Brief #PrivilegeStories

These are all tiny pieces of my life that only stand out to me because I think about them, but they highlight the differences in experiences that I am afforded based on my identities. They’re invisible until you speak about them.

Over the course of the last few year my personal life has hit a fairly large milestone. I got engaged and then married to a wonderful woman. Part of that process throughout and after the planning of our wedding pointed out some pretty large privileges that I hold, particularly as a heterosexual cisgender male in the US. And as part of one of my promises to myself, I thought I would briefly share some of the things that have been pointed out to me as privileges that I hold through my #PrivilegeStories series.

The first one that I think of is that I had no hesitation (other than keeping my life private) from sharing my engagement at work or when I’m out in the world. I have no reason to believe that sharing that I was engaged and now married to a woman would be detrimental to my life. I have no reason to believe that having pictures of myself and my partner(wife) on my desk would lead to any negative issues with students or colleagues.

In addition to talking about the engagement and wedding at work, we did not worry about how a vendor may react to our relationship because it can be viewed as “typical.” We are a white, heterosexual, cisgender couple. We don’t break any expectations that our vendors may have before they see us. While working with our vendors we didn’t have to look to any list to let us know if they would be ok working with us. We easily assumed that they would be fine and accept us as customers.

The second piece of this is around my wife’s decision about her name. She holds that a unique part of her identity is in her maiden name which I fully support. So as she continues to make her decision she has felt pressure from friends, acquaintances, and other people about making a decision which is not something that I have had to go through. She also, once a decision is made, may have to go through name changing processes that I do not have to consider at all. I have not been asked at all what my name will change to because people can assume that I won’t change my name.

These are all tiny pieces of my life that only stand out to me because I think about them, but they highlight the differences in experiences that I am afforded based on my identities. They’re invisible until you speak about them. They must be pointed out so that we know what happens to ourselves and how privileges warp our experiences without us noticing. We have to understand these privileges to understand the oppression that folks with subordinated identities face because if we don’t understand the privileges then we can’t see the full problem.

Unproductive Resistance

If we are so stuck to what we believe to be true we can never learn anything. Are you engaging with the material negatively or positively?

When I’m facilitating a training, I frequently provide examples of whatever it is that I’m talking about. So if I’m talking about microaggressions based on race, I may provide some examples that I’ve overheard or witnessed (Where are you really from?) Another example that I’ve used to talk about privilege is the relative privilege that faculty have over staff at an institution of higher education. I think examples of concepts (in this case, a specific microaggression) highlights the reality of the concepts that I’m training on. It allows people to “see” a real life example and use that to fully understand the concept.

That’s the purpose anyway.

Most of the time it goes to plan with some quick conversation on the validity of the example. Sometimes the dialogue goes completely off the rails because people apply their critical lens to the example instead of using the example to critically consider how their experiences or thinking may be limited and then to learn using the example. Those are the times that I want to discuss for a brief moment.

If we are so stuck to what we believe to be true we can never learn anything. That means that hearing an example of a microaggression or privilege and then trying to find ways to dismantle the example is avoiding learning. What it does is misdirect the conversation to finding ways in which the example is somehow flawed. What this means is that we’re applying the same knowledge or lens (which could be inherently flawed or informed through privilege) that we’ve always had to the example instead of understanding how the example can change our perspectives and knowledge.

I’ve seen this play out in conversations where a person telling a story about how they’ve been the target of a microaggression is told that must not be what the other person meant. Which essentially is defending the person who said something ignorant. And while it isn’t necessarily the microaggressors’ fault that they said a microaggression (because privilege usually prevents those with it from understanding what they’ve said is harmful), it is harmful to defend the ignorance of a statement once it’s been defined as inherently ignorant.

Or sometimes it’s finding ways that one small piece of the conversation may not fit entirely within the conversation. I’ve heard one conversation about faculty relative privilege over staff derailed by bringing up the fact that some staff members’ salaries are higher than some faculty salaries. While this is true for a few cases, overall staff are at a disadvantage and using a small example erases the other issues in the different treatments that staff and faculty receive.

All of this is to say that when we’re in a space designed for us to learn, we need to critically reflect on how we’re engaging with the material. Are we asking questions that poke holes in examples? Or are we using the examples and the dialogue to poke holes in our thinking? Those are important self-reflective questions to consider within the context of social justice education trainings that if we do not answer for ourselves we can end up learning nothing and preventing the learning of others.

Complicating the narrative with #PrivilegeStories

We need the #PrivilegeStories because it rounds out the whole picture for us to fully comprehend the systems we live and breathe in. Without #PrivilegeStories we’re just fish who don’t understand that we’re in water.

We often hear stories about oppression and social injustice through the lens and experiences of the oppressed. Which is necessary. We need to hear the stories about the negative influence to fully understand the impact that oppression has on marginalized folks. We need to hear about the ways in which the prison industrial complex impacts people of color. We need to know about housing discrimination. We need to know about exclusionary policies against folks who practice Islam. We need to know about the barriers to success that undocumented people navigate. We need to know about income inequality (and understand the intersectional complications that occur when sex, gender, and race enter the conversation). We need to know about all of the byproducts of oppressive systems because the stories create critical consciousness of marginalization.

The stories of oppression are imperative AND it’s important for stories to be out there about the advantages that privileged folks receive. One of the insidious realities of privilege is that it’s invisible to those who have it. Because of this invisibility it’s hard to understand it, but when we tell stories about the ways that our privileged identities have advantaged us in our lives then both sides of oppressive systems become transparent. We start to see the oppression and the privilege through these stories.

Another complication that comes with privilege is the ways in which it’s easy to dismiss the stories of those who we see as different than us. I’ve been involved with many conversations about socially constructed difference in which people of color are ignored by white people because white people have been trained not to take people of color seriously. White privilege allows us to ignore the contributions of people of color and dismiss their stories of racism as “overly sensitive nonsense.” White privilege allows us to think that some laws getting passed in the 60s eradicated racism so stories of racism now must be outliers rather than the norm. White privilege allows us to accuse people of color of “playing the race card” anytime race is brought into the conversation because we’re supposed to be colorblind in a perverse co-opting of Dr. King’s vision.

So when stories get told about how white people, men, heterosexuals, upper middle class folks, cisgender people, Christians, able-bodied folks receive unearned, unasked for advantages we can push people with privilege to recognize more about how their experiences have been shaped very differently by the same systems that inflict oppression upon marginalized folks. When we can become aware of the ways that our society privileges some while oppressing others we can start to see the problems better. I think most people with privilege operate with the thought that some people are disadvantaged but don’t see the privileged side of it. When we can highlight that privileged side of inequity then consciousness can become easier for those who have privileges.

It’s important for those of us with privileged identities to share the ways in which we’ve been privileged. We have to speak truth to the invisible systems that have given us a leg up in this world. We have to recognize the injustice in that and do work in our communities to challenge our peers with privilege to wake up to that injustice and fight against it. We have to do that through telling our stories of privilege. #crimingwhilewhite is an example of these stories, but we need to go further. We need #PrivilegeStories shared consistently alongside the stories of marginalization and stories of systemic issues and institutions. We need the #PrivilegeStories because it rounds out the whole picture for us to fully comprehend the systems we live and breathe in. Without #PrivilegeStories we’re just fish who don’t understand that we live in water.

What are some of your #PrivilegeStories? Share in the comments and on social media.

Mindfulness and Social Justice part 3

Critical analysis stems from personal work which, in my opinion, is similar to meditation. We acknowledge what we’re aware of and what that awareness is based in. What are our biases and where did they come from? How do they shape our interactions with others and the decisions that we make? What are the assumptions that we make when we do our work and are those assumptions based in oppressive and harmful beliefs that constantly impressed upon us?

As with most of my writing, this post is irregularly timed, but it is part of a series that I’ve been pondering as I continue my exploration of Buddhist teachings and continue to learn to be a more effective social justice educator.

I’m thinking more and more about how the teaching of Thich Nhat Hahn and Social Justice are intertwined. Especially as I read both Thich Nhat Hahn and advocates for social justice (bell hooks, Angela Davis, and many others). Before I get more into this, I want to lay out some definitions.

“Mindfulness is the awareness of what is going on in us and around us in the present moment. It requires stopping, looking deeply, and recognizing both the uniqueness of the moment and its connection to everything that has gone on before and will go on in the future.” -Thich Nhat Hahn, The Mindfulness Survival Kit, page 9

“The goal of social justice education is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of society that is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure.” – Adams, Bell, Griffin, Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice

Our reality is that we’re living in a culture (most of my critical consciousness is US focused but some of these ideas apply globally) in which some people are provided with opportunities that others aren’t. We live in a complex society that privileges some and oppresses others and we know that these are not simple binary situations. We all exist in spectrums of privilege and disadvantage and we have to acknowledge that through the history of our individual experiences but also the experiences that have happened across history. When we’re mindful of our current moment in connection with the histories that have preceded us we can be more aware of how to bring about change.

For example, when I can be connected to my personal experiences with class and cultural capital, which is mixed with privilege and disadvantage, I can understand the ways in which I am both prevented from opportunities by not knowing about them (i.e. investing money) and the ways in which I know about how things work (i.e. traveling and getting a passport). So I’m aware of these particular experiences I’ve had as an individual but I also need to acknowledge how those experiences are shaped by the history of classism in the United States. (This doesn’t even begin to acknowledge the history related to me being white and the advantages that come along with that.)

The two quotations that I’ve used in this post are tied together. In order to be mindful we have to be in the current moment while recognizing how the past and future shapes our present. And Social Justice is a process and a goal. The process is recognizing ways in which privileges and disadvantages have been installed and the ways in which they shapes our experiences. This means being knowledgeable of how we’re being impacted currently as well as how people have been influenced through the ages on the basis of their race, gender, class, sexuality, etc. There is no way to be an effective social justice educator or activist without having a sharp analysis of the ways that history shape our present.

This critical analysis stems from personal work which, in my opinion, is similar to meditation. We acknowledge what we’re aware of and what that awareness is based in. What are our biases and where did they come from? How do they shape our interactions with others and the decisions that we make? What are the assumptions that we make when we do our work and are those assumptions based in oppressive and harmful beliefs that constantly impressed upon us?

To be effective social justice educators and activists we need to be able to answer these questions. We have to be mindful of our present and the way that our histories have shaped us. We have to be mindful of the ways that our decisions in the present shape our futures. This is the social justice process fused with mindfulness and praxis that leads us to our goal of an equitable society.

Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. Edited by Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin.
The Mindfulness Survival Kit: Five Essential Practices. Thich Nhat Hahn.

Radicalized by constant injustice

We are the people who must act now. We are the people who must make the invisible, pervasive systems of injustice transparent. We need to shine our collective light on what’s wrong and what’s been happening while also offering new ways to exist.

We are the people who must act now. We are the people who must make the invisible, pervasive systems of injustice transparent. We need to shine our collective light on what’s wrong and what’s been happening while also offering new ways to exist. We will do this through the collective action of our rising voices everywhere that they need to be heard. We need to recognize that the system is not broken. The United States of America is founded on ideals that degraded non-white people into non-human beings. The United States of American is founded on ideals that marginalized women and minimized their contributions. The United States of America is founded on ideals that turns  people into commodities. The United States of America is founded on the blood-soaked ground of millions of native people.

Those of us with privilege must listen and stand alongside the voices of the unheard. We need to recognize that we do not have the same life experience, but we can push to change that. All human lives should matter but, to paraphrase Animal Farm, some human lives matter more than others in our current state. To truly make all human lives matter we need more than body cameras on all police. We need more than the empty promises of politicians. We need to shape a new culture that recognizes the inherent worth of all human beings. To do this we will need to shed our values of humans as commodities.

The time to act is now. A graphic of Cornel West stating "Justice is what love looks like in public."We need to know what we want, take action to get it, and reflect on if it’s going the way we planned and including the voices of everyone. We’ve seen killers walk free after trials. We’ve seen killers walk free before even facing a trial. We’ve watched a father be murdered by illegal restraint on video. We’ve watched a 12 year old boy get shot before getting a chance to surrender. We’ve seen the injustice come to life in front of us in ways that wasn’t possible before now. This brutality isn’t new but we’re just now seeing it. It’s just now coming to our consciousness. We should be pissed because it’s happening and because we haven’t known before now.

We need to understand that this is not as simple as doing some trainings or watching a buzzfeed video about microaggressions. We’ve been shown the depth of the injustice. It runs deep and throughout our history. It’s not just on the individual levels but infused into our institutions and governments. It dictates every level of our cultures down to the most minute detail. Nearly everything we do or participate in is founded upon injustice. So those of us who have been privileged in our lives regardless of the reason have a responsibility. We have to listen. We have to notice. We have to speak. We have to stand together because we have to recognize the change that is necessary.

In the wake of the senseless deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Rumain Brisbon (and many, many others) we can begin to see and that sight of constant injustice radicalized us. We know that we must grasp at the root of the problem and we know that’s not easy. We must stand in solidarity with each other to support the movement toward justice. We must all grasp at the root together in order to truly create the beloved community that we all deserve.

Social Justice Educator

I strive to be a social justice educator. This means that I try Three arrows combine to make a circle. Theory, action, reflection all rotate around the work praxis.not to order students or participants to find a singular way to being critically conscious. The paths to critical consciousness are varied and I have to help people find their own way. This means that I do not assume that I know more. This means that I’m human and I’ll make mistakes and learn from them. This means that I work with participants to try to guide the way. It means we’re constantly and purposefully learning, acting, and reflecting together.

It means that I walk with them on their path to critical consciousness. It’s not an easy path. There are pitfalls. There are dangerous twists and turns that can lead one back into status quo thinking. I’ve seen students become confronted with new concepts of what it means for them to white. They are confronted by their privilege and what it means to the experience of their peers. I’ve seen students find ways to embrace this concept and begin to work against privilege and I’ve seen students turn away from furthering their understanding because there is a huge fear of what it means to accept the reality of privilege. The students know it would change how they interact with the people around them. It would change most students’ worldview and how they interpret the media, conversations, and the language that people use. It’s scary, but that’s why we exist.

Being a social justice educator means helping anyone work through that cognitive dissonance where what they’ve always known is challenged by the evidence in front of them. I have to shed the inherent power dynamic that is present between educators and students/participants. I have to recognize that I don’t know everyone’s experience despite the assumptions I have and biases I might carry, because I am not free from the biases that I have been trained to have. This power dynamic can sometimes make me feel like I should know more than my participants or that I should be able to answer all of their questions, but vulnerable honesty can be more powerful than giving someone a script or recipe to follow.

I pay attention to what is happening around me and attempt to highlight the underlying systems that create consistent injustices in the world. I create space to share rage, frustration, and sadness at the things that happen that we have no control over. I make myself vulnerable to expose how I’ve benefited from systemic oppression or how I’ve perpetuated it. Because understanding the benefits I’ve received and ways in which I unconsciously perpetuate systemic oppression gives me the tools to fight against it. I also hope that it gives others the courage to start their own self-critique of their histories so they can develop the tools to fight against the ways that they perpetuate oppression.

This work isn’t easy. It’s tiring. It can seem lonely. But with a community of folks who are working toward the same goal this work can be uplifting and rewarding. And it’s easier for me to do this work than to ignore what’s happening around me. I do this work because the weight of willful ignorance on my conscious would be unspeakably heavy.

The paths to burnout

I’ve had a relatively short career in student affairs but over the course of my 3+ years post masters degree, I have seen (including myself) a couple dozen new professionals accept positions directly out of graduate school and the results haven’t always been awesome. With that in mind, I’ve thought of a few examples of things that I’ve seen or felt take a toll on myself and my peers.

I’ve had a relatively short career in student affairs but over the course of my 3+ years post masters degree, I have seen (including myself) a couple dozen new professionals accept positions directly out of graduate school and the results haven’t always been awesome. With that in mind, I’ve thought of a few examples of things that I’ve seen or felt take a toll on myself and my peers.

Taking everything too seriously

In student affairs, we sometimes get stuck dwelling on the very A grumpy looking catserious situations that we work with. These incidents or interventions can stick with us for a long time. We tend to focus on these draining experiences rather than the inspiring or uplifting interactions with have with students who are engaging with their community in a positive manner or advocating for a change in policy or creating a new program/initiative that is going to make a difference. With that in mind, we have to know when to have fun. We play an important role at the university but that doesn’t mean that we have to be stuffy all the time. If you’re stuck in the serious and negative all the time you’re going to reach your limit more quickly and then you won’t be able to assist students and do the important stuff when it’s called for.

Not taking time away

Vacation days are time when your job is paying you not to work. Use them. Sick days are also for us to actually be sick and recuperate. Limiting your life to your job can be seriously detrimental to your health and prevents you from being the holistic person that we help our students strive to be. I’m not even asking you to take a week-long vacation but find some hobbies, make friends, and get away from campus to recharge. Explore your town, I’m willing to bet that there is something there for you to engage with.

Making unilateral decisions

People don’t like change. That includes our A heterosexual white couple sit on a couch. The man says to the woman, students and peers when we move into new positions. Little changes to routines for our students can be difficult to grasp. We need to make sure the decisions we make take into account the audience that the decision will impact. This usually results from not learning the culture around you and how to exist within that. Learn the students and what they need from you. Make decisions that are going to help you all succeed and accomplish your shared goals (that should also be developed within the context of your university and department values and vision)

Ignoring your successes

We all make mistakes and one of them is ignoring when we do something well and staying stuck in the mistakes. Supervisors are going to define success how they want to but you also need to establish your own vision for success so that you can meet your own goals. Be realistic but also find ways to push yourself. Also think outside of your position (check with your supervisor first though!)… One of my goals one year was to get trained to facilitate a diversity and inclusion workshop that is hosted in our Multicultural Education office and use that as a platform to connect with students outside of my residence hall. One way to continue this work is to write down three things that you’re grateful for or that you did well each day. This simple gratitude practice can help you focus on what success is at hand.

Ignoring your passions

You may find your position limiting in terms of working with your passions outside of your day-to-day work. Ignoring them and not connecting with them are going to wear you down and demotivate you. One of my passions is social justice education and college access and I’ve been very fortunate in working at a university in which these ideas can come together in a summer bridge program for 1st generation college students. I’ve also created programs focused on social justice education that give space for us to learn from each other. I’ve made space for the things that I care about to be present in my daily work even though it’s not in my title. Find ways to make that work for you.

Avoiding reflection

A huge part of our lives is making meaning of A moleskine journal and penwhat’s happening in front of and around us. If we don’t take time to reflect on what we’ve been doing then we aren’t able to adjust to do things better in the future. Reflection should be a huge part of any professional’s work flow, but I think it’s especially critical to entry-level professionals because you’re establishing your career. Learning from what’s happening around you (both positive and negative) can be better professional development than  attending conferences. Set a reminder to reflect regularly whether it’s daily or weekly or monthly. Think about what you’ve done and what was great and what you can do better for next time.

Not having a mentor

Mentors are so critical! They hold us accountable to what we want to accomplish and the professional (or even person) that we want to become. Find someone you look up to who you trust and talk to them about being their mentee. Talk to them about what your goals are in your position and where you want to go in your career. They can also talk through how their career started out


There a lots of ways to make these things happen and this is obviously not an exhaustive list. Consider what’s going to work for you. Think about setting up regular practices such as journal writing in reflection. Meditation can also be a day changer (it has been for me) and there are lots of apps available for smart phones that help guide you through meditations (my favorite is Stop, Breathe, Think). Another app that I’ve used recently is Lift. It’s a coaching app that helps establish new habits. Whatever you do reflect on how you’re feeling at work and what you can do to take care of yourself.

Reaching Men for Social Change

Over the course of the last two years I have been facilitating a workshop about how patriarchy negatively harms men. The workshop is facilitated through a feminist lens and asks participants to list the characteristics that make up what it means to be a man or the “rules” they know that men receive. We then frame the conversation of these rules in the influence of patriarchy and how these rules harm men and put men in a position to continue to do harm to themselves and those around them.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive from the students who have attended the workshop and has inspired me to look beyond just this workshop to how I can have a larger impact on my campus community with changing the harmful, outdated model of patriarchal masculinity to something that does not oppress women and gender non-conforming folks. bell hooks put forth a concept of feminist masculinity that I highlight in my workshop. She specifically highlights the concept of consistent self-critique of actions and behaviors. Which made me think about the lack of a space for that to happen with men.

I know that there are many spaces that are designated (or feel) they are only for men, but those spaces generally do not engage men to think about what the impact is that they’re having within society. The space doesn’t ask them to think critically about their internalized expectations of manhood that they’re learned throughout their lifetime through explicit and implicit messages from the world around them. There is no challenge. And because there is no challenge to that systemic message, the space implicitly encourages a world where “boys will be boys”.

What would an organization look like that supports men critically challenging the patriarchal masculinity that they’ve been trained to follow? There are lots of models out there. The Oakland Men’s Project is one example. There is also a student group at University of California that meets to challenge patriarchal notions. I’ve also seen organizations on college campuses such as Men Against Rape and Men Advocating Responsible Conduct. And then there are research studies, books, and articles that could inspire something when combined all together.

But I know that I believe the following and we need to address it:

Male supremacy negatively impacts how I communicate with my partners, friends, and comrades. It negatively impacts how I want, express, conceptualize, and make love. It negatively impacts how I live my life and how I organize. Male supremacy hurts men’s relationships to themselves, to women and people of other genders, and to the earth. It has shaped out emotional lives so as to effectively advance a violent, militaristic, misogynistic, anti-queer, brutally competitive economic system. I am enraged by the resulting damage I see in men’s lives all around me.

Chris Crass – Toward Collective Liberation

I know that there are a lot of different ways to attempt to mentor young men. It’s important to me that I start contributing in some way so I’ll be looking for ways to engage men in having a challenging conversation or pointing to resources. What ways have you engaged men in speaking about social justice? Particularly in their role in contributing and/or challenging patriarchal masculinity.

How does identity influence leadership?

We know that the traditional vision of leadership is broken (and we know that this isn’t an original idea) because it does not recognize the cultural implications of leadership. We thought of leadership as someone who was giving orders. This was someone who had a unilateral vision of what needed to be accomplished and gave orders for how things should be done. Leaders were generals, kings, CEOs. Leaders were somehow appointed by a higher power (not necessarily a spiritual power). We knew that we had to listen to these people because that’s the way it was. We had to assume that they knew best.

Due to structural power systems, the people who generally held (or hold) these positions are rich white men. This is due to the collusion of the US white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist, patriarchal forces. When hiring for a position we are usually focused on the experiences of the candidate from previous positions and we frequently forget the uneven distribution of experience that favors some over others. Which means that some people are habitually left out of new opportunities because they haven’t been given a chance in the past so they can’t get one in the present either.

The Social Change Model of Leadership Development (SCM) (which borrows a lot of ideas from cultures outside of the white male hegemony) recognized some of the issues that preceded it and was a way that higher education researchers responded to the singular leader idea. That helped continue to push student affairs educators to recognize that leadership is interdependent and that leadership can come from groups. We started to recognize that we need to be able to disagree in a manner that moves the group/movement/idea forward. This borrows some of the concepts from Anarchist politics and consensus building which is not a frame of mind that many within the US have which is due to our majority rules mindset. Bringing everything to a vote and having a majority rule on everything can be a major hindrance to progress within a group.

But even so we can come to consensus and make decisions as a group that ignores the realities of the white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist patriarchy. (The Supreme Court has been doing this recently). We need to ensure that we recognize the privileges and power that we hold that stems from our social identities that we frequently do not choose. I did not opt-in to White Privilege but I can choose to be conscious of it and opt-out through continuous action and critical reflection.

I was asked recently by a colleague what the next “big thing” in leadership education (on college campuses) is going to be and I think it’s going to be related to helping our students understand what the cultural impact that their identities have on their leadership qualities and skills because it matters. How you grew up influences how you see the world which has a could have a huge impact on how you work with a group and what you do with your skills in the workplace. While I mentioned the SCM, I think it’s important that we use that simply as a framework. We can help our students and ourselves develop our own understandings of our identities within the context of our society. We need to be open about what it means to be a member of a dominant group and what it means to be in an oppressed group. We need to explore privilege and advantages and how we benefit from them over those who don’t receive them. It’s critical that we start having this conversation to create a society where we can all be at decision making tables rather than how things are going now.

Positive Power Dynamics

“Time and again, despite differences in the context of the relationships, students characterized their worst relationships as unequal and unfair. These types of relationships made people feel diminished, inferior, weak, and violated.” (Goodman, 2000, p. 197)

It’s not at all surprising to me that people describe the worst relationships that they’ve had as being one-sided or feeling inferior to another person. This makes total sense to me. Being taken advantage of in a relationship (whether romantic, work, friendship, etc.) would sour that entire experience. Feeling that one person is more invested in extracting some kind of advantage from you kills any kind of trust. All of this seems obvious, but how does it influence relationships with students. How do student affairs educators reinforce these dynamics with ourselves and with our students? Leadership can sometimes be thought of as “taking control” and that could reflect these issues:

“a) use intimidation, domination, and manipulation to maintain an unequal, unjust relationship and to resolve conflicts; b) concert differences into right and wong, good and bad, better and worse; c) make one person feel more competence and complete and the other feel more incompetent and incomplete; d) generate what Abraham Maslow (1968) calls “deficit motivations” for the subordinate parties (such as fear, insecurity, shame, distrust of self, and mistrust of others) and the dominant parties (such as selfishness, intolerance, anger, arrogance); e) draw on the widespread cultural belief that supports dominance.” (Kogel, 1998, p. 29)

These can negatively influence any one. It can pop up between peers within student affairs and make someone feel that they want to leave the institution or even the field. It can happen between students and student affairs educators to make students feel that they aren’t valued. It can happen between students within the context of a leadership position or organization. The opportunities for this negative dynamic to be repeated on a college campus is innumerable (as it is in the world outside of higher education). But what do we do to interrupt it? How can we facilitate positive power dynamics? How can we value “power-with” relationships and disrupt “power-over” relationships? Kogel describes these “power-with” with the following characteristics:

“a) work to promote relational mutuality and to reduce inequality within the relationship; b) value the process of meeting the needs and enhancing the growth of each other; c) strive to maximize productive conflict, to minimize destructive conflict, and to honor differences within the relationship; d) engage in mutual caring, responsibility, and respect; e) cultivate empathy, compassion, understanding; and f) reflect and established cultural belief that support partnership.” (Kogel, 1998, p. 30)

This is clearly the preferred dynamic for ourselves and our students, but how do we encourage this instead of the philosophy around domination? I think it’s in the same way that you create a culture in your department. It begins with the statement of your philosophy (this frequently comes through in mission/vision/goals) and is backed up by the initiatives and actions that you take and your department takes. For example, as an individual educator, I would encourage this partnership culture through working with my students and asking what they need from me. This doesn’t mean that I’m complacent and sitting back to wait for them to come to me, but it means that I do not need to establish any authority over them. This means that when I’m working with my peers I strive to address conflict in a positive manner that is an actual discussion. This means that when I’m in a “power-over” situation, I change my approach to demonstrate that I’m here to develop a caring and supportive partnership with students rather than telling them what to do. This shift means thinking less paternalistically about what I “know” to be good for them and accept their wisdom as well. This means that I engage in “power-with” relationships with those around me which emphasizes “interdependence and developing the capacity to act and do together.” (Goodman, 2000, p. 193) I think this is a much better model for the stated values of community for which most universities strive.

Obviously this isn’t perfect and I’m not either. The first dynamic I mentioned is the preferred method of business in the US and it takes work to change approaches to interacting with people. But first you have to acknowledge what’s wrong before you can fix it and I think changing my understanding and approach slowly is going to make me a more effective educator and support for my students.