Much energy as a Student Affairs professional is spent teaching students how to advocate for themselves–managing conflict, projecting confidence, finding their own voice, recognizing validity in their own needs, etc. These lessons of self-advocacy are life-long skills, and the process of learning them can be quite uncomfortable. We’re all vulnerable when we stand up for ourselves—whether for the first time or the fiftieth. Stating our needs, committing “I am worth this,” is intimidating, even to seasoned professionals.
It matters that our students can communicate their boundaries within a community, and it matters that I can serve as an example. The economic decline has required Student Affairs Professionals to do more and more with less and less. In my own little department we’ve worked hard for several years creating more efficient processes, hoping that gains in efficiency would even out losses in budgets, benefits, and basic energy. Regardless of our efforts (and sometimes, it can seem, because of them), the expectations continue to rise (larger class sizes, expanded retention targets, demands of students and families, etc.). There are limits to what can be expected with shrinking resources.
I’m taking my own advice. When asked to cover just a little more distance, I pull out the map and present the pros and cons of each shortcut. Adding more speed is no longer an option—that’s my boundary. I am confident and respectful, but present the reality to those who manage the purse strings. I’m not going to lose any more vacation days—the work is going to be there when I return, and I need time away to regroup and reconnect with my family more than ever before.
Just like the first year student cannot rely on their roommate to just KNOW that they need a certain (seemingly reasonable) level of quiet or cleanliness without any discussion, I cannot expect an institution to just know just how much is too much for me. And in the same way that students try to avoid confrontation (i.e. vulnerability) with roommates, we as professionals sometimes risk it at our own institutions.
I’ve reassured students, hundreds of times, that identifying healthy boundaries isn’t about being needy, or whining, or complaining. It really is about having a healthy relationship over the long haul, and that’s what I want to have with my institution. I love Sarah Lawrence College and its students, and I want the institution, as well as my own career, to thrive here. In order to do so, I have to take my own advice.
Submitted by Carolyn O’Laughlin, Director of Residence Life, Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York