You know that scene in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix where Professor Umbridge tries to oust Albus Dumbledore from Hogwarts? Umbridge was confident that Dumbledore is going to Azkaban and that she will become Headmaster of Hogwarts. In response, Dumbledore channels Effie and so coyly says,
“I have no intention of going to Azkaban. You seem to be laboring under the delusion that I was going to…what was the phrase? Come quietly.”
The shade of it all.
We all have an issue (or two, or fifteen) that we hold immense passion for. These issues matter to us because they are likely value-driven, deeply personal, and tied to our humanity. In the process of advocating, fighting, and lobbying for these issues, that passion can become empowerment. Our inner voice becomes so clear, so directed. Maybe in a way that we’ve longed for our entire lives.
And when you finally feel like you’re standing inside of who you truly are – why would you ever acquiesce or “come quietly?”
But if the larger student affairs community of 20,000+ has found their true, empowered, whole-hearted inner voice…why do I tend to politely generalize our community as a hot fucking mess?
I’m not blaming a single person or a small group for the state of our community. This is about our collective community unintentionally spreading hurt instead of feeling hurt, and conflating shame with accountability.
Here are three ways that I’ve seen this pain fester in our community:
- A colleague is ignorant or lacking knowledge in a team meeting about a current event that we consider to be integral to our personal well-being or safety. Your colleague is prompted to comment, but they don’t have what you deem to be an appropriate reaction. “How could you NOT know what’s going on with XXX?” you scream internally as you write off any contributions they’ll make to the team for the next six months.
- A peer tweets or writes about something from a viewpoint that we don’t like, understand or that doesn’t bolster our own worldview. Instead of engaging in a conversation about how they’ve come to a certain determination, we use half-truths to make full assumptions about character, work ethic and commitment.
- A friend is silent on an issue that we can’t help but be vocal about. “Why haven’t they posted yet?” we question as we repeatedly scroll through our timelines. We assume that if someone truly cares about us and our humanity that their commitment should manifest itself in a way similar to our own.
In a hyper-visible world, we react in the best way that minimizes our personal hurt – we lash out. We make a mental note to add individuals to our not-so-secret “do not hire” lists. We tag a colleague in a nasty thread so that they get the tea, too. We subtweet. In a culture of us versus them, we feel the need to go on the record with an opinion. Or worse, we get so fed up that we disconnect completely. All of these reactions rob us of the opportunity to come up with viable solutions to the issues we care for and the problems we’ve identified.
There is too much important work to be done on our campuses for us to spend time spreading vitriol within the student affairs community. Frankly, how do we even have the time? My new approach to engaging with our community is going to be decency as opposition. This phrase has stuck with me since I first read it on Instagram a few weeks back. What would it feel like for us to focus our actions around doing the right thing versus being the voice that always seeks to be right? What is the most positive assumption I can make based on the limited details I know about someone’s personal situation? I don’t want the strength of my inner voice to come at the cost of dehumanizing someone else in our community.
My call for decency as opposition isn’t a moratorium on critique within the community. Critique is still required, encouraged and necessary. I’m asking that instead of “agreeing to disagree” we stay present in difficult conversations. I want us to focus less on quieting dissenting voices and more on affirming the humanity of each community member. And in this process of using decency as opposition, I’m reminding myself (and others) that the complexity tied to current events and issues of social identity often require more nuance than is allotted in 140 characters.
This process won’t be perfect. It will involve a lot of committed individuals learning and unlearning, engaging and re-engaging in ongoing, personal work. But if we’re going to recruit aspiring #SAPro into the profession, I believe we have an obligation to do the work necessary to make our community stronger.
Will you join me?
October is Careers in Student Affairs Month (CSAM). While increased awareness of entry-points into the field are important to highlight, CSAM also serves as a way to discuss the larger culture of student affairs. Our pursuit of ensuring student affairs staff is representative of diversifying student demographics can’t come at the cost of health and well-being of staff. Add your voice to the conversation by using #CSAM17. Have ideas about a future series for the Student Affairs Collective? Contact Nathan Victoria at firstname.lastname@example.org.