Tag Archives: #studentaffairs

NASPA SA Speaks: A Recovering Racist

Hi friends. A few months ago, I took the stage at NASPA and shared my story of growing up in a racist environment and the transformational college experience that shook me out of my white privilege and set me down a path of deep reflection and purposeful action. NASPA has recently posted the video and I wanted to share with you. Please feel free to use, share, post, and send to your uncle who keeps forwarding you terrible email chains about the downfall of America.

 

To see a text version, click here

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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.

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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. 

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Middle of Somewhere: Transitioning to Middle Management

I just wrapped up my first week on the new job. It was a unique first week, because the first two days were spent at a staff retreat and Friday was at an all-day, off-campus day of service. It was also unique for me because I have made the transition from entry-level professional to mid-level professional. For the past seven years, I’ve been used to the typical start of the year for Res Life professionals, which means training with the professional team during July, student staff training during August, and opening halls in September.

While my previous two positions were amazing, rewarding, and challenging in many ways, I was ready for the transition to supervising professional staff members. During my first week, I realized just how different this experience has been compared to starting positions as an entry-level professional. I’ve decided to write about my transition, for better or worse, to supervising professional staff members and serving on my department’s leadership team.

I am no longer one of many. In my first job, I was one of 12 Resident Directors and in my last job, I was one of nine. Now, I am one of three Assistant Directors. I obviously knew this going into the job, but I was struck at how different the room felt. My current department has nearly 25 full-time and graduate RDs, so the rooms are very full, but not with people who do what I do. This means I no longer have a giant pool of folks who are sharing my experience and it has been a little jarring.

Oh yeah, I’m the one who gets the questions now. One of my new supervisees pulled me aside at the day of service to chat over her supervision plan with her grad. It took me until half-way through the conversation to realize that she was asking for my permission versus just my thoughts on her idea. It was weird. I’m so used to processing with my peers that it took me a bit to get my feet under me.

I’m part of departmental decision-making from the get-go. Day three involved interviewing a candidate for a Resident Director position and on day five I was asked who I wanted to hire, since I would be supervising this person. Um…what? I’ve spent seven years giving opinions and knowing they were valued, but also knowing that I wouldn’t be motivating or keeping that recommended person accountable. This changes things. I required me to shift my thinking from “Which one do I want to work with this year?” to “Which one is going to fit on the team, serve our students best, and will best benefit from the position?”

Stepping back with opinions, to allow others to step up. During my previous professional staff training experiences, I was always up for sharing what had worked in my community, with my staff, or with my students. I found myself purposefully stepping back this and allowing the current staff speak to their experiences instead. I found myself being very aware that while I had done the RD job before, I hadn’t done it here and before I started spouting off experiences, I should first be a student of this institution’s culture.

I still got nervous on the first day! For some reason, I expected a surge of confidence, but I was just as nervous as I had been started my other positions. I’m still a new person who needs acronyms to be explained, struggled with way-finding on a new campus, and needed to be reminded of people’s names.

The excitement is different, but still there. I can distinctly remember my first day as a new professional and it mirrored, in many ways, my experience last Monday. In the back of my mind, there was still a little bit of the Imposter Syndrome rattling around, but I took a deep breath, reminded myself that they chose me, and that I did belong here. I’ve got a lot to learn, but I know this is where I’m meant to be.

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Complaining vs. Commiserating

Let me set the scene: It’s Friday at 5pm, you’ve had a really rough week and a trusted colleague invites you for dinner or drinks and a little destress session from a long five days. You join them and a few other co-workers at the local bar or restaurant and the stories of the week start. Who had the worst student interaction, who had the worst duty call, who experienced the most ridiculous request from a parent, or perhaps the worst interaction with a supervisor.

We’ve all been there. We’ve commiserated and felt the sense of relief about having conversations with people who get it. Not with your parents who perhaps don’t really understand your job or a partner who empathizes and supports you, but doesn’t share your world, or friends who are still a little confused as to why you haven’t technically left college. There is something liberating about commiserating with people who simply understand.

I must admit that I am a member of this club. I have a group of six former colleagues who have since moved throughout the country, but we share a group text that has been going for the better part of two years. We’ve shared joys and sorrows, engagements, pregnancy news, the adoption of a wide variety of pets, and job search woes. What I love the most about this group of friends is the diversity of our conversations. Are there moments of pure steam-letting about colleagues, co-workers, supervisors, or University politics? Of course, but that is not the main connection to one another.

This leads me to question, when does commiserating in a healthy, reflective way border on complaining for complaining’s sake? I can’t help but think of all of the Twitter accounts that are based on the idea commiserating (or complaining), depending on your lens. Some of those accounts include SAProblemsBadSAPro, BadHallDirector, SAProSarcasm, BadSAPro, BitterSAPro, ResLifeSpouse, BitterHD, and the list goes on and on and on! Combined, these accounts have thousands of followers.

Are these accounts, and more specifically, conversations that in reality are complaining, moving our field forward? Are they doing us a service by pointing out the areas of frustration and tension or are they simply a way to play the “one up” game and think your woes are the worst?

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