This summer, I am teaching an online course on campus climate and changing student demographics. The main text for the course is the book Whistling Vilvaldi by Claude Steele. When I completed the summer course book request form, I looked up the ISBN number via Amazon. It just so happened that a student was in my office at the time that the Amazon page was on my screen. One of my favorite features of Amazon is how it recommends other books you might like based on your current choices. The student in my office mentioned to me that he had one of the other books that Amazon suggested for me, and hadn’t yet read it. The cover of the book is bold, so hard to miss on any screen. The book, Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People (Banaji & Greenwald, 2013) raised several points I address in this blog in regards to the stereotypes of student affairs professionals. I will start off by saying that I strongly encourage those in student affairs to read it.
Yes, there were connections to Claude Steele’s book (which I also recommend), but even more importantly the book turned the concept of stereotype bias toward the reader and asked them to explore themselves. Thus, I, the reader, had several opportunities to examine how I was making sense of my experiences by being influenced by stereotypes. Stereotypes that I would not realize were there unless I was actively working on seeking them out so that I could recognize what they were doing before making sense of my experiences…
even then, there is still a good chance that stereotypes would be influencing my interactions.
And your interactions, too.
None of us can escape it.
Banaji and Greenwald share examples of how we do this in a variety of ways. I found myself thinking about how it would be a fascinating process if all of student affairs recognized the stereotypes that are influencing their interactions with others, and how they are making sense of those experiences.
All of these thoughts got me thinking about some recent research that myself, and two colleagues, published on the process of self-authorship for new professionals. Our research did not find that new professionals had a self-authored mindset (see Myths of Self-Authorship for more info). Yes, most certainly, our research…and that of many others…needs to be continued in a variety of ways, and several are listed in the article. However, setting the research process aside, having read Steele’s book as well as Banaji and Greenwald’s book, I can’t help but pause and consider any socialization strategies we are implementing with new professionals.
Please, do not get me wrong. I do think socialization is important, as it helps to acclimate one to an environment and creates a sense of belonging. However, I also think it is dangerous. If we stop at socializing new professionals into the field, I believe that we run the risk of causing them to be influenced greatly by a stereotype as to what it means to be in student affairs. (Side note: this might be a contributing factor to the high attrition rate of new professionals.)
For example, if the stereotype that we’ve bought is that we are less than faculty, it influences how we interact with faculty, and simply saying that it isn’t influencing our relationships with faculty is bogus. (It is also a myth. See Schetlin, 1969). Now, let’s change it so that the stereotype that we have of what it means to be a student affairs professional is that we are partners in the learning process of students, what does that do to our relationships with faculty?
We have no less experience, in fact many would argue much more, than faculty in understanding that learning happens holistically. To make it even more complex, add on other stereotypes/scripts within and about the field and consider what they might mean for our practice.
It is clear that we continue to have much work to do. What blind spots do you think we need to continually seek out as good people working within student affairs?