NASPA apologizes for ‘insulting and callous’ speech by Suze Orman

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NASPA, one of the nation’s top trade associations for student affairs professionals, issued a lengthy apology on Thursday for an “insulting and callous” speech by financial expert and television host Suze Orman, which drew criticism immediate from participants in the organization’s virtual conference.

Orman was the keynote speaker on Wednesday at NASPA’s 2021 annual conference: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. His advice to attendees to improve their financial literacy was quickly and widely condemned on Twitter for being deaf, uninformed, and out of touch with the current socio-economic climate.

Those who watched Orman’s speech said his comments, intended to inspire student affairs workers to advocate for higher pay and limits in their jobs, focused on the main personal barriers to success. wealth – “fear, shame and anger” – without noting systemic barriers to wealth such as class, race or gender. Some observers have said Orman equates “net worth” with “self-esteem,” which some argued was an insensitive way of framing the discussion about financial literacy with an audience of many business professionals. entry-level students who are historically underpaid and heavily in debt. with loans they used to fund their undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Some participants were also Offended by Orman’s reference to the South Side of Chicago, where she grew up, as “the neighborhood” and “the ghetto,” according to people who watched the opening speech.

NASPA executives emailed and tweeted an apologetic statement to conference attendees hours after Orman’s speech. The statement said the association “missed the mark” for providing a guest speaker who made comments “offensive to your lived experiences and to our NASPA values.”

“We cannot discuss financial literacy without first recognizing the inequitable and unfair systems that have prevented Black, Indigenous, Latin, Asian, queer, trans, first generation, low income and many other communities historically minority and marginalized to achieve education and wealth generation, ”said the statement, which was signed by NASPA Board Chair Angela Batista, President Kevin Kruger and Michele Murray, President of the 2021 conference.

Suze’s comments linked self-esteem to financial progress, ignored the difficulties many people face when navigating existing system structures and tools, and used offensive language to describe the Chicago area in which she grew up, “the statement read.

Kruger said the association will not release a recording of Orman’s speech and declined to comment further. Orman and his representatives did not respond to a request for comment submitted on his professional website.

Brittany Williams, professor of higher education at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, said Orman’s comments “fell flat”, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic and the economic recession that has forced many colleges and universities to cut budgets and lay off or staff members on leave. Williams noted that the opening speech was also given on March 24, Equal Pay Day, which marks how far in 2021 many American women are expected to work to do what their male counterparts have done in 2020. Williams said Orman failed to adequately address the systemic issues that prevent student affairs professionals from reaching the ranks or salaries of their male counterparts in administrative roles.

The speech was “very corporate” and was not suitable for higher education; Orman did not appear to have expertise in higher education pay structures and finance in general, Williams said.

“There was no recognition of the systemic barriers to wealth that exist,” she said. “I wouldn’t have chosen someone outside of education without real financial knowledge of higher education issues. The biggest problem is that we are talking about money in these corporate ways that do not correspond to how higher education works.

Williams said Orman’s speech was not representative of the entire conference, which began on March 17 and ended today. She noted that the association has faced backlash for previous opening speeches or “conference flubs,” such as in 2015 when conference attendees posted hateful and sexually suggestive messages on the field of student affairs and conference attendees on the anonymous social media application Yik Yak and the association. had to issue a statement condemning them.

Orman’s comments were representative of the generational differences between leaders and members of associations and how young professionals expect their institutional leaders to talk about equity issues, Williams said. (Orman is also 69 years old and attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the 1970s.)

Williams said NASPA executives “set the tone for priorities on the ground, and the speech speaks volumes about what our values ​​should be on the ground.” She said Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z have “different views on how we should approach equity more broadly. We’re going to see more cases like this. until we reconcile that “.

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