Who Let the Gays Out? (Apologies to the Baha Men)

by Gretchen J. Metzelaarsm Ohio State University

ACPA’s Standing Committee for LGBT Awareness began from a collaborative idea at the 1983 convention. More than 30 years later, SCLGBTA is thriving in its commitment to mobilize members of ACPA – College Student Educators International to build community, empower advocacy, and advance knowledge with people of all genders and sexualities. This Developments series celebrates 30 years of LGBTQ issues and identities in student affairs from three perspectives: administration, research, and association. Each essay explores the history and current status of LGBTQ individuals in higher education, providing insights into current and future advocacy.

When we choose to live authentically we chip away at others’ prisons of pretend and create an opportunity for them to walk out of darkness into freedom.
― Anthony Venn-BrownA Life of Unlearning

I carefully scanned the room to see into the eyes of my compatriots. Were they nervous? Frightened?  Guilty?  Relieved?  Thankful?  We were huddled in the basement of the university’s theater, hiding from the world.  We were “out” to each other and some to our friends, but we were hiding from our institutional colleagues and students.  We were, after all, “the gays.”  It was the year 1989, but the world was beginning to change.  We did introductions: a chemistry professor, a theater associate professor, an education professor, two from the library, several staff members, a grounds person and me, the assistant director of the student union.  We were an assortment of races, an assortment of ages, an assortment of intellect, and an assortment of commitment to making the university a better place for the gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) community.

This is the story of an evolution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals through the eyes of an administrator who bore witness.  As the country matured and university communities came to understand they had LGBTQ friends, roommates, colleagues, faculty members, family, and others; the evolution/revolution on the campus began to mirror what was happening in the country.

These were the days when we were not strong enough to accept or even acknowledge that our sisters and brothers in the transgender community shared our fight.  They were different:  some were invisible and some were trying to make their way alone.  We were hesitant to add a community that might put our possible “acceptance” by the mainstream at peril.  Just another symptom of the fearful place in which we lived.  Years earlier, we had logged many hours discussing and arguing about our bisexual brothers and sisters.  “If we include them will our argument be lost?”  For years many straight people postulated that gays and lesbians “practiced” our sexual orientation and our “practice” was akin to bestiality, child abuse, and mental illness. The Fred Phelps of the 21st century may have been an anomaly to some, but in the late 20th century people like Phelps were everywhere; including in our government, our workplaces and often in our homes.  No wonder we were frightened.

As advisor to the queer student association (variously named GLB, LGB, LGBA, LGBTQA), I worked with about 40 students who ranged from being incredibly closeted and fearful to those who were ready to fight “out loud” for the benefits that straight people took for granted.  Experience and research told me that it was important for our students to have positive role models.  Role models are described in the literature as “a person you respect, follow, look up to or want to be like” (Bricheno & Thornton, 2007, p.385).  The students were looking for role models, for compatriots in the fight, and for confirmation that their identities were “normal.”  I consistently encouraged my theater basement colleagues to meet the students and to get to know them.  Each one of my colleagues was terrified—terrified of being exposed, terrified of being accused, terrified of being fired.

It was the “Stone Age” of gay rights, the time of Stonewall, defending ourselves against the AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) epidemic and panic, GLB patriots being thrown out of the military, and physical and verbal abuse by strangers.  Additionally, we were fighting in the courts to be able to care for our partners as Karen Thompson was forced to do in custody battle in order to care for Sharon Kowalski.  We had made some progress in the 1970s and early 1980s, but our community was dealt a reeling blow when AIDS struck down many of our brothers.  This not only decimated us emotionally and physically, but it provided more ammunition for those who hated us.  And the haters took every opportunity to build fear of the GLB community into the populace.  As I worked with our student organization, I knew they would benefit profoundly from positive faculty and staff role models, but what would it take to get my colleagues out of our basement closet and into the light of our growing student community?  It would take the 1993 March on Washington, the impact of the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and George (and Barbara) Bush to get us out of our basement closet.

Are you surprised to see the name of George H. W. (and Barbara) in this essay about emerging from the cloud of fear?  President Bush was the first President to invite openly gay people into the White House when he signed landmark legislation calling for a study of hate crimes motivated by prejudice based on race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.  Barbara Bush responded to a letter from the president of PFLAG with these words: “I firmly believe that we cannot tolerate discrimination against any individuals and groups in our country” (Marcus, 2002, p. 333).

“Two, four, six, eight, God does not discriminate.”
Chant during March on Washington

We gathered on a beautiful sunny morning at the base of the Washington Monument to march with our brothers and sisters.  Faculty, staff, and students FINALLY united together.  Many of us were in tears when told we would have to wait at least two hours to begin the march as there were tens of thousands of people who would start before us.  The tears flowed not because of the delay but because we realized that there were so many people marching.  It was a celebration long in the making.  We all sported our pins:

Replica Pin March on Washington GLBT Rights

As we tried to move forward, there were many trying to push us back.  Some members of Congress were in the midst of creating a gay backlash by passing the Defense of Marriage Act, attacking a gay man nominated for the position of ambassador to Luxemburg and publicly calling gays “weak, morally sick wretches.”As we walked the two-mile route toward the Capitol, I was amazed at the diversity of our community – all shapes, sizes, ages, appearance:  Dykes on Bikes marching/roaring along beside a group of Drag Queens.  We were happy, screaming and shouting:  “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!”  Then we saw the protesters; they called themselves Christians.  We called them hate-filled reactionaries.  Their signs said, “Homosexuality is a sin,” “God Hates You,” “You Will Burn in Hell.”  Once again the fear began to overtake us, but our students would not let us retreat. Under the students’ leadership, the hate-filled language actually steeled our resolve.  If we could march on Washington with hundreds of thousands of our community members and look into faces of hate and survive, we were officially “out.” Who let the gays out?  Those who hated us did.

We had our champions; the media had begun showing palatable gays in movies such as Philadelphia (thank you Tom Hanks) and on television shows such as Melrose Place, Friends, and Roseanne.  Ellen DeGeneres was and is our superstar.  She took a major risk and a major stance when her character came out on her show Ellen.  Five of us sat holding hands in front of the TV when, during the coming out episode, Ellen said; “I’m gay;” and her seemingly quiet personal announcement was inadvertently broadcast over the airport’s public address system.  Our reaction was cheering and sheer joy.  Unfortunately for Ellen, she was vilified and attacked by the press and hated by much of the public, eventually losing her show.

But we were finally ready to move forward.  The faculty, staff, and students gathered together to develop a strategy to create a campus that treated the queer community with dignity.  Through discussions, study, and the understanding and belief of the university president; we moved forward.  We embraced the notion that without our advocacy and leadership, the university community would sit stagnate and would never move to be a true educational institution.  We believed the university imperative should be to both educate and engage in a community conversation about and with the GLB community, and most importantly, that in order to educate our students as active and good citizens; they must participate in the discussion.  Within the next five years, we had an incredibly strong student organization, an LGBT Equity Center, a full-time staff member championing our community, a LGBT Studies Program, and a LGBT alumni association.

Though universities did not lead (and actually barely followed) the evolution/revolution, our students did.  Basoc and Howe (1979) stated that “Role models have been defined as people whose lives and activities influence another person in some way” (Quimby & DeSantis, 2006, p. 297).  The students taught us how and when to protest, that we need not be afraid, and the meaning of “leading a cultural revolution.”  In the end, the students were our role models.

When the dust settles and the pages of history are written, it will not be the angry defenders of intolerance who have made the difference.  That reward will go to those who dared to step outside the safety of their privacy in order to expose and rout the prevailing prejudices.
― Bishop John Shelby Spong

Discussion Questions

  1. What international and/or national events contribute or contributed to your personal and professional identity?
  2. Are there instances when you would partner with your students to protest a perceived injustice?  If so, what would be the risk?  How much of a risk to your livelihood and health would you be willing to take?
  3. What are your parameters when working with students?  Will you have contact with them personally as well as a professionally?  What are the risks?

References

Basoc, S. A., & Howe, K. G. (1979). Model influence on career choices of college students. The Vocational Guidance Quarterly, 27, 239-245.

Bricheno, P. & Thornton, M. (2007). Role model, hero or champion?  Children’s views concerning role models.  Educational Research, 49(4), 383-396.

Marcus, E. (2002).  Making gay history: The half-century fight for lesbian and gay equal rights. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Quimby, J. L. & DeSantis, A. M.  (2006). The influence of role models on women’s career choices. The Career Development Quarterly, 54, 297-306.

Venn-Brown, A. (2007). A life of unlearning: One man’s journey to find the truth (2nd Ed.). New Holland Publishing Australia.

About the Author

Gretchen J. Metzelaars is currently the Senior Associate Vice President of Student Life at The Ohio State University, a position she has held since June 2010.  In this position she provides the Office of Student Life with strategic direction for dining services, housing administration, the Ohio Union, orientation, residence life and student activities.  Additionally, she is the faculty advisor to the Muslim Student Association.  Dr. Metzelaars has been involved in several national organizations including ACPA, ACU-I and NACAS. Currently, she was chair of the ACPA 2014 Convention. She was selected to be the ACPA Standing Committee for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Awareness’ Senior Practitioner and was recently honored with selection as a senior member of Annuit Coeptis.  She was chosen as an ACPA Diamond Honoree in 2008.  She has spoken nationally on a variety of topics including leadership; multiculturalism; homosexuality and the Bible; gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual students. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from Virginia Tech in 1975, her Master of Science of Recreation from Indiana University in 1979, and her Ph.D. in Recreation from the University of Maryland in 1995.

Please e-mail inquiries to Gretchen J. Metzelaars.

Disclaimer

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.

– See more at: http://www.myacpa.org/article/who-let-gays-out-apologies-baha-men#sthash.qsmmzs2M.dpuf

New Faculty Guilt: Transitioning from Practitioner to Professor

Faculty of student affairs preparation programs represent a unique path to the professoriate in that most, if not all, have worked full-time as practitioners in various student affairs roles prior to moving into full-time faculty roles (McCluskey-Titus & Cawthon, 2004).   In other fields, such as English or History, it may be acceptable to progress through graduate school directly into faculty roles without gaining professional work experience outside the classroom.   Student affairs professionals collaborate daily across various functional areas on campus and do not work in isolation.   They help countless students every day.  Their work is intense, essential, and working from home is not usually a realistic option.  To become a faculty member in higher education, an individual must have a doctoral degree, teaching and research experience, and solid understanding and experience in student affairs functional areas.  However, going from practitioner to professor holds both expected and unexpected transitions.

What is Guilt?

Guilt is defined by Merriam-Websters Dictionary as “feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy.”  Survivor’s guilt was first observed among Holocaust survivors from those who survived while others perished.  Since then, survivor’s guilt has been attributed to other situations, though usually to less horrific circumstances.  In the employment world, survivor’s guilt can be understood to mean “a guilt that results from one’s awareness that so many qualified individuals are experiencing working conditions so much worse than one’s own” (Austen, 2011).  There is scant literature on employee guilt in higher education.  However, Faflak (2006) described the concept of academic guilt, which can be the feelings experienced when a professor in a department earns tenure while others in the same department are denied tenure.  Though less academic, doctoral students or those who have left academia have written blogs relating to academic guilt. One example of this was when a newly minted doctoral student was offered a tenure track position at the debatable expense of former cohort members (J.J., 2012).

Though little is known concerning faculty or staff guilt in higher education, guilt may impact students in certain ways.  For example, first-generation students can experience the guilt of leaving their families behind as they pursue education.  Guilt may also present itself when these students struggle to live simultaneously in two worlds (the academic and family of origin), not quite feeling at home in either (Lubrano, 2004; Navarrete, 1993; Rendón, 1996; Rodriguez, 1974).  First-generation students who eventually move into faculty roles (Rodriguez, 1974) or white collar positions (Lubrano, 2004) may continue to struggle with the guilt the gift of education has bestowed upon them—a belief that others express, including family members and friends back home, who may see them as haughty, self-important, and having abandoned their roots.

New Faculty Literature

Developments, in Volume 7, sponsored a five-part series to help new faculty learn more about their roles.  Two of the series’ contributions (Marshall, 2009; Owen, 2009) are particularly helpful in informing this article, but unfortunately, as a student affairs practitioner considering a faculty role, I was unfamiliar with Developments.  More literature is needed to assist student affairs practitioners who aspire to move into faculty roles (McCluskey-Titus & Cawthon, 2004).  As Marshall (2009) aptly stated, “there is no ‘guidebook’ for making the transition and those who want to do so often have limited information.”

An internet search for “administrator to faculty” assumed I erred and recommended, “Did you mean faculty to administrator?” Curiously, more has been written about faculty moving into administrative roles, including a volume of New Directions for Higher Education (Henry, 2006).  These articles and books are often written by senior level administrators who began in faculty roles, and are replete with advice and cautions as to what one should expect in the transition.  New faculty books (Boice, 2000; Menges, 1999) offer useful advice on how faculty might establish themselves in terms of teaching, scholarship, and service in addition to the very important and practical skill of learning an institution’s culture.  Boice (2000) also cautioned new faculty members regarding negative thinking and self-doubt.  However, these publications do not address feelings of guilt.

My Experience

Prior to my current position I had worked the better part of a decade in different student services capacities, Monday through Friday, 8:00 A.M.  to 5:00 P.M..  Problem solving, helping students, working with parents, understanding and interpreting campus policies, and collaborating with departments across campus, among other things, were both expectations and daily occurrences.  As a faculty member, the expectations changed considerably to where my physical presence was only required for classes, meetings, and office hours.  I am certain my jaw dropped when I was told I only needed to be present for 10 office hours per week.  It seemed as though there were no rules on campus.  I was unleashed to a new world of ideas, autonomy, and independence.  I was, as Jacobe (2013), also a faculty member, so fittingly stated, “free to go about my business as I saw fit.”

Guilt manifested itself in four ways.  First, I felt guilty for leaving former colleagues with increased burden, stress, and workloads just before the new semester began.  My overworked colleagues at my last institution were still scrambling to help students adjust their schedules well into the second week of the semester with hardly a lunch break, while undoubtedly cursing Admissions for continuing to admit new students when there so few classes available.  Hardly established at my new position, my knowledge and talent were not nearly as worthwhile as they had been a short time ago.  Meanwhile, I might have had one student email in my inbox.  Sometimes I would email myself to make sure it still worked.

Second, guilt became apparent at my new institution when I worked with our department secretary.  I could come and go as I pleased, but she could not, and walking by her as I left before 5:00 P. M.  was a constant reminder.  There was one day when I was in the office for two hours due to child care issues and a doctor’s appointment.  It ate me up inside when I explained my day to our department secretary, both of us knowing that I did not need to worry or bother completing any sick or vacation leave sheets for the day’s cameo appearance.  It is disappointing that our administrative staff members work so hard and are so committed, but what is their reward? Are they recognized enough? Some work harder than faculty, but with abysmal wages and without the possibility of a lifetime appointment.  More guilt set in when I spent the winter break at home with my children when I knew other coworkers had to remain in the office.

Thirdly, realizing much of my work could be done from anywhere with an internet connection and that no one was keeping track of where I was, more guilt set in.  I felt I had to let everyone know I was still working, so I might announce my schedule, such as, “I’ll be in the library a couple of hours before going home,” in case my work ethic was questioned.  I worried rumors would spread.  I wondered if I appeared to be working enough.  Do they think I am working if I am not there? Sure I had other things I could do, but once my class preparations were in order, nothing was ‘due.’ I felt guilty that I should be doing more.  Focusing more on teaching and service (over scholarship) come naturally to new student affairs faculty (Owen, 2009).  The mindset that became ingrained by working for years from 8:00 A. M. to 5:00 P. M. and being required to let others know my whereabouts on my Outlook calendar was suddenly interrupted.  “What do you mean I don’t have to be here right now?” was the constant voice in my head.  I thought I knew what less structure for faculty (Owen, 2009; Underwood & Cawthon, 1999) meant, but I was mistaken.  “What if I am caught buying groceries at 2:00 P. M. ?” was another perpetual thought.  Faculty life was slower (Griffith, 2006).  Guilt intensified.  Impostor syndrome and self-doubt (Roche, 2013) also set in.  Did I deserve to be a professor?

A fourth way that guilt became unmistakable was when I completed a workshop for our residential life staff.  As student affairs practitioners, that is just a typical part of what we do.  But faculty have a special name for it: service. Things I normally did a semester before, like collaborating with other offices on campus, serving on search committees, speaking to student groups, or presenting at conferences gives me points now.  Seasoned colleagues instruct, “Add that to your portfolio!” I felt like a student who was trying too hard to pad his résumé.

Transitioning

Now that I have completed my second year, I no longer feel the same degree of guilt as I have adjusted better into my new role.  These issues were mostly temporary.  Some of my research interests continue in the same functional area that I worked in before becoming a faculty member.  I have kept in touch with the friends I left at my old institution and that has helped through my transition.  New collaborative efforts on my new campus continue to help establish my role, in addition to developing more courses and having more students to advise.  I work odd hours and weekends but feel fine that no one is keeping track and that no one really cares how I go about my work; I just need to do it well.  My experience with guilt may not apply to all new faculty, but hearing multiple perspectives on new faculty adjustment should be reassuring.

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you experienced guilt after beginning a new position?
  2. How do you think others perceive your work?
  3. What are some things you can do now to facilitate forming realistic expectations for your next career transition?

References

Austen, V. J. (2011). Haven’t we heard this all before? Contingent faculty and the unchanging times. English studies in Canada, 37(1), 13-16.

Boice, R. (2000). Advice for new faculty members. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Faflak, J. (2006). Whose guilt? English studies in Canada, 32(1), 1-10.

Griffith, J. G. (2006). Transition from faculty to administrator and transition back to the faculty. In R. J. Henry (Ed.) Transitions between faculty and administrative careers (pp. 67-77).  (New Directions for Higher Education, No. 134). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Henry, R. J. (Ed.) (2006). Transitions between faculty and administrative careers.  (New Directions for Higher Education, No.134). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

J. J. (2012, July 31). On guilt, self-blame, or magical thinking in academia [Web log comment].Retrieved from http://leavingacademia.blogspot.com/2012/07/on-guilt-self-blame-andmagical_31.html

Jacobe, M. F. (2013, April 12). Think like an administrator. Inside Higher Ed.  Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2013/04/12/essay-what-its-faculty-member-become-administrator

Lubrano, A. (2004). Limbo: Blue-collar roots, white-collar dreams. New York, NY: Wiley.

Marshall, S. M. (2009, Spring). Student affairs pathways to the professoriate: Perspectives on the transition. Developments, 7(1). Retrieved from http://www.acpa.nche.edu/article/student-affairs-pathways-professoriate-perspectives-transition

McCluskey-Titus, P. , & Cawthon, T. W. (2004). The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence: Making a transition from student affairs administrator to full-time faculty. NASPA Journal, 41, 317-335.

Menges, R. J. (Ed.) (1999). Faculty in new jobs. San Francisco, CA. Jossey Bass.

Navarrette, R. (1993). A darker shade of crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Owen, J. E. (2009, Fall). Student affairs pathways to the professoriate: Perspectives on teaching. Developments, 7(3), Retrieved from http://www.acpa.nche.edu/article/student-affairs-pathways-professoriate-perspectives-teaching

Rendón, L. I. (1996, November/December). Life on the border. About Campus, 1, 14-19.

Roche, J. (2013).The empress has no clothes: Conquering self-doubt to embrace success. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Rodriguez, R. (1974). Going home again: The new American scholarship boy. American Scholar, 44, 15-28.

Underwood, S. J., & Cawthon, T. W. (1999). Moving from administrator to faculty member: Look before you leap. College Student Affairs Journal, 19, 88-96.

About the Author

Rene Couture is an Assistant Professor of College Student Personnel at Arkansas Tech University.  His research interests include first-generation college students, academic advising issues, and transfer students.

Please e-mail inquiries to Rene Couture.

Disclaimer

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

Parallels Between the Cases of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and the Black Male College Experience

Parallels Between the Cases of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and the Black Male College Experience

Shawna M. Patterson
University of Pennsylvania
Tonisha Lane
Michigan State University
Charles T. Stephens
Saint Louis University
Jonathan McElderry
University of Missouri
Janel Alleyne
University of Missouri

Although we, the members of the Pan African Network (PAN), respect the decision of the jurors in the Zimmerman and Dunn trials, we are concerned about the implications of these decisions for Blacks in America, members of ACPA – College Student Educators International, and students and colleagues on our campuses.  We believe a racial climate that criminalizes Blackness and stigmatizes Black males’ encounters with the judicial system plays a major role in creating an atmosphere where the mass incarceration and murder of Black men continues to be an acceptable practice.  The circumstances leading up to the altercation between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, subsequent death of Martin, and the slow response to investigate and prosecute Mr. Zimmerman were reflective of America’s perpetuated fear of Black bodies.  Lock-step with the Zimmerman case is the unfortunate death of Jordan Davis, a seventeen-year-old who was shot and killed by Michael Dunn for playing his music too loudly.  We also believe the insidious portrayals of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis in the media were racially motivated and consistent with the narrative often construed about Black men as “thugs,” “deviants,” and “degenerates.”  These conceptions about Black men are harmful and negatively impact their experiences within the American judicial and educational systems, as well as society at large.  On the heels of the Zimmerman and Dunn verdicts, we explore the implications of these rulings for Black males on college campuses across America.  Using imagery, facts from the case, and a critical lens, we examine the impact of racism on the Black male experience.  Additionally, we provide recommendations on the role that current events play on college campuses and ways to facilitate dialogue.

Race and Racism in America

In the 21st century, “the problem of the color line” (DuBois, 1903, p. 9) still prevails through the systemic treatment of Black Americans.  This was evidenced throughout the Zimmerman and Dunn trials, though many contended that race did not play a role in either case.  Yet, semblances of racialized narratives on the appearance, behaviors, and actions of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, (and other Black males) surfaced.  Martin was first targeted by Zimmerman as an outsider and “suspect” in the gated community of Sanford, Florida.  Later, he was portrayed as an assailant by the defense, and at times, by the media.  Jordan Davis was murdered by Dunn at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida after an argument ensued over loud “thug” music playing from within a parked SUV.  It took the jury over 30 hours to deliberate, wherein Dunn was charged for three counts of attempted murder and a count for firing into an occupied vehicle, but not for the actual murder of Davis.  In both situations, these young men were confronted and killed by their aggressors, who chose to involve firearms rather than the authorities.

According to Smith, Allen, and Danley (2007a), Black men living within the context of the United States are often assumed guilty of criminal offenses because of the aberrant pathologies that society has attributed to their outward appearance.  The implications of these typographies extend to the experiences of Black male collegians attending predominantly White institutions (PWIs) (Smith, et al., 2007a; Smith, Yosso, & Solórzano, 2007b; Solórzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000; Swim, Hyers, Cohen, Fitzgerald, & Bylsma, 2003).  For instance, Smith and colleagues (2007a) uncovered racialized forms of treatment initiated by law enforcement at PWIs.  The Black males in the study were asked to unnecessarily provide identification in study spaces, questioned about their whereabouts in public campus areas, and wrongfully identified for involvement in criminal activities.  These experiences are demeaning and humiliating, and they contribute to an atmosphere suggesting that Black men do not belong in educational spaces.  Some laypeople and scholars contend that we live in a post-racial, color-blind society, evidenced by the election of an African American president (Wise, 2010).  However, even President Barack Obama admits to having experienced negative racial interactions with non-Blacks (Cooper, 2013a).  Thus, the portrayal of Trayvon Martin during the Zimmerman trial and Jordan Davis during the Dunn trial remind us that much has not changed regarding stereotypical Black male imagery, where Black men are frequently depicted as deviants (Harris-Perry, 2011).

Throughout the Zimmerman trial, the predominantly White, female jury was comprised of mothers, but it appears that they found it difficult to visualize Trayvon Martin as one of their own children.  Images of his gold teeth and recreational drug use appeared in stark contrast to their children and outweighed his status as the victim.  Some suggest the defense deliberately showed these pictures of Martin to construct a narrative that distanced him and his culture from the jury.  Similarly, Davis and his three friends were painted as belligerent and violent.  While the teens’ behaviors were demeaning and disrespectful, the Dunn case ended in a mistrial because verbal accosting from Black men is widely perceived as threatening in the United States.

Such tactics have been used to perpetuate the common belief that Black men are “thugs” and are naturally deviant.  These stereotypes permeate the fabric of race relations in the academy and uphold cultural deficit theories in education literature, which result in discriminatory practices in academic settings (Hughes, 2010).  Until recently, much of the literature concerning Black college men was written from the lens of cultural deficit models (Hughes, 2010).  These publications often cite daunting statistics that provide an unfavorable, undesirable profile of Black male students in comparison to the positive attributes associated with their White male counterparts (Carey, 2004; Fordham & Ogbu, 1986; Strayhorn, 2008).

Rap and Hoodies: Symbols of Deviance

Literature suggests that Davis’ preferred genre of music, Martin’s attire, and the alleged behaviors of both teens were perceived differently because of their race, and that racial profiling is a prevalent phenomenon in American culture (Smith, Allen, & Danley, 2007b).  Though people of all races and ethnicities may experience racial profiling, reports of racial profiling among Black American populations are significantly greater that other races (Alexander, 2012).  Black Americans experience a disproportionate number of traffic stops and “stop and frisk” encounters with police officers and, in many cases where a crime has not been committed, Black Americans become suspects of criminal activity solely because of their race (Alexander, 2012).  It was in this manner that Dunn confronted Davis and his friends for playing loud rap music, which symbolized their deviance and requirement for control (Kinner, 2014).  In this same vein, Zimmerman assumed Martin was “up to no good” and that Martin required monitoring within their gated community.

Factors that were used to justify the deaths of Davis and Martin were their attire and selection of music on the evenings of each respective shooting.  Martin was wearing a hoodie, and the hood covered his head to protect him from the rain.  Davis was initially confronted by Dunn for playing rap music.  Many student affairs professionals may have observed that rap and “hoodies” are often the musical and wardrobe choices of both American and international college students.  It is very common to see students on our college campuses wearing hoodies embroidered with the names, mascots, and/or symbols of our institutions.  However, in the case of Martin, this attire was perceived as “thug wear” and “gangsta style clothing,” which justified Zimmerman’s suspicion.  Rap music is often heard blaring throughout residence halls, in vehicles driving across campus, and at campus events.  However, what separates Black youth and college students choosing to consume rap music is access and privilege.  Still, even on college campuses, Black students are still perceived as threats, and are often targets of prejudicial treatment and harassment (Fries-Britt & Turner, 2002).

As a result of Martin’s death, several media outlets have engaged in dialogue surrounding the demarcation of clothing and music as a sign of deviance.  For example, Geraldo Rivera warned Black and Latino parents to prohibit their children from wearing hoodies (Fung, 2012).  Additionally, on a recent episode of Anderson Cooper 360, Christy Oglesby–a Black mother–stated that she asked her son if he wanted to be perceived as a “suspect or a prospect” when selecting his attire for the day (Cooper, 2013b).  In agreement with her comments, many of the audience members applauded.  In the face of these anecdotal snapshots of conversations on race and justice, we challenge the criminalization of the hoodie and other forms of urban attire.  It is our belief that stereotypical perceptions of Blacks influenced how Martin and Davis were represented throughout the trial, and due to their unfortunate deaths, they were unable to present a counter-narrative that could distinguish them from these stereotypes.

The Debasement of Black Males on College Campuses

Perhaps in consequence to the aforementioned studies, Black male students encounter more racially-motivated adversity than their female counterparts and other people of color (Dancey & Brown, 2008; Kunjufu, 1986).  In higher education, Black men are often the victims of racial profiling, hyper-surveillance, Black misandry, and other forms of gendered racism (Smith et al., 2007a; Smith et al., 2007b).  These encounters negatively shape the interactions Black male collegians have with faculty, staff, and students at PWIs.  For instance, Harper (2009) employed the term “niggering” to describe the diminished expectations of African American male college students.  Unfortunately, these lowered expectations shared by faculty, staff, and students position Black male collegians to be stigmatized as ‘dumb jocks’, unfit affirmative action recipients, unprepared, and ‘at-risk’ (Dancy & Brown, 2008; Harper, 2009; Smith et al., 2007a; Smith et al., 2007b; Solórzano et al., 2000).

Black males must often ‘prove themselves’ in the classroom to earn the respect of their peers and professors in ways that are dissimilar to their White counterparts (Moore, Madison-Colmore, & Smith, 2003).  Still, they may be excluded from study groups or lack access to special academic opportunities (Moore et al., 2003).  Numerous studies indicate that American colleges and universities continue to struggle with campus climate and race relations issues (Harper, 2009; Smith et al., 2007a; Solóranzo et al., 2000).  Consistent exposure to a seemingly unsafe campus environment and acts of microaggression are psychologically traumatizing, and must be addressed if we desire to create supportive environments for all students (Picca & Feagin, 2007).

Recommendations

The shooting deaths of Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin have ignited necessary discourse and calls for political action.  As we understand the complexities associated with issues of race, equity, and social justice, we provide the following recommendations as action steps for supporting Black constituents of colleges and universities.  These recommendations outline how attention to these national incidents and our work as educators can shape the political and educational landscape of the United States.  We offer a brief listing of approaches that educators can implement in supporting students, peers, and their own individual learning.

Educate on Bias and Social Justice Issues, and Challenge Privilege as it Pertains to Various Social Identities

In capitalizing on examples of injustice and using them as teachable moments, our students and staff will be better equipped to facilitate change.  One way that educators can connect current events with the lived experiences of their students is through the use of intergroup dialogues.  Intergroup dialogues are a sustained, face-to-face facilitated learning experience, which gathers students from various social identity groups to discuss their commonalities and differences to work towards justice and equality (Lopez & Zúñiga, 2010).  Intergroup dialogues allow for a platform to hear and acknowledge counter-narratives, engage in leadership development, and challenge power and privilege.  Moreover, White students are often afforded the opportunity to explore their racial identity, enhance their knowledge of critical racial issues, and engage in the process of becoming allies (Yeung, Spanierman, & Landrum-Brown, 2013).  It is important to note that it takes a skilled, informed facilitator to successfully navigate the complexity of critical dialogue.  We encourage prospective facilitators to consider attending the Social Justice Training Institute, the Pre-Conference Institute on Diversity and Teaching Social Justice available through the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity, or reviewing Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice (Adams, Bell, & Griffin, 2007) in preparation for their work as professional allies and as aids in personal and professional development.

Focus on Positive Examples of Successful Black Males to Supersede Stereotypes

These tragedies emphasized the reality that many Americans continue to perceive Black male youth as common agents of criminal activity (Alexander, 2012; Cooper, 2013b; Fung, 2012; Perry, 2011).  Unfortunately, these perceptions lead to implicit bias and low expectations among people of color in the college setting.  Educators play a major role in positively affecting Black male completion rates and in developing inclusive campus communities that undergird their success.  It is important that college student educators combat stereotyping and prevailing deficit approaches to educating and supporting Black male college students by highlighting indicators for successful matriculation.  Black males are not a monolithic group (Harper & Nichols, 2008); however, supportive relationships positively contribute to African American male success in college (Strayhorn, 2008).  By using positive psychological approaches to create individual and institutional systems of support, Black male matriculation is achievable (Fries-Britt & Turner, 2002).

Provide Platforms for Civic Engagement and Leadership for Social Change

In cities across the country, people of various ages, cultures, and backgrounds banned together in protest of the outcome of the Zimmerman trial, which gained the attention of President Obama and the Justice Department.  Many of these efforts were led by young people, demonstrating that youth have the power to influence societal change and social movements.  Youth have established a lengthy history in leading social movements, and their capacity to positively influence change has transcended into contemporary contexts.  For example, the 2008 presidential voting block saw the largest youth movement in years (CIRCLE, 2010).  Activism by young people aged 18-24 during the election and more recently, in the aftermath of the Zimmerman trial, demonstrates their ability to successfully affect change through civic engagement.

Learning Reconsidered (ACPA & NASPA, 2004) highlights civic engagement as a universal learning outcome.  College student educators are responsible for challenging and supporting students to remain civically engaged beyond the wake of tragic events or the four-year cycle of national elections.  Educators must encourage students to participate in sustained engagement with their institutions, state and local governments, and communities.  It is through sustained engagement that they will begin to see the change that they seek on and off campus.

Reconsider Institutional Practices and Policies that Negatively Impact Black Males

Most educators, administrators, governmental officials, and companies agree that the benefits of diversity (Ancis, Sedlacek, & Mohr, 2000; Fries-Britt & Turner, 2002; Harper, 2009; Hurtado, 1994).  As such, educators and administrators must pay close attention to institutional practices and policies that negatively impact people of color in order to provide a support system for student retention while changing the campus climate (Fries-Britt & Turner, 2002; Harper, 2009; Hurtado, 1994; Smith et al., 2007a).  Becoming stewards of policies and practice that work to protect and increase the diversity of our colleges and universities should be a priority among all executive administrators.  Additionally, procedures used to institute diversity, such as affirmative action, have been misrepresented as a form of ‘reverse discrimination’ when research demonstrates that these policies benefit all members of the campus community (Ancis et al., 2000; Hurtado, 1994; Solórzano et al., 2000).  Affirmative action assists colleges and universities in remaining dedicated to the ideals of equal opportunity and access for all.

As former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Powell explained, we have “a compelling educational interest” to ensure that policies like affirmative action continue to influence the numerical representation of underrepresented student, staff, and faculty populations on college campuses (University of California v. Bakke, 1978).  It is important that college student educators familiarize themselves and others about the history of affirmative action policies, as well as the positive influence affirmative action has had on collegiate contexts.  Similarly, careful attention to institutional campus climate must take priority in retaining the voices of underrepresented populations.  Several bodies of research have discussed the negative impact of microaggressions on people of color in institutions of higher learning (Ancis et al., 2000; Hurtado, 1994; Solórzano et al., 2000).  While freedom of speech is a First Amendment right, bias and non-inclusiveness by students, faculty, and administrators has a damaging effect on underrepresented student populations and the academic environment as a whole.  By investigating and developing codes of conduct that provide focus on restorative practice and community education, institutions can foster learning and dialogue in a holistic educational environment.

Continue Personal Awareness and Education

Accomplishing the aforementioned recommendations may be difficult, particularly if we fail to take inventory of our own strengths (knowledge and skills) and areas of development (biases and gaps in knowledge base).  By learning about our own biases and triggers, we can develop self-awareness and become armed with the ability to make abstract concepts and anecdotes more tangible with added personal experience.  By forming a greater understanding of our limitations, we can begin to connect how they influence our decision-making, the ways we treat others, the ways we work, and how we effect students in a global community.  Educating ourselves on social justice and critical theory concepts provides us with knowledge, language, and skills necessary to combat implicit bias, non-inclusive behavior and instances of oppression that often impact campus climate and student success for underrepresented groups.

Conclusion

As college student educators, it is important to understand the experiences of students and how our actions influence the campus climate.  We must work tirelessly to end racial biases on our campuses and within our communities in an effort to prevent tragedies, such as the passing of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, from reoccurring.  The Pan African Network challenges the legislative and criminal justice systems to institute policies that will prevent bias from impending upon the justice of murder victims.  We also encourage faculty and staff to implement the recommendations we have set forth in shaping the political and educational landscape of our campus communities.  As members of the Pan African Network and ACPA – College Student Educators International, we are charged with changing the discourse and conceptions of Black males on college campuses and within society.  Please join us in our efforts to create safe learning environments for all college students.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do Black male collegians make meaning of, and negotiate, their racial identity within their institutional context (e.g., Predominantly White Institution, HBCU, liberal arts, highly selective)?  How do these processes and experiences impact holistic student development for students?
  2. How do the negative images and media portrayals of Black males in society complicate the racial identity development for Black male collegians?
  3. How can the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis be used to generate dialogue on college campuses about dominant narratives and counter-narratives of Black males and their role in shaping racial climate for Black male collegians?

References

ACPA & NASPA (2004). Learning reconsidered: A campus-wide focus on the student experience. Washington, D.C.: American College Personnel Association & National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

Adams, M., Bell, L. A., & Griffin, P. (2007). Teaching for diversity and social justice (2nd Ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Alexander, M. (2012). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. New York, NY: The New Press.

Ancis, J. R., Sedlacek, W. E., & Mohr, J. J. (2000). Student perceptions of campus cultural climate by race. Journal of Counseling Development, 78(2), 180-185.

Carey, K. (2004). A matter of degrees: Improving graduation rates in four year colleges and universities. Retrieved from http://www.pathwaystocollege.net/pubs/collegesuccess.html.

CIRCLE (2010). New census data confirm increase in youth voter turnout in 2008 election. Retrieved from http://www.civicyouth.org/new-census-data-confirm-increase-in-youth-voter-turnout-in-2008-election/.

Cooper, A. (2013a, July 19). President Obama on Zimmerman verdict [Video file]. Retrieved from http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2013/07/19/pres-obama-couldve-been-me/?hpt=ac_bn7

Cooper, A. (2013b, July 23). Growing up as an African American [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/video/?/video/crime/2013/07/24/ac-intv-oglesby-town-h…

Dancy, T. E. E., & Brown, M. C. (2008). Unintended consequences: African American male educational attainment and collegiate perceptions after Brown vs. Board of Education. American Behavioral Scientist, 51(7), 984-1003.

DuBois, W. E. B. (1903). The souls of Black folk. Chicago, IL: A. C. McClurg.

Fordham, S., & Ogbu, J. U. (1986). Black students’ school success: Coping with the “burden of ‘acting White.’” Urban Review, 18(3). 176-206.

Fries-Britt, S., & Turner, B. (2002). Uneven stories: Successful Black collegians at a Black and a White campus. The Review of Higher Education, 25(3), 315-330.

Fung, K. (2012, March 23). Geraldo Rivera: Trayvon Martin’s hoodie is as much responsible for [his] death as George Zimmerman [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/23/geraldo-rivera-trayvon-martin-hoodie_n_1375080.html

Harper, S. R. (2009). Niggers no more: A critical race counternarrative on Black male student achievement at a predominantly White colleges and universities. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 22(6), 697-712.

Harper, S. R., & Nichols, A. H. (2008). Are they not all the same? Racial heterogeneity among Black male undergraduates. Journal of College Student Development. 49(3), 199-214.

Harris-Perry, M. V. (2011). Sister citizen: Shame, stereotypes, and Black women in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Hughes, R. L. (2010, Spring). Engaging African American males for educational success. Gifted Child Today, 32(2), 55-60.

Hurtado, S. (1994). The campus racial climate: Contexts of conflict. Journal of Higher Education, 63(5), 539-569.

Kinner, D. (2014, February 15). Michael Dunn verdict: Florida man found guilty of attempted murder in loud-music trial. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/15/michael-dunn-verdict_n_4796068….

Kunjufu, J. (1986). Motivating and preparing Black youth for success. Chicago, IL: African-American Images.

Lopez, G. E., & Zúñiga, X. (2010). Intergroup dialogue and democratic practice in higher education. New Directions for Higher Education, 2010 (152), 35-42.

Moore, J. L., Madison-Colmore, O., & Smith, D. M. (2003). The prove-them-wrong syndrome: Voices from unheard African-American males in engineering disciplines. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 12(1), 61-73.

Picca, L. H., & Feagin, J. R. (2007). Two-faced racism: Whites in the backstage and frontstage. UK: Taylor & Francis Group.

Smith, W. A., Allen, W. R., & Danley, L. L. (2007a). “Assume the position…you fit the description:” Psychosocial experiences and racial battle fatigue among African American male college students. American Behavioral Scientist, 51(4), 551-580.

Smith, W. A., Yosso, T. J., & Solórzano, D. G. (2007b). Racial primes and Black misandry on historically White campuses: Toward critical race accountability of educational administration. Educational Administration Quarterly, 43, 60-85.

Solórzano, D., Ceja, M., & Yosso, T. (2000). Critical race theory, racial microaggressions, and campus racial climate: The Experiences of African American college students. Journal of Negro Education, 69(1/2), 60-73.

Strayhorn, T. (2008). The role of supportive relationships in facilitating African American males’ success in college. NASPA Journal, 45(1), 26-48.

Swim, J. K., Hyers, L. L, Cohen, L. L., Fitzgerald, D. C., & Bylsma, W. H. (2003). African American college students’ experiences with everyday racism: Characteristics of and responses to these incidents. Journal of Black Psychology, 29(1), 38-67.

University of California v. Bakke (1978). Retrieved from http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/438/265

Wise, T. (2010). Colorblind: The rise of post-racial politics and the retreat from racial equity. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books.

Yeung, J. G., Spanierman, L. B., & Landrum-Brown, J. (2013). Being White in a multicultural society: Critical Whiteness pedagogy in a dialogue course. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 6(1), 17-32.

About the Authors

Tonisha B. Lane is a fourth year doctoral students in the Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education (HALE) program and research assistant for the Neighborhoods at Michigan State University. Her research interests include access and equity in higher education and students of color in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

Please e-mail inquiries to Tonisha B. Lane.

Charles T. Stephens, M.A. is in his third year in student affairs administration after working for three years in corporate for a Fortune 500 company.  He currently is working as a Residence Hall Coordinator for Saint Louis University and serves as a mentor for the African American Male Scholars program at his institution.  

Please e-mail inquiries to Charles T. Stephens.

Jonathan A. McElderry serves as the Director of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center at the University of Missouri.  He holds a B.S. from George Mason University, M.Ed from Ohio University, and is currently a third year doctoral student in the ELPA program at the University of Missouri.  In addition, he is the Chair of the PAN African Network for the American College Personnel Association.

Please e-mail inquiries to Jonathan A. McElderry.

Shawna M. Patterson has sustained eight years of student affairs administration experience within the functional areas of residence life and multicultural services in the Big 10 sector.  She has served multiple roles on projects centered upon improving the experiences of faculty, staff, and students of color on predominantly White campuses. Currently, Shawna is a Ph.D. candidate in Higher Education at Florida State University, with a focus on critical theory, social justice, and student of color identity development.  Shawna is also a Dean in College Houses and Academic Services at the University of Pennsylvania.

Please e-mail inquiries to Shawna M. Patterson.

Janel Alleyne is a Hall Coordinator at the University of Missouri. She has been in the field for 6 years.  Originally from Brooklyn New York, Janel earned a Bachelor of Business in Technology Management from SUNY Canton and her Masters Degree in Organizational Performance and Leadership from SUNY Potsdam.

Please e-mail inquiries to Janel Alleyne.

Disclaimer

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.

Surviving the First Year: Challenges, Benefits, and Tips for a Successful Faculty Experience

Surviving the First Year: Challenges, Benefits, and Tips for a Successful Faculty Experience

Megan Moore Gardner
University of Akron
Jeni Hart
University of Missouri

The purpose of this five- part Developments series is to provide insight into making the transition from student affair practitioner to student affairs faculty. Contributors discuss career trajectories, the job search process, interview experiences, transitional challenges, writing for publication and offer general advice. Additional key points include insights into the pros and cons of moving from practitioner to faculty, the value of administrative experiences, faculty job searches, negotiating a faculty position, and tips for managing the first year as a professor. Each article includes real life examples, appropriate connections to the literature, and essential information for those considering the move from administration to faculty.

Life as a faculty member is different than that of a student affairs administrator and educator. However, many of the professional skills mastered as an administrator may be transferred to enhance faculty work. Increased autonomy, pressure to effectively balance teaching, research, and service, and figuring out an entirely new and different organizational culture are but a few of the demands of faculty work. Developing a good understanding of faculty culture and expectations, coupled with the application of skills already honed in an administrative position, will contribute to a successful first year and overall career as a faculty member. In this article, we review common challenges faced by faculty in their first year, characteristics of administrative work that may be used to enhance faculty work, and conclude with suggestions to ease the transition and assist with not only surviving, but thriving in the first year.

Challenges

Professional autonomy is perhaps one of the greatest benefits of faculty work. Such autonomy, however, may also be one of the biggest challenges. New faculty transitioning from administrative positions that functioned according to a typical “nine to five” work day or that required the professional to be physically present on campus 40 plus hours per week may experience initial dissonance with the faculty time-clock. Faculty life provides opportunities to work outside of the traditional office or classroom setting with limited to no supervision of your work. This may present challenges to those who struggle to stay on task, who are frustrated by sometimes ambiguous expectations, or who have difficulty with professional self-discipline. The initial freedom is quite refreshing. This freedom allows faculty members to determine when and where they work best—which is often critical in the pursuit of research. It can also be a tremendous asset in juggling work and family. At the same time, many higher education programs offer courses in the late afternoons and evenings, which can challenge work and family integration (and perhaps the time of day when you are most productive as a writer). Even with such autonomy and flexibility, maintaining a personal schedule is beneficial in order to ensure you can effectively manage all teaching, research, and service activities.

A second challenge deals with the difficulty of balancing teaching, research, and service expectations. Particularly in the first year of faculty work, a great deal of time is spent learning about the culture and expectations of the new work environment. Many institutions allow first-year faculty to engage in a reduced course load in an effort to provide a transition period that helps create and maintain balance. Likewise, many departments try to “protect” junior faculty from service responsibilities, in order to allow you more time to focus on research and teaching. This may feel a bit uncomfortable, since many student affairs professionals have become accustomed to engaging in committee work and connecting with others throughout cmpus on a regular basis. This protection from service creates an additional tension. Most often, as a new faculty member, you are on a new campus and in a new community. Service can be a wonderful opportunity to meet others across campus—others who may become friends, colleagues, and collaborators. With this in mind, you may want to agree to service responsibilities (e.g., curriculum committees, policy committees, awards committees, etc.) in intentional ways. Accept invitations to committees that may help you in other areas of your position. For example, if your research focuses on women, agree to serve on your campus committee for the status of women. Or if you feel you need a setting to talk about teaching, agree to serve on the curriculum committee.

Creating new classes, forging a research agenda, and engaging in meaningful service could each easily be all consuming activities. It is necessary and important for you to be aware of the challenge of balance and to take the steps necessary to establish it at the beginning of your career in an effort to continue to have well-rounded professional experiences throughout your academic career. Moreover, for many new faculty the pressure to, and process of, publishing can be extremely long and arduous. Recognizing that you are a in a marathon, not a sprint when it comes to publishing is the key to surviving the publishing process. You may have colleagues in your department who are willing to read drafts of your work before submission, or you may have graduate assistant support that can take some pressure off your other demands. Do not be reticent to ask for advice and assistance, including suggestions on how to work with graduate assistants for the first time. Given the somewhat ambiguous nature of faculty work coupled with unprecedented autonomy, supervising graduate students feels quite different from supervising student affairs staff who have more delineated timelines and responsibilities.

Finally, faculty and administrative cultures are very different and the dichotomy can create some anxiety and frustration for new faculty transitioning from administrative roles. The faculty culture is one that is dominated by rank and autonomy. As mentioned in preceding paragraphs, faculty typically have a great deal of freedom of expression, time, and opinion. As such, it can be difficult to establish colleagues, find mentors, and create professional relationships. Moreover, faculty culture is often dominated by meetings; extensive discussion; and strict adherence to collective bargaining agreements, bylaws, and/or Robert’s Rules of Order. Each of these rules and regulations takes time to learn and understand, tasks that may be daunting for the new faculty member. Decisions that may be made in a top-down manner in an administrative setting are often made through group discussion, voting, and consensus in the faculty setting. This often results in longer and more drawn out decision-making processes. New faculty who are used to a faster-paced, more hierarchical decision making process may experience discord when first exposed to the faculty culture of decision making.

As a first-year faculty member, it is important to understand your role as an assistant professor and the expectations others have for those in that role. More often than not, first year assistant professors are expected to spend the year learning about the organizational culture; finding balance between their teaching, research, and service expectations; and laying the groundwork for their anticipated contribution to new knowledge and to the profession. This is the year to ask questions, find mentors, and read as many organizational documents (e.g., the promotion and tenure guidelines at the department, college, and university if you are on a tenure track; collective bargaining agreements) as you can in an effort to gain the most complete understanding of your organization’s culture.

Using Previous Administrative Experience to Enhance Faculty Work

Previous administrative experience can enhance faculty work in a variety of ways. First and foremost, student affairs administrators are educators. You have been educating students throughout your administrative career. You are well-versed in the merits of both the curricular and the co-curricular learning experiences. The understanding of the out-of-class experience and the myriad ways it can be used to enhance the in-class experience greatly benefits students and can assist you with the effective transfer of theory to practice. Faculty who have served as administrators also generally have a strong understanding of the need for establishing relationships and collaborating throughout campus, skills that are particularly important during a time of reduced resources and increased demands for accountability. As a professional versed in administration, you may have a better understanding of the need for, and benefits of, faculty-administrative partnerships and may work more quickly to build such relationships through service and teaching experiences, including developing internships, assistantships, and practica for students.

Faculty may also use the knowledge garnered from previous administrative experience when working with students. More aware of the practical challenges and expectations faced by today’s students, administrators-turned-faculty may have a more thorough grasp of the complex nature of today’s students and may be better able to create classroom experiences that engage the adult students with whom we work. Finally, student affairs educators are required, on a daily basis, to juggle the demands of various institutional stakeholders including students, faculty, and members of the community. The ability to balance a number of demands at once, coupled with the ability to discern which tasks are most important, are skills that are easily transferred and applied to the faculty requirement of balancing teaching, research, and service. Recognizing which tasks or demands are most important and prioritizing accordingly is a much needed task for both administrators and faculty.

Surviving the First Year

The following suggestions are designed to assist new faculty during the first year.

  1. Negotiate a reduced course load and graduate or research assistant during the first year. The additional time and support will enable you to learn the culture of your new organization, establish organizational tools that will assist you as you move forward, and will provide you with overall assistance as you delve into teaching, research, and service.
  2. Establish and protect at least one “research day” that is set aside each week. If you are expected to spend 40% of your time on research, time equal to two days during the Monday-Friday week should be allocated for research. On those days, commit yourself to focusing primarily on your research agenda. This is particularly difficult during the first year when you are asked to participate in service opportunities and you are seeking to build connections on campus. It is, however, a necessary and important facet of your professional life that will, in the end, pay off immensely.
  3. A key to surviving the first year is learning how to say “No” professionally and graciously. New faculty members mean new opinions, hands, and people who can serve on committees, collaborate on research, develop new courses, etc. Figuring out the aforementioned culture of the institution is cumbersome enough in the first year. Adding too much committee work, overloading research and becoming beleaguered by teaching responsibilities will only contribute to overwhelming and underproductive first year.
  4. Partner with others on research. Particularly in the first year, it can be difficult to get started with your research agenda. A great way to get your foot in the door is to partner with colleagues from your current institution and throughout your field. This will reduce your research work load at the beginning and will provide you with ample learning opportunities and collaborative experiences. But be savvy; if your reward system expects an independent (i.e., solo) research agenda in order to earn tenure, you will want to do this judiciously.
  5. Get to know your institution and your colleagues. Pay attention to department, college, and institutional cultures. Seek to understand institutional politics and how politics function within your own department, college, and institution. Understanding the processes and political culture of your institution will enable you to figure out how you fit into the institutional tapestry. It will also help you figure out those colleagues who may be a good fit for research partnerships, mentoring, and professional relationships.
  6. Ask questions when you are unsure of policies, situations, or requests. This will help you begin to unravel the sometimes complex and ambiguous nature of faculty work. It will also ensure that you are doing your work in accordance with faculty guidelines and expectations.
  7. Remember there is always next semester. You do not have to do everything during your first semester or even year. As previously mentioned, you are in a marathon, not a sprint. Many of the aforementioned tasks take time and providing yourself the flexibility and understanding to take that time is a key to your success both in the first year and beyond. In addition, those asking you to participate in projects or committees will continue to ask you if you do good work. So, refer back to #3.
  8. Do not forget the core reason for your work…students. It is very easy to get caught up in the politics of faculty life and forget that you are there to serve students. When you get frustrated or overwhelmed, remind yourself of the many ways in which your work enhances the academic and co-curricular lives of students.

Concluding Remarks

The first year of faculty work presents many new challenges and unique professional nuances. If managed effectively, however, your new role can be extremely rewarding. Becoming versed in both the benefits of faculty life as well as the potential pitfalls will enable you to achieve success and satisfaction with both your first year and your overall career in academia.

Please send inquiries and feedback to Megan Moore Gardner at [email protected].