Intersecting Identities of Doctoral Student, Administrator, and Woman Struggling with Infertility: Reflections on Personal Control

Intersecting Identities of Doctoral Student, Administrator, and Woman Struggling with Infertility: Reflections on Personal Control

Ann James
Northern Kentucky University

In celebration of our 40th Anniversary, members of the Standing Committee for Women are pleased to sponsor a Series in Developments. Our Series, “Women As,” explores how women’s intersecting identities (race, class, gender expression and performance, sexuality, religion, etc.) impact women’s experiences in different roles. Thus, authors share their ideas as women who are leaders, faculty, caregivers, and/or students. In support of a feminist approach to research and learning, articles will reflect an array of insights including practical strategies, research findings, lessons learned, arts-based research, visual inquiry, narrative inquiry, and reflections. We encourage you to utilize the discussion questions included in each article to stimulate your thinking and enhance your work in the classroom and/or workplace.

The personal narrative is relatively uncommon amongst scholarly writing. We can speculate as to the reasons why that is: perhaps it’s because it makes writers vulnerable and therefore people are hesitant to put themselves in that position or perhaps the narrative is seen as somehow “less scholarly” than other types of writing that one can undertake. Another perspective on the scholarly narrative is that it is a powerful tool that makes readers think more deeply and personally about what they are reading because the words are more human. Robert Nash (2004) poses the challenge to “broaden your construal of scholarship” (p. 45) to be inclusive of this writing into the body of scholarly work. In that same text, Nash posits that “you are a scholar if you can think and feel at the same time” and “if you are willing to allow your students, and your readers, to enter your heart as well as your head” (p. 46). It is those things that I am attempting through this narrative work.

I first met with my advisor in the doctoral program in the summer of 2011. I had many questions about what my academic focus would be, what sort of classes I would be taking, and, of course, how long it was going to take me to finish only attending part-time. The question I was most nervous about asking, however, was how I could stay on track when I had a baby. Not that I was pregnant at the time, but because I knew I would be pregnant in the next six months, I wanted to know how that might change my plan of study. I was thrilled when my advisor told me that she would work with me during the semester (or semesters) I might need to stay home with an infant and not travel to campus for class. I left her office that evening with a sense of relief and excitement of beginning the PhD program, moving forward in my career, and starting a family.

Fifteen months later, I am three semesters into my coursework and narrowing down my dissertation topic. I have a great sense of accomplishment from successfully balancing two doctoral courses each semester while working full-time and traveling an hour and half to class. I started a new job, one that is perfect for my career plan, and have already made great positive change on my campus. I spend most evenings catching up on homework, catching up on work-related projects, or trying to spend precious time with my husband and our two cats. Everything is under my control in my professional and academic life and going according to plan, but in my personal world, I can’t seem to get pregnant.

Women are often put in a position of needing to be in control over their environment and the things in it—children, professional life, household issues, social lives, family scheduling, and on and on. The American Time Use Survey showed that, in 2011, women spent an average of 3 hours and 21 minutes per day on household activities and childcare combined while men spent a total of 1 hour and 48 minutes per day on those same tasks. Additionally, for women who do have children, they spend over twice as much time caring for children daily as men do. According to these statistics, if a woman loses control over any aspects of her life where she is primarily responsible, she may be perceived as “not having it together” or “having some issues.” Many times, this expectation leads us to feel anxiety when we feel we are losing control over some aspect of our lives. One of my coping strategies during this time of my life is to categorize parts of my life into pieces that I can control and pieces that I cannot.

As I mentioned, there are many things in my life over which I feel I had control. I chose to pursue my PhD when I knew I would have institutional support to do so. I positioned myself well professionally so that I would be a good candidate for the job I wanted. I bought a house with my husband so that we could build equity and work towards financial stability. I live near family members so that I can see them often. All of these things are extremely important to me so I worked towards making them happen and, not for one minute, did I ever doubt I could do any of them.

Of course, there are the everyday things that no one can control that cause frustration. I never know how long it is going to take me to get to work because of unforeseen traffic issues. I may get home late because of an issue that comes up at work that I must address before leaving. There are health issues outside of my control that may impact me or a member of my family. All of these things, large and small, are ones that have been outside of my realm of influence my entire adult life. I have never gotten up in the morning believing I could control the weather or the traffic pattern, but I have always believed I would be a mother.

Those things that I identified as not within my control before now seemed so far out of reach that I learned not to spend a great deal of time worrying about them. At 38 years old, I have experienced professional and personal success and believe that those successes are due in great part to my commitment to making them happen. Lack of control over success in the area of becoming pregnant is not like anything I have experienced in the past. It’s different somehow. I have no idea how this journey to fertility is going to end and there is no fool-proof plan about which I can learn to make it certain that I will have a child. From 2006-2010, 6.7 million women in the United States, ages 15-44 experienced impaired fertility, so clearly I am not alone in this struggle (Centers for Disease Control, 2012). If so many women are in this situation though, why isn’t anyone talking about it?

Before my husband and I started trying to conceive a child, I compared myself to my sister and my mother and their experiences with motherhood. Both of them had children without any issues or complications, so I believed that would be the case for me as well. I take good care of myself and don’t have any health conditions that are the typical red flags for fertility issues. I do a lot of reading on pregnancy in the late thirties and am well-educated on the risks involved. Knowing all of this, I felt sure I could get pregnant and that I had done everything I needed to do to produce a positive outcome.

I’m starting to conclude that my fertility is just not going to work that way. We have started seeing a reproductive specialist and are beginning to seek alternative ways of conceiving a child. That is something I can control. I am taking prenatal vitamins and all of the medications that my doctor has prescribed. That is something I can control. I ask my friends and family for support, positive thoughts and prayers. That is something I can control.

My body’s ability to allow a child to be conceived and to carry that child for nine months is not something I can control. At some point the medical treatments will be exhausted and we may or may not have a child. I will still be a doctoral student and I will still have a successful career and a loving family. I am learning to identify those things I do have control over and those that I do not. I am learning to adapt to changing circumstances. My life path may not look exactly the way I thought it would 20 years ago, but I am learning to appreciate that more and more. I will work with what life gives me and appreciate my many successes. If I am blessed with a child, I will do my best to teach her or him that lesson as well.

While the statistics from the American Time Use Survey suggest that work/life balance is still an issue for many women, my hope is that it will continue to improve. Trying to do it all and have it all is a noble goal for any person, but it is too often unattainable and can cause tremendous amounts of stress. Equating success with something that you ultimately cannot control, such as your ability to get pregnant, can lead to unrealistic expectations and self-deprecating thoughts. Too often society tells women that having a child means success and not having a child means failure. Work needs to be done to change that, and other, unrealistic expectations of women in our culture.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some aspects of your life (personal or professional) over which you feel you have control? What are some aspects over which you feel you do not have control?
  2. How do you cope with life/work circumstances over which you have no control?
  3. What assumptions, if any, do you make about others who you know are trying to have a child and cannot?
  4. How do you define success in your academic or work life? How do you define success in your personal life?


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Key Statistics from the National Survey of Family Growth. Retrieved October 1, 2012 from

Nash, R. J. (2004). Liberating scholarly writing: The power of personal narrative. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

About the Author

Ann James is currently serving as the Associate Dean of Students and Title IX Coordinator at Northern Kentucky University. Prior to that, she worked in residence life for 11 years and has been heavily involved in advocating for the needs of women on campus. She earned her MA degree in Student Development from Appalachian State University and is currently pursuing her PhD in College Student Personnel at the University of Louisville. She has served on the Directorate for the Standing Committee for Women through ACPA for the past three years. She lives in Cincinnati, OH with her husband and two cats.

Please e-mail Inquiries to Ann James.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

I am Not. . . & Who I Am: Reflecting Images of Asian American Women

I am Not. . . & Who I Am: Reflecting Images of Asian American Women

Joyce Lui
Iowa State University

In celebration of our 40th Anniversary, members of the Standing Committee for Women are pleased to sponsor a Series in Developments. Our Series, “Women As,” explores how women’s intersecting identities (race, class, gender expression and performance, sexuality, religion, etc.) impact women’s experiences in different roles. Thus, authors share their ideas as women who are leaders, faculty, caregivers, and/or students. In support of a feminist approach to research and learning, articles will reflect an array of insights including practical strategies, research findings, lessons learned, arts-based research, visual inquiry, narrative inquiry, and reflections. We encourage you to utilize the discussion questions included in each article to stimulate your thinking and enhance your work in the classroom and/or workplace.

Racism and sexism are interconnected organisms that work simultaneously to shape the ways in which women of color are represented through the media. Asian American women students, in particular, are confronted with subservient, hypersexualized, and model-minority stereotypes in relation to the intersections of raced, gendered, and sexual identities (Cho, 2003). While it has been documented that Asian American women face sexual harassment and other overt aspects of oppression (Cho, 2003), further exploration of the more subtle, but equally potent, forms of racism and sexism are needed. In many ways, Asian American women face images regarding their perceived subservient roles through mainstream media.

Dodging, Weaving, and Self-Healing: A Non-Linear Exploration of Identity

Using Critical Race Feminism, the understanding that historical contexts and present realities for women of color are entwined with sexism and racism, this article seeks to explore common and public images and my personal experience as an Asian American woman. At times, racism and sexism are separate beasts; when combined they form a larger monster that pushes women of color down to limit their voices and to hide their truths. In this piece, I chose to use Google searches and images to demonstrate stereotypes and issues connected to Asian American women. Part of this work utilized critical visual and textual studies (Fairclough & Wodak, 1997; Foucault, 1977; Van Dijk, 2009), and the understanding that significant social practices and power dynamics, including racism and sexism, are included in visual and textual discourse (Rose, 2007). This work includes aspects of visual autoethnography. Regardless of the research method, this piece centers on personal reflections based on many interactions with dominant members of society, including White people and men of color.

I write this deeply personal reflexive list as a way to challenge scholarly practitioners to think about how the media presents Asian American women, including myself, and to challenge individuals’ stereotypes connected to Asian American women’s identities. This list is very different than traditional forms of research or scholarship in which a linear thought process is presented. There is no a singular idea that one should expect. I intentionally wrote this list using bullets because I felt as though I get pelted by racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression. The words and ideas are thrown at me in a nonlinear format and it feels as though it is coming from a place that I cannot see.

At times, the bullets create wounds and I think the cuts have healed and formed scars that protect. However, a word, a phrase, or even a look can open up the wounds. As a student, my focus should be on learning. As an Asian American woman who is a student, my focus cannot solely be on learning. The bullets shift my attention; I must learn to dodge, weave, and selfheal to stay in school. In many ways, images of Asian American women have influenced how others view us. I am not only my race and gender, but I am shaped by those identities and so much more. I share with you what I am and what I am not in hopes you’ll come to reflect on what you think of me and others around you.

My Skills

  • I am not a model minority. Sadly, this is the starting point for any issue regarding Asian Americans. This is a burden created by a White male journalist from the 1960’s (Peterson, 1966) and it continues to annoy me. If you remember nothing else, forget about the model minority (Chou & Feager, 2008).
  • I am not a tiger mom—and do not plan on being a tiger mom. I was not raised by a tiger mom. I was raised by my mom, who loves me very much. Her nimble fingers from the many years of toiling in a sewing factory meant that I saw little of her. But every stitch, every hem, was done with love.
  • I can do math because I learned arithmetic. I liked math until I was told that women were not good in math and science. So, as an Asian American woman, should I be in math or should I dislike it? Which stereotype wins? No, really, you tell me.
  • I don’t know kung fu, karate, or any other form of martial arts.
  • I can make fried rice, I learned from my mom. But I got plenty of recipes from Pinterest. Just like I got the recipe for avocado egg salad and fried pork chops. I do not make sushi. I cannot make Pho. And no, I do not think this is authentic “Asian” food that Panda Express is serving. A doctor telling me Chinese food is unhealthy or that I should eat less rice will be ignored.
  • I made a pretty assistant for the White man in a lab. I’m the pretty Asian friend in the residence hall. In college viewbooks, which are the first images higher education institutions provide to prospective students, Asian (American) women are perceived as window dressing. You may see someone who looks like me, but you probably would not see me in a leadership role or a central member of the institution (Osei-Kofi, Torres, & Lui, 2012).
  • My English is not good. I speak English well. And no, I won’t say something to you in another language.
  • I’ve become a skilled conversationalist. It is not rude to ask me a question, ‘Where are you from?’ It can get annoying because you’re the 39384399038th person to ask me that.
    • I say ‘I’m from California.’
    • You say, ‘Where are you really from?’
    • I say ‘I’m really from San Francisco.’
    • ‘Ummm, what about your parents?’
    • ‘Are you trying to ask me about my ethnicity? If I told you my family is from Hong Kong, would you know how to locate it on a map? If I told you that Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997, would that mean anything to you? What about you? Where are you from?’
    • ‘I’m from here.’
    • ‘I believe you so, why don’t you believe me when I say I’m from here too?
  • I’m an excellent teacher because I’m constantly sharing what is missing from textbooks. The incidents connected to Vincent Chin, Rape of Nanking, The Betrayal, Anna May Wong to Lucy Liu, railroads, internment camps, the refugees and undocumented people, I must be the “expert” because who else will teach it?

My Sexuality does not Belong to you. It Belongs to me.

It’s sad how when you Google Asian women, all you see is heteronormative, hypersexual ‘fetishes and fantasies’ driven by capitalism. These images, of traditional college age Asian American women create a false sense of what Asian (American) women should be. I should be slender, with large breasts, and fulfill your fantasy. But this image was not created by me. I am not a woman in your pornography collection and I will NOT love you long time.

Image of Asian Women Google Results

  • I am not a China doll nor a geisha. Although others have taken my ancestors’ clothes and slapped a new name and call it chinoiserie. This is not the first time someone has taken something from the ‘East’ and changed it into a capitalistic transaction, but you’ve changed a beautiful artifact into an aesthetics of exoticism (Porter, 2002). Victoria Secret has developed a ‘Go East’ collection, a lingerie line that even caused Fox News to pose the question: ‘is this racism?’ (McHay, 2012).
  • I do not know any exotic dances to entice you or your partner. I am not a sexual nymph sent from the East to ravish you. I am not a mail order bride that you can use your Diners Club card to purchase (Lee, 2009).

Despite what Google suggests…

Image of Google Search Results

My Looks

  • My hair is long, black, and shiny. No, I cannot tell you what hair straightener I use. I got it from my mom and dad. Ask them! Do not tap on my shoulder in a classroom to ask about my hair. I am here to learn. So, really, back off.
  • I am neither tiny nor petite and I am not bigger than you assumed I would be. I am the perfect size for me.
  • My skin color is not flawless, hairless, nor medium beige according to L’oreal or Bare Mineral. My skin changes with the season, and no, I do not spray tan.
  • My lips are full, and they belong to me and not to you. I love my spirit, my body, and yes, even my hair. No, I have not injected my lips with Botox. I pout when you say ignorant things because my words are not heard. Every time I lick my lips, it’s not a form of seduction, but a way to re-moisturize my lips. I bite my lips to stop myself from saying angry things, because words can never fully express my pain.

I am an Asian American Woman

Image of Women Google

I am concerned with stereotypes. I do want to build coalitions to combat issues surrounding Asian American women.

Image of Asian Women Google Search Results


  • Being an Asian American woman in college…Depression is a secret and I wonder if student health and mental health professionals can help Asian American women (Cress & Ikeda, 2003). Are you ready for me? Are you prepared to learn from me and my pain? Does any mental health professional look like me? Talk like me? Face the same issues I meet?
  • Asian American women are in need of scholarships. Not all of us drive a BMW, walk around with Louis Vuitton purses, and wear Louboutins (Hu, 1989).
  • I am not that nice. I think you’re choosing not to hear the sarcasm in my voice nor acknowledge my eye rolling. You say the word nice, because you know of nothing else of me. Am I not brave? Am I not well spoken? Am I anything else? The word nice becomes a shield for you to disregard my ideas and my worth.
  • I am not from the orient: I am neither a rug nor a ramen flavor. I believe orientalism is alive and well (Said, 1978). The privileging of the West and the condescending looks of the East should not surprise anyone.
  • I am an Asian American woman, pursuing a Ph.D. and not waiting to get my M R S degree.
  • I am an Asian American woman, with love for those around me and frustration for those who seek to push me aside and tell me who I am.

I am a student, learning from others and sharing my experiences. I am striving to learn despite the stares and the whispers. I am not an ‘other;’ I am me. I cannot check off a box on your form because I do not belong in a box. I am too unique to fit into a stereotype. I am more than all the stereotypes combined. I am a student. I am an Asian American woman.

In many ways, Asian American women are not alone in their struggles. I have witnessed other women of color get yelled at and harassed, whether it’s the sexy Latina, angry Black woman, or wise and sexual indigenous women, the stereotypes are quite old. Some of us laugh, because we have no other responses. Others use the opportunities to educate. I stand in solidarity with these women, holding their hands, smiling because I do not feel alone. I am standing with them, screaming, “I’m not that! I am me!”

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some overt stereotypes of Asian/ Asian American women? What are more covert and less obvious stereotypes of Asian/Asian American women?
  2. How do stereotypes of Asian/Asian American women impact the campus? As a scholarly practitioner, what stereotypes do you believe in?
  3. What are other stereotypes of women of color that are readily seen in media and college campuses?
  4. How do we educate students on the dangers and challenges of believing in stereotypes about Asian/Asian American women and other racially minoritized students?
  5. What images of Asian Americans or other minoritized populations represent a false identity?


Cho, S.K. (2003). Converging stereotypes in racialized sexual harassment: Where the model minority meets Suzie Wong. In A.K. Wing (Ed.), Critical race feminism: A reader (pp. 349- 366). New York, NY: New York University Press.

Chou, R.S. & Feagin, J.R. (2008). The myth of the model minority: Asian Americans facing racism.

Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers. Cress, C. M., & Ikeda, E. K. (2003). Distress under duress: The relationship between campus climate and depression in Asian American college students. NASPA Journal, 40(2), 74 -97.

Fairclough, N., and R. Wodak. (1997). Critical discourse analysis. In T. van Dijk, Discourse as social interaction, (pp. 258–284). London: Sage.

Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. London: Allen Lane.

Hu, A. (1989). Asian Americans: Model minority or double minority? Amerasia Journal, 15(1), 243-257.

Lee, H. (2009, June 18th). Get your Vietnamese bride now: Only $167 per month. Retrieved from

McKay, H. (2012). Is Victoria’s Secret ‘Go East’ Geisha-themed lingerie racist? Retrieved on October 11, 2012. Retrieved at .

Osei-Kofi, N., Torres, L. E., & Lui, J. (2012). Practices of whiteness: Racialization in college admissions viewbooks. Race, Ethnicity, and Education.

Peterson, W. (1966, January 9). Success story: Japanese American style. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from

Porter, D. (2002). Monstrous beauty: Eighteenth-century fashion and the aesthetics of the Chinese taste. Eighteenth-Century Studies, 35(3), 395-411.

Rose, G. (2007). Visual methodologies: An introduction to the interpretation of visual materials. (2nd Ed.). London: Sage.

Said, Edward W. (1978). Orientalism. New York, NY: Pantheon Books

Swarns, R. L. (March 30, 2012). For Asian-American couples, a tie that binds. The New York Times. Retrieved from.

Van Dijk, T.A. (2009). Critical discourse studies: A sociocognitive approach. In R. Wodak & M. Meyer, Methods of critical discourse analysis (pp. 62–86). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

About the Author

Joyce Lui is a doctoral candidate at Iowa State University, in the Higher Education, Social Justice Program. Her research interests include Asian American students, women of color students, arts based research, and community colleges and the transfer pathways. She earned her Masters in Postsecondary Educational Leadership, Student Affairs at San Diego State University. She graduated from University of California, San Diego with Baccalaureates in Economics and Sociology. More than her scholarship, she is a woman, a partner, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, and a foodie.

Please e-mail Inquiries to Joyce Lui.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Women As Faculty: Managing Conflict with Grace and Confidence

Women As Faculty: Managing Conflict with Grace and Confidence

Karen D. Crozier
Fresno Pacific University

In celebration of our 40th Anniversary, members of the Standing Committee for Women are pleased to sponsor a Series in Developments. Our Series, “Women As,” explores how women’s intersecting identities (race, class, gender expression and performance, sexuality, religion, etc.) impact women’s experiences in different roles. Thus, authors share their ideas as women who are leaders, faculty, caregivers, and/or students. In support of a feminist approach to research and learning, articles will reflect an array of insights including practical strategies, research findings, lessons learned, arts-based research, visual inquiry, narrative inquiry, and reflections. We encourage you to utilize the discussion questions included in each article to stimulate your thinking and enhance your work in the classroom and/or workplace.

Managing Conflict with Grace and Confidence was the title of the training I led for a cohort of women leaders in the field of health and human services. In preparing to assist these women leaders, I developed a poem with the same title, Managing Conflict with Grace and Confidence, which I dedicated to them. The poem was received with great joy and amazement. The women leaders were astounded by how the poem spoke to them both individually and collectively. It captured their experience in a clear, succinct manner. I, too, was in awe of my ability to develop such a life-giving poem without knowing the group, and only having experienced one telephone conversation with the director of the cohort. In the process of developing the poem, I knew that the Divine was present, speaking words of healing and hope regardless of the women’s diverse religious or non-religious backgrounds. The participants seemed free to receive the poem regardless of their perspective regarding transcendent reality.

In this article, I offer you—the reader—the poem and my reflections on two guiding questions: What does managing conflict with grace and confidence mean to you? How do you manage conflict with grace and confidence? Before I share my poem, however, I feel it is important to describe the context—or social location—out of which I work. As an African American female in higher education who is also an ordained minister, I seek to be aware of the relationships between the physical, meta-physical, and the inner and outer worlds. Faith in a personal Divine being who is active in redeeming and restoring the various forms of injustices and oppression in the world informs my leadership. The spiritual resources on which I draw to lead, to engage, and to serve strengthen my walk in integrity and humility. As you read the poem, I invite you to reflect upon how you can live and speak your truth.

Managing Conflict with Grace and Confidence

I have learned how to be with the suffering and the pain

That comes from the numerous, varied oppressive systems and forces

That can derail and cause toxins that impact my psychic, physical, and

spiritual well-being

The depths of darkness I have engaged so that I will not internalize the bitterness

and shame

New eyes and renewed vision are given for the journey as I learn to find beauty

and depth amidst what far too many others tend to dismiss

Fear is held at bay so as not to consume the moment because the night vision is

necessary in order to move forward

Within the injustices, inequities, and multiple institutional atrocities, darkness is

present as both a negative and a positive

Far too many of God’s precious little ones are annihilated, denied and deprived

from life-giving conditions and opportunities

This negative darkness prevails and clouds our vision to see the depth, the beauty

of darkness, and the greatness of dark-hued peoples’ contributions

Oh the depth and rich density of the positive aspects of what can be revealed as

we learn to SEE and BE in, through, and beyond darkness

We as the human race are taught to fear darkness of both people and places

while failing to realize there are times when darkness is luminous

Lighting a path to our deliverance and peace, increasing our ability to engage


In the darkness, through the darkness, and beyond the darkness we as women

must lead while navigating and negotiating places and spaces in ways that

ushers one and all into new forms of our humanity

Distractions abound, but they do not represent the substance of who and what

matters in our leadership

When managing conflict with grace and confidence

We have a growing sense of purpose of privileging people over product and

service, or understanding the inextricable connection between caring for

people in the quality of our service or product

The politics of funding continue to hound especially in the time when greed and

hoarding abounds

We are challenged to find a way of redefining our relationships in more

redemptive ways

As we allow our voice, our vision, our values along with our team create fresh,

innovative revenue streams that allows for your creative juices to flow

instead of bowing and bending to funders who want all of the control

Self-sustaining is the new buzz word while failing to realize how we will always

need one another

Managing this particular conflict can leave one weary, tired, and worn

Yet interconnectedness and interdependency facilitates creative, imaginative

possibilities and proper awareness of the beautiful gifts and talents that

exist in the human family

Competition at times can help us rise to new heights and horizons

However, far too often, we find ourselves battling for crumbs amongst our sisters

and brothers

Competition does not have to negate the principle of our interconnected,

relational nature

When we realize one agency or organization does not have a monopoly on

serving and caring for the masses of humanity

The needs are great yet traps exist to box us in from responding to the deep

yearnings and pleas

Frank Lloyd Wright (2004), a 20th century pioneer in architecture once said, “We

have been too tolerant of re-form. It is true form we should now

be seeking” (p. 124).

Taking poetic license to build on Wright’s quote, I want to encourage you to be

True to your form when designing new structures for all of humanity to

dwell in health and abundant well-being

True to your form in grace and confidence knowing you have a wealth of

knowledge to share

True to your form through the valleys and over the hills persevering yet celebrating the milestones accomplished

True to your form in your UNIQUENESS yet keenly aware of not being


As you grow in being true to your form you will learn how to elicit the true

form in others with grace and confidence

fear will subside and trust will abide as you make internal and

external connections that constantly birth new life

As you can see this is not easy work, but one thing is for sure you have what

it takes

Go forth and manage conflict with grace and confidence because the world is

in need of such women leaders as you!!

In my brief introduction about my faith and spirituality, I alluded to how I manage conflict with grace and confidence. At this time, I would like to expound upon a particular, personal conflict in my leadership role in higher education. Presently, I am slowly moving from the margins of power to the center of power within the life of my institution. This move would seem exciting because it suggests more authority and more influence. However, at least two great temptations emerge for me as I move into a greater position of power and influence within my institution. Below I describe the temptations and how I am managing them with grace and confidence.

The first temptation is becoming intoxicated by institutional, hierarchical power. I resist this by maintaining my grounding in living, leading, engaging, and serving from my center—my core. I am managing this potentially dangerous internal conflict with grace and confidence by increasing my capacity to listen more to self, others, and the SPIRIT. I practice my intentional, attentive listening by summarizing or mirroring what I hear others say so they can feel affirmed in the process. My affirmation of my colleague(s) or supervisor(s) creates space for me to share my perspective that may or may not differ from their own in hopes of moving towards action that is more inclusive and life-giving.

Beneath the listening, and mirroring/summarizing, there is the relinquishment of assuming that I have the right answer. I trust the SPIRIT to make known how we are to respond in our engagement, reflection, and discernment of what seems “right” to pursue in the moment. Sometimes what I commit to doing is not ready to be received by my students, colleagues, or supervisors; nevertheless, I must work to be present to and supportive of where we are as an institution at the time. Other times, what I bring to the table seems right at the moment, and my comments or suggestions are received by the respective group. In short, in my leading, engaging, and serving as an African American female in the academy, I must continue to value self, people, and relationships as I move from the margins into places of institutional power.

The second temptation is closely connected to the first one. In maintaining my connection to the ground and people, I must also be aware of my wounds experienced on the margins, so that they will not interfere with the work to be done as I move closer to the center of institutional, hierarchical power. The temptation here is to retain my marginal identity and the wounds associated with it. Instead, I need to resist this temptation by defining and externalizing who I am in the new space and place. No doubt, this requires ongoing internal work because I will experience new wounds in the new role of leadership. However, as I tend to self and others, hopefully a new climate of care and compassion will be infused so that everyone I lead, serve, and engage with, will grow in their capacity to manage conflict with grace and confidence.

In closing, I am happy, honored, and humbled that the poem emerged in my leadership role with women. As I served with and among women, I was able to give birth to something new and life-giving. May we, as women, be ever mindful to value and affirm one another as we lead with grace and confidence.

Discussion Questions

  • The author discusses managing internal and external forms of conflict. How do you manage these forms of conflicts in your professional life?
  • How do you think grace and confidence are exhibited while managing conflict according to the author?
  • What, if anything, resonates with you regarding the way the author nurtures and accesses her interior or internal world in leadership and overall well-being?


Wright, F. L. (2004). Frank Lloyd Wright: A journal. San Francisco: Pomegranate Communications, Inc.

About the Authors

Karen D. Crozier, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of practical theology, and special assistant to the provost for peace and justice initiatives at Fresno Pacific University.

Please e-mail inquiries to Karen D. Crozier.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Women As Students: Two Personal PhD Reflections and Suggested Practical Strategies

Women As Students: Two Personal PhD Reflections and Suggested Practical Strategies

Sonja Ardoin
North Carolina State University
Lindsey Katherine-Dippold
Rio Salado College

In celebration of our 40th Anniversary, members of the Standing Committee for Women are pleased to sponsor a Series in Developments. Our Series, “Women As,” explores how women’s intersecting identities (race, class, gender expression and performance, sexuality, religion, etc.) impact women’s experiences in different roles. Thus, authors share their ideas as women who are leaders, faculty, caregivers, and/or students. In support of a feminist approach to research and learning, articles will reflect an array of insights including practical strategies, research findings, lessons learned, arts-based research, visual inquiry, narrative inquiry, and reflections. We encourage you to utilize the discussion questions included in each article to stimulate your thinking and enhance your work in the classroom and/or workplace.


Women serve in multiple roles concurrently, such as employees, parents, children, spouses, caretakers, friends, volunteers, and students. Women experience these roles through the intersection of their identities including, but not limited to, race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, ability status, religion, and age. Women’s varying roles and identities can provide them with advantages and/or disadvantages in academia. Women’s role as students, specifically as doctoral students, is one that warrants attention as the total number and percentage of women obtaining doctoral degrees steadily increases and the time it takes to complete the degree is increasing as well. In education, the median number of years for doctoral degree completion rose from 12.6 in 1975 to 19.4 in 2000 (Hoffer et al., 2001). The increasing time to earn their degree reflects the struggle women have with finding and maintaining balance between all of their various roles; in fact, according to Stimpson and Filer (2011), women find work life balance much more difficult than their male graduate student counterparts.


Both theory and practical strategies can be instrumental in helping women doctoral students persevere through the doctoral process and increase their successful completion. In this article, the authors use feminist theory and attribution theory to frame their personal reflections and lessons learned from different doctoral program experiences and provide practical strategies that may assist others in their doctoral matriculation and success.

Conceptual Frameworks: Feminist Theory & Attribution Theory

The authors’ doctoral experiences exemplify themes from two conceptual frameworks: feminist theory and attribution theory. This section begins with an overview of these frameworks and then addresses how the authors’ stories exemplify each one.

First, feminist theory seemed an obvious choice, as the two authors are women and cognizant—on some level—of the impact of their gender in their doctoral program experiences. Because the stereotypes of extreme feminism (e.g., angry, whining, bra-burning women) may continue to dissuade conversations about feminism, the authors hope that the use of the feminist theory framework can help current women graduate students become more unified and successful. The strength that can emerge from this unity is particularly important because, although women have made significant gains in their numeric representation in all levels of study at colleges and universities, they are still underrepresented in positions of power and still face discrimination from peers, faculty, and administrators in many ways (Ropers-Huilman, 2002). Among the various strands of feminist theory, a set of consistent theoretical themes exists including: (a) acknowledging that women are valuable contributors, (b) recognizing that women as a group have been unable to reach their full potential in society, and (c) understanding that feminist research should not only critique but also lead to social change (Ropers-Huilman, 2002).

The second conceptual framework, attribution theory, “examines what information is gathered and how it is combined to form a casual judgment” (Fiske & Taylor, 1991, p. 23). This theory deals with how the social perceiver uses information to arrive at casual explanations for events, such as attributing consequences or outcomes to others instead of oneself. The theory attempts to answer the common question: is there a relationship between a student’s personal attributes (e.g., locus of control) or relational attributes—either personal (e.g., locus of control) or relational (e.g., student/advisor relationship)—and persistence to graduation at the doctoral level (Gardner, 2009)?

Gardner (2009) identifies seven main attributes to doctoral student attrition: funding, advisor relationship, gender, race, subject matter, test scores/GPA, and socialization. By identifying students’ attributes, faculty and students can enhance their understanding of what might cause attrition and predict future success or failure (Fiske & Taylor, 1991; Gardner, 2009). Interestingly, faculty and students differ on their explanations and perceptions of the cause of attrition (Gardner, 2009). To explain attrition, faculty indicate students’ lack of preparation (53%), making the wrong decision to attend their school or program 21%, and personal problems (15%). On the other hand, students cite personal problems (34%), departmental issues (30%), and wrong fit (21%) as reasons for attrition (Gardner, 2009). Lovitts (2001) found higher levels of attrition among social sciences students, women, students of color, those with a lack of funding resources, and those not connecting with peers.

In the authors’ reflections on their own doctoral experiences, several themes emerge from the feminist and attribution theories including funding concerns, locus of control, and relationships. The following reflections contain different voices and perspectives so other women can connect to the authors’ stories and all readers can develop a better understanding of the doctoral student experience for women. Sonja’s reflection will focus internally on her intersecting identities as a young(er) woman from a low-income background who is a first-generation college student pursuing a doctoral degree. Lindsey’s reflection will emphasize her dual roles as a full-time student and a full-time university administrator and her external relationships with others during the doctoral process.

Reflection #1: Sonja Ardoin

Attribution theory points out how we use information to explain our life situations (Gardner, 2009); there are attributes of life that we can influence and attributes that we inherit by birthright. Feminist theory supports the importance of women being aware of these two types of attributes; specifically, it speaks to the awareness that we, as women, have of our sex and how we need to simultaneously know our value and expect more equity (Ropers-Huilman, 2002). Consequently, I agree with Fiske and Taylor’s (1991) suggestion that women doctoral students and their faculty should reflect on women doctoral student attributes in an effort to predict success or failure. It is reflections like these, in my opinion and experience, which help us decipher if our efforts are those of an imposter or of a pioneer. As evidenced below, I hope to be a pioneer, although believing I am one will be a continual process.

“People like me” do not typically pursue a doctorate. People like me are women. They are from low-income, rural backgrounds. They are the first person in their families to attend college. They are under the age of 30 (or I was at the time). None of those identities are extremely prevalent in doctoral programs and many are shown to lead to attrition (Lovitts, 2001). People like me are single and do not have any dependents. People like me are also White, heterosexual, Christian (Catholic specifically), and temporarily able-bodied. This second set of identities are linked to persistence and matriculation for doctoral students (Maher, Ford, & Thompson, 2004). Thus, my identity is somewhat of a mixed bag of privileged and underrepresented in the pursuit of a doctorate (Fiske & Taylor, 1991; Gardner, 2009). I reflect frequently on my identity as I experience the doctoral process.

During my first month as a PhD student, I had a less than ideal encounter with a male faculty member from a different program that led to further reflection on my intersecting identities. This man and I met in the common kitchen space. I knew who he was from my e-mail exchanges with him; he had wanted me to do some work for him but refused to meet with me in person. What proceeded was a conversation in which he mocked my doctoral student status due to my identities as a young(er) person and a woman, although he used the term “girl.” I was stunned by the man’s comments and body language, especially his blatant belittling of my identities as a young(er) woman doctoral student, and his misuse of privilege as a tenured, White male faculty member. For a moment, it brought me back to the idea that “people like me” do not get doctorates and this was why.

Apparently, it was not the first time, or even second time, that this man had insulted a woman student or faculty member. As I shared my story with my peers and program faculty—both men and women—I found solace and support in a communal bewilderment as to why this man was still allowed to teach and advise if he ostracizes women students. I found resolution in reflecting that the opinion of one man did not represent the opinions of all others nor did it signify any portion of my worth or ability as a woman student. I also recognized that the situation could have been heightened had I held any additional underrepresented identities.

In my pursuit of the PhD, I am also highly aware of my background as both a first-generation college student and a student from a low-income, rural family. Although my family has continuously supported me and told me to “go to college and get a good job,” I have always known that it would be my responsibility to make it happen logistically and financially, which stands today. I came into the doctoral process knowing I was already in debt from my first two degrees and that I did not want to add a substantial amount to that existing debt. Gardner (2009) and Lovitts (2001) both cite funding concerns as barriers for women students and reasons for their attrition. So, I sought ways to finance my PhD. I applied for any scholarship or fellowship offered from any organization with which I had an affiliation or that funded research topics similar to mine. I filled out quite a number of applications. It paid off, literally! I was awarded a few of the fellowships, which helped lessen the financial burden of the doctoral degree and allowed me to continue my professional development interests.

Looking back, these two small stories in my larger doctoral process remind me that there are things that are within women students’ locus of control during the doctoral process and things that are not (Gardner, 2009). It is important to determine this distinction in order to make effective choices and shape the aspects that can be influenced. Consequently, it is vital for women as students to continuously reflect on who they are and what experiences and skills they possess to remind themselves that, even if they are the first “person like me” to get a doctorate, they can become the trailblazers.

Reflection #2: Lindsey Katherine Dippold

Gardner (2009) identifies seven main attributes of doctoral students that influence attrition: funding, advisor relationship, gender, race, subject matter, test scores/GPA, and socialization. Reflecting on my doctoral experience, the attributes of advisor relationship, funding, gender, and socialization resonate strongly within my story. Gardner (2009) finds the advisor-student relationship influences successful degree completion; I would echo this relationship as essential in two areas: support and guidance. The majority of people I met who are struggling to complete their degree often blame a disconnect between themselves and their major professor. This is an important relationship, although I interpret “advisor” to apply to many people who were instrumental in guiding my path to successful completion, such as professors on my committee and my supervisors (and mentors) at work.

My experience was essentially a balancing act, as I set out to complete my degree in five years while continuing to work full-time on campus as a student affairs administrator. The decision to take on both of those relates back to the attribute of funding (Gardner, 2009). I wanted to minimize loan debt but I also did not want to lose out of valuable work experience. Taking four classes per semester and continuing to put in 40-hour work weeks would not have been an option without the confidence of and support from my supervisors who allowed me to rearrange my schedule at times to accommodate courses and meetings. In order to gain support, I believe you need a clear vision of how this goal fits with your future, and need to share this with your advisors and supervisors. Once they understand what this venture means to you and your future, it will be easier for them to support you.

Advisors also provide guidance; listen to them! The best guidance I received was to let go of my inherent need to overachieve and strive for perfection. It was a reality check that most doctoral students have a hard time grasping. No one (other than you) will care if you have a 4.0 in doctoral coursework, or (gasp) a 3.85. As for your dissertation, it is your first study—it’s not going to change the world and it isn’t supposed to; it simply proves you can conduct a study from start to finish. This is just the beginning. Keep it simple, keep it short, and your life will be much easier. Collect more data than you need but only focus on a small piece for the dissertation. This allowed me to keep my study manageable and now I have additional data I can analyze as a plan for future articles and presentations. Another great tip from an advisor: write every day. At first, I thought that was impossible, but once I actually started writing most days, the chapters came together quickly. I found that when I didn’t even want to look at it, if I just opened it up with some simple task in mind (planning where to put charts or tables, or looking simply for typos) that soon I was making even more progress.

The attributes found to influence attrition by Gardner (2009) overlap for me in a key area: the student-advisor relationship and gender. When I found myself surrounded by faculty and advisors who were men, I leaned on my administrative mentors who are women for advice and support. I found it important to seek out relationships with women who had similar goals and interests but with much more experience than myself.

Socialization is another key element in attrition and is especially important for part-time students (or full-time employees), parents, caregivers, or anyone serving multiple major roles (Gardner, 2009; Lovitts, 2001). Your classmates are the only ones who will truly understand your frustrations over time-consuming assignments, the stress of studying for comps, and the joy that comes after each mini-accomplishment. As a full-time student and administrator, I lacked the free time that some full-time students with part-time work had and wasn’t able to attend all of the social (or program-related) events that my classmates held. But, I did make some time and really focused on connecting with my peers and being present when I could.

Your classmates also are helpful to efficiently approach major educational projects. My peers and I held group study sessions and each was assigned a subject area and compiled class notes, relevant articles and study guides to share with the group in preparation for comps. This was much better than tackling it all alone! This also allows your group to share in the celebration of the milestones along the way. However, make time for friends/family who exist outside of school and try not to spend all of your time talking about school with them. I actually had a friend fall asleep while I was explaining my dissertation study. Point taken!

Both of my “lessons learned” focus on the importance of utilizing people as resources and support agents throughout the journey. It still amazes me that I could finish the program in just over four years while maintaining a high quality of work in my career, but I know I could not have been successful without the support and relationships with my faculty, supervisors, classmates, coworkers, and friends.

Passing Down Practical Strategies

The stories of women as students are important to share, as Gardner (2009) points out: “the perspective of current students and their beliefs about student departure within their specific departments may lead to a better understanding of why doctoral student attrition occurs” (p. 100). Perspective and reflection are important attributes to possess as women graduate students. Not only do these attributes help students through their own processes, but perspective and reflection can also provide stories, lessons, and strategies to assist future women as students in the planning and execution of their academic pursuits.

The authors’ reflections and lessons learned can be shaped into practical strategies that may benefit future women as students. These strategies include:

  • Do not let “the man” [proverbial and literal] get you down. Find female (and male) mentors and peers to support you along the doctoral path. They do not necessarily have to be in your specific program or at your institution.
  • There is a first time for everything! Any of your underrepresented, or intersecting, identities may result in feeling alone in academia or your own family/communities. Try to find other students who share your identities with whom you can relate and from whom you can obtain support.
  • Finagle your finances. Do the math when it comes to loans, work wages, grants, fellowships, etc. Apply for anything that aligns with you or your study. Make the pro/con list when making financial decisions for academic (or social) purposes. Sometimes it is worth the extra money (for professional development, balance, etc.).
  • Age is just a number! Do not let anyone tell you that you are too young or too old to pursue a PhD; you apply when it is right for you!
  • Focus on fit. Do your best to determine if a program, institution, location, and all the corresponding people are suitable for you—for your identities, your work style, your finances, the opportunities, the connections, etc. Feeling welcome and “at home” in your program/department/college/institution can be highly important to retention and satisfaction; do your research beforehand, ask tough questions, seek current student opinions, etc. Rankings and faculty names will not matter if the overall fit is not there and lack of fit leads to attrition and no doctoral student or program wants that.
  • Think about the future. Identify your long-term goal and how your program/degree fits. Make time to seek out additional experiences that will help enrich your experience and market yourself post-graduation.
  • Figure out what you love and do it. Incorporate subject areas and topics in which you are passionate about into your studies. Identify what activities you love to do outside of work and school and make time for these. All work and no play leads to burnout.

Discussion Questions

  • Which of your identities provide you with privilege and which may be underrepresented in the doctoral process? How do you feel about that? How do you think that affects you as an individual and the academic system as a whole?
  • Attribution theory highlights themes that may lead to attrition such as funding, gender, race, subject matter, advisor relationship, academic preparation, and socialization (Gardner, 2009). Which ones do you find to be most relevant to your situation? What steps are you taking to improve these potential threats to your success?
  • Reflect on your own personal situation and experiences thus far. How can you share your stories and experiences with others to assist them in their learning and decision-making without leading them in a specific direction?


Council of Graduate Schools (2008). Ph.D. completion and attrition: Analysis of baseline  
demographic data from the Ph.D. completion project.Executive Summary. Washington, DC: Retrieved July 10, 2012 from…

Fiske, S.T., & Taylor, S.E. (1991). Social cognition (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Gardner, S. K. (2009). Student and faculty attributions of attrition in high and low-completing
doctoral programs in the United States. Higher Education: The International Journal of
Higher Education and Planning, 58(1), 97-112.

Hoffer, T., Dugoni, B., Sanderson, A., Sederstrom, S., Ghadialy, R., & Rocque, P. (2001). Doctorate recipients from United States universities: Summary report 2000. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center.

Lovitts, B. E. (2001). Leaving the ivory tower: The causes and consequences of departure from   
doctoral study. Landham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Maher, M.A., Ford, M.E., & Thompson, C.M. (2004). Degree progress of women doctoral
students: Factors that constrain, facilitate, and differentiate. The Review of Higher Education, 27(3), pp. 385–408.

Ropers-Huilman, B. (Ed.). (2003). Gendered futures in higher education: Critical perspectives for change. Albany, NY: SUNY.

Additional Recommended Resources

American Council on Education. (2008). Minorities in higher education 2008 twenty-third status report. Washington, DC: Author.

Cao, W. (2001). How male and female doctoral students experience their doctoral programs similarly or differently? Seattle, WA: American Educational Research Association. (ERIC Documentation Reproduction Service No. ED 453725).

Fordan, A. E. (1999). Advocates, barriers, and responses: The personal narratives of nine female doctoral students. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 438743).

Gentry, D. S. (2004).  My sisters’ voices: Women’s stories, academic life, and the journey to the doctorate degree. Dissertation Abstracts International. (Publication No.  AAT 3162233).

Ireland, P. (2003). Progress versus equality: Are we there yet?  In in D. Rhode (Ed.). The difference difference makes: Women and leadership (pp. 193-202). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

National Opinion Research Center. Survey of Earned Doctorates Report 2010. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center. Retrieved August 24, 2012, from

Knox, S., Burkard, A.W., Janecek, J., Pruitt, N.T., Fuller, S.L., & Hill, C.E. (2011). Positive and problematic dissertation experiences: The faculty perspective. Counseling Psychology Quarterly, 24(1), p. 55-69.

Stimpson, R.L. & Filer, K.L. (2011). Female graduate students’ work-life balance and the
student affairs professional. In P. A., Pasque, & S. E. Nicholson (Eds.), Empowering
women in higher education and student affairs (pp. 69- 83). Sterling, VA, Stylus Publishing.

About the Authors

Sonja Ardoin has always been drawn to a career in education and found her path to higher education during her student leadership experiences at Louisiana State University. She continued her education with a master’s degree from Florida State University’s Higher Education program before working for four years in student activities at Florida State and Texas A&M. Sonja is currently completing her PhD at North Carolina State University in Educational Research and Policy Studies. Her research focuses on rural students’ understanding of college knowledge and university jargon.

Please e-mail inquiries to Sonja Ardoin.

Lindsey Katherine Dippold became passionate about college student services while still an undergraduate, but her career blossomed at Florida State University, serving as a career services administrator and career development course instructor for six years. After completing her doctorate at FSU, she served as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Southern Mississippi before relocating to Phoenix, AZ.

Please e-mail inquiries to Lindsey Katherine Dippold.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Women As Leaders & Caregivers: Queering Color. Racializing Gender. Disrupting Heteropatriarchy.

Women As Leaders & Caregivers: Queering Color. Racializing Gender. Disrupting Heteropatriarchy.

Risë Nelson Burrow
Cornell University
Columbia College
Elsie Gonzalez
University of Connecticut
Laila Al-Chaar
University of California – Los Angeles
Sharon Chia Claros
University of Southern California

In celebration of our 40th Anniversary, members of the Standing Committee for Women are pleased to sponsor a Series in Developments. Our Series, “Women As,” explores how women’s intersecting identities (race, class, gender expression and performance, sexuality, religion, etc.) impact women’s experiences in different roles. Thus, authors share their ideas as women who are leaders, faculty, caregivers, and/or students. In support of a feminist approach to research and learning, articles will reflect an array of insights including practical strategies, research findings, lessons learned, arts-based research, visual inquiry, narrative inquiry, and reflections. We encourage you to utilize the discussion questions included in each article to stimulate your thinking and enhance your work in the classroom and/or workplace.

The foundation of this article lies in our narrative stories as women of color serving as leaders and caregivers in academia, in our homes, and in our communities. This article serves as a platform to express our often silenced voices and to discuss the connections and the development of our intersecting identities. The very essence and counter-cultural presentation of our collection of narratives challenge historically oppressive paradigms that are rooted in sexism, racism, and heterosexism.

Using the framework of Scholarly Personal Narrative (Nash, 2004), we give testimony to our personal experiences in the academy with the goal of highlighting how we make meaning of how we live our lives in our own authentic ways, outside of what society expects of us. Nash (2004) writes, “…sharing of our personal stories, particularly in the willingness of professionals to listen to the stories of others, that we make the deepest connections with those we are serving” (p. 2). Through giving voice to our experiences as women of color with diverse identities, we hope our narratives will be used to discuss implications for developing culturally inclusive communities in student affairs and to explore the politics of solidarity that speak to the heart of social justice ally development.

Conway Speaks…

So, I’m newly “Gay for Pay,” meaning I get the pleasure and responsibility of working for LGTBQ equality while being paid at the same time. I’m the brand new, first ever, full time Coordinator for LGBTQ Culture and Community at Columbia College Chicago. The first ever person of color. The first ever non-Columbian.


I mean Columbia hired me because I am qualified for the job. I am sure of it, but am I really though? I mean they hired me to be QUEER. An all-knowing, walking resource for all things L.G.B.T.Q.A.I.TS. And I know what it means to be gay. I am gay so I understand what it’s like to love someone that the grander society deems queer in nature. I get the familiar struggles: the struggle to be your full self wherever you are, the constant negotiations on safety… physical, psychological, familial, spiritual… and I know also what it means to make space for myself; to create a chosen family; to know the utter bliss of romantic closeness on my terms.

But I also know that LGBTQ folks just ain’t LGBTQ folks. We are the intersection. We are Queer And…

And well. I only know what it means to be Queer And…


Queer and Womyn

Queer and Middle Class

Queer and Able Bodied

Queer and a Spiritual Seeker

Queer and From Chicago

And this last identity is important because segregation is real here. Really real. So because I grew up on the south side with only black folks and other lower-middle class and po’ folks…well that’s really all I KNOW. But Columbia wants me to be EVERYBODY’S GAY, and the hard fact is I got some major work to do. But we all feel this pressure right?

Hire the magician

Go to that “committee” meeting

Order the popcorn

Write your monthly report, don’t forget the needs assessment

Meet with a student

Be self-actualized so you can be a good model for the students you collaborate with

Prove to your super that it really is a good investment to send you to that national conference AGAIN

Save the world

Learn what it’s like to be Queer and Jewish

Queer and Latina

Queer and Catholic

Queer and Deaf

Queer and A TEEN

Queer and Upper Class

And queer and…

And there are not enough hours in the day, and they damn sho ain’t paying me enough, and honestly I’m tired of fighting for folks to acknowledge how beautiful I am, but c’est la vie, right? I’m out here in this water. That’s a fact, and when I wipe the tears away from my eyes I see that you’re out here too, and I’m starting to breathe again because that horrible weight of feeling all alone in a world full of sorrows is melting away. And I’m starting to think that this whole thing could actually be some fun. Sharing our Queer And… Stories. I start thinking on the swimming unicorns and singing mermen in drag. Let’s dive in.

Not only does Conway’s telling of her story lead to a greater awareness of how she has been oppressed, she can continue her/our struggle to end these acts of oppression and find liberation through this non-traditional approach to self-authorship (Baxter Magolda, 2010) and work (Delgado, 1990). As her narrative suggests, the issues of place, role and support must be explored in the hiring of pioneer administrators who are also of marginalized identities. One might also consider the ways in which Conway’s approach to reflection and narrative can model to students and colleagues an incorporation of self-authorship (Baxter Magolda, 2010), queer theory (Hennessey, 1994) and critical race theory (Dunbar, 2006) in social justice and student development strategies.

Reflection and Discussion Notes

  • What is the climate like at your institution for LGBTQIA individuals? Do you feel you can safely be open about your identity as a person who identifies as LGBTQIA or about advocating for the LGBTQIA community on your campus? How does this make you feel, and how does this impact your campus? How can you find courage and community to create change for yourself and/or others to be safely open about their sexual and intersecting identities?
  • As scholar-practitioners, many of us have clear lines between our professional and personal lives, and at times we may struggle to be fully ourselves on the job. How can you model different ways of authentically embracing all of yourself for the students and colleagues with whom you engage? For this question, it might be helpful to complete the sentence, “I am…” with as many descriptive words as are true for you. Then think about which identities are shown/known at work, which of them you’ve hidden, and how you may live all of these out more fully in the workplace.
  • In a perfect world, we are more than qualified to perform with perfection every aspect of our jobs. Most times you will find that there is a significant learning curve, especially when taking on a new position. In what ways can you/do you manage feelings of inadequacy when undertaking a new position or project? What reminders can you give yourself about the truth of your own goodness?
  • The usual workforce pressures of time, funding, space and productivity may seem even more complicated in student affairs, where the boundary between personal and work life may be especially blurred, given the amount of sacrifice of time and self we give up to student success. Conway shared that when she wrote her narrative, she was in tears at her desk because she understood that if she didn’t take the time to release what she was feeling, she wouldn’t be productive at all as a leader and caregiver in her new position. To demonstrate that we acknowledge the sacredness of caregiving, scholar-practitioners must share our stories and take time to care for ourselves. We must also call upon other caregivers (parents and others) working in student affairs to do the same. Doing so, we allow the sacredness of caregiving to radiate through our work through the care that we show to ourselves, our students, to our campus and community partners towards the development of whole learners and communities. What are some of your most helpful tools for self-care? How can you incorporate them into your daily/weekly routine throughout the day? How can you model such self-authorship and radical self-care for students and colleagues as an approach to student affairs and social justice education?

Elsie Speaks…

Okay. Girls in bed. 8:31pm. Here we go…

As I approached labor, I had the feeling I couldn’t stay in the field…How could I take care of 24 staff members, a graduate student, 1,200 residents and my – I need to mention my 2 year old just came down the stairs…

“mami, a book?”

“Estoy trabajando, Eden…”

…“por favorrrrr?” (con esa cara)

Off I go to read a bedtime story!…

It’s 9:03pm. I’m back… It all was too overwhelming, and I was feeling left behind. That past year, all I read were baby books and articles on parenting. I felt clueless as to what was going on in the field. My supervisors offered a compromise: I could flex my working schedule to a later shift to allow me time at home with the baby, and once my partner got home from work, I could go to the office and work with my staff and students. It sounded great and doable… until I was in it! I was a first-time, nursing mom and a Hall Director with very little time for my partner, and forget friends and family…

I felt out of balance, stretched and without community… if there were other working mothers in Student Affairs in my area, I certainly didn’t know them. Are others feeling this? How do they do it? After reaching out through different professional networks and exploring work-life balance groups, I realized—bittersweetly—I wasn’t alone! But reflecting on all our shared experiences, I also questioned whether it was even possible to be a successful working mother in this field.

How can I make this all work?

For fifteen months I concentrated on taking care of my daughter. By day, I read baby books, labeled everything (all in Spanish!—my baby was going to know all about her culture, starting with our language), and baby proofed our campus apartment. By night, I attended programs, did rounds with my RAs, and tried to keep up with professionals in the field. That year and a half stumbled on as I tried to balance my loves—family and student affairs. I was promoted to an Assistant Director position at UConn in Res Life, but WAIT…I was expecting again…

How do I make this all work?

A day in the life of E…

6:00am Wake up, get dressed

6:45am Wake up the girls for breakfast, prep them for school

7:40am Get girls’ belongings and pile them into the car

7:50am Drop off at school

8:15am Commute to work (catch up with family via phone)

9:15am-5:00pm Work

5:00pm-6:00pm Commute home (return calls I was unable to answer at work)

6:00pm-6:45pm- Gym (on a good day!)

7:00pm Home! Prep/eat dinner

7:30pm Girls’ bath, books, bedtime

8:00pm Clean up

9:00pm Time with my partner

10:00pm-11pm Work? Bedtime?

…did you analyze data for that report?… did you see what I posted five minutes ago?… clean the house?… go out with your partner?… are you going to the staff meeting Sunday night?… worship service?….

Just staying afloat …I am

God Seeking












Making it all work.

In creating inclusive campus environments, student affairs practitioners would want to consider the role and identity of mothers in their event planning and office scheduling as well as the prevalent assumptions and behaviors that support or undermine working mothers in student affairs (Nobbe & Manning, 1997). We must rethink the messages that we send to all scholar-practitioners about the life-work balance, evaluation standards and merit structures. In having these difficult conversations and in implementing an equitable (and frankly, responsible) policy change, we show strength in resistance of antiquated, patriarchal norms of caregiving and work commitment. Considering the full unique personhood of the working mother in student affairs, we honor the heritages and identities of our own caregivers, and we create more inclusive environments that are reflective of our value of healthy children and whole communities.

Reflection and Discussion Notes

  • The complexity of balancing family obligations and work responsibilities can significantly impact retention rates and the professional trajectory, particularly for working mothers. When performance evaluation and promotion in student affairs often seem to correlate with hours worked, caregivers may feel that they have to fit twice as much work as the next (non-parenting) person into a shorter work day. This can inform the sense of equity in the office, which can be compounded by factors of age, gender, race, class, faith, and other aspects of identity. Take a moment to reflect on your organizational dynamics and implicit attitudes, evaluation/promotion practices and unspoken expectations, family needs and cultural values.
  • How does your office, division or university currently demonstrate its commitment to supporting the life-work balance as you work to support healthy family and student life? How do you feel you might advocate for yourself or others at your institution or in the field who identify as caregivers so that one does not feel disconnected or fragmented from their family identity or professionally “left behind,” as suggested in Elsie’s narrative?
  • How do/would you honor your identity as a caregiver for your family as your primary priority while successfully carrying out the many meaningful and pressing duties that your supervisor, students or environment—and performance evaluation—may argue are your only priorities?

Laila Speaks…

There are days when our minds won’t turn off, when processing is a necessity, and the feelings take over our day. This piece represents the struggles and ENDLESS thoughts that we as students, caregivers, leaders, and educators can’t escape or stop because life keeps moving. As a proud Muslim, Bi-racial, Queer, Woman of Color I have recognized that my journey to my authentic self will always be a continuous process. The need to gain recognition and understanding by loved ones will always linger, but the struggle to exist freely and authentically will always be present in my life.

As a professional in the field of higher education there is an essence of vulnerability in the work we do. We bring forth the narratives of those that have been silenced in order to facilitate a platform for students to make meaning of who they are and what that might mean to the world. It is within my own personal narrative that I as a woman have found the strength to challenge historically oppressive heteronormative and patriarchal norms. I can only hope that my story will find its way to another woman like myself, who at some point believed that she might be the only Muslim, Bi-racial, Queer, Woman of color, only to find out that she isn’t alone anymore and neither am I.

[Video: Access code: acpaobp]

Beginning her video narrative with the question of “Who Am I?,” Laila navigates through a reflection on self-authorship, eventually exploring how she has come to know what she knows of herself and her reality, and then how she wants to construct relationships with others (Baxter Magolda, 2010). Scholar-practitioners might consider here the steps of sharing their personal stories in order to know not just themselves but their students and their communities in a more connected, meaningful way in the journey towards self-authorship. Knowing who we are, who they are, sustaining these difficult conversations and supporting each other all the way—these journeys towards self-authorship and living authentically are all just stories away, and can humanize the academy and reaffirm our increasingly diverse campus communities.

  • As our personal identities evolve through our personal and professional lives, how do/would you choose which identities to present in the work place? How do/would you navigate “coming out” when your identity shifts (i.e. divorce, having a baby, losing a baby, coming out as LGBTQIA, or differently abled, etc.)? What supports do you need in this process? To whom/what departments can you turn for this advocacy and institutionalized support?
  • The vulnerability with which Laila approaches her narrative and the openness to which she bravely welcomes her students to discuss and share in her story are critical to her effectiveness and reach as a campus leader. Through visual inquiry, Laila also shows herself to be the life-long learner, the researcher of her own history and realities, the scholar of her own experience, synthesizing and making meaning of all of these varied experiences, in the face of discrimination and isolation, even from her family. Even as she speaks to her family’s difficulty to accept her queer identity and the transition of her partner, she proudly exclaims “Hell yeah, I’m still queer!” testifying to the fact that not only does she know who she is, she loves who she is. How do you navigate spaces that challenge your identity, whether that is a student, professional, family, or community space?
  • What tools and support do/would you seek out in order to process your experiences and to continue learning and speaking your truth (through any medium) so that you may also testify to knowing and loving who you are? How can you help create a safe space for students to learn about themselves and proudly speak about their whole, authentic selves?

Implications for Higher Education

These narratives seek to break the homogeneity of the ascribed predominant culture to extend the limits of what counts as valid, as right, as beneficial to the academy and to our learning and home communities. “Good teaching, good helping, and good leadership are, in one sense, all about the storytelling and story-evoking… Our stories are symbols for what constitutes personal and professional meaning for all of us” (Nash, 2004, p.2). We challenge readers to use such non-traditional approaches to scholarship to model how this can be done, how women can serve simultaneously as leaders and caregivers, educators and learners, and to engage increasingly diverse constituents. We hope these stories evoke our readers’ own practices of reflection and truth sharing, so that you may also interrupt silent assumptions of who you are or who you “ought” to be. In this way, we extend the limits of what counts—as scholarship, caregiving, leadership, access, and equity. We define for ourselves what counts, and most importantly, who counts.

Co-Authors’ Notes

The call for submissions from ACPA-College Student Educators International’s Standing Committee for Women (SCW) that welcomed approaches beyond the traditional paper format and supportive of a feminist approach immediately resonated with each of this manuscript’s collaborators. The co-authors are all united as friends, colleagues and women of color in higher education who are all equally committed to the success of the students with whom we work, to the inclusion of women’s voices and pertinent theories in Higher Education, and to the promotion of the experiences and ideas of Womyn of the Global Majority. However, there are diversities between us, and this text represents our varied voices and experiences in student affairs:

Conway, Elsie Gonzalez and Laila Alchaar bravely and proudly share their reflections on their diverse identities from within the field told in a number of creative ways, and their narratives span a wide array of intersections. The voice of Risë Nelson Burrow is woven throughout the text in its development and editing. Sharon Chia Claros originally submitted the accepted ACPA convention presentation proposal that the SCW invited us to turn into a publication for its upcoming “Women As” series in ACPA’s Developments. Sharon’s original presentation proposal provided the theoretical foundations and frameworks for our co-created manuscript here.

Readers may find varying names used in describing cultural identities, such as LGBTQIA, caregivers and women. This is not meant to confuse the readers, but rather to reflect the specific contributor’s self-identification and to respect the diversity of (self-)naming within different communities, particularly those that have been marginalized.

The discussion notes at the end of each narrative are meant to provide our readers with a pause to consider their own experiences in student affairs and to prompt them to share their own stories. We hope some, if not all, of these questions will be used in personal reflection, graduate coursework, and in professional development in and out of the workplace.


Baxter-Magolda, M. (2010). The interweaving of epistemological, intrapersonal, and interpersonal development in the evolution of self-authorship. In M.B. Magolda, E.F. Creamer and P.S. Meszaros (Eds.), Development and Assessment of Self-Authorship (pp. 25-43).Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Bell, D.A. (1987). And we are not saved: The elusive quest for racial justice. New York: Basic Books.

Delgado, R. (1988). Critical legal studies and the realities of race – Does the fundamental contradiction have a corollary? Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, 23, 401 – 413.

Delgado, R. (1990). When a story is just a story: Does voice really matter? Virginia Law Review, 76, 95 – 111.

Dunbar, A. W. (2006). Introducing critical race theory to archival discourse: Getting the conversation started. Archival Science, 6 (1), 109-129.

Hennessey, R. (1994). Queer theory, left politics. Rethinking Marxism 7 (3), 85 – 111.

Nash, R. (2004). Liberating scholarly writing: The power of personal narrative. New York, NY: Teacher’s College Press.

Nobbe, J. and Manning, S. (1997). Issues for women in student affairs with children. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 34 (2), 124-134.

About the Authors

Rise Nelson Burrow currently serves as the Assistant Director for the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives and Director of Student Success Programs at Cornell University.

Please e-mail inquiries to Rise Nelson Burrow.

Elsie Gonzalez is currently a Residence Hall Complex Coordinator in the Department of Residential Life at the University of Connecticut.

Please e-mail inquiries to Elsie Gonzalez.

Laila Al-Chaar is currently an Assistant Resident Director at the University of California Los Angeles.

Please e-mail inquiries to Laila Al-Chaar.

Sharon Chia Claros is a Resident Director in the Office of Residential Life at the University of California Los Angeles, and an Educational Doctoral Student at the University of Southern California.

Please e-mail inquires to Sharon Chia Claros.

Conway is the Coordinator for LGBTQ Culture and Community at Columbia College.

Please e-mail inquires to Conway.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.