President's Column: Reflecting on the 40th Annual Guiding the Way to Inclusion

By Stefanie Niles, NACAC President

I had the good fortune to attend the Guiding the Way to Inclusion (GWI) conference in late July in Ft. Lauderdale. About 250 individuals—mostly those from college admission offices, but some school and college counselors, as well as independent educational consultants and CBOs—participated in the multi-day program. As the NACAC president, I had the distinct pleasure of welcoming the group of attendees, who were eager to dive into productive conversations on a host of issues related to the students who are often most vulnerable in the college admission process.

During the conference, we met in small groups with individuals from around the country to probe more deeply into the issues that arose from the sessions, panels, and keynote presentations, as well as to explore other topics that individuals wanted to discuss. I found these small group discussions to be especially valuable. I discovered that I was one of very few enrollment vice presidents in attendance. While there were other director-level professionals, two-thirds of the attendees were at GWI for the first time, and many were in the first few years of their career in admission.

I found this to be an interesting position to be in. On one hand, I felt a bit out of place—talking about issues on a more tactical level, rather than in the strategic realm where I most often live these days. On the other hand, I was really grateful to have the chance to attend, listen, and contribute. As a VP, I don’t always have the opportunity to hear the specific concerns of some of the novice members of our profession, and I appreciated their insights, particularly gaining a deeper understanding regarding how each individual could be better supported by colleagues and supervisors.

While the discussions within my small group tended to center around individuals’ work environments, many of the sessions and panels at the conference that I attended focused on issues that marginalized students face as they consider and make the transition to college, and how we—as admission professionals—can best support them.

These discussions were relevant, timely, and necessary. As more students of color, first-generation, low-income, and LBGTQIA students, among others, make their way to college, we all must be equipped to assist with their specific needs, choices, and challenges. As the scandals that have recently captured the attention of the public have reintroduced long-standing concerns related to access, affordability, and equity into the admission process, it is critical that we rededicate ourselves to addressing these core values in our enrollment practices.

We know the admission process is not perfect—particularly for marginalized students. There is a long, long way to go before we achieve the type of equity and accessibility for all students that we aspire to as enrollment professionals. We must continue to utilize gatherings like GWI to listen to each other and discuss how we can best help students navigate the admission process. We must also come together to create action plans to educate the public on the nuances of the admission process and determine how best we can work with our partners to ensure they feel the same commitment to integrity.

To those of you who sent staff members to GWI, I hope you will encourage them to share what they learned with your full staff. To those deans and directors who haven’t sent individuals to the conference before, please consider doing so in the future. And consider going yourself – I learned so much, and believe you will, too. 

We must continue to prioritize how we can best support marginalized students in our complex processes, and there is much we can learn from each other.

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