I recently opined an open letter to career services professionals. After shopping the piece to several national organizations I presumed would have a vested interest in professional preparedness of practitioners, I was met with lukewarm responses about being “a great writer” whose focus was outside the organization’s scope. Thanks to the great folks on the SAC writing team, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to provide a brief summation of those points here:
At many of our institutions, it is unclear whether the work we do in career services is Student Affairs or something else entirely. Across the country, our offices are and have remained an integral part of Student Affairs divisions, but our student focus is often juggled with important employer relations commitments. This has brought me to the realization that our profession is at a social, moral, and ethical crossroads. A place of deciding whether we will keep trying to fit within existing systems or decide to buck them all for what is best: helping students find meaningful work.
I am especially intrigued by career services when I think of the ideological and pedagogical assumptions that plague our organizations. We are at a time where we must decide what inclusion and opportunity mean when the president-elect of a leading organization pens what can be interpreted as oppressive ideals masked as professional guidance (See: Kathleen Powell on NACE Blog)… A period where we must ask why NACE does not see connections between professional preparedness of career services professionals and the services we work to provide students who often reflect a more complex world than that we came of age within… Or where we must wonder why NASPA is just now forming a career services knowledge community… All of this to say nothing of the difficulties balancing the oft-competing interests and visions of a multigenerational workplace.
As a researcher and career services practitioner, I have a vested interest in understanding these phenomena—and an enduring commitment to sharing what I have learned. One thing that has become crystal clear to me is this: The more I learn about the importance of considering social identities in career services, the more I am met with resistance toward its inclusion. Lipstick diversity, I like to call it.
Take a religious student, for example, who sits across from me and says “if it is his will,” implying the role of their God(s) or savior in the job or graduate school search process. Rather than shying away, I must ask this student reflective questions and challenge how students prepare to receive what they call blessings. A student saying God will help them find a job when they are not doing the minimum acceptable practices for such a process to take place need not be scolded or dismissed for their beliefs, they should be challenged to do their part of the work—a process that I view has nothing to do with my beliefs and everything to do with their own.
By getting over the concept that we should avoid religion, race, class, gender, or sexuality for that matter, we create spaces that are more inclusive of all students- spaces that do more than pay lip service diversity concepts, because we help prepare our students to think about the environments and structures they work best in. We centralize their development and growth among their social identities in relation to job fit, success, and satisfaction. Suffice it to say that we cannot begin to educate if we do not investigate the undertones, background, and systemic structures that create the conditions in which our students experience career development. How can we discuss salary negotiation without acknowledging the gender wage gap and stereotypes about women? How can we acknowledge the gender wage gap without recognizing racism and xenophobia as driving influences in pay disparities within gender lines?
So what does this all mean? For me as a Black woman doing this work, I wish to see more support, empathy, recognition and commitment across the board. An acknowledgment that we cannot further marginalize already minoritized students while calling it advice or continue to use best practices that force us to act as if students can compartmentalize career decisions from their culture, country, and ethnic experiences—things that at any time may be significant for them. It is high time that we as career services professionals work together to establish new norms and guidelines for our field and to help bridge the gaps between student experiences as transitioning professionals, and our national best practices.
Yours in Service,
Brittany M. Williams
> BONUS <
Podcast With Mallory Bower on Career Services and Job Search Tips