FT if you want to write, do it. pick a lens, start from there & don’t b afraid 2 grow. w/ reading: engage author, challenge your POV
#SAchat encouraged us to ponder the challenges and benefits of blogging. Several folks identified the haze of self-doubt as a hurdle to getting started. I can identify with the sentiment; I have a degree in one of those “related fields,” and with it comes a certain insecurity about the legitimacy of my professional opinions. Whether it’s a trope, cliché, or simply sound advice, I’d venture to say that most of us have heard the expression “write what you know.” I just happen to know something about linguistics.
In linguistics, there are two schools of thought surrounding grammar in particular that are often contrasted with each other. In simplest terms, descriptivists observe and describe language as it naturally occurs without judgment; prescriptivists, on the other hand, are made out to be rule enforcers, the grammar police, and the collective voice on “correctness.” You’re likely most familiar with the prescriptive approach to language in which you learn rules of grammar and what’s right and wrong. However, a descriptivist could argue that there is no such thing as bad grammar—so long as the community accepts and understands the language, there’s nothing wrong with it. Simply put, there is no right or wrong.
If the English-speaking world existed in a uniquely prescriptivist vacuum, maybe we would all be speaking the Queen’s English. We would have no regional dialects. “Eh” and “hey” as verbal punctuation would fail to thrive. Our culture would not reflect the way we speak and vice versa. “YOLO” wouldn’t be in the dictionary.
Language cannot evolve or progress without input, influence, and natural change. I argue the same about student affairs as a field. We know that with each generation of students comes a slightly different worldview and collective personality. I hear echoes of “meeting our students where they’re at.” Aside from this expression irritating the prescriptivists for its use of a dangling participle, it’s unassertive and self-effacing. Thousands of utterances of “meeting students where they’re at” happen around our conference tables and in our interviews, and we accept it. To say the words is simply not enough; we need to evolve with not only our students but also our other constituents, and we should accept and invite natural change as it comes.
If you think you have something to say, I encourage you say it. Whether you start a blog, contribute to a newsletter or collective, or pipe up more often in staff meetings at your institution, choose a starting point from which you can frame your concerns or your considerations. Be yourself, and pinpoint and articulate what makes your particular perspective unique. Worry less about impressing your colleagues and earning favorites or likes, and instead concern yourself with what it is you set out to express. Subscribe to a particular school of thought if that’s what you want, but invite others to join you in conversation to create a dialogue surrounding the topics you present. With others’ input, your ideas will evolve. Don’t worry about self-imposed deadlines on your own blog—write when you want to put pen to paper or fingers to keys. Just contribute something to further the greater conversation.
Sideline blog readers and silent meeting attendees can seek to interact with opposing viewpoints to sharpen your perspectives and to engage with individuals whose opinions differ from yours. Take the time that is necessary to process what you have read or heard, then formulate your response. The resulting discourse can determine if the time is right for a particular idea. Similar to language, we as a field cannot evolve without input, influence, and natural change.
In either case, whether you’re the blogger or the commenter, remember that you’re being watched and being noticed. Be pragmatic but not calculating in the way you choose to express yourself. If you identify a problem, suggest a solution or solicit input from your colleagues. We all have perceptions of what “professional” looks like on paper, so I encourage you to explore what that means to you before jumping in.
“It’s what we’ve always done” and “this is how it was when I was a student” endanger the work we do and wish to accomplish with our students. It feels prescriptive, restrictive, and constrictive. Everyone’s original thoughts, support, contributions, ideas, and musings, no matter how big or small, impact the trajectory of our field and help us figure out what comes next. Step back, observe the world around you, and tell us what you think about it. Help us move forward. Express yourself. Take a chance and say something. YOLO.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Josie & Lloyd Ahlquist on YouTube & College Students