I want to see you be brave.
In student affairs we talk a lot about authenticity. We talk about themes of navigating with courage, working towards a common purpose, and being bold without boundaries. And these are great, as national conference themes. As practitioners and student affairs professionals, we negotiate what this looks like day to day, and how we practice authenticity is shaped by our place and the intersectionality of our identities.
This heady topic was the theme of a conversation that began three years ago, and eventually included myself and three colleagues, Gretchen Moore, Kelsey Taylor, and Jessie Ashton. We were all at different levels in our careers, and navigating different spaces, yet as we talked, there was a connection around this idea of authenticity and our shared identity as women in the field of student affairs.
What does it mean to be a woman in Student Affairs? More than that, what does it look like to be authentic as a woman in Student Affairs? What story do we have to tell, and how do we tell it? We began to ask other women what it meant to lead as a woman, how they negotiated the space of Student Affairs and higher education, and what advice they had for other women in the field. We started at our own institution, and then expanded to the state, and finally the country, with a presentation at the NASPA annual conference in March 2015.
It’s been over a year since that presentation, an incredibly empowering and insightful experience, and as I look over the notes from the first interviews, our presentation, and the photographs of women in the field sharing their wisdom and advice, I am struck by how relevant it all still is. Brenè Brown talks about the practice of vulnerability and authenticity, and as I enter my third year as a full time professional in the field, I reflect on this practice and how I’ve grown and changed since our presentation a year ago.
A year ago, we wrote that, “practicing authenticity requires honesty, it requires humility, and it requires confidence... Authenticity is about being brave.” A year later, I see that authenticity is not just about being brave, but about choosing to be brave, it’s about self-reflection and growth, and a continual process of self-authorship. And while sometimes authenticity as a woman is about speaking up and out, sometimes vulnerability can be demonstrated in small yet meaningful ways, by listening, recognizing, and creating space for others at the table.
I think about a moment a few weeks ago, near the end of a focus group with student staff. Thank you, one of the students said. Thank you for asking us and not just assuming you know what we think. As I wrap up my second year as a professional, choosing to be brave is in moments of humbleness, seeking to ask, knowing what I don’t know, and learning to be comfortable with that. A year later, practicing authenticity looks a little different than it did when I was first starting out as a new professional, but it’s no less important.
I still have so much to learn and a lot of ways to grow, as a woman and as a professional. Knowing this, I take strength, inspiration, and empowerment from the words and knowledge of other women in the field, and continuing to ask and reflect:
· How do you leave room for intersectionality while empowering colleagues and students to be brave?
· How can you create a safe and brave space for others?
· How can you create more opportunities at the table?
Maureen Flint is the Coordinator of Training and Professional Development at the University of Alabama.