In full disclosure, writing this blog post was difficult. The wonderful staff at SA Collective reached out to me a little over a week ago and asked if I would share a little more concerning my final thoughts during last week’s #SAChat. My quote read as:
“FT: has civility become the new “professional”? A term used to force white ideals & norms on others, and silence those w/o privilege”
When I first received the email, I was excited. I’m still very young in the world of student affairs and an opportunity like this had me rushing to tell my closest cohort-mates. After the excitement came fear. I quickly realized that my statement was controversial, and that at the time I may have stepped on some toes. My next thoughts were ones that have crossed all of our minds at least once during our journey in student affairs, “How will this affect my career?” I spent the next few days stress-texting about the effects of making a bold statement, and putting off writing the piece all together. On Friday, I finally took the time to reflect and reached out to a fellow member of my program who I admire greatly who challenged me to be bold in my statements, and write unapologetically. It was then that I thought about the sometimes ironic aspect of student affairs.
We work tirelessly to give a voice to our students, but we are inadvertently silencing the voices of our colleagues daily.
We so often hear phrases like, “This field is so very small.” Or “Remember to be professional.” Or even most recently which sparked our #SAchat conversation, “Shouldn’t we be practicing civility towards each other?” But when do we stop and reflect on how these practices and these phrases affect our colleagues? How we unintentionally use these phrases to contain each other, to make our voices small, to keep each other from rocking the boat, and dare I say it, to blindly force each other into the white, heteronormative, middle-class constructs that society has laid out for us? Because what is the hidden message when we use these phrases?
“Remember how small this field is” or
“Don’t forget to stay quiet, don’t say anything controversial or mess up your chances.”
“Always dress/behave professionally” or
“Try to forget your size, or ethnicity, or gender identity. Tame your hair, put on a dress, look like a lady.”
“Shouldn’t we be more civil” or
“Maybe we should just shut up, act pleasant, and be friendly. Bite our tongue.”
In our work lives we consistently examine the obvious language that we use and how it affects our students. But we must do better for each other. A few years ago Eric Laden, star of The Killing was interviewed by Collider and was quoted as saying, “I feel challenged every day, when I come to work. I feel like I have to step up my game, and that’s a great thing.” While our field is relatively small, and we must maintain a level of professionalism and respectful discourse, how can we change this language to encourage the challenges we need to grow and learn as a field? How can we avoid the irony laced into our favorite phrases?
- Think about the hidden meaning.
Before you reach out with helpful suggestions to new professionals, current grads, or even potential student affairs pros, think about the what you may really be saying by passing on the ever so often used advice that you may have received. Will the advice you are giving allow this person to grow or will it be something that hinders their possibilities? How will this statement affect these people’s gender/racial/class/etc. identities?
- Change the language.
Find alternative phrases, or find ways to make the current language more inclusive. When discussing professionalism, consider the many ways that it can be demonstrated and be encouraging of that. What is the better determination of a person’s ability to serve their students: an ability to connect with their identity and feel comfortable and represent themselves? Or the ability to stuff themselves in a pair of pantyhose or a fitted suit? Think of alternative expressions we can use, what do these look like?
Ultimately, we must be willing to accept challenge. We have to step up our game and continue to reflect and examine how we may be hindering ourselves and our colleagues.