Tag Archives: #SApro

A Recovering Racist

Two weeks ago, I stood on the NASPA stage and called myself a racist. It was in the context of an SA Speaks session, which is similar to a TED Talk. Professionals are given 10-15 minutes to give a talk about a topic near and dear to them, and for me, growing up in a racist environment, being racist as a child and adolescent, but being transformed by my college experience was the story I needed to tell.

In an age of police brutality, structural and systemic oppression, and all the way to professional Facebook groups, racism is everywhere. In light of all of these continuing dynamics and especially in light of the magnificent #BlackSAPBlackout in the Student Affairs Professionals Facebook page at the end of last week, I wanted to share the script of my talk before the video becomes available online. In complete transparency, I know I diverted from the script a few times and don’t remember a ton of it (thanks adrenaline!) so the finished product will be slightly different, but here it is, as it was meant to be given.

I would also like to thank Heather Browning and Bulaong Ramiz for being my incredible editors and feedback providers. Their incredible work made my work so much better, so please think of them the next time you need a critical eye.

Hello everyone! My name is Marci Walton and I am not here to talk about assessment or retention or budgets. I’m not going to share my research or talk about a program I’ve implemented on campus. Instead, I want to talk to you  about race. I want to talk to you about someone who grew up in a racist environment, internalized those messages, held hate in my heart, but was transformed by my collegiate experience, and stand before you as an aspiring racial ally and accomplice.

I want to talk about race because the time for passive head-nodding of white student affairs professionals is and has been over. I titled this session “A Recovering Racist” because I view racism as a socially constructed sickness. One that is insidious, can lay dormant for years and mutate into different manifestations and college campuses are the perfect Petri dish. The racist part of me will always be there so I must be vigilant and battle flare-ups from time to time. I also want to acknowledge the inherent privilege associated with being listened to during this session. I was quite literally given a stage and a microphone when so many of my students and colleagues of color are not given the same opportunity, so I have to use this moment to say something, to stir something inside of you, to help inspire less hand-wringing and more action. So here’s my story.

To know me is to know my hometown. I grew up in the village of Sycamore, Ohio. Census data from 2000 shows a population of 914, 99.67% identified as white. This meant my teachers were white, my friends were white, my church congregation was white, my pharmacist, doctor, dentist, hairdresser, and banker were all, you guessed it, white. This meant the only messages I got about race were from people who were white, plus movies, magazines, and TV. This means that when my Dad got a deep tan one summer and I asked him if he was now Black. This environment meant hearing the N word used as just another way to describe people in my community or to refer to the lower income part of town. This environment meant confederate flags were a dime a dozen and my high school mascot was and still remains a Mohawk Warrior. It meant I became a stereotypical white first-year student who freaked out when I was matched with a black roommate.

Move-in day was stressful. I was scared to death to meet Kia, my college roommate and it wasn’t just typical jitters. This was going to be the first time I EVER had a conversation with a person of color and now I was living with a phenomenal Black woman. I remember overhearing Kia’s younger sister whisper to her, “Kia, you have to live with a white girl? Good luck with that!” I immediately bristled. I thought to myself, “I’m not a white girl. I’m just me.” I had never been asked to think about my race before, but I was about to get an education I did nothing to deserve.

For some reason, Kia gave me grace that I did not deserve. She deserved to have a college roommate who was easy to live with and not someone who asked her if she was in a gang when she wrapped her hair and threw a scarf around it our first night as roommate. I was shocked when she said her high school didn’t have metal detectors. I snubbed my nose when she turned on BET. I told her collared greens looked like weeds. I was racist. 100%. And for reasons I still don’t understand, Kia gave me a chance. She invited me to come along to weekly meetings of Concerned Black Students, our campus organization dedicated to Black students and racial equity. I so distinctly remember the uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach during the first meeting when I was the sole white face in the crowd. I whispered to Kia, “It’s so weird. I’m the only white person. Is it really okay for me to be here?” and she whispered back, “You’re fine. This is what it’s like in every single class I’m in. How does it feel?” This was a turning point. I decided to reserve judgement. To listen more than I spoke. And to learn everything possible to supplement a racial education that had just begun.

Kia invited me to hang out with her friends. There was a group of about 10 Black women who lived on our floor and they welcomed me with open arms and a healthy dose of skepticism. I continued to attend CBS meetings. I began taking classes in Africana Studies. I broadened what movies I watched and what music I listened to and what books I read. I walked out of classes to attend an annual CBS Walk-Out for racial awareness and equality on campus. As I was preparing for this presentation, I reached out to some of my college friends to compare my recollection with their experience. Erica recalled me asking lots of questions about Black girl’s hair and attending as many of her gospel choir concerts as I could. She said her favorite memory was seeing me in my CBS stole at graduation which showed her unity across skin color. Travette remembered my presence at CBS events and participating in and attending forums on race relations. She said my presence and participation were a testament of my effort to try and understand cultural differences  and learn that although we have differences that does not make us unrelatable. Kia, my roommate, had perhaps the most poignant reflections. She said she expected to have issues with me due to my small town roots. She remembered me be unsure about attending CBS and later apologizing for my nervousness around having a Black roommate. Kia remembered me listening to her when she expressed opinions around race and asking questions to better understand, but never invalidating her experience. She said I was supportive during times of racial turmoil on campus. “I really wish more people would approach racial relations in the way that you did, by holding back their opinions, listening to others, and being supportive when needed.  Overall, it was great having you as a roommate.  You taught me a lot of things too…that people can change their views if they are really open and want to understand the other point of view.”

It’s clear I was getting what college should be, a truly transformative experience.

But then I had a healthy dose of reality set in. I was on fire for my Africana Studies courses and wasn’t for the classes of my major. So over Christmas Eve dinner of my sophomore year, I boldly announced to my parents I was switching my major, wanted to go to the peace corp, and then become a professor of African History. It did not go over well. They told me I could change my major all I wanted, but they wouldn’t pay for my education. As hot, angry tears rolled down my cheeks, my father’s words rang in my ears. “Who cares what a white person has to say about race?”

So I did what any logical 19-year-old would do and that was continue to take classes and just not tell my parents. I kept my original major and supplemented it with Literature of the Caribbean, Slave Narratives, African-American history, and more to feed this desire. I read Martin AND Malcolm. I stayed active in CBS, attempted to get my white friends to come to meetings and events, called out my sorority when they tried to have a “ghetto” themed party, with varying degrees of success. Some white friends were receptive, many were defensive and I often impacted relationships. I used my role as a Resident Advisor to do programming around racial justice and invited sometimes resistant white residents to attend CBS events. I did original research on the racial discrimination my friends faced, wrote a senior thesis on the sociological implications of the Divine Nine, and marched on Washington with my friends when an affirmative action case was being heard by the Supreme Court. My parents still don’t know about that one!

I don’t share these example to do what so often well-meaning white people do and that is collect “ally” cookies, expect a pat on the head for being a decent human being, or to prove I’m one of the “good” white people, but instead to illustrate the possibilities of engaging white students in reflections on race through conversations across cultures, co-curricular engagement, and academic curriculum.

It is this critical reflection, acknowledgement of my responsibility to use my racial privilege to work towards critical change and the amazing educators/friends that led me to student affairs. It was this undergraduate foundation that brings me to this stage. It is being pushed and challenged and called out and called in by amazing professors in my graduate program like Dr. Dafina-Lazarus Stewart and Dr. Ellen Broido. It is reckoning with my privileges and realizing I didn’t need to be an expert before I could think critically think about myself, my peers, or my students in new ways.

So what does this mean now? What does my story have to do with us in this room? Well, first I want to apologize. To my Asian, Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and multiracial colleagues, I am deeply sorry. Your white colleagues, myself included, have not done enough. We have been silent. We have mistaken the feeling of being uncomfortable with being unsafe. We have huddled in corners and looked to you as experts and asked you to educate us. We have re-centered conversations with our tears and have crowned ourselves allies when we have done nothing to deserve the title. We’ve been all about social justice during job interviews and then operated like business as usual when black and brown bodies have been brutalized, not just in Ferguson or Baltimore, but on our very own campuses. We have lost opportunities to educate white students about their privileges. We have looked to diversity offices to do “the work” of inclusion and equity when this is everyone’s work because students of color are everyone’s students, even if we don’t act like it. We have been so worried about doing the wrong thing that we don’t do anything at all. And it is unacceptable.

So what can white professionals do? We can stop christening ourselves allies without taking action. I know I try to be an ally, but you need to talk to my friends, colleagues, and students to see if my actions match up with my aspirations. We can stop trying to learn on the backs of our colleagues. By constantly positioning professionals of color as the educator of able white professionals, we place undue burden on them when we have all the resources we need right at our fingertips. Want to know more? Do the work. Google brings up 146 million results for the “white ally.” Don’t ask your colleagues of color to labor for you for free. By doing so, you are further perpetuating problematic systems of inequity. For example, I had two amazing women of color, Heather Browning and Bulaong Ramiz read over this speech and provide suggestions and I paid them for their time. I didn’t expect them to want to help me, simply because I’m showing some commitment to progress.

White professional can stop using intersectionality as a reason to opt-out of conversations around race, because yes, I am a woman and middle-class and temporarily able-bodied and many other target and agent identities, but none of them make me any less white. We can interrupt racist assumptions. We can sit down and be quiet when people of color are gifting us with their truth and we can stand up and shout when their voices are not being heard. We can ask students of color how they are and actually listen and respond with compassion. We can realize our colleagues of color are weary, not just from doing their jobs, but also from living in a world which consistently tell them they don’t matter.

We can think about how racism is woven within the structures and institutions on our home campuses. I realize this can be especially overwhelming. I get it. But you take down structures brick by brick, so what’s your brick going to be? Maybe you will look critically at how students are given housing assignments so the students of color aren’t placed in segregated housing due to economic resources. Maybe you will suggest an author who isn’t white for your first year common read book. Maybe you will ask why there are so many people of color as cafeteria and custodial workers, but few in top leadership positions. Maybe you will ask how financial aid practices impact retention rates of students of color. Maybe you will take a critical look at getting beyond tolerance during your student leader training. Maybe you will commit to diversifying your social media networks so you aren’t constantly seeing narratives similar to your own. Maybe you won’t so quickly dismiss white students who don’t “get it,” around issues of race because I didn’t get it until I was asked to think and reflect and struggle with myself. Maybe you will instead think about how to provide an experience like I had in college which wove race into conversations across cultures, co-curricular engagement and the academic curriculum. Maybe you’ll ask why the racial composition of your college doesn’t match the glossy pictures of your brochures. Maybe you will not just buy tickets to a Beyonce concert, but engage your students in conversations of the #BlackGirlMagic found in Formation. Maybe you will partner with your campus police departments to address relationships with communities of color. Maybe you will vote. And help your students become informed voters. Maybe you’ll listen. Maybe you’ll read. Maybe you’ll think. Maybe you’ll do something. Anything. If you’ve been waiting for a sign, this is it. Let’s collectively answer my father’s question, “Who is going to listen to a white person talk about race?”

Let’s get to work. We have plenty to do. Thank you.

 

757_10154831199178538_4047413462821782763_n

 

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , ,

“Do Your Research!” Wait, What Does that Actually Mean?

I was delighted to be asked to write a blog for The Placement Exchange website. My topic was all about being prepared and “doing your homework” for the looming job search. Thanks to Nekesa Straker and the TPE blog for the opportunity to write about researching, while not creeping, on future employers and positions.

 

If your job search turns out anything like mine, you will hear the advice of “do your research” over and over again. You will hear it so often, it may start to lose its meaning, but doing your homework is often what will set you apart from other candidates. Showing off your research will help convince employers you want their job, not just any job.

  • Ask yourself, “What is the university all about?” Community college? Research 1? Liberal arts? HBCU? Religiously affiliated? Urban campus? Showing you have a comprehension of the type of university is the first step to doing your research and showing it off in your cover letter, interviews, and on-campus experience. For example, I have always worked at Jesuit institutions. If a candidate doesn’t mention anything about Jesuit education anywhere in their cover letter, or gives a blank stare during an interview when we ask about their understanding of the Jesuit mission, they will likely not be moving forward in our process.
  • Get the basics right. Nothing turns off an employer more than getting small, easy details wrong like the name of the position. Writing “Residence Hall Coordinator” when the job is actually “Hall Director” shows a lack of care and makes an employer wonder if you can bring an attention to detail to the position. Take a moment to check the spelling and titles of search committee members before you fire off a cover letter or thank you note. This means taking your time, and making sure you are applying to jobs in a slow, methodical fashion and not in marathon sessions, because this is often when details get missed. This also means reconsidering your plan to make a template cover letter and simply cut and paste specific details. Employers can smell a template a mile away!
  • Think about the resources already at your disposal. Reach out to your network, your professors, your cohort-mates, your mentors, and co-workers to ask if anyone has connections at the university. Even if there isn’t a direct link to the specific department, you can still connect with folks to learn so much! You can gain knowledge about campus culture, student life, what it is like to live in the location, or if there are good support networks for your specific identities.
  • Social media is your friend, when done in moderation. There are so many online resources for you to access information about the jobs that make your heart flutter. Official and unofficial Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts, LinkedIn profiles, YikYak, SnapChat, university hashtags, student newspapers online, and don’t forget the tried and true departmental website. If you ask a question for which the answer is easily accessible from online resources, it may give the employer pause and wonder if you are serious about the position. Also, I offer a small caveat around online resources. You can be informed and ask thoughtful questions without coming off as a creep. For example, perhaps you notice an interviewer tweeting on a conference hashtag. Don’t ask them how their dinner was with their grad school bestie, but perhaps ask a question about their favorite session they have attended at the conference.
  • Find a way to keep yourself organized and a way for this to be sustainable. It is great to have your stuff together during the phone interview season, but if you don’t keep this up during the TPE experience, you could sabotage yourself. One method I found helpful was to compile all of the information about the university, department, and position into a comprehensive folder with tabs. I also created a one-page overview of the most important information as a “cheat sheet” which I could quickly review during time between interviews. This helps keep it fresh and at the forefront of your mind to incorporate all of that hard-earned knowledge into your conversation with the employers. Whether it be note cards, file folders, a Google drive, setting up an Evernote account, or Post-Its, do what works for you to feel centered and as balanced as possible as you go into interview season.
  • Allow yourself to be surprised. You should absolutely be prepared, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you know everything about a department or position solely from your extensive research. Ask thoughtful questions and be receptive to the answers. You could find out your dream school isn’t a great fit after all, while an underdog may race to the front of the pack.
Tagged , , , , ,

What Do You Do All Day?

I recently transitioned from the role of Resident Director to Assistant Director and moved across the country. While I was home for the holidays, my mother naturally asked, “What do you do all day at work?” It was a fair question. She could wrap her head around my role as a Resident Director because she lived in a residence hall in college. She often likes to say that if she knew student affairs was a career, she probably would have gone into the field.

Truth be told, I struggled to answer her question. My sarcastic, pithy, one-sentence answer was, “Emails and meetings, all day long.” I know I do more than that, but how can I quantify it? Sure, I often have hilarious stories about the requests or reactions of students or parents, and I can wax poetic about the future of higher education with the best of them, but what is it that I do? Why am I getting paid? What output is expected of such compensation? I’ve been pondering this for awhile after listening to a ProReps Aside podcast from Valerie Heruska and Matt Bloomingdale that asked this question and then I stumbled upon this tweet from the incomparable Mallory Bower:

Ma’am, I dip my hat to you. I think it is a really good question to think about. What is it that you do? Not what you hope to do, or want to do, or write on your professional development plan, or what you tweet about, but what do you actually accomplish on a day-to-day level? 

In the past two weeks, this is what I have accomplished: 

  • Had one-on-one meetings with four incredible new professionals who I supervise as Resident Directors. Those conversations ranged from job searches, to training new student leaders, to facilities updates, to roommate conflicts, to their own professional development plans, and about a hundred other topics in between.
  • Wrapped up a job description for a summer ACUHO-I intern; scheduled interviews by juggling 11 different schedules and started to look at candidate profiles
  • Packed my entire office and said goodbye to my surrogate professional home for the past six months. This is in preparation of our department’s office reunification after nearly two years of having a main office and a branch office
  • Assisted my supervisor and co-workers in their office packing, which often meant telling them to stop telling stories about the items, cards, photos, or mementos in their hands and to instead start making decisions about what to keep or toss
  • Attended the first National Residence Hall Honorary chapter meeting of the year and offered advice as their co-advisor around induction ceremonies and upcoming programming
  • Read, sorted, replied to, and crafted hundreds of emails. Hundreds.
  • Booked my hotel and travel for NASPA and started working on my speech for a SA Speaks session
  • Organized a meet-and-greet for several faculty members, administrative partners, and Residence Life staff for our Learning Community program in an attempt to pair in-class learning with out-of-class experiences
  • Presented three times in one day to 100+ Resident Advisors and Learning Community Advisors during winter training about OrgSync, a new programming model, and ways technology can work for them
  • Laughed a lot. Like, more than you probably expect. Our work is fun.
  • Attended my first CASCHA meeting; met several other Chicagoland professionals, sat on a panel about interviewing in student affairs, and conducted a mock interview with a new professional
  • Rolled out OrgSync implementation to our entire department and held my breath when all of our student staff members logged on for the first time; spent several hours troubleshooting said issues with student staff members
  • Completed really boring, but really necessary parts of my job like approving timecards, submitting receipts for purchases, and updating budget logs
  • Met with partners and faculty to discuss the future of our Service and Faith Learning Community, which spawned ideas on how to improve the entire LC program in the future
  • Reviewed resumes and cover letters from graduate students at my current institution, from my alma mater, in addition to grads who have reached out over Twitter
  • Attended the annual Res Life Prom. Yep, it’s a thing.
  • Brainstormed online training modules for Learning Community Assistants to increase academic support and integrated learning for members of all Learning Communities
  • Attended a divisional retreat for half of one day and a departmental retreat for an entire day
  • Rolled out an entirely new programmatic offering for our rising sophomore students in an attempt to increase participation and engagement while in our halls. So. Freaking. Excited!!!
  • Followed the incredible Higher Ed Live podcast on #blacklivesmatter and participated in the backchannel
  • Met with colleagues in our Admissions Office to streamline the housing application process for incoming first-year students who are interested in joining a Learning Community
  • Attended a total of 21 meetings in ten days, most of which required prior preparation and follow-up

This was just the past two weeks and I would argue it was a light few days since only one week had students on campus. I would also add conduct, parental phone calls, mental health concerns of students, being on call for our department, and regular committee work to a typical work week. So why is it that I was so dismissive when asked, “What do you do all day?” Did I not want to sound like I was whining or bragging? Did I underestimate my mother’s ability to understand the ‘intricacies’ of the work I do? Or is it because I’m not used to hearing what people actually do in their work?

As a new professional, I often remember thinking, “Hmm, what exactly does my boss do all day? They don’t supervise RAs, they aren’t first responders, they aren’t doing the ‘work’ of committees, so how do they spend their time?” As a student and Resident Advisor, I remember thinking the same thing about my RD. I think we all need to talk about what we actually do more often. Not in some cute sound-bite, or conference introduction, or carefully crafted Twitter profile, but in depth and in detail. How else are our graduate students and new professionals going to know if they actually want to continue in the field? We owe it to them to be transparent and we owe it to ourselves to quantify our day-to-day work so when someone asks, “What do you do all day?” we are ready, whether that person is your mother, an accrediting agency, your supervisor, the university president, or students who should be the focus of this work every day.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Middle of Somewhere: 5 Ways to Stay Connected as a Middle Manager

We’ve all heard the adage, “The higher up you climb, the less student interaction you get.” I remember hearing this for the first time in grad school during a seminar my program hosted. Our VPSA walked us through a typical day, which consisted of approximately eleventy billion meetings, strategic planning, lots of emails, caucusing with other professionals at his level, and “If I’m lucky, I’ll have a quick conversation with our student office assistant.”

My naive grad school brain was floored. How could someone in such a position of power and decision-making have so little contact with the very people who would be impacted by such decisions? Why did the people with the least amount of [perceived] power (i.e. grad students such as myself) serve as advisors, supervisors, hearing officers, mentors, and more? I remember promising to myself that as I moved up, I would maintain regular contact with students at my institution.

Well, that is much easier said than done. I have recently transitioned from entry to mid-level management. This means I no longer supervise student leaders, I don’t have a front desk with a ton of student traffic feet from my office door, I don’t advise a hall council, I’m not expected to attend late night programming, I haven’t yet had a judicial case, and I work in a central office. Therefore, between administrative work, answering emails, having one-on-ones with with RDs, and running committees, it is entirely possible to go throughout the day and never see a student.

I was reminded of my grad school experience as I was transitioning into my new role and I was determined to not be an out-of-touch administrator, especially during my first year while I am still figuring out student culture. Even though the desire was there, the means were not as clear. I couldn’t just show up in classes or sit down to lunch with random students without being viewed as a creeper. I didn’t have the same responsibilities and expectations, and now I was living off-camus. This meant I usually left around 5pm and enjoyed cooking dinner, blogging, and catching up with Netflix. So how was I going to stay connected? For me, it was all about being intentional.

Duty Walks with RAs

Since I started my position the same day our grads did, I missed two weeks of RD training. I hadn’t had the chance to really walk our facilities or be on floors due to the blur of RA training and opening. I knew that if a major facility issue happened while I was on-call, I was going to struggle to envision the problem or quirks of our communities. Therefore, I’ve been doing the first set of rounds within one community per week since the start of school. This has not only helped me understand the unique needs of our community, but also connect with our incredible staff of Resident Advisors, as well as students we encounter while on our walks. There have also been a few challenging staffing situations in our department, so members of our Leadership Team are sometimes given the narrative of the bad guy, so I like to think of duty walks as a miniature goodwill tour as well.

Grad Assistant 1-on-1s

One of the very first things I did at the start of the year was send an invitation to all 13 of our Assistant Resident Directors and offer to set-up a lunch or chat over coffee. Nearly all of them took me up on my offer and I’ve been meeting with one or two ARDs per week. This has been absolutely amazing. Our department is fairly large (nearly 40 when everyone is present) so it is easy to lose connection with our graduate students in the haze of meetings and agendas. I’ve learned about their coursework, path into student affairs, side hobbies, how their staffs are doing, how they are transitioning to the field, or what their job searches may look like in a few months. These conversations have been mutually beneficial. I’ve received feedback that many grads appreciate someone in my role reaching out to them, getting to know them better, and also sharing pieces of my own journey.

Advising Opportunities 

When our chapter of NRHH needed a co-advisor, I jumped at the opportunity. Yes, this meant several more meetings and nighttime programs on my docket, but getting the chance to have direct contact with amazing student leaders was something I could not pass up. These student leaders represent the top 1% of all residence hall students on our campus so they are driven, organized, motivated, and genuinely invested in living out the organization’s values. I meet with the executive board every other week, do my best to attend general board meetings twice a month, and I plan to support my team as they put on monthly programs on campus. More time? Sure. Worth it? Absolutely.

Staff Meetings and Trainings 

I’ve offered up my love of presenting and facilitating staff development workshops to a few of the RA teams and I’ve been booked to present Strengths to an RA staff next week. This smaller, more focused opportunity not only helps me get more face time with our student leaders, but also takes some pressure off of the RD and ARD as they don’t have to facilitate the activity. I hope the RAs will enjoy learning more about their Strengths and how its impacts their leadership styles, and if it goes well, I hope to be invited to more staff meetings throughout campus.

Social Media Outlets

While the other options I’ve listed do require physical presence, engaging with students via social media can be done from the comfort of my home, usually while wearing sweatpants. I’m a firm believer in the phrase “lurking is learning,” so even if I’m not having conversations with students online, just scrolling through Instagram or searching for key phrases on Twitter gives me a jumpstart on understanding student culture. Also, for all of its shortcomings, Yik Yak has also served as a useful tool for me to see what is going through the heads of our student body, or even community members who are within a certain radius of campus. Yes, there are horrible things going on through the app (which is another post for another day), but I’ve also learned a great deal about classes, study habits, party culture, and transitional issues of students through the posts, upvotes, and comments.

In order to do my job well, I need to make decisions based on student needs and not just my perceptions of those needs. This can’t happen if I’m holed up in my office, huddled over my email, or constantly in meetings. Even if it means using some of my nighttime or weekend hours, its worth it in the end. I didn’t get into this field to work a typical 9-5 schedule, so sometimes those non-traditional hours make the 9-5 a heck of a lot easier.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Sometimes My Job Sucks

Truth time: Sometimes my job sucks 

I work in Student Affairs, specifically within the area of Residence Life. I’m an Assistant Director, which means I work with our learning community programs, academic support initiatives, supervise full-time RDs, serve on committees, attend a lot of meetings, and deal with even more emails. Before this, I was a live-in Resident Director for seven years.

We are in the midst of Careers in Student Affairs Month, a time when we promote our field, tell our story, and jumpstart many an undergraduate student leader to join our ranks. I have been seeing a great number of engagement opportunities, from webinars, to an Instagram contest, to an essay competition, to the ongoing #CSAM hashtag on social media and within blog posts. I love this. Seriously. I think all of these offerings are incredible ways to showcase our work, but in the effort to “sell” Student Affairs, something gets lost in translation. 

What gets lost for me is that sometimes my job sucks. 

Not all the time, and I would argue not even most of the time, but sometimes, yes, my job sucks. And that needs to be part of the Careers in Student Affairs Month narrative too. Sometimes I have to deal with duty situations at 3am when I would rather be asleep. Sometimes I have to listen to two students argue about the most ridiculous details of living together when I just want to yell, “Grow up already!” Sometimes I gets angry calls from frustrated parents who decide I’m the reason their child isn’t thriving. Sometimes I’ve sought the help of a professional counselor due to a tumultuous relationship with a supervisor. Sometimes I felt guilty for not attending my RA’s programs or worse, felt resentful when I was in attendance when I would have rather been doing anything else. Sometimes I’ve been so frustrated with campus politics that I questioned how progress could ever occur. Sometimes I’ve gone blurry-eyed from the seemingly endless amounts of emails when a good portion of them could be addressed with a simple phone call, or even better, common sense. Sometimes I compare myself to friends in other professions who are purchasing homes or taking incredible vacations because their salaries provide for such luxuries. Sometimes I’m asked to do unthinkable things to support students, including being present when they are told their roommate has passed away. Sometimes I feel totally out of my depth. Sometimes I wonder why I’m trusted to do this work at all. Sometimes I’m exhausted. Sometimes I’m reminded that this is indeed a job, and sometimes it’s a job that sucks. 

But most of the time? Most of the time this work feeds my soul. Most of the time I know, at my core, that this work matters.

Most of the time I know that being present at 3am means I can support a student at what may be the worst moment of their collegiate career. Most of the time I’m reminded that the skills students learn during a roommate mediation may influence business, romantic, and friend relationships for years to come. Most of the time I hear the pain and worry in a parent’s voice who really just want to know that their child is going to be okay, and I can help be part of that process. Most of the time I’ve cherished the time I’ve spent with RAs and residents at programs, and the conversations have helped to shape my practice. Most of the time my colleagues and supervisors have helped me navigate campus politics to better serve our student population. Most of the time emails help us take a team approach to solving problems. Most of the time I know that while my friends are buying houses or going on vacations, they’ve never seen the growth of a student or staff member that fills you with so much pride, you can’t help but grin. Most of the time students in crisis thank me, genuinely, warmly, and usually more than once. Most of the time students make me laugh and help me reflect on my place in the world. Most of the time this field makes me examine both my privileged and marginalized identities. Most of the time, this job is not a job at all, but instead a vocation.

So yes, sometimes this job sucks, but I know this job always matters. Always. 

Tagged , , , , , , ,