Most of my colleagues, family, friends, and students were shocked when I told them I was moving to Minnesota. As a born and raised Californian, 1.5 generation Taishanese/mixed, queer, disabled, cisgender womxn of color student affairs administrator, the thought of leaving the familiarity of the Bay Area ocean breeze, redwood trees, and ready access to dim sum was not necessarily a transition I had foreseen. But with living costs increasing in the Bay Area, a desire to be geographically closer to family, my partner going back to school, and an interest to expand my work portfolio, moving to NASPA Region IV-East was the natural progression. Searching in the Midwest, I found myself securing a mid-level position at a large, public, research I institution in Minnesota.
At this point of my career, I expect transition as I expect the change of the seasons. I am not a master of navigating change, yet I am not a novice. There are moments of abundance and harvest, frost and solitude. I am a dynamic and adaptable person, qualities that impact me personally, politically, and professionally. I was excited and nervous about a new role in a functional area that resonated with my practice. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, I was ready to take on the challenges of working in a new environment.
I did not anticipate the challenges of supervising full time career staff, imposter syndrome, and the intensity of white supremacy’s impact as I moved up within the institution. Although I was active in the Asian Pacific Islander faculty and staff association and womxn of color coalition, I felt lonely and often wondered if I was making impact with students in ways I had aspired. After working myself to the bone and numerous chronic illness flare-ups, I had to take medical leave.
Now I am here to share lessons learned about moving into a new role and a semi-successful transition process. I am sharing wisdom from mentors and elders that have helped me negotiate and navigate as a mid-level, queer, disabled cisgender womxn of color in administration. These tactics aren’t for everyone, but I hope that others might find some ideas to adapt to their unique situations.
Ask colleagues and mentors if they know anyone who lives in the new place you’re going.
I reached out to people in my life, and they quickly introduced me to community members they thought could become friends and guides to living in Minnesota. From the moment I thought about relocating, I was talking with other queer people of color about their experiences, places to live, and events to check out once I moved. From something as simple as weather or transportation, I asked the questions big and small.
Once I was unpacked, I had a welcoming community within educational and nonprofit spaces. This community was excited to invite me to gatherings, find the much needed comfort food I loved, and locate places to purchase art supplies for my self-care. This helped Minnesota quickly feel more like home…and like I had support outside of my immediate work setting. People are usually surprised when I exclaim “I love where I live!” because of Minnesota’s stereotypically icy disposition, but my warmth quickly thawed people’s defenses. Building these relationships was terrifying, but I was thankful I moved outside my social comfort zone and made these connections.
Schedule informational interviews with colleagues from all over the institution.
This includes people you supervise, the student body president, student activists/advocates, faculty in a variety of disciplines, or colleagues with whom you might collaborate. And why not connect with some folks from local non-profits or other nearby institutions while you’re at it? For some of us, this type of network-building is intuitive. For others, this task might feel daunting and expensive – purchasing multiple cups of coffee adds up. Ask questions, but mostly listen. Notice what people say, but also take not of what is not shared. Pay attention to how people got into their roles, how they’ve worked with your office/role in the past, and what keeps them at the institution. Seek advice about how a person in your role can find success, community, and support.
Work is a priority, but it can’t be everything.
Build boundaries, protect your energy, and know your rights. As an Asian cisgender womxn, I have internalized the need to be a model minority. Sometimes I feel pressure to be the best at everything I do, at the detriment of my health and well-being. I struggle with saying “no” and wish technology existed so I could be in multiple places at one time. By the middle of my first semester, I skipped lunch too many times, had bags under my eyes, and was experiencing chronic pain. I was so anxious about missing any student event and realized I had stopped prioritizing myself. My aspirational boundaries of averaging a 40-hour work week, working out at least once a day, creating art, and spending time with my family had gone completely out the window.
I recognized that my priorities needed a hard reset when everything became about work. Having energy for my family was a non-negotiable. I started therapy (again), went to the doctor and dentist, blocked off lunches on my calendar, tallied my work hours on my calendar, limited myself to working one weekend per month, and joined a gym. I brought crystals and essential oils to work and set intentional two-minute meditations/body scans at the beginning and end of each workday. These privileges, however, cannot be taken lightly as not everyone has access to healthcare, human resources, and positionality to say “no.” But, to best serve myself, family, students, staff, and community, I needed to slow down and re-prioritize.
Being a martyr and internalizing white supremacy was no longer an option. Staying put was an option, but so was maneuvering to spaces and places where my identities are recognized and honored. Growing pains are normal, but only when you are able to take lessons from those moments that stretch you. I had to build and maintain boundaries, protect my energy, and recognize that I had agency in my decision-making. Remember that you are enough. You are so enough. And you are brilliant, masterful, and capable of making positive impact.
There are many ways to transition well, but these are a few strategies that have been helpful on my journey. Moving from an environment where I was surrounded by queer, trans, disabled, radical feminists who challenged me to work with and for intersectional equity and justice, to sub-zero temperatures was a shock to my system. And in many ways, my community and I did everything possible to make the transition as smooth as possible.
I am thankful for mentors and colleagues who challenged me to recognize my intuition and internalized oppressions; physical, emotional, and mental needs; and who taught me that transitions are a natural part of our lives. We can’t possibly plan for every change, but we can meet each moment with our best ability and capacity.
Good luck with your transitions big and small, everyone!
September is the month of transitions, especially on the college campus. Follow #SATransitions to read as the community reflects upon transition and change, personally and professionally. Want to write for this series or have ideas about future series? Contact Nathan Victoria on Twitter at @NathanVictoria or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.