First, I would like to thank the Women in Student Affairs Knowledge Community for giving me the opportunity to write for today’s blog post. I will say this—I struggled with writing this blog post. I actively thought “What could a male graduate student who just finished his first year possibly contribute to the community?” I do not view myself as a scholar and I am trying to find my bearings to the field as a whole. Thus, I thought about it for a while and just figured the best possible option is to talk about what I know best: my lived experiences. Let me explain.
Throughout my undergraduate experience, one of my most interesting courses was sociological theory. Although many of the ideas and frameworks challenged my concepts on interactions, ethics, and morality with people, feminist theory happened to cause a shift in my daily presence. As a Canadian sociologist, Dorothy E. Smith actively advocated for sociology to be for women and not about women in comparison and presented the concept of “bifurcated consciousness.” “A bifurcated consciousness refers to two different ways of knowing, experiencing, and acting—the one located in the body and in the space that it occupies and moves into, the other passing beyond it (Adams & Sydie, pg. 552, 2001).” Through her lens of writing, she challenged me to examine who I was as a man and how I treated women as a whole. It is this idea that I wish to explore with you within the realm of higher education and student affairs.
This consciousness is crucial for me in two distinct ways. First, the relationship building piece has to be a reflective and intentional process by both the women I interact with and myself. Within student affairs, I have plenty of discussions with women about our respective futures, personal lives, career paths, and who we are within these processes. And although many conversations between professionals center on the intersection of identities, I think it is important to examine this idea of consciousness in regards to the cycle of socialization. Harro (2004) articulates that there are a multitude of personal, cultural, institutional agents that intersect, challenge, and form our thought processes, values, and normative behaviors as individuals. This is important to understand in making these connections on a surface level; but, to really dig deep and get something out of the relationship, I want to dial into the consciousness and understand how each individual is showing up into the space on a personal level. All in all, I believe that Smith’s ideology wants all of us to connect but understand what is behind this connection and how our presence intersects with this connection.
However, it goes deeper. I think the idea of consciousness is crucial for me to really help women develop professionally in the field. Before entering the student affairs profession, I worked as a fast food manager. Over the course of my four years of management experience, I had the pleasure of working with over 10 full time managers—all of which were women. Whether I realized it or not, many conversations about race, class, gender, and their respective future within the company occurred as I was the only male management staff present. Upon reflection, the only reason why this may have been effective was because of one defining factor: I provided the space to talk openly about their presence as women and as managers but also the space to provide their personal history and narrative—that other consciousness—and its potential intersections to that current space. I say this because the same goes for student affairs. To be fully developed, we need the space to provide access to the other side of our consciousness that rarely gets to speak. Moreover, we need to make an active effort to understand what lies in our consciousness through engaging in conversations and deeper learning experiences.
We do amazing work in student affairs. We advise, challenge, and advocate for students, staff, and our institution at large. We see the potential of learning that extends outside of the classroom. However, we cannot do this effectively if we are unwilling to challenge the process within ourselves. So, I would like to challenge men to actively engage women in conversations about their consciousness and discover what men can learn. This is the only way we can truly help, understand, and support our co-workers and colleagues. Also, I would like to challenge women to be vulnerable, step into a space, and display what your consciousness is really saying unapologetically. It deserves a platform just as much as any other part of your identity as well.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share my experiences and journey. I hope to hear about yours sometime in the future.
Kelvin Rutledge is the Graduate Assistant, ePortfolio and First-Year Outreach at The Florida State University Career Center. Find him on Twitter @SAGradKelvin.
Adams, B.N. & Sydie, R.A. (2001). Sociological theory. (pp. 551-552). Thousand Oaks, California: Pine Forge Press
Harro, B. (2010). The cycle of socialization. In M. Adams, L.A. Bell, & P. Griffin (Eds.), Readings for diversity and social justice (2nd ed., pp. 15-21). Florence, KY: Routledge