Welcome Back! I’ve been away from this space for a long time- two and a half weeks to be exact- but I promise that I have a legitimate reason. Over the past week, I’ve been to New Orleans and back for the NASPA 2015 International Convention, taken a quick trip to Cambridge, MA to attend an event at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and presented at the DIVE RI conference at URI, so this was definitely one of the times where I wasn’t in this space because I was busy living life in an effort to have more to say here. With that in mind, I want to take some time to talk about NASPA, my experience presenting at DIVE, and (because EVERYONE has talked about it at some point) the Yik Yak debacle at NASPA last week.
First of all, I couldn’t have been happier to be in New Orleans last week- the 40 degree hike in temperature and relative increase in general friendliness in the area (the South does beat the Northeast there…) was a great improvement from what I was dealing with at home so that made the pursuit of professional development easy. The opening session, which featured among other speakers Dr. Jennifer Arnold of “The Little Couple” and “Little People, Big World”, was phenomenal- I really appreciated her message of hope, perseverance, and resilience as a way of framing the idea of “Navigating With Courage.” As much as I did enjoy what was offered at NASPA ’15, I will say that I got even more out of getting to meet new colleagues and folks who’ve reached out to me as a result of my blog and Twitter activity than I did the sessions. That being said, there were a number of great sessions that I really enjoyed- a few highlights are below:
I usually go into conferences with a game plan of sessions I want to attend; this year I decided to be open to seeking out topics I hadn’t typically gone to see. The first was “Blogging Bravely: Thoughts, Tips and Advice from the Blogosphere”; for one, being able to meet fellow SAPros who are bloggers and whose work I’ve had the privilege to read like Paul Brown, Josie Ahlquist, Marci Walton, Kimberly White and Renee Dowdy was a great way to get the conference started. In addition, I really appreciated hearing questions from others who were either thinking about blogging, had recently started or in a couple of cases from folks who had been writing publically for years. Lots of important topics related to the art and science of blogging in student affairs came up- how do you give credit to others when writing? Navigate office and institutional politics when it comes to writing and being associated with your institution? Blend your personal and professional lives in one blog? I liked that the session was a discussion with excellent participation in the backchannel on Twitter as well- more than any other session I attended this year, the group in this one made really good use of social media and made an effort to continue the conversation after the session ended.
While I missed Melissa Harris-Perry’s session (I’m going to need conference planners not to put the keynote up against other presenters…. KTHXBAI.), I did attend a session that raised some really interesting thoughts for me entitled Roles For Men In Advancing Gender Equity and The Advancement of Women To Senior Leadership Positions in Higher Education. Led by Dr. Shaun Harper (who I’ve known since 2006 when I participated in one of his studies on young Black men in college), Dr. Hikaru Kozuma and Marc Christian, the session highlighted some of the ways that men in higher education intentionally or unintentionally perpetuate oppression and subjugation of female professionals and discussed what male allies can do to better support women in the field. Hearing that women made up less than 3% of the top paid athletic leadership on college campuses, among other details, was truly eye-opening. The presenting team were careful to highlight both that women didn’t need male saviors (hence the name change from Ensuring to Advancing Gender Equity) and that male privilege and power was not universal due to intersectionality (so men of color, gay men and trans men are not necessarily as powerful as White, heterosexual cis males), and encouraged group discussions where men and women were able to interact with each other and learn from each other as well as the presenters, which was incredibly helpful. As a professional who has worked in environments in Student Affairs that were predominantly female (including two with women in senior leadership positions), I think at times it’s been easy to think that this isn’t an issue; however after reflecting, I have to admit that this isn’t the norm everywhere. The divisions I’ve been in where women have been promoted were like that because the women had male allies who would support them and call out other men who were oppressive- behavior that is needed everywhere if we’re to see more women in leadership.
I went to a couple of sessions that were specifically targeted towards Black SAPros, which is always really important for me at national conferences; as much as I love Region 1, we don’t necessarily get as many opportunities to do so regionally so I try to take advantage of the opportunity as much as possible when I get to the national level. Two sessions in particular (From Their Voices: How Black Administrators Manage Racism in Higher Education & Glass Ceilings or Mirrors?: Career Trajectory for Black SAPros) were great spaces to discuss the issues that Black SAPros face in particular. So many thoughts that have crossed my mind over the past few years were brought up in these sessions: deciphering whether or not incidents I’ve experienced were racism, figuring out whether or not I wanted to “do the dance” or “play the games” needed to move up in my career, and thinking about what the future held- advanced positions, Ph.D. programs, etc. Conversations about mentorship, networking, and giving back to grads and younger professionals came up in both sessions, as well as having the ability to use coded responses and thoughtful reactions to potential acts of systematic racism or microaggressions (as a trained social worker, I know that the words “Tell me more…” have WAY more power than you might think), and the energy of being in a room of predominantly Black professionals was definitely something I appreciated and didn’t even realized I was missing.
Finally, I had the privilege of attending sessions led by former supervisors (Movin’ On Up The Ladder of Student Affairs) and colleagues (Remedial (Social) Class Work: Supporting Students of Lower Socioeconomic Status) that were amazing as well. As someone who is eagerly seeking to move up to the next level of my career, I really appreciated hearing the USC ResLife team’s thoughts and their sharing the three levels of thinking (Blue Collar, Blueprint and Blue Sky) that professionals need to master at each level in order to be able to move up. The session of working with students across class lines was great in covering a topic that as a field we don’t necessarily do well enough despite claiming to do so.
Overall, the sessions were solid- a lot of great material that I felt like I could take back to my institution and share. This year felt like I went for more items that would be personally beneficial rather than for my department, but in personally benefiting I’m sure I’ll be able to support my team, my region and my colleagues more (at least that’s what I’m telling myself, so…)
Diversifying Individuals Via Education (DIVE RI)
If being a participant at NASPA was a treat, being able to present at the Diversifying Individuals Via Education (DIVE) conference at University of Rhode Island on Saturday was a real privilege. About eight weeks ago, I got an e-mail from the student leadership team inviting me to participate as a presenter for the conference, which according to their mission statement “seeks to promote intercultural competence and inclusion on college campuses through workshops and discussions.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not getting personal invites to present here, there and everywhere so when someone reaches out and I’m available, I’m going.
The conference was a great one- primarily organized by URI students, for URI students- and while I only was able to attend on Saturday morning when the bulk of the workshops were offered the schedule was packed with social and educational activities that looked great- a hair show, keynotes by Drs. Damon Williams and Marc Lamont Hill, and performances by student groups in addition to the sessions that I was present for. There were some great options on the schedule including sessions on the prison industrial complex, respectability politics, mentoring, white allyship, student activism and “post-racial” America.
My presentation was entitled “Underrepresented and Overwhelmed”- my focus was on the college mental health crisis and how it affects students of color in particular (presentation slides below- look for a post on this specific topic next week) and how others can help. Overall, I loved the part of the conference that I was able to attend- in particular a presentation entitled Blacklisted: The Influence of Racial Bias on Higher Education led by three White URI students was especially impressive and highlighted a great example of White allyship in action. DIVE RI was a great way to end the week, and I can’t thank the students who organized it enough for inviting me to speak!
The Great Yik Yak Debacle of 2015
I know what you’re thinking. Yes, we have to talk about this again. No, I won’t belabor the points made over and over and over again in the past week, but I wanted to consolidate what I thought at least once in this space. I’ll keep it brief and bulleted:
- I’m still shocked about how much attention this actually received- an official statement from NASPA national headquarters, an article in the Chronicle, an impromptu session at the end of the conference all over what was likely the work of a small group of people (AT MOST) really was stunning. I will say that I am glad that it DID get attention because it exposed the fault lines in the SAPro community that we need to explore and manage.
- Personally, I’m not shocked by any of what happened outside of this- WE ALL know that people engage in all of the behavior that got broadcasted on Yik Yak at conferences, and if anything it just proves that SAPros are themselves human. I think that at times we spend so much time telling each other that we are “on” all the time (a concept that if you read my post on busyness you know I don’t believe in) and that we have to be role models 25/8 that we forget that the best role model makes mistakes but knows how to acknowledge when they screw up and apologize. I’m a big proponent of treating my fellow professionals as well as I treat my students- and I really wonder if some of the comments and attitudes coming out would be focused towards students.
- There’s a lot of conversation on whether or not going to a conference for work is a vacation or not, based primarily on the Yak that someone posted about NASPA being their only 4 days off. First off, if you take 4 days off a year, there’s a serious problem either with your vacation strategy or your institution’s vacation policy… I’ve gone back and forth with this one; on one hand, none of us would be there if we weren’t working in student affairs in some way (I’m guessing a student affairs conference isn’t a typical vacation spot). On the other hand, taking time off away from your institution with fellow professionals or grads DOESN’T mean you can’t have fun. Exploring a city, having a couple of drinks, going dancing… all things that normal adults do, even when at conferences. Getting trashed, engaging in unsafe behavior… not normal, and not OK. I’d say that I look at NASPA and similar events as working vacations- I relax, enjoy myself and socialize but I make sure that I get enough work done that I can feel good about doing the fun stuff. Balance, people… it’s not that hard.
- I think we can all agree that the posts that highlighted sexual harassment, fat shaming and other blatantly offensive behavior were wrong, but in listening to and reading some of the responses to other posts we got to see how heteronormative, Judeo-Christian centric and self-righteous some of us can be at times. While I’m never an advocate for putting one’s dirty laundry out there, again I wonder if we are willing and able to give our fellow professionals the same space that we would give our students. Yes, they are professionals and are held to a higher standard- but sometimes we need to forget that even some standards are too high. Perfection and sainthood aren’t realistic expectations for anyone. Our field has a big problem in general with respectability politics and insecurity when compared to the academic side of the house in my opinion- and I’ve always been raised and taught that respect comes from within, so I’ve personally not felt like I needed to perform a certain role other than being a good person in general to win others’ favor.
- Finally, I’m hopeful that this conversation won’t go into the storage boxes with our convention badges in the coming weeks, but that we as a field will seriously interrogate our understanding of professional ethics, appropriate use of social media, and effective ways of calling each other in rather than calling each other out. Time will tell, but if you didn’t like what you saw last week, moaning about the plight of our field will not help- being an active part of making change will.
That’s enough from me for now- I’ll be back in a few days with a new Phriday post; whether it will be PROTIPS or PHEATURES will depend upon how the rest of this week goes.
Until next time, be well and be the change you wish to see in the world (or in the field)!