It’s time we talk about the uncomfortable reality of our profession – the myth of Social Justice. We hear the language used at conferences, learn in HESA classrooms nationwide about the importance of diversity and inclusion, place readings on a variety of social justice concepts in our syllabi, and promote ideologies of inclusivity in our programs across campus. Yet, why is it that the profession of Student Affairs maintains a culture of oppression, marginalization, exclusivity, and injustice all too familiar for those of us who were not born into; or want to be a member of; the Good ol’ boys club? Whether you want to acknowledge it or not – the cultural values of our profession don a counterfeit mask of social justice and it is past time that we address the illusive execution of what’s considered social justice in student affairs.
True social justice in student affairs manifests as engagement with transnational communities struggling for access to higher education. True social justice reveals itself when a Higher Ed. and Student Affairs program isn’t afraid to bluntly dismantle the existence of White Supremacy in their graduate cohort. True social justice can be found in the division that welcomes divergent styles of communication and cultural qualities, instead of pathologizing an employee in the name of evangelical heteronormativity. From my very beginnings in student affairs as an undergraduate Orientation Student Leader to what’s quickly becoming the end of my time as a SA-Grad, I’ve encountered enigmatic codes of professionalism that mirror overarching societal structures of exclusion and a disregard for the needs of historically disenfranchised individuals, and it has to stop. Are any of you experiencing similarities at your current institution?
We’re told to be quiet – that our pain is necessary for the health of “x”
As a burgeoning scholar-practitioner in our field of institutional assimilation and veiled dominance, it is my “truth” (hereinafter designating a narrative formed by lived experiences) that makes me critical of, indebted to, and excluded from an influential system inseparable from the advancement of humanity; I’ve come to learn that student affairs as a profession erases, praises, tokenizes, and prizes the specific identities of its workers. As illustration, have you ever heard an SA-Pro say, “that student’s queerness/sexuality might offend prospective families, so maybe they’re not the best to represent our university” in Admissions or Campus Visits? Can you remember the last time you interviewed for a position and carefully chose what colors and style of dress were most “appropriate?” Have you ever encountered a White colleague (or even you, yourself) that feels uncomfortable around or feels threatened by Black people, and passively (and unfortunately sometimes actively) works to displace Black bodies in Student Affairs? When was the last time you questioned a student employee’s “usefulness” (read: human capital) to your department, after you’ve learned of their disability? Have you ever navigated an oppressive working environment or been treated unfairly because of your social identities, yet remained silent for the sake of career advancement or for not wanting to be the organization’s “squeaky wheel?” We like to think that these exclusionary and ignorant practices are the relics of a Whitewashed history – but – these forms of (self)regulation and many more serve as the discouraging reality of the people who joined a field purported to be positively dynamic or “fun.” I’ve heard countless justifications for upholding social inequities from mid-level professionals and CSAOs – rationales that always seem to be “out of their hands.” Well, I call it – we’re all agents of systemic and institutional change.
The trouble here seems to be inconsistent definitions and applications of social justice: any given individual will claim that they’re committed to social justice and then drop the ball when the time comes.
According to the most recent version of ACPA/NASPA’s Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Educators, social justice is defined as: “both a process and a goal that includes the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to create learning environments that foster equitable participation of all groups and seeks to address issues of oppression, privilege, and power.” Yet, after readings my words and (hopefully) reflecting upon your experiences as a provider of higher education services and practitioner, can you truly say that you’ve been committed to social justice every step of the way?
If we are truly responsible for the holistic development of our students – or auxiliary shapers of global leaders – we must actively vet and revolutionize what it means to be a Student Affairs professional, because if we haven’t done the necessary self-work first, then how can we expect to turn this myth of social justice in student affairs into a reality?