Theory Reflection 1 Running Head: THEORY REFLECTION Student Develop Theory Reflection Kenjus T. Watson The Pennsylvania State University Theory Reflection 2 Student Develop Theory Reflection As I reflect on this past semester it becomes extremely apparent that I struggled in many ways. I was challenged mentally, emotionally, and to a certain extent physically en route to the successful completion of my first year of graduate education. After enduring numerous sleepless nights, taxing days, and the purgatory of Bellefonte I have no doubt that this semester will go down as one of the most difficult periods in my life. Yet, the reason for my struggle extends far beyond the course reading and workloads. However, these academic gymnastics were certainly daunting. Still, my greatest test was administered through my own musings and located within my mind. In retrospect, (and having completed the student development course) I now realize that cognitive dissonance is often the culprit in such learning experiences. I also know that too much dissonance may cause one to flee the academic setting. It is my aim within this reflection to make these particular moments more explicit for the sake of the assignment and my own personal understanding. When, Where, and Why… “Student development is a lot like porn. You know it when you see it.” (Reason course instruction, 2008) Although Bob’s statement was uttered in jest (I think), it is actually the most profound conceptualization of the role of student development theories in higher education I have heard. After reading countless text with detailed, calculated, theoretical constructions of various models, even I am perplexed that the above quotation stuck so well. However, as I mentioned in my theory application report, our class has yet to identify an “appropriate” residence for student development theories within academe. We Theory Reflection 3 actually remain rather divided concerning the necessity of certain manifestations of these conjectures. For example, several students were offended during our exploration of racial identity. The relationships between race, identity, and essentialism seemed too much to bear for some of my peers. Furthermore, this conflict became explicitly racialized through individuals’ disgust with “playing” certain ethnicities. However, the literary foundations of cognitive development were met with little resistance. And as our class had spirited conversations concerning moral reasoning, I remained triggered by some of the euro-stream assumptions of various authors. Queries of when, where, and why we should utilize theory received some attention within the course. However, I feel that the apparent lack of representation, inclusiveness, and integration within our most revered knowledge constructions was not thoroughly “combed over” in our classes. I am left wondering what to do. If I consider only using theory as descriptive frameworks that strengthen my programmatic effectiveness, I still assume that at least some of the construction will resonate with at least one of my participants. Not to be essentialist, but in what ways can I implement white, masculine knowledge constructions with a caseload that only includes students of color? Furthermore, what happens to individuals outside of the college experience? The larger portion of the Black community remains on the margins of higher education. In what ways can I help these folks if I only see development occurring through exclusive, elite, oppressive, albeit student-centered “goggles?” Thus, Bob’s assertion of the intrinsic reality of human development provides some comfort to ease these disconcerting thoughts. In a way, it posits that anyone and everyone is capable of progressing. The statement also adds the all-important aspect of Theory Reflection 4 “personal context” into the equation of this work. More specifically, what I think is “pornographic” may be completely different from another person’s perspective. I realize that having such a broad, “willy-nilly,” and from-the-hip conception of student development may be problematic in legitimizing student affairs as an academic medium, operationalizing our language, or perhaps even serving “some” students. However, several occurrences in my life this semester have led to my endorsement of such a “policy.” Pervert Everyone knows it is virtually impossible to talk candidly about race without talking about sex… [because] white fear of Black sexuality is the basic ingredient of white racism. Therefore, my thesis is that…a candid dialogue about Black sexuality is requisite for healthy race relations in America (West, 1999, pp. 514-517). One of the greatest learning opportunities I experienced this semester occurred through my research and assessment (RA) class. Given the freedom to extensively investigate an academic topic, I “jumped” at the chance to give sexualized racism a “closer look.” My impetus to explore this issue in particular began in an undergraduate sociology course labeled Power and Sexuality. We read a considerable amount of Michele Foucault during the class. We also reflected on the societal power of sexual discourse and its intersection with body politics. I was surprised and appalled to learn about the overwhelming white male consumption of interracial pornography. I remain interested in bringing this issue to the surface of public discourse in order to expel its racist, sexist, and oppressive qualities. On the first day of the RA we were all asked to share our research interests. When I claimed that I wanted to study the consumption of interracial pornography, I met three Theory Reflection 5 distinct challenges. Several peers thought my claim was no more than an attempt to be comical. Others, who were openly offended by the nature of the study, asserted that I was a pervert. Lastly, many did not think the research was at all relevant to student affairs or even generally important. After enduring similar challenges across the campus, I became extremely motivated to prove both the validity and necessity of the study. I delved into cross-cutting literature sources, wrote extended drafts, and ultimately presented my findings to my peers. Although I have done research in the past, I never gave the effort and time that I recently gave to the interracial porn project. When I received feedback from my peers, two dominant themes emerged. The first dealt with the explicitness of the presentation. Although I spoke at length about the “context” of pornography, safe spaces, and the freedom to leave prior to presenting, several peers were angered that I did not utilize flashing “WARNING” signs before showing an “explicit” image. Others were concerned that my pictures of actual mass lynchings of African-Americans were simply inappropriate or too graphic. Finally, several of peers asked how I planned to get student affairs professionals to talk about pornography. To date, I have written over 35 pages for the class report and remain confident in the subjects’ importance to not only student affairs, but society as a whole. What would you do? Brenda Lutovsky essentially asked our class to answer the above question during her second installment of moral identity development. I struggled to carefully assess my group scenario. Our “situation” concerned the freedom of college leftist to display Black political posters in their dormitory hall versus the rights of white college men to not experience such inflammatory material. As I sat with my group, my dilemma was quite Theory Reflection 6 clear; Not only had I been a resident advisor who displayed Black political posters on my door, I currently display similar images within my office in the Multicultural Resource Center. I was anything but objective as we discussed the scenarios with the larger group. I also indignantly rolled my eyes when the “development” of young, conservative white students came into question. I also rolled my mind’s eye when I was faced with the political realities of working within student affairs. This same political pandering has become increasingly (and painfully) clear as I assist Bob in creating an online workshop for racial justice action. The message I receive from these occurrences reaches beyond the rhetoric serving so-called white students. These scenarios are fraught with whiteness and privilege. Leaving on a Midnight Plane… This semester has been personally challenging in light of the numerous family issues I faced throughout its duration. My mom left my father in Moreno Valley last fall to become a flight attendant. She works out of a main “hub” in Chicago but barely makes enough money to pay her rent. She also constantly stresses over my three sisters’ wellbeing. Micha is 28, Chandra is 27, and Kerry is 20. Micha has two children: Kaleb is four and Jordyn is three. This past February, Micha, Chandra, Kaleb, and Jordyn moved out of my father’s house and relocated to Las Vegas to be closer to my grandmother and escape further abuse at my father’s hands. Last month, Kerry endured a depressive breakdown due to financial strain, stress, and loneliness. She recently decided to take a leave of absence from her junior year at UCLA. My mom visits my sisters as much as her schedule allows. My entire family has been restructured within the past few months. Although this side of my life seems to be in disarray, there have been some positive Theory Reflection 7 occurrences. For example, I was able to take a flight home earlier in the semester to watch an extended family member graduate from college. Dante is like a brother to me. He taught me how to be “Black” in high school and served as the Best Man in my wedding. He was always considered to be very intelligent by his teachers and peers. However, by the time I went to Oxy on a full academic scholarship, Dante had enrolled and dropped out of DeVry University twice over a span of two years. As an independent student, Dante was often unable to pay his tuition bills. After four years of attending the Los Angeles branch of DeVry, Dante moved back to Moreno Valley with only one year of completed course work. He enrolled in the local community college in order to continue working towards his degree while saving money. He reenrolled in DeVry after a year of community college course work. I was extremely proud to see Dante graduate after everything he had been through. His DeVry peers shared similar stories of amazing resolve amongst oppressive circumstances. As I sat next to mostly people of color in the small auditorium, I was overwhelmed with emotion. This ceremony was truly one of the most powerful events I have ever witnessed. Privilege My most powerful learning experience of this past semester came during a meeting I attended in the LGBTA center. Several students of color organized the meeting in order to address their concerns with prevalent white privilege and racial hostility within the center. Allison informed me that some of my students from Q-Spot asked her if I (specifically) could open the center and monitor the meeting. I agreed to both requests. Nearly ten students attended the dialogue. When the meeting began, the student facilitator asked the group to state their qualms with the center. Many students were Theory Reflection 8 concerned with a lack of center books and media that addressed “queer people of color.” The students also expressed anger with the way the Center staff interacted with visitors. An individual student claimed that because most of the staff members were white women, they did not know how to relate to her individual experience. Everything that the students said was “familiar” but somewhat “confusing.” I held a very different (more progressive) view of the LGBTA center that most of these students. After they shared their angst about the center, the facilitator asked each student to tell their Coming Out story. I have never felt more impacted, privileged, and on a learning edge as I was when these students shared their stories. I was not sure if I should leave or stay. I also felt that most of the students assumed I was “not-straight.” I was the last person to share. When I did share how I came to understand myself as a heterosexual, I was extremely uncomfortable, uneasy, upset, over-privileged, scared, angry, and excited all at once. Does it fit? One may be able to work my experiences into any number of student development theories. However, as I stated previously, I do not believe in placing individuals within conceptual frameworks or models. In fact, given the often exclusive nature of those constructions, the actual “fitness” of any individual may be predetermined based on their social identities. Thus within this reflection, I have purposely provided reflections without adding a direct theoretical connection. Although, I understand these philosophical approaches, I am still unsure as to when it is appropriate to employ them. Ultimately, I present my learning experiences as individual vignettes for two reasons. First, I enjoy reflecting on my life through narrative devices. Secondly, this is the format Theory Reflection 9 through which I interact with most of my students. They often present their “stories” through expressions of challenge and success. These experiences are raw, real, and powerful. To place them within boxes of categorization without properly reading and flexing is to do these students a great disservice. Therefore, I will continue to seek out pragmatic uses of theory that do not tokenize the individual in question. Theory Reflection 10 References West, C. (1999). On Black Sexuality. In West, C (Ed.) The Cornel West Reader. New York: Basic Civitas Books.