College Student Affairs

Navigating Exhaustion in a Culture of ‘Winning’

In the words of the prolific & poignant Rakim / Timbaland, “It’s been a long time… we shouldn’ta left you (left you) without a dope beat to step to…” (*if you don’t get the reference, pause and get your life here). SO, I haven’t written in a bit because I was attending, participating in, and decompressing from a national conference that is especially important in the work that I do full time. I’ve done reflection after reflection about what spaces like national conferences can bring to the professionals who engage. There are clear positives: the chance to engage in affinity building spaces, the exchange of knowledge through learning sessions, the ability to network with those who are in your field, the satisfaction of reconnecting with colleagues, and much more.

However, as the years have gone by, I’ve noticed a trend… there is an unspoken push for conference-goers to “win” the conference itself. You’ve probably seen it before but it’s very subtle. It shows up in the questions whispered from professional to grad student, and from colleague to colleague: “How many sessions have you gone to? Are you presenting? Who / how many people came to your presentation?” Conference #winning culture measures its success by the amount of people you’ve networked with / connected to, or even just feverishly handed your business card to. Conference #winning culture shows itself in the race of audience members who put their hands up in Q&A, in hopes of being the most poignant participant. Conference #winning might even include the measurements of selfies taken with “pillars”, the pictures of session titles, and the tweets and retweets conference goers hope to attain.

Now, before you think I’m ‘going in’ on my chosen full time profession, let me state that I see this same culture in the work that I do as a writer / blogger. It is a culture of  hashtag “winning”: the constant comparison of shares, stats, tweets & retweets, likes, dislikes, comments, and even trollage (yeah, I definitely made that word up)! How many Twitter chats have you participated in and how many times were you favorited or retweeted? How many shares did you get and how many posts are you cranking out per week?

And I get it. I get why we have this culture of hashtag winning. It is one that extends itself beyond writing or blogging and into many professional spaces. Why? Because a significant part of success (both on and offline) does come from networking, sharing information, and finding those people who are willing to believe in you and endorse you. I would not be where I am today if I had not done my due diligence in networking, building professional relationships, sharing my work, and being clear about my relevance in professional spaces. I must also state the fact that I have taught this before, influenced the culture of #winning, carefully instructing my students: “Make sure that when you’re networking you get a business card… you write down one thing you talked about… you follow up with them to nurture the network”.

However, if we are honest, we understand that most, if not all, professionals walk a tightrope: What is strategic placement / practice toward a successful career trajectory versus what is merely ‘posturing’ and ‘pretending’?

Writer Allison Vesterfelt alludes to this culture of winning in her quote:

The posturing. The self-promotion. The pretending to have it all together. The only-showing-your-good-side. Can we stop? It’s exhausting.

Posted by Allison Vesterfelt: Writer on Tuesday, March 31, 2015

So, I think that finding that balance between what we NEED to do to be successful in our endeavors and posturing or pretending requires that we ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Do I feel the need to ‘win’ in a conference space, or in an online space? If so, why? What is prompting that (i.e. new job search? career transition? looking to move upward within the field? internal / personal reasons)”? Ask these questions without judging yourself. Simply reflect, understand your answers, and adjust where and if necessary
  •  How can I show up as my authentic self while also fully engaging in strategic writing, blogging, conference going, professional networking, etc? Here is where a written reflection or a conversation with a trusted colleague would be helpful.
  • Finally, if I do not “win” these likes for my blog… or if I do not go to every networking event… how do I process that in ways that empower me as a professional”?

If you are reading this blog and asking that last question, you’re in luck… because that is the only question I have a concrete answer for. 😉 In order to process in ways that empower you as a professional a) talk to your mentors / colleagues because they really can help you get your life sometimes, and b) understand that it is essential to remember why you are doing the work in the first place(I got that one from Shannon Kaiser over at Mind Body Green… check out her work when you get the chance).

I don’t necessarily blog for likes or shares (although if you do share and like I will be on my side of the computer grinning it up and throwing imaginary confetti). Likes and shares are helpful and even necessary for the success of my blog, but that is not the core reason that I engage in an online space. The core reason evidences itself in my mission, “to offer information, ideas, & counter-cultural narratives that will empower readers to thrive and to lovingly & creatively challenge secular and sacred systems toward greater levels of inclusion”. 

So, as I decompress and debrief from conference season, I’m asking myself the same question, “Why am I doing this“? I am doing this for those who will benefit from my experience, expertise, authenticity, and accountability in higher education and academia. I am doing this with confident hope that my presence and representation, along with my savvy and innovation, will assist marginalized students in their academic and post-college success journey. I am doing this because I like to! I am doing this because as I do good work, the networking connections will flow easily to me, and strategic career moves will also become clear to me… sans pretending.

So as you reflect on the work that you do, either online or offline, share with me… Why are you doing this work?

Practicing authentic networking (in addition to stylin’) at the conference. (Shout out to A. H. who had my updo lookin’ oh so right).

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Navigating Exhaustion in a Culture of ‘Winning’? by Jade T. Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

After Viral Videos: Further Questions on SAE & Institutional Culture

I planned a lovely post about language, technology, and text messaging for your reading pleasure this week… and then a colleague in Student Affairs sent me the clip which features a bus full of SAE fraternity members engaging in an incredibly racist chant. The story and the subsequent repercussions went viral in a matter of moments.

My immediate response was too crass to be immortalized in online, public spaces. So, for the purposes of this post we’ll just say that a) I was not surprised by the clip; I have both seen and been tasked to address firsthand the racist culture that is embedded in many predominantly White sororities and fraternities, and b) my patience for these shenanigans after the absolutely disconcerting year we’ve had in terms of social justice, police brutality, implicit and explicit racism / bias in America was almost non-existent. So, I did what I always do when I’m reflecting / processing… I laid low for a bit and read up (I have posted some of my favorite articles / blog posts on the subject in the text below).

First, I’ll say that President Boren’s statement was absolutely refreshing. Far too many times, I have seen these types of behaviors downplayed, glossed over, and re-centered on the potential learning opportunities of White students while ignoring the physical, mental, and essential safety / care of the students of color that these behaviors impact [yepp, that was a run-on but I’m sayin’ it how I feel it today]. For those of you who have not yet seen President Boren’s response, pour some tea for this read (as posted on the University of Oklahoma’s Facebook page / social media presence):

To those who have misused their free speech in such a reprehensible way, I have a message for you. You are disgraceful. You have violated all that we stand for. You should not have the privilege of calling yourselves “Sooners.” Real Sooners are not racist. Real Sooners are not bigots. Real Sooners believe in equal opportunity. Real Sooners treat all people with respect. Real Sooners love each other and take care of each other like family members.

Effective immediately, all ties and affiliations between this University and the local SAE chapter are hereby severed. I direct that the house be closed and that members will remove their personal belongings from the house by midnight tomorrow. Those needing to make special arrangements for possessions shall contact the Dean of Students.

All of us will redouble our efforts to create the strongest sense of family and community. We vow that we will be an example to the entire country of how to deal with this issue. There must be zero tolerance for racism everywhere in our nation.

President Boren

Oop! In the next 24 – 48 hours, the house was shut down, people were packing their bags, and two of the students were expelled.

But I still have questions though…

  • What is the University of Oklahoma doing in terms of educational interventions for the students who are still THERE, navigating through hate speech, discrimination, and a climate that may not be conducive to their academic or personal success. I’m glad that they have gotten rid of the fraternity and a few of the members… but what are they doing about their institutional climate? Moreover, what interventions are there / have there been from national fraternity & sorority leadership to change the culture / climate of these organizations?

    Please, let’s not act like this is all new. How many problematic parties have we seen within the last (oh I don’t know) forever years that center around denigrating and mocking people of color? How long have we known that the fabric of many of these organizations includes the explicit, open, blatant exclusion of people of color? How long have folk intensely advocated for centering the story on the learning opportunities available to students who perpetuate what is, in this case, hate speech, while on the other hand, writing off decentralized diversity statements with elusive hopes that that document will fix systemic issues within the climate of the institution? [Insert side eye here]. Now that this has come to light, my question remains, what will administrative leadership do about the institutional climate and culture? What will national Greek organizations do about the recurring instances (parties, chants, additional foolery) that can only indicate an embedded culture of hostility and racism? Because these random press releases don’t cut it and the constant state of surprise when things like this happen is absolutely astounding. The fact of the matter is, after years of these types of incidents, why are we still sitting in surprise and shock instead of finding, instilling, and systematizing some cultural competence and sensitivity (aka some “do-right” as my Grandmother says).

I can’t help but wonder how the viral nature of the video influenced decisions about what would be done short term? These type of instances happen far more than can be accessed through viral videos for public consumption. So, I’m interested to see… when the viral video “dies down”, will there be radio silence about this particular incident from administrative leadership (and if I really say it how I feel it, I’m wondering if there will be the deafening silence of those within the profession who have identified themselves as allies)?

My well wishes and best thoughts are with the Student Affairs staff at that institution, the people of color who work there, and especially the students of color who study there. Although this post represents only a few lines in the narrative, I have posted other works below that round out the story even more. Enjoy them and think critically about them:

  1. Racism in Oklahoma Frat Video Is Widespread at Colleges, Researcher Says by Peter Schmidt, Chronicle of Higher Education
  2. The Side of the Oklahoma Racist Frat Story that Nobody is Talking About, Zak Cheney-Rice, Mic.com
  3. Save Our Children, Alta Mauro, https://justmamta.wordpress.com
  4. On Why Expulsion Was The Only Option For The SAE Students, Eric Mata, ericmata.wordpress.com

Image Credit: Filling their shoes from Kay Isabedra, deathtothestockphoto.com