Navigating Diverse Identities with Students and Colleagues Alike

When I was mid-career, I used to consult with senior educators I admired for their wisdom borne out of experience and what I thought was their infinite intelligence. I hoped that one day I would be seen as one who had such gifts. I also wanted to have a young spirit and not look my age. What I have attained is the age where many younger professionals do seek my opinions and advice on a variety of topics, and surprisingly to me, I have either experienced what is challenging them now or I have some thoughts that they consider pondering.

I found myself wanting to know what others would say that was a cogent and insightful response when a younger professional asked me how best to “navigate” the challenge of holding onto one’s beliefs when one’s job responsibilities ran counter to these beliefs. This professional was referring to the incidences when one’s role responsibilities required advising and supporting the activities of LGBTQ students when one, personally, did not accept the idea of LGBTQ in any form or lifestyle. This young professional declared that they held no negative feelings about individuals who identified as LGBTQ, but the staff person could not, because of their religious beliefs, support the work of the LGBTQ students.

My response was about the ethics of professionals in student affairs and this did not resonate with the person. There was genuine conflict.  What would you have said?

Very shortly after this conversation, I received an email from a friend of a friend who posed the following question: How should one’s religious values affect our approach to our work in student affairs?

André is writing this part of the blog with me. André posed questions such as “At what point do we let our own identities influence our practice?” His conflict was not about how he would work with students. His question rose from how professionals value and devalue other professionals based on their identity with religious values. André worries that he would be discouraged from explicitly or prominently referencing his faith, which is very important to him, because it may alienate students. He asked, “Where do we draw the line between being ourselves and obscuring our identity?” and “How do we confront our colleagues when they do not show the same acceptance and open-mindedness toward their peers as they do their students?” He said, for example, I can be black and gay and not hide these parts of my identity, but I don’t have the same freedom to share my religious identity.  He is puzzled about how professionals relate to one another around these identity issues among themselves. Poignantly, André said that “It’s easier being openly gay in a Christian environment than it is being religious in a Queer environment.”

As our conversation moved forward, André shared that it’s not just religious beliefs, but it’s also political leanings that are not part of the dominant narrative that don’t get shared among colleagues. He reported that a few of his peers who are political conservatives don’t generally express their opinions in group settings due to fear of being outcast.

Do you think we need a conversation among ourselves as student affairs colleagues about how we can all present our whole selves and be accepted and respected? If yes, what are your ideas about how to move this forward? If you do not think that we should give these questions further thought, please share your thinking with us.

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