I remember the exact moment when I realized not everyone got into student affairs work to do social justice work. I was standing in line at Wendy’s in the student union with another person in my graduate program cohort. I think we were talking about how we lacked a connection to some people in our program, and it hit me, like a lightning bolt. Some of the people in our program were there because they had had a good time in their fraternity or sorority or they’d enjoyed helping staff put on late night programming and they wanted to provide that experience to others. Not everyone, like me, saw college as an opportunity to engage students in conversations around power, privilege, and oppression. “How naïve,” I think now, but what a realization it was.
Since then, I have worked hard to create a community of social justice educators to support me in the work that I do. I was excited to take my current position as a Local Community Service-Learning Coordinator because I knew I would be surrounded by a solid community; our mission, after all, is to “promote positive social change through transformative learning and community engagement.” However, I have realized that it is not that easy. At work, we are almost entirely consumed by the day to day operations of our positions. While we do have higher order conversations every other week, I realized I was going to need more. I was going to need a community that would pull me out of my work life to see the bigger picture of what it means to be a social justice educator.
I had heard of ACPA’s Commission for Social Justice Educators and even been to a couple of their open meetings at Convention. When the call came out for nominations for the directorate board, I knew I had to nominate myself. Now, with a year of my three-year term under my belt, I am so grateful for this opportunity.
This year at convention I struggled with being in Las Vegas. In the first few hours I was there I spent 35 dollars on dinner (normally the cost of my groceries for 3-4 days), was followed by a man asking repeatedly if someone in our group was gay, and watched a woman get screamed at by some drunk companions. I hated Vegas. We were stopped on the street to be handed fliers by folks wearing t-shirts informing me they could get us a girl in 20 minutes or less – only to find out later that these people themselves were likely trafficked human beings. It was inaccessible at a socioeconomic level and at an ability level and it was inaccessible for those with attention deficit disorder with all the flashing lights and loud music. The list goes on…
The Commission helped me have a group of folks I could talk to about all the problems I was having with Las Vegas. More important than that however, the Commission gave me people to talk to who reminded me that our students live in Vegas and so do our faculty, staff, and administrators. Less than five miles away from the strip is the University of Nevada Las Vegas and a fellow social justice educator gently reminded me that those were her students only partially clothed taking pictures with strangers to pay their tuition. It is not acceptable to simply stop at saying “I hate Vegas” or “I’ll never come back.” In fact, I was reminded that it was my privilege to say such things while others cannot.
I am ever grateful for the community of folks I have found in the Commission for providing me with a network that can both support and challenge me as I explore new issues and continue to learn and grow myself. I think without the Commission I’d still likely be doing the work I am currently doing but I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be growing and changing as much as I am with the Commission. In fact, a few days after getting back from convention a student was excitedly sharing that she was going to celebrate her 21st birthday in Vegas. As the conversation progressed it came out that she is from Las Vegas and my student leaders and I are hoping she will do a presentation on the sex trafficking being done on Vegas during our training session on gender and sexual assault, all to add to the complexity of a place.
The Commission has helped me learn that what happens in Vegas should definitely not stay in Vegas and in closing I have two things I would like to leave you with. The first is to say thank you. Thank you to all of you who choose to be social justice educators and continue to challenge me and help me grow and learn. Thank you even if I do not know you for doing this work with others. Thank you for being part of this community. I would love for any of you reading this and wishing you could be more involved to contact me or any of the CSJE directorate board to learn more about how you can get involved and find support and continued growth as I have.
Deborah Slosberg is the Local Community Service-Learning Coordinator in Leadership and Community Service-Learning at the University of Maryland. She got started in social justice work through dialogue about race but is always looking to expand her horizons. She’s grateful to her students and her partner as well as the Commission for Social Justice Educators for helping her continue to grow. You can reach Deborah on Twitter: @dslosber or through email: Slosberg@umd.edu.