How ACPA’s Standing Committees Got Their Name

I currently serve as the American College Personnel Association’s (ACPA’s) Coordinator for Standing Committees.  Standing Committees are organizations in ACPA that represent some of the social identities present in the student affairs profession and in our work with students.   In my role, I represent, coordinate the work of, and advocate for the Standing Committees for/on Women, Men, Graduate Students and New Professionals, Disability, Multicultural Affairs, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Awareness.

Although our mission is clear, the name “Standing Committee,” is often a source of confusion for new (and even experienced) members.  I often get asked:

  • Why are they called “Standing Committees?”
  • What are the “standing committees” of?

Here’s the answer…

The term “Standing Committee” is a hold over from the old governance structure of ACPA.  ACPA changed to its present governance model, under a Board of Directors, approximately five years ago.  Originally led by an “Executive Council,” ACPA’s governance was, in part, composed of the Chairs of each of the Standing Committees.  The Standing Committees were therefore standing committees of the Executive Council.  This is also the reason why Standing Committee Chairs were elected by an association-wide vote as opposed to a vote of just their members (as is the case for the ACPA Commissions, which represent the functional areas and interests of professionals).  It is a practice that continues to this day.

When I began to understand the “Standing Committee” name in this context, I realized why ACPA has such a strong tradition of focusing on social justice issues.  No doubt very progressive for its time, ACPA made sure that many of the marginalized voices in our profession had a direct and highly visible role in our governance.  It’s something of which I think we should be very proud.

For example, the Standing Committee for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Awareness has been around since 1985.  The context in which this group was established in the mid-1980s is obviously very different than that of today.  The fact that this Standing Committee would be included in a governance structure is even more extraordinary.

The Standing Committees have also exhibited a strong history of solidarity with one another.  The Standing Committee on Men and Masculinities, founded in 1984, was established through the support and help of the Standing Committee for Women.  Their identities are historically and uniquely intertwined.  The Standing Committee for Women, itself established in 1979, has a strong history of collaboration for the advancement and inclusion of all identities.

Lastly, the Standing Committee for Graduate Students and New Professionals was founded in 1988.   I think this speaks volumes to the profession’s recognition that our newest and often youngest professionals represent an important voice.  A voice that is, unfortunately, often marginalized.  This commitment to represent professionals at all levels of their careers has become one of ACPA’s hallmarks.

Understanding how the Standing Committees got their names is an important part of understanding our history.  Although the Standing Committees are a great example of what our profession has done right, our history of inclusion is not entirely rosy.  Although the Standing Committee for Multicultural Affairs has existed since 1968, we didn’t establish the Standing Committee on Disability until 2000.  We’ve certainly evolved on this topic, but we still have a ways to go.

If anyone has anything to add about our history, or any pieces of information I may have missed, please let me know in the comments below!


My post on this topic was inspired, in part, by some of the interesting research Kevin Guirdy is doing at the National Student Affairs Archives at Bowling Green State University.  Although he is focusing on the evolution of how student affairs professionals have viewed and used technology throughout our history, he had an interesting aside at the end of one of his posts regarding the history of ACPA and NASPA.  Check out his observations about their gendered history and some of the racist and homophobic language he found in some of their past proceedings.

2 thoughts on “How ACPA’s Standing Committees Got Their Name

  1. Thanks Paul – this is very helpful and interesting information! A question and a comment:

    1. Where did you find or learn this information?
    2. I agree very much with your appreciation for the strong voice of the NPGS committee. However, I was frustrated with it as an ACPA member while I was a full-time PhD student because the committee seemed ill-equipped to represent, assist, and relate to me as a full-time doctoral student. I know that is a relatively small niche group but it seems symptomatic of the regular practice of saying/writing “graduate student” when we really mean “master’s student.”

    1. 1. Part of the history comes from my lived experience and the professional connections I have with those who were involved in the Association in the past. I became a SC Chair immediately after the ACPA governance change and I served in my current role during the consolidation process, often participating in the Governing Board discussions. During these two periods there was a lot of discussion about history and tradition. ACPA also maintains a leadership manual that outlines some of these details.

      As an aside, I also have an “ACPA timeline” that some past ACPA Presidents drafted and presented at the 2002 Convention in Long Beach. I still have the handout, if you’d be interested.

      2. I hear you on there needing to be a more clear place for doctoral students. As one myself, I’ve been advocating for this. The Chair of the SCGSNP and I discussed this very topic at the ACPA Summer Leadership Meeting this year. Although I can’t share exactly what’s coming down the pipeline, I can tell you that support in this area will be increasing in the near future (both from the Association as a whole and, in part, from the SCGSNP). When the ACPA 2013 Convention schedule becomes available, you’ll notice some new initiatives offering further support.

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