Similar to many of my student affairs colleagues, I was highly involved on-campus. I joined every student organization I was interested in and participated in any campus event that caught my eye. I was extremely focused on my academics and the campus community.
My involvement solidified my interest in student affairs and I received my master’s from Michigan State University. It wasn’t until a class discussion on student leadership that I realized I was considered a “student leader.” In college, I didn’t see myself as a leader even though I was the president of two student organizations.
In hindsight, it sounds funny to say “I didn’t know I was a student leader.” I knew that I had leadership qualities, but I didn’t believe that I was a leader – much less a student leader.
So, why was my self-perception so distorted?
I was experiencing imposter syndrome. I had internalized the external messages I received most of my life (and continue to receive.)
These external messages told me that I am not enough, and will never be enough. Some messages were directly stated such as “you are not smart enough to do that” and “be realistic” or “are you sure you want to do that?” Ultimately, these messages inflicted fear and self doubt. Some messages were indirectly perceived like not seeing a Latina professor or a Latina in a leadership role. I did not see myself as a leader.
Based on my experience as first-generation college student and student affairs professional, I have three recommendations to provide future student affairs professionals. I challenge you to think of ways on how we can create spaces for students to apply these recommendations as well.
Practice Positive Self-Talk
I encourage you to recognize and reflect on the external messages you have received and practice positive self-talk. If I am not careful in critically filtering these messages, I begin to internalize them. Later, they become my inner voice. Therefore, I am cautious on who I let influence my decisions and how I view myself.
Recognize the Influence of Student Affairs Professionals
Reflecting on my experience, I became concerned for how privileged identities influence the ways in which student affairs professionals support students with marginalized identities.
I recognize the power of my voice, so I ensure it does not carry an underlying assumption of “students are not enough” or “they are lacking something”. In fact, deficit thinking reinforces imposter syndrome.
As a student affairs educator, we have the opportunity to empower and develop students. Additionally, we can encourage students to encourage other students to achieve their goals. Truly, influencing how students view themselves and one another, creating a community of learners and leaders.
Build Relationships Not Connections
Connections are a one-time meeting or rare interaction. When you build a relationship with someone, it is an on-going, two-way process leading to a deeper connection and trust over time.
Imposter syndrome is exhausting and emotionally draining which is why it is so important to create a support system. Identify those who believe in you and know your strengths, as they can provide genuine support. These are the individuals that will believe in you even when you don’t believe in yourself.
Your support group can see your greatness, but if you don’t see yourself as what you are…you may catch yourself being the president of two student organizations without knowing that you are a student leader.
October is Careers in Student Affairs Month (CSAM). While increased awareness of entry-points into the field are important to highlight, CSAM also serves as a way to discuss the larger culture of student affairs. Our pursuit of ensuring student affairs staff is representative of diversifying student demographics can’t come at the cost of health and well-being of staff. Add your voice to the conversation by using #CSAM17. Have ideas about a future series for the Student Affairs Collective? Contact Nathan Victoria at firstname.lastname@example.org.