Flipping the Switch: In Search of Answers Related to Involvement in Professional Associations


What kind of impact would you want to leave on the field as a result of your professional involvement in higher education associations?

That is the question I asked myself as I sat in a presentation that Dr. Alvin Sturdivant, Dr. Yetty Marquez-Santana, Charles Holmes-Hope and David Jones conducted at the 2015 ACUHO-I Annual Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, Florida. The session was titled “Pathways to Success” and the goal of the session was simple, to bring professionals together to speak about how we can increase the number of professionals of color in high ranking positions within the field and within the association.  The session was co-hosted by the ACUHO-I Multicultural Network and by Dr. Sturdivant in his role as Director for the Pathways to Success Initiative within ACUHO-I executive board.

For years I have struggled with determining what impact I would like to leave on the field as a result of my professional involvement in higher education associations. In full disclosure, my reasons for being involved leading up until that point in my career have been rather selfish. I have participated in professional organizations because I have wanted to build my resume.  I have joined organizations because I wanted to build a network of professionals that I can count on for advice, mentorship and friendship. Finally, I have joined professional organizations because I wanted to further my professional development.

In essence, I have participated in professional organizations primarily because of the benefit I would derive from those experiences – not because of what I could give back to the field as a result of those experiences. 

Although giving back to the field is something that I have always valued, I now realize that those opportunities to give back were peripheral outcomes that resulted from my desire to derive as much development as I could from these volunteer opportunities.  In the middle of the presentation, it became clear that up until this point in my career my involvement in professional associations were based on what professional associations could do for me – not about what I could do for the association or the field.

The questions that were brought up by the presenters and other participants during the session were substantive, relevant, and critically important to the overall development of our field. Are professionals of color ascending to high level leadership positions at a rate that we as a field could be proud of? Does the diversity in the highest levels of our professional organizations (and our own departments) align with the levels of diversity amongst our professional staff members and student bodies?  Can we be doing more to retain professionals of color within residential life and housing?

As with most exceptional conference presentations, I walked away after the session with more questions than answers. I spent the next couple of months dissecting the questions that were brought up during the presentation and came to one beautifully simple and inevitable conclusion. In spite of the fact that I still had no answers to any of these questions, I was willing to put in the time to try tofind the answers. I thought about the ways that I have been mentored, supported and sponsored and couldn’t help but think about how I could begin to pay it forward in a more intentional and substantive way.  It was then that I decided to express my interest in joining the ACUHO-I Multicultural Network.

I joined the network because I feel that now, more than ever, there is a need for us to bring issues of multiculturalism and inclusion within our offices, departments, campuses and associations into the forefront. I joined because I have a vested interest in ensuring that our leadership within our organizations — and associations — is representative of the diversity we find in our student bodies. I joined because I believed that I could make a positive impact on our field that I could be proud of in the years to come.  I still don’t have all the right answers, but at least I can say that I am working toward solving some of the questions that matter most to me and to others in the field.

What are your reasons for being involved in professional associations? What have you learned as a result of those experiences?

Wimer Alberto is a higher education professional, educator and aspiring legal scholar. He currently serves as the Assistant Director for Guest and Conference Services for the Department of University Housing at Arizona State University. In addition to his professional role, Wimer is also a Master of Legal Studies candidate at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. He currently serves as the Director for Communications for the ACUHO-I Multicultural Network Leadership Team. Follow him on Twitter (@wimeralberto) to learn more.

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