What’s Next? Navigating Student Affairs Career Pathways as a Social Justice Educator By Dr. Andrea Dre Domingue

The 2014 ACPA Convention was a highly reflective moment for me personally and professionally. This year marks the 10 year anniversary of my work in student affairs and my involvement in professional associations. I had the opportunity to informally celebrate this milestone by attending the ACPA Convention in Indianapolis. It was a bit surreal running into colleagues and friends from various points in my career and academic work. I remember my first convention in Philadelphia where I attended with my masters cohort, overwhelmed yet highly motivated to begin our careers. Ten years later, attending Convention still felt overwhelming but in a different way. This year I attended as recently defended doctoral candidate who was navigating a mid-level position job search.

As friends and colleagues were eager to call me “Doctor”including the long awaited nickname “Dr. Dre,”I was bombarded with questions of “what’s next?”in my career, how the job search was going and inquiries about what I was looking for in a position. While I offered somewhat rehearsed and often vague answers, the honest truth is I felt confused and a bit stuck in determining my next career steps. While I have always been certain in my desire to work in student affairs, particularly supporting marginalized student identity groups, it has only been recently that I started a trajectory as a social justice educator[1].

As a masters student I recall conversations with faculty and colleagues about various student affairs functional areas to consider. None of these talks mentioned social justice education and the closest recollection I have was a discussion about the possibility of working within a multicultural office. While I did not yet have a social justice framework, I was still able to identify how “multicultural[2]”was being used synonymous with “diversity”broadly to capture a variety of social issues and sometimes exclusively for direct support services for students of color. Nowhere in these conversations were mentions of work with other marginalized identities, intersectionality, or social change.

Despite these limited conversations, I did have a unique opportunity of working as a graduate assistant for an LGBT student services office while pursuing my masters degree. This position expanded my understanding of what was possible for “diversity” work and also turned into my first full-time position. While this was an exciting opportunity, I soon faced unforeseen career challenges. At the time of my hiring, the option for LGBT student services was a range of working as an one-person staffed office often times in areas of institutional or geographical resistance or work as what we affectionately called an LGBT2. These positions were rare and almost exclusive to large campuses with offices that had demonstrated longevity and therefore a needs for additional staff support. While these positions offered employment opportunities for recently graduated masters students like myself, there was little room for growth and advancement.

In my five years in LGBT student services, few director positions opened. One reason for this is that directors themselves had challenges advancing beyond this position. I recall several conversations with colleagues who talked about how difficult it was for them to convince search committees that they were capable doing work beyond LGBT student services. In the event director positions did open, these searches fostered high competition from existing directors looking to change campuses, professionals with doctorates and other LGBT2 looking to advance their career. Through this landscape I was faced with a difficult choice: continuing to work as an LGBT2 in the hopes of obtaining a director position in an uncertain time length or pursue a doctorate degree to enhance my qualifications for director positions.

I made the choice to get a doctorate, specifically in Social Justice Education, which in reflection I feel was the right personal decision for me as a student affairs practitioner and emerging scholar. In addition to learning frameworks and skills centered on social justice, my most noteworthy takeaway from my program was developing an identity as a social justice educator with a desire to have an intentional trajectory for this work within student affairs. While I have clarity about the direction of my career, I feel as if I am yet again receiving messages about limited career options and virtually no dialogues on how to pursue social justice education as a career pathway at the mid-level and as a senior student affairs officer.

In addition to my own journey, I have had numerous conversations with undergraduates, graduate students and new professionals also struggling to navigate a pathway into social justice education in student affairs. While at the 2014 Convention I had the opportunity to participate in a NextGen networking session. The goal of this event was to have undergraduate students interested in pursuing careers in students affairs to dialogue with various ACPA Commissions and Standing Committees about our work in the entities and how it relates to the core values of the association. Representing the Commission for Social Justice Educators, I had what I feel was a mutually impactful conversation with an undergraduate student interested in entering multicultural affairs work and wanted insights on which graduate programs that would support his goals.

Through dialogue and questioning, I discovered an incongruence in the work this student aspired to do and what he was encouraged to do. Similar to my experience as a masters student, this student was told his only option was to pursue careers working in multicultural affairs while he is interested in supporting a variety of marginalized student populations, fostering cross-identity work and institutional change. While I was able to offer this student some guidance and am in ongoing conversation with him, I have been in constant reflection on professional preparation and career pathways as social justice educators in student affairs. I feel that it is vital for our existing and emerging professionals to identify and concretely strategize specific career pathways for social justice educators in student affairs.

As the incoming Chair-Elect for the Commission for Social Justice Educators I facilitated a conversation at our recent Directorate Body meeting at this year’s Convention 2014 on the issues raised in this article. Specifically there was energy around creating dialogic spaces and programming to address entry and transitions of social justice educators within student affairs careers. On behalf of the Commission we want to invite you to consider and share your thoughts on the following questions:

  • What has your experience been navigating student affairs positions as a social justice educator?
  • How should we prepare graduate students and new professionals for social justice educator positions (i.e., academic programs, supervision, professional associations, etc.)?
  • How should we prepare social justice educator professionals for mid-level and senior student affairs officer positions (i.e., academic programs, supervision, professional associations, etc.)?
  • What support do professionals interested in social justice educator positions need throughout the the job search?
  • How do you as a social justice educator assess position and campus “fit”? What strategies do you use to determine if your social justice values and practices are congruent with the positions and institutions you seek employment with?
  • How do you reconcile incongruence with “fit”? What personal or professional negotiations do you make in this situations?

To participate in the dialogue, I invited you to comment and share this article. We also encourage you to share your experiences by completing an anonymous questionnaire (https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1FGvWKtNHH7c9F-zdsUZhBCNpAHIl156Q299Xv1MPpEk/viewform).


[1] My personal understanding of social justice education practice involves identifying and addressing systematic oppression on campus, intersectionality through recognition of multiple student identities and cross-group experiences, and developing critical consciousness and leadership development among students to enhance campus communities and beyond. I recognize that other educators may have different perspectives on understanding and in no way is this meant to be an exhaustive explanation.
[2] I feel the terms social justice, diversity, and multicultural are terms that have relationship to each other but with distinct meanings, particularly within educational context. Feel free to contact me for more clarity.

 

Dr. Andrea Dre Domingue is scholar-practitioner that focuses on minoritized college student advocacy, critical pedagogy and college student leadership development. She works at the University of Massachusetts—Amherst where as an instructor for the College of Education. Dre recently completed her doctorate in Student Development with a concentration Social Justice Education and Advanced Feminist Studies. Prior to her time at UMass, she worked at NYU’s LGBT Student Services Office where she also received her MA in Higher Education Administration. A long-term member of several professional associations, Dre is the incoming Chair-Elect for ACPA’s Commission for Social Justice Educators. Follow her on Twitter: @dredomingue where she sporadically tweets or email her directly at dre[dot]domingue[at]gmail.com.

 

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