In this day and age, student affairs has taken drastic turns regarding the support system students need when shaping multiple identities and discovering where they fit in the world. This expectation has become especially valuable to the upcoming increase of transgender and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) students.
As a field, we strive to be encouraging and adaptable for the entire duration of a student’s developmental and transformational process, from the time of application for admission to our institutions until graduation. One method that fortifies this goal is avoiding assumptions on how an individual wishes to be addressed.
In student affairs, we urge our students to advocate for themselves when cultivating holistic identities, but recently I have been wondering how we advocate the same thing for ourselves.
As a white heteronormative woman, I am very much aware of how I view the world and how the world chooses to view me regarding my identity. Recently I was innocently referred to as “sweetheart” and “dear” while I was wearing my #SApro hat. Even though I knew the intention was not malicious, I felt as if I were not viewed as the professional I was striving to represent.
As #SAgrads and #SApros with identities of our own, we each have personal glass staircases that we are destined to climb. But how far up can we go until there’s a plank that cannot handle the weight of possible social abnormalities that cause it to shatter? In my situation, it was assumed that I would not mind being addressed by a term of endearment rather than the name I chose to identify as or my job title.
I would like to say that I corrected the circumstances in that moment, but I did not. At the time, I was uncertain as to what direction I could have gone to address it. However, this is not the first nor the last time I or others will be faced with this situation.
So my question is this: How can we start breaking down these assumptions in a manner that is professional and productive?
In student affairs, we implore ourselves to practice what we preach to our students. Below I listed strategies that helped me in my situation with intention of providing them to my students and #SAgrads or #SApros who may experience this as well.
Claim Your Identity:
Just like our students, you are also allowed to take ownership of who you are and find where you fit in the world. Even though someone may not find your identity copacetic, it does not mean that you are wrong. I understand that it is difficult when moments like this occur, but in the end you are the only one who can validate who you want to be, and that is perfectly okay.
Find Your Safe Space:
When confronted with an inaccurate assumption, know when to pick and choose your battles depending on how strongly you can manage your emotions at the time. If you feel unsure of yourself in that moment, wait until you can go to your safe space or person where you can process what happened without the risk of your experience being judged or repeated. It is not losing the argument that counts; it is avoiding losing yourself that is the most important.
Don’t Have Assumptions on Their Assumptions:
It is important to remember that our students and colleagues are constantly growing and changing in a society that is also constantly growing and changing. Everyone develops at their own pace. Some may be way ahead of you; you may be way ahead of others. People don’t always mean to be offensive in their actions. But instead of turning others away, use small moments like this as an opportunity to educate and encourage them to climb upon your platform to have them stand with you, not against you.
Unfortunately, the conversation does not end here, nor will it end for a while. But that does not mean there is nothing we can do to help assist in the cultivation of these changes. You are entitled to be who you want to be, and others have the entitlement to experience who you are and who you want to be too.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Conor McLaughlin on SA Work-Life Balance