February 29, 2012
By now, if you have spent any time on Facebook in the last few days,
you’ve seen the memes. No, I don’t know how to pronounce that word
either. But they’re all over the place. Particularly the “What ___
Think(s) I Do,” a series of six photos representing what different
segments of society think a particular profession/practice does. They
answer the age-old question posed by Bob and Bob. It was only a matter
of time before someone created the student affairs version, seen here.
It’s okay to laugh, to relate, and to think, “Holy cow, they’re right.” Honestly, I think you could replace any of the captions with “family” and they’d all still be right. After all, who among us hasn’t had the conversation about those family gatherings when people ask, "How’s work?" You struggle to articulate how you spend your days, what your life work is all about, and what the heck it all means anyway.
But here’s the thing: It’s not that hard to talk about what we do. In fact, we do it almost every day, in person, online, in articles, blogs, and tweets. The problem is that most of this conversation occurs with each other rather than the people who might be our advocates, allies, and megaphones in other circles.
This concept was crystallized for me last week during a conference in Boston, in which many student affairs Twitter-ers participated. Since ACUI 2012 is still a few weeks away, I was not able to attend in person, but had some real moments of clarity while following along on Twitter.
The conversation that stuck with me the most started with a modern-day “shot heard round the world” (yes, keeping the Boston references going!). It was a simple question: Is student affairs a profession?
That simple question led to a host of other statements, questions, and theories. Words like justify, credentialing, relevance, validation, credibility, and others were the fodder for this heated discussion. I say discussion because it wasn’t much of an argument, mainly because there were a lot of “like-minded” professionals all saying essentially the same thing: What we do matters, our degrees should serve as the foundation of our experience and ability, and at the end of the day, maybe it’s less about the title and more about what we have actually accomplished.
Think back to when you decided to enter this field. You can probably point to one person who was doing a job you thought you might enjoy. Perhaps a vice president of student affairs, a dean or assistant dean, union director, or student activities staff member. It probably didn’t occur to you to think about what they did beyond what you saw them doing. But you liked it enough to find yourself here, without the benefit of a pre-student affairs program or coming up with “student affairs professional” on some vocational interest inventory with a high school counselor.
I don’t think anyone would argue that what we do doesn’t have an impact. However, in an academic environment, we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t think that data, research, and assessment aren’t necessary to back up what we ‘know’ empirically.
Sometimes it seems to me that we’re drawn to this “student affairs martyrdom” because as a helping profession, some of us have a greater need for validation born of insecurity. Some of that insecurity is justified; and some it is surely fabricated by our natural talent for self-deprecation.
Whether you want to call what you do a profession, a vocation, a practice, or something else, keep doing your good work. Support programs like ACUI’s Research and Education Grant to help those of us who are backing up what we think with what we can know. Follow the progress of the Certification Task Force, a group finding a way to credential yourself beyond your degree(s). Take part in the conversation, whether at conferences, on blogs, or in coffee shops. Make sure you include others in that conversation as well; otherwise, we might find ourselves back in this same place, not sure what we really do and complaining when what others think we do looks like the images in that meme.
If you’re looking for a place to share your thoughts, start here!