As I sometimes reflect on why I started my path to enter the Student Affairs field, I realize that this way is strongly connected to my own student experiences at the university in Russia. A little background: there is not even a concept of Student Affairs existing in Russia, no research/educational literature about the Russian system of education, and professionals working with students in universities always come from different fields such as economics studies, foreign languages, accounting, HR, management, marketing, etc.
As for my experience, it does not seem like they know and care about the identity development of students of higher education institutions, except that they were also students at some point. Thus, our higher education system back in Russia is not student development oriented at all. For example, being a student with a disability there, I always heard that “we have done this electric ramp, spent a lot of money and needed a lot of time to do it because it is beneficial for students in wheelchairs”. However, the problem is that they never asked students in wheelchairs what could be helpful for them. Intentions are good, but the implementation is so-so, as many people with disabilities in Russia say. Basically, the university administration does not consider the context when trying to solve students’ issues without asking them about their needs. In many cases, those ramps create other obstacles, such as the inability to use them independently (without the customer assistance staff) who turn them on after 20 minutes of waiting for staff outside in Russian winter. In other words, unawareness of the real needs of people with disabilities and the unwillingness of university staff to learn about our (and many other) identities causes other challenges for students. This incompetency within Russian higher education system administrators and unwillingness to assist students in the university experiences, which can transform students’ lives for the better, brought me to the field of Student Affairs in the hope that one day I can be that person about whom students will say, “Oksana has helped me to have better student experiences and assisted me on the way to my endeavors in life and career.”
Just recently, I read a chapter in Ardoin’s (2014) “The Strategic Guide to Shaping Your Student Affairs Career”, and as noted there, usually people, in their childhood, do not even think that they can build their career in the Student Affairs field. For me, this career, to some extent, has become a way to survive being a person with a physical disability. The fact that there is no Student Affairs in Russia and my love to be around students, activities, and processes of gaining knowledge just connected after my year-long exchange experience in the United States and pushed me to learn about such a variety of disciplines that students may have an opportunity to learn about and build their careers. As for now, I feel I am just doing something meaningful and valuable, being a Graduate Assistant in the Office of Accessibility Services. I can see the result of my work with my own eyes; I can feel it. As many build careers in fine arts because they like to see and feel the result, I would say that I feel similar when I see students come to their appointment with me. I have an opportunity to learn from them what can be helpful for them to assist with their studies here at the US university. I finally have a chance to figure out students’ needs from students themselves and not accept whatever someone thinks is helpful for students. In other words, the existence of the Student Affairs field has helped me to find life and career fulfillment.
The next goal I am thinking about is to gain more research experience and expertise in the field and try, through research, to transform the experiences of students in Russia as well. That being said, I would like to continue my studies in the Student Affairs field on PhD (more research-oriented) level to gain more expertise, and through research “broadcast” that self-advocacy is essential for people with disabilities. We do not have to accept that level of accessibility which able-bodied people think we are good with. I want to be an example to dozens, hundreds or millions of people with disabilities that we can build our careers, not only in sports or fine arts but also in academia, scholarship, business, medicine and many other fields. Student Affairs is that area of study that has the potential to broadcast my idea, share experiences and bring awareness about human potential and the importance of becoming who we really are, with all the abilities, nationalities, identities, income, and family backgrounds.
Ardoin, S. (2014). The Strategic Guide to Shaping Your Student Affairs Career. Stylus Publishing.
Author: Oksana Kozlova (she/her/hers) graduated with a degree in Linguistics from Belgorod State National Research University (Russia), completed a year long exchange program at the University of Wyoming (YEAR Program) sponsored by the Department of State, and is involved with the volunteering in a non-profit nonformal education World Languages and Cultures Program at the University of Wyoming as a teacher of Russian. Oksana is currently pursuing her MS degree in Higher Education in Florida State University and serves as both, graduate assistant at the Office of Accessibility Services and teaching assistant in the Center of Leadership Learning Research Center at FSU. Oksana loves travelling, education and is enthusiastic to share her student experiences as an international student with a disability to advance the area of international higher education and improve international students' experiences. On a typical day, you will most likely see her running home from internship, assistantship, or classes to meet with her spouse. Oksana can be found in Instagram ksen_ksen4o or Facebook oksanakoz