October 10, 2016
The month of October is normally wracked with midterms and project deadlines. At least, that’s how it used to be—in undergrad. Things are different now. Exactly one year ago today, I was preparing for the graduate school search. Today, I am deeply-entrenched in graduate work and in an assistantship I could only dream of.
This October has been shaped with a lot of learning opportunities for me. Most days, I find myself in disbelief that I am in my first year of graduate study, undertaking all of the things I said I would do last year. When I joined as a NUFP four years ago, I was “on the fence” about a career in student affairs. I always considered the outcome as a “what if?”
I think all of the questions that stem from being a first-generation college student in a space that was never actually designed for you. I ask a lot of questions, daily, that I’m not sure my cohort/classmates are aware of. Most of the time, I’m sure that someone will come and rescind my offer of admission because I was not supposed to have it in the first place. Of course, I know that “imposter syndrome” is real, but that doesn’t make dealing with it any less.
But I’ve been learning; I’ve been managing how to cope and understand my space and the space that I occupy. This month, I have been able to truly understand what it means to practice self-care. I have learned to discuss with my supervisor, in-depth, about what it means for me to take care of myself so I can, in turn, take care of the students and propel them forward to success. Isn’t that the goal of the work we do? Student success and safety?
Maybe it’s because I’m a housing professional, but at my core I really want students to take care of themselves and succeed. However, only now am I realizing that this energy needs to be sent both ways—to myself, and my students. It is perfectly acceptable to turn down an invitation to happy hour so I can, instead, catch up on my favorite TV show.
October has been a month of understanding my space, as I’ve said. It has also been a month of understanding how I operate within these spaces. I consider myself an introvert; I love to patiently watch a discussion unfold, take mental notes, and then give my input where needed. Recently, though, I have understood that this approach is not exactly accommodated or understood in some spaces. I am often explaining my mental processes with colleagues, classmates, and students I work with. Extroversion is the established norm, and that is perfectly acceptable, but understanding there are conflicts with this identity must be understood, too.
Normally, as a first-generation college student, I find myself almost afraid to speak in meetings or spaces, thinking that I may not be “educated” enough to speak on an issue. Combining this with my naturally quiet nature, I sometimes feel excluded in spaces.
For me, October is a month about spaces and reflection and healing. I can talk about how my identities are being challenged until this has reached dissertation-length proportions, but I want to learn how my previously-established notions of who I am can be changed in this new, transformative role and path I am currently traveling. I have so much power to change me; I have so much power as me. So now, as another question, I’m asking—what can I do, as me? But for once, I have an answer: Anything.
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Jalen Smith is a first year graduate student in the Student Development Administration program at Seattle University. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Law from the University of Arkansas, where he lived for his entire life. He is currently living and loving the Seattle life.
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