Student Affairs: Career for Some, Detour for Others? By Chris Conzen

Student Affairs – Career for Some, Detour for Others? [guest post]

This is part of the blog series “Reconsider Graduate School for Student Affairs” dedicated to exploring if going to graduate school for student affairs – or even going into student affairs – is worth it. To see the introductory post on this blog series, please visit this page. To contribute a guest post, visit here. Peruse past posts on what to look for in a #SAgrad program and alternatives to #SAgrad programs to pursue related interests in different careers.

In this guest post, Chris Conzen shares his thoughts how a student affairs career trajectory. Welcome to #RGS4SAM.

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Introduction:

This post originally appeared on my personal blog six years ago (which has since been archived). I do think the general spirit still holds, though…maybe even more as we continue to see a growth in HESA graduate programs. I, myself, fell into student affairs as I found that I was creeping upon graduation without a clear idea of what I wanted to do once I crossed the graduation stage. Not only that, but I also backed into a career in student life, since the activities office at my graduate institution was the only one to offer me an assistantship, and I found myself facing over a decade of “nights and weekends”. While ultimately I decided to stay in higher education, it took a while before I found the right combinations to create the fit I was looking for.

I think the story of the “accidental student affairs professional” is more common that many of us may think, so I dug up this old blog post to share once again.

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A new calendar year is upon us (not to be confused with the academic year, which is just one way we confused the people we try to explain our jobs to). Grad students coming to the end of their programs will begin the job search in earnest, while others ready to take the next step will start monitoring the Chronicle or HigherEdjobs more feverishly. Still others, with New Year’s resolutions (or OneWords) fresh in their heads, might start considering a career change or shift. For some, the soul searching might result in a renewed interest in the profession or a desire to shift into a different functional area, while for others, there might be the “how did I get here and how do I get out of here” moments.

 
Almost half of the members of my graduate school cohort are not in student affairs. In fact, a few of them did not even pursue jobs in higher education upon graduation. A few years out of graduate school, I started thinking about a career shift, entering a program in school counseling at the institution where I worked. Ultimately, I realized I wasn’t looking for a career change, but actually an escape from what seemed to me at the time as endless nights and weekends of work. Fortunately, with the help of a supportive supervisor and co-workers, I found better ways to balance my own time (which I actually used to work a 2nd job as a youth minister at a church, but that’s another post for another time) and I once again found the career satisfaction I had been lacking.

Student affairs will be where I forge the rest of my career path. However, I’ve recently had conversations with folks who don’t see their futures in the same field. I’ve started reflecting on how we all end up on the “SAPath” in the first place. I’d venture to guess almost none of us came to college thinking “Hey, I’m going to be the Director of Campus Activities one day”. This is a career many of us find as we’re in the process of finding ourselves. How often does this scenario happen:

A third or fourth-year-student who started out in sociology, or psychology, or even mechanical engineering has started to realize “I don’t really like any of the careers that come out of this major”. Yet, the student is so far in, with all of the general education classes finished (except for maybe that math course you’ve been avoiding because it was only offered at 8:30 AM – or maybe that was just me) the student has now embarked on the classes that are major specific. The student is starting to say “Oh crap, I’m graduating soon…what the heck am I going to do”. The student also happens to be very involved…could be a SGA Vice President or a RA. The student gets even more involved because, at this point, leadership is much more fulfilling than coursework. Then, the magic moment happens – it could be that the student expresses the career doubt out loud or he or she says “Hey, how do I do what you do”. Then, like someone has activated the “SASignal” we go into action. All of a sudden we’re forwarding them grad school applications and connecting them to our colleagues. We get so excited about the opportunity to mentor a new professional into the field, we might forget to ask the probing questions like “Well, what is it about student affairs that you think you might like” and help them to explore all of the options that might also fit that criteria. When the student announces which graduate school he or she will be attending and what assistantship he or she is taking, we shed a tear and proudly send a new “SAProgeny” out into the world.

A few years pass – the now grad students learn there’s actually theory and years of practice behind what we do. They excitedly move on to their first position and get ready to cut their teeth. Then, another magic moment happens – the moment they realize that working in higher education is much different than being a student leader in higher education. It might happen when the new professional is required to support a policy he or she would have organized sit-ins against as a student. Or it could be the moment that the students who made excuses to sit their office just to hang out with them are now writing angry facebook statuses about them because they had to hold the students accountable. Or it could just be the last night of homecoming week, when, as a student, he or she would have been out celebrating with friends, but instead he or she is left cleaning up the confetti with the grounds crew. And then a familiar feeling creeps in again – the feeling they had their third or fourth year when they realized their major wasn’t for them, only this time they have student loan payments, car payments, and cat litter to buy.

Of course, I’m being a tad cheeky about this. I know a great many professionals who are in this for the long haul like me and are more than happy to be here. But I think we can also name folks we know that are probably on a career detour right now – whether they have realized it themselves or not. Is this something we need to talk more about as a profession, or is it just par for the course in any profession? Can we be better about helping students explore other professions that might also meet their goals? I’d love to hear thoughts from other folks about this…even thoughts that I’m way off base on this one.

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AUTHOR

Chris Conzen (he/him/his pronouns) is a 20-year veteran of higher education, having spent 18 of them in student affairs before transitioning into academic affairs. Chris has a B.A. in Social Work, an M.Ed. in College Student Personnel and an Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration. Chris has worked in a variety of institutions, but his home is at the community college level. Chris lives in Northern NJ and is a firm believer in taking his lunch hour, not giving back vacation days, and not feeling ashamed about needing a mental health day when necessary.

 

So...How Do You Live on a Student Affairs Income?

So How Do You Live on a Student Affairs Income?

So How Do You Live on a Student Affairs Income?

This is part of a blog series dedicated to exploring if going to graduate school for student affairs – or even going into student affairs – is worth it. To see the introductory post on this blog series, please visit this page. To contribute a guest post, visit here. Peruse past posts on what to look for in a #SAgrad program, alternatives to #SAgrad programs, and how grad school is more than just a piece of paper. In this post, we’ll review finances.

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Many folks who are entering student affairs feel as if they are though on the precipice of adulthood. 

This is not a slam (yes, I know, we are actually adults), but there’s a reason why my generation (I’m an older Millennial, but one nonetheless) and the generation behind us, discuss the concept of #Adulting. We often don’t feel like adults (even though we legally are) due to not achieving culturally significant “Adulthood” markers like being married, having children, owning a home, etc (or perhaps one but not all of these markers) – especially if you are lower-income. Adulthood is a social construct

For  folks like me, who come from low-income backgrounds, we never saw all of these traditional achievements and know more about living day to day and/or the excitement for the first of the month (y’all, so much hunger during the last week of the month – loved when the check came so my family could get groceries!). Our family/caretakers couldn’t teach us, or perhaps not teach us much, so we emerged into adulthood with a big question mark over our heads like confused SIMS characters.

If you feel some kinship with the words above, this blog post is for you. Whether you are a prospective student affairs graduate student, a current #SAgrad about to enter the field, or a current professional (or really anyone looking to enter the workforce/a graduate program), this blog post is for you.

So How Do You Live on a Student Affairs Income?

…not well, I’m afraid.

For folks looking towards entry-level positions, we shall start with your prospects. Please see this spreadsheetA Student Affairs Professionals’ Example Budget to Living in a Mid-Sized Midwest Metropolitan Area”. It will work best if you pull this up in a different window, and follow along as you read.

This spreadsheet is based on my actual paycheck and my lived experience of bill paying (but extremely generalized). I live in Indianapolis, Indiana (a fact you can easily google, so why not share). But you could inflate or deflate anticipated costs + income as needed for the jobs you are considering. 

Let’s walk through the spreadsheet:

Overall, this is for an entry-level position that advertises a salary of $36,525. (note: most non-res life entry-level jobs in student affairs range from $32k-$42k. Maybe $45k if you’re lucky). The hourly wage (important if you are non-exempt and possibly eligible for overtime) is $17.56.

This salary sounds pretty decent, right? I mean, my family of four managed to survive in extreme poverty on $18,000 annually…I mean this is DOUBLE my family’s annual income? Y’all this sounds like a blessing!

Person saying "I'm queen of the rich" in gif form

Okay, but when you dig into it…

On Tab 1 “Example of your Student Affairs Income”, we see that this gives a gross total (this means, all the money the university gives you, not counting deductions or taxes) of $1,404.8 on a biweekly paycheck.

Once you go through all your deductions (mostly required) of $67.78 and your (definitely required) taxes of $316.45, your net pay (aka, the amount you get to take home) is $1,020.57.

So while your gross pay (total the university gives you) salary is $36,525…

Your annual net pay (take-home) salary is $26,534.82.

Ok, ok. STILL MORE than what my family made. This is fine.

this is fine2

Let’s go to Tab 2 “Student Affairs Personal Expenses Budget Example”.

Taking the average monthly pay (when you are paid biweekly, this can get complicated) of $2,041.14, I did a spreadsheet of examining expenses.

The estimated housing expenses are 55% of the total monthly income in this scenario. Did you know that the federal government says that folks who spend more than 30% of their monthly income on housing are considered “cost burdened” and those at 50% or more are “severely cost burdened” (CNBC). This is bad news bears, my friends.

These costs could decrease if there are roommates, fewer amenities, smaller space, live far from the city center, live in an area with higher crime rates, etc. It could also easily increase for those who wish to live in a trendy neighborhood/downtown, etc, or for those who live in major cities – special shout-outs to the Bay Area folks whose government cares more about gentrifying developers and use police to protect the rich and evict the poor (LA Times) and tech bros publicly advocate for the government to harm people experiencing experiencing homelessness because they don’t want to “to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day” – all while housing prices skyrocket! [rant over. for now!]

After paying the estimated $907 in housing expenses, one has $1,134.14 remaining. If someone has a car, they may spend $190 on regular expenses and maintenance. One could save money by using public transit if they are fortunate to find a home on a bus line and their city has good transit options. For example, I moved to a very affordable side of town so my housing costs were lower and I live near a bus stop, but the commute by bus would be 1.5 hours including transfers, but only 25-40 minutes via car. With my irregular student affairs hours and the need to schlep supplies at times, then a car is my desired mode of transportation.

After housing + car, we are at $944.14.

Now, food is a major expense. It is terribly easy to spend too much on dining out (including coffee, take-out, and delivery) – especially if your work hours are intense. Due to one major program, I used to spend about 3 weeks in February and 1-2 weeks in March working easily 50+ hours weekly. I’d be at the office sometimes from 10am-11pm, so of course I did delivery since my commuter campus didn’t have much to eat after 5pm. When it comes to purchasing groceries, they can add up easily – especially if you purchase frozen meals for convenience and want something sorta healthy or if you purchase fresh groceries. The worst was purchasing great groceries, then having my energy stolen by work stuff, so some food would go spoiled since I didn’t have time to cook that night/week. 

Because food can add up, I budgeted $450. This may be way more (or way less) than folks expect. If you’d expect to spend less on food, that’s fine because this budget spreadsheet doesn’t include quite a few other expenses.

Giant plant saying FEED ME

So now after housing + car + food, our remaining total is $464.14.

Add in student loan payments and a cheap cell phone plan (but no cell phone payments) at $330 and…

Your total funds after paying bills is $134.14

Note, that this budget does not include the following expenses:

  • Healthcare needs, like prescriptions and co-pays
  • Monthly payments on a new cell phone or cell phone insurance
  • Car payments
  • Clothing or household items
  • Funds to put into a retirement account
  • Major car repairs
  • A “fun money” account for seeing movies or tickets to events
  • A larger loan payment if you had significant undergraduate + master’s loans –> Or no payment if you had many scholarships/your family paid for you/you worked a lot during school
  • Supporting your family, if you have a spouse, dependents, or other family members (a real life thing for many first-gen folks!!)

So for the above expenses (especially towards healthcare or a new car or phone) that will likely come up, you think “This is fine. I will save my $134.14 for a whole year and create a nest egg.”

Cool. After one year you will have $1,609.68.

This is better than nothing! This is fine.

tina fey crying and saying everything is fine

But then you go into possible miscellaneous expenses and all of a sudden you owe $5,764 to get a new car, new phone, pay off medical bills, etc. 

And you’re in the red for $4,154.32.

In the red.

Meaning, in debt.

I’ll give you a real life example:

In December 2011, I noticed a hole in my back tooth (!). One of my silver fillings (silver is the least effective for cavities because they will wear down, but hey, Medicaid folks aren’t eligible for anything fancy) had fallen out! Well, fuck. Here I was working at an AMAZING nonprofit but only making $12 an hour with little benefits and applying to student affairs graduate programs. Turns out, I didn’t need a new filling – I needed a root canal that cost me close to a thousand out of pocket.

Fine, whatever. I went into grad school. I graduated in May 2014 and got a new job at a large public university system. I finally, at the age of 29, had good healthcare. I found a dentist. He did an X-ray. Turns out my dentist in Toledo forgot to TAKE OUT BROKEN METAL EQUIPMENT IN MY JAW. 

You read that right. I had slivers of metal in my jar and now had an infection IN MY JAW. In early 2015, I got an oral surgery that cost me $1,300 out of pocket. I could barely afford it and (sadly) honestly didn’t understand my Health Savings Account (HSA) and how it could be used for dental expenses. On top of this, sudden family expenses popped up that I had to cover. So I stopped paying my student loans for a while to make ends meet, resulting in many angry emails from Navient and growing interest on my account. Which wasn’t good, because I had to take a lot of loans out during grad school, despite having a great assistantship, because my father died and I had family obligations (#poorkidlife #firstgenlife).

That is just one example of how quickly your finances can change unexpectedly. 

Danny DeVito setting cash on fire and saying "You Want It?!"

So even though I was making much more than my parents ever did, as you can see by the estimated numbers (not my exact personal budget, but an estimation if I lived alone and didn’t have family expenses), it was still a struggle. For fellow entry-level folks (honestly, and mid-level), they also struggle, especially if they have additional expenses. 

It’s why if you peer into student affairs social media or even conference presentations, you’ll hear a lot of talk on “side-hustles”.

That sounds nice – like, “ooh, folks have hobbies!” or “Cool, they get to make some extra spending money while doing what they like!” But in reality? Most of these side hustles are necessary for folks to be able to breath and not worry about financial ruin.

So…Do you still want to go into student affairs?

(It’s okay if you do. Really. But I just want to make sure folks – especially low SES folks and first gen folks – go into it with a bevy of knowledge at their disposal).

P.S. Amma Marfo has a recent blog post on the topic of resources for learning how to manage finances that I’d recommend.

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Want to add to the conversation? Tweet me at @NikiMessmore

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Don’t Go to Graduate School If You Don’t Want to Be a Graduate Student. A 2020 blog series Guest Post by @cjvenable https://danceswithdissonance.wordpress.com

Re-Considering Graduate School for Student Affairs: Or, Don’t Go to Graduate School If You Don’t Want to Be a Graduate Student

This is part of a blog series dedicated to exploring if going to graduate school for student affairs – or even going into student affairs – is worth it. To see the introductory post on this blog series, please visit this page. To contribute a guest post, visit here. Peruse past posts on what to look for in a #SAgrad program and alternatives to #SAgrad programs to pursue related interests in different careers.

In this guest post, CJ Venable shares their thoughts on what graduate school really means – it’s more than getting a piece of paper at the end. Welcome to #RGS4SAM.

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I am writing this to encourage you, gentle reader, not to reconsider (make another decision), but to re-consider (consider again) graduate school for student affairs. By this I mean, I want you to enter into the prospect of graduate work with a clear understanding of professional preparation in student affairs as a formative academic and professional endeavor.

To start, a few caveats. Graduate school is terrible for one’s mental health, largely because of cultures that encourage competition and superhuman work habits, compounded by all the preexisting isms that are built into higher education. Ableism in particular can make graduate school inaccessible, based on myths that graduate study should be limited to only a select few.  Graduate school is financially precarious–even departments that offer “full” funding expect graduate students to be unmarried, without children, and capable of living on poverty wages years at a time (I received a $9000/year stipend and, as I had no savings and a family recovering from medical bankruptcy, depended on my partner to survive). These problems are real and deserve critique and reform. And as I’m sure other essays in this series will argue, not everyone needs to go to graduate school (period, or in student affairs).

Also, I’m a doctoral candidate in the cultural foundations of education, studying whiteness in student affairs. I have a master’s degree in college student personnel and I hope to someday be faculty in a graduate professional preparation program. My scholarly work is largely about how we fail, as a field, to live up to the commitments we make to social justice and envisioning possibilities for how we can actually do better. All of that, from being a full-time grad student in student affairs right after undergrad to pursuing a degree outside of HESA (higher education and student affairs) shapes my perspective on this topic. It’s up to you to judge whether or not I’m just trying to secure my own future. Onward.

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Often I hear folks say that a HESA degree is ‘just a piece of paper,’ that it is merely a ‘ticket to entry’ into the profession, or that the classes (especially…dun dun dun…the theory class(es)) don’t really matter compared to the experience of an assistantship, internship, practicum, or other hands-on work in student affairs. I won’t say that those people are entirely wrong, even though there may be dimensions of those claims I would like to unpack further (lucky for you, I’ll have to do that somewhere else). But I am here to argue that if you choose, despite the problems and caveats above, to pursue a graduate degree in student affairs that you should consider it an academic undertaking.

I’ll give you a preview into one of your first classes. It will probably be called something like “Introduction to Student Affairs” or “Foundations and Functions of College Student Personnel” (that was it in my program) or perhaps even “Introduction to College Student Personnel Work.” At some point, you will be introduced to the idea that student affairs is a profession, a word that refers to a complex sociological phenomenon but which often gets used as a stand in for “a field which deserves to be respected.” Sociologically, we are not a profession–we don’t have the same kinds of ethical oversight, control, or prestige as professions like law or medicine. We do, however, have a growing body of specialized knowledge that should* undergird our practice.

*I said should here quite intentionally. Truthfully, there are many working in student affairs who do not use any kind of theory, research, or pedagogies to shape their work day-to-day. It is my belief that everyone should be using some kind of theoretical foundation for their work, even if that foundation is not the specialized knowledge of student affairs.

You will likely develop your own opinion about how much of a ‘profession’ we in student affairs are. You might even be asked to write a paper on it for a class or two. But even if, like me, you are unconvinced by the ‘of course we are a profession’ stance, you still have an obligation to operate as a professional (as opposed to a para-professional, like a Resident Assistant, or a person entirely unaffiliated with higher education). If you choose to pursue a graduate degree in student affairs, you should take seriously the development of your understanding of the knowledge the field has developed, collected, uncovered, created (pick your preferred epistemological verb).

At the end of your graduate journey, you do not take a certification or sit for boards in student affairs. You might complete a comprehensive exam. You might prepare a capstone portfolio. You might even contribute to the knowledge of the field with a thesis project. Regardless, ultimately you cross a stage and are awarded an academic degree, hooded with a special signifier of your advanced knowledge as a Master (of Arts, Sciences, Education, Arts in Education, Science in Education, or some other tag your particular institution has deemed appropriate for your particular studies). If you are choosing to pursue this degree–as opposed to entering the field in some other way, which is a valid endeavor–you should understand it as an opportunity to challenge yourself academically and to gain new skills in analysis, synthesis, and critique.

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So then, what does it look like to consider graduate study in student affairs as an academic endeavor?

First, in the delicate dance that is the traditional HESA grad school experience (think full-time study plus an assistantship), make sure that your classes aren’t always your last priority. While I do think there are times when class (or reading, or finishing a paper on time) should rightfully fall behind compared to other professional or personal demands, if you are consistently missing classes, ghosting classmates on group projects, or skipping the readings, you’re missing out. In particular, grad school (unlike some undergrad experiences) generally relies heavily on the ‘seminar,’ a small class driven by discussion of closely-read texts. Your professor (and your classmates) know when you haven’t done the reading. Everyone has off weeks where they can’t make it all happen, but if you’re always the person talking about your ‘personal experience’ instead of the readings, it’s probably time to reprioritize.

Next, look for ways to intentionally apply what you’re learning in your courses to your practice. Even for folks who already work in the field, coursework is an opportunity to seek out the limits of your knowledge and experience and find out how to move beyond them by using research and theory to expand your expertise. Applying theory to practice is notoriously challenging and does not feel natural. Instead, theory should challenge us to question our ‘natural assumptions’ and look beyond what we think we know. Theory offers opportunities for critique, both of the practice that you or others are engaged in and of the structures we have created in the first place. This is a valuable mindset, even if the specific theories you cover in your courses don’t seem relevant to the work you do or the students you work with. By understanding the theories and structures that make HESA tick–including the more sinister ones, like neoliberalism–you may also better understand how to envision other ways of being in higher education.

Finally, even if you have no interest in being a researcher, look to research experiences (taking courses, writing a thesis) as opportunities for growth as a practitioner. Gaining real facility at reading, understanding, and critiquing research takes time and practice. While you might not be a practitioner-scholar who reads every new issue of every journal in your field, you will inevitably be called upon to back up your decisions on an event, program, initiative, or funding request with some research. That demands the skills of a critical research consumer. Skills from research methods courses can also be useful–improved spreadsheet skills from a stats class or listening skills developed through practice in qualitative interviewing are valuable in the daily work of many practitioners. And, you may someday decide to do research of your own. At my institution, as a professional staff member with a master’s degree, I am able to act as the Principal Investigator (the one who leads and is responsible for a research project) for my own research. You, like me, may go on to pursue a doctoral degree as well. Seeking out research opportunities with faculty, like working on a research team, can be incredibly rewarding. Either way, your skills as a consumer, if not producer, of research are useful and should be taken seriously.

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Graduate school in HESA can be transformative. Even though it is not the only way into the field, if you choose to pursue a HESA degree, I hope you will take from it as much as you possibly can. Being a student has great benefits–you have license to question and challenge in ways that become significantly more precarious as a full-time professional. You get new knowledge to explore that applies directly to your future (or current!) career. You also get to flex your intellectual muscles in ways that don’t happen in practice, challenging you to think differently and communicate for different audiences. I hope you benefit from supportive and non-exploitative supervisors and gain a new or deeper understanding of yourself as a professional and a scholar. And I hope you come to see the academics, though at times challenging, to be an essential part of your growth in graduate school.

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AUTHOR

CJ Venable is a senior academic advisor and candidate for the PhD in the cultural foundations of education at Kent State University. They currently serve as the Chair of the Theory, Philosophy, and History of Advising Community in NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. CJ’s scholarly interests center on whiteness and higher education, the cultural politics of emotion, and trans people in higher education. Most recently, they are co-author, with Kyle Inselman and Nick Thuot, of “Negotiating Fit While ‘Misfit’: Three Ways Trans Professionals Navigate Student Affairs” in Debunking the Myth of Job Fit in Higher Education and Student Affairs edited by Reece, Tran, DeVore, and Porcaro. You can follow CJ on Twitter @cjvenable.

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Toss a coin to your witcher! Share some monetary love to CJ if you can, in thanks for their work on this excellent essay.

4 Things You Need to Know When Selecting a Student Affairs Graduate Program

This is part of a blog series dedicated to exploring if going to graduate school for student affairs – or even going into student affairs – is worth it. To see the introductory post on this blog series, please visit this page. To contribute a guest post, visit here.  In this post, we’ll review graduate school options for folks interested in student affairs that are not student affairs.

At this point, you may have read the other articles in my “Reconsider Graduate School for Student Affairs” series (even the “Reconsider a Career in Student Affairs” that shows the field isn’t puppies and rainbows) and you still tell me “Niki, girl, student affairs is my future and I am doing this!”

Then…awesome! Welcome! While some of my posts are a Debbie Downer, it comes down to my desire to talk to you in a real way about an imperfect profession that has real challenges. 

Listen – I really do enjoy my work in student affairs. I have worked in toxic environments that made me want to run screaming into a different profession in the past, but I’ve always loved working with students, and love my current workplace!

So if you are going to do this, here are my suggestions for doing it right. There are additional resources on this topic, including from Dr. Will Barrat in this ACPA handout.

Tip #1: Beware the Predatory Student Affairs Master’s Programs

Look, that sub-heading is not going to make me friends with everyone reading this. I know that. I have supervised graduate interns from several programs across the country. I have friends who earned their master’s from diverse schools. I know folks who are faculty. Some of the things I’m going to say may be about a program that someone reading this may be working at right now…but let me explain.

In the last 10-15 years there has been an increase in student affairs master’s programs – perhaps due to the perceived need since more people were returning to college for advanced degrees. But there are quite a few programs that are created with very few full-time faculty and then mostly adjuncts who are student affairs professionals at the university. This in itself is not necessarily predatory – I think a blend of faculty centered in academia and in practical experience is important. But programs that mostly pay current staff as adjunct faculty likely are likely making a good profit for the university – just sayin’.

It seems that many of these programs form and then do not offer funding or much support in finding graduate assistantships. Some of them will admit students, but it is up to the student to actually find a GAship on their own. Without faculty developing relationships with university offices to support incoming master’s students and advocating for students, the GAship packages may not offer much tuition remission or a good stipend. 

As an example, a fellow first-gen once told me how they entered the field. As an active student leader, they were encouraged by mentors to apply for the student affairs master’s program at that university. The student didn’t have knowledge on the field at large or the process of applying to graduate school. So they applied, were accepted, and then went deep into student loan debt to pay for their studies because their GAship paid only a stipend/maybe a small bit of tuition. This colleague was definitely upset, once they got into the field, learned more about how most SAgrad programs are run, and realized they were taken advantage of.

I truly believe that many of these student affairs programs should shut down, just like how many PhD programs in English and other programs need to close their doors. In academia, too many people earn PhDs but then there aren’t university teaching jobs (source). But programs keep accepting PhD students in order to turn a profit and be able to pay existing faculty. Sounds gross, right?

We have a similar issue in SA. Too many programs. Too many graduates. Not enough jobs. 

I know a director who honestly was okay with the high turnover ( less than 1 year retention due to toxic office culture) in their office of entry-level professionals because it was ‘so easy’ to hire new folks – and it was. It is an employers’ market. There is no reason for some managers/directors to make their workplace better for entry-level employees because they consider those employees replaceable. 

The student affairs job search is difficult – there are a good number of folks I personally know who did not find a job until 3-24 months after graduation; some of them immediately entered a different field than student affairs and never looked back. It’s more difficult to job search when someone is location-bound (i.e., they are only looking for jobs in one city or region). For example, friends on the east coast have told me it is so difficult to get a student affairs job there: you need to go to graduate school there, do an internship, and/or have connections (their words, feel free to fact check me). 

With tough conditions for a job search, low salaries, and a likelihood (50%-60%) you’ll exit the profession, why go super deep into student loan debt for it?

*Note: I know that more programs = greater access to students who cannot easily move. More programs also = more current working professionals who can go on to get a master’s or doctoral degree from that SA program. Yet despite the benefits, I think the issue of too many SA programs is a true threat to the field and folks’ inability to have a job. Plus, the number of SA jobs will only shrink once we hit the 2026 enrollment bust.

Tip #2 – Only Go if you have a Graduate Assistantship or are Already Working in the Field 

To be blunt,  a student affairs/higher education degree is worthless without actual work experience in the field. If you don’t have solid work experience before entering grad school, you’ll need to obtain some (or have held a job with easy-to-understand transferable skills, because many hiring managers in SA don’t understand different fields). Almost always, a graduate assistantship in student affairs while taking classes is needed, or students need to be working part-time or full-time in student affairs and be a part-time student, in order to be hired after graduation. 

As mentioned above, your graduate assistantship package is important. Some things to look for:

  • Full Tuition Remission, for 9 or 12 credit hours. Chances are, you’ll need at least two semesters of 12 credits in order to graduate on time (or take summer classes, but most GAships don’t cover that), but 9 credits per semester is a great number. 
    • Ideally, they will cover out-of-state tuition, but this is sometimes rare. Make sure you ask if that’s your situation!
    • Of  course, some assistantships just offer a stipend and no tuition remission.
    • Remember! You will always be responsible for your student fees, even if you get a full tuition remission.
  • Free Room & Board. This is only possible if you work in residence life, so perhaps not ideal for folks who don’t want to supervise RAs, do hall conduct, or work weird hours. However, many institutions have GAships for Leadership Development (that’s what I did!) or Social Justice within residence life, which may or may not require duty hours but will include on-campus housing.
  • Professional Development: Some GAships will give students $500 a year or something else related to pro devo.
  • A Stipend. If you receive room and board, your stipend will be low (maybe $5,000). If you do not, most folks receive around $10,000.
    • Remember, you’ll still have expenses like fees, books, car expenses, clothes,  phone bill, food (even if you have a meal plan), and probably going to a conference.
  • Health Insurance. Some GAships provide university health insurance. Even if you’re a lucky human who is under 26 and on a parent’s insurance, the Affordable Care Act may be dismantled by the GOP and your parent’s insurance may not longer cover you. So health insurance is a great asset to a GAship!

If you get offered less than this….seriously rethink accepting the offer. It is better sometimes to work another year and re-apply than spend thousands more on your education than you need to. Also, revisit if you really want to enter this field and plan to stay in it for a while, or have a good alternate path to utilize your master’s degree. Maybe even go into a different academic programif you are very passionate about pursing higher education and have some various careers in mind.

And one more thing – ask about your hours and flex time. I’m aware of an advising center that literally requires their GAs to work 20 hours weekly and if they need time off for a conference, class project, illness, or interviewing for jobs, they must actually make up that time, which can be burdensome and (imo) not student-friendly at all. And of course, there are many GAs in Student Activities and Residence Life who are exploited and work an average of 30+ hours weekly. Get all the information above in writing!

If you’re already working at the university, check out the tuition benefit and become a part-time student. Or, some folks opt to work full-time and do an online master’s program in order to save money and time. There are multiple options.

Tip #3: Rankings Don’t Mean Much 

One thing I learned in my amazing enrollment management course is that college rankings are just a cesspool of elitism. U.S. News & World Report gets its rankings by asking prominent college leaders to rank programs. So these leaders rank programs – not by doing thorough research, but based on who they personally like or hear good things about (which is why faculty are encouraged to publish and present!). Some schools mail their annual report highlighting how awesome they are to influential folks: #marketing campaign.

Let’s take a look at their rankings for best “Best Higher Education Administration Programs”. It is very important to understand that they rank the doctoral program on these lists – not the master’s program. Which is a problem, because some of the programs on this list definitely focus their attention on their PhD students, not their master’s students. 

There are plenty of lesser-known  programs that I, elitist that I was in my youth (my undergrad was BGSU, graduate program was IU), didn’t think much of until I met folks from those programs and they raved about their experience. There are programs that are better known regionally than nationally, so really do your research to see who is out there and don’t just rely on rankings or even word of mouth. For example, one friend did her master’s at a program in the southwest that I had never heard of….so I was skeptical at the time (because I was being an elitist jerk!) and then realized that she wanted to work with Latinx students, so of course that program at an HSI in the southwest was brilliant for her! Pick your program based on factors other than rankings.

Also: Rankings can drop or rise easily. University of Maryland-College Park used to be ranked between #1-#4 (I forget) when I started graduate school in 2012. Then many faculty left and the program changed, and they are off the rankings list. However, the program updated over the past couple years with new faculty and students there are very happy that I know – but that’s not on the rankings, is it? Or check out Ohio State University – it is #12 on the list but summer 2019 included a recruitment of badass brilliant rock star faculty so I imagine they should shoot up the list very soon. Colorado State University also has some rockstar brilliant faculty, yet also are not on a rankings list.

Rankings are fickle and a farce, and should not factor fully into your graduate school choice.

Tip #4: Scholar or Practitioner, or Both?

Well-established programs tend to have tenured faculty, doctoral programs, and often one or multiple research centers. For example, my master’s degree was at Indiana University, home of the Center for Postsecondary Research, which includes the National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE). We certainly had a focus on reading scholarship and academic writing. 

But some programs feature a large number of adjunct faculty who are full-time practitioners to teach specialty topics like law, conduct, assessment, finance, and more. Some programs even only have folks with practical experience with little to no academic publications.

Likewise, some programs have brilliant faculty with PhDs, but very little practical experience working in student affairs jobs.

Prospective student tend to have a preference. Interested in a doctoral degree at some point? Definitely go for the former option. Not so interested in academic reading and writing?* Go for the latter option. Interested in them both? Plenty of programs have a dual focus.

*Note: If you’re not interested in academic reading and writing, please be on the lookout for an upcoming post from CJ Venable because they have something to say about that…

In Conclusion

These are just a few tips I think are important to share with prospective graduate students. Be sure to seek multiple opinions, do a lot of research, and listen to yourself as you work to make a decision!

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11 Things to Do Instead of Graduate School for Student Affairs

This is part of a blog series dedicated to exploring if going to graduate school for student affairs – or even going into student affairs – is worth it. To see the introductory post on this blog series, please visit this page. To contribute a guest post, visit here. In this post, we’ll review why you should reconsider a career in student affairs. Welcome to #RGS4SAM.

There are 406 graduate programs for student affairs in the NASPA Graduate Program Directory (including programs named “College Student Personnel”, “Student Affairs”, “Higher Education Administration”, “Adult Education”, and variants of these names). This includes programs that host master’s and doctoral degrees (some just do one of these, some do both). I’m uncertain how accurate this list is – I saw one incorrect listing.

Suffice to say, there are many student affairs graduate programs. Too many (but that’s for another blog post). 

But…if you are interested in working with students and/or working at a university or related student affairs job characteristics, there are MANY options for you. I strongly encourage you to do a different graduate program so you have easily transferable skills when you need to leave student affairs, but to also get a graduate assistantship or internships in student affairs in order to gain the required work experience. I do recognize, however, that often a well-established student affairs program at universities tend to lock down many of the student-centered GA opportunities for only their students. But there are options…  

Alternatives to Student Affairs Graduate Programs

1. Don’t do a graduate program at all

Many folks in student affairs, that I either have relationships with and have personally shared this or they shared in various Facebook groups that I’m in, stated that they went into student affairs graduate programs because they weren’t sure what else they would do for a career, and whether their mentors encouraged them or they knew peers who went into it, they jumped for it as something to do. During the Great Recession from 2004-2014, there was an increase in graduate school enrollment (Douglas-Gabriel, 2015), due, I believe, to economic and career uncertainty; when folks couldn’t find jobs, they could do grad school! (I say this airily, as I was one of those people).

But…given the economic outcomes that come with a student affairs job and additional student loan debt, I really don’t think it is necessary. There are other jobs you can do that either don’t require a master’s degree or could be a degree in a different program that will allow you to more easily transfer skills. 

Also – you can just work one year, or even longer (I took 5 years) and then go into graduate school! It’s important to give yourself time to consider a major life choice that will result in loan debt, and make sure you choose the graduate program best for you. Plus? With work experience, your likelihood of obtaining better offers for graduate assistantships greatly increases (trust me – I know from experience!)

2.Counseling

To be fair, there are a handful of student affairs programs that have a focus on counseling (according to NASPA’s website). But I’d encourage folks to consider a counseling master’s program (U.S. News list of ranked programs) where you can be trained as either a school counselor or a clinical mental health counselor…this means you can also serve as a counselor at a university counseling center or if you obtain experience in student affairs (via a graduate assistantship or internship), you can still apply for ‘regular’ student affairs jobs like student activities, residence life, etc! 

3. Social Work

When I was a kid, I thought social workers were scary – they ‘took children away’ (sigh, #liesmyparentstoldme)! Yeah…not so much. It is a complex world with so many opportunities. While I worked in nonprofits, my main focus was youth ages 11-19, and I do wish (and sometimes do consider) a Masters in Social Work (MSW). There are some social workers who do social work within higher education (see this article) – just consider the increase in students experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, mental illness, and other major social issues. If you have an MSW degree and obtain licensure, you can legally (and ethically) counsel students – something that many of us in student affairs think we do…but ethically and legally need to be careful not to actually counsel students. Additionally, social workers are trained on using community resources, so you could easily work in service-learning, civic engagement, or generalized social work to connect students to their community. If you decide to leave higher education, you can fairly easily find positions with government or nonprofit organizations working with populations other than college students – our society needs more social workers!

4. Public Affairs/Public Administration/Nonprofit Management

Masters in Public Affairs (MPA) programs and related nonprofit management programs are an excellent alternative. These programs train students to work with the community (i.e., people), manage programs and budgets, and so much more! My former graduate student was an MPA student; she had an assistantship in civic engagement, I brought her to ‘the dark side’ that is student affairs (joking – she chose herself, truly), and now she’s working professionally as an assistant director in civic engagement at a large public university! As always, having an assistantship in student affairs while working towards your masters (or just working in SA full-time) is what majorly helps you get a job in student affairs. The program supplements it.

5. Business

Masters in Business Management (MBA) is ideal for folks who are interested in the higher education administration side of things. Truthfully, I wouldn’t count on a student affairs program teaching you how to manage university budgets, supervision, or leading large teams (sure, some do to an extent…but don’t expect very much). If you are interested in areas like admissions, becoming a director of an office or dean, finance administration, financial aid, marking, or related roles, these programs can teach it to you. But remember – they require a GMAT instead of a GRE (although some programs will waive it base on your undergraduate degree and GPA). 

6. Public Health

You may be surprised by the admission of a Masters in Public Health (MPH) on this list, but my brilliant MPH friends who worked in my former student affairs division showed me the light and I am a convert! “Wellness” is the growing need for college students. There are 7 identified dimensions on the “Wellness Wheel” used by collegiate wellness professionals: Spiritual, Emotional, Intellectual, Physical, Social, Environmental, Financial. With a MPH, you’ll gain training in health data/statistics/assessment, identifying population needs, building programming around needs, and marketing said needs. Of course, the transition for student affairs jobs with a MPH include Wellness offices and recreation, but easily can be brought into residence life (I knew a Public Health PhD student serving as a graduate hall director), student activities, civic engagement, advising for health science programs, and even serve as faculty for public health courses (visit the NASPA KC for Health & Wellness Promotion to learn more). If you decide to jump out of SA, you can easily go into so many government or nonprofit programs or even research organizations making a solid salary! Check out the best public health schools here.

7. Law 

I know – you’re probably like “LOL Law School is expensive, requires an LSAT, and is difficult as hell – why would I work in student affairs afterwards making pennies?!” Well, everyone needs a lawyer – especially institutions of higher education. I’ve know quite a few people with JDs go into conduct (especially Title IX work) or work in other administrative capacities (a past mentor is an associate provost). I’ve known two folks who did a master’s in student affairs then got a JD after working in the field a few years – one was a general counsel member for a Big 10 and then became a Dean of Students and the other is working in labor law now. Whether you work as a university lawyer or in conduct, there are additional teaching opportunities (since a JD is a terminal degree!) in law schools, political science, or public administration. And if you decide student affairs isn’t for you? You’ll be well set with a law degree! (to my fellow low-SES folks – you can get full ride scholarships to law school. It can happen.)

8. Computer & Information Science

Some of you may be thinking “But I want to go into student affairs because I like being around people, not machines!” My Dear Prospective Student, there are still opportunities with that! Let’s face it – higher education is rapidly changing. Online course enrollment is increasing. Technology needs are increasing. Even student affairs needs tech folks, to help manage residence life operations (online systems for roommate sorting and more) and more. Many large universities are having their tech people create “in-house” programs for financial transactions and related projects instead of outsourcing to private companies. If you have a mind for using and understanding computer programs and databases + you want the higher education environment (and benefits!) this may be for you. Once you leave higher ed, you can go into a higher education adjacent company (for example: the various companies that run platforms for student organizations like OrgSync or Presence) – or really go anywhere.  Heck, the world is your oyster!

9. Education

Wait, but isn’t student affairs in the school of education? Yes (I assume always). But there are additional master’s in education programs geared towards k-12. This could be a great opportunity to increase your transferable skills to working with any student age. While the course content may not always connect to college students, it will better inform you on the experiences that college students have already had prior to entering a campus. Plus, you can go into leadership positions in k-12, become a teacher, or work at nonprofit organizations that serve youth.

10. Library Science

We can all agree that librarians are the coolest, but could someone with a master’s in library science work in student affairs? Again, if they get an assistantship or internship, I believe so. Librarians are resourceful, excellent researchers, know how to program, gain education in cultural competency, and much more that I think can transfer to student affairs. Also? I just think having this degree would be fun, but I am a total book nerd, so *shrug*. 🙂

11. Psychology

I personally think a master’s in Industrial/Organizational Psychology would be amazing. What is it, you ask? “I/O psychology applies the scientific method to understand human behavior in the workplace and to find solutions to workplace problems” (IUPUI).Not only would you learn brilliant human resource data, but you’d better understand how to manage a team. In a profession where good supervisors are rather rare, student affairs could use folks with this knowledge. Plus, there are many opportunities in the public and private sector, from consulting to HR. 

In Conclusion

Personally speaking, if I could go back in time I would have gotten a MSW since so much of my work and interests connect back to social work. Currently, I’m considering a MPH – although I probably won’t, since I’d rather get a doctoral degree than a second master’s. In a world where I liked paperwork as much as I like reading law reviews and arguing with folks, I’d get a JD (lawyer fact: they do tons of paperwork! Law & Order did not prepare me for this boring reality).

I will say – if you really are interested in student affairs, it is the program on this list most likely to require/offer graduate assistantships. However, students in non-SA programs can still apply for graduate assistantships, so please don’t think it is required.

Finally, let me say that I did enjoy my master’s program – it introduced me to critical theories that I use in my everyday life and it made me a better writer and researcher. But I know the reality is many with this degree feel limiting in applying to positions outside of higher education, so I truly want to encourage folks to look outward. Many current professionals, especially my fellow first gen folks, didn’t know there were other options besides a SA graduate degree in order to work in higher ed. Please know you have choices!

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Reconsider a Career in Student Affairs

This is part of a blog series dedicated to exploring if going to graduate school for student affairs – or even going into student affairs – is worth it. To see the introductory post on this blog series, please visit this page. To contribute a guest post, visit here. In this post, we’ll review why you should reconsider a career in student affairs. Welcome to #RGS4SAM.

@HumanofHigherEd retweeted a post and said: "The ol' #SAChat proverb: the best time to leave the field is the year before you started. The second best time is now." The original tweet was from @AngelMandujanoo" and said "I'll be here before I graduate with this degree tbh lmfao." This was in reference to a post calling for all the folks who left student affairs.

The perfect tweet for this blog post: It is in reference to ‘who left student affairs in 2019″ tweet.

In November I intended to write just one blog post on why prospective students should reconsider student affairs graduate program. On my personal Facebook, I asked my friends (many who are in SA) “For folks in SA, what reasons would you give to discourage someone and advise them into a different grad program and/or field?” 

Let’s just say…folks had a lot to say on the topic. 

This first entry in the blog series will comment on the many darker aspects of student affairs that most prospective students, and even graduate students and some new professionals, are not well aware of. Student affairs has a bevy of systemic issues and more folks, particularly on social media, discuss these issues. But for every person who discusses these issues, there’s a high ranking white lady or dude in student affairs who calls that person a “dumpster fire” instead of, uh, actually calling the systemic issues a dumpster fire and working to address them.

Welp, here’s the dumpster fire:

gif of an adorablly drawn turquoise dumpster on fire

FYI you can actually purchase this as a tiny toy via here: http://bit.ly/2Fv5Sg5

1. Student Affairs Isn’t Puppies & Rainbows

Many folks believe that student affairs is focused on social justice. This is a fair assertion, especially because “social justice” is literally in the professional competencies of the organization. And there are many folks doing great work and consistently working towards justice, working towards liberation, working towards inclusion (these are all, to me, different levels of work, but all still important). 

And then there are others…Everyone will overlook or mess up on an area that they are privileged in (we are always learning as  educators) but then there are some folks who systematically contribute to oppression and tend to ‘fail upwards’. 

Ultimately, institutions of higher education were built on white supremacy (Wilder, 2013), colonization and genocide (Wright, 1995), sexism and classism (Cohen & Kisker, 2010), abelist (the ADA wasn’t signed until 1990 and many faculty still have issues providing accommodations), and in general have been against folks who weren’t Christian (read how the Ivy League discriminated against Jewish students) or LGBTQ+ (dip into the research with K. Renn) either. Yes, there have been many advances in equity since World War II and later growth during the Civil Rights Era. But there are still significant issues creating an equitable playing ground for students of color, disabled students (or ‘students with disabilities’/SWD – the community uses both terms and its personal preference), low-income students, trans students, queer students, non-Christian students, women, older students, students with children/families/who are caretakers, transfer students, first-generation students, immigrants, international students, undocumented students, and any other student who doesn’t fit the mold.

And remember, Dear Prospective Student, the research on disparities for marginalized students that is published in media (and most of the academic literature), focuses on students. If the environments at all institutions (to an extent, and then it depends on the college, department, supervisor, etc) can be negative to student well-being…what do you think that means for the student affairs professionals who hold marginalized identities?

…yeah, folks, there’s a lot of toxicity in student affairs for marginalized folks.

Cody Charles(2017) dives into this through his essay “Student Affairs is a SHAM”; focusing on the recruitment of marginalized students into student affairs. As a white woman, I have not experienced racism, but the stories I’ve heard from friends and colleagues of color…what I’ve read in the various student affairs Facebook groups…and all the other oppressive environments and actions experienced by student affairs professionals holding one or multiple marginalized identities…Whew! And then the stories of transphobia, sexism, ableism, etc…there are many dumpster fires in this field.

Personal disclosure  – Five years of FT nonprofit experience + 2 years working in graduate school, and I don’t think I ever experienced systemic sexism at work (besides this one misogynist pastor who literally stapled papers and stared at his desk the whole time when I was meeting with him to discuss an important issue, ugh)…until I began my first post-graduate position in student affairs? Oof, yes. Multiple incidents that maybe I’ll write about in depth ten years down the road when there’s some more distance. (Lol yes, be nervous, you know who you are)

Trust me: Student Affairs is no better (yet also not any worse) than most other fields. I have folks who work in the private sector who have healthier work environments than some of the folks in student affairs. 

However, while its not puppies and rainbows, I will point out some benefits to balance this section…

The benefits for some folks for working in higher education:

  • Generally, most institutions have strong diversity statements so you can try to advocate for yourself to HR + more comprehensive reporting measures on civil rights (but that still doesn’t mean the institution will protect you necessarily).
  • If you come from a low-income family and/or have disabilities that require medical attention, generally most institutions have great insurance – often better than other fields.
  • Plenty more Paid Time Off (PTO) than most other fields, which is great if you have a chronic condition, family time, and/or love breaks from work. There are usually differences between institutions (public or private, small or large) on how much PTO you get.
  • If finances are a concern and you have dependents and/or you/your spouse wants to continue your/their education, many institutions will cover tuition for perhaps 1-2 courses a semester or some will cover all courses. You’ll still need to pay fees, however.
  • For trans folks, more and more institutions’ insurance policies include gender affirming healthcare (of course, this exists at large firms as well)

2. This isn’t a Lifelong Career

Perhaps you really are interested in working in student affairs forever…or perhaps you’re applying this fall to graduate school because you’re not sure what else to do with your career,

I’m sorry, Dear Prospective Student, but if you go to graduate school for student affairs, you’ll likely be in a different field anyway within 5 years – or at least, 50%-60% of professionals will be gone (Lorden, 1998; Tull, 2006; Marshall, Moore Gardner, Hughes, & Lowery (2016).

Can you imagine? Two years of your life studying and perhaps thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in debt for a career that last <5 years??? (Of course, if you get everything paid for, this can be fine – there are plenty of transferable skills, which I’ll cover in a future post).

Multiple scholars have covered this: Lorden (1998), Tull (2006), Marshall, Moore Gardner, Hughes, & Lowery (2016), Frank’s (2013) dissertation, Ward (2015), and more…

3. So why do folks leave the field of Student Affairs? 

Marshall, et.al (2016) noted the following themes; but note I am adding my own observational notes for the rationale and I have a large number of friends who contributed their own thoughts on this as well:

  • Burnout – Many functional areas require long hours (except for academic advising usually, but that still is a depending flow of talking to students non-stop throughout the day), including evenings and weekends. When offices are short-staffed or just have ambitious goals, this results in even more hours – and yet still, the professional feels like they aren’t hitting their goals. Sometimes when an office is short-staffed, but nothing is on fire, higher-up administators think “by golly, look how well things are working! let’s save money and cut x position immediately” resulting in long-term low-capacity and a culture of over-working.
  • Salary issues – Many jobs that one can obtain with a bachelor’s degree range from $30,000-$60,000 starting immediately. So why do most student affairs positions with required master’s degree start with a range of $29,000-$42,000? With a median of $35,000? This is not a lot to live on, as I will explain in a future post on personal finance in SA.
  • Career alternatives – I know folks who left their positions in student activities or multicultural affairs to become trainers at corporations making $65,000 and working regular hours. If student affairs type of work is what you are interested in, there are many alternative careers that use those same skills. (Again, I will explore options in future posts).
  • Work/family conflict – The weird schedules associated with student activities and residence life can be killer on a personal life. (for a light-hearted read, check out “25 Ways You Are Dating A Student Affairs Professional”)
  • Limited advancement – Renn & Jessup-Anger (2008) stated that the student affairs workforce is 15%-20% new professionals with less than 5 years of professional experience. There are a great number of entry-level positions but the competition gets fiercer for Assistant/Associate Director positions. And once you’re ready for higher levels? An immense amount of competition for director roles…often a doctoral degree is preferred for some of these roles and anything higher than director tends to require it. (But of course, as we know, having a doctoral degree does not automatically, in any way, make someone better at running an office or division).
  • Supervisor issues and institutional fit – The critique I have about current scholarship on this topic of leaving student affairs is it doesn’t cover the specific issues facing marginalized folks in oppressive conditions. Essnetially, this tends to get at the concept of “institutional fit” – some folks ‘fit’ while others do not (“fit” is almost always shrouded in power and privilege). As for supervisor issues, supervision is not really taught in graduate school (although for some graduate assistantship positions they’ll have a training on it), which means there are some mediocre and some absolute terrible supervisors running around….people get promoted or hired into supervisor roles with little regard for how well they actually supervise people, but hey! “Golly gee they supervised full-time staff at xyz university, so they must know how to do it, so let’s hire them!” -_-
  • Loss of passion – With all the above going on, who wouldn’t lose passion for their student affairs job?

4. You have to Still Pay for Parking as a Professional

Like….Tell me why at the age of 29 and freshly graduated with my master’s, I started my job with an annual salary of $35,000 and had to pay $600 a year for parking…just because my institution was adjacent to downtown of a city?

How many other companies or organizations charge their employees hundreds of dollars for the privilege of parking at work (some who are downtown in a city, but still). The one difference is sometimes smaller schools, especially community colleges, will provide free parking.

(okay this issue is small in the context of everything else, BUT I shall always remain mad about it)

5. The Pay Is Insulting for a Master’s Degree

Yes, I covered this a bit in #2, but it must be emphasized…

Most institutions have entry-level folks listed as “exempt”, meaning they must work at least 40 hours, but can be ordered to work “as much as needed” to get the project done. This is serious labor – high student contact, event planning, etc. All for maybe $17/hour or around $35,000 a year? In an upcoming post, I’ll share a copy of my old paycheck and do a ‘personal finance class for the entry-level SA person’ to give you a better idea of what this means.

6. The Student Affairs Field is Losing Value and Budget Cuts (i.e., jobs) are Coming

Until the research era in the 1920s-1940s, funded by millionaire philanthropists, hit higher education, faculty were the ones to serve as deans, advisors, etc. Many faculty, honestly unfairly, still think student affairs jobs are not necessary because ‘they’ can do it. But they cannot, because the professoriate has changed (to be fair, mostly at research universities) and the focus is research, publications, etc. Additionally, the needs of students have diversified and trained professionals (i.e., student affairs) are there to support student retention, advising, and running programs – training that falls outside the scope of studying one topic (history, biology, etc) in depth and teaching on it.

However, we are hitting a crisis in enrollment and across the board student affairs divisions at many institutions are thought to be of lesser value. I absolutely agree offices like cultural centers, student activities, etc are critical to student retention and absolutely necessary but when we are hitting a budget crisis, student affairs is going to be (and already is at many locations) the first to go once the president/board of directors get a chance. Colleges require faculty, financial aid offices….they don’t require programming in order to operate on a bare bones budget.

Why are budget cuts looming?

College enrollment has declined for the 8th consecutive year (Inside Higher Ed). “States with the largest decrease in student enrollment numbers were Florida, California, Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania, according to the center, in that order. Alaska, Florida, Illinois, North Dakota, Hawaii and Kansas had the largest percentage declines.” Birth declines began in 2008 and by 2026 higher education will begin to experience the “college enrollment bust” (Bloomberg).

“Over the past eight years, college enrollment nationwide has fallen about 11%. Every sector — public state schools, community colleges, for-profits and private liberal arts schools — has felt the decline, though it has been especially painful for small private colleges, where, in some cases, institutions have been forced to close” (NPR)

Meaning if you enter a student affairs graduate program in fall 2020, you’ll likely graduate in spring 2022 and then have 4 years before your institution will (likely) start experiencing more cuts. 

7. Student Affairs Programs Aren’t Preparing Graduates for These Changes

The majority of student affairs programs are located at 4-year public campuses that focus on traditional undergraduate students (i.e., often straight out of high school, living on campus, not parents/caregivers). Which means the practical experience that graduate students obtain through their assistantships will primarily be with the “traditional student”. Our SA faculty primarily have their research focused on this “average” student population. Many of the theories taught in most SAgrad programs (though this is changing through texts like this and this) are rooted in the experiences of white middle-class college students.

Today’s college student, per the Lumina Foundation, has changed from what we may think of:

  • 37% of college students are 25 or older
  • 46% are first-generation college goers.
  • 9% of college students are first-generation immigrants
  • 42%of college students are students of color.
  • 64% of college students work, and 40% of them work full-time
  • 49% of college students are financially independent from their parents
  • 6% of college students serve of have served in the U.S. armed forces
  • 24% of college students have children or other dependents
  • 36$ of college students reported not knowing where their next meal was coming from   
  • 9% of college students reported being homeless within the past year
  • 31% of college students come from families at or below the Federal Poverty Guideline. The majority of college students (53%) come from families at or below TWICE the poverty level

These numbers? They will only change further as we hit the enrollment bust and colleges need to recruit even more students outside of the traditional high school recruitment circuit.

If you’re a current #SAgrad or in the field, did your graduate program teach you how to better serve and work with students from these (and other populations)? If you are a prospective student, definitely ask about this during interview season.

Faculty – feel free to prove me wrong and share in the comments or Twitter what your program is doing different. I want to believe #SAgrad programs are evolving, but have seen evidence to the contrary so far.

In Conclusion

gif of an adorablly drawn turquoise dumpster on fire

FYI you can actually purchase this as a tiny toy via here: http://bit.ly/2Fv5Sg5

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Want to add to the conversation? Tweet me at @NikiMessmore

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January is “Reconsider Graduate School for Student Affairs Month”!

Welcome to my new blog series “Reconsider Graduate School for Student Affairs Month”! A play off of NASPA’s “Careers in Student Affairs Month”, this series will provide guidance and advice to prospective students considering graduate school for student affairs (SA), but most posts will also benefit current graduate students (#SAGrad), entry-level student affairs professionals, and folks in SA who are considering a career change – or anyone who is here for some schadenfreude for student affairs. 

Man smirking/smiling and giving a tiny clap

Thanks to some interest from friends, I am interested in publishing posts from Guest Contributors for this blog series. If you’re interested, learn more.

And if you’re no longer working in SA or used to work in a different field, I kindly ask you to complete this survey on transferable skills: http://bit.ly/SACareerTransitionsSuvery 

I know this series would have been better in November, before folks have paid application fees, but hopefully this will benefit prospective students as they hit interview season (and folks in future application seasons). I don’t think our profession does a great job of open and honest communication about what the job is like (I just read one first-year grad say they hoped their starting salary post-grad would be $70k, and I was like “Oh sweetie, no”) and, frankly, I’m tired of how graduate students and younger professionals get chewed up by the system. It’s time to have a lengthy conversation.

A bit of background, as this shapes my perspective on the topic: I earned my bachelor’s in political science at Bowling Green State University (home to a well-established student affairs graduate program) and then served in a variety of grant-funded positions in the nonprofit sector for 5 years before entering an SAgrad program. This included serving as a director of a very small not-for-profit organization for middle school youth with my organization located in a university service-learning office, a community organizer on social justice issues with churches, managing a volunteer initiative for 17 counties through the United Way, and working in after-school programs (plus fundraising) for teens in a mid-sized city at a Latino resource center. After all these grant-funded positions (with limited or no benefits) that lasted less than 2 years, I thought about my other career interest of student affairs and decided it was time to tackle the GRE! I earned my master’s at another well-established higher education program, Indiana University, and now have been working in student affairs for over 5 years in service learning and student activities.

Whew, that was a lot.

So, I’ve been in two different fields, and I’m here to tell you, Dear Prospective Student: You don’t need to get a master’s in student affairs in order to have a career (and, uh, since 50%-60% of folks leave SA after 5 years, maybe you should consider a different career option entirely).

You can expect the following blog posts to be published in the month of January here at Dances with Dissonance:

  1. Reconsider a Career in Student Affairs – The darker truths of the field may have you reconsider your career goals – at the very least, I hope you’ll be more informed.
  2. 11 Things to do Instead of Graduate School for Student Affairs – You have many options for other related graduate programs – or none at all!
  3. 4 Things You Need to Know When Selecting a Student Affairs Graduate Program – I go beyond the usual advice to do some real talk that I don’t see (publicly) discussed very often
  4. So, How do you Live on a Student Affairs Income – Not well, lol. Consider this a personal finance course using examples of my own paycheck and bills
  5. Why I Actually Do Enjoy Working in Student Affairs – Don’t be confused that I hate my job – I actually like it, and here’s why
  6. Transferable Skills for Student Affairs Professionals – For my friends already in SA and wanting out, here I’ll draw direct lines between your transferable skills. You have many!
  7. Work-Life Balance in Student Affairs – We’ll go through a list of the different factors, since this topic varies wildly in student affairs.
  8. Plus, additional posts from Guest Contributors!

***************************

Want to add to the conversation? Tweet me at @NikiMessmore

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Guest Contributor Call-Out: “Reconsider Graduate School for Student Affairs Month!”

‘Blog Series Description:

“Reconsider Graduate School for Student Affairs Month”:  A play off of NASPA’s “Careers in Student Affairs Month”, this series will provide guidance and advice to prospective students considering graduate school for student affairs (SA), but most posts will also benefit current graduate students (#SAGrad), entry-level student affairs professionals, and folks in SA who are considering a career change – or anyone who is here for some schadenfreude for student affairs.

There are bout 7 posts written/in-progress that will be scheduled throughout the month of January. Current topics that I am already posting on include:

  1. Reconsider a Career in Student Affairs – The darker truths of the field may have you reconsider your career goals – at the very least, I hope you’ll be more informed.
  2. 11 Things to do Instead of Graduate School for Student Affairs – You have many options for other related graduate programs – or none at all!
  3. Things You Need to Know When Selecting a Student Affairs Graduate Program – I go beyond the usual advice to do some real talk that I don’t see (publicly) discussed very often
  4. So, How do you Live on a Student Affairs Income – Not well, lol. Consider this a personal finance course using examples of my own paycheck and bills
  5. Why I Actually Do Enjoy Working in Student Affairs – Don’t be confused that I hate my job – I actually like it, and here’s why
  6. Transferable Skills for Student Affairs Professionals – For my friends already in SA and wanting out, here I’ll draw direct lines between your transferable skills. You have many!
  7. Work-Life Balance in Student Affairs – We’ll go through a list of the different factors, since this topic varies wildly in SA.

Guest Contributor Overview:

My original goal was to ask folks to contribute a post if they were interested, but a serious family illness that struck in September and still is something I’m helping to manage. I didn’t think there would be time to do a call-out, ability to follow-up well, or interest! But when I posted about the blog series online, some friends were interested in being a guest contributor, so I wanted to share this more widely! While I work in SA and enjoy my current role, I think the field has a lot of issues and it would be most helpful to prospective graduate students to hear from more folks from diverse experiences in SA.

Want to Submit? Read below and complete this form. Then get started writing!

Possible Topics for Guest Contributors: 

  1. Discuss your own experiences in Student Affairs; maybe your specific functional unit? We have a whole month dedicated to choosing SA as a field but few public pieces that outline some of the negative and even toxic/abusive aspects of the field. 
  2. Discuss systemic issues of privilege and oppression, whether it is from your own experiences or things you have observed in the field. This can be from experiences as a student affairs graduate student or as a professional.
  3. Why you left SA for a different field – has it been better, worse, or the same?
  4. Transferable skills from your SA role(s) to jobs in different fields. This is a topic that many want to learn
  5. Discuss how your SAgrad experience set you up for success – or didn’t. This blog series isn’t necessarily to tell prospective students not to go into the field, but really to make sure they go into it with eyes wide open.
  6. Go against the whole topic of the blog post – argue why people need a degree in student affairs! I love it when people defy authority, even when it’s me! 🙂
  7. Did you work for longer than 1 year before your master’s? Discuss your experiences.
  8. I’m very open to what you’d like to write on but please stay on the theme – overall, this series is meant to help prospective graduate students (and current grads, for the most part) make better and more informed decisions around their future.

Guidelines:

  1. Blog Post Deadline: Monday, January 16th at 11:59pm. I can do later by request, possibly. Just ask me. If many folks want to submit, I may extend this “month” series through February…time is wibbly wobbly timely wimey, anyways
  2. Date set for publication: January 23rd – 31st; possibly earlier depending on number of submissions
  3. Word Count: Typically blogs are most commonly read if they are between 700-1000 words.Sometimes that word count can’t capture all the greatness, so I would really cut it to 2,000 words maximum – just know folks may not read after the first 1000.
  4. Any requirements:
    1. For legal reasons, don’t use the names of other folks in your blog post unless they email me their permission (i.e., please don’t say “Dean Chad Spriggen is a total sexist pig”, even if it is true, because libel, y’all. I already had one powerful white lady academic threaten to sue me in 2019, and I don’t want that energy directed at me again lol).
    2. Freedom of Speech is the government not censuring your speech, not me, a basic blog lady on the internet. I will throw out anything that enforces oppressive systems/actions.
    3. You can be an anonymous author, but I will still need to know who you are. If you want to be anonymous, we may talk more. I completely get why folks may want this.
    4. This blog post can be written by a current student affairs graduate student, current professional, or someone who used to work in the field or has a degree in the field, but now works in a different field.
    5. Submissions that don’t fit in with the theme of the series may be met with a polite no.

Benefits to the Writer:

  1. Pay: I’m sorry friends, but I don’t run ads on my blog and don’t make anything from it. This is all a public service to the field and to educate the many prospective SA grads, especially first-gen students who aren’t sure what the field is all about. I am completely okay with folks not submitting something if they can’t get paid for their time! And if you choose to volunteer your time, I thank you.
  2. Share your cashapp/Paypal/etc and I’ll include it at the bottom of your blog post. If you run a business, include that information in your bio, and I’ll share that + relevant links as well. 

My Role in this Partnership:

  1. I will read your essay. I may edit it, unless you have an issue with that. I would never change anything without sending it back to you first before publishing. Depending on the number of submissions and my schedule between family caretaking + work, I may not do a detailed edit. If you want one, please let me know.
  2. I will publish your entry as part of the blog series on my blog, Dances with Dissonance
  3. I will market the post on social media (Twitter, and some Facebook, but I will be careful not to spam the various SA groups).
  4. The essay remains your property and my site will only host it. I’ll delete it at any time you request. I will never republish it.

Your Role in this Partnership:

  1. See the requirements above, and meet them
  2. Share the other blog posts in the series and support other writers

Contact Details:

Blog:

danceswithdissonance.wordpress.com/

Blog Author:

Niki Messmore

Twitter: @NikiMessmore

*Please note my schedule does not always allow quick responses to email. It’s best for folks to complete this interest form and I’ll follow up afterwards with my personal email so you have a place to submit + can answer questions. 

 

The Breakdown on the Meme that Broke HigherEd Twitter, Part 1

Note: The following is an analysis of the contentious debate(?) among higher education professionals (primarily in student affairs) on Twitter, and its greater application to the field. I believe this will serve as a strong case study on the generational differences in higher education professionals, meme culture, and the reactionary techniques utilized to protect white womanhood. Given the intricate and fascinating (to a nerd who enjoys examining how power dynamics in higher ed play out on social media) pieces to this story, I have broken up the essay into two parts. [Part 1] [Part 2]

I disclose that I was very involved in the dialogue and I have strong opinions – hence I’ve provided screenshots so folks can read and form their own opinion alongside my analysis. It’s okay for multiple truths to exist on one topic, for folks to disagree with me, and for folks to tell me I did something wrong (if true, I’ll fix it).

Please note that I am not the only voice on this topic – see threads by Sachet Watson, Dr. D-L Stewart, and (in response to the tweets on blacklisting) Jana.; plus multiple tweets (not all in a thread) by CJ Venable, Sunny, and Lena Tenney (here and here) and SO many others.


Table of Contents:

Part 1

  • I. To Meme or Not to Meme
  • II. So…what broke Twitter?
  • III. The issue on the table? (#Hamiltonreferences4ever)
  • IV….um…
  • V. And then?
  • VI. Are we done yet?
  • VII. But the Students!
  • VIII. The Next “Hot Take”
  • IX. Changing the Narrative
  • X. Actually, It’s About Legislators
  • XI. Victimization Narrative & Gaslighting Others

Part 2

  • XII. White Woman Victimhood ramps up
  • XIII. Gaslighting Continues…
  • XIV. Divisive Tactics
  • XV. She Didn’t Shame Anyone!
  • XVI. Ok and this one is just funny
  • XVII. Call Her Khaleesi
  • XVIII. Peak White Feminism: Misgendering and Racism
  • XIX. Fear Mongering of the “Secret Black List”
  • XX. In Conclusion
  • XXI. But what’s next?

I. To Meme or Not to Meme

On Monday, May 27th, a meme from the parody student affairs account Humans of Higher Ed (HoHe) run by (I believe) entry-level professionals (see the interview with the creators by Amma Marfo here) [update: Twitter informed me two are director-level folks] posted the following kind of tweet they normally do (link, since its a gif):

HOH original

Image Text: “When you realize that when you get to work tomorrow no students will be there.” Image: Baseball players jumping out of their chairs celebrating enthusiastically.

This is the standard sort of thing you tend to see from educators, in k-12 or higher ed. In fact, it is quite prevalent in k-12 education – there are plenty of memes by and for teachers celebrating summer (see: google image results); if you have a teacher friend, you’ve probably seen them celebrate summer. Same is true for retail workers around holiday hours, CPAs during tax season, and parents excited to send their kids back to school in September. Some folks like memes like this, other folks just shrug because its not for them.

But for some folks, they couldn’t just shrug it off.

One professor replied to the meme “This is absolutely disgusting and inappropriate.” A Senior Student Affairs Officer (SSAO) took the meme literally to say “<face palm emoji.> <— that feeling when folks who work in higher ed don’t realize many institutions continue to educate and engage students all 12 months. It might be a bit quieter, but I am so glad that our students still show up, get involved, and make progress toward their goals!”. A higher ed consultant with their own HE company called the meme gross and went on a bit about it. (no names b/c its their titles/positionality that matter here)

Why the disconnect?

If we approach this from a sociological perspective, we must first understand how differences in generation, class, and other identities/experiences will lead folks to approach memes differently. Memes are a unique tool of communication based in culture and can be difficult to understand, especially if one is not from that culture (Nissenbaum & Shifman, 2018). They are considered a form of “creativity” in “everyday conversation” (Willmore & Hocking, 2017, p. 140).

In regards to age, millennials love memes and use them as a source of comfort, humor, connection, etc (Urban, 2017; O’Connor, 2018; Milner, 2012). As the parody account creators and most folks interacting with the discourse are millennials, this is relevant. In particular, their usage is often made for humor, and that is a good thing for well-being and society (Taecharungroj, & Nueangjamnong, 2014). Millennial memes have, and continue to have a huge effect on society and organizations (Atay & Ashlock, 2018); it is only natural that they would shake up long-held perspectives in student affairs/higher education (SA/HE).

For a subset of millennials, specifically people of color, memes are used as method to thrive in an oppressive world. The college newspaper The McGill Daily discusses this in their article “What it memes to heal: Memes as a tool for healing for POC” (Dahanayake, 2018). The Digital Sociology Magazine at Virginia Commonwealth University also wrote “memes as racialized discourse” (tabi, 2017). This applies to many other marginalized groups as well, including women, LGBTQ+ folks, etc (Highfield, 2016; Westfall, 2018).

And on humor – well, good memes often utilize the comedic device of hyperbole. Clearly, I don’t know of any Student Affairs professionals (and I know many) who actually run, jump, and cheer when the summer session starts. Of course many of us still have some students, albeit a much reduced caseload.

II. So…what broke Twitter?

Well-known researcher, faculty member, and administrator Sara Goldrick-Rab (SGR, per her website branding; see list of media appearances). She founded the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University and does very strong work supporting first generation and low-income college students via research and advocacy. Her background is in sociology but focuses on higher ed research; she claims to have worked in student affairs at one point but it is not listed on her CV (but then again, nothing is before 2004), so I cannot confirm her actual experience in this area. She’s enough of a public figure that she is verified on Twitter with over 32k followers.

In response to critique of the HoHE original tweet, entry-level Student Affairs professional Kimberly explained the tweet to the critics, and asked to not be shamed.

So what does SGR do? Shame her.

1st Tweet from Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab (also known as SGR): If you need a “break” from students, take a vacation. If you find they sap you then you might need @Jessifer and others to help you learn how to be more effective. And let’s remember- there is no higher education without students. #RealCollege. Second tweet from SGR: Celebrating the departure of students in summer is a trope. The idea that staff wellbeing requires distance from students, dependent on “summer break,” is privilege itself and ignores the hard work of staff and faculty educating year round. #RealCollege. Note: the quote she was tweeting was from Kimberly Newtown @knewt14, who said: We can miss our students but still appreciate and welcome a change of pace. I was pumped for my students to leave for the summer and that doesn’t make me care about them less. They are amazing! I encourage you to not shame people for needing a break.Now, SGR has (rightfully) critiqued oppressive ‘jokes’ that do punch down on students – the faculty who joke about all the dead grandmothers, etc. Those are excellent critiques because they have real world implications for students who actually do experience a crisis and then faculty may not care because of the trope that students lie to get out of exams.

III. The issue on the table? (#Hamiltonreferences4ever)

This initial critique is not based in logic.

  • “The idea that staff wellbeing requires distance from students, dependent on “summer break,” is privilege itself and ignores the hard work of staff and faculty educating year round.”
    • The folks who were initially responding are indeed staff who work educating year round. Very few colleges actually have 0 students during the summer – it just means educators have a reduced workload.
    • A summer break is a privilege? Uh…she appears not to be aware of the inequities that entry-level student affairs professionals face. The long hours, the low pay, the older professionals who expect younger folks to make work their #1 priority even if the institution considers them easily replacable? The immense workload of supporting student needs on top of program planning and other administrative tasks – never feeling like they can manage it all and thus look forward to the respite of summer? This is a common discussion topic in multiple student affairs spaces, especially among millennials
  • “If you need a “break” from students, take a vacation. If you find they sap you then you might need @Jessifer and others to help you learn how to be more effective. And let’s remember- there is no higher education without students.”
    • Sara doesn’t seem to understand the realities of student affairs work. I have learned from my colleagues in facebook groups that they often cannot take vacations because they may not earn that much PTO, or have oppressive supervisors who literally will not allow them to take off time or only allow one day at a time during certain time periods. This is a classist statement, and not one we would expect from someone who studies class. Apparently she only cares about folks while they are college students, much like how Republicans only care about fetuses.
    • She tagged Jesse Stommel, a Verfied Twitter account and Director of an office of Teaching and Learning Technologies. With over 23k followers, Jesse seems a deliberate tag in order to advance her Thoughts(™) to a wider audience. To be fair, Sara defended tagging him with the rationale that he’s her writing partner on the topic of “student shaming”. This can indeed be true. But the impact of her action makes it appear much differently from folks who do not have blue checkmarks.
    • She insults the entry-level professional by indicating that the person is not effective with her time, and that a leader in teaching could aid her. Sara appears to say that if the SAPro were more efficient, she wouldn’t miss the downtime of summer….
    • Finally, she mentions the students piece. This is a truth. Another truth is the the discourse among millennial student affairs professionals on social media is that they/we are very tired of institutions espousing that they prioritize students (even though they often don’t for students at the margins) but don’t prioritize staff support and care. Entry-level professionals are disposable because there are so many student affairs graduate programs that there are more candidates than jobs. For example, I know a white middle-aged male director who is never worried about high staff turnover because there are always so many applicants for any opening. That’s the toxicity of our environment. That is our reality for many folks. And as with any person in under-appreciated and low-paying roles (teachers, social workers, etc), research tells us that if we support staff wellness that the students will greatly benefit.

Gif of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend character Heather Davis saying: So then what happened?.

Kimberly responded to SGR and said “no need to be demeaning.” Instead of a response like “I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to be demeaning”, she responded thusly:

First tweet is from Kimberly Newton in response to SGR: No need to be demeaning. Students are my primary focus, I do take vacation, but I’m also entry level which means I do all of the things. Thanks though [includes emoji of someone shrugging]. In the second tweet, SGR responds with: Virtually all of us do all the things. I pull 80 hours a week every week and you’d never catch me saying I’m glad the students are gone. I’m an educator because the students are everything.

IV….um…

Gif of actress Kristen Bell playing Eleanor Shellstrop on The Good Place staring in amazment and saying in all caps "HOLY MOTHER FORKING SHIRT BALLS!"

It is interesting that SGR took a neoliberal pro-capitalist approach to the tweet (and in another), instead of recognizing the humanity of an entry-level pro, she doubled down on how she does all of the things, works 80 hours, and is clearly just a better person. (note: does she count all her time on Twitter as work? 80 hours is v unhealthy, girl).

good person.gif

This song from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” came to mind. Lyrics: “I’m a good person better than you!”

reponse to 80 hrs

In the above tweet, SGR assures that she is not bragging about her hours, but it is my interpretation – and many others – that she did weaponize her ‘work ethic’ in the original tweet to the entry-level pro.

I can see the point about her viewing the original meme as a destructive trope and why she, from her position, may see that. Her entire research and perspective on higher ed creates such a lens that it is logical how she would place that judgement on a meme like this. But again, she (and many other higher-level HE folks) inflated the meme to great importance – the meme (and its defenders) never said SA folks get a summer break or that students are people we need to get away from (in the narrative that she is wrapping – again, it is normal to enjoy time periods with a smaller caseload). They would not listen to other perspectives.

As one SAPro said – it’s a meme, not a minfesto.

manifesto

Finally, she made statements several times that her earlier tweet did not glorify long work hours:

glorify no

new girl-thats not true

V. And then?

Again, Kimberly defended herself from the high-profile researcher. SGR’s response is condescending and rude to the extreme.

sgr next 3.PNG

VI. Are we done yet?

Sadly, no. SGR starts retweeting her followers who also issue critiques of the meme. Then she says something that is so hyperbolic, one must imagine she understands comedic devices:

sgr 4.PNG

A reminder: It is still Kimberly, the entry-level SAPro, who is still connected to all these tweets, but also a few other student affairs folks (mostly entry level, some mid-level, mostly white, diverse along LGBTQ+ and class backgrounds) who have now critiqued SGR’s critique of the defense of the critique (tired yet?).

Amazingly, SGR has connected the college retention problem to a meme and the desire for student affairs professionals (note: she is not a member of that community and holds a higher position in the hierarchy of the Academy) to enjoy a quiet summer. Either this is comedy or I question her research methods.

VII. But the Students!

While SGR kept saying the meme was about shaming students, she could only find one ‘student’ who found it shaming. And to be fair, they were a college administrator who graduated undergrad in 1995 and said “if they were a student” they would have been offended. That did not stop SGR from repeatedly quote-tweeting this person as a student in order to prove her point.

IMG-3965

Somehow an undergraduate student studying history did find their way to the conversation…but SGR dismissed their concern.

IMG-3961IMG-3968 Although, again, no actual students spoke up, SGR continued to force the narrative to say that students did speak up and no one listened. Perhaps she was including herself as a student of the world, for we all never stop learning?

twitter no students spoke up

VIII. The Next “Hot Take”

After multiple critiques from higher education professionals (again, many hold a marginalized identity and are critiquing SGR’s capitalist perspective on higher ed), she then has the audacity to redirect the narrative around how it is the folks critiquing her who are privileged – not the nice cis white woman making a nice salary with national recognition….

sgr5

This is where the narrative starts to turn. Despite multiple student affairs professionals (again, the community in which SGR has inserted herself to tone police their lived experiences) describing the negative impact of her tweets, SGR has positioned herself to be the “Good Person” in this dialogue. Worse, she is taking a systemic issue of political support for higher education and placing the blame on the folks with lesser privilege than most who work on the front lines of colleges each day. And the ultimate insult? Stating that students struggle because entry-level folks are advocating for themselves…many of whom were just recently a struggling student and now work to support struggling students.

math.gif

I tweet at her, because I believe she is coming from a great deal of privilege on the matter.

response to me.PNG

Fun fact, but running a university center  and saying you oversee 11 staff is an administrator role; it is common for some faculty to have dual roles. But identifying as an admin doesn’t fit with the narrative, so she rejected it in two tweets. She also never addressed her privilege or that there are multiple ways of understanding so she should listen.

IX. Changing the Narrative

mute.PNG

By Tuesday night, SGR stopped responding to (most) SAPro critics and posted that she muted folks. Interestingly enough, she posted a quote from Brené Brown “If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

This implies that SGR is the one doing the ‘real work’ and that these entry-level Student Affairs professionals are not. You know, the ones supporting sexual assault survivors living in their residence hall, holding conduct hearings for students who make minor and major mistakes, advisors who connect their students to food pantries, coordinators who help their first-generation students navigate the complexity of the institution. You know, those people.

Towards the end of the ongoing Twitter dialogue on May 30th, SGR attempted to change the narrative even further by…outright lying. Once again, the energy was directed at the newer professional that originally was quote-tweeted by SGR. Carefully read Kimberly’s post…

twitter - kimberly 1 Now see what SGR said when she quoted Kimberly’s tweet…twitter- where did i say snowflakes

If I was the New York Times writing about this like they write about Trump, I’d say something vague like “she said a falsehood”. Since I’m not, I’ll just say: this is an actual lie. Which is very odd and I cannot understand her behavior here, except to make the narrative about mean student affairs professionals who hate nasty little students like our names are Gollum and she’s the White Wizard (but surprise! definitely Saruman).

X. Actually, It’s About Legislators

 

Apparently, the new concern is legislators. What if they see this? *hand-wringing ensues*

chloe response leg

Now, not only is the meme responsible for student retention, but also our own working conditions. See Chloe with the swell response above.

leg 55

I explained in a Twitter thread using my knowledge in this area on how how SGR has really created a strawman argument around legislators and this meme.

XI. Victimization Narrative & Gaslighting Others

We often see this in conversations on social justice topics involving white women – they cry and play the victim (see: When White Women Cry: How White Women’s Tears Oppress People of Color by Dr. Accapadi) as a defensive tactic when someone points out they did something wrong. Although majority of SGR’s critics were white (many SAPros of color stated that they already knew how this would play out; whiteness is predictable), there were still a number of folks of color, especially women of color, and especially Black women who critiqued SGR.

victim

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, as has been painstakingly detailed above…SGR doesn’t believe she shamed anyone. In fact, she is a hero to stand up to such a hurtful meme. These silly SAPros decided to make it about themselves.

Further, she keeps retweeting her supporters (just a few, and all seemed to be faculty with no connection to student affairs) who honestly misrepresent the issue and the student affairs professionals who are frustrated at the tone policing and inability to have their full humanity exist.

mischaracterize

Again, they all play into the narrative that SGR is a wonderful person/expert and truly the victim in this dialogue so she retweets them.

annie responseRepeatedly, SGR played the victim. Her earlier tweets conveyed her sense of superiority as she was rude and insulting to the original entry-level pro she responded to – she demonstrated quite carefully how she believed she cared more.

response to kristen

As @itsmewhiteman and others pointed out, folks were just repeating her previous statements back to her.

victim 500

Again, she maintains the narrative that folks are lying about what she said (when they only repeat her statements) and plays the smallest fiddle in the world that she cannot share her reality…despite not allowing folks with much less privilege than her be able to share their own truths.

Then when someone questioned how/why she does 80 hours of week per week, again she maintained the victim narrative and does not hold the self-awareness to see how she has committed baseless attacks against quite a few folks in the conversation.

baseless attack

Her perception of what took place was very different from almost everyone else. Take note of the words she uses in the next set of tweets: “dragged me”, “mob scene”, she didn’t “hit no one”, and “punching bag”:

cliff notes

didnt hit no onefalse statements

Another example:

wow

This is just one tweet from a very good thread, with great work done by Jennifer to engage SGR and help her understand the difference between intention v. impact. Unfortunately, Sara was unwilling to learn or admit she did wrong. Instead, she once again painted herself the victim of a violent scenario.

Then, when another scholar held SGR accountable on her maintenance of power structures, she acted like she had no idea what was going on. It is a tough leap of logic to believe that SGR missed the repeated statements of folks mentioning they were younger professionals and that she did not make assumptions about profile photos considering she later misgendered someone. But, this ‘playing dumb’ response works to uplift her as a victim and not an instigator:

twitter- younger professionals.jpg

Finally, it all comes back to the original newer Student Affairs professional that SR quote-tweeted at the beginning of this dialogue:

apoligize 5000apologize 66006006

SGR fundamentally doesn’t understand the purpose of the #sachat hashtag, which is community building and drawing attention to interesting or hot topics in student affairs and higher education. To say that Kimberly, who had politely engaged with SGR while the latter was rude, instigated a mob is…well, quite inaccurate.

Finally, Kimberly responds:kim

But SGR did not respond to this.


To continue reading, please see Part 2. The latter half of the essays explores the reactionary tactics to protect white womanhood and how the dialogue went into a downward spiral that included transphobic and racist actions.

The Breakdown on the Meme that Broke Higher Ed Twitter: Part 2

Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part essay analyzing the contentious debate(?) among higher education professionals (primarily in student affairs) on Twitter, and its greater application to the field. I believe this will serve as a strong case study on the generational differences in higher education professionals, meme culture, and the reactionary techniques utilized to protect white womanhood. Given the intricate and fascinating (to a nerd who enjoys examining how power dynamics in higher ed play out on social media) pieces to this story, I have broken up the essay into two parts. [Part 1] [Part 2]


Table of Contents:

Part 1

  • I. To Meme or Not to Meme
  • II. So…what broke Twitter?
  • III. The issue on the table? (#Hamiltonreferences4ever)
  • IV….um…
  • V. And then?
  • VI. Are we done yet?
  • VII. But the Students!
  • VIII. The Next “Hot Take”
  • IX. Changing the Narrative
  • X. Actually, It’s About Legislators
  • XI. Victimization Narrative & Gaslighting Others

Part 2

  • XII. White Woman Victimhood ramps up
  • XIII. Gaslighting Continues…
  • XIV. Divisive Tactics
  • XV. She Didn’t Shame Anyone!
  • XVI. Ok and this one is just funny
  • XVII. Call Her Khaleesi
  • XVIII. Peak White Feminism: Misgendering and Racism
  • XIX. Fear Mongering of the “Secret Black List”
  • XX. In Conclusion
  • XXI. But what’s next?

XII. White Woman Victimhood ramps up

Sara uses the name of a well-known academic and tv personality who wrote a supportive tweet in her reply below. It is interesting for her to use the name of a Black man in the mentions of a well-known Black woman scholar, even though by this point she has engaged in a racist tactic towards a man in student affairs (more on that below).

IMG-3964

By this point on May 30, SGR has engaged in oppressive acts (racism and transphobia – described later in the article) but believes she is being “dragged” because she is a female scholar.

One could argue that student affairs doesn’t come hard for men who perpetuate oppression…but then just look into the case of a certain Higher Ed Thought Leader who owns a speaking bureau business (that is fronted as a nonprofit) that held accountable multiple times, banned from the Student Affairs Professionals Facebook Group, and taken to task on Twitter. He engaged in racism, sexism, and nastily criticizing a young professional on his podcast. I’d name him, but the word is he has threatened legal action against folks who speak about him and he calls their universities to make false claims about them.

sips tea gif.gif

Anyways…

IMG-3966

It is ironic that Sara brought up Ann Marie Klotz and sees similarities with her, considering what took place (also described later in this essay) in 2016.

XIII. Gaslighting Continues…

Much later into the conversation, SGR tries to argue that her word use of “effective” is different from the perceived meaning of “effective” (how people took it). Kind of like those silly Twix commercials where they go “or like how I’m a ghost and you’re a spirit!” This is called gaslighting, folks.

huh

Which directly contradicts what she said.

victim 5000000

This is understandable. She wants to be able to hold her opinion. That would have been fine…if she hadn’t engaged in the initial rude behavior, and then went wild on elements of racism, classism, and transphobia. A nice attempt at changing the narrative to her victimhood, tho…

BUT YOU DID

But she did attack people!

we could say

…student affairs folks could say the same for you

pushback

But in reality, SGR actually never responded to the substance of my very respectful comments on Tuesday night or many other folks’ respectful comments.

XIV. Divisive Tactics

pitting them against each other

Now we have reached the point where SGR – a cis white woman with class and Academy privilege (and I am quite sure financial privilege compared to the folks she mentions here) – seeks to engage in divisive politics. How dare these SAPros advocate for themselves and their right to enjoy a quiet summer! Meanwhile, look at these other groups who must struggle!

This is classism.

This is union-busting rhetoric.

This is divisive.

Although transformational higher education requires solidarity among all who hold privileged and oppressed identities…SGR would rather be pit groups against each other.

This was probably the most disappointing take. I’m unsure if SGR grew up in poverty like the students she advocates for, but it really doesn’t seem like it here. There’s no community mindset.

XV. She Didn’t Shame Anyone!

she didnt shame

LOL still says no shaming

But…

thor - is it tho

shaming 500

Now she’s saying that folks are lying – she never shamed.

And, uh, I’m not buying on her never shaming staff. Not unless all staff she’s worked with provide some confirmation of only positive experiences. At this point, it seems like the way she treats people would make it…interesting to work for her.

she has no ide

Then she deflects the harm she causes and engages in further  gaslighting – that she never caused harm at all.

When someone specifically addressed her problematic language, she refuted it and blamed how folks perceived the injury to be their own fault:

ahem

no shaming telephone

If that was her way of empathizing with a heavy workload, I imagine she learned how to connect with folks from this guy:

how you do fellow kids

Here’s the thing – she never emphasized with a heavy workload. She actually weaponized her heavy workload as a way to say folks who are looking forward to summer need to be more efficient. And again, if multiple entry-level SAPros say “you’re shaming us” and you keep saying “nope!”, uh…that means you are shaming folks – even if it was not your intent.

XVI. Ok and this one is just funny

cc pros weird tweet

Thanks for jumping in there, Clint.

XVII. Call Her Khaleesi

khaleesi sea of brown people.gif

Khaleesi! (Game of Thrones reference)

Sara began to continuously play into the role of “savior”; not an uncommon approach from white people (see: Teju Cole’s ‘The White-Savior Industrial Complex‘).

proven advocate she is

She’s a proven student advocate, y’all! Unlike all of her mean, nasty critics. To another SAPro she went back on the ‘this is student shaming’ and glorified herself:

savior of SA

Multiple times SGR made statements that SHE is working on behalf of entry-level SAPros and really spun an interesting web of savior mentality.

Perhaps her self-victimization comes from her fans? Many tweeted how brave she was to stand up to a “Twitter mob” (people self-advocating, many from the margins of society) and she retweeted many of them. She even retweeted someone who is saying there were death threats when there were not any made at all, and it was truly egregious to pump up the situation so much:

retweets

Her savior and sanctimonious vibe continued in multiple tweets. Within her “apology” on May 29th, Sara again played up the new narrative that she was empathizing with people, reminds her readers that she is righteous and standing up for students, and that her 20 years of work speaks for itself.

apology 1apology 2

Folks, she is on GOOGLE. Clearly, not someone to disagree with:

twitter - google her.jpg

XVIII. Peak White Feminism: Misgendering and Racism

I identify strongly as a feminist and really prefer to uplift other women…but I am also very dedicated to calling in/out fellow white women when they engage in harmful practices.

I also don’t like it when privileged white women use feminist terms to shoot down ideas they disagree with. It negatively harms women who actually use the terms in sincerity. There were a couple of people who critiqued SGR’s tweets by recounting what she said and she told them to “Stop mansplaining” her (example 1; example 2)

And then…

SGR misgendered someone.

transphobe

It is very clear that she said folks were mansplaining her to anyone who (she thought) presented as male in their profile picture and/or had a “male” name. She did not take a second to check the person’s profile, where their pronouns are listed (they/them). When fairly critiqued on this issue, SGR doubled down on the transphobia with fake news:

cant be wrong

uhh firefly.gif

Uh…

trans 4 For some reason, Sara used a random article from a British newspaper to argue it is not a gendered term…but the article actually confirmed that the term “mansplaining” is a gendered term. She explains that this is what her students say…but many white students I know still believe ‘reverse racism’ is a real thing and I don’t coddle inaccurate use of social terms. Mansplaining has been a gendered term since it was published by Rebecca Solnit in the LA Times article ‘Men Explain Things To Me‘.

twitter- genderAh, clearly SGR is “woke”, as she knows the term “gender non-conforming people”.

transphobe 3

There’s a great thread of folks challenging her ‘definition’ of mansplaining.

The kicker? She kept doubling down and never even responded to the person she misgendered.

asshole

Two days later, Bryan, the person Sara misgendered, added:
twitter -never apologies
These actions are transphobic, Sara. And this is not okay.

Then SGR made a classist, elitist, and ableist statement. (Why ableist? Anytime folks pull those elementary school taunts about people not being able to read, of being dumb, etc – these are part of a greater abelist narrative around intelligence). And, to be fair, if this is how Sara responds to someone with the word “tranz” in their user name…I think it’s fair to say that transphobia could have played a role with her response.

transphobe 2

Then she responded to a Black man working in Student Affairs with this:

twitter-paul porter

Girl.

racist qu.gif

Anytime a white person is in a disagreement with a Black person and tries to compare the situation at hand to racism, when it does not relate at all to racism? This is a racist action. This is not okay. Sara never responded to responses of how her tweet was not comparable and racist.

XIX. Fear Mongering of the “Secret Black List”

This whole situation and issues of white feminism reminded me greatly of Ann Marie Klotz, a senior administrator in student affairs. In November 2016, her blog post tore down a group on facebook and implicitly calling many folks of color, LGBTQ+ folks, and folks with disabilities a dumpster fire (read: ‘The Open Letter to the Open Letter’ to understand more) because they engaged in the profession authentically in a way she did not approve of (i.e., challenging oppression). An anonymous person commented on her blog post (now deleted) something like “well I won’t be hiring any of those people”. AMK did not challenge this statement rooted in racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, or classism. Instead her response said something about how she understood.

Well, the secret black list made another appearance in this following thread:

fear mongering 1

white womanhood.PNG

Folks repeatedly asked her how she responded to the people who made these threats or if she thought they were okay. She tweeted several times that she said it was not ok…yet that was not in her original tweet or took meaning in any tweet. As @sunnydaejones stated in her response, this threat keeps arising when younger SAPros make critiques, yet those that make these threats are protected. Sara and AMK both would not out these anonymous administrators or take a stand against the unethical statements.

XX. In Conclusion

First, thank you for taking the time to read this essay.

There are a few takeaways from this incident. First, there is a generation gap in terms of online communication use and a difference in attitudes towards summer between student affairs staff and some faculty.  Second, this is a good example of how conversations can devolve on social media. Who knew when Humans of Higher Ed tweeted the summer break gif that it would ultimately result in a senior scholar engaging in oppressive behavior?

Finally, this incident is a good example of white womanhood (anywhere, but especially in academia) works to protect itself, by both the white woman involved and her advocates. Gaslighting, reframing the narrative to suit one’s purpose, self-victimization, and then (as the conversation continued over several days) diving into oppressive tactics to prove her point and make herself appear the victim.

PhD student CJ Venable analyzed SGR’s language and cited ‘Getting slammed: White depictions of race discussions as arenas of violence‘ (DiAngelo & Sensoy, 2012) in regards to SGR’s violent language and self-victimization.

CJ tweet.jpg

@TranzWrites contributed to discussion on this being an example of fragile white womanhood.

IMG-3976

IMG-3977

I already mentioned at the start of this essay that Sachet Watson, wrote an outstanding critique (click to see the thread), but here are a few key things to understand (click images to view full-size):

To be honest, “The Fragility of White Women Thought Leaders” could be its own essay, comparing what took place from AMK in 2016 and SGR in 2019. It is my hope that readers will critically consider how whiteness shows up in academia, and in academic social media spaces.

XXI. But what’s next?

Do we “cancel” SGR? This is an interesting ethical issue. There are some that say “cancel” culture is too much – that everyone is problematic and we cannot cancel everyone; that everyone grows and learns over time. There are folks who believe that individuals who do good work (artistic or academic) but engage in harmful behavior should still be protected, because we don’t want to lose their contributions to society. SGR is a strong academic who engages in advocacy around important issues. Yet, she still engaged in oppressive acts and refused to take responsibility or apologize. What do you, Gentle Reader, think the next step should be?

As someone who easily could have been one of Sara’s research subjects (very low-income, first generation college student, and food insecure in college), I do find her attitude interesting. In my opinion, the way that she engages with others and weaponizes her reputation and advocacy work to attack others who come from that same background (but are a bit older) demonstrates that she is a good example of folks who do not have the lived experience of the people they are studying. There is a hubris that can easily develop when one is privileged compared to the populations they study. It does appear that serving as an advocate for low-income students has built up a savior mentality for SGR. Gentle Readers, please remember this case study for when you engage in research or advocacy for underrepresented populations.

On the topic of power, privilege, and understanding one’s positionality to others in higher education, it is imperative that individuals holding major privileged identities learn from this case study of what not to do. When someone says “hey, the impact of your statement was harmful”, do consider how you may have been wrong, engage thoughtfully, and apologize. If you misgender someone, for Thor’s sake, apologize. As a white person, don’t compare inane topics to racism when speaking to people of color. Get yourself people who will check you when you mess up and don’t inflate your ego.

And finally, remember that no matter how much “good” you’ve done, social justice isn’t a set of scales administered by Anubis. Your good acts don’t give you a “get out of racist/transphobic/etc jail free card”. We all make mistakes. But what matters is how we own up to them, apologize, learn from it, teach others, and keep moving on to make the world a better place.

And one more thing: Carefully consider this well-timed retweet by SGR. Sounds like good advice for all of us.

twitter - her tweet is great.jpg