One of the most fascinating aspects of a student affairs professional’s job is the opportunity to work with a diverse array of students. These characteristics extend to one’s race, sexuality, socioeconomic status, religion, gender preference, etc. While individuals may identify with a particular race, gender, or sexual preference, it is important to remember that their experiences are much more complex than what can be defined through the use of prejudgments.
As humans, we have many unconscious biases and prejudgments based on our socialization. This isn’t necessarily bad, or to say one is a bad person for having certain thoughts, but the response to the thoughts is where conflict surfaces. These prejudgments may be as blatant as refusing service from someone, because they’re Hmong, or choosing to avoid going downtown in a large city at night. Often, we use these messages and prejudgments for our basic physiological wellbeing. However, often it turns into prejudice. Sometimes, as professionals, it is easiest for us to conform into this perfect system and idea of how things should be. I mean, sometimes it’s just the way things have always been right? However, if we don’t constantly address these biases and prejudgments we have about people, we may harm, offend, or lose someone in the process.
Take this situation for instance (names have been fabricated). 52 year old Black male, Cedric, has recently decided to go to school to pursue his Bachelors in Nursing, and eventually go to medical school for General Practice. One thing that is quickly found out about Cedric is that he has a felony on his record and spent 20 years in prison. He was released 7 years ago, and had struggled to get on his feet. He had been working at a low paying job, which he was able to get because of a friend who was the hiring manager there. Cedric has a strong work ethic and is very intelligent, but is a little “rugged” and has room to develop with his interpersonal communication with those outside of prison walls. Cedric his first meeting with his advisor, which didn’t go well because the advisor felt unsafe and threatened by his persona. Immediately after their appointment, the advisor had many choice words to share with his/her colleagues, because they were upset that a felon was attending school. Cedric could sense that he/she was so fixated on the fact that he had a felony that he requested a new advisor; unfortunately he ran into the same issue and decided to transfer institutions.
The prejudgments of the advisors overran the needs of their student, which influenced his decision to withdrawal and transfer to a different institution. Little did they know, Cedric was released from Prison after 20 years, because not enough evidence was found to accuse him for all that he was charged for. Additionally, Cedric has started a nonprofit organization that helps men of color with felonies reintegrate into society and is an author of 5 books, including three best sellers. Unfortunately, the advisors weren’t able to find any of this out, because their prejudice against Black male who had been released from Prison was painted in a negative light. Also, one can get a felony for a variety of crimes. Acknowledging their biases, if his felony was for something less severe than murder, this could have changed their overall impression.
Parts of this story are true, while other parts have been fabricated. Overall, the message is that as professionals, we never know who we’re going to get coming into our offices. However, it is our obligation to the school, department, community, and student to do our best to support them. While the advisors didn’t refuse to serve the student, their attitudes and actions influence Cedric’s decision to leave, which is just as bad. Looking at this from an administrative perspective, Cedric could have been a generous donor or a great mentor/speaker for the institution, but any possibility for that has been lost.