Participating in the NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program (NUFP) was one of the best and most impactful experiences of my life thus far. I applied to this program in April 2012 before I began my Senior year at SUNY College at Old Westbury. The program pairs undergraduate students from traditionally underrepresented and historically disenfranchised populations with a mentor that helps them to navigate the world of Student Affairs. Applying to this program requires you to write responses to a couple of short answer questions, complete a mentor-fellow agreement, along with a few other items.
Question 4 on the NUFP application reads: How have your historically disenfranchised identities affected your undergraduate career? Are there ways these identities have affected your decision to possibly pursue a career in student affairs or higher education?
Below is my finalized answer to this question after many drafts and revisions:
“I identify as an African American young woman. Women in general are not thought to have many administrative roles, let alone an African American woman. There are very few faces I see similar to mine on my college campus in Student Affairs areas. My identity has affected my decision to pursue a career in Student Affairs because it makes me want to aim as high as I can and see no limits. I do not believe there are any limits to what any one person can accomplish no matter who they are. Society may see African Americans as not getting very far in the business world. I do not want that to bring me down or stop me from what my goals are. When I reach my goal of becoming a Student Affairs professional, I want to serve as a resource to the students who I identify with. They can aspire to be where I will be and I can lead them there. As far as it affecting my undergraduate career now, it has not in a negative way. At SUNY Old Westbury, I have encountered so many different backgrounds; it is not like anyone is really alone.”
Interestingly enough, in my first draft I mentioned nothing about being African American. I focused solely on being a woman. I remember the Resident Director who was overseeing this process asked why I didn’t mention it. I really had no answer. Thinking about it now, I felt that it was something I didn’t need to publicize because it would be looked down upon. I also felt that I should not get into a program solely based on my race or ethnicity, even though this program is designed to help those from disenfranchised backgrounds advance in their future career in Student Affairs.
Re-reading this almost 3 years later, I still completely agree with every single word. The only thing I would change is that I want to serve as a resource to all students no matter what they identify with. Numerous times throughout this job search process I’ve been asked about what social justice means to me. Social justice means that you listen and observe to understand what is going on around you and the various identities individuals may have, whether you agree with them or not. You understand areas of privilege and that everyone does not come from the same background. As a Student Affairs professional (which I will be in a short 3 months!) it will be my duty to create inclusive environments for everyone to feel welcomed and challenge my staff and students to feel comfortable with what can seem to be uncomfortable conversations.
The NUFP mission reads as follows from the NASPA website:
“The mission of the NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program is to increase the number of historically disenfranchised and underrepresented professionals in student affairs and/or higher education, including but not limited to those of racial and ethnic-minority background; those having a disability; and those identifying as LGBTQ.”
As a result of the NUFP program and the mission they stand for, I have become very comfortable within myself. My awareness of those around me has greatly increased. I have the courage to ask questions that someone else wouldn’t dare to ask. I’m not asking out of ignorance, but out of a place of education. I want to be more educated. I want to know what not to do the next time if I have offended someone in a particular setting. In all of my interviews thus far when I’m asked about social justice, I have the NUFP program to thank for the foundation it has built for me. The NUFP program truly was an amazing experience in many more ways than just this one.
This post is part of our ongoing #SAtogether series on celebrating moments of success in the realm of social justice. The stories we share highlight the idea that no win is too small when it comes to bridging gaps and making a connection despite differences. For more information, please see the intro post by Sinclair Ceasar. Check out other posts in this series too!