Staceyann Chin is a well known poet, author and activist, and she just finished a three day residency here at Binghamton University sponsored by several student organizations and offices, including my own. After performing, visiting with Women, Gender & Sexuality classes and private meetings with student orgs, she attended our weekly Dean of Students meeting.
One of the topics right now is a list of demands a student group called “Students for Change” has passed around the University starting around the time a grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown. #BlackLivesMatter was just the beginning. As we have moved through this time of struggle for students, I believe that we as Student Affairs professionals on this campus have been trying to help as best we can – and yet – have been questioning where we fit in and how far we are supposed to go in terms of our own activism.
Something that Staceyann said this morning really stuck with me which was that as a younger 20 year old she carried a lot of anger and wielded a sledgehammer everywhere she went. It was a tool she used. Then she got into her 30’s and acquired another tool – a scalpel. Quick cuts that need to be made face to face in conversation. Meaningful, uncomfortable but useful conversations. She learned that sometimes you need two different types of tools to accomplish things and encouraged us to think about how we use our tools and which ones do we need to have out at the ready.
She also spoke about being a women just over 40 with a child and how that has changed where she is in life. Before, she said, she would have been the activist carrying the sword in the army, but now she realizes that she’s really in the position where she can carry the water for the army and help that way. She’s gone from being the agitator to being the person “the institution” brings in to speak to the students. She struggled with this for a time – but then again – realized how she is helping from the place she is at now.
Are others of you struggling with your identity as a Student Affairs professional in the midst of these social issues? What are you doing day-to-day to help the process? Are you using your role professionally, yet with care and meaning, to help those students you work with or are you letting moments of true ‘real talk’ pass you by? I challenge everyone to have an uncomfortable talk with a colleague today about this.
Meanwhile, check out Staceyann’s memoir “The Other Side of Paradise”. I got to hear her read from it two separate times, and its moving and powerful, and I’m just really glad we brought her to campus.