Category Archives: Uncategorized

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. 


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

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

Another Reason Not to Like the Word…..Bloat

by Jodi Koslow Martin

I am sensitive to a few issues in higher education. When I say “sensitive,” I mean there are a few matters in higher education that are incredibly important and incredibly challenging at the same time. From my own research, I’ve become sensitive to getting first-year students enrolled in classes taught by full-time faculty in their first semester of college. I’m sensitive to the needs in the lives of Resident Hall Directors; to live and work in the same place can make it really difficult to set essential personal boundaries. And, of late, I am extremely sensitive to the critique of higher education that the cost of college is so high because of administrative bloat. I already had an issue with the word ‘bloat’ for obvious reasons. The basis for my current touchiness to this word relates to my personal experience as a vice president at a small, private institution.

Continue reading Another Reason Not to Like the Word…..Bloat

Women of December

by Jodi Koslow Martin

A couple of weeks ago, the bloggers of this site got together on GoToMeeting to do what we do – discuss a book we’ve chosen related to feminist leadership. We had chosen Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington. The participant with the newborn was too tired to be on the call. Completely understandable as all of us have been in her shoes. Another was talking to us from the car after fitting in a haircut before picking up her son. She was about 100 pages into the book. I had also read about 100 pages, too. I had borrowed it through interlibrary loan but didn’t finish it before the due date. It traveled with me in my purse for a few weeks before I shoved it through the book repository of the library. Then, I ordered it on Instead of trying to be a good steward of my resources, my packed schedule left me with a library fine and a credit card charge. Then, the PhD student of our group was listening to the book on audio while out on her runs. To make sure she finished in time for our meeting, she made the reader talk so fast she could barely understand what was being read to her. Lastly, our pregnant participant held up her book to show us that the binding was pristine. She hadn’t opened it yet.

Continue reading Women of December

My Break-up and Renewed Commitment to Self-Care: Why I Keep Trying

lorde image

I’m just returning to work after two weeks of vacation. And what a two weeks!  Long, lazy summer days filled with whatever I chose to fill those days with has been healing and rejuvenating.  This year, I had been holding out for this sacred time away after a particularly stressful year–the kind of year that left me feeling like I didn’t do a great job at anything—being pulled in too many directions, scattered, and spent.  It was a year of survival.

Mere survival is just not okay with me.  I want to thrive in this life and in my work.  I aim to be present, deliberate, and reflective. I want to have fun! Determined (and desperate) to have a different kind of year, I’ve spent a good amount of time on my vacation contemplating self-care.  I find it frustrating that I’m still struggling with how to effectively care for myself  since this is an issue about which I’ve long theorized and practiced in order to be present for myself and others.  Nevertheless, despite all my best and true intentions here I am—yet again—faced with the challenge of how to do it differently.  How do I care for myself better, particularly in the face of immense stress?

I know self-care to be a political act, not solely about caring for myself but about caring for my relationships, my organization, my community.  As Audre Lorde so beautifully put it, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”  If I cannot be healthy and well, my attempts at fostering healthy relationships and spaces are severely compromised.  Therefore, as a feminist leader in Student Affairs, I know how fundamental self-care is to my work.

Feminist leadership seeks to make power visible in order to create positive change. In order to do this, the practice of feminist leadership must attend to all dimensions in which power operates: the public (where power is visible such as the government, military, corporations), private (within institutions, families, relationships), and the intimate (the powerfulness—or powerlessness we feel within ourselves in the form of self-confidence, power over our bodies).   Therefore, feminist leadership calls for self-awareness and self-love as critical to prevent narcissism from driving all actions and to ensure that true otherness can be recognized and respected.  In other words, we gotta love ourselves before we can love anyone else.

Practicing feminist leadership and self-care in Student Affairs requires an ability to create and sustain healthy boundaries with relationships and with work/life.  Given the value our work places on relationships (with students, collaborating partners) and non-traditional work schedules, the boundaries that help to protect the self are often tested in complicated and messy ways.  It can be tough, for a number of reasons, to tend to our own needs in the culture of Student Affairs.  And this is precisely what makes self-care so vital to our work as feminists in Student Affairs.

I have no answers to my desperate question of how to practice better self-care this time around. However, I believe that the answer lies in the continuous asking of this important question. After all, the answers inevitably change depending on our evolving selves and circumstances but the question itself both demonstrates and fosters the self-awareness and self-love that we seek.

No More, “I’m Late!”

by Jennifer Stripe Portillo

One morning a few months back, I stopped by the office of one of the department chairs at my institution.  She and I had been trying to connect all week to discuss a student matter and just kept missing one another.  I got lucky on this day—a Friday at just after 9:00 am—finding her at her desk deeply engrossed in a stack of paperwork.  We exchanged pleasantries and jumped right into conversation about the student issue.

As our interaction came to a close, I said something like, “I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to you—I have been running behind all week.  And Fridays are my mornings to drop my son off at daycare, so I always get to work late.”  She stopped short and said, Continue reading No More, “I’m Late!”