In June, I started a clothing line for allies with a percentage of the proceeds to fund scholarships for transfer students. (The Shop link above takes you to my Bonfire page.) Experience tells me that what I wear could help me connect better with students. At Zoom University where students can't see my Safe Zone or Recovery Ally stickers, do I assume they know I am their ally or even understand what an ally does exactly? If the warmth of my voice and energy tells half the story, why can’t my shirt name it, too?
Many students I meet are just beginning to understand cultural competence. Come fall, they will see how a climate of historic change affects their campus. Updated building/street names, removed statues, and hopefully revamped ineffective safety protocols placing too much reliance on police involvement to address issues of mental and physical health on campus. And while this is a start for campuses, students need to know there are places and people they can go to dialogue around issues of systemic racism. Whether that is a multicultural student affairs center, counseling services, or their advisor’s office for further referral and more academic conversation.
Now that I work at my alma mater 20 years later, it is different than it was, but then again so am I. Diversity and equity mean more to me now than when I was a student. Even though I was a first-gen transfer student from a mixed racial family, I did not make time to recognize the impact of race and privilege because I was more concerned with fearing the consequence of not competitively passing in the theatre world when few good roles in my range casted women of size. Multicultural playwrights and diversity casting made me anxious because I could not see my place. When I graduated, I did not know where I belonged anymore. In a way, I lost my identity.
Unpacking this taught me how college students need stronger advocacy, opportunity, and insight. I keep coming back to the work of an advisor, and wish I had been strong enough to start down this path earlier. So much of what academic advisors do at the front lines, interfacing with students and faculty, positions them to champion for improving the student experience.
With the work I am doing, I try to signal it is safe for students to share what has heart and meaning to them, and I keep listening for what causes and issues they find important. In thinking about mattering and meaning, Nancy Schlossberg reminds me that my output must demonstrate to each student time and again how they are valued. Teaching this through advising is one thing, but I don’t remember Schlossberg mentioning to evoke students’ movements or protests. Inviting the student voice and endorsing it are two very different approaches.
To some degree, I think these lines have already begun to blur. Long before a confluence of dynamics (social, health, political, and racial) changed the landscape of everything we know about everything, an uprising started among college students to shift power back from the administration. There are even calls to defund higher ed now at the heels of those to defund the police. I sense we are past the point where mattering and meaning alone will work.
Creative reflections on academic advising and learning
Cultivating dual resilience: Teaching shame recovery and image rebuilding through academic advising.
Unless noted otherwise, all content copyright 2017-2020 by Tanya Wineland.