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

Introducing – Rachel

By Rachel Luna

"My story is important not because it is mine... but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is yours.” - Frederick Buechner

“My story is important not because it is mine… but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is yours.” – Frederick Buechner

Before discovering student affairs, I was a print newspaper journalist: I conducted interviews with a pen and notepad, consistently had ink smears on my fingers, and loved the smell of newsprint in the morning.  Nowadays, you can usually find me smartphone in hand, somewhere with wifi or 4G reception, and a battery charger (with extension cord) in my bag.

The technologies may have changed, but the connections haven’t.  By turning the pages of the newspaper, I met new people, discovered innovative ideas, and kept abreast of current trends – just like I do now by clicking through screens on my phone or computer.  Through engaging with other people’s blogs, tweets, and posts, I seek to understand who they are, and in doing so, can better understand who I am.  In this way, I most appreciate technology as a tool for community building.

Rachel typing on a smartphoneAs a new blogger, I’m honored and excited for the opportunity to learn with and from this community.  I particularly enjoy exploring tech’s relationship with accessibility, inclusion, and universal design, and am excited to engage in these conversations in this space.  I’m also interested in connecting with folks around multiraciality (shout out to ACPA’s Multiracial Network!), sports (curling, anyone?), and penguins (of all shapes and sizes).

Currently,  I spend my days at University of the Pacific’s Center for Community Involvement supporting folks in their social justice journeys, leadership development, and community engagement.  In June, I’ll be Student Services Coordinator for Samuel Merritt University – San Francisco Peninsula Learning Center.  You can follow me on Twitter @RachelHLuna.  I look forward to connecting!

Introducing – Rachel

Introducing — Valerie

by Valerie Heruska


My name is Valerie Heruska and I am a computer, social media and technology geek. I’ve broken many computers and crashed hard drives, but like Humpty Dumpty, I put them back together again. This is the very reason that I am infatuated with spiffy new hardware. I love that the computer/iPad/gadgets have revolutionized everything we do, and are fortunate enough to have access to these wonderful technologies.

When I’m not breaking computers, I’m a Residence Hall Director at Boston University. I love my job and my students, and I couldn’t ask for a better way to spend my time at work – having great conversations with students. I also enjoy figuring how to connect with students in the virtual world, since most of them are connected via their mobile devices and/or computers.

I love writing, blogging, and tweeting. You can find me on Twitter @valerieheruska. My current adventure is graphic design, which I am thoroughly enjoying the learning process. When I was given the opportunity to blog about student affairs +women+ technology, I jumped at the opportunity. I would like to thank Kristen for the opportunity and I would like to thank Gateway for making a computer that was easy to break and put back together.

Introducing — Valerie

Meet the Blogger: Melissa

By Melissa Johnson

Hard at work at the age of 1

So I’m a little late to the game, but many thanks to Kristen and Brenda for letting me join in the tech blogging fun. I’ve been at the University of Florida for a decade now, starting with New Student Programs, and for the past six years with the University Honors Program. Although I’m no longer technically working in student affairs, you could say that I run my own little student affairs division within Honors. Academic advising, career development, student organization advising, leadership, program planning, first year experience, housing, you name it – I’m somehow involved with it in this position. My passion, however, remains with first year experience courses, an area of interest since I was an undergraduate peer leader for UNS 101 at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro back in 1998. I’m very proud of our professional development program for first-year honors students.

Although we did not get a computer at home until I was a senior in high school, I had spent a lot of time on computers starting in elementary school where I was a champion at blasting alien spaceships by solving math problems. And when I was in the 3rd grade (we’re talking mid-1980’s here), my mom sent me off to computer camp at East Carolina University. I’m pretty sure my bio in the camp newsletter we created included something about singing and dancing to the Monkees. Clearly, I was a very cool kid in elementary school.

Fast forward to now, and I’m usually the go-to person in the office for technology initiatives. I manage our office social media accounts and incorporate technology as appropriate with other daily tasks and teaching. I’m pursuing my PhD in educational technology at UF, with a specific interest in instructional design and pedagogical uses of technology. I have been blogging off and on since about 2005, and I’ve been incorporating blogs into my teaching for just as long. Our latest classroom adventure in blogging is the Swamp Survival Blog where my sophomore professional development students blog about first-year student success.

I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts on technology and student affairs! You can find me on Twitter.

Meet the Blogger: Melissa

Meet the Blogger: Stephanie

By Stephanie Wintling

I still remember to this day the excitement and amusement I felt when my dad brought home our first Windows computer. This illustrious beautiful contraption mesmerized both my brother and me. We would constantly fight about who got to play on the computer and my parents eventually had to limit our time on it.  Throughout my entire childhood, my family was blessed enough to afford the newest gadgets and never let me believe that in any way tech gadgets were grown-up toys or only for males. My favorite tech memory is bringing a Palm Pilot to school in the 8th grade, forget paper–I have a Palm Pilot; my classmates had no idea why I had one or what it even did at the time. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

When I entered college at the University of West Florida, I was convinced I would be a doctor, and then chemistry convinced me otherwise.  There I was at the pivotal moment everyone reaches in college, sometimes multiple times; I have to change my major/my career/my life. I did what made the most sense and changed my major to the subject I had succeeded in: mathematics. Spring of my first year I walked in to Calculus 2, Math Set Theory, and C++ Programming and I was forced with a new reality–I was a minority. In Calculus 2, I was the only female who did not drop the course. Never in my life had I felt so uncomfortable in an academic setting. Academics had defined me for almost all of my life, and here I was uncomfortable in the one environment I had always been comfortable in. Sometimes I wish this story had a different ending, but I switched my major to Psychology by the end of that semester, although, I have to note I did make As and Bs in those classes that spring semester, and I strongly believe I’ll finish my mathematics degree one day.

Thankfully Psychology majors had an abundance of electives, so I stocked my schedule full of the most random technology classes the department would allow me to take. From Intro to the Internet to Microsoft Office, I took whatever I could, and now I am this random grab bag of computer information. I’ve contemplated getting a certification numerous times or taking advanced web design classes but I just started a new job at Texas State University so those ideas are on the back burner for a bit.  As a graduate student at the University of Florida, I created the website for the National Pan-Hellenic Council (not my best work but functional), and quickly became a tech support resource for my cohort. After receiving my M.Ed. in Student Personnel in Higher Education, I accepted a job as a Residence Director at Texas State. I’ve only been here 2.5 months and already I receive e-mails from colleagues for tech support.

Finally, I always read instruction manuals, which provides me with a wide array of random insights to how to use the tricks you never knew you MacBook had to making your life easier in Microsoft Office.

I look forward to posting more and sharing my insights in technology! Since my own personal story carries some heartbreak, I’m very passionate about women in STEM and jumped at the chance to write for this blog. Be sure to leave a comment on anything you would like for to me to post about, especially anything Microsoft Office.

Follow me on TwitterAdd me on FacebookConnect with me on LinkedIn.

Meet the Blogger: Stephanie

Meet the Blogger: Kristendom

By Kristen Abell

So, who is Kristendom? Kristendom is the online alter ego for me – Kristen Abell. I started blogging for myself around four years ago on my blog Kristendom. At that time, I had grand visions of blogger stardom and wasn’t really sure about how much I wanted people to know about my “real” identity. As time went on, my online identity and my real identity merged in cyberspace, as they most often inevitably do, but I enjoyed the “Kristendom” title so much, I decided to keep it.

I’ve always been a bit of a computer geek. I like to think that I know more about computers and technology than your average person, but I’m still definitely not as savvy as I’d like to be. I find that the more I learn about technology, the more I realize I have to learn. But hey, at least I’m willing to make the effort – even if the time is hard to come by. So I’m still learning to speak geek, although I’d say I’ve passed Geek Speak 101.

I’ve been in student affairs for over ten years now (yikes! Time flies when you’re having fun, I guess), serving in a variety of roles – mostly housing with some women’s center work thrown in for good measure. I currently serve as the Associate Director for Residential Life at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The beauty of working at a slightly smaller school I’ve found is that I get to wear a number of hats. Tech guru extraordinaire for our Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Division is one of the hats I get to wear, and it’s allowed me a little license to explore some of my tech interests on work time. I have a very basic understanding of HTML and web design, a better-than-average knowledge of social networking, and a smattering of other skills/interests in various technologies.

Because of my interest in all things geek, I was lucky enough to get recruited to manage the website for Region IV-West of NASPA, as well as serve as the representative for the Technology Knowledge Community. Earlier this year, the same person that recruited me for NASPA mentioned that I should consider doing a blog on technology, and that was the beginning of Kristendom Talks Tech.

One of the things I love love love about the internets (by the way, this is how I frequently refer to the internet, mostly by way of mocking a certain former president when he spoke of it in the debates) is the creation of the blogosphere. I have long had aspirations of being a writer, and I believe that I’ve found my voice and preferred medium through blogging. I might never stop now! I’m extremely excited about this opportunity to work with some other women who have similar interests in technology and student affairs, and I hope that we can all share a little of our wisdom and promote women in technology at the same time.

Meet the Blogger: Kristendom