I was remembering the simple pleasures of this job, how I ended up here out of law school, the way a stadium sounds when one of my players performs well on the field… And suddenly it was all pretty clear. The answer was fewer clients. Caring for them, caring for ourselves, and the games too. Starting our lives, really. Hey, I’ll be the first to admit it. What I was writing was somewhat “touchy feely.” I didn’t care. I had lost the ability to bulls***. It was the me I’d always wanted to be.
— Jerry Maguire, while writing the “mission statement” that cost him his job
As the #SAEvolve project comes to an end, it’s only fair that someone share a different perspective. An observation that, albeit, counterintuitive to the theme, not only pulls us outside the box, but also makes us look more closely at this box, and ourselves..
The observation is this:
Student Affairs has evolved. Student Affairs professionals haven’t.
Merriam-Webster defines evolve as to change or develop slowly often into a better, more complex, or more advanced state: to develop by a process of evolution. In other words: to become a better version of the original. Clearly the student affairs profession aligns with this idea– our focus has grown from In Loco Parentis to Greek Life, Commuter Student Affairs, and cultural centers designed to encourage the growth of racial, sexual, and even religious minorities. We are the existing, breathing context for students to become citizens.
We are the programmers; and at the same time, we’re programmed.
We are programmed to think, speak, and behave the same way. We’re designed to be consistently benign in our communication, and trained to serve as models of perfection for our students and colleagues. What’s worse is that we’ve bought into it. While we idolize the handful of our colleagues who become the proverbial rock stars of our field, we forgot to consider WHY they were chosen or WHAT made them special. We’ve made them our role models without a thought as to why. We’ve dehumanized each other through this worship and praise, creating unrealistic and unattainable ideals for success. We are striving for an ideal that even those we gift with this unnatural stature cannot attain and that no one can, sanely, maintain.
Which is a shame, because it’s probably a safe bet that we’re all far more interesting outside of the office and off of Twitter than in student affairs (I hope it stung to read that sentence as much as it did to write). I’m sure we all have stories that would take an immeasurable amount of time, trust, and/or alcohol to confess. We ALL have flaws (haven’t we heard this already?), but (hopefully) we are where we are and do what we do because we worked through them. Now… this is NOT an invitation to start airing your dirty laundry (we take no responsibility if #SASecrets emerges all of a sudden); but rather, a candid acknowledgement that it’s A LOT more interesting than the hot, new life-changing icebreaker for whatever retreat you developed. More importantly, it’s important that we recognize the truth: baggage exists in all of us; and (with a few exceptions, of course) that shouldn’t change our image of you as intelligent, dedicated, and empowering professionals. There are far too many things to fear in this world and our own reality should never be one of them!
Perpetuating this image of SAPro as perfect is NOT evolving the field.
It’s destroying it.
It’s stripping work of its credibility.
It’s making it that much harder for us to seek the self-care and help that we desperately need.
So while our profession has seen great gains and advances, while our work has been made easier and better with emerging technologies, and while our field has risen to new heights of prominence, we have all too quickly gone along for the upward ride. To evolve means to grow in all ways; in complexity as well as stature, yet our profession and we as professionals still cling to lofty heights instead of the more elaborate, interconnected web in which we can truly build a field that values and fiercely protects the same goals of confidence, joy, and purpose we set for our students. To evolve today and into tomorrow, we must continue to serve as guides along this often winding path, rather than beacons of immeasurable and unattainable prestige. We are not only here in service for our students, but also in service to ourselves. Let us move forward, let us evolve, in a widening, welcoming web of truth, authenticity, and care. We demand it of our students, and now must expect it of ourselves.
About the Authors:
Dr. Paul Porter is Director of Programs and Evaluation for Diversity Affairs at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Paul’s research explores the influence of multicultural competence in student affairs administration, racial identity and performance, and campus experiences for men of color. An accomplished public speaker, Paul’s Multicultural Competence 101 presentations and seminars have entertained and enthralled faculty, students, and staff nationwide. Paul earned his Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from Indiana State University in 2011. Connect with Paul on Twitter @DrPaulPorter
Lisa Endersby is a speaker and consultant exploring the intersecting realms of technology, leadership, and assessment. She is currently the Technology in Student Affairs Consultant for the NASPA Techne Conference, and also serves as the National Chair for the NASPA Technology Knowledge Community (TKC). She holds a Master’s of Education degree in Leadership Studies from the University of Victoria and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Toronto. Lisa also serves in numerous volunteer roles with ACPA and CACUSS, including serving on the planning committee for the Next Gen conference at ACPA 2016.