We are in the final week of Careers in Student Affairs Month, an annual time to educate students about our work held each October. I have not yet had the opportunity to participate in Careers in Student Affairs Month as a professional in the field. Last time I was a pro, I had no idea what NASPA was, and was flying mostly blind coming out of undergrad, doing unrelated work, and had just dived into the world of student affairs Pete Rose style.
This year, I’m starting to look more closely at how we recruit student affairs professionals to the field. And it fascinates me. It recalls the #sachat about Intentional Recruitment to the field, the full transcript of which can be found over here. The chat talked a lot about what we as pros do when students express interest in student affairs, how we support them, and how to react.
The truth of the matter is, while I’m always excited when students decide this is the work they want to be doing, I’m tentatively excited. It is not to say that I don’t think we should welcome everyone with open arms. In fact, that’s a lot of what this work is about. But I do think that there are questions that should be asked, and discussions that should be had, when a student approaches you and says they want to do your job. The first, and biggest, should be “Why?”
In my experience as a student leader, a graduate student, and now as a professional, there are a few types of students who I am skeptical to blindly shepherd into the field. Here are examples of a few.
The “Protecting My Legacy” Leader: A friend of mine once told me a tale of a graduating student leader who met with those following him, to share his “secrets” of success. That story concerned me quite a bit. I think that wanting to do the work that we do, and wanting to continue the work that he/she is doing, are very different.
To a certain extent, I felt that some of the Tweets that NASPA published in conjunction with CSAM failed to do this. I understand that 140 characters is not the venue to explain the difference! But to say “Like being Greek? You should work in Greek affairs!” is incomplete. The understanding that being a student leader is different from advising and developing student leaders should be clearly made, at the risk of allowing our students to enter the profession under false pretenses.
The Perpetual Student Leader: When a student who holds such ownership over his/her work in an organization that he or she doesn’t want to leave it, I feel we have an obligation to share more about what we do as advisors, educators, and supervisors, and how it is different from the student leadership that he/she is so comfortable with.
Similarly, if a student is choosing a student affairs career as a means by which to prolong or avoid altogether leaving college, it is incumbent upon us to help them manage those feelings, and find ways to help him/her transition into a world outside of our walls/gates/doors.
The “If Not That, Then This” Student Leader: I have heard many stories from students who started out in other majors, and then decided to pursue student affairs instead. And I think that’s fantastic. If we’re doing such impactful work that we inspire our students to want to do the same, that means that the work we do is being noticed, and that they want to make an impact on the world doing what we do.
It is important, though, to make sure that student affairs is what they want to do, and not just not what they DON’T want to do. That is to say, a business student shouldn’t move into student affairs just because he or she doesn’t want to do business anymore. I wouldn’t feel comfortable aiding and abetting the escape of a student from a path that he or she didn’t like, unless I knew that he or she truly wanted to meaningfully contribute to student affairs as well.
Sometimes we place such value on qualities such as teaching, inclusiveness, developing people, and understanding, that our students might feel like we’re the only field that values them. But we’re not. We just talk about it more 😉 Part of our job is to help students realize those lessons in their intended line of work, not just to select those who exemplify those qualities well enough to have them work alongside us. So one of my big goals for this year is to make sure I build that into my interactions with my students- what are you learning here, AND how can you apply it to what you do in class?
I would never say “don’t encourage students to go into student affairs!” We should welcome those who want to join our ranks, and help them succeed to the best of our abilities. But I would encourage those who do talk to these students to ask questions. “What do you like about the field?” “Why do you want to work in it?” “What do you know about it?” Be a resource first, and a cheerleader second.