Tania Velazquez, Director for Career Services, Suffolk County Community College
September 11, 2017
As I sit here about to graduate from the Advanced Academy for Leadership Development, I cannot help but look around the room and wonder why I am here. Most of the individuals sitting in this room come from the Academic Affairs side of my institution. Many are Academic Chairs with aspirations to be Academic Deans. Myself, I recently transitioned into a College Director line at my institution and really have no clue what my next step is. However, there is something that sticks out to me more: I am the only minority in the room. I am the only Latina. This leaves me with mixed feelings and, immediately, my anxiety starts to rise. I begin to fear that someone will recognize that I do not belong here. “I am the only brown person in the room! Am I a poser?”
I guess I should impart a little history about my experience with this academy. My institution nominated me to take part in the leadership academy in 2013 based upon the premise that someone recognized me as a leader in my role in Student Affairs. They saw me as having potential to move into administration or “up the ranks”. Also, at that time, because there were few individuals chosen from Student Affairs, it was seen as more of an honor. In 2016, a select group of us from the initial academy were invited to participate in the advanced academy, to which even fewer individuals from Student Affairs were asked. That same week I started the advanced academy, I was in the process of transitioning from a campus counselor to a College Director role. The intent of the Academy and my institution came to fruition: I participated in the leadership academy and was invited back to the advanced academy as an administrator.
Still, interestingly enough, that same anxiety I experienced originally in 2013 hit me again during my participation in the advanced academy: that feeling of being a “poser” and “the only brown person in the room”. I would go home, emotionally drained from worrying that someone would think I did not belong there. I remember having to step out to get fresh air, confused by my emotions. While I thought progression to the advanced academy had helped to dissuade my insecurities and move on, it is clear that I have not.
I realized, however, these emotions were not recent; they began when I first started my studies. I am the first to go to college in my family. I worked my way through school. Like many Latinos, I started my studies at a community college, continued through graduate school, and yet, never felt I belonged. I continued through school without ever having a plan. Despite suffering from deficit thinking, there was a flame inside that kept me going. As a young student, I had no mentors and my parents didn’t push me to go to school. I just continued because, for some reason, I felt it was the thing to do at the moment. Believe it or not, that is really what my education comes down to.
Now, I come full circle. As a professional with a graduate degree, I sometimes still suffer from “deficit thinking”, envision myself as a “poser”, but nevertheless, I realize that my responsibility as a Latina Student Affairs professional is to start embracing my role as a leader in Community College leadership. So, I started researching what exactly is this emotion. Why do I feel like this? My research has led me to believe I suffer from “imposter syndrome!” The fear that you’re bumping up against the limits of your ability. It’s at the moment when you’re most vulnerable that all your doubts come crashing in around you (Richards, 2015). Apparently, I am not the only one who has suffered from this. American author and poet Maya Angelou, apparently suffers as well. As she once said, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out”. This made me feel better, to know I’m not alone.
So, what do I do with this new-found information? Of course, I will continue seeking students to mentor, but I find it equally as important to mentor/sponsor other Latinos in the field. Participation in my institutions leadership academy has made an impact in my work as a leader but more than that, it has taught me the importance of forming my support system. These are my safe people who I can turn to when I am doubting myself and when the imposter syndrome starts to arise again.
In developing my support system, I am able to combat deficit thinking and my anxiety is minimized. I have sponsors that push me out of my comfort zone and offer me opportunities. These are my people. This is what makes me a better professional which, in turn, makes me a better Community College Student Affairs Professional.
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