Careers in Student Affairs Month
As October comes to a close I think it's time I write my thoughts about Careers in Student Affairs month. As a (hopeful) professional, I'm always surprised when this month comes around with all of the blog posts and tweets reminding me about the "awareness". I'm not aware of this month of awareness for my profession until it is upon me, and that is probably a problem.
I don't think we should have an "awareness month". There. I said it. I think an awareness month for a career is stupid. Who do we do it for? We do it for ourselves and no one else; the students we work with are aware of us as professionals, and if they aren't then we should reevaluate how we work with them. The university, at least most of it, should be aware of us. They might not like us or agree with the work we do, but they know we exist. Our parents might think we're professors or babysitters or whatever else, but if they don't understand then, again, we should reevaluate how we explain our careers. "I work with students, teaching them outside of the classroom, leading them when they need it, and assisting with their transitions as people and students".
Here is how I feel our month goes: Oh! It's awareness month! Let's talk about how great a career in student affairs is! You can get a Master's Degree! Or a PhD or EdD! You can always work with students in a stable work environment and follow your passion(s)! Are we telling people the truth? Are we sharing the truth of our careers?
Master's Degrees: Go ahead and spend thousands of dollars out of pocket or in loans for an extra degree. An extra degree that will/may give you a basis for working with students, but not one that will guarantee a job. And then you may get a job, but it might not pay enough to pay for those extra loans. Or all of the internships, assistantships, or studying won't count for anything during the hiring process. Did you work two jobs while in school but both were part time? They (probably) don't count. Did you write your thesis on something you found a passion for? It probably doesn't count as a professional specialty.
Hiring for student affairs: on top of the restrictions for what counts as experience from the degree program, there are more problems within our hiring process. All of those hours as a student leader or paraprofessional, the ones that got you hooked in the first place? They don't count. The job you had, and continued, while in grad school, such as serving tables or working at Kohl's, that doesn't count either. Hiring, in some parts of the country, is so specific in the experience you need that you may never get hired to get that experience. Budgets have been cut, so when people leave jobs their job never gets posted. Doing more with less doesn't help the professionals entering the field. (And, more education won't help the field as a whole, either)
We also lie, I think, about what we do. It's more than just working with students. We do paperwork, a lot of it, we do project management, budget planning and tracking, and more paperwork. We deal with ugly things: conduct hearings, suicides, violence, family deaths, and all sorts of things. Do we prepare our future colleagues for those days? What about the long hours and struggles with work/life balance?
We may enjoy our careers and want to bring in others who can enjoy those careers, but we should be honest with ourselves first. And, with everything we've ever learned in school, we need to critically analyze anything anyone is trying to sell us, including an awareness month about ourselves.