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 Mary C. Jordan.
Being a parent and partner while working in university housing can be incredibly difficult; however, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that being a wife and momma has have deeply enhanced my work in student affairs. This year, one lesson that resonates particularly strongly is about allyship with Black students and staff.
I married my husband, a Black man, in my early 20s. Giving what I now consider almost comically little thought to what it mean to entwine my life with the life of a person of color, I dove into marriage and an immediate move to the deep South. Perhaps because I grew up in the progressive Northeast, perhaps because I was young and a bit green, and most like due to a combination of the two and my ever optimistic perspective on the world, I barely considered the implications of a life as part of an interracial family.
Today we are a young multiracial family living in Florida, in a relatively progressive and inclusive city. Outside of urban areas, we have occasionally felt the glares and extended glances of folks for whom our family doesn’t work. From day to day, a challenge our family faces is the subtle racism of people exoticizing our children and their physical features, from their soft curls to their “beautiful skin.” Largely, however, we have remained directly insulated from more overt and malintentioned forms racism.
During the summer of 2016, in the midst of several nationally publicized racially charged incidents, we were pulled over by a police officer in a small town in Florida while my husband was driving. The paralyzing fear we experienced during and after that encounter served as a sobering reminder that we are not exempt from the deeply racial climate of this nation.
That incident began an awakening for me. As a wife and mother, I have my own experiences with race and what it means to be part of a family of color; however, I have discovered in the last several months a sadness that comes with knowing there is an intimacy that other husbands and wives, mothers and children share that we will never have. As deeply and as profoundly as I know my husband, son, and daughter, I will never need to or be able to experience the world in the same way they will as persons of color. In big, critical moments, questions, negotiations, I will not be able to support my children as their father can, or my husband as his parents, siblings, and friends can. It cuts deeply to know that in these, my most important roles, I will unavoidably fall short.
Understanding the brokenness of our system in this way has also led me to evaluate the way I relate to my staff and my students. Since this past summer, my own campus has experienced several racially motivated incidents, including pro-White graffiti, a noose found in a classroom, and Nazis occupying our campus’s free speech zone. The tenor of our campus dialogue is different than I can ever remember. On my office’s social media, for example, I feel compelled to send out very specific messages of affirmation and inclusion now more than ever before.
As I have decided for my family, I have decided for my team and my students: I may be found wanting, but I will do my best. I will ask, listen, speak up, act out, show up, and/or get out of the way, as appropriate. I may not be the person a student wants to talk to, process with, or confide in, and even if I am, I will not be able to show up for them in some of the ways I may really want to. While supervision and mentorship are important parts of my professional identity, here, at least, it’s easier to see and accept that this is not about me. For the people and causes I care about, I can understand these limits and still use my voice, my time, my resources, and my research to support people and change.
Mary C. Jordan is the assistant director for residential education in the Department of Housing and Residence Education and a Ph.D. candidate in Higher Education Administration at the University of Florida. She enjoys playing guitar and singing, spending time outdoors with her family, and creating social justice dialogue within the Christian community.
The Women in Housing series is sponsored by Adirondack Solutions.