Should Admins Be Activists on Campus?

When everything we do might be radical

November 9, 2016
Student Affairs Collective tweet: Should student affairs professionals also be activists on their campuses?

Almost four years ago I asked a question on this blog that prompted a lot of comments, response posts, tweets, and discussion. The post was titled "Where are the Radical Practitioners?" At the time, it was a post that fit with the digital discourse of the day. Clearly resonating with readers, it was a question that's still generating debate.

Two weeks ago I read a tweet from @The_SA_Blog that asked whether or not student affairs professionals should be activists on their campuses. It was a provocative question. Asked during the #SAchat (a weekly synchronous hashtag-based conversation), the query generated several responses.

Similarly, the Student Affairs Professionals group on Facebook has more than 25,000 members and is full of conversations about race, gender, identity, and politics. Maybe the answer to the question of "where are the radical practitioners in student affairs" could best be said as "online."

What do you think? Should campus administrators be activists on campus? Are they activists simply by default of the work that is being done?

E.g. If your job is to advocate, support, and champion the success of students who are from marginalized populations, that's pretty much the definition of activism in my book. You're fighting injustice and just happen to have a salary attached to the work. Whether or not your institution will be comfortable with naming your work as activism is an entirely different question.

Writing this post from within a "hard Brexit" Britain whilst still in a sad/angry/confused/frustrated daze from seeing Donald Trump win the election in the United States, I cannot help but think that perhaps the only answer to the activist question is that we're all activists now in one way or another...and I know that some of us always have been.

The xenophobia that fuels Brexit and the "white lash" that's pushed a racist, misogynist, xenophobe, liar, and bully into the highest office in the U.S. means that everyone who believes in justice and equality needs to be an activist now more than ever...whether you work on a campus or not.

The challenge will be in matching up activism within your professional work/identity and constantly shifting how this fits within the organizational context of your institution.

In the U.S., activism by student affairs professionals is already fairly embedded into higher education. In the United Kingdom where I'm currently based, this will be seen as a bit of a foreign concept. (I can sense my British clients sipping tea and nodding their heads whilst reading that last sentence.)

One of the hallmarks of the #SAchat has been that there's always a request for a final thought. Here's mine: Perhaps the most vital activism that staff can engage in is the cultivation of critical thought and discourse within their campus community.


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