Who Are Student Affairs Professionals?
The diversity of the human experience is a topic of discussion that continues to enlighten, transform, and challenge my personal and professional life experiences. I continually ask myself, “What is the next step in my biological, spiritual, psychological evolution of heart, spirit, and mind?” More importantly, how can I act as a catalyst in the lives around me to inspire the same commitment to collective growth and development? I passionately believe humanity must gain a grounded understanding of what it means to be human across social and biological identities before we are able to elevate human understanding. Human identities are the key to unlocking human potential to prepare us for the next frontier of evolutionary breakthroughs. Yes, the task of progressing collective human understanding is complex, dense, and difficult at times. As a species, humans naturally progress and regress at various stages of their life. Who should be the individuals charged with helping others understand the complexity of the human experience? How do we incorporate critique as a mechanism of self and collective betterment rather than perpetuating vicious cycles of blame?
Arguably, I believe there is a field of professionals who have positioned themselves nicely to progress human understanding through various social justice and humanitarian paradigms, more so than any other profession: Student Affairs. Other professions have the capacity to grow into social justice education and may be waiting for higher education to take the lead in those efforts. However, there is passionate disagreement on a universal definition of what it means to identify professionally as a Student Affairs Professional. I define a Student Affairs Professional as any professional at a post-high school educational establishment who interacts with students on a continual basis. This includes everyone from campus security and faculty members to administration and everyone in between.
I do not believe faculty members are immune from understanding the seminal work of Student Affairs Professionals: contributing to holistic student development. Faculty members have different institutional research demands on a college campus, but those research efforts become moot if they do not know how to translate such findings into their classroom based on student development and related receptiveness. I am in no way advocating that faculty members should recant any of their academic power and related expertise in the classroom, the classroom is their jurisdiction. What I am rallying behind is the idea that Student Affairs Professionals staff shares the same conceptual space as faculty members it is in that space that both institutional entities can bridge gaps between Academic and Student Affairs.
Stepping Into Social Justice as a Practice
I ardently believe the field of higher education must spear-head the social justice movements grounded in the work of Civil Rights scholars of the 1960’s and 70’s. We must take those foundations of universal solidarity and expand on those existential efforts. Higher Education needs individuals who embody courageous leadership to cultivate change agents who will apply theory with practice in order to understand the diversity of the human experience. As one of the many competencies set forward by NASPA and ACPA, social justice education is becoming seminal to the work of Student Affairs Professionals. The development and celebration of a critical consciousness are paramount to understanding diversity, equity, and inclusion. Why are there drastic differences in educational outcomes of a black, atheist, queer, transgender female who lives in relative poverty as opposed to a white, religious, straight, cisgender male who inherited wealth from his family business?
I believe social justice education must understand the diversity of how individuals construct their holistic identity development. Not doing so constitutes gross humanitarian negligence and perpetuates preexisting inequitable power structures present in society. Moreover, higher education professionals not only need to understand individual identities in order to avoid the further erasure of cultures across the human spectrum, but we must also begin to understand that human beings are not monolithic. We are multidimensional beings who carry a host of human identities. I believe it is in the close examination of intersectionality, how multiple identities intersect and affect the human experience, will elevate human understanding in profound and innovative ways.
Colleges and universities across the world have symbolically become lighthouses of knowledge in their efforts to instill hope and guidance to individuals in understanding oneself in relation to the world. There have been countless breakthroughs in medicine, technology, and engineering that have progressed bodies of knowledge in expansive and impressive ways. However, what is often left out of these breakthroughs are the intimate affectional experiences people endure on their journey of scientific discovery.
I am interested in the pathological holistic development of a person’s emotional, psychological, and physical experiences when they commit themselves to social philanthropic, humanitarian, or spiritual causes larger than themselves. I am infinitely curious why our world has witnessed countless scientific breakthroughs yet there is not equal attention given to evolutionary breakthroughs of human spirit, mind, and soul? It seems we have a strong foothold on what it means to identify ourselves on the following spectrums: race, gender and sex minorities, sexuality, social class, ability, ideology, and any other social or biological identities. Moreover, this does not mean any one of the aforementioned qualities is not up for debate in how identifiable factors of classification change over time, including the role of stereotype-threat in such process.
What I wish to draw attention to is the idea that there is a life force that binds us all across the spectrum of the human experience. A meta-spiritual energy that is too large to be explained by any one religion’s version of a god or deity. It is within the awareness of this presence can human beings begin to progress century-old conversations, and debates, of what it means to be human. This level of human understanding in no way erases the importance of maintaining a critical consciousness as it relates to individual histories of various aspects of human culture, in fact, it strengthens those understandings. Initiating conversations around racism, sexism, classism, ability, sexual orientation or any other human ‘ism’ and how they relate to power and privilege is highly personal and can be emotionally exhausting.
These conversations become so intense they begin to take their toll on our mental health and try to unremittingly convince all of humanity that we are stuck in endless debates of who is “more oppressed.” I do not believe conventional thought in that there is a hierarchy of minority rights. In doing so, one inevitably places more value on one human life over another. All oppressed group of individuals are equally marginalized and experience grave injustices throughout their life. I am in no way discounting the oppressive history of each marginalized group but rather showcasing the need to evaluate them equally from various adaptive positionalities and related vantage points.
I believe the existential life force that binds humanity into one collective existence not only recognizes and validates all accounts of human experiences and related oppression but urges us to elevate the level of discourse to act as one collective spiritual force. I believe this is the topic of conversation that life is waiting for our spiritual recognition in order to experience the next area of human evolutionary breakthrough. Notwithstanding, the ability to understand the nature of human development is crucial to assessing the needs of individuals in order to arrive at equity of the human experience.
The spiritual connectedness of the human experience is where I plan to progress Social Justice Education efforts within higher education. I am interested in social justice and equity education because I continuously grow into an unparalleled ethic of care in the well-being of others. I plan to not only recognize my many forms of human privilege but participate in dismantling power structures to arrive at true equity of the human experience. I will explore aspects of human identity that will end in the translation of the content into the idea of spiritual connectedness. I may lose myself along the way as I spiritually jolt myself into the lived experiences of my fellow human beings. In this process, I hope to relinquish any egotistical thought and instead focus my energies on building a more diverse, equitable world through empathetic story-telling that showcases the deep amount of love and care I feel towards the human race.
It is time for Student Affairs Professionals to step into the darkness and transform our colleges and universities into lighthouses to help students find their way. Do you believe in this vision as well? Comment below and let’s discuss changes needed to move higher education in this direction.
With much love, light, and solidarity.