I had the hardest time writing this article. I didn’t want to make general statements about all men in Student Affairs, and wondered why we needed a month. Among all this talk about male privilege and male dominance, I felt it would be a slap in the face to my female identifying colleagues. Eventually, I realized how refreshing it is to hear someone voice issues and stories I can relate to.
Young. Black. Male.
I don’t know about you, but I often have this tiny voice in my head telling me I’m going to get fired or incur a lawsuit if I make a wrong move. My awareness of my identity is inescapable. There have been times when individuals have asked me: “How are you adjusting?” or “Have you encountered any issues in town?”
When I was growing up, one of my grandfather’s main messages was to avoid making waves or upsetting white people. It was a hard lesson. Throughout my childhood, I heard stories about friends and family members being racially profiled, discriminated against, and even threatened because of their skin color. It didn’t feel safe being a Black male anymore. I encountered racism directly during my 3 years volunteering in Oregon. Once, I was called the N word. Another time, a friend’s relative told me I was anomaly compared to the other Black people who eat watermelon and act ghetto.
As part of my own professional development, I began to work harder at not becoming the “Angry Black Man” that would end up ruining his reputation by intimidating everyone around him. Those feelings of oppression – whether valid or not – have come up when I’ve heard things like “Sinclair, you’re sassy” or when folks tell me I’m overly assertive. I’ve even been met with looks and confronted by fellow Black people who didn’t approve of me watching shows like New Girl or having had white significant others in my past. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel safe to just be me. Yes, even in our field.
Barriers in Connecting with the Female Gender
I’ve felt excluded because of my gender. I have had female student staff members confide in my female co-workers or bond better with my female co-workers. I shouldn’t take it so personally. I’ve tried to combat this with hosting guy’s nights. Later, I end up feeling hypocritical and exclusive. I had a difficult time adjusting to my new living arrangements at one particular job assignment. All of my co-workers were women. It got the point where I blurted out, “Why doesn’t anyone text me to hang out?” One of my co-workers explained that she wanted to spend time with her boyfriend. The other co-worker said she wasn’t used to being alone with men outside of work. These were people who I’d done ice breakers and team builders with. We’d experienced difficult and heartbreaking situations together. So, why then did I feel like something was wrong with me? I only wanted platonic and light-hearted fun with my co-workers. Some might say the issue was that they didn’t want to mix work and personal time. I may never know.
I’ve faced similar issues at a different job assignment where it felt uncomfortable for a few of my co-workers to spend alone time with me. One day I accepted that they didn’t want to mix business and personal lives. It felt awkward when two of my female co-workers started hanging out exclusively and came back to the office with tons of inside jokes. I couldn’t help but think the common denominator in both instances was me: a male.
At the End of the Day
Being a male in Student Affairs can burn at times. But, I get to create connections with countless male students with ease. I don’t have to have to worry about being taken seriously or not get promoted because of my gender. I don’t worry about colleagues calling me sweetie or undermining me because they don’t think I’m qualified. There are privileges that come along with my gender that I constantly acknowledge.
I need to realize that I get hired based on my competence, and that getting fired is contingent on poor performance, not on the color of my skin. It’s going to take continued self-awareness, honesty, and a willingness to move past my barriers in order to foster and sustain connections. My goal is to effectively serve my students and build trust with my teammate.
I just need to believe all this each and every day.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Ann Marie Klotz on Women in Student Affairs