The last couple of years have been rough in higher education, and I would acknowledge in student affairs specifically. It is not hard to argue over which has been more impactful to our work: COVID (any and all iterations); mental health of our students, faculty, staff and ourselves; diversity and inclusion; murders and community response; and the financial impacts on families. In each of these areas we know that there is always more that we can be doing to advance support for our students and our teams, all while we are finding ourselves the “face” of the institution, its policies, and the speed at which we can influence campus and community change.
After a particularly difficult stretch, I am reminded of the 1910 speech by President Theodore Roosevelt called “Citizenship in a Republic” which has most commonly become knows as “The Man in the Arena.” From that speech:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
Why has this resonated? It doesn’t take much to think about times when we as leaders are involved in the scope and speed of change but are asked to change issues that are affecting our society. Each of these issues offers us the opportunity to work in areas where there are multiple opinions, scientific data, and formats for our communities to share their thoughts. If you are anything like me, I do okay with most of the “opinions” until the time that someone says I don’t care. I can’t imagine any of us doing this work without caring about the success of our students and their support on campus.
So, I’m writing this to say thank you. Thank you for being the person in the arena. Thank you for taking the challenges of our society and helping our students find their place. Thank you for continuing to advance conversations around race and access. And, ultimately, thank you for continuing to mentor our colleagues to consider, with open eyes, the important roles that we play.
About the Author
Eric Grospitch, Ed.D. is the vice president for student life at Washburn University and a member of the James E. Scott Academy Board.