The Women in Housing series is a month-long project featuring the voices, stories, and experiences of women who currently or formerly work in housing and residence life. Today's post was written by Sara Holtzman.
As I sit down to type this slice of my narrative I must confess that I have written somewhere around five other pieces before narrowing focus. I attempted to reflect on my intersecting identities and asked myself which topics may be the most helpful. I finally settled on sharing my current, and not so smooth, transition into a mid-level position as the Assistant Director of Housing and Residence life at a small-private STEM institution.
Naturally, I feel compelled to provide some context. I found my start in the field at a fantastic public institution that we lovingly referred to as an “opportunity” school. Our population was dynamic; we had students of all ages, races, cultures, genders, sexualities and socioeconomic statuses-indicative of most public institutions, I know. I adored our student population and worked my buns off for our students who gave me all the warm and fuzzy feelings I had ever needed or wanted in the field. In fact, I had such a great graduate experience under some amazing mentors that I stayed on and completed my first year of full-time work. Skipping through pages of mess and rough learning experiences –the writing version of fast forwarding- I found myself job searching once more after a rather challenging first year.
My job search was indeed fruitful. During my first on-campus of the season I was offered an opportunity I simply couldn’t refuse. Despite the fact that I had interviewed for an entry- level position, I was asked if I would consider taking the Assistant Director position. I was a young, bright-eyed and bushy tailed professional destined to kick-ass and take names, oh and duhhhhhh, help as many students as possible, HECK YES I WANTED TO HAVE MORE OF A VOICE TO CHANGE SYSTEMS TO BETTER SERVE STUDENTS. Fast forward into more than half a year completed in my new role at my new institution.
Needless to say, my current institution is COMPLETELY different from my previous. The transition from state to private, large to small, hands-off to helicopter parents, and opportunity to privileged each presented realities I expected, but sometimes our expectations cannot begin to cover our realities. The “good ole boy” club is alive and well in this male dominated STEM environment, arguments are based on numbers, data, and analysis -- feelings are not a factor, and customer service is king. I’ve been re-learning how to make the most effective arguments, and trying to renegotiate my purpose in the field. My days seem to be filled working with angry parents, and mediating arguments so beyond the realm of what I was used to in terms of privilege sometimes I need to step back and chuckle. The days of hanging out in the lounge with dozens of students, preparing confections to share, and learning about each student one-on-one have slipped through my fingers without a blink of an eye.
My current institution is truly fantastic -- I don’t mean to make it sound like there aren’t plenty of amazing things happening here every day -- I am focusing on my personal challenges as they relate to my role in housing and residence life. My position presents so many new challenges it is like I am relearning to walk before I am allowed to run all over again. My transition up was so quick that I find myself missing the opportunities to be (more) carefree in an entry-level position. I sometimes crave less responsibility to only need to be responsible for making connections to the students in my specific area, having the opportunity to touch base with all of the “jack-and-Jill” residents instead of those that are acting as outstanding leaders or are really, really experiencing issues.
As I am continuing to find my footing in the new role I have realized that the overarching problem I have been facing is the fact that I don’t quite have my steps down enough to really go above and beyond. I ultimately want to take more time to causally meet students and grow my connections on campus – next steps. (I will say that I have joined a regional committee to stay connected and I do advise a sorority on campus in an effort to start the process.) The reason I found my way into the field, as so many similar to myself, was to help students grow into phenomenal and functioning adults. Our Dean of Students likes to explain that we consistently provide a co-curricular liberal arts education for our students – I 100% agree, but I still want to remain connected to our students even though I am really responsible for laying out the curriculum for those professionals I supervise.
It has taken me weeks of reflection to recognize that I am just frustrated because I want to feel like I am doing more and I want to be able to witness and feel the results of my work. It is a maturity thing, a thing not helped by the speed with which I have been offered responsibility. To be honest, I had been so off that was even considering leaving the field all together. I was formulating a new life plan to take on a full-time student status to study counseling. I realize now that I wanted to feel that I had a direct connection to helping people. Guess what though, I am quickly realizing that I currently have a position in which I consistently help people; I just selfishly want to feel the results more deeply than I currently am because I am still learning my steps!
My final plea is for all of us, despite sex and/or gender, to reflect on why we are doing what we are doing. I recognize my narrative may not provide many earth shattering tips and tricks, but hopefully my story can offer those in similar situations an outlet and a realization that you are not alone. There is another professional experiencing self-doubt, who wants to feel her brand of instant gratification -in the form of witnessing student success, who is trying desperately to run before she learns how to really walk in a totally new environment. Transversely, if you have gone through something like this, I am always looking for direction and perhaps some helpful ways to deal with all of my realizations.
Sara Holtzman has found her place in housing and residence life for the past four years. Sara currently leads a team of residence life professionals in providing customer service, community, and care to all residents they serve. Out of the office, Sara enjoys pseudo-motherhood in attempting to raise and train her eight month old border collie, beagle, chihuahua mix puppy, Grayson, and is currently learning how to bake confections at altitude - the struggle has been very real. In addition to participating in trivia nights, and regularly scheduled gym classes, Sara volunteers at the community theater running make-up and costuming teams to help support the local arts. Ultimately Sara believes in building students up to contribute to their communities and regularly attempts to put her beliefs into practice; come join her!