The Unspoken Work of Navigating Higher-Ed Bureaucracies

This series features UW doctoral students reflecting on their experiences shadowing faculty at two-year colleges as part of Reimagining the Humanities PhD and Reaching New Publics, a program to develop innovative forms of graduate scholarship and teaching.

KublerBy Kyle Kubler 

As a Mellon Fellow for Reaching New Publics in the Humanities, I have a goal this year to help develop better resources for community college students looking to transfer to the University of Washington. This work has led me to the online transfer resources of both UW and South Seattle College. As with many higher education websites, navigation can be quite challenging: one finds outdated course listings, broken links, and complicated drop-down menus. Compared to other academic feats that community college students achieve, such as getting an associate’s degree or being accepted to a four-year institution, navigating a transfer webpage should be easy. However, sometimes this “easy” step proves to be discouraging and prohibitive. Fixing this issue goes beyond simply updating a course catalogue or avoiding broken-page errors; it also involves recognizing the significance of these steps in students’ educational pathways.

Accessing transfer documents, figuring out which courses count for what types of credit, finding (and remembering!) deadlines, aren’t always students’ main concern when they begin community college. These are rarely acknowledged as difficult academic tasks on par with writing papers. However, submitting a document on time or figuring out who to email can almost feel as hard as passing an exam. One of the many reasons for this has to do with our conception of higher education. For many, thinking about the university conjures up visions of an ivory tower: a space and time in one’s life where one can simply think without distractions. In reality, this is rarely the case. The ability to approximate that ivory tower experience is determined not only by institutional location, but also the intersecting lines of race, class, and gender that traverse the divide between the community college and the university. Students are told to study for class, not to study the directories of different site administrators. Recognizing that this supposedly easy work can be time-consuming and frustrating is a key first step to improving the transfer process.

Navigating bureaucratic online spaces is work. In fact, many college administrators and IT support specialists make their living understanding how to work with and use these sites. By equating these tasks with more formal academic tasks, we can gain a better idea of what role these tasks play and how best to complete them. This is beneficial for both students and administrators. We can provide students with the necessary time and knowledge to effectively do the work. We can influence how administrators create and manage these sites. Keeping sites up-to-date and organized can greatly reduce the amount of time and stress it takes to complete tasks.

If it isn’t already clear, this “easy” work has never come easily for me. As I continue to develop a more streamlined transfer process between South Seattle College and UW, the recognition of this work sticks with me as a useful reminder for why these processes are valuable and worth improving.

—Kyle Kubler is a Mellon Fellow for Reaching New Publics and a PhD student in Communication who is working on improving the transfer process between UW and South Seattle College.

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