A tension exists for many men within the Student Affairs field. At times, we are seen as a “minority” within the field (meaning we represent a smaller demographic of professionals). While numerically this may be the case, we are not immune or exempt to existing societal privileges that are afforded to us based on our gender. Because of this, it makes the work of men in this field challenging. Our challenges may be different, and utilize different spaces to embrace said challenges; however, one key to success exists in the power of empathy. Individual experiences and stories are different. Some will challenge prevailing notions of “What it means to be a man in student affairs.” We have much more work to do in order to use our privilege for good, in order to challenge existing notions and systems of oppression.
These stories might exist as counter to the master narrative of men in this field as privileged, empowered, or exemplary. During my first year on a departmental committee on student leadership, I found myself providing ideas and critiques to practices and programs that were in place. These viewpoints were not being challenged. As much as I would love to believe that my ideas are brilliant (and believe me, I would love it!), I couldn’t help by wonder if this was more about me being a white, cis-gendered man with my privilege. Yes, I am a minority within this field, but it was an instance like this that I saw that my voice seemed to carry more weight—not because I said anything brilliantly, provided new insights, or offered innovative solutions to problems. I believe it’s because I am a man within this field.
Despite being a demographic minority, I am still afforded privilege and power by virtue of being born a man. It challenged me to think about the way in which my identity continues to reap benefits that I have not fully earned. Are men a minority in student affairs? Demographically, sure we are; however, when our voices are seemingly valued more than others, it’s tough to say we are a minority, marginalized, or the other. Again, specific challenges exist as a man in this field. However, there is importance in these sequestered narratives like mine in that they offer a richer view, (to use Clifford Geertz’ apt description of ethnographic research) a “thicker description” of what it means to be a man in this field.
If we are doing our jobs correctly (whether that means creating a space for fierce dialogs, expressing our identities through written narratives and experiences, or even talking about our challenges and struggles), we acknowledge the value and importance of multiple voices, stories, and experiences. They matter. As we reflect on our experiences and perspectives, perhaps most importantly, this series serves as an opportunity to further develop and cultivate empathy and connection through our stories. These are the stories and experiences of Men in Student Affairs.
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Podcast With Conor McLaughlin on SA Work-Life Balance