To the Complicated Women of Student Affairs: Thanks for Having Me

by Niki Messmore

 

For most of my life I’ve thrived from exposure to ‘strong women’ archetypes. At a young age I witnessed sexism (even if I didn’t quite have the words for it then) and I was in need of seeing someone like me, a girl, be a willful and fearless figure. It helped, of course, if they were awesome at martial arts (Buffy! Xena! My childhood heroes, forever).

As I grew older, female representation in non-stereotypical jobs and in the media became increasingly important. Our society is saturated with men overwhelmingly in positions of authority, from the leadership team of my alma mater while I was a student there to the fantasy books/films I love (…at least Tolkien gave us Eowyn…). It is sometimes very difficult  to imagine what is possible for my life when society dictates that my possibilities are limited.

Student Affairs shocked me when I entered graduate school. Surprisingly, even after being a highly involved student leader and service-learning staff member at my alma mater, I still held this lofty idea that student affairs was all about social justice – one of the core components of our field. I learned quickly that was not completely true.

That’s not to say that the field is not down with social justice, but it’s more so with words than action. Ultimately, student affairs is a profession that operates within institutions that were birthed through injustice (after all, who were the only folk to attend colonial colleges?). It’s difficult to move past that, especially when there are social attitudes that affect higher education. We don’t operate inside a vacuum. Not only does systemic oppression affect the profession, but the profession is made up of individuals who each have unique life experiences influenced by systemic oppression.

Still, I was surprised to learn that even though women make up the majority of student affairs employees, the majority of leadership positions are white and male. It’s frustrating to have this gap between our espoused goals and our enacted goals. And this is just one example of how the student affairs profession does perpetuate systemic oppression rather than tear it down.

This is a difficult truth to swallow when one desires to advance to leadership positions over time and has a love for something that isn’t always seen as women friendly, i.e. technology.

That’s why it is so important that I see other women-identified individuals who take leadership in the profession. Fearless women who challenge themselves and their peers. Intelligent and savvy women who bring new ideas into play and think outside our standard processes. Strong women who balance so much in their lives. Vulnerable women who share their successes and failures. Authentic women who call it like it is. Really, as Maggie Gyllenhall said at the Golden Globes, what is important to see is “complicated women“.

Complicated women-identified folks. (because recognition of the gender spectrum needs to be made)

I’ve had the pleasure of blogging on SAWTT since September 2013 and the opportunity to become introduced into this amazing group of women leaders in blogging and beyond. I am so excited to join Kathryn Magura as Co-Editor, and thankful for Kristen Abell for giving me this opportunity.

I look forward to working with SAWTT crew in this new role and learning more from this wonderful community of complicated women-identified folks. If you’re interested in blogging or just want to chat, tweet me up at @NikiMessmore.

To the Complicated Women of Student Affairs: Thanks for Having Me

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