Authenticity and Representation are two ideas that we as student affairs professionals speak about a lot; specifically in regard to supporting our student populations and their success in many different aspects. Whether it be hiring staff at all levels that represent the ever changing student demographics, creating inclusive spaces where students can live, share ideas, and feel valued and visible, or utilizing processes that allow for the decolonization of systems, we advocate and strive to ensure our students get the resources they need to transition, be successful and graduate.
I find that we speak about it in smaller, quieter voices when it comes to these being important ideas to support our newer or even seasoned professionals.
Or maybe for some institutions, it is a new idea that is on the cusp of emerging but not yet ripened to be consumed by the “institutional powers that be”. Is this lack of similar support being done intentionally; is it a fear to challenge the dominant culture; could it be a political incongruence with department or campus culture; an idea that a need to fit in will result in professional growth; or are we slowly creeping along with slow barley visible progress due to the tremendous need to put students first? While I know I phrased it in a specific way to make you think I had an answer; I do not, nor do I plan to speculate as to what it could potentially be.
Alternatively, I create this build up to acknowledge the gradual progress that I have seen in going from not only supporting students to supporting those that support students. And while this support has been growing at different rates on campuses around the world, I have noticed a consistent growth within my professional association, ACPA. While it has been a long time coming and while the work is still on-going, this year’s ACPA in Houston demonstrated to me the value in supporting Professionals of Color.
Over the past few years, ACPA has supported its communities of marginalized identities and allowed an annual space for visibility, support, and representation. From it’s yearly drag show to intentional programming such as cultural performances (CelebrACPA & CultureFest) and Step Show, it is a space where professionals feel that they can learn and support others in a place where authenticity is preached and practiced. While I cannot speak for everyone, I was able to witness and feel this from the physical and verbal ways professionals presented themselves.
True voices abundant with cultural and regional accents and words often demonized as ghetto or unprofessional filled the air and presentations, emphasizing the diversity present. Cultural garbs and items garnished with messages of black pride, identity representation, and social justice messages beautified the visual ambiance of both formal and informal gatherings.
Finally, topics discussed both in and out of professional development sessions varied to include not only theory based research but real-life struggles of professionals around the country, ways to support and grow both in a community of peers but in a system of oppression, and my favorite using pop-culture (mainly hip-hop or urban POC Culture) as a means of presenting ideas in a creative and relatable manner. This can be attributed to a lot of different factors but for myself, I see that this growth has been supported and encouraged through ACPA’s Imperative on Racial Justice and Decolonization. This focus on reducing the oppression of communities of color at the intersections of their identities and providing tools for personal, professional, and career development empowers professionals from all identities to authentically show up without fear of retaliation or being ostracized (unprofessional, ghetto, too-black, too-gay, etc). It also acknowledges that racial justice and campus climates may not sync up perfectly and attempts to support individuals in those situations.
Reflecting back to my first ACPA in Baltimore, Maryland, these were the ideas that were preached but were not the norms of what was allowed or deemed appropriate within the profession. Reflections often allow us to see the growth we have experienced and I am glad to reflect on the growth that has been promoted and allowed within our profession through the support of ACPA and its Racial Justice Imperative. It is one that empowers professionals to show up authentically and have pride in who they are culturally and individually. In turn, this empowerment and support of professionals will cultivate a professional culture that promotes self-love, pride, and representation which in turn will allow our professionals to support students in a more honest and holistic manner.
As our most recent pop-culture phenomenon Black Panther has shown us, there is power in representation, pride, and self-love so we as a profession need to keep on this same path in order to provide a future that is inclusive to all and fosters a true environment for the cultivation of global citizens.
Devin Budhram is an experienced Student Affairs Professional with a demonstrated history of working in Housing & Residential Life. He currently works at New York University where his primary function centers around community development, crisis intervention, student conduct, and hall operations. In addition to this, Devin is currently the Vice-Chair for Engagement for the ACPA Commission for Housing and Residential Life where he leads a team focused on social media, marketing, equity, and inclusion. He obtained his Master’s Degree in College Student Affairs from Rutgers University-New Brunswick and is a professional with a passion for pop culture and social justice