APU Careers & Learning Online Learning Original

The Value of Culturally Based Student Organizations

By Monica L. Galante, D.Mgmt., SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Public University

Co-curricular activities, such as student organizations, clubs, and honor societies, provide students with opportunities for networking, self-discovery, and strengthening their soft skills. These activities also allow students to work in teams, transfer their learning to real-life applications, gain leadership skills and contribute to their communities.

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Furthermore, these student organizations help students expand their resumes and offer complementary social activities that provide a break from academic responsibilities. The co-curricular activities are one of the many tools higher education institutions use to help develop the leaders of tomorrow.

Student Organizations Help Members to Develop Various Skills and Maintain Their Cultural Identity

Co-curricular activities complement learning while supporting the development of a student’s mind (e.g. intellectual, emotional, and social development) and personality (e.g. creativity, enthusiasm, and positive thinking). This improvement becomes even more important when students seek to develop their leadership skills in a world where equity, diversity and inclusion are paramount. At the same time, students are looking to stay connected with who they are, their culture, profession, and cohort, according to academic researchers Adrianna Kezar, Arely Acuña Avilez, Yianna Drivalas and Marissko Wheaton.

Regrettably, a student’s individual identity markers and societal stigmas can dissuade students from getting together formally, thus reducing and eliminating opportunities for leadership development. Students want to share experiences with those individuals who share their social identity. For some, identity-based organizations help them to learn about their culture.

University of Illinois instructors Corinne M. Kodama and Rhonda Laylo suggest that the “close relationships students develop provide cultural validation, support, a sense of belonging which is a “safe space” for students with marginalized identities.” In general, all students experience these needs, but it is more prevalent among immigrant and minority students.

Often being the first or second generation to obtain a college degree, whether online or on a ground campus, immigrant and minority students find the transition from their home country or social enclaves in which they live to a new environment to be overwhelming. As a result, they may begin to experience some marginalized feelings. Their support system is considerably distant – not just physically but sometimes emotionally.  Culturally based student organizations provide the missing support systems, giving students an opportunity to socialize with like-minded individuals of similar cultures, beliefs, and experiences.

Culturally Based Student Organizations Help Students Acclimatize to College Culture

Cultures are often viewed as individualistic (i.e. those who value independence) and collectivistic (i.e. those whose individual identity is defined the interconnectedness among their group). Whether from an individualistic or collectivistic culture, students will experience a level of culture shock, making membership in culturally based student organizations important to their academic success.

Culturally based student organizations provide a community for students, allowing them to become accustomed to college life and culture while enriching an institution’s diversity. Within culturally based student organizations, members tend to speak their native language, which provides a helpful environment for students who are learning the language to practice their speaking skills.

Besides offering personal and professional development opportunities, culturally based student organizations conduct a number of outreach activities and celebrations open to the campus community as a means to share their culture. The Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA) Student Association is one of a number of culturally based student organizations.

For instance, ALPFA’s focus is on creating leadership opportunities and building relationships for its members with its business partners and the community while respecting members’ cultural values and differences. Each month, the chapter newsletter celebrates one of the ethnic groups under the Latino label and provides a calendar of celebrations. The year 2021 will bring on more celebrations of Latino cultures — from favorite traditions to recognizing graduates with a graduation sash recognizing their membership and reflective of their culture.

Culturally based student organizations are an institution’s hidden gem, founded on acceptance and inclusiveness. Through membership, students develop friendships and create their support system. In turn, an institution with culturally based student organizations increases its student retention and graduate rate, which is a win-win for everyone. What better way to support a culturally diverse organization than by ensuring equity and inclusion?

About the Author

Dr. Monica Galante, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is an associate professor at American Public University and has over 15 years of experience in human resource management. She holds a B.S. in human resource management from Park University, an M.S. in human resource management  from Tarleton State University, an MBA from the University of Phoenix and and a D.M. in organizational leadership from the University of Phoenix.

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