This season of Master of None wasn’t particularly my favorite but, there was one episode that stood out. The Thanksgiving episode written by Lena Waithe and Aziz Ansari was tremendous. That great moment in television got her an Emmy for writing. (1st African American Woman to win an award in the category by the way)
If you work in higher education, then you’ve seen a student that reminds you of Lena Waithe. I’ve run into the smart, witty young person who constantly makes you laugh during meetings in the office. They are confident about themselves and tell it like it is. I don’t know her personally but every interview and public appearance she kills it. Last night, her acceptance speech was no different.
As she spoke, she reminded me of the work that we as educators need to continue doing.
At one point Lena Waithe stated, “Thank You Netflix and Universal, for creating a beautiful playground for us to play on and shine.”
There are educators on campuses all around who are cultivating atmospheres for different types of students to play and grow. Many of us have sat through the webinars to create better practices. We have done the training sessions to make sure our skills remain sharp. The multicultural offices have been created, the fight for gender-neutral bathrooms was successful and the multi-denominational prayer room has been created. We are building those beautiful playgrounds on campus but that’s not enough.
She thanked the viewers and audience for embracing a little Indian boy from South Carolina and a little queer black girl from the South Side of Chicago. If you aren’t embracing diverse audiences then you aren’t doing your job. In many cases though, educators are doing that at high levels. They are pushing the students with marginalized voices to speak loudly and proudly. You’ve encouraged students to challenge their professors. You have sat on the committees to address the retention and enrollment of underrepresented groups. When students say they want to start a club that doesn’t exist on campus you support them. This too though is not enough.
Waithe began closing her speech by saying, “I love you all. And last, but certainly not least, my L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. family. I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different, those are our superpowers. Every day, when you walk out the door and put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world — because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it.”
This particular part of her speech reminded me that our campuses are filled with superheroes but the question is, does everyone see the capes? We can set up the playground and encourage the already established or up and coming voices all day. One of the hardest parts of my job is helping the non-involved student recognize not only their own potential but also the superhero qualities of their student leader peers. In the field of student affairs, we see the frustration regularly. Students are busting their hump to create interactive programming to enhance the collegiate experience and 7 people show up to their event. I’ve watched petitions and protests get organized to benefit the entire campus go almost completely ignored. These leaders are getting trained to help cultivate excellence and push their classmates to greater heights and sometimes it is all for naught. Many a hero has come into my office with the intention of removing their cape and suppressing their abilities. As an educator, I make a concerted effort to help your so-called “average” student recognize the people who are right in front of them. Find ways to connect and interest to a club, event or leadership position and physically make the introduction. If there’s a budding young musician, introduce them to the folks who run the open mics or showcase related events. I literally introduced a student who wanted to model to the president of our Fashion Club on campus. There is a great entrepreneur and marketing major who has never met the president of the Business Honor Society. If you know both, make that meeting happen. I’m always pushing people to meet this or that student because they’ll be the ones who can best help you. It was a fellow student leader back during my undergrad days that encouraged me to get involved. Had it not been for him and his superpowers approaching me in a Literary Theory class, I would have never become the educator I am today. Students aren’t always looking or willing to take the baton from their colleagues and friends. We as advisors, professors, and professionals shouldn’t simply focus on the ones have the “It Factor.” We should not only help those potential leaders become involved members of the community. That too is not enough. We have to protect our heroes and make sure their powers aren’t being left out in the cold. Push them to be great but also push other to see their greatness.
MrJeffDess is a the Co Founder of Trill or Not Trill. He’s also a writer, professor, public speaker and emcee of Haitian descent. He is an author of 5 books of poetry, including his latest, Trill Motivation With over ten years of performing and student affairs experience under his belt MrJeffDess continues to strive towards helping students reach their highest potential. For booking information, contact MrJeffDess at TrillorNotTrill@gmail.com or www.mrjeffdessworks.com