As I sat down to author my final blog submission for this yearlong reflection through writing, my relationship with the profession kept coming up. If you add up my first experience of on-campus housing as a first-generation freshman, elected as hall president in my mostly male residence hall, I am wrapping up my 21st year of my relationship with higher education housing. With traditional marriage milestones, the anniversary gifts stop occurring annually at year 10 in most cases, though there are some modern lists that expand up to 20. Once you get to 25, you of course have the silver anniversary (e.g. a prettier metal), but then you really only see anniversary-themed items assigned in 10-year increments (i.e. 30, 40, 50). I am now past the exciting early years of my career and in the ‘long haul’ of having momentous occasions occurring less frequently (new jobs, relocations, etc.) simply due to where I find myself within my life circumstances as well as positionality of my career. And through this reflection I have found that perhaps I am missing celebrating the annual work victories and instead dwelling in the losses and moving too quickly to make resolutions for the next year. I have always appreciated the ability to be forward about my shortcomings and honest in my feelings with my own life partner, and so I am going to also try to do the same with my other life relationship: housing.
I want to begin with gratitude. I am the only one in my immediate family to have gone to college, let alone be in my final stages of earning a PhD. I know that this drive would have existed without you, but my access and ability to afford these accomplishments may not have, and for that I thank you. You have poured into me the ability to set a vision for others to follow, build confidence in my seat at the table, and expanded my scope to consider the bigger picture of an organization and impact change at all levels. You have provided me with some of my closest relationships and strongest bonds within my life. I have been able to inspire others to follow a similar path and find their own way into this field that has given them purpose and stability. I owe much of who I have become and how I have helped shape this same field through my involvement, to my work in housing.
I must also, however, be honest in where we are now in our relationship together. I find myself at a crossroads of ‘what’s next’ in my life. I have given so much of myself to housing over my career that it seems second nature, and yet I feel a stirring or maybe uneasiness with how comfortable I have become. I am restless now. I yearn to progress and show what I can do, but have fallen short time and again – or even been denied that chance when I’ve believed it to be an earned opportunity. I am frustrated with the field that seems to gloss over talent and promote familiarity. I am conflicted with the lack of advancement and spiteful from the comparison to peers or even younger staff who seem miles ahead of me in title or opportunity. I also have seen your reputation deteriorate as you struggle to catch up in caring for those who embark on this relationship. As someone actively recruiting new staff I find a tremble in my woo-ing these days. We do the work worth doing, but it can take so much sometimes that it makes it hard to dig into that inner motivation that brought us to you. I have also heard the experiences of those who have abused you in the name of authority and provided horrendous supervision experiences, thereby tainting the entirety of your profession. These same groups have asserted misdirections at lip-service progress and despite many of us carrying you through a global pandemic, still coming out of it being pulled backwards in terms of value and advancement.
I know there is still life in this relationship between us, but I don’t know how much longer we have to make it right without us BOTH doing work to change and improve. It can feel like I am pulling on my own and without any real promise that it will be worth it. I admit I often lose sight of the core of the student experience as the “why”. It is so easy to be encumbered with the daily battles and administration as you remove your daily engagement with students to forget why we got together in the first place – because you gave me a home. So I beg of you to help me help you as I continue to recruit and develop others, while also finding my way to a next level in our relationship.
With love and gratitude, but also desperation for a light in the dark,