Monday, July 23, 2012

When worlds collide

It isn't often that Magic overlays with my professional life. While I advise the Magic club at my place of employment, the realm of student affairs and Magic rarely overlap. Even rarer is the Venn Diagram of Magic Writer and Student Affairs Professional. As far as I know, it includes two individuals: myself and Abe Sargent.
I do not know Abe, nor do I regularly follow his writing. There is nothing wrong with his work, but I am not a casual player, and that is who he writes for. I do peruse his articles, especially if they are about his life outside the game- I find the lives of other student affairs people interesting, since work-life balance is a challenge in this field.
For those who do not know, student affairs is a field of professionals who concern themselves with developing college aged students outside the classroom. This includes orientation, student activities, Greek life,  health and counseling services, residence life (RAs and RDs) and depending on the school, numerous other offices. The way I describe it to friends and family is "everything at a school that isn't teaching or maintenance." 
In his most recent article, Abe talks about the next step in his career. He however, makes a pronouncement about the field that I feel does the article a disservice. When discussing the circumstances that have led him to look for a new path, Abe remarks:

"I kept trying to find a new career, but it was hard. There is a severe bias in this field against:
  1. People who are getting older (I'm in my mid 30s).
  2. People who are straight white males (diversity is rightly emphasized, but unfortunately only visible diversity is considered while things such as geographic diversity, educational diversity, or religious diversity don't really matter).
  3. People who do not have one of two specific degrees to work with students. (The job requires training in student development theory. It also requires tasks such as budgeting and management, which are not taught in student development degrees but which I was trained on with my Masters in Public Administration).
With three strikes against me, finding a new job was already tough. I'd been applying for jobs for a while. Now add to that the fact that I just got fired from my previous one, and I found myself in a crisis."
The Kitchen Table #385- Goodbye Michigan
Abe Sargent

First, Abe omits a fairly important obstacle for professionals in student affairs looking for a new job: the state of the economy. When I was first looking for work in 2008, the economy had just tanked. Because of this, the highest echelon of workers (also the oldest) had their retirement investments eviscerated. This, in turn, forced them to keep their jobs for a few more years. The dominoes began to fall, and the people who were going to take those jobs never had the chance. As such, fewer positions were opening up at every level. Abe is correct: each position has far too many qualified applicants, and often people can't find work, which leads to a large exodus from the field in the early stages of the career path. That being said, leaving this out paints an incomplete picture. 
Item two is the most dangerous, for a number of reasons. Full disclosure: I myself, am a straight white male. It should go without saying that SWMs in this country get an unfair advantage in multiple aspects of life. They tend to earn more and also have a ton of privilege wrapped up in their mere existence. Saying that there is a bias against SWMs just feeds the notion that they do not have any inherent boosters in the world- that they are on the same level as every other applicant out there. The more I think about it, the more I realize: in student affairs, there isn't a bias against SWMs, there just isn't a bias. Period. 
All applicants are on the same playing field. The field, however, is biased towards people who are caring and community oriented. It wants people who have had to confront privilege (and lack of it) to help provide a better understanding of the students with we are likely to counsel. If a person has never had to confront this, black or white, gay or straight, male or female, they might not succeed at the same level. I had experiences with a boss in grad school who made disparaging remarks about my ethnicity/religion (Jewish) and working through that (and other comments made by this same supervisor) helped me confront my own sense of privilege and place in the world. That trial made me a better member of the student affairs world. I believe that Abe had an experience that made him a strong professional member as well, but I won't presume what it might have been.

I do not mean to disparage Abe. I do not think this was intentional. This was, at its heart, an article about Magic and the community's role in his life- not one about employment trends in student affairs. However, the Magic community is currently dealing with larger issues of sexism and such seemingly innocuous statements such as "bias against straight white males" can to reinforce the idea that SWMs are not at an inherent advantage in the world. 

Abe, if you're reading this, good luck in your search and your new path- I hope one day our Venn Diagram gets a few more people. 

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