Monday, July 29, 2013

7 Things Every Student Affairs Graduate Student Should Know

After one year of being a graduate student in a HESA (Higher Education & Student Affairs) masters student, I’d like to think that I have learned a few things about the experience. As my cohort and I prepare for the shiny new faces of the incoming cohort, I’ve been thinking about things I wish I would have known when I began my journey.

So, like your typical #SA type, I’ve got some advice to dole out! Mind you, this advice reflects my experiences and the experiences of friends I have spoken to. It may not all relate to you, if any of it does at all. But who knows, it might prove helpful :)

And a word of warning – there is no sugar coating here.

1). The Adjustment Isn’t Easy

The difficulty of the adjustment will depend on your personal life, identity, and past experiences. See, I was working for 5 years in that 9-6, 40+ hours a week lifestyle with free evenings and weekends (generally speaking). Then bam! I began graduate school where there is no free time, and considering I am a “nontraditional student” (quotation marks because I dislike the ‘other-ing’ phrase) with a family dependent, my free time was certainly nonexistent.

Even if you’re coming straight from undergrad, the time constraints are still a shocker. All of a sudden you are (if you’re in most programs) likely doing a 20+ week assistantship, spending 10ish hours a week in class, studying and writing papers, and trying to build connections within your cohort – plus whatever other professional opportunities head your way. You may become involved with committees, practicums, and research opportunities.

Then everyone in student affairs latches onto the phrase “work/life balance” and you’re getting lectured to find such a balance. Nerrrr. Stop. Balance is nonexistent as an #sagrad. It is mathematically impossible.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t try. Remember to stay in contact with friends and family, make new friends and carve out social time, and make time for your hobbies. That will extend your sanity.

2.) You’re Going to Cry

Now, you may be thinking a few things
a) There’s no crying in Student Affairs (lies!) or
b) Yeah, okay, maybe…

On some real talk, graduate school is stressful and the transition can be intense. Not only do you have all the adjustment issues (listed above), but you may be missing friends, family, significant others, pets, etc. On top of that, you’re getting slammed by assignments and readings (first semester is usually known as the ‘higher ed hazing’ semester – it certainly prepares you for subsequent semesters…)

Point is: YOU’RE NOT ALONE. My first semester I was insanely stressed trying to juggle family commitments, work, and class obligations. My mistake? Not really talking about it. The funny thing is that no one else did either and it wasn’t until the second semester that we shared our struggles. It was at that point that I realized “Blimey! I wasn’t going crazy! Everyone else felt the same as well!” So if you’re stressed out, sad, and crying, just stop for a moment and realize one of your cohort mates is probably also crying in their shower too!

3.) Don’t Be Afraid to Challenge Your Studies

You’ll find that most student affairs programs love theories and that they spend a lot of time referring to theories that are based on population samples that do not reflect all students. Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of us, for whatever reason, drink the Kool-Aid. “Challenge and Support! Yeah! Self-Authorship! Yeah!”

But you may be sitting at your desk think ‘This does not apply to me or the people I know’ or maybe ‘um…yeah...challenge and support is pretty common sense’. At one point or another you will likely think a lot of things don’t really apply to you unless you are a white Christian male  – at least  until you get to that class session that focuses on student affairs studies related to race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

So speak up! Ask questions! I know…it’s a lot harder than it seems, with the pressure of asking questions in front of everyone, especially if you feel like the one lone voice. But it is important to ask these questions – questions that someone else is probably thinking and if they’re not, consider this a teachable moment.

That’s not to say that student affairs theories are irrelevant…you’ll form your own opinion. It’s impossible to categorize human beings because they are each unique creatures but different theories can be used for different scenarios, depending on the student. However, I know I was (am!) uncomfortable with some theories because of the research behind it (focusing on sample populations like white upper-class Christian males) and think it is important to question everything (while leaving your mind open to everything).

4.) You Know Nothing, Jon Snow!

Sometimes you feel like you should just quit graduate school because you don’t understand concepts and APA citations are the devil. Or maybe you’re getting challenged on the false knowledge you hold, especially as you begin learning about identities different from your own.

Embrace it – Tablua Rasa (black slate) and all that!  Remember that your colleagues are in the same boat and that you are not the only one considering dropping out of school to be a roadie for Beyonce’s tour.

At the same time – DON’T DOUBT YOURSELF! Your experiential knowledge matters. You are in this program for a reason, and that’s because you bring something to the table – share that. And if you are hearing something in the classroom that relates to your experiences (or something that contradicts them), share! Your input is valuable and will go a long way towards helping your cohort be the best damn group of student affairs professionals there is!

5.) Don’t Procrastinate & Do Your Readings
“Oh I won’t procrastinate! I’m so excited for grad school!”

Haha…that’s cute.

The truth of the matter is, is that you will most likely procrastinate on your work. You probably won’t mean to do such a thing, but when you’re trying to balance your assistantship and life, things happen.

As soon as you get your syllabi, map out your semester. Write in all due dates onto your calendar and then add work stuff as well. When you get assigned to a group project (student affairs LOVES group projects), write out an agenda for all your meetings, list out every aspect of the project, and then assign responsibilities and deadlines. Then, hold people accountable – and hold yourself accountable.

Also, learn the art of reading for content. When you’re assigned 400 pages to read each week (it happens), you don’t have to read every word – but you do have to read the right words. ‘Skimming’ does not equal ‘skipping’. With books, read over chapter titles and subtitles to get a feel for the main topic, and then speed read from there. When you find something interesting or have a question, mark it for later. When you’re reading articles, read the summary at the beginning and then the ‘Findings’/’Summary’ at the end to get a gist of the article – then go through the rest to pick up the details quickly.

6.) Remember: It’s Okay to Disagree & Debate
Except don't actually yell. That's bad. But this is a funny gif, and thus had to be included
People in student affairs graduate programs can often be categorized easily. Ask around. Many SA types were super involved in college as an undergrad, usually as an Orientation Leader, RA, etc. They tend to have awards and lots of positive relations with people. Generally speaking, because of all this positive support they may not be as used to challenge, and like most people, are not big fans of confronting others or getting confronted.

There will come a time (okay, multiple times) when someone is going to make a comment you find offensive and/or that you disagree with. Say something! Take it as an opportunity to sieze a ‘teachable moment’. Don’t be afraid of offending that person or be afraid of them getting ‘mad’ at you. As long as you are respectful and engage them into the conversation, you’ll be able to have a great conversation on the topic.

Likewise, if someone confronts you because of an offensive comment/statement, the rules of social justice are to 1.) Be quiet 2.) Listen to their concerns 3.) Thoughtfully consider your actions from an outsider standpoint and how you may be contributing to unjust systems 4.) Engage in dialogue

7.) Make the Most of It
I regret becoming so busy with family obligations, work, and the transition during my first semester that I didn’t spend a lot of time socializing with my cohort. I attended some of the larger events, sure, but that was about it. I recommend that new first year students learn to incorporate socializing with the other parts of their lives. For example, everyone has to eat! Make a goal of inviting one or several fellow student affairs grads out to eat a couple times a week – bonus points if it is someone you usually don’t interact with! Host study parties that balance studying with hanging out (i.e., spend 30 minutes of quiet, then 15 minutes of chatting).  

Attend the sponsored social events. Create your own events! Love Supernatural and want to have watch parties? Post it on the Facebook group/email list! Want to attend spoken word poetry night? Send an owl/raven to all your #SAgrad friends! Get out and explore your new city in groups to do activities like hiking or study sessions at the hipster-y coffee shop.

Besides the social aspects, make the most of your academics! Ask a professor in your department out for coffee. Get involved with research. Join university committees. Create connections. You'll be happier for it.

Ultimately, your reality is whatever you create it to be*. Enjoy!

*I wouldn't be a social justice educator if I didn't add a disclaimer that your while reality is whatever you make it to be, sometimes we cannot control aspects of our reality due to identity and systematic structures. We can only control how we deal with those aspects and how we push for change.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Despicable Microaggressions: Sexism, Racism & More in Despicable Me 2

*Warning: some vague spoilers of the film Despicable Me 2*

"Lipstick Taser!!"

Social justice educators have a difficult time enjoying most pop culture. We cringe at most media due to blatant offensives and sneaky microaggressions. They exist because, well, we live in a society that promotes white supremacy and the patriarchy. That is, most pop culture promotes the idea of white people in charge and men in charge as the norm.

I went to Despicable Me 2 wanting to like it. After all, the minions are adorable! I seriously want a basement of minions and super villain equipment in the future. Unfortunately, not even the gibberish speech of the minions could make up for the sexism, racism, masculinity issues, and heteronormative behavior in Despicable Me 2.


We start off with a birthday party for Agnes, the youngest of Gru’s daughters. One of Gru’s neighbors, Jillian, tries to set up our former super villain with one of her friends. The camera pans over to an unattractive slightly overweight woman who is apparently so heavy that she breaks the snack table upon leaning on it. Gru has a look of mixed fear and disgust, rejecting the matchmaking attempt.

Fat shaming, yayyyyy. Thank you, Universal Studios, for teaching our young women what is tolerable in our society! Girls, remember to be skinny so you can get wifed up!

Soon we’re introduced to Gru’s future partner and love interest Agent Lucy Wilde. Gru yanks out his huge phallic-shaped ray gun to fend off her attack…and Lucy subdues him with a lipstick taser.

A LIPSTICK TASER. Right. Okay…You know, I’m going to even skip commenting on the lipstick taser and just move along before I get a rage-induced aneurysm.

I crave strong female roles in media and was initially excited to see a female agent voiced by the great Kristen Wiig. The disappointment tasted extra bitter as the movie played out. Agent Lucy Wilde is a supposedly strong woman since she is 1.) a secret agent, and 2.) knows martial arts and wields weapons. However, she still falls into the same old tropes. She’s ditzy and demonstrates a lack of knowledge about many things – I get that her karate-chopping cupcakes was to provide humor in a kids film, but can a film introduce humor without making the woman look like an idiot who has no right being a secret agent? 

At the end of the day Lucy Wilde is an attempt at being an Action Girl but still is secretly a Damsel in Distress who literally gets Chained to a Rock (well, shark-torpedo thing).

The sexist microgressions troll along when Gru is matched up on a date with Shannon, this tall, thin woman who wears a revealing dress. She’s  a ‘Dumb Blonde’ stereotype who talks about physical fitness and ‘phonies’. When the date starts to go south after Shannon becomes angry at Gru, his partner Lucy shoots Shannon with a tranquilizer dart.

See Shannon: the blond slumped over the table.
 What comes next is such a great amount of violence against women that I cannot even believe any idiot thought this was appropriate for a children’s movie.

Lucy explains to the waiter that the unconscious Shannon had too much to drink, and then she and Gru decide to take Shannon home. The carry Shannon out the door, except the door keeps slamming against her head and they take no care to refrain from dropping her or knocking her into things. Then three people is too large for the vehicle, so they take Shannon out and tie her to the roof like a deer carcass. When Lucy slams on the brakes, Shannon flies off and crashes.

This was all meant for laughter. It’s funny, right? It’s kind of what a woman like Shannon deserves. I mean, a woman who dresses ‘slutty’ and talk about superficial things like Shannon certainly should not be respected. Drugging her and harming her – it’s funny!

Except it’s not. It perpetuates old stereotypes about what women ‘should’ and ‘should not’ be, and that it is okay to treat women violently when they fall outside of the societal norms.


Like most Hollywood movies, our protagonists are White and even most of the background characters are all White. But have no fear! Despicable Me 2 is totally not racist. In fact, they even have two (2) Mexican characters!

¡Ay, gracias Universal Studios! [ed. note: that is sarcasm]

'El Macho'
 Of course, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves – the Mexican characters are the antagonist (Eduardo ‘El Macho’ Perez) and his son Antonio.

Yep, you read that correctly – the only people of color with substantial speaking roles are the villains. One tries to destroy the world and the other destroys Margo’s, Gru’s  eldest daughter, heart. Oh, lazy storytelling and stereotypes, you are Hollywood’s favorite couple.

When Eduardo bursts onto the scene at Gru and Lucy’s mall store, he immediately speaks in a heavy Mexican accent, orders 200 cupcakes for his Cinco de Mayo party, and rips open his shirt to reveal burly chest hair and a Mexican flag tattoo.

But of course – all Mexicans/Latin@s in America have thick accents. *sigh*

And come ON. In most parts of America the only Mexicans celebrating Cinco de Mayo are the ones running Mexican restaurants and making bank on drunk gueros who think a good margarita comes pre-made in a Jose Cuervo bottle.

The lazy-writing induced Mexican stereotypes continue:
  1. Eduardo does not have a guard dog, but a guard chicken (harkening to the cock fighting that is popular in some Latino countries/communities).
  2. Eduardo dances salsa with a white woman, leaving her flustered (whitewashing and stereotying began in the early days of Hollywood because white men were afraid of their women being romanced away from their own race and this salsa act plays into that fear).
  3.  Eduardo performs the Mexican Hat Dance as the password into his lair. 
  4. Agnes,the (white) youngest daughter, proceeds to do a grito at the Cinco de Mayo party.
And as yet another observation – check out what happens when the minions are fed a serum that turns them into wild dangerous creatures? Their hair gets long and kinky and their skin turns dark into a deep plum color. A friend I studied critical race theory (CRT) with pointed this out and how it reinforces the idea of kinky hair and darker skin being “wild” and outside societal norms.

Above: the 'evil' minion.


Eduardo’s character is based in racist stereotypes, cumulating into him being “El Macho” aka the most masculine man alive who can drink glass, pick up trucks, and ride a freaking shark into a volcano with a bomb attached. This Masked Luchador is the epitome of machismo with a severe case of Testosterone Poisoning.

YEEEAH! You know a dude is badass when he's riding a freaking shark charged with bombs into a volcano!!

His son Antonio plays out the “Latin Lover” stereotype when he sweeps Margo off her feet, whispers sweet nothings in his musical accent, dances with her, and then leaves her for another woman.

Both of these characterizations put men ‘into a box’. Not only are these the only two stereotypes available to Latino men, but the former stereotype especially plays out to all men. In America we want our men to be strong! Tough! We don’t care for much else. They should be able to ride a freaking shark into a volcano with a bomb attached!

Heteronormative Behavior

Gru is consistently being told by his annoying neighbor and adorable daughters that he needs to find a woman and the movie pursues a romantic entanglement for our hero. Even his eldest daughter Margo gets into the romance game with her brief foray into a relationship with Antonio.

For an industry that cries out about how supportive it is of GLBT rights, it really does seem like almost every movie makes it necessary for a man-woman relationship, preferably one that ends with marriage and children.


I'm disappointed in Despicable Me 2. I understand that I should not have high expectations for Hollywood, but I see the world as it should be, not as it is. Hollywood can do better.

And we can do better by not supporting lazy projects like Despicable Me 2.  Friends, don't waste your money on this film.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Beast in the Bookstore: When Even the Feminist Feels Helpless

TW: Sexual harassment

 I drove past a friend today. I didn’t even see her until our cars were parallel. Later she said “You were sitting at that light for a while – I was wondering if you were going to go!” 

“I was thinking…thoughts,” I slowly replied. She laughed.

What I didn’t share at the time is when she saw me at the intersection I was just thinking about how I was violated at Barnes and Noble and then brushed off by the manager.


A true book nerd, I love Barnes and Noble. Today I visited there and was pleased to find one of the plush chairs back in the corner free. Across from me was a coffee table and matching cozy chair. After a few moments an older man sat down. White, around 50 years of age with dark hair, his protruding beer belly was covered by a casual t-shirt and he wore glasses. I dislike how Barnes & Noble arranges its furniture so you end up across from strangers and I wanted to leave, but dammit that chair was comfy.

Immersed in my reading, I jerked up when I heard the unmistakable sound of a cell phone camera going off. The man across from me was looking away and rubbing his grey flip phone casually against his shirt.

The camera click was like a gunshot in the forest and I was the frozen deer.

I first thought ‘Oh god, did he just take a photo of me??!!’ Creepshots are a popular internet theme and I’ve read countless news stories about how ‘this’ is a thing – to photograph unknown women for the purpose of sexual perversion. It’s even all over Twitter.

My pulse sped up and my gut instinct told me that this happened, that this man had photographed me. I froze for a moment, not sure what to do. Quickly I got up and walked away. The towering bookshelves stood between us like wooden soldiers. I tried to get control.

Except, I couldn’t.

I felt fucking violated.*

I found my male companion and tried to explain, but either I didn’t explain it well or he didn’t believe the guy actually took a photo. I felt crazy and began to doubt myself. ‘Maybe it didn’t happen….’ When I decided to walk back around 5 minutes later to see if he was still there, the perpetrator was gone. I searched the store. He was nowhere.

I sat down at one of the wooden tables, not wanting to invite another opportunity for some stranger to sit by me. I wondered, ‘My legs were crossed and I was wearing a skirt. Was that it?’ and ‘My keyhole peasant top shifts around and sometimes shows more cleavage than it should. Was that it?

I wanted to cover myself with my favorite blanket and go unseen.

And then I thought…What the heck was wrong with me? I’M A FEMINIST. Of course it isn’t my fault that rape culture exists and we have these freaking creepers who harass women. I KNOW THIS.

I'm a freaking where were these thoughts coming from?

So what’s up with all the internal misogyny? No matter how much we learn, how much we engage in discussions on the topic, how much we advocate for women and the activist work that we do – are we still chained to the patriarchy? I am pretty self-aware and didn’t think I had internalized oppression like this…but I guess I had. Maybe we all do.

I texted one of my friends who has training in this sort of thing. She quickly texted back and then called, recommending that I file a police report and speak to the Barnes & Noble manager.

I balked…for some reason I felt shame, even though I knew it wasn’t my fault. And the idea of telling someone, someone in authority…well, that made it real. That made me a victim.

I’m not a victim!

And yet…I am. Many women are or will be.

Stats don’t lie - According to RAINN, 1 out of every 6 American women are raped in their lifetime. A sexual assault occurs once every 2 minutes and while it is difficult to obtain stats on sexual harassment, any woman can tell you this happens often.  My situation? Just another day in the life of being a woman.

I realized that my friend was giving the same advice that I would have counseled someone, so I decided to speak to the staff at Barnes and Noble.

And…the most screwed up thing happened…somehow this affected me on a deeper level emotionally that I would have thought would be triggered. That feeling of violation resulted in a combination of angerfearshameanxiety that struck me like a viper.

My hands started shaking and I spent the next five minutes in the bathroom to give myself a moment. I didn’t want to report it. I mean, maybe I was wrong? Maybe it’s just all in my head?

Again, that feeling of ‘feminist guilt’ flooded me…this wasn’t me. I’m the girl raised on badass feminists like Xena, Buffy, and Eowyn!

I pushed myself to go make a report, approaching a younger woman at the Customer Service desk. When I told her I wanted to file a report about a creepy man who took a photo of me, she looked shocked. “My manager should know what to do…”

I waited. I fiddled with my phone, running my finger lightly over the smooth case.

The manager approached me. I told him what happened, how I was pretty positive that this creepy man took a photo of me and I wanted to file a report in case this was a regular thing he did.

“Ohhh,” he drawled. “That is creepy. We want all of our customers to feel safe here. What did he look like?”

I explained but added that he had already left. I had not been sure to make a report but decided to do so (not mentioning how it took me a while to get over the anxiety of the issue).

His remark? “You don’t have to [i.e., in a ‘you should have’ tone] , but I wish you had reported this right away so we could have said something. If you see him again in here let us know.”

I was dumbfounded. And feeling a bit guilty. Had I screwed up by not reporting it sooner? No, wait, I hadn’t – forget this! Who is this manager trying to make me feel guilty?

That last bit of anger spurred an additional question. “Oh, but what about the cameras…? I mean, maybe—”

His expression stopped me and he said that the cameras don’t actually work.

OKAY BARNES AND NOBLE, I SEE YOU. Way to decorate the place with fake cameras. Cool.

I left. He didn’t apologize. He didn’t make a report. He didn’t offer me any options (did I  want to file a store report? did I want to take any action?).

My friend called back to check in right after and I began laughing from the ridiculous of it all. Did I honestly just experience the patriarchy in action? I mean, first the violation, then my male companion doubting me, and then the male manager expressing no remorse and taking no action….are you serious??

I’m not quite like Xena, Buffy, or Eowyn – I don’t use a sword. But I do wield words. I wrote this because it’s a form of empowerment for me, but I also wrote this for you, Gentle Reader.

Should you ever have someone (woman or man/friend, family, student, etc) approach you because they felt violated (harassment, assault, rape), remember this story. It’s not easy to approach someone when you’ve been made to feel victimized. Don’t brush off their concerns or make them feel worse about the situation. Words are powerful. Be careful how you wield them.

Most especially, as I reflect on this event I realize how much more I have to go when it comes to deconstructing the patriarchy. Although I consider myself a feminist who understands these terms and concepts, I realize how much I have internalized the oppression. It’s important to identify this…so I may eradicate it.

But ultimately, regardless  of all the reflecting that I do…I’ll always wonder if a creepshot of me is floating around the internet.

Author Notes:
*Yes, this blog is professional. But high emotion calls for swearing and there is nothing wrong with that. Ask science.