Honoring Parentless Students

*video filmed by ACPA – College Student Educators International, via ACPA Social Media

I attended a conference last week where I had the privilege to present a PechaKucha (powered by ACPA) on a topic I care about deeply.

“Honoring Parentless Students”

PechaKucha is, as as you discovered in the introduction to the video, a presentation where an individual talks alongside 20 images and slides, each turning automatically every 20 seconds. 20×20. According to PechaKucha, this presentation format was created by two architects, and initially as a result of the belief that architects talk too much! As a person with an undergraduate degree in communication, I would agree that most people talk too much when given an unrestricted set of PowerPoint slides.

And so, PechaKucha.

Aside from a space to tell a few stories (though, if given the time, I have dozens more related to this topic), I also took the opportunity to share some very personal reflections I have regarding the changing reality of how parents and families show up in education – and specifically, how the concept of parents and families show up in my own life. The landscape is changing.

And this should be no surprise. Over the past twenty years (arguably more), the landscape of families & non-families has changed significantly, and we should all be pausing to consider how parenting structures appear or don’t appear as it relates to children and college-age students. We should all consider adjusting our practice.

For example, “Mom’s Day,” or, “Dad’s Weekend,” The Office of Parent Programs, parent orientation, better funded opportunities for stateside families without including international students, letters home to, “Mr/s.,” or the plural of parent (“To the parents of…”) – these all come to mind, and knowing the list goes on and on.

So, what do we do, you might be wondering?

Furthermore, how do we support students who may not have the family or parenting structure that many of our programs assume? What about those triggered by these programs, or those left out by the simple mission of these traditions? How do we simply pause and honor someone’s actual, lived experience on their campus?

Aside from my hope and plan to research this very topic someday, for starters, you can evaluate your current practices and programs. Challenge exclusive norms, engage your alumni, program around the changing reality of families and students, and include those chosen-family friends and community members who may be supporting an individual just as much, if not more, than any relative could provide. Examine your school’s statistics and build bridges to colleagues across campus. Empower authenticity.

Next, be insistent. Pull students in to help you change the culture of your exclusive programs and traditions. Ask students frequently, “Who are we leaving behind?” “How can we edit or enhance the way we support all students?” “In what ways does [this program] exist as an exclusive body of opportunity for some more than others?”

Help students garner courage as they navigate these ongoing murky waters. Jump in those waters with them. And as you swim (or float or tread or splash) in those waters, invite others to jump in, too. What is not changing on our campuses is that students are showing up – how they show up, and with or without  whom, is, however, truly evolving.

And in honor of this evolution, I hope this will inform your practice.



DSC01252.JPG*photo provided by Idriss Njike (UCLA), co-host of PechaKucha, powered by ACPA

7 thoughts on “Honoring Parentless Students

  1. I am giving this a roaring applause and standing ovation! This is something that resonates for me as an elementary school teacher and a mom. I recently asked a question about moms and a student yelled out, “Heeeey, I don’t have a mom!” As I’m internally slapping myself out of my unconscious moment and before I have time to respond, the student proudly says: “…because I have two dads!” I gave myself a little grace and proceeded with our classroom conversation but also wondered what the effects are of events like mom’s day or dad’s day. Also, days like grandparent’s day can be difficult. My parents live out of the country, are often traveling for work, and cannot be present for those days. It has an impact on my children. We must be aware of that impact and the ways that we unconsciously leave no seats for certain families at the table. Thank you for your post and a little pause this morning 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for this reflection, my dear friend! Im honored to be an educator alongside you. There is something powerful about ‘ah-ha’ moments that inform our practice, and Im glad to be on this journey together! Keep doing the good work! Love love.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. And you know what would be helpful? Updated nomenclature so we will be able to not cause isolation amongst students/anyone who does not come from the “normal” (just a setting on your dryer anyway!) background. With regards to young people I have gone with the term “caregiver.” But somehow that doesn’t seem quite right either.

    Aunt Dianne

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow! I commented earlier but didn’t realize you had a video with this. I just watched it and I LOVE it. You are so well spoken and really nailed this issue! I was a single mom for a very long time. You should have seen me try to make it work with my son during dad/son events. When he was a cub scout I had to figure out how to build a car for the Pinewood Derby. It was designed as a project dads and sons could work on together. With no tools as a poor single mom and no skills to build, my son and I worked very hard to build the best car we could.

    On the night of the big Pinewood Race, I was so intimidated and saddened for my son when all the other “dads” showed up with amazing cars that had clearly been designed by them. Their cars had aerodynamics and were weighted perfectly. The dad’s were terribly competitive with each other and there was much bragging for those whose cars were winners. My son’s car came in last and my heart broke as tears filled his eyes.

    I will never forget the pain this activity caused my son and me and still feel sad as I reflect on this time. Change is needed in so many areas. Love you and thank you for your talk.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dianne, you are the best. Than you for sharing this. Thank you for sharing your story and for engaging with mine. Im so appreciative of you, and all the folks out there just trying to make the best Pinewood Derby car they can (and whatever, “Pinewood Derby,” represents for each person, respectively). Sending you love and validation today. Hugs!


  4. This is great! Just shared with Tri Delta’s Diversity Innovation Team! We can all stand to pause and reflect on anti-bias regardless of our profession.


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