Like many of you, my journey in Student Affairs started without me realizing that I took my first steps. Before I started my master’s in education in Leadership Studies at the University of Victoria, I was a science student majoring in Forensic Science and dreaming of becoming a Fire and Explosions specialist. During my third year of my undergraduate studies, I was fortunate enough to be hired by the Student Experience Centre and have had the opportunity to explore the various roles within Student Affairs. Even today, I am working as the Judicial Affairs Intern within the Student Affairs unit at the University of Victoria.
My experiences with Student Affairs has always been as a “student employee” and my responsibilities have always been to assist a staff of the Student Affairs office. I have enjoyed all my experience with Student Affairs, but being a “student” employee has always made it seem less official and has made it difficult to include myself in the Student Affairs community. Don’t get me wrong, the Student Affairs community is super welcoming and extremely diverse, but I’ve always felt like I was watching from the outside. However with this mindset, when talking to a Student Affairs professional, I do not allow myself to use the pronoun “we.” So many of my conversations with colleagues sound like this: “What are YOU doing to improve student engagement” instead of “What are WE doing to improve student engagement”.
When I read profiles of the members who are part of this network, I see many of you hold different degrees specializing Student Affairs or have job titles that are related to Student Affairs. But for me, I do not have anything that has the stamp of approval that grants me permission to let other people know that I am a Student Affairs professional. When I talk about this stamp of approval, I’m referring to something tangible that can be shown to other people which definitively proves the person I claim to be. For example, in my room, in a wooden frame, is a piece of paper that has my name on it and says Bachelor of Science. This tangible piece of paper is my stamp of approval in the science community which allows me to give my opinion when engaging in scientific discussions and validates my knowledge in the field.
Unlike many of the American Student Affairs professionals, very few Canadians working in Student Affairs hold a degree specifically for Student Affairs or Student Services. This is simply due to the lack of specialized Student Affairs programs in Canada and the fact Student Affairs is only now an emerging field. Instead, the majority of Canadians in Student Affairs hold degrees in Education. After completing my undergraduate degree in Science, I realized that this degree would not grant me the stamp of approval I was looking for to pursue a career in Student Affairs, so I decided to attend graduate school.
Being a graduate student means there are certain expectations of you including a standard in your academic ability and level of professionalism. And on top of that, I come from a very different educational background and entered graduate school immediately following my undergraduate degree which made my first couple days terrifying. As I started my first day of classes, I told myself I was going to just listen and learn because I thought that I would not be able to contribute to the class discussion. However, being a graduate student means I have to be an active learner and participate. After a few classes, I realized that my classmates valued my insights and agreed with some of the points I was making. If my classmates, who have degrees or stamps of approvals in Education are agreeing with what I am saying, this must mean my current knowledge in Education has value.
This discovery made me reflect on the struggle I have with the idea of validations or stamps of approvals, and more importantly my struggle with my identity in Student Affairs. To best honest, when I started graduate school my goal was simple. I would do my readings, complete my coursework, and graduate. Once I obtained my degree, I could prove to others and – more importantly -to myself, that I am worthy to be included in the Student Affairs community because this documentation validates my identity. But considering the fact that I currently do not have this piece of paper, and yet, I am contributing to conversations about Leadership, Student Engagement and Higher Education, means with or without this paper, I can still contribute to the Student Affairs community and therefore I am a member of this community
Having the opportunity to reflect on my identity as helped me come to the conclusion that my work in Student Affairs should not be defined by the number of letters behind my name or the length of my work title. Whether my role is a student employee, a part time employee, or a full time employee in Student Affairs, does not change the fact I am working in Student Affairs. What defines my/our roles in Student Affairs is OUR genuine passion to foster student development, and a desire assist students during their educational journey. We are such a diverse group of individuals coming from all walks of life and I think it is our difference that makes us all so similar. So now, allow me to celebrate my coming out in Student Affairs. My name is Mannix Chan, and I am a Student Affairs professional!
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Podcast with Craig Bidiman on Supporting #SAGrad Success