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Strategic Themes

Champion Holistic Well-being
We advocate for and cultivate healthy conditions, with cultural humility and cultural responsiveness, in which all community members can thrive.

This first strategic theme focuses on well-being. Well-being, at its core, is critical for students to be healthy, well, and to thrive at Northwestern. As experts in well-being, Student Affairs’ role is to both advocate for and cultivate critical healthy conditions. These could be in the areas of community safety or any of the dimensions of wellness outlined by Northwestern. We use “holistic” to also embrace that well-being is more than physical and mental wellness: it also is multi-dimensional, a life-long journey, and considers the unique needs of the individual. “Holistic” also encompasses that this is not a reactive-only approach. True well-being begins far before the onset of a crisis, in helping our community understand all that is entailed in well-being, and the role that both community and individuals play in this area.

In this theme, we refer to cultural humility and cultural responsiveness as ways in which we will advocate for and cultivate healthy conditions. According to the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCREST), “cultural responsiveness is the ability to learn from and relate respectfully with people of your own culture as well as those from other cultures.” It centers the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning (Ladson-Billings, 1994). “Cultural humility”, as defined by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is a lifelong process of self-reflection and self-critique whereby the individual not only learns about others’ culture, but starts with an examination of their own beliefs and identities.” This framing grounds well-being in equity and justice, and ensures that the cultivated conditions are those in which all community members can engage.  

Foster Meaningful Student Engagement
We create intentional opportunities and conditions for purposeful student growth.

Student growth and development is central to the core of our work as Student Affairs. How we do this work, however, isn’t simply by “providing” or “facilitating” experiences – rather, we create them. This is done by the division, in partnership with students, in concert with families, and in true collaboration within Northwestern and/or in our larger community. Student engagement must be meaningful and purposeful. They are rooted in the eight key principles of High Impact Practices and in the outcomes/recommendations found via Project DEEP, both of which are concepts that grew out of research around student engagement.

This strategic theme also identifies “opportunities and conditions,” rather than experiences. Opportunities speaks to programs and services – and calls into the equation student agency as they determine what is best for them. “Conditions” speaks to the environment – whether that be physical, virtual, or programmatic – in which purposeful growth can occur. These are also “intentional” – requiring us to be mindful of the many factors impacting students at all levels (undergraduate, graduate, professional) so that they may grow.

Invest in Organizational Development
We commit time and effort, along with human and fiscal resources, to nurture a thriving division.

This strategic theme focuses on our organization and its people, and moves beyond simply cultivating a healthy organizational environment to developing an intentional, investment-based approach into the true health, well-being, capacity, and growth of the division’s people, process, and strategy. As defined by the Association for Talent Development, “Organizational Development” is defined as an effort that focused on improving an organization’s capability through the alignment of strategy, structure, people, rewards, metrics, and management processes. It is a science-backed, interdisciplinary field rooted in psychology, culture, innovation, social sciences, adult education, human resource management, change management, organization behavior, and research analysis and design (“Organization Development”, n.d., para. 1).  It is this definition that we embrace when using the term.

“Invest” was also used intentionally, as true investment requires effort and intentional alignment of resources, and the use of both “invest” and “development” showcases that this is an on-going process in which steady and continual progress must be made. “Development” also connects to learning, something that both Student Affairs and Northwestern hold at their core.

Pursue Equity, Justice, and Belonging
We work toward collective liberation through acknowledgment, accountability, and sustainable change that honors the dignity of all.

This strategic theme emphasizes the importance of justice, education, diversity, and inclusion in the work Student Affairs must do to realize our mission and progress toward our vision. “Pursue” is used intentionally as this word expresses that this work is life-long, and in understanding this, we commit to remaining relentless in our progress toward equity, justice, and belonging. Additionally, the order of “Equity, Justice, and Belonging” is important. You cannot have justice without first having equity, and you cannot achieve true belonging without justice. While all three are worked on together, they are both interdependent and build upon one another.

Collective liberation is also used intentionally to help describe our desired outcome. “Collective” simply means all of us, and “liberation” is freedom from oppression. As we look at our mission, which incorporates our calling to “disrupt barriers,” and we consider Northwestern’s stated commitment to “identify and address all forms of implicit and explicit racism and bias on our campuses”(University President and Senior Leaders, June 2020), it makes sense that our end goal would be collective liberation from any oppressive systems that may inhibit a student’s full belonging in our community. In addition to Northwestern’s stated commitment, our own profession has also called on focusing on both individual and collective liberation as a core of leadership.  Collective liberation also means recognizing that all of our struggles are intimately connected, and that we must work together to create the kind of world we know is possible.

The foundation of this principle is that every person is worthy of dignity and respect, and that within systems of oppression everyone suffers. This term highlights three things that are important as we pursue equity, justice, and belonging: