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Imposter Syndrome and the Importance of Professional Associations

How I Attacked Imposter Syndrome through Involvement in ACPA

by Ron Alexander (ronalexander@gwu.edu)

When I entered student affairs as a professional, I learned about the term “Imposter Syndrome” from a colleague and supervisor in my first professional Residence Director role. Wikipedia defines impostor syndrome as "a psychological pattern in which people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a 'fraud'." A constant theme that I have experienced in my time as a professional was not feeling like I belonged or that I deserved any type of award for the work that I did. In meetings (and I am still guilty of this), I wouldn't speak up, offer feedback, or engage in dialogue just because I had this internal discourse about  “who am I” or “I am at the bottom of the totem pole.” American College Personnel Association (ACPA) was the involvement and change agent I needed to find my worth in student affairs.

I came to know about ACPA in 2013 in a conversation with a current graduate student at Vanderbilt (who is now my colleague and friend Charlotte McLoud), and she told me about this organization that she was involved in and how it had shaped her experience in student affairs thus far, especially within the social justice realm. Charlotte encouraged me to look into the work that ACPA was currently doing in respects to professionals of color, social justice and inclusion, and racial injustice. Fast forward to 2015, a great opportunity arose!

ACPA is made up of many coalitions and commissions for members to join based on what that speaks best to their interests and their specific identities.The Coalitions represent and act as advocates for the social identities of the ACPA membership and Commissions concentrate on the jobs, functional areas, or professional specializations in which ACPA members are employed or have an interest. The opportunity that arose for me was to join the Pan African Network Directorate Board, part of the Coalition for Multicultural Affairs. The Pan African Network is committed to promoting the issues of all individuals of African heritage in higher education. The role was the Awards co-chair, where I would assist in being a champion and celebratory agent for Black graduate and professional staff/faculty members in the association. This opportunity was the start of my path in ACPA and when I look back on it today it literally shaped my entire perspective on how I viewed student affairs and the value that I bring to the table as a Black man in a predominately white space.

I have served on the Directorate Board for PAN for three years, and it has helped me unpack much of why I was experiencing such an imposter state of mind in my work. PAN’s Directorate Board provided the space during the academic year, ACPA Convention, and other various conversations to be MYSELF. The chairs of PAN have consistently empowered each of us to be our authentic selves and truly celebrate our existence in the spaces that we take up daily in our work. Whether it was showing up intentionally as the person who has their set life values, lived experiences, or love of Rap music, being yourself was always key.

Involvement in an association and with a group of like-minded individuals is the single most profound professional development opportunity I have had as a newer professional. I encourage all new professionals to explore where they fit outside their institution where they can infuse their work, their personalities, and their lived experiences to enhance the profession. Through my involvement with PAN and ACPA, I’ve gone on to serve as the Mentoring Co-Chair and now Social Chair for PAN, as well as getting involved on the Convention Planning Team as the Volunteer Coordinator. I hope to continue working with ACPA in the future, especially with their new focus and imperative on racial justice and decolonization. You can find out more information about the imperative on ACPA's website.

Finding My Place, Being Okay with My Place - NASPA 2018

by Dan Wright (wright10@gwu.edu)

Ron’s experience feeling Imposter Syndrome and finding his place in a national association mirrors my involvement in NASPA - Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. My journey as a student affairs professional has felt rather strange compared to the journey I’ve seen and heard my colleagues go through. As a simultaneous full-time professional and grad student, navigating my own student affairs departments, professional associations, and conferences, is … tricky. I’ve never felt at home in the graduate student world or associated my work with a grad student identity, and every time I’m among fellow full-time professionals during a conversation about our education credentials, the Imposter Syndrome creeps back in. I’ve never met a person who has made me feel this way (my colleagues are far too amazing to ever do this), so it’s often a self-imposed criticism. It’s that feeling that I don’t deserve the role I have or the responsibilities I’ve been given because I haven’t paid my dues by going through a grad program and earning a master’s degree. Like I said, a self-imposed thought, but a thought nonetheless.

Beyond just education, my work and its place in student affairs isn’t so easily apparent. Overseeing communications, marketing, and technology for a campus ensures that I often feel on the fringe, compared to my peers in residence life and student activities, which have a rich history in the student affairs field. That being said, I’m very thankful to have found a place in NASPA’s Technology Knowledge Community. It’s a community that, funnily enough, encompases almost all of my work, full of professionals in communications, digital leadership, IT, as well as residence life, student activities, and many other fields. This year at the 2018 NASPA Annual Conference in Philadelphia, PA I got the opportunity to learn so much from colleagues from across the country. The digital experience of our students is definitely on the forefront of the smart minds in the Technology Knowledge Community and it was an honor to be able to contribute to the dialogue about student affairs in our increasingly-digital world. It was amazing to feel at home among these professionals and it was one of the first times over the past two years I’ve truly been okay with my current role and place in student affairs, and felt like work I do can make a difference for students, my colleagues, GW, and higher education as whole.

Ron Alexander is an Area Coordinator overseeing residential engagement on the Mount Vernon Campus. Dan Wright is an Audiovisual Specialist overseeing technology on the Mount Vernon Campus.

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