless Vaidian, MSW, and Nichelle Womble, M.S.Ed., joined by moderator Jill Fritz, Symplicity CSM Client Manager. The panelists came together on this live session to tackle specific issues facing these marginalized students in career services, recruiting, and more.  

The unique challenges faced by minority students are neither new nor unfamiliar to those who have been researching and working closely in the field. Yet in the last few years issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion have garnered more attention on a broader scale with the changing political landscape, recent events, the rise in support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and the COVID-19 pandemic, which have all served to add further obstacles and stress. With COVID-19 alone, a November 2020 report by the Journal of Public Health found that the COVID-19 crisis has delayed student graduation by 13%, with 40% of students having lost a job, internship, or job offer, and 29% of students expect to earn less at age 35, and of those delaying graduation, lower-income students are 55% more likely than their higher-income peers to fall into that group 

With the evolving landscape, according to a recent NACE poll of 139 employers, 81% have made a commitment to review hiring policies, procedures, and practices, with only 42% of those polled indicating they already had professional development programming on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in place. This gap indicates an opportunity for career services professionals to step in and both communicate the specific needs for their marginalized students to recruiters, and advocate for their continued success throughout the undergraduate job search process and into their careers. 

Below are some highlights from our live panel to serve as a resource for higher education professionals everywhere. Additionally, you can view the full webinar here.  

I. What are the challenges that minority students are currently facing, particularly as they relate to career services?  

  • One Size Does Not Fit All: Dr. Monroe encourages career services staff to help students “galvanize their own identity and have [students] feel comfortable” and for offices to develop “a culture of achievement, where students are developing a sense of belonging in safe, and trusted space, where they feel welcomed.”  
  • Address Students with a Holistic Approach: McClellan pointed out the need to identify missed opportunities and disconnect in outreach, noting that “Individuals who are in minority classifications or marginalized classifications probably don’t access their services as much as their peer with group services, such as tutoring in career services.” This could be due in part to having found success with “self isolation” vs. engaging in group thought and learning. 
  • Look at Your Programming: McClellan also challenged career services staff to look at what they are promoting and offering students and if it perpetuates normative or white dominant culture, “What are you truly teaching? What is the reason behind, what you’re teaching, and what your messaging, both stated and unstated? Furthermore, could it be alienating certain student groups? 
  • Access to Resources and Technology: Prior to the pandemic, only 35% of undergraduates had taken an online course. Yet, now that number is almost at 100%. However, access to even internet can be a barrier to opportunity for some marginalized groups as many were forced to stay at homeParticularly noting indigenous populations, or students in rural America, panelist Vaidian poised the question, If you don’t have access to internet, how are you going to do virtual internships? If you don’t have a private room where you can set up a nice little office, how are you going to concentrate on your schoolwork? So, these are things that we have to think about, as a career services center, how can we support our students where they’re thrown into this virtual environment? 
  • Unprecedented Financial Restraints: Vaidian also pointed out that in addition to issues with access to resources and technology, many students are experiencing unprecedented financial constraints due to the loss of service sector jobs in the COVID– 19 era that they relied on to subsidize their educationAccording to the recent Journal of Public Health report, working students suffered a 31% decrease in their wages and a 37% drop in weekly hours worked, on average. Moreover, around 40% of students lost a job, internship, or a job offer, and 61% reported to have a family member that experienced a reduction in income. This has led to 13% of students delaying graduation with low-income students being 55% more likely to fall into that category.

II. How can career services staff support underserved students? What actionable, short and long-term strategies can career services staff utilize?

  • Understand the Non-Traditional Student: Womblea current third year law student, addressed the desire of students to be listened to and understood for the responsibilities they have outside of academics (as Dr. Monroe cited, the ‘invisible backpack’) by opening up more flexible, tailored support for those students. “Whether it be nontraditional hours for resume reviews and nontraditional hours for practice interview sessions; If you can bring in an employer who might work late to do special interviewing skills with student roundtables, that open up the floor for them.” 
  • Be the Storyteller: An employer may see a 3.3 GPA as the cutoff for a particular role at their company, but the role of career services professional can be to advocate for a student beyond basic metrics. Panelist Vaidian said that career services professionals are in a unique position to speak beyond a student’s GPAOne of the things that we realizeor we should realize, as career services professionals, is we have a lot of power to change people’s lives. For example, these amazing internships lead to full-time jobs that can change families, change communities.”  
  • Advocate for Your Students: If you see a job opportunity, be upfront with your students about the salary and help them navigate salary negotiation and be aware of what a student’s responsibilities are. Some students cannot afford to take a job because of the low salary because they have to support their family and other priorities. So, be upfront with students about what a prospective job’s salary is, so as Vaidian addressed “Students aren’t wasting their time, and then also, recruiters aren’t wasting their time. Let people know what the salary is upfront.”
  • Reimagine How You Are Serving Your Students: McClellan encouraged career services professionals to partner with offices or people within offices, faculty, staff, student organizations, cultural centers, etc. in your campus community that have a track record of supporting these groups. As McClellan told our audience, “Learn what matters to your target audiences, and build programming around your newly collected data. You can incorporate what they are looking for in your marketing,” while emphasizing the importance of tracking your attendance to determine who you’re serving by demographic as well.

III. What are some ways career services offices can best assess their inclusion and equity practices, both internally and externally?  

  • Look at Who Is Getting Hired: Panelist Womble implored career services staff to look at the statistics and the demographics of students being hired and where they are getting hired “to see who is falling through the cracks.” Then, create programs and gear those programs to target those students. 
  • Promote Your Office: According to 2014 Gallup-Purdue report, the career services office is one of the most underutilized offices on campus. Engage with student decision makers, faculty, and find ways to mentor students so they are aware of your office to pull up the group of students your office isn’t reaching. 
  • Grow Employer Network: It is critical to help serve your students by expanding the job opportunities for students by focusing on employers that prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion and make those connections for your students.  
  • Review Who Your Office Is Attracting: Panelist McCellan proposed that career services office focus their efforts on outreach strategies, marketing approaches, and to look at which population of students you are trying to attract and compare that to who you are actually serving is it equitable? Take what you’ve learned and make concrete efforts to refine your programming and actually make a proactive shift by identifying where the needs are.  
  • Is Your Office Diverse?: In order to meet the needs of students, your office needs to look like your student body. Is your office and staff inclusive and diverse? Look at your team, as Vaidian says, and make sure you are all trained up on diversity and inclusion practices. Make this a routine training so that it is top of mind for your staff. Ask the questions: What is diversity, equity, and inclusion? What are the best practices out there? Do they understand their own unconscious bias? And how does it come into play when working with students of color? How can we recalibrate our practices?” 
  • Develop Peer-to-Peer Groups: Don’t just guess what your students need, ask them. Develop peer groups between you and your students to ask them ways you can support them, what they are looking for, the best way to communicate, and allow students to give each other feedback. “That feedback is so valuable,” says panelist Vaidian.

IV. How can career services offices work with employers to support recruiting efforts for minority and underserved students? 

  • Look at Company Retention: Before connecting a student to a company ask if there are reasonable pathways for promotions as McCellan pointed out. Additionally, he authored a recent NACE article entitled “The Role of Career Development Professionals in the Black Talent Recruiting Process” that can serve as a critical first step in how career services can use 16 concepts to communicate with employers and advocate for their students. 
  • Scour Resources: Vaidian addressed that there are various resources available to marginalized and underserved groups that career services professionals can connect with. Organizations such as MLT, INROADS, and SEO help LatinX, Hispanic, Native American, and Black students, and others all across the country by providing in-depth training, mentorship, coaching, and more, giving those students “the chance to not only be able to click, apply, hopefully land an internship, but also succeed.” Plus, students will have access to an extended employer network that may otherwise not have reached them. By collaborating with these organizations, career services can expand additional resources if there are limited resources whether it be staff, budget, etc. 
  • Include and Highlight Minority Employers: Womble encouraged universities and career services staff to seek out minority companiesputting it plainly: “minority employers are slim to none.” Such employers can have a deeper understanding of the complexities existing for underserved students “I think that’s important to make sure that you are including those employers, either minority employers, organizations, that have that established diversity or employers that are willing to establish diversity. Make sure you’re highlighting those organizations to your students.” 

Moving towards a more equitable and diverse employment environment that better serves minority and underserved communities isn’t a “one size fits all” approach, much like the students you serve. It is the role of career services professionals and employers to prioritize seeking out opportunities for students by listening to and empathizing with their unique challenges. Dr. Monroe said it best, “Transformative change happens through critical dialog.” We must “bauthentic in our work… sit the right people around a table to make the best decisions for the minority and underserved students that we do serve.” 

We thank our unique panel of experts for this engaging and informative dialogue. We hope that in our upcoming future CSM Symposium Series that we can help empower our career services staff, higher education professionals, employers, and students to build a safe, more equitable, and inclusive world. Our doors are always open and we thank our panel for providing us the opportunity to learn and engage with them.  

For additional resourcesplease check out our reading list below: 

This piece was co-authored with Arielle Jordan.

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