Rethinking Careers in Student Affairs Month – Reflections on #CSAM17

Careers in Student Affairs Month (CSAM) was initially conceptualized as a month-long initiative that increases awareness of the profession and celebrates the hard work of professionals in the field. While we are approaching NASPA’s 100th year, student affairs is still a relatively new profession. It remains worthwhile to make a concerted effort to explain what we do and why we do it to our colleagues both inside and outside of higher education.

The celebratory nature of CSAM is also necessary in a field where many express feeling overworked, invalidated and unappreciated. If we have the opportunity to highlight our colleagues that are doing phenomenal work to support student success, why shouldn’t we celebrate and encourage their efforts? Yet, there seemed to be an exceptional amount of negative energy from the larger student affairs community coming into CSAM this October.

About halfway through the month, I realized that members of our community weren’t upset about celebrating the profession. Our community is upset about celebrating a field that they feel has failed them. Members of our community have been hurt – by unsupportive supervisors, ignorant peers who should know better, and work environments steeped in marginalization. Our community is also tired. Tired of the non-stop attacks on our own humanity and that of those we love, tired of having to educate others on issues we deem fundamental, tired of being tired. So how do we respond productively when our inclination is to lash out or disengage? Personally, I am striving for decency as opposition. My suggestion for our larger community, and perhaps a new component of CSAM, should be recalibration of community.

What would it look like for us to add October as a set gathering point in our year to discuss openly and intensely, what is and isn’t working within the field alongside other CSAM initiatives? Right now, we seem to be a community that espouses wanting to have tough conversations, but doesn’t take action beyond tweeting out our hot takes. If October is the one time of the year that we can engage in dialogue with professionals at all levels – from undergraduates to college presidents – we still get 11 months each year to disrupt the systems, behaviors and norms that hinder our community from truly thriving. And I really do believe that we can get to a place where our community welcomes new professionals with open arms and living wage.

CSAM should be a time to celebrate the dynamic individuals who are positively affecting change on their campuses and within their communities. Our colleagues deserve this praise and then some! But, we can also make October a time to constructively critique the actions and structures that are problematic or antithetical to student and staff success. There’s still a lot of good work to be done on our campuses and within the student affairs community. What action will you take to make our community better than you found it one year from now?