In my time spent job searching after finally graduating with my MA in Student Affairs in Higher Education I’ve also been brushing up on my internet reading, seeing what blogs are out there and who can offer me another perspective on life or even another topic to discuss with my own peers. Something I often think about but must articulate in tiny pieces when the occasion arises is the value of my introversion.
Recently I read Christopher Conzen’s blog post “Is Introversion Incompatible with Student Affairs?” ( http://www.conzen.com/is-introversion-incompatible-with-student-affairs/ ) and decided that is was important for student affairs professionals to start hearing the inner workings of an introverted mind. Thus the creation of this blog all together.
Conzen poses these question, “I wonder if you conducted a survey and had people identify the “characteristics” of a student affairs professional, how many of those would align more with what we perceive to be extroverted characteristics?”. With this I pose the question, how many student affairs professionals have lost sight of why we do what we do? For me, I am not here to create great programs and give students the most exciting and uplifting experience possible. I am not here for recognition or to be published nationally or to receive the award for most engaged. I am here to create positive change and growth in students.
I see growth in students come in many ways but mostly from individual conversations and doing the behind the scenes work that many introverts do exceptionally. As Student Affairs professionals we seem to value what we see being done rather than what cannot be seen without a keen introvert perception. For example, I have seen many an extrovert take on the enthusiastic student leader, ready to jump into every leadership position one can throw at them, putting on programs galore. And both the professional and the student are praised for all the good work they’ve done. Don’t think I am dismissing the work that either have done. It truly is a wonderful thing to see a student be so outgoing and be so involved on campus and in the community.
Imagine for a moment not focusing on that student and how much you can see them doing. Instead you take notice of a student who just looks to be struggling. Maybe they are an RA on your staff. You ask the student to go to coffee one day in the campus cafe when they have time after class. That student suddenly divulges to you that they have been struggling since they’ve started college and you can tell they are having serious self doubt about who they are and what they want to do with their life. What do you do with this student? Many people wouldn’t have noticed this student at all and they would have dropped out or continued to quietly slip through college, graduating just as scared and confused as they entered.
The introvert usually does notice and does quite a good job at mentoring a student such as this to explore their interests and gain confidence in who they are becoming as a young adult. It is done quietly and almost always goes unnoticed and unrecognized, but for that student, it changes their life. This student often goes on to encourage more students to quietly find themselves, be advocates for their own ideas and issues, and make changes on campus that change many more student lives.
The question now is how do we assess these student interactions? How to we put tangible value in student interaction? I would argue that Baxter-Magolda has already published and pushed the residence life programming model to more of an introverted approach. She’s taken our models of mass programming and number of participants who show up for cake and ice cream to a model that reflects what introverts do best. If anyone has looked at or even attempted this model, it absolutely requires dedication. You must have a plan, intentionality, and exceptional eye for meeting students’ individual needs. You must not only be able to do this, but hire and train staff who can do the same. Any institution that has used this model, such as Miami University in Ohio, I have seen and heard great things and students are absolutely thriving. From the conversations I have had, it seems there is more involvement, higher retention, and a greater sense of community.
Conzen also states that he’s heard account after account of introverts being criticized for being “checked out” but in what context? How often do our supervisors and colleagues see our one on ones with students? How often are we asked what progress our individual students are making in their personal and academic lives, unless they are a student of concern? Do we survey students on their progress from their first year through graduation or simply how well their year went and how much fun they had? Are introverts incompatible with student affairs or is the value of introverts unseen because of the nature of the work that we seem to excel in doing?