“Just recently, I was talking to a book editor about hip-hop. ‘Right,’ she said. ‘Is that the period where rappers were talking all about how they wanted to rape and beat women?’ At first I bristled at the characterization. Then it hit me that I see hip-hop in much greater detail than most people. I’ve devoted at least half my life to it, so I’m a connoiseur even if I don’t always think of myself that way. Pick any era and I can retrieve a vast array of awesome thought-provoking hip-hop artists who were genuine political thinkers, artists who were genuine comedians. A more casual observer will only see what’s put in their face. That was the problem with hip-hop in the Biggie era, and it’s the problem with what passes for hip-hop now […] The younger me made have sat up all night with bandmates raging against Puffy or DMX or whoever, but the fact is that they were never the problem. The problem was that someone in the corporate chain of command felt that there was a need to play those songs fourteen times a day and eliminate alternatives.”
I don’t have a super eloquent rebuttal or support post in me to complement the smart and insightful posts that Tim St. John and Francesca Catalano shared with the world this week. But you know who does? Questlove. I finished his memoir Mo Meta Blues last week, and marked this quote to come back to. I’ve returned to it several times, because I think it’s so true of the conversation that persists about the field of student affairs. Ask the average person what their concept of student affairs or a student affairs professional is, and they’ll likely reference the RAs they’ve seen on TV (other than A Different World were there staff that worked in housing at any of those schools?) or Dean Vernon from Animal House, we don’t have a whole lot for the public to look to. What we do have, however, is a whole lot of that offensive hip-hop. People who have far less insight into what we do, have been controlling the dialogue about the nature and value of our work.
But to borrow a quote from one of my favorite shows, Mad Men, “if you don’t like what’s being said…change the conversation.”
As Tim says, this task is on us. The problems that others are citing aren’t necessarily incorrect. Further, we have an understanding as adults that bad press and negative portrayals stick in the media and our own minds with great ferocity than all the good that we do. But that doesn’t stop it from hurting when someone speaks ill of our work. So, do as Draper says and change the conversation. Don’t dismiss or minimize your role when explaining it to friends and family who don’t do this work. Be proactive about sharing the good work of your students, staff, and department as often as you can. Do meaningful work, and document it and its effect.
Many of us have in our power the ability to be those thought-provoking artists, genuine political thinkers, and occasional comedians to which Questlove refers above. But if we don’t put it out there, no one will ever know.