I’ll start with a confession. I’ve been fairly obsessed with Hamilton: An American Musical for approximately seven months now. It’s the story of Alexander Hamilton (and, by proxy, the founding and formation of the United States), told in a hip-hop musical format by a brilliantly talented cast that is comprised almost entirely (and intentionally) of people of color. The book, music, and lyrics were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also performs each night in the titular role.
It has become a cultural phenomenon in less than a year—tickets are nearly impossible to access, and the show recently received a record-breaking 16 Tony Award nominations. Rather than attempting to articulate why this show is important and should be universally appreciated (Jeremy McCarter has already done so here), I’m going to explain what Hamilton can teach us about career services.
Assemble A Cabinet
In Hamilton, the first Presidential Cabinet is formed under George Washington. Lin-Manuel Miranda often refers to his own “Cabinet,” a group of his closest professional colleagues and aides (director, choreographer, music director, etc.), and whose ongoing collaboration is the primary force behind the show’s success.
In our units, it’s critical to have a Cabinet, whether it’s strictly your leadership or the entire team. While career advising itself is very individualistic, our collective work relies on our ability to collaborate with others to best serve students. Your Cabinet should include people who will think differently and challenge each other to continuously improve processes and practices, but it should also be a unified support structure working toward a common goal. A strong Cabinet will move the organization forward and identify ways to sustain its success.
Diverse Voices Are Essential
One of the many reasons Hamilton is considered innovative is because the show was consciously cast with people of color to portray the Founding Fathers and their contemporaries. It’s a story of America then, told by America now, and it intentionally placed diverse representation in entertainment (and our history) in the spotlight. Diversity, inclusion, and social justice are core values of our profession, but we must do a better job of discussing how these values directly intersect with career services.
Is your unit’s staff representative of the campus body and are all voices
at the table in “the room where it happens”? Do you have a team liaison that partners with offices on-campus that specifically support diverse student populations? Have you asked for student feedback on ways you can create a more inclusive space? When did you last critically examine the policies and practices that might act as barriers for students with specific identities? The casting of Hamilton has centered diverse voices in a story that often excludes them—career services must be just as intentional about centering our work on those students who’ve been historically underserved by this functional area.
Perhaps the biggest theme of Hamilton is that of storytelling and legacy. The irony of trying to teach our students how best to tell their stories during interviews is that we, as career services units, rarely do a successful job of this ourselves. We often assume that our students, parents, campus partners, and employers understand our purpose, services, and value, but that isn’t always the case.
Sharing our story with these stakeholders ensures that we are able to tell a meaningful narrative. Whether that’s through effective marketing and promotion of events, social media, the distribution of employment outcomes data, presenting to classes and student organizations, or requesting to meet with campus partners, our willingness to share why our work is important and how it impacts students will shape our long-term legacy on campus.
While my colleagues are probably weary of listening to me blast Hamilton on Spotify each day, I’m grateful to be surrounded by a team that is dedicated to the topics I’ve discussed above. Hamilton was known for his unwavering passion for the causes he elected to support, and that’s a trait I think all career centers or offices should strive to embody as we work toward the continuous improvement of our services.
Rounding out the academic year with no particular theme, this month is a grab bag, where contributors can share any topic of interest. Because nobody puts baby in a corner.
This post is part of our #SACareer series, addressing careers in student affairs, careers outside of student affairs, and the work of career services professionals. Read more about the series in Jake Nelko’s intro post. Each post is a contribution by a member or friend of the Commission for Career Services from ACPA. Our organization exists to benefit the careers of career services professionals, student affairs professionals, and anyone supporting students in the career endeavors. For more information about how to get involved with the Commission for Career Services or the #SACareer blog series, contact Cristina Lawson at firstname.lastname@example.org.