The colleagues, mentors, educators, advocates that I know personally have a way of encouraging each other in the context of social justice advocacy and education: “do the work!” When we talk about ‘the work’, in short, we are referring to anything that allows us to challenge bias, discrimination, social injustice, and systemic oppression on every level. We are talking about anything that helps us to create true inclusivity on our campuses. Sometimes, ‘the work’ demands more of us than we think. Yet, “the work” is also inherently important and rewarding. In this climate, given national events surrounding Ferguson and New York, more student affairs administrators and professionals are being called upon to ‘do the work’.
Our students depend on us to help them process through university life, and university life (as we know) is a microcosm of what is going on in society. So, this requires us to come to the table to dialogue with our students with savvy and intentionality. It requires us to understand that our lives and the lives of our students have been impacted by national events and current race relations. That means we cannot solely depend on the “multicultural experts” at our respective universities to be the only means by which our students process. Because you might have seen it… or you might feel it… we know that the dialogue is spilling over into comments made online, in residence halls, in offices, in classrooms… in the various points and lifelines of the university. So, with that in mind, I welcome you to ‘the work.”
Our versions of the work will not look the same. Some might be facilitating dialogue in your residence halls. Some might be educating students on use of free speech and university policies regarding activism. Some might be striving to create a more inclusive campus community from an administrative level. Some might be working one on one with a student, as they process through national events. Some high level administrators might be drafting responses from a university standpoint. But we all would benefit by taking some time to reflect on what it means for us to ‘do the work’.
1. Understand what the work entails.
First, the work involves meta cognition. We have to think about how we think about racial dynamics on a larger level. Then, we have to understand our university context, and process through what that might mean for our individual students. The work entails allowing ourselves to see beyond the actions of individuals to understand the methods of systems. It means that we have to sit with our students as they process through discomfort. For some of our students, that discomfort will come because their understanding of post-racial society has been challenged. For others, that discomfort will come as a reaction to the events themselves and how these events impact their personal identity, safety, security, and dignity. For others, that discomfort will come because they have been submerged into a national dialogue surrounding race and profiling in America; a dialogue that they may or may not be equipped to engage in. It is our job as student affairs professionals to educate, equip, and empower. It is our job to help our students persist in the university, even in the face of what is going on nationally. So, we have to understand what that means and we have to learn how to hear multiple perspectives. This brief description is by no means an extensive list of what the work entails. But as we collectively dialogue within the field and through other interactions, understanding will and should get clearer and more robust.
2. Get intentional about self-care.
As a professional and a woman of color, I remember quite a few nights of going home after facilitating an intercultural dialogue, only to be asked to explain similar concepts in my personal online presences (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc). There’s always that moment of pause; do I respond to this online? Or do I reserve this energy? These instances have grown exponentially after the events in Ferguson and New York. So, my overarching response has been to get intentional about self care.
I have found that when you look after your own self care, you can come to work (both literally and figuratively) and really show up. Show up with brilliance of mind and depth of thought. Show up to model positive intercultural dialogue for the students that you serve. Show up to provide a safe space for students to process. I have learned early on that you can only show up in powerful ways if you are just as intentional about self-care
3. Stay informed.
We have access to a wide variety of resources that can help us and our students understand what is going on nationally. We can analyze data, research historical context, listen to peers / colleagues, and think critically about what is going on. This may seem extemporaneous at times… but I guarantee that coming to the table informed will help our students to think critically, as well. Keeping abreast of relevant educational resources allows us to facilitate and negotiate conversations that empower instead of conversations that patronize.
4. Ask for help, as you need it.
One of the best things about working at a college or a university is that we are directly connected to professionals and scholars on every topic. We have, within our reach,, historians, conflict resolution mediators, cultural programming teams, administrators, facilitators, and the list goes on and on. That’s not to mention the brilliant students that we get to serve each day! So, as we work through how the events of Ferguson and New York might impact the field of student affairs, we can reach out to our mentors, our colleagues, and our connections. In previous settings, I have found that bringing the students in to formulate questions for dialogue, assist in planning forums / events have been empowering both for them and for me! If your supervisors and / or directors have made space for staff to dialogue, please take advantage of that! If you are a supervisor or director and you have not made space for your professional staff to dialogue, it’s something that you might think about! These things allow us to build communities, share information, and ask for help… as we ‘do the work’.
Image courtesy of phasinphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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Podcast With Krista Kohlmann on Community Service