Category Archives: Leadership

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

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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

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

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 dictionary.com 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

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

Why Not Me? Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

by: Shelly N. Laurenzo

Amidst the morning hustle of getting ready for work and a toddler ready for preschool I hear a light bing come from my cell phone. Thinking it might be a traffic alert, dreaded with my 35-mile commute, I hesitantly picked up my phone and instead saw a calendar alert for a director’s group meeting the next day. Director’s group? Why would I be getting a calendar invite to director’s group? And then I remembered, I’m now a member of director’s group. A few days prior I was promoted in the office and now held a seat in at the table of my office’s leadership team. As soon as my decaffeinated brain processed this information my second thought was, I’m not ready for this. Clearly this is a mistake. I’m an imposter.

Continue reading Why Not Me? Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Reflections on Gender Equity in Higher Education: An Introduction

This is the first 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)

Reading the postings at SAfeminist, I’ve been thinking not just about leadership and mentorship for women on campus, but also about the purposes of leadership itself. Why do we—by whom I mean SAfeminist voices—care so much about leadership, specifically about female leadership? Is it really self-evident why it matters? SAfeminist writers are united in their call. I hear that. I hear that women continue to feel pulled between the personal and the political, between family and career, between fixed and fluid identities, between one polarity and another. Personal experience tells me those dynamics are real. What I am not hearing as clearly is why women’s leadership and mentorship will help right now. I’d like to reflect on that question. To what end do we envision the leadership for which we are calling? Continue reading Reflections on Gender Equity in Higher Education: An Introduction

Making it Right After Getting it “Wrong”

by: Sara Hinkle, Jennifer R. Keup, & Jodi Koslow Martin

As we have referenced before, this blog is the descendant of an ongoing Women’s Leadership Book Club in which most of the regular #SAFeminist contributors engage. Our most recent book selection literally started with the daunting questions “When did you make a mistake in your career and what did you learn from it?” The rest of the book, aptly titled Mistakes I Made at Work: 25 Influential Women Reflect on What They Got Out of Getting it Wrong, is dedicated to sharing the stories told in response to that question for a number of female leaders from a wide range of professions, including Kim Gordon (bassist and founding member of Sonic Youth), Ruth Reichl (La Times and New York Times food critic, author, and editor of Gourmet magazine), Carol S. Dweck (Stanford psychology professor and motivation researcher), and Dr. Cori Lathan (Founder and CEO of the engineering research and design firm, AnthroTronix).

Reading the very real, sometimes embarrassing, occasionally painful stories was a fascinating and enlightening experience. Especially because it was such a raw insight into the taboo topic of women making mistakes, for which we rarely allow or forgive ourselves due to stringent and typically unrealistic expectations of women that are often self-inflicted but socially endorsed. Continue reading Making it Right After Getting it “Wrong”

On Being Silenced

by Heather Shea Gasser

In the past two days, I received two different pieces that discuss the effects of silencing. Please take a moment to read the Feminist Wire article Feminists We Love: Dr. Kristie Dotson and the New York Times piece Speaking While Female.

The arrival of these two articles in my inbox also coincides with my preparation for a Higher Ed Live show that I’m hosting on the topic of Confronting Racism on Campus, during which I plan to ask the following question of the panelists:

“As a white person engaging in this conversation [about Ferguson], I know that silence by some white people inhibits authentic dialogue with one another and with our students. How can we assist those who may feel unable to engage, for whatever reason, race being one, to enter this important dialogue? How can we draw in those who either choose not to contribute or are silent because they fear saying the wrong thing? And, how can we ensure that white people understand the implications of choosing NOT to enter into a conversation in which they need to participate?”

As a response to my proposed question, one of the panelists made the remark that perhaps some individuals are coerced into being silent. He wrote in an email “I can’t help by wonder how many of our colleagues are stifled….how can we help those who may feel/be professionally, politically or socially strong-armed?”

Continue reading On Being Silenced