As I scanned the status updates of Facebook friends on Inauguration Day, I noticed a word appearing over and over again: history.
Yes, today was an historic day as our nation’s first African American president took office.
But what does it mean to those of us working student affairs?
Truth be told, it probably means something different to each and every one of us, personally. All politics aside, there were probably moments of overwhelm for many of us, just trying to grasp the meaning of this day for our country and our world. For me, there were moments that I got choked up, trying to take it all in.
But the moment that hit me the hardest was watching President Obama’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, entering the ceremony. And, quite frankly, it surprised me, at first. Surely there were more important moments of the day, right?
The more I thought about it, though, the more I thought it was appropriate that this moment had the greatest meaning to me, as a student affairs professional. Malia and Sasha are our future college students, and they are growing up in a world that is changing.
They are growing up in a world where having a person of color in the highest office in the land is no longer a distant dream, it is very much a reality. They are growing up in a world where racial barriers certainly still exist, but are being shattered, one by one. They are growing up in a world where they can hold up a digital camera and videotape their father being sworn in as president.
In less than a decade, these will be our college students. But the historic nature of their father’s inauguration affects our universities now.
Some are quick to say that Obama’s presidency means we’re living in a post-racial America, but this seems short-sighted. To me, it signals an era in which it is crucial to celebrate the rich diversity that race and every kind of identity brings to our nation. In turn, this signals an era in which institutions of higher education must pay closer and closer attention to issues of diversity and ensure that they put the resources and people in place to address these issues in positive ways.
And, finally, it signals an era when students of all backgrounds can be inspired to look at their dreams, no matter how lofty, and say to themselves, “Yes, we can.”