Stuff We Say in College Student Housing

In our field, there are a lot of buzz words that we use.  While some are helpful, some dictate how we move about in the work.  I want to explore some of those sayings and how they land for me.  As you read through, think of a time when you have used or heard these phrasings. What is your reaction?

“Your words become your world.”

Nadeem Kazi

“We Are Here to Serve Students”

Yes, our roles were/are designed to provide a place for students to call home.  We connect them with resources, respond to and document crises, and we provide community building opportunities.  And we do so much more than the above.  In order to do our best to serve students we must see them and ourselves as human.  We need to eat, sleep, love, play, and feel joy.  How do we do that for others if we do not create time to do that for ourselves?  How does your workplace encourage wellness for you AND for your students?

“We Value Diversity and Inclusion”

How does this value show up in your department?  How does it feel to be ______ (insert identity) in your department or on your campus?  What professional development or training exists to help the team understand or connect to the stated values of diversity and inclusion?  What are the structures in place to assert that this value is known and expected?  I remember receiving a professional development article that we were expected to read for team development.  The article had an outdated term for Black folx.  I also remember consoling a team member who was unable to use the bathroom during a staff retreat only to be told that we should have given them-that team member- a heads up about the bathroom situation.  Folx, that is not valuing inclusion or diversity nor your team members.  Do the work!  It matters. 

“Did You Provide Them With Feedback?”

Have you heard this question before, after sharing an interpersonal incident or administrative flop?  How often do we provide tangible and actionable feedback?  Telling someone that they are doing a good job or that they need to do better is not enough.  Feedback should be with development, training, and support in mind. Also, ask yourself is this feedback based on something real?  Have there been multiple occurrences?  Or is it based on someone who did not like the training they had to attend?  Or perhaps they did not like being told no.  Lack of feedback and unfounded feedback about performance can be detrimental to the receiver.  Undocumented feedback can hurt the employee and employer.  Feedback should be designed to correct or reward behaviors! 

“Don’t Leave a Job Mid-Year”

I read a quote that said, you can tell how you feel about your job based on how your stomach feels on Sunday night. If your current place does not serve you, and you have tried giving feedback, going to HR, and creating a professional development plan, then yes, plan your exit strategy.  Your wellness and sanity is more important than loyalty to a place that hasn’t been loyal to you. And, we have to know that sometimes folx are not leaving because things are/were bad–they just saw an amazing opportunity. Maybe they want to start a family or their partner got a new job?  Or maybe they do not want to be on call anymore.  Build a relationship where staff can have an open conversation with supervisors about the opportunities that exist.  It is my hope that you will receive help and support. As an employer and supervisor,  I personally feel a sense of pride when folx are able to move up or on to something that excites them, no matter what that might be. 

“You Can Do Anything for Two Years”

But if you could really do anything for two years, wouldn’t you want to enjoy it? Over the last 3 years, COVID has shown us that doing something for 2-3 years can make you absolutely miserable.  So, why stay somewhere that is creating pain for you? Find the school with colleagues and supervisors who foster a culture of belonging, one that promotes learning, and also adds a nice boost to your skill set and resume. 

“They are a Job Hopper!  Be Careful!”

People leave jobs for many reasons.  It could be the pay, the manager, the leadership, identity and safety needs, or a family commitment.  Instead of assigning them the job hopper label, perhaps ask yourself, “Can the person do good work?”  Think about what they could provide while they work for you. How will the skills they possess move the project, assigned job description, or organization forward?  There are also folx who were pushed out or left places because they were subjected to treatment that was unhealthy.  It can be traumatic for folx to share why they have left.  Always, consider that perhaps they are leaving because it was the best thing for them.  We all have our reasons and it can take a while to heal and process.  If you want to hire the person then do so, and commit to being a better place structurally and culturally. 

“Bring Your Full Self to Work”

I have heard colleagues share that they want everyone to be their full selves at work or better yet, their authentic self. Who are you at work?  Who are you at home?  When does the overlap happen?  Where is the incongruence?   What do you need in order to safely be who you are at work?  Know what those things are before you job search so that you might be aware of what you need before you say yes.  Full self can range from having piercings and tattoos, to putting up photos of your family or partners, to finding services that cater to your culture and life needs. Your full self should extend beyond home.  Is the campus self?  Are my colleagues supportive and real?  What does my network know about this place and community before I say yes?  

“Heavy is The Head That Wears The Crown”

If you have been in leadership, then you know what this statement means.  I have also heard it used as a way to disregard how hard and painful leading can be.  Yes, leadership is hard but gosh perhaps today compassion, certainty that the team is with them, and care vs. a reminder that “you knew this was going to be hard” might be the better response.  We, leaders, are open to being asked, “How are you?”  “Can I help take something off of your plate?” Or even, “How was your weekend?” 

“Three Years and Then Move Up or Out!”

I entered the field as a full time professional in July of 2004 and at that time it was common to hear this phrase.  It mainly applied to folx who were in entry level roles.  As a Hall Director or Resident Director, there was an assumption that you would be considering your next move as you progressed into year 3.  Personally, I stayed in my role for 4 years and then I felt that it was time to job search.  I also hadn’t supervised a graduate student during my four years and I felt that I was doomed–because that was also a signature part of the experience; supervising a grad.

Guess what?  It is 2023 and in a time when everyone seems to be moving on and up really fast, I say we slow down.  Take the time to learn your role.  Learn and understand the roles of the folx you supervise.  I recently heard someone say that our roles have no expiration date, with the exception of termed roles, and that until you no longer feel challenged or that you are not learning anything new–stay.  I remember the time when an upper level administrator took me to lunch at a previous institution and asked me about my career goals.  I shared that I was fine being a Director and had no additional plans outside of finishing my PhD, and they looked at me with surprise.  For a moment I felt like maybe I should be doing more.  BUT my “more” is being a Mom to 3 amazing kiddos. My “more” is spending time with friends. My “more” is going home at 5:15 pm to make dinner for my family.  We all make career choices based on what works for our life, our wellness and dare I say, joy!  So, here’s my advice, choose your path and your own timeline.  

In closing, language matters.  

  • How many of the above statements have you heard?  
  • When have you found the above statements to be helpful or perhaps harmful?  
  • What are the things we tell ourselves or others about working in housing?
  • How will you promote inclusive language and practices in your organization?
  • How will you encourage wellness and care for your staff and your students?
  • Is your feedback kind, helpful, and frequent? 

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