I was not the norm.
I wasn’t recruited to become a student affairs professional because I was involved in campus leadership, or in Greek life, or because I held some position of importance while a student during my undergraduate career. I was a struggling engineering student who took a job as a peer mentor to help pay for my room and board. I had my sights set on working for Boeing, making 6-figures putting planes together and traveling the world. But, there were some Student Affairs pros who encouraged me to join the profession, and the predominant reason why was that I wasn’t the stereotypical student that often gets told to join the field.
I didn’t understand why I was recruited to join student affairs until graduate school, where I finally understood what those pros were telling me. I completely stood out as a man of color, as someone with an engineering degree, and as someone who is a introvert who didn’t have to say much in my aerodynamics class (but was expected to “reflect” a helluva lot in grad school). My class environment was dominated by cohort members talking about their undergraduate leadership experiences, many of which I didn’t have or couldn’t do because of what I was studying. Even as a professional, I’ve been surrounded by similar circumstances; being the quiet one around the boisterous, the person of color in mostly White spaces, and thinking analytically while others were emotional.
There is a reason why I don’t participate in Careers in Student Affairs Month to the extent I want to and why I’m very careful to recruit students to join the field. I honestly believe the students I recruit will stand out like I did and will find themselves being in a field that preaches inclusion but woefully practices it. All of my career, I’ve seen upper-level administrators encourage the student leader to go to graduate school for student affairs. These students have a level of privilege that affords them the chance to learn about student affairs and maybe get a recommendation from a VP or a dean. However, not all our students we serve get this chance; we currently have students who are working to support themselves and/or their families, those who are members of the U.S. military, and countless others who are not traditionally “shoulder-tapped” by professionals to join our ranks. That student leader might not become the best professional, but the introvert or the student with three on-campus jobs just might be best to understand what our diverse array of students are experiencing. Why recruit the same type of person to lead campuses that are rapidly evolving and require different styles of leadership?
Making sure student affairs remains viable for the future requires all of us, including professional organizations and graduate schools, to take a deep look at their recruitment efforts and how we are preparing students to be successful once they graduate. I submit that I must do my part; I have purposely not sought after the student government senator or resident assistant, but I must continue to encourage different students who have not typically been encouraged to go to graduate school. This means talking with underrepresented students, students with families, those with disabilities, and those from STEM backgrounds to think about serving campus communities as a professional. However, I certainly cannot do it alone. Our colleges and universities are full of diverse talent that experience campus life differently. As I’ve mentioned in the past, if Fortune 500 companies strive to hire different styles of thinkers and doers, we can easily do the same. In addition, graduate school programs must focus on increasing professional skills, like budgeting, crisis management, and facilities planning, where different skills and strengths are required to be successful that aren’t developed through reflection and focusing on social justice.
If a student asks you about working in higher education, be real with them. Jobs are highly competitive and advancement can be difficult. The stereotype of our field being full of extroverts and emotional thinkers who use the word “intentional” a lot is out there. There isn’t a job for everyone, despite what others may say to keep you thinking positively. You won’t change the world in this field, but you can positively impact someone every day. Our field talks a great game about “diversity” and “inclusion”, but there is a lot of discomfort around these issues and it will become evident multiple times through your career. It’s easy to fall into a trap to think and act like everyone else. And, not every student has the same campus experience, so it’s best to provide the service that meets their needs at that specific time. Finally, when a VP or Dean asks for your recommendation for students to participate in a Career in Student Affairs event, be bold and recommend students whom nobody else would suggest. They might turn out to be an amazing colleague.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Brittany Duron on Geeks & Nerds on Campus