A little over two years ago, I googled the definition of “social justice” so I could answer a question on a graduate school application.
It didn’t help define this concept that I had never heard of. I approached my supervisor to discuss this social justice thing, almost ashamed that I could not answer this question on my own. In that conversation with her, I realized that while social justice was hard for me to articulate on paper, I did understand its opposite, social injustice.
Over the past two years, my personal philosophy has gone from one of “believing in the power of people” to “examining the power people hold.” I used to believe that I treat all people as exactly that: people. What I failed to notice then, and still at times struggle to notice now is that I need to always examine my assumptions, thoughts, and the historical influences that affect where I am and who I am with. I have struggled to try to find an authentic (read: personalized) way to incorporate social justice education and social justice activism into my life. I do not want to do something simply because I carry guilt, or because I think I need to do it, or because I owe it to someone. I want to do this work and this education because I want to and because it resonates with my core values and core beliefs. I don’t want to keep missing the small, yet harmful, issues on college campuses or in my own life. This is why I value questions. Questioning will provide a more critical lens, which can lead to a better understanding of people in any given situation. This, in turn, is what I believe leads to beneficial relationships and experiences in my life and the lives of others.
Fortunately, I am a learner. I always have been. I’m a traditional learner in the sense that I take at face value what my teachers, professors, and schoolbooks have said. I have recently learned that I cannot passively soak up all of this information without challenging it. I need to become more of a critical thinker by way of asking questions not only to myself and to those around me for clarification, but to society and the text itself, both of which cannot reply back to me, but can none the less inform me of issues to consider and who is being left out of the conversation or topic at hand.
I learn by mistakes. Often at the expense of others. And I learn at my own pace. This. Has. Been. Hard. I have always been a feeler. This is also how I learn. This means that whe I feel that I have wronged somebody, let someone down, or otherwise not lived up to my own standards, the guilt I feel manifests as shame for a while. It has taken me many years to realize that this could be at the heart of why I cry in situations of discomfort or confrontation, even when they are helpful or developmental. I wear my emotions on my sleeve and am still navigating how to translate this into a professional setting. But I wouldn’t trade this for the world. I am a believer in emotions, feelings, tears, laughter, and frustration. I think these things break down walls of our selves and of others and hold the key to impacting change on a personal and societal level. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to feel. This is my philosophy.
My mission over the next five years is to able to look at my skillset and see it as stronger, more versatile, or much improved from what it is right now and be able to apply those skills to the job I have and the job I want. I think that my areas of weakness (deadlines, pursuing opportunities, and thinking critically) will only be improved by adherence to and consciousness of my four goals.
- Work smarter, not harder: this is something that I’ve been working on—the main part of this goal being to stomp out procrastination whenever possible; the second part, to continue to effectively collaborate with others and seek feedback; the last, to create schedules and set manageable timelines for myself). Utilizing my planner to its fullest potential (and always using it) is the first step to achieving this goal. By being aware of what’s coming and always reprioritizing each step of the way I will be able to give more to each project.
- Set realistic goals. I have a tendency to say that I can complete something before I actually can. I need to set more realistic timelines with regard to multi-step projects. The other piece of this is to break tasks down into coherent phases, either on my own or with the help of a supervisor or colleague. Asking for help along the way is allowed. I should rephrase this: Ask for help. Feedback is my friend.
- Create a professional track. Right now I could not tell you what my end goal is. I sometimes throw out Director of Housing or Dean of Students, but I cannot articulate what these professions signify to me or what they entail in the large (and small) scheme of things. I see these two positions as being closely tied to the student experience, a requisite component for me. After next year I want to have a financial plan to get out of debt, but also a professional plan that will keep me happily working towards that end. I know this will require more exploration of careers and positions in higher education and student affairs. It will also require me to focus on my second weakness: pursuing opportunities. This includes identifying those people in my life who can provide me with support, wisdom, and a glance into their roles as professionals in this work. I also need to continue to work on defining my non-negotiables. This is still a really vague “I want to be near family and be appreciated” statement.
- Navigate -isms. This seems vague. But that’s because it is broad, intangible, and not easily assessed. Essentially what I intend to do with this goal is to make sure that I always consider who (and what) I am at each phase in my life, in each office I enter, and during each conversation with a student, friend, or colleague. I have started to notice my own privileges, assumptions, and judgments and have made a point to keep them in check. What I need to get better at is navigating situations where identity, power, and privilege are playing out: in gendered assumptions; with racialized comments (aware, unaware, purposeful, or unintentional); with regard to systemic issues; and within political decisions. I want to be able to train myself to be more critical of what’s happening around me. I used to believe that when “the old racists” die, the “young progressives” would finally be in the majority and this would fix everything, but it’s not people that are going to make or break society. It’s our framework, our systems, and our policies. I NEED to get better at seeing these things on my own so that I can be the advocate I want to be, not just the well intended, big hearted student affairs administrator. Increasing my knowledge of the field, historical factors, and awareness of my and others identities with regard to the –isms will help with this goal.
ONGOING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Fortunately I love learning. I think that as long as I remember to seek out funding for a national conference, I will at least have one point every year where I see what other professionals are doing and get inspired or reinvigorated to learn or do more. Unfortunately once a year is not enough. I need to make a commitment to learn constantly, to explore pockets of knowledge, and to exercise the avenues that are around me.
- Subscribing to (and reading) professional periodicals/newsletters/blogs
- Getting involved at the local or regional level with a professional group when I feel comfortable doing so (and when it won’t detract from my primary responsibilities)
- Seeking out facilitation or presentation opportunities (the hardest part is the proposal or volunteering; the rest I will be able to handle)
These are three things that I know I can do. And now it’s on paper. So I guess I’ll feel that I have more than just myself to hold me accountable.
I WILL CONSTANTLY WORK TO…
Define my non-negotiables, stick to my plan, reassess my goals often. Seek advice, practice humility, keep smiling. Work hard, play hard, get involved.
Bring my passion, bring my enthusiasm, bring my self.