‘You don’t count.’
As a young student affairs professional in my second year in the field,those words stung me. It was the morning of September 11, 2001 and tragedy had just struck New York City, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania. I remember watching live on a black and white television at our switchboard desk in the main administration building. From the beginning there was a suspicion that Muslims were somehow responsible for those terror attacks. Someone from my university wanted to make sure that all the Muslim students were supported and connected to campus.
As these plans were being made, I mentioned that I too, was Muslim. The response to my declaration was – ‘you don’t count.’ I have tried to figure out for years why I didn’t count. Did I not count because I was staff and not a student? Did I not count because I am African American? Did I not count because they ‘knew’ me? In that moment I didn’t ask that question, I just went to work making sure that our Muslim students knew that they counted.
Over the years, I have worked to make meaning out of my work in student affairs. I have worked to support marginalized students as they navigate through sometimes hostile campus climates, and as they develop into the people that they want to become.
The Orlando tragedy is the latest reminder that the college experience does not happen in a vacuum. We are a part of the larger world. What goes on in our classrooms and residence halls diversely impacts our students, faculty, and staff as much as what goes on around the country. Let’s make sure we see them for who they are and let them bring their whole intersectional selves with them. We all count and need someone we can count on to help us make sense of the senseless.
This post is part of our #SAprosContribute series, which aims to answer the question: How can you contribute solutions or actions when a tragedy like Orlando occurs as a Student Affairs professional? We will hear from Student Affairs Professionals of all backgrounds on their take on contributing to make positive change on campus after a tragedy. For more info, please see Mehtap’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series.