A Mighty Fortress is our Diversity: Student Affairs Administrators Convene at the Magic Kingdom

In the campus pecking order, somewhere down the line, well below the dean of faculty and the vice president of finance, but perhaps slightly above the directors of community affairs and buildings and grounds, one finds the alternatively named dean of the college, dean of students or vice president of student affairs.

Those who hold such jobs are responsible for students’ co-curricular activities, on-campus housing and dining, mental and physical well-being, and spiritual, emotional, and interpersonal needs. Often they are the institutions’ most ardent supporters of diversity, and are purported to experience orgasmic levels of arousal when catching the scent of a behavior that could be improved or eliminated by mandatory attendance at a workshop, speak out, or talking circle. They never met an accusation of racist, sexist, heteronormative, or classist behavior that did not warrant full investigation and post-incident training sessions, regardless of whether the accusation is truthful.  Thus is built the student affairs empire, a fortress of sensitivity against the cruel campus world of oppression.

Student Affairs Fortress of Diversity

Student Affairs Fortress of Diversity

It should come as no surprise, then, that when student affairs administrators, as they like to be called, venture outside the ramparts in order to gather with like-minded colleagues, they set about turning whatever conference hotel organizers have chosen into their very own fortress-away-from-home.

And so it was at last month’s annual meeting of the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) at the Orlando World Center Marriott.  First order of business for the conferees was making sure their quarters were suitably green. The conference program offers these helpful hints for sustainable conduct:

Please use available recycle stations. Fill reusable water bottles at available water stations, turn off lights in your hotel room, use linen reuse service in all hotels, and take advantage of opportunities to share taxis when departing the hotel. And, don’t forget to use your conference bags for shopping when you return home.

This wisdom appears on page seven of the 140-page program distributed to over 5,000 conference participants.

NASPA’s dedication to sustainability takes a backseat, however, to a commitment to respect for all God’s creatures:

GENDER NEUTRAL RESTROOMS A gender-neutral restroom designation means this restroom is open and safe for people of all gender identities and expressions, including those who identify as transgender, gender non-conforming, and genderqueer. These restrooms are clearly marked as gender neutral and not male or female.

A few more flushes is but a small price to pay for ensuring ones gender neutrality whilst taking a leak.

Gender inclusiveness also trumps environmental concerns when it comes to printing thousands of wearable stickers designed to keep attendees from stepping in it when introduced to the two or three gender-addled who may wander into the Marriott:

GENDER PRONOUN STICKERS As an association that recognizes and appreciates diversity in relation to, and across the intersections of, race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, veteran status, age, socioeconomic status, and disability, NASPA strives to create an inclusive environment at professional development events for all attendees. It is important to offer opportunities for all attendees, including trans* and gender non-conforming participants, to share their gender pronouns in settings where they are asked to introduce themselves. These stickers allow for everyone to specifically indicate their pronouns so that each individual will feel safe at this conference. This effort is designed to reduce the discomfort that one may experience should one NASPA member reference another with an with an inaccurate pronoun. We encourage everyone to wear one!

With that cheerful encouragement, the program moves on to introducing the conference’s featured speakers, comprising the usual cast of characters–blacks, Hispanics, Asians, gays, the disabled, women of all colors, and a couple of token white guys–one finds in a typical dean of students office.  Catering to students’ extra-academic needs is a professional ghetto in more ways than one. Each speaker’s physical appearance predicts what opression he/she/ze will address.  (The white guys talk about computers.)

After these earnest reminders, the program invites conferees to attend an opening reception, a “casual poolside celebration,” a golf tournament, a silent auction, Disney World, fitness boot camp, yoga or zumba classes, a dozen or so sponsored lounges, including the family friendly room “to nurse small children without having to return to individual hotel rooms,” any one of six “random spaces of coolness,” and a public service project that will turn leftover bits of soap bars into a “clean kit” for the hygienically deprived among us. Almost as an afterthought, the program lists the titles only of the actual conference sessions–no descriptions of content–noting proudly

You will notice that the NASPA Annual Conference Program book is a little smaller this year! We have decided not to print the abstracts in this year’s program book.

It speaks, I think, to the importance of the sessions that their descriptions can be sacrificed so that the shuttle schedule to Disney World can appear in full.

After visiting the Magic Kingdom's Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, NASPA conventioneers pause in front of the genderqueer restroom.

After visiting the Magic Kingdom’s Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, NASPA conventioneers pause in front of the genderqueer restroom.

While you rethink where those tuition dollars go, I’m looking into booking a “Candid Conversation” at the 2014 conference.  As a women outside the profession, I’m eager to see if I can avail myself of a “one-on-one brief and confidential mentoring sessions for women and transgender at all professional levels.”

Trouble is, I’m too polite to be candid.

11 thoughts on “A Mighty Fortress is our Diversity: Student Affairs Administrators Convene at the Magic Kingdom

  1. My word, Miss, I’m not sure if I laughed till I cried or cried till I laughed but, am quite sure that any organization that is ashamed to print the abstracts of their papers, is to not put too fine a point on it, useless, at best.

    • I’m not so sure it’s shame as much as it is commitment to principles of sustainability: there might have been a trade-off between printing the abstracts and printing the pronoun stickers.

  2. As a former member of NASPA I just want to tell you how appalled I am that I never got to go to Florida on somebody else’s dime. I got stuck with places like Toronto.

      • Ah, but those were simpler times when NASPA conference diversity was about Molson, Labatts or Brador and how many resumes you could stuff into the help wanted pigeon holes at the job fair. Since then our amicable neighbor beings to the
        north have far out striped us in their devotion to the deity-like controlling force of uncontrolled inclusiveness

  3. My husband’s mother was Dean of Students at the University of Chicago, but I am not sure if she was involved in gender neutral bathrooms.

  4. Miss, you write for Saturday Night Live, yes? And this is a preview of a skit for next week’s show? Can’t wait. I read this is a public place, with a small child who inconveniently wanted to know why I was laughing aloud. Thank you for brightening my day.

    • Ms. Benvenuto, I am blushing! If you are the wonderful writer Christine Benvenuto, and you not being facetious, then I take your comment as high praise. I can only hope you were as pleased by an earlier essay I wrote about your travails at Amherst Books. In any case, thank you, thank you, thank you!

  5. Pingback: I’m Pregnant! Isn’t that Special! | Call Me "Miss"!

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