It doesn’t take a top-down approach to make change happen—even at a large institution like Iowa State University (ISU). Together, ISU Admissions Director Katharine Johnson Suski and University Registrar Jennifer Suchan have found ways to collaborate
and advance at least two significant initiatives on their campus.
“We’ve identified some barriers our students face and have found other people throughout the university who share those concerns, and we’ve been able to convince the administration that these are important issues to address,” Suski
For example, the offices have worked together to advocate for policy changes that would support two underserved populations: LGBTQIA+ and undocumented/DACA students.
“As initiators and maintainers of the student record, we have the opportunity to think differently about the data elements we keep on students,” Suchan said. “We are able to identify barriers there and think creatively to find ways
we could be more affirming and meet the needs and desired outcomes for both the institution and the students.”
Understanding the barriers
In the cases of policy changes for both transgender and undocumented students, the officers began to understand these barriers by listening to and empathizing with the students themselves—both their individual stories and their collective voices
as they advocated for the change they needed.
Here’s a short summary of two policy-changing projects.
LGBTQIA+. “One of the things that led us to discover these process barriers was a question from the Center for LGBTQIA+ asking us to explain the reasoning behind each of the policies,” Suchan said. “When I had to write
out the policy it was shocking to me and I realized, sometimes unless students tell you, you don’t realize what the barriers are. If that’s not an identity you share with your students or are thinking about, you miss it.”
“After hearing from students and colleagues in the Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success, we understood that our students weren’t feeling affirmed through the application process,” added Suski, who served on the AACRAO Student Identity
Work Group. “The student information system didn’t allow different questions for ‘sex’ and ‘gender;’ it didn’t allow free text answers.”
“Too often, people just stop there: ‘Well, our system just won’t let us do it,” she said.
Suski and Suchan weren’t willing to stop there. Working with partners across campus, including the University Counsel and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, they found ways to revise the policy behind these changes, and developed workarounds
for the SIS. With the upcoming implementation of a new SIS, these issues will be ameliorated.
“We are moving this direction because, at the end of the day, this is about supporting and affirming students. Some of the changes we made allowed us to get them proactively connected to available campus resources,” Suchan said. “We’re
using the language students are telling us they use, rather than us providing them with the language; we’re using their feedback to inform our Workday configuration, so that the new system is as affirming as possible. We are also thinking through
our required reporting, and how we will fit our expanded lists to the more narrow state and federal reporting requirements.”
Undocumented and DACA students. The voices of ISU’s undocumented students became loud and clear when they marched on the enrollment office, specifically to protest how they were tracking and managing data and how difficult
the process was for students who held DACA or undocumented status.
“We picked it up and ran with it, and found creative ways to make changes to support those students that were within the law and the state code,” Suski said.
One change they made was to clarify and simplify the application. Undocumented students didn’t know whether they were identified as domestic or international students, so they simplified the categories to “international” (needing a visa)
and “not international,” which includes citizens, permanent residents, asylees, refugees, and undocumented students.
“At the point of application there’s no need to know citizenship status, just whether or not the student needs a visa,” Suski said. “So we just went around to the various offices on campus to make sure it wasn’t negatively
impacting any of them before we made the change.”
They made additional changes to the follow up questions regarding racial and ethnic identity to help connect students to multicultural resources on campus that they’d been missing out on before.
“Making changes in admissions and then rolling them over to records ensured we were providing the services students needed,” Suchan said.
Suchan and Suski are bringing their message “Be the Change: Busting Bureaucracy in Support of Students” to AACRAO 2020.
They’ll discuss their process, lessons learned, and what you can do on your campus to support student success.
“We want you to walk away from the session feeling empowered to go back to your campus and consider changes, even if you experience some push back, and think creatively about moving forward to affirm students,” Suchan said. “And know
that you have two people you’re welcome to call to think through issues like this.”