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The REAL Check-In

Region IV-W
March 24, 2021 Valerie J. Thompson Wichita State University

As I sit here in 2021 and reflect on the year that was 2020, as a faculty member, I am exhausted, but moreover, as a Black woman, the weight of that reflection seems almost insurmountable. During the Summer of 2020, articles pleaded for folx to “check on their Black friends, their strong colleagues, and/or their strong Black colleagues,” and the result led to those intriguing Black squares that ascended on our social media pages. To that end, I wondered, were those “Black squares” those check-in moments? Was it the expectation that those squares symbolized an unspoken solidarity for a community whose cries often are unacknowledged? Furthermore, if so, would they go away much like those safety pin moments of solidarity? 

I looked over my journal reflections during the summer of 2020, and I think about the power of check-ins that we as practitioners within the field often forget. Particularly as it relates to seeing the intersectional traumas of our friends and work colleagues of color.  Of course, we recognize that our prime directive, particularly within moments of racial unrest, is to check-in and support students of color and their emerging needs; however, what about our colleagues of color who are also impacted? If we can acknowledge or even recognize the power in naming our traumas, how powerful could it be to truly check-in as it relates to the well-being of our colleagues of color? We are not insulated from the trauma of the moment, as we, too, feel the waves of the intersectional racialized traumas that our students also experience.

Now, after the week of March 16th, where eight people, many of whom were Asian and Asian American women, were killed, we in the field of higher education/student affairs are again moved towards a moment of universal solidarity. However, in our quest of supporting students, how much are we offering that intentional and authentic support to our Asian and Asian American colleagues? If so, what does it look like? It is not enough for us to be moved within our conference communities; what are we doing within our metaphorical backyard? What happens when the panel discussions stop and the news cycle moves on to the next moment of tragedy? Why does it take these types of moments to check in with our colleagues of color?

We must understand that the “wonderful” (quotes intentional) duties as assigned that many of us see as the natural result of student affairs work is viewed through an intersectional lens of work-life practice. Practitioners who are also within the BIPOC community do not leave their intersectional identities simply because they have been hired to plan your events, advise your students, or teach your classes. No, in fact, they are also folx of color who are impacted by the same waves of oppression and intolerance that their students experience.

So, with the week of March 16th still fresh within our memory, have you authentically checked in with your Asian and Asian American colleagues today? If not, maybe it is time to interrogate that lack of effort.

We cannot just simply move our students to function as better humans, particularly as it relates to showing up and using their voice against any form of oppression; we too must follow that directive and be better as well.


Recommendations of that Authentic Check -In

Before going further, I want to acknowledge the emotional labor that many folx of color do when attempting to educate others on ways to care about their humanity. However, in reflecting on the past section of the piece and sharing it with a wonderful colleague and friend Dr. Katherine S. Cho, it seemed useful to provide recommendations of this type of intersectional check-in.

I now transition my narrative and highlight the emotional labor and work of (Cho, 2021), which will help us understand how to authentically check-in with our Asian and Asian American colleagues. Here, I capture only a fraction of the recommendations; I encourage you to visit her blog with the link below for additional resources and recommendations. Lastly, I encourage you to review what is offered here and think of ways to facilitate this effort within your check-ins with your colleagues of color in general.

As previously stated, these recommendations surface because of the emotional love labor of Cho (2021); please take the time to read, pause, reflect, and then put them into practice.

Before checking in, Cho (2021) encourages us to remember that this process is about centering the person that we have a collegial relationship as an effort of care. That is the baseline requirement that must be met for this effort to be facilitated; you actually have to care about the person in question.

Next, she encourages us to center them within the check-in and not our feelings. Cho (2021) speaks to this process beautifully when she offers the following example, “In writing a text message and/or dropping an audio file, we can be tempted to process our own feelings: how shocked and horrified we are, how we can't imagine what they are feeling, how utterly horrible this is. These statements might signal that you understand, to some extent, the magnitude and pain, but can also easily turn into the comforter becoming the comforted” (p.1). This critique encourages us, as practitioners, to essentially move out of our feelings of discomfort (it is not about us here) and authentically be present in checking in as it relates to the person's emotional well-being. When we use the events which transpired during the week of March 16th, or even our countries reckoning with racism during the Summer of 2020, how valuable could this concept of an actual centering/seeing and valuing be within our relationships with colleagues of color? I would offer that it would be transformative within the workplace, which could impact how our students of color view our campuses as welcoming and safe.


Please visit Cho (2021) for additional recommendations for doing this work in practice.



Cho, K. S. (2021, March 22). Checking in. Dr. Katherine S. Cho Website. https://www.katscho.com/me-sourced/checking-in