Author: Bruce Smith
I hate sounding this old, but I really can’t remember my first professional conference as a member of the higher education world. I know it was during my time as a doctoral student at UC Berkeley and I’m sure that I went to whatever event it was with at least a few goals: network with fellow doc students; meet some faculty who would be hiring in the coming years; advance my knowledge in some particular fields. Goals that I’m sure sound familiar to readers of this piece.
I also remember the disappointed feeling after many of these academic and professional conferences I attended. This disappointed stemmed mostly from the competitive atmosphere that pervaded these spaces, an atmosphere that normalized petty conflicts and arguments, poor communication, and a lack of cohesion among conference goers. Instead of collegial conversations that contributed to our learning, I often found myself in a sort of proving ground, where my peers and I did all we could to demonstrate how smart we were, how complicated our analyses of the latest trends in the field were, and how many obscure journal articles we’d read recently. For many years, these experiences clouded my conference going experiences.
Last fall, at the advice of our Assistant Dean for Residence Life, I attended my first NWASAP conference. I took with me my usual reservations about the conference experience, but soon realized that I’d found an organization that truly understands collegiality. From my first moment at check-in I felt welcomed, and not because there was a fancy give-away or some sponsor-purchased gift items. I found, instead, folks who were ready to find out more about me, where I worked, and what I hoped to gain from my NWASAP experience. I found, instead, folks who wanted to know more about me and made me immediately feel like I belonged. I found, instead, student affairs professionals living the meaning of collegiality.
Over the next couple of days I met peers from across the Pacific Northwest and other states such as Utah who were sharing their stories of professional accomplishment and struggle, within an atmosphere that encouraged and supported vulnerability. Immediately comfortable, my attention turned to learning. The crew from Weber State and their Career Services work. The campus leaders and their contextualized views on violence prevention. Great conversations about engaging men in those prevention efforts.
I so look forward to more of these collegial conversations, more opportunities to consider the major questions within student affairs, more opportunities to create ongoing relationships with my peers from the Pacific Northwest. In contrast to the proving grounds that may define those other conferences and organizations, I look forward to the shared sense of growth and learning that is the NWASAP that welcomed me last fall.
Find me in Sunriver and let’s talk. Can’t wait!