This article first appeared in Academic Leader on November 1, 2018. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.
My partner and I often joke that we have a mixed marriage. Our joking is not exclusively because one of us is Black and the other is White. It is not because one of us started out as a dog person and the other a cat person (we have both). Nor is it even that one of us is a vegetarian and the other is a carnivore. No, the joke is based on the fact that one of us works in academic affairs and the other in student affairs.
Of course, we only tell this joke to people who work in higher education. And, when told, it gets a hearty laugh because they immediately understand the perception of the sometimes divided and conflicted efforts toward what are presumed to be common educational goals; the education of the whole student. The perception of these conflicted goals are often bureaucratic proceduralisms, turf wars, and intellectual versus experiential considerations that are interpreted as competing efforts. All of this affects the practical experiences of students navigating the university system toward the fulfillment of their personal and professional needs and goals, and what we presume to be the fulfillment of the overall university mission.
But aside from the joke, ours is not a house divided. It is a house sutured together by the joint efforts of desire and our social circumstances (affairs if you will–academic and student) that are made complicit in the intimacies of our joint relational efforts and educational endeavors. While it is easy for some to reductively describe such efforts between “all that is inside the classroom” versus “all that is outside of the classroom”—we feel that this truly would be a house divided. It serves as an artificial separation of the interiority of the educational mission of the university. Although the notion of community is easily bantered around in everyday life, in campus life it invokes some idealistic, if not utopian, notion of support and care. The very concept of community sometimes circulates around the negotiation of competing needs in order to establish a commonplace of comfort, growth, and human engagement.
The notion of “classroom” in the university context is both a fixed academic place and an expansive social and cultural space. It is a practiced location of intellectual attainment standing in meaningful relation to the social dynamics of student life, activities, clubs, leadership experiences, and cultural exposures. In other words, the entire campus is a classroom—with spaces dedicated for living and learning. The fixed classrooms, together with the laboratories of social engagement—clubs, organizations, service activities, athletics, and, of course, the student union—are both necessary to help students engage in information, formation, and transformation of self and society. The work of academic affairs and student affairs is a joint effort toward a common goal: cultivation of well-rounded educated citizens of the world.
My partner and I met on a common university campus, one serving as the director of a student union and the other as faculty/administrator of a college. In our meeting, we shared the joint commitment to student engagement in a critical praxis of knowing and doing, experiencing and performing culture, enacting leadership and cultivating community. We immediately recognized in/with/through each other that these commitments occurred without territories of credit or control, but collaborative engagements to meeting mutually shared missions.
So, while we joke about having a mixed marriage, it is one that involves the negotiations of any committed relationship, along with histories of negotiating the identity politics and the relational bruises that have often kept those with our particularity at bay. We also understand that most successful partnerships feature opposing but complimentary participants—a yin and a yang working in negotiated balance and harmony offering intellectual and somatic wholeness. For us it helps to bleed the borders and establish connections between the perceived binaries of Black and White; cat and dog, carnivore and vegetarian, academic and student affairs. These are not opposing forces but elemental components of a necessary matrix of functional operations dedicated in the context of the university. Always to nurture the whole student while preparing them to make a meaningful difference in the world. Ours is not a house divided. What about yours?
Patrick Henry Bailey is the director of Student Involvement and Development at California State University Northridge. Bryant Keith Alexander is dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles).