Privilege is the Price of Authenticity

Be vulnerable. Lean in. Dare greatly. Be authentic.

I’m recently noticed that there has been a lot of talk about being authentic. In the field of student affairs, your relationships, how you present yourself to your students, and more. I’ve processed this topic as a way to be more true to who I am. To say what I think or to discern more closely before I say it. To present my full self in conversations with colleagues, friends, students, and more.

One way this has manifested recently is through the weekly #SAchat. Last week’s topic was about professional standards for student affairs professionals in regards to social media use. To be honest, I was overwhelmed by the pace of last week’s chat. It seemed like there was energy and (as much as I think this word is overused) passion about the topic. I found myself contributing less and listening more. It was clear there were everyday experts in the mix as well as people who are doing their best to muddle through what, at best, is a murky puddle of uncertainty.

A topic that soon became a sub-conversation was the one about having two different social media profiles. Perhaps a personal/private Twitter account and one you use more openly for work purposes. Several people argued that you should have one account as it was a way to create a more authentic self. I found myself nodding along with this camp. Then another set of people stated that having two accounts was a healthy way to provide boundaries for students and to compartmentalize work and home life. I found myself nodding just as enthusiastically with this camp.

Then the word authentic got thrown into the mix. Some folks, very eloquently, stated you simply shouldn’t post things if you didn’t want students to see it. My good friend and former colleague Josie argues for this notion in her awesome post here: Student Affairs Leadership Online | 8 Guidelines for #SApro Social Media Use. The other side of the argument got a wonderful expansion by Christopher Conzen with his post Who Decides What’s “Authentic”? where he details the reasons for multiple accounts. After I read both posts, I found myself yet again torn on the issue, but I couldn’t quite figure out why.

While in the shower this morning (where all of my best thinking is done!), I realized that what was bugging me about this “be authentic!” argument is that in order to “be authentic” you must first have privilege. Perhaps someone has two accounts because they work at a conservative university and they identify with the LGBT-Q community. Perhaps a blended account would actually put their job at risk, but to forgo the private account would make it even harder to have a supportive online community. Perhaps someone is in an interracial relationship that their family may not approve of and that person isn’t ready to share their love with the world. Perhaps you have two accounts because you don’t want random posts, tags, comments, or articles posted on your walls from your crazy Aunt Ida that could be seen by students as supporting one cause or the other.

The point I’m trying to make, is that it’s challenging to be authentic when you are not in the majority. It’s challenging to be authentic when your love, your political views, your citizenship status, etc. could have a real impact on your career and relationships. The challenge of authenticity is that you have to live in a world that is okay with the authentic you, and that, unfortunately, is not the world that a lot of folks live in. I would hope that as a field we could continue to support our colleagues who are making the best choices for themselves in the moment. My ideal world would be one where people could be authentic and themselves 100% of the time, but we’ve got a long ways to go until we get there. Let’s work together, whether you have one or 100 profiles.

To be nobody but myself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me somebody else-means to fight the hardest battle any human can fight, and never stop fighting. – e.e. cummings

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4 thoughts on “Privilege is the Price of Authenticity

  1. Tyler Miller says:

    whoa. mind blown. great thoughts!

  2. Ben Medeiros says:

    Always love your perspective Marci. I miss it, and you. Thanks for sharing!

  3. ammamarfo says:

    You are making a wonderful point, and one that up until now I’m not sure has been voiced this way. Some things we aren’t ready to share with the world. Is it inauthentic to share thoughts, feelings, or opinions that we ourselves don’t yet understand? No, it’s human.
    Thank you for saying this- truly a wonderful read! You have a new follower in me 🙂

    • marcikwalton says:

      Thanks so much, Amma! I think it’s perhaps idealistic to expect folks to only have one account when we don’t take into account the societal expectations that required the split in the first place. Thanks for the follow!

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