Friday, October 19, 2012

Becoming "The Man"

I never set out for this to happen.
In my life outside work, I don't think anyone would confuse me for "The Man." I'm  a self-professed nerd, lover of Star Wars and superheroes. I listen to punk rock. My main hobby is a card game. I may be 28, but in a lot of ways, I'm just a boy who grew up.
Of course, unlike children, I have a job. More than that, I have a career.
I work in Student Affairs. It's not a well understood job by people outside the field (although anyone who has gone to college has probably interacted with someone who works in Student Affairs). My job is to help ensure students at the college I work at have the best possible time outside of class. Other people in my field help them with their residence situation, their mental health, or help tutor them. Student Affairs attracts a certain kind of professional- one who wants to improve the quality of life for the people they work with. It is incredibly rewarding, and there is rarely a day when I do not want to go into work.
There are challenges, however. Even though we work closely with students, we are no longer students ourselves. I can strive all I want to put my finger on the pulse of what a college aged person wants, but I can only approximate their desires based upon anecdotes and trends. I also am beholden to the college at large, and have to take a long view. This is not a bad thing, but sometimes students can look past this. After all, most of them are around for four years- many long term projects will not be completed in their tenure. 
But this is not about them.
At the start of 2012 I began a project to open up some space for general student use. I had (and have) the support of my supervisor, my division, and other important parties on campus (including students). However, a vocal minority wanted more input, spearheaded by one former student. This made sense: the space was supposed to be for students, and our plan took student input into account, just not in the way this group imagined. They denied my request for meetings and slowly faded into the background.
Until the Diversity Committee started to meet. The same former student attended, and he and I got into a heated exchange. He wanted to open up our facilities to the public for a free education. I took the long view and said it would devalue an education here, and that our students should come first.
It was brief. It ended quickly.
Then I got an e-mail. It's an e-mail many SA Professionals get in their career. It is the e-mail that labels them a racist. 
It was then that I really had the realization that to this student, I was part of the system. I was an oppressor, keeping the students down, putting limitations on freedoms, and generally doing all the things one thinks "The Man" should do. 
I sent a polite reply, apologizing for my tone, but not for my position, and the student disappeared until this week. 
The project I had been working on for student space is ongoing, and we opened to the campus community at the start of this semester. The reaction has been slow- many members did not even know the place existed, and drawing people to a cavernous room, even with comfortable furniture, has been a challenge. This person appeared again, in an e-mail to my and my Vice-President, sarcastically pointing out the failure of the space in his eyes. My VP responded back, asking this ex-student to be constructive and defended me.
That felt nice. However, there I am again, being firmly entrenched in the role of "The Man," standing there, with support of the institution.
One more e-mail came, one that received no reply.
In this e-mail, I am blasted for what this student perceives as a project solely for my ego, and then called me Napoleonic.
I had a laugh, and realized I could not turn back.
I had been attacked on the basis of my height, something I had no control over.
I had been insulted without base, but rather because I disagreed and stood my ground.
And yet, I am still The Man. I am standing in someone's way of their perceived utopia.

And I am perfectly fine with this. 

I am the Man, in this respect. I am part of the system. I can do all the good I can, but there will always be someone who is not pleased with my action.

And when they fall back to attacks on me, and not my actions, they become part of a system too.

Me? I'll be playing cards and rocking out.

2 comments:

Dustin Lesperance said...

Rock on! And good luck with the difficult student.

Silver lining is that they're usually upper classmen if they've got this large sense of entitlement. Well, here's hoping, anyway.

Unknown said...

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Keep on the good work!