My Education Law professor Dr. Theodore Gilkey would state at least once per class period, “you have to have controversy to have a case”. It seemed to me that in order to clarify what is right and wrong under any constitution is to have controversy. Controversy can be anything from a local level to a larger global perspective.
But how do we as Student Affairs professionals respond to controversy? Well, that’s why we have protocols in place to follow. To deal with this difficult question in the work field, we have protocols in place to follow. But when the protocols do not align with what you think is morally justifiable, what are you supposed to do?
Accept and adapt:
There are times where as a professional you are going to interact with students or coworkers in a way that you would not prefer. Perhaps you are hearing a judicial case for a student conduct issue that you believe should not even be against school policy. Or maybe you have to tell your student staff they have to sit extra duty hours this weekend. Regardless of the specifics, these professional dilemmas can put a young professional in a position where they must make a difficult decision.
In most situations, you have to think of the campus culture and what you would be fighting for or against. Is it really worth your time to try to change this issue? There are parts of any job that you will have to just accept and adapt. Usually the adaptation will go towards your attitude. It is extremely and explicably important to make sure your SA poker face is on when you are accepting the “norm”.
For young professionals in student affairs, controversy can be exceptionally stressful when we have to make decisions on the fly. I know on various occasions I would second guess myself and I would call my supervisor. I felt like I had to communicate my every move with my supervisor beforehand to make sure I was doing the right thing. I learned that this makes you seem weak and unprofessional. And when you do not trust yourself, how is your supervisor supposed to trust you? It’s important to keep your supervisor in the loop but sometimes, a nice summary email of how you handled the situation is more than sufficient.
Controversy can be chaos. But it is a necessary mechanism for change. Think of Martin Luther King or Gandhi, and the controversy they created. But at every level and step there are opportunities for individuals to challenge new policies.
As a young and aspiring student affairs professional, I am certainly learning about controversy. As a Resident Director, living 24/7 in the residence halls has allowed me to practice effecting change or policy. I have an awesome opportunity to communicate with my supervisors about needing updates to policy to reflect the challenges brought forth by students.
When bringing up an issue to your supervisors, it is imperative to think of the structure and culture of your department. It is probably more appropriate to go to your direct supervisor first than going straight to the top. In Erika Anderson’s article she explains a way to bring issues up to your supervisor without sounding like you are complaining by coming prepared with a solution (Anderson, 2013, para. 8). Coming with solutions shows your supervisor that you are all part of the same team and a higher level of critical thinking.
Being an SA grad can put you in a precarious position. Sometimes you are considered a student and must depend on your supervisors to make the decisions. Sometimes you are asked to step up into a professional role and make decisions on your own. When considering controversy and these two responsive options, SA grads must be ready to deal with the consequences which can be very real. But I will leave you with these words of wisdom that I received from my Director Dave Gustosky, “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes”.
Anderson, E. (2013) “7 things you can do to make your boss think you’re wonderful”. Forbes. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikaandersen/2013/04/04/7-things-you-can-do- to-make-your-boss-think-youre-wonderful/