My Heart is Full

by Jodi Koslow Martin

As the first week of classes comes to an end, those of us in student affairs see the conclusion of welcome activities.  Bridge programs, peer leader training, move-in days, dropped classes, added classes, opening convocations…you name it, we’re certainly always in charge of it.  These are days filled with utter exhaustion, what may be called the “good tired” if our experience has an element of fulfillment to it.  And, sometimes, these are days when hope and promise meet glitches and snafus as our smiles get bigger and wider to hide the 15 things that haven’t gone as planned.   It’s in these very days that begin another academic year, affording us the opportunity to bring higher education closer to true equity and inclusion.

I am starting my fourth academic year as a senior student affairs professional at a small, urban Christian university.  This last week led me to a positive place of feeling like I fit in. Odd to say, isn’t it?  Yet, it has taken three full years. There are certainly some realizations that help this situation including a palpable spirit of collaboration at the faculty development retreat of student affairs professionals and faculty working together, a retention rate worthy of attention, and a diverse student affairs staff who are bright, creative, and extremely competent.  Fitting in took some time because as I was being collaborative — a value in feminist leadership I prioritize — I was minimizing my own competency.  Oftentimes I thought that when I heard dissent, it made me think that I must be wrong.  Or, if I shared an opposing viewpoint, I had to think twice because maybe my perspective was off.  Why would I do this?  Was it a lack of confidence? I had thought it was because I didn’t fully understand the culture of my institution.  But, now, I am the culture of my institution.  I’ve carried who I am into this place as I hired and formed staff into being the mentors, educators, and caring individuals.  I’ve carried being a Catholic, female leader into an Evangelical Christian institution where my new student worker felt like he had to ask in a hushed tone, “You’re really Catholic?”  I’ve carried my interest in knowing students deeply into a commitment to know the students who work in our offices and to eat in the cafeteria once a week so that I can start new relationships on a regular basis.  I’ve carried my understanding of leading student affairs into the conversation about student learning outcomes.  I’ve carried my identity and integrity, as Parker Palmer would say, into this sacred space of education.

But, you see, I’ve been carrying it all along.  It didn’t just happen, of course, but it did take 3 years to realize it.  And, it’s not something that can be quantified that led me to this realization.  It came from the heart first.  My heart is full as I think about the impact of the student affairs educators have in the lives of students. My heart is full with the promise of a new academic year.  My heart is full as I recognize that I have the wisdom that comes with time and experience and a love of learning that will keep us continually looking for innovative ways to show we care for our students.  My heart is full because the work is bigger than me, bigger than any one person but it is in the work of student affairs that I, and so many others, can find a place where they fit in because they are being their true selves.

“Be a woman.  Seek and work only for what is life-sustaining. Don’t just change with the times, let the times change because you are present.  Make a difference.” –Mercy Amba Oduyoye


Identity, Intersection, and Collision

by: Kathryn Kay Coquemont

India Arie’s “I Am Not My Hair” is a symbolic anthem communicating that people (particularly those from the Black/African American community) are more than the social identities we use as labels. She sings, “I am not my hair / I am not this skin / I am not your expectations, no / I am not my hair / I am not this skin / I am the soul that lives within”. Although many found these lyrics empowering, others were quick to point out that systemic oppression often does relegate people of color to embody a single dimensional identity. As a woman of color, my permitted identity is often determined by those with more privilege and power than I have. Every day, I navigate the world trying to determine if my racial or my gender identity is more salient in the current space I inhabit. I can only imagine and listen to stories about how much more difficult it is for women with additional marginalized identities to cope with social expectations. Continue reading Identity, Intersection, and Collision

Feminism and the Alpha Female

by: Anonymous

Recently, a female colleague said that she believes that I had achieved my professional position because I am an attractive woman and work for male administrators.  The (not-so-subtle) implication of this statement was that, as an attractive woman, I was given opportunities not afforded to others who she believes are better qualified than I am.

To be quite honest, I was shocked at this accusation. I would never classify myself as an attractive woman. I would describe myself as a runner, athletic, a feminist, an educator, a wife, a sister, a mother, an animal lover, and a laundry list of other adjectives…but never would I label myself as “attractive.” The idea of of using my appearance in an attempt to get ahead is ridiculous to me. I am the person running out the house at the last minute with a dryer sheet stuck to the arm of her blouse. I am so frugal that I only shop at second-hand clothing shops and that one red tag clearance rack at the back corner of the store. My husband is far more fashion forward than I am. In fact, he does all the ironing in our household as my skill level is not up to his standards, which is fine by me. I spray that magic wrinkle spray on myself and call it good enough. Most of my time outside of work is spent in running shoes and workout clothing. My beauty “routine” consists of my daughter’s baby oil, eczema cream, and prescription acne ointment from a dermatologist (yes, in my mid-30’s I am plagued by both acne and wrinkles). Those are certainly not the features that one would normally associate with “attractive.” Continue reading Feminism and the Alpha Female

Go High, Not Low

by Jodi Koslow Martin

Last night, I got a text from my friend Kate that simply said, “Love Michelle!!”  I knew she was talking about the First Lady’s speech at the Democratic National Convention.  I hadn’t been watching as I was getting my daughter ready for bed and for the next day’s session of vacation bible school.  After I texted Kate back, she said she had been doing the same with her two girls but encouraged me to watch.  Chills, is what she wrote back, predicting the feeling I’d get when I watched.  Indeed.  Chills and tears, as I wrote back to Kate this morning, after watching the speech in my office.

A number of the lines from The First Lady’s speech align with how we’ve discussed the concept of feminist leadership on this blog.  We certainly are better together.  Yes, things are so much bigger than any one person and yet everyone has to know and feel they matter.  And the ceiling is ready to be broken.  Then, of course, there’s Ms. Obama’s line that has been getting much of the public’s attention.  She and her spouse have taught their children that when others “go low, we go high.”  Yes, yes, yes.

In our work in higher education and in these summer months of sunshine, performance appraisals, and a few less meetings, can we commit to a life of “going high?”  As we work with our orientation leaders and welcome new students, are we talking with new students with the kind of “decency and grace” the First Lady referenced about her spouse’s work when these new students missed a deadline or seem not to have read the information we sent them?  How do the sentiments of the social justice movements not just influence the big waves of activism on our campuses but also the everyday interactions of crafting a thoughtful email or responding to a co-worker?  Michelle Obama’s speech weaved the inspirational with the everyday within a framework of reflection and a call not to give up on the future.  The mention of her daughters getting into the car to go to school and waking up every morning in a house built by slaves shows how the history of individuals’ actions chart the course for others in unimaginable ways.  Who we are today is who our students see as the models of their futures.  When we, as student affairs professionals, show students love and compassion and hold them accountable we are getting them ready for the future.  But holding students accountable without love and compassion is not worthy of our efforts.  Are we teaching students how the academy, a space in which elitism is often fueled by tenure-tracks and terminal degrees, need not feel cold because in an educational space where the student who was not born in one of these united states, and the student who has spent time in camouflage in a desert, and the student who has only attended private schools are all welcomed?  And, we welcome all of them because at their core they are all students.  We have opened the doors of higher education so that these three and many others could learn together.

What is often difficult during an election season is that we surround ourselves with those who think like us.  It’s hard to hang out with those we characterize as going low. Sometimes we tiptoe around politics at family gatherings as we don’t want to go “there.”  Are we doing this at work, too? Everyone’s perception, as we all know, is certainly not the same.   And, feminist leadership is not about getting a group of people with black, brown, and white skin around the table who politically all align and have a similar understanding of education.  Feminist leadership in student affairs and in higher education is the other parts of the First Lady’s speech.  The parts of not taking the easy way out, of not giving up, of being steady and measured.  All of us have to work with people who are not like us and do things differently.  How do we lead with those different from us?  Do we avoid it or do we embrace it?  I find myself wanting to jump in and fix things immediately. Yet, my job has taught me that the steady and measured approach is the most successful.  It’s the continuity of trying every day to begin centered, to not get (too) angry, and to remember to be kind, loving, and caring.  Be graceful and decent as a means of showing steadiness and decency.  Hard, hard work.  Hard work we must do to be models for students.  And, for me, there but for the grace of God I go. 


Work/Life Balance: Revisited

I know- you’re reading this title and saying, isn’t this topic old and tired? What more can we say about work/life balance that hasn’t already been said?  Haven’t we been told time and time again that balance is bunk?  I know, I know.  However, a variety of experiences I’ve had over the past few months have sparked my interest in revisiting this topic.  Humor me.  Here goes…

I recently attended a wonderful on-campus session focused on women in leadership. Everyone on campus was invited to attend a lunch and subsequent panel session, which included women who held or had held various leadership positions in higher education.  One panelist was a president emerita; another, a retired assistant vice president for student affairs; two were chief academic affairs officers; and a fifth was a vice chancellor of our state system.  As we asked the panel various questions, the inevitable questions came up about work/life balance.  How do you manage it all?  After the question was asked, the panel grew uncharacteristically silent and looked a bit sheepish.  “Not very well,” admitted the former AVPSA, a rumored workaholic.  The retired president offered up something about a seesaw- sometimes career is up and sometimes personal life is up, depending on the period of life or time of year.  Okay, fair enough. The others sort of hemmed and hawed. What became clear from this panel of very successful women is that balance is hard to achieve and some women (and men) eschew balance in order to achieve success. It didn’t leave me feeling optimistic.

Continue reading Work/Life Balance: Revisited

Choosing a Cause: A Reflection on Orlando

by Jodi Koslow Martin

It takes time to fully process any tragedy. When it is the mass shooting that happened in Orlando, we read how others respond. For many of us, reading others’ responses and listening to the news reports becomes all-consuming. It is for me.

How should I, as an individual, respond? How should the Christian university where I work respond? In reading the updates on Facebook, news sites, my twitter feed, and listening to NPR, I am left to believe that I should take up a cause. Or causes. And all are noble and worthy. We should pray. We should favor stronger gun control laws because there are more places to buy a gun in the United States than there are Starbucks in the world. We should end homophobia. We should be appalled by the possibility of the Republican candidate becoming president.

Yet, I am a pragmatic dreamer, if there ever was such a thing. So, I am choosing a cause and I invite you to join me. Let’s choose the cause of higher education.

In colleges and universities, especially those committed to the liberal arts, we see the impact of education. Students become critical thinkers and, at an even more basic level than describing the kind of skills they develop, they are exposed to new ways of understanding people that make a real difference and develop their character. It is in our classrooms, in the residence halls, in the cafeteria, in the diversity office, in chapel, and on the playing field that students experience people different from themselves. Campuses committed to recruiting and retaining students of color, students on the spectrum, students who identify as LGBTQ, students who were born in another country, students of various socio-economic statuses, students who are practicing Christians, students who follow Islam…it is in the spaces where all these students come together around the common goal of pursuing a bright future where the most impactful education takes place. It is in these spaces where students see their peers not as “others” but as friends and as community members. To stop having others feel like “the other,” we have to commit to inclusion and equity not because these words are trendy in higher education or politically correct but because it is how America the Beautiful stays home of the free. And, we may be encouraging students to consider something different than what was taught by their families or past teachers. We may be exposing them to ideas that are not their understanding of truth. Our cause is to walk alongside students as they walk alongside each other in their education and in the pursuit of their dreams — dreams that should live on in thriving communities rather than in a society desensitized to the phrase “mass shooting.”

Those at Pulse in Orlando were in a safe space. In the club, these individuals were free of being judged. Those who lost their lives lose them in utter fear. To add to the devastation, their families now have a record of this fear.

Why do we embrace feminist leadership? Because if we accept the core concepts of feminist leadership — to bring together all voices, to foster collaboration — we are preparing safe spaces. As I reflect upon Orlando and think about my work as a Christian educator, I find that God’s work can be done in memory of those who lost their lives in Orlando. We commit to providing safe spaces for our students to ask questions, to figure out how to engage in inquiry, to not be fearful, and to be their best and most authentic selves.

“We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.” – Lin-Manuel Miranda

Feminist Pet Peeves-Part II (video version)

by Jennifer R. Keup

Back in November of 2014, I wrote a piece for this blog that represented a brief departure from the important posts and exchanges about equity, leadership, and feminism that take place in this forum. The piece was a satirical “rant” on the day-to-day feminist struggles and reminders of the gendered nature of our social systems and interpersonal habits. You all indulged me with that post, so I hope another one along those lines but with video clips will similarly capture your interest. As such, here is the second installation in the occasional series meant to highlight “feminist pet peeves.”

Double standards: When I first saw this advertisement for Pantene, I was absolutely, tears-in-my-eyes, and goosebumps-on-my-arms blown away. It so perfectly captured all of the terrible and persistent double standards that women face in general and that seem to be exponentially greater for women in leadership roles. I know that I have personally experienced several of these “delightful” labels and, even at my strongest and most empowered moments, they have taken a toll upon my psyche (you can imagine what they have done to me in moments when I struggle with imposter syndrome). Language is powerful. So, it is important that we use it to advance messages of equity and not reinforce double standards.

Unequal pay: Sadly, whether in the board room or on the soccer pitch women are still systematically paid less than men. There is a school of thought that this is due largely to different career decisions that are correlated with gender. However, the pay differential typically persists even when men and women are in the same position, possess equivalent professional credentials, and have followed a similar pathway to their leadership role. We have work to do so that we can stop “celebrating” Equal Pay Day each year in early April as the day when women’s earnings “catch up” to men’s earnings from the previous year.

“Like a girl”: When did doing something “like a girl” become an insult? I am not sure when I noticed this phenomenon but it seems to have been a troubling and consistent theme for the several decades of my lifetime. Should we consider it a sad form of progress that women’s performance on athletic fields, classrooms, clubs, and board rooms went from unnoticed to acknowledged but “lesser than”? Further, it seems as if there is no quicker and more effective insult to a man than to tell him he does anything “like a girl.” It is my dream that my sons may someday hear this term and think of the towering female role models in our society today (and maybe their mom too) and say “thanks!”

Feminist as a “dirty” word: As I mentioned earlier, language is powerful. So, I understand people’s caution at the labels they choose and use for themselves. However, I am baffled by how often individuals at all points on the gender spectrum shun the word “feminist.” A quick look at identifies its definition as “advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.” While it may denote a degree of agency and responsibility, there doesn’t seem to be anything innately offensive, upsetting, or even exclusive about the term. I agree with Justin Trudeau’s, Prime Minister of Canada, statement in this video: we need to keep using this word until there is no reaction other than “of course!”

So, there you have it, my feminist friends. Now it’s your turn. Share some of your favorite video clips that highlight your feminist pet peeves or feature inspiring messages about equity and empowerment. We welcome your comments!

Reflections on Gender Equity in Higher Education: Intergenerational Feminism Starts at Home

This is the third post in a series contributed by Susan Albertine, Senior Fellow at the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).

This blog post started as a conversation with my daughter. About three years ago, I asked my daughter about feminism. She, Hannah, had just finished her first year of college. Prime time for a mother to swoop in and take temperature. Let’s be more precise. Second-wave feminist mom who at age 43 gave birth to her daughter descends on wary daughter after year one of college, bearing annoying questions. I could easily have been her grandmother, but she was under no obligation to extend me that courtesy.

I took the risk. Note: I am often too direct for my own good. Indeed, the conversation was awkward. Asked about the word feminism, Hannah said, “That’s your generation. I don’t know a single person who says she’s a feminist.” She said it genially, with a gleam in her eye. It put me in mind of her baby self, beaming with love, looking me straight in the eye, opening wide her adorable little mouth, and biting me. Her young adult conversations retain both their affection and their teeth. I felt it, but I was ready. Then followed ruminations.

Continue reading Reflections on Gender Equity in Higher Education: Intergenerational Feminism Starts at Home

Care and Competition

I recently watched Robert Waldinger’s TED Talk called What Makes a Good Life: The Longest Study on Happiness.  I’m going to go ahead and spoil it for you; the answer lies in good relationships.  At the core of these relationships is their ability to dispel feelings of loneliness.  Waldinger offers an example that the couple married for many years may still bicker on a daily basis but the quality of the relationship does not lie in petty arguments.  If both spouses trust the other to offer support when things get really tough, then the relationship is a good one. 
I think of this TED talk as I have been thinking about Ann-Marie Slaughter’s Book, Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family.  The authors of this blog selected Slaughter’s book as a selection for our Women’s Leadership Book Club (sure, I’ll capitalize the name of our unofficial group).  Slaughter’s article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,  in The Atlantic was one of the first pieces that got us all talking and was the premise for our ACPA presentation a couple of years ago.  As I dove into our selected text, I was having a really difficult time relating to the description of Slaughter’s journey.  She left a highly intense political appointment to return to an administrative appointment at Princeton.  It was in her return to Princeton that she decided that women couldn’t have it all.  Her circle of professional colleagues wondered if she couldn’t hack it in Washington and her weaknesses led her back to her family.  One must admit returning to Princeton does not sound all that terrible, nor does it sound like a cake walk.  It was this part of Slaughter’s story that framed her plight that I found, truthfully, not much of a plight at all.  And, her story led to think that Slaughter views work in higher education as cushy.  Sure, it likely is compared to politics in Washington.  Yet, I felt she inadvertently dismissed the challenges of working in higher education.

Continue reading Care and Competition

Reflections on Gender Equity in Higher Education: Equity and Leadership

This is the second post in a series contributed by Susan Albertine, Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Student Success at the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).

In the months since I last wrote for #SAFeminist, we’ve seen racial, ethnic, and sex-gender violence continue to flare across the country, on campuses, and in communities. For some of us, this unrest seems new, a different turn of events. Others of us–I among them–hear and feel the past echoing in the present. Many of us recognize a high-publicity phase of conditions that have simmered, boiled, and exploded all along. Perspective matters here.

Regardless of one’s experience, regardless of the ways one recognizes origins and continuity, social unrest now is impossible to miss. Reading an opinion piece by Danielle Allen, a political philosopher at Princeton, I found myself stunned by empathy when Allen describes—in a single sentence—a moment of continuity in her life. She says, “I, too, was called ‘n-‘ on campus in the lovely, deep late-night dark of Princeton in the spring of 1993.” That sentence haunts me. It is an experience I, as a white woman, have never known. But for a moment I felt a pulse of familiarity. It was not the full actuality, which is beyond my grasp. Still I felt breath and heartbeat for a moment. Thinking about equitable leadership for this #SAFeminist blog post, with that sentence ringing in my ears, I realize what I need to say. Continue reading Reflections on Gender Equity in Higher Education: Equity and Leadership