Sunday, October 13, 2013

CSAM: Why Student Affairs Needs People with a “Dark Mark”

Why Student Affairs Needs People with a “Dark Mark”
Or, Thoughts on Authenticity
Or, Why Our Personal Experiences Matter When Working with Students
Or, My Token Post Related to Careers in Student Affairs Month

Credit: Shutterstock

Darkness runs through us all, soaking into our souls like spilled ink.

For some, this is just a splatter of ink. The struggles occurred or currently exist but they do not heavily shape the person’s overall experiences and identity.

But for others, that darkness leaves a mark that profoundly changes the experiences of the soul. We’re soldiers fighting battles that deserve a thousand Purple Hearts. These marks of darkness are invisible to the uninitiated but those that are veterans of their own struggles can sometimes see it in others. There’s something about each of us that serve as beacons for others who have endured struggle.

These struggles include issues related to (and intersecting with): poverty, racism, sexism, mental health, disability, gender identity, abuse, traumatic experiences, homophobia, and so on. Every human is shaped by their experiences and it stands to reason (and research. and stories) that struggles of this type can leave a dramatic impact.

Why am I writing about this in a blog that I dedicate to student affairs issues? Because people with these ‘dark marks’ (oh, my love of JK) include our students and colleagues.

It is a Rule of the Internet to reference Harry Potter in everything

It’s like a secret club. We have no passwords or handshakes, just the ability to sometimes recognize the darkness in each other. There’s a look in someone’s eye, their demeanor, or their sense of humor that helps us to instinctively realize “Ah, I can trust you. You get it.”

There are those who may not even consider themselves part of this club, even if they have the ‘credentials’ (which will go undefined for no human is the authority on what is a great soul struggle) – so often we consider ourselves alone in the darkness and while our experiences are unique we don’t realize that there are others enduring similar struggles.

If you’re not in the ‘club’ then you can never understand. You can empathize and strive to understand, but you will never truly understand fully. But as long as you try to understand and do better with your words and actions, that’s okay.

And…this post isn’t about how to get those who do not have those experiences to get to understand them. Let’s be honest, plenty of research, presentations, and blogs aim to educate the uninitiated and privileged. Which is definitely needed…but sometimes it’s nice to have real talk.

What this blog is about is recognizing the importance of uplifting those with marginalized experiences; to encourage them to enter the education field – whether that is k-12 or student affairs.

A person does not need to have experienced tragedy and struggle to be a great educator. But does it help? Most certainly (in my opinion and in different research about mentorship). It matters a lot to be able to say “started from the bottom and now I’m here”. Those with a ‘dark mark’ can often connect to students who are dealing with complicated experiences, emotions, and decisions better than someone who has not endured struggles of those levels. It’s easier to emphasize with someone’s experiences if it is similar to our own – even if the only thing similar is that we each face some sort of oppression.

Access to higher education is increasing for students who have been traditionally marginalized in society and it is imperative that we have talented student affairs that bring a wealth of diverse experiences with them. Students need role models and mentors that they can connect with.

So, prospective student affairs graduate students, we need you. Your experiences matter. If you connected with these words at all or believe yourself to have a ‘dark mark’, consider student affairs. While there are good people always trying to make changes, there is still a “chilly climate” for traditionally underrepresented students on college campuses. We need more of us trying to fight the good fight by crafting policy changes and mentoring students.

Here is the NASPA Directory for student affairs graduate programs. Register for the GRE. Talk to the programs that you’re interested in about waiving the application fee (if you need it). Ask someone you know in student affairs out to coffee to chat more. It is Careers in Student Affairs Month (CSAM) and every person in student affairs is all about your success - we will help you however we can.

Credit: Agnes Cecile

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