Sunday, December 28, 2014

[GUEST POST] Student Affairs is Validation: #SAReflects

Hello everyone!!

As most of my consistent readers know, this has been a fun, active, and invigorating year of growth for me! I am so thankful for 2014 being a year that I desperately needed for my personal and professional growth.

The great people at the Student Affairs Collective asked me to write a reflection blog post about my year. So I did!

I decided to write about how the year 2014 was full of validation for me, which has made me feel so at home in this field. I could not have asked for a better field to enter.

As usual with my guest posts, I want to spread the love to the original posters, so make sure to head over the the Student Affairs Collective website to view the FULL ARTICLE!

Here are some of my favorite pieces from the bog post I wrote, called, "Student Affairs is Validation."

Hope you enjoy!

"Many individuals pursue a career to reinvigorate an industry.
Many individuals pursue a career that influences the lives of the current or next generation.
Many individuals pursue a career that does both of those things, while making the individual feel validated that their work and purpose is important."

"Becoming a leading voice in this online community has been such a brilliant form of validation because I feel that many grad students now have a space to call their own each week. I am glad that I was given the opportunity to create this space. I am glad that each week my colleagues are able to validate each other’s experiences and share something new about themselves and their life as budding student affairs professionals."

"I never knew how validating having a partner in student affairs would be for me—until I had one.

Since we come from very similar backgrounds—white, low-SES, first-gen—we are able to have some very empowering conversations of how we hope to work together to support students from similar backgrounds. We are able to validate each other’s experiences and feel as though we are not alone in this field."

"The recognition I speak of is when I won the NASPA Region 1 Richard F. Stevens Award for Outstanding Grad Student in the state of Massachusetts. When I heard my name read, all I felt was validation. A year of hard work, dedication, and late nights had paid off in this form of recognition. I was completely honored and blown away by the support I received through winning this award."

"So validate your co-workers, your colleagues, your partners, your friends, and your students!
Make people feel like their work is important and be grateful for the effort people in your office put into their daily lives. One small “thank you,” or “good job,” or “you’re doing great” can change any one’s day!"

Again, Click here for the full article!

I will see you all again very soon as I prepare to write about my top albums of 2014! January is definitely fulled with music posts, so get ready for that fun stuff!

Be well and enjoy the new year!


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Home is Where the Hard Conversation Lives...

Discussing Racism, Privilege, and the (White) Elephant in the Room Regarding the Ferguson/Eric Garner Discussion—Challenging & Supporting White Students

So, I started three other ideas for blog posts before deciding that I needed to write something about the current state of student affairs work in the post-Ferguson/Eric Garner grand jury decision discussions.

This topic has permeated our work as student affairs professionals because many of our campuses are now serving as beacons for discussion, activism, and demonstrations.

Even many of our student affairs colleagues have written about this topic and how it shapes our work and the ways in which we can support our students of color on campus. And that’s awesome. I think this is a powerful time for our field to step up like this and become leading voices in the conversation on racial injustices in our country.

And yet, there is one facet of this conversation that I want to focus on: Challenging and supporting our white, socially just students that simply want to show their support, but have difficult (i.e. uneducated and/or racist) home lives that challenge them from moving forward in their journey of social justice education.

I am going to share a personal experience, talk about getting to TA this semester through the model of Challenge & Support, and then explain my philosophy of how to support white students during this time.

(Note: This post is IN NO WAY meant to discredit the other very real racial work happening on our campuses and in society today. If you read it with that lens, I challenge you to read this again. At no point is that my intention. This post is merely meant as an extension of the larger conversation. One that I think some of our students need to hear/can relate to.) 

Ferguson is quite the taboo topic right now.
As is an discussion white students as well.
How do we support them?
IMAGE: Michael Ramirez (Investors Business Daily)


I was adopted into a white, low-SES, uneducated, and slightly racially ignorant home life.

Having just turned 27, my closest sibling is NINE years older than me—with my oldest sibling being 50 years old. I am the only person in my family to attend college, let alone graduate from college and/or even understand the concept of graduate school. Therefore, as the youngest person in my family, I am the only one with any understanding of how the academy works. And, by extension, how privilege works.

This is quite challenging—as you could imagine.

However, it is never more challenging than when the holidays come around. I basically have no support when it comes to virtually any conversation whatsoever. And the scapegoat that my family ALWAYS retreats to is the fact that I’m young(er than them). I mean, I’m 27. I feel I’ve been an adult for a while now.

Now, I assume there are many white students, and white student affairs professionals, that have to go home during the holidays and listened to their “old fashioned” relatives explain why Obama is Hitler, how the liberals are destroying the economy, and how the gays are killing the sanctity of marriage—yes, ALL of these are conversations I have recently had with my relatives.

And it’s hard to listen to your family members say these things, or often worse things. Because when we are in the early stages of development—diffusion, as Marcia might explain it—we don’t question these things. We just accept them.

However, for those of us who develop into free-thinkers—those of us with a little bit of social justice education—we don’t like to keep out mouths shut. So we argue, or we get frustrated and things get tense during the holidays.

It’s always like this for me at home.
And I live over 3,000 miles from home, which makes it even more difficult for me to make the trip. Regardless, each visit goes something like this:

- Relative says something racist/homophobic.
- I get frustrated and challenge them.
- Relative says something equally alarming while trying to explain they aren’t racist/homophobic.
- I get frustrated at their explanation and explain how it is racist/homophobic.
- Relative calls me young and/or pretentious and that my education is a waste of time.
- I realize this conversation is a lost cause and leave to play with my nieces or nephews because they don’t talk about political stuff.

Essentially, going home is hard for me.
And the thing is—I know I am NOT alone in this experience.

Many students experience this!
Many of my colleagues experience this!

My partner and I have been talking about this for weeks!

So what do we do for our white students that still don’t have the tools to question their relatives or even engage in meaningful conversations with their peers?

Image: Steve Breen (U-T San Diego)


With seemingly everyone in the nation discussing the Ferguson/Eric Garner grand jury decisions, we, as educators, are in a difficult situation because many of our students are looking to us for answers/guidance.

This semester was my reentry into teaching, as I stepped back into the classroom (I taught High school in a past life) to TA for UMass Amherst’s Education 115 course, Embracing Diversity—which is essentially a Social Justice 101 course, as you can hear some of our students explain in a video I’ve linked at the end of this post. (Note: This classroom context is simply an example of how I practice my approach to educating and supporting white students on these issues. I have many other examples I could use to discuss how I do this with the students I advise as well.)

In being able to TA for this course, I was given the opportunity to educate students on social justice topics like race, class/socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender, privilege, white privilege, oppression, Ray Rice and sexual assault, and even the Ferguson/Eric Garner cases.

The catch of all of this was that I was the only white male TA (of five TAs) teaching the whitest and most male-populated discussion section for the course—88 percent of my classroom was white, over 60 percent were men. I had four Asian students (all women) and one Latina student in my class. The other 35 were white.

I had a classroom full of students from all over New England—two from New York, and one lone student from Georgia. All of these students brought vastly different perspectives on many of the topics we discussed.

However, what I ultimately found was not shocking, but it is something we might take for granted since we have social justice conversations almost every day.
I will try my best to be as clear as possible:


Campuses have always been incredible landscapes for activism.

We cannot assume all of our students are in the same place developmentally OR that they will agree with or absorb everything you teach them. That’s not how learning and/or development works. 

You aren’t going to change a student, who was raised in a racist home, that racism is bad by simply telling them that racism is bad. They’re just going to go home—where racism is practiced—and not think about racism being bad anymore.

These topics MUST be broken down carefully over time.

That being said, I made it my purpose for the semester to teach my 40 students about the realities of the world around them. I constantly told them, “you’re already ahead of me by being in this class,” because I didn’t have my first privilege conversation until I was 23. I wanted my students to understand that white privilege is not something to feel guilty about—it’s out of their control—what they need to do is understand how their privilege functions in society so they can become better allies/advocates for change.

I took this one hour out of the week to do things like ask my students to Google the phrase, “race is a social construct,” and then they would report their findings and we would discuss how this affects them at a predominantly white institution. I would challenge my students to think critically about the world around them instead of simply regurgitating all of the information they’ve been fed throughout their entire lives. It caused for some awkward silences, but we pushed through it as a class.

One of the first activities I did with students was the privilege walk.
(Note: You can click link for an example of how to do the privilege walk.)

If you haven’t done the privilege walk with your students, I suggest you to do so. I make my own list of phrases for them to respond to (e.g., starting with "If you are a man, take a step forward," and later using "If you are a woman, take a step back."), with the caveat that they aren’t allowed to look back until we’re finished. When completed, this activity demonstrates to students that most, if not all, of their privileges are invisible.

Another way to do this is with an exercise called, "Step in, Step Out," in which all students create a circle and step when they can agree with the statement being read. This is often an equally apt way of demonstrating the privilege and inequalities in your group. I chose the privilege walk simply due to the massively white class that I had.

I had my four lone Asian students and the Latina student (reminder: all women) in the back of the class. When I asked one how she felt being there, she responded,

“I just stopped even trying to move forward. Because every time I did, I would have to take another step back. It made me want to give up.” 
This resonated powerfully with the rest of the class, which was all white, and demonstrated to them where they might stand in relation to the rest of the students in their institution, since UMass Amherst is a predominantly white institution. Her reaction is also another reason why some might opt to utilize the "Step in, Step out" activity instead of the privilege walk.

Moving forward with the class was a much easier task because this was the first time many of my white students had ever had to think about their privilege or their other dominant identities.

Making the effort to discuss these issues in a very approachable and intentional manner with my students made a major impact on them this semester. Many of them commented on my individual course evaluations that learning about white privilege and racial oppression were two of the major topics that challenged their thinking this semester.

Reading through my evaluations made me happy because I could tell that some serious change happened over the course of 14 weeks.

But now they are no longer my students—so I worry about where they go from here.


On Thursday, the final day of class, I addressed the upcoming holidays amid a larger conversation about Ferguson and Eric Garner. I told the students that I had a very difficult conversation with my parents about the grand jury decisions, in which I challenged my parents on their stances—which caused my mother to hang up the phone on me.

Some of my students explained that they encountered some difficult conversations with family on their recent Thanksgiving visits home.

I asked them how they handled the conversations. A number of the students said they sat there listening, trying to think about how to respond—using their knowledge from this course. Others said that they challenged their family for the first time and it felt empowering, while also scary because they were met with similar responses that I receive from my family.

On that last day, I told my students to not be silent.
I told my students that it is okay to challenge the views of their friends and family.

On that last day, I also told my students the importance of picking their battles and to recognize there is a time and place for everything. 

On that last day, I told my students to speak out against injustice and prejudiced if they ever encounter it on or off campus.

On that last day, I told my students to always question the world around them.
Be curious. Discover their own knowledge.

On that last day, I explained that since race is a learned social construct, racism is also a learned social construct. Therefore, we have the power to unlearn these constructs.

On that last day, I gave my students an example of a conversation I had with my sister—in regard to some of my father’s remarks one year.

Sister: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Me: But you can teach a dog to not be racist.

While they laughed at this example—because I’m hilarious—I made sure to bring it back to a very real feeling that what many of our white students are fed from their families can cause a lot of cognitive dissonance.

On that last day, I told my students that I struggle with these topics with my family all of the time, but that doesn’t mean I give up on my family. I love my family. I just have to separate myself from their reality in order to spend time with them, which comes with time.

On that last day, I acknowledged how some of their families might even be paying for their education, which is an even more difficult experience when picking a social justice battle with their family. Sometimes financial support can be more worth more than an argument. This is reality I had to recognize. I know that many LGBTQ youth are exiled/cut off financially for standing up for their identities, and this circumstance can possibly find a similar end result. Again, pick your battles.

On that last day, I told my students to change the subject or lay down ground rules if they don’t want some things being discussed—or to simply leave the room. I have to do this often while at home. It saves me from some tears or from shouting various obscenities. Or to simply save face.

On that last day, I told my students that they might get conflicting information or confusing articles thrown their way, and that’s natural. There is always going to be doubt with every major issue that happens in our country.

That doesn’t mean we can’t question everything.

I'm not sure what will come of this, but I do know that we cannot do nothing.


I hope this post demonstrated some ways in which you can support white, socially just students that just want to be allies/advocates on their campuses. Keep in mind that many of these students might come from homes that either aren’t very socially just, or just aren’t open to discussing these bigger topics.

Also remember that my classroom context might be somewhat of an anomaly, but with as much student leadership training that happens on a college campus, I can assure you that there is somewhere to fit in my suggestions.

Naturally there are going to be many white students that will come to you looking for some sort of guidance when they possibly fear going home (like I often do) or simply supporting their fellow students of color on their campus. I suggest giving them space to talk just as you would any student. There is bound to be a lot of confusion, frustration, and probably anger toward their home situation. Be there for all of your students, regardless of race.

I don't want the work we do educating white students to be for nothing. And you shouldn't either. We need to support our white advocates so that they can educate their families and possibly inspire new tricks in some old dogs.

If we are able to affect and educate today’s white college students that come from historically racist backgrounds, we can potentially alter the course of history. If we can educate on the realities of prejudice, oppression, and injustice in this country as early as possible, who knows what sort of impact we can have as student affairs professionals?

In order to support these students, we need to consider our entire student populations when moving forward in how to approach these large racial issues.

I recognize that my approach/philosophy will not resonate or even work for all students and/or professionals. I don’t expect it to do so. However, I do expect that we can support all of our students as valued members of society and recognize that they all come from varying backgrounds that may require us to read and flex according to the needs of each individual.

Thank you for reading.

I hope this helped in some way.


Here is the video that three of my classmates and I put together with the support of our EDUC115 students in response to their learning throughout this year. Check it out!