I supervise two higher education/student affairs students in my professional role. Supervising, mentoring, and supporting the development of graduate students is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. As a graduate assistant supervisor, I socialize and shape the professional development of new student affairs professionals. This year, I was thrilled to bring the two student affairs graduate students I supervise to the 2016 ACPA Convention in Montreal.
I am a product of a well-known, well resourced, and respected student affairs master’s program. My graduate program provided me with a large network of faculty, professionals, and alumni who recognize, value, and respect my degree. In many ways, my graduate assistants do not have the same privilege. My institution of employment has a smaller, counseling based, higher education graduate program. In my experience, the program produces excellent graduates and student affairs professionals. However, this program does not necessarily carry the same privilege as other programs in the field. The 2016 ACPA convention challenged me to reflect on my privilege as an alumna of an “elite” graduate preparation program.
In an early ACPA debrief conversation with my graduate assistants; they commented on the isolation they felt because they are not associated with one of the big programs. I began to reflect on the implicit privilege, bias, or capital that comes with attending a small number of “elite” (or big/well known – insert your own adjective here) graduate preparation programs. In the moment, I focused on reassuring my students on the value of their experiences, the strength of the skills and knowledge they do have, and the ways they can continue to grow and succeed within the field. I have no doubt they will continue to be incredible professionals who contribute to the field in many ways. At the same time, I was challenged to acknowledge my own privilege as a graduate of one of the “elite” programs. What does it mean for our field – a profession that prides itself on community, mattering, and belonging – if a small number of graduate students and professionals occupy a space of educational privilege?
Student affairs must recognize that the majority of graduate preparation programs are located at large research institutions. However, many student affairs professionals do not go on to work at large research institutions. If graduate students are socialized at, or if our field places more value on, large research institutions, how are we continuing to replicate problematic structures of power, privilege, and lack of access? How can we value the diverse educational experiences graduate students and professionals bring to the field? How can we acknowledge the capital, knowledge, and experiences all graduate students bring? While research is an essential part of student affairs, professional and practical experience (at diverse institutional types) is equally as important.
As I return from ACPA, I am filled with familiar feelings of excitement, hope, and passion for the work I do and my professional community. I am also conscious of my own professional privilege, as a product of an elite program. However, this year, I am returning to my home campus with a new challenge. I plan to find new ways to validate and support my graduate assistants’ academic and professional experiences. I regularly see the quality of their knowledge, ideas, and professional contributions to the field and I hope that we, as a community of student affairs professionals, can challenge ourselves to do the same.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Kevin Kruger on Avoiding Burnout in Student Affairs