Students from #WakeUpandHearMe to Administrators: “We See You”

Last night, @OU_Unheard from University of Oklahoma and @WakeUpWSU from Washington State University launched a hashtag #WakeUpandHearMe to address the challenges underrepresented students, particularly students of color, face on their college campuses. (Read about why the hashtag was created here). Within hours, the hashtag was trending as students shared powerful stories of microaggressions they experience daily and the impact it has had on their identity, their community, and their campus.

As a student affairs professional and administrator on a college campus, these three tweets really resonated with me:

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Students see us. They recognize when we do or don’t do something. They hear us when we speak up and when we stay silent. They see and hear us –  it is time we see (really see) and hear (really hear) them.

Working in multicultural affairs, I have the privilege of listening to and advocating for students from underrepresented communities. What is so apparent to me is that students have salient identities and experiences that they bring into the classroom and onto our campuses. They are impacted and affected by the world around them, especially recent acts of injustices across the nation that have empowered people to speak up and take action. So, why can’t we take a moment to stop, process, and talk about it?

Recently on a student of color panel at my institution, students shared stories of faculty in their classes who were uncomfortable approaching the topic of race and were not equipped to address racial and gendered microaggressions in the classroom. One student shared that they believed their professor didn’t address one student’s offensive comment about a person of color during class because they did not want to make the majority of the class feel uncomfortable; however, in catering to the majority, the faculty member unintentionally de-valued the experience of the student of color in the room. She asked, “Why does their comfort trump mine?” All of the students on the panel thought there could be more education, more professional development opportunities for faculty and staff to make the college a more welcoming and inclusive environment – a place where all students feel valued and a part of the community.

In higher education, we often cater to the majority and in doing so, we silence the marginalized. What makes #WakeUpandHearMe so powerful is that these are students who are telling us that they want to be heard and for us to realize that they haven’t been heard and we haven’t been listening. So, what can we do as professionals?

1) Listen. People who are silenced over and over again deserve to be heard. In this recent article, Why Don’t My Friends Talk About Race? Here’s What They Told Me, the author shared that “often anger is a manifestation of not being heard…Last night all I wanted was for someone to hear me and know that I was hurting.” As she had conversations with people who listened to her frustrations and pain, her outrage abated. What I’ve learned is that something we all want, is to be heard and that the greatest gift we can give someone is to listen, be present, and have empathy. Sometimes just listening can solve a lot of our problems. Create a space where people are safe to express, and then hear and validate their concerns – this is the first step in healing a community and creating a community of belonging.

2) Don’t be afraid to have the conversation. People might be afraid to engage in these conversations because they don’t know what to say or do or don’t want to make a mistake and offend. If you have your own concerns or are unsure of what to say or do, then just say that. People appreciate the honesty and vulnerability and would rather see your willingness to try to engage rather than your silence on an issue that is important to them. If you are unsure or uncomfortable, be honest about it, and do more listening and ask how you can help. Just know that you have experiences and perspectives that you can offer too. Like I said in a previous blog post, you can’t fail at being you so just show up to the conversation. Once we hear and validate the concerns, we can provide perspective, advice, and resources. Sometimes it’s just a matter of communication that can help solve an issue.

3) Actions speak louder than words so, what are you doing? Of course not all concerns can take top priority and we can’t change everything overnight; however, as staff and faculty, we do have some circle of influence and control – what can you do in your sphere of influence and are you doing it? When incidents like the one at WSU happen, how does the institution respond? How do we respond as staff and faculty? What efforts are there to educate and prevent future incidents? How can we (and educate our students on how to) be intentional in our approach and actions in order to create the change we want to see? As a professional and as an institution, we have to be courageous enough to do what we say we will do and to show our values in action.

4) Don’t give in to the “us” vs “them” mentality. We need to all care. It’s not the job of one person or one office. Know that you are an administrator so when students call out administration, they mean you too. It’s not the “bad” administrators on one side and the “good” on the other or staff on one side and faculty on the other. It’s easy to point fingers and place blame but we must be a united front. Just like I tell my students, we are all part of the same campus community. When something bad happens on campus, it is everyone’s responsibility – and I mean everyone – to take some personal responsibility in making sure that it gets addressed and resolved. Just like when something good is happening, we should all take pride in it and our campus community. As a student affairs professional, we have the complex role of serving students and working for the institution and when the needs of these two groups are seemingly in conflict, then we need to work together to get back on the same page. Addressing inequities in higher education is going to take the work of all of us.

5) Commit to this on-going process. Systemic issues are not going to be resolved in a day, but there are things you can do every day. Change takes time and it’s okay to celebrate the small victories while working towards a better future. We also need to make a personal commitment to further our own understanding of issues of diversity, inclusion, and social justice. Our students are demanding a level of understanding and competency from us so that we can create a culture of inclusion on campus. Therefore, we need to provide on-going educational opportunities, trainings, and professional development for all students, staff, and faculty and/or seek out these opportunities on our own.

Ultimately, we need to be doing all of these things not just because students have called us in to action but because it’s the right thing to do. To students: thank you for your courage, your resiliency, and your voice. I hear you.

I DO BELIEVE

We are officially at the start of the new school year. New Student Orientation began yesterday and our first year students will be participating in convocation today. As I start another school year, I am again reminded of my 2014 theme, wellness. I direct a peer mentor program, and I expressed to them that one of my goals for them this year (as it is with all of the students that I supervise) is to emphasize the practice of balance and wellness. A student’s well-being is one of my priorities as I recognize they are juggling their academics, involvement, job(s), social life, and family life. As my colleagues are wrapping up RA training, Orientation leader training, and the on-boarding of our new staff and graduate assistants, I hope that we can continue to create a culture where the well-being of students and staff are prioritized. I know I’m not the only one in the profession that believes in this philosophy, and there is still so much work to be done in order to change this culture and dismantle the structures that are inherently limiting our well-being in student affairs.

I do NOT believe in training that is from 8 am to 8 pm and on the weekends. For students and staff, our jobs are not 100% of our lives – even if it’s only a “week or two” commitment.

I do NOT believe in training that has built in “free time” and then giving participants a task list where the only time they can accomplish it is during this so-called “free time.”

I do NOT believe in training sessions that are 3 hours long. Topics can be covered in 90 minutes or less and weave it throughout the training, rather than blocking it in to a specific time. No one can sit and pay attention for 3 hours straight, no matter how interactive the material.

I do NOT believe in meetings just to meet. Enough said on this one.

I do NOT believe in mandatory attendance at trainings and then all you provide is unhealthy food. Provide healthy options and energy-boosting snacks rather than sugary products that are draining.

I do NOT believe in a training model where students and staff “stay up all night” to accomplish tasks (especially things like skits or door decs) and it’s normal. 

I do NOT believe in systems where people who are on-call stay up until 4 or 5 am to finish writing an incident report and then have to go into work/school the next morning at 8 am and it’s normal. 

I do NOT believe in the glorification of busy and awarding people for time spent in the office.

I am being critical, and not just for the sake of complaining and pointing out everything that is wrong in our profession but because I want to be part of the solution. I want to contribute to the change in student affairs where we don’t have students and staff burn out, where we don’t have staff leave the profession, and where we don’t have students and staff sacrifice other parts of their well-being just for their jobs.

I DO BELIEVE that wellness and balance* are achievable. (*I use the term balance loosely since I know that looks differently for everybody).

I DO BELIEVE that the well-being of students and staff matter. Our lives matter and we matter.

I DO BELIEVE that we can create structures that support the wellness of students and staff.

I DO BELIEVE that we can provide trainings that are stimulating, impactful, informational, and one where everyone feels well-rested and ready to engage.

I DO BELIEVE in rewarding productivity and creating a results-only work environment.

I DO BELIEVE that we can change the culture in our profession towards wellness.

I DO BELIEVE that we can be and do better.

I know I’m not alone, and I hope to find other professionals who buy into this philosophy and who also BELIEVE. Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts with me: @jessikachi or jessika.chi@gmail.com!

#SAFailsForward – From a Multicultural Affairs Perspective

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As many people have pointed out in the #SAFailsForward initiative, we need to reframe our concept of failure. It’s OK to fail. Truly. It’s through failing that we learn, grow, and develop. Yet, the fear of failure continues to hold people back. One area in which I see this consistently is the lack of engagement with diversity and cultural competency education – because people fear that they have or will “fail” in these conversations.

Working in multicultural affairs, I see time and time again a hesitancy to engage in the dialogue because people are too afraid of doing and/or saying the “wrong” things. I often hear “I don’t know what to say” or “I don’t want to make a mistake.” It’s OK to make mistakes! It’s OK to “fail.” It’s actually part of the process. We all make mistakes – I know I do! We all sometimes do and say the wrong things, even diversity and social justice educators. We are in the profession of education because at our core, we are life-long learners and we value learning. So, we shouldn’t hide, duck, ignore, or brush off these opportunities to learn. We need to take RISKS and ENGAGE in the conversation because to not engage in diversity and cultural competency education is not an option. If we are afraid to fail, we will keep failing forever.

For those who are afraid to fail in this area:

1) Have confidence in your ability to engage in cultural conversations. Identity and culture play a critical role in the work that we do with students. We all have intersecting identities – so let’s talk about them! Speak from your experience and tell your truths and be willing to listen, understand, and learn from the experiences of others. What’s there to be afraid of? You can’t fail at BEING YOU.

2) It’s a process – give yourself, and others, grace. I meant it when I said that failure is part of the process, and the process is all that matters. There aren’t any “right” outcomes or answers. So know that we are all learning together and committed to supporting each other through this journey.

3) Cultural competency doesn’t just build overnight. You don’t get competent by just attending one training so continue to engage in on-going opportunities. Your competency, confidence, and capacity will continue to build up over time.

And a couple thoughts for my fellow diversity and social justice educators that encounter this issue:

1) Part of the reason why people are afraid to say or do the “wrong” thing is because some people approach this work by policing others and letting them know what they just said or did was offensive without explaining why. If you approach this work from an elitist or expert model, it will shut people down and make them not want to even engage in the conversation. This work is not about policing people’s actions or words; instead, it’s about getting people to understand the issues and how they can be a part of the change.

2) Invite everyone to the conversation. Sometimes we don’t know who our allies will be or sometimes we’ve already made up our minds on who is or isn’t an ally. Don’t assume and pre-judge people – risk asking. You never know. Your invite can go a long way in making those who might hesitate out of fear of failing feel included and valued in the conversation.

3) Engage with all students about issues of diversity. As Gwen Dungy said at the NASPA Multicultural Institute, “we are failing our students, all of our students, if we are just letting students of Color hide out in multicultural affairs offices.” Lee Mun Wah also emphasizes that we are failing our White students when we only focus our efforts on our students of Color without educating all students about issues of diversity and social justice. Everyone should have the opportunity to build their cultural competency.

4) Continue to share with others moments where you have “failed.” Part of the beauty of #SAFailsForward is to show that we all at some point have “failed” and it’s how we bounce back and learn from that experience that matters. This is especially true in diversity education work. It puts people at ease if you are willing to be vulnerable too and share moments where you’ve said or done the wrong things and how you responded to those situations.

People might say it’s uncomfortable to talk about issues like racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc. on campus. Well, I say, it’s more uncomfortable to live with it and have it go unaddressed. We must keep moving forward in the areas of social justice. We must keep failing forward – don’t let the fear of failure paralyze us. Who’s in?

Connect with me and share your thoughts @jessikachi

I’m a Professional Badass & Professional Down Time Taker

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As the academic year is wrapping up and we are in the throws of what student affairs professionals know to be as “April,” it’s hard to find any down time. Yes, work-life balance or rhythm or whatever you want to call it is a larger issue within our profession. We can recognize it, discuss it, or even complain about it all we want but until we seriously start putting structures into place that supports balance, we will always continue to struggle with this.

Recently, I attended the Oregon Women in Higher Education conference and in the WISE WOMEN panel, Robin H. Holmes, Vice President at the University of Oregon talked about being a professional badass and a professional down time taker. There is nothing wrong with being great at your job or putting your 110% into your work – if it’s not also at the expense of your wellness.

We have such a hard time rewarding ourselves or even allowing ourselves to take some down time. Even when we aren’t at work, we are thinking about work. It’s understandable why – we care about our students and our students don’t just need us 9 to 5. And during “peak” times (see: April, October) when responsibilities start to pile up, it’s hard to find down time. Therefore, I strongly believe that we need to create structures and habits that allow us to be both a professional badass and a professional down time taker.

I’ll admit, I kick ass at my job. It’s easy to be a professional badass when I love what I do, I believe in what I do, and I do it well. I am also surrounded by professional badasses who care about supporting student development and who still find time to create initiatives that leave a positive impact on the field of student affairs and higher education. It’s through the support of these professional badasses that I am also a professional down time taker. I have no problem taking time for myself and practicing habits that keep me balanced and well. In reflecting on how I’ve been able to manage this, I’ve come up with…

A Quick Guide to being a Professional Badass and Professional Down Time Taker

1. Be productive, not “busy.” Everyone is busy and being busy doesn’t always mean you are productive. As long as you are productive, it doesn’t matter how much time you put into it. Stop glorifying busy and reward productivity instead.

2. Give yourself and others grace. Don’t feel guilty for taking down time and don’t judge others for taking some too. It’s easy to compare your schedule to others and feel like you have to keep up or feel like you are doing “more” than everyone else – recognize that everyone’s schedules are different, and that’s OK. Burn out affects your personal wellness and your job efficacy. Don’t let the fear of others judging you for taking some personal time stop you from doing what it takes to keep you well. Conversely, don’t judge others for taking some time – we all know what a pain it is to work with someone who is burned out!

3. Add in breaks to your schedule. This is an easy structural fix. Even if the breaks are short (getting up and walking around, grabbing a snack, or a quick stretch), it’ll give you some time to breathe and step away from work related stress. Laughing helps too so chat up somebody on your way to the water fountain or read a funny buzzfeed article to get your mind off of work for a second. The work will always be there – it’s OK to step away (physically and emotionally) from it for a few minutes.

4. Create or rethink daily habits that can contribute to your wellness. An hour workout, a 30 minute run, reading for 15 minutes before going to bed, a 20 minute shower, a monthly mani-pedi, a weekly t.v. show…those are all times that can count as down time! Use it!

5. Make time for your important relationships. Invest in the people you love and care about just as much as you invest in your students. Don’t let work take away from the valuable time you could be spending with the important people in your life. These relationships will help keep you balanced because they’ll remind you that there are some things more important than work…and that is the people in your life.

Ultimately, we have to be good role models. We expect students to achieve and perform at a high level and we expect them to be balanced and stay well. We have to be willing to do that too. So, I am a Professional Badass and a Professional Down Time Taker. Are you??

Follow me at @jessikachi