I spent the majority of my first year as a #SAgrad developing a formula, a carefully calculated sequence of experiences, skills, and personality traits that would make me the best student affairs professional. All I had to do was apply certain theories to a given number of students, serve on enough committees, and have the right Myers Briggs type. Follow the formula and I would be successful; it was all about basic math.
In the pursuit of excellence, I began feeling pressure to act, dress, and speak in a certain way. I had to be more pessimistic because exclamation points were not professional. I had to wear dark colors because yellow was not professional. I had to say “pedagogy” because saying “teaching methods” was not professional. This need to fit into the student affairs mold took me to a new level of self-doubt. Am I learning the right things? Am I meeting the right people? Am I having the right experience? Am I in the right place? Am I in the right field? Am I wasting my time? Am I wasting my students’ time? I followed my formula, but the math did not add up. I was incredibly unbalanced.
After a particularly stressful Tuesday in a brutally snowy March (brutal for this Southern California native), I decided to watch a movie instead of writing a literature review. I chose Ratatouille, a 2007 Disney/Pixar film about a rat trying to become a high-class chef in Paris, because 1) it’s the source of my deep appreciation for the art of cooking and 2) it never fails to calm my nerves. Ratatouille got me through more life crises than I can count on two hands so I shouldn’t have been surprised when one simple line silenced my building self-doubt: “Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” I had heard this line fifty times before, but this was the first time I actually listened to its message.
Not everyone can become a great student affairs professional, but a great student affairs professional can come from anywhere. No one journey to the profession is the same.
The student affairs professionals who I admire most found the field through a variety of avenues. A few paths include veteran services, residence life, hip hop student organizations, admissions, intermural sports, campus musicians management, and social activism. All paths are vastly different, but they lead to the common goal of enriching the college student experience.
This simple movie quote thought me a vital lesson that has restored my confidence: there is no correct way to be a #SApro because there is no correct way to be a college student. Once I figured out my best version of a #SApro looked very different from my peers’, I was finally able to focus on achieving it. As I start my second and final year of graduate school, I’m confidently settling into my groove that will help me engage with students in my most authentic way possible.
As the rigid definition of the traditional student begins to blur, we need to expand our definition of the traditional student affairs professional. The more diversity within the field, the more students we can reach. One does not need a specific personality trait, past experience, dress code, undergraduate major, communication style, recreational interest, or social identity in order to be a #SApro, just a deep desire to support college students. Embrace all of your dimensions to become YOUR best version of a student affairs professional. Students, somewhere in the deepest corners of your campus, need you to be your whole self so they can be theirs.