Reading Assignment: pages 107-181 in Identity and Leadership: Informing Our Lives, Informing Our Practice.
While reading this book, I can’t stay focused on a story if I do not relate to it. That probably says something, but I promise I do care about these people’s experiences. It probably stems from looking at this book as a textbook for a class about being a leader in Student Affairs.
For this reading, the stories that stuck out to me the most were “Leadership With a Traumatic Brain Injury and Beyond” by Jody Donovan, “My Journey as a Twin: A Relational Blueprint for Leadership” by Jean Chagnon, and “Coming Out and Coming to Terms: The Development of an Authentic Identity” by Kevin T. Colaner.
I don’t personally have a brain injury that I know of, but I do navigate mental illness on a daily basis and working around that in a personal and professional environment is something that I am still trying to figure out. Having an invisible identity comes with its struggles. Donovan mentions on pages 111-112 that she often wonders about if she is “successfully ‘passing’ as an able-minded and able-bodied person.” I know that for myself, I have been in situations with students where I am personally freaking out but I have to maintain a calm face, smile at my students, go on with my job and day like there is no emotional battlefield behind my eyes. There are also times when I do not get a job done, or I miss a deadline and my students look at me helplessly and I can’t help but wonder if they can see that I’m struggling.
It also comes with another struggle that I don’t think Donovan touched on in her essay: if I tell people, does every strong emotion that I have, every struggle that I have, every issue that occurs come from my disorder in the eyes of my colleagues and students?
Again, I’m not a twin like Jean, but her gay identity struck a cord in me (since I, too, am gay). On page 119, Chagnon talks about being the “‘the’ out lesbian member of the counseling center.” As a Resident Assistant, I felt often like I was “the” token gay RA, both in the department and on my staff team. I was the one that they called to for diversity initiatives. I was the one that they asked to present about microaggressions to the entire staff. I loved my experience as an RA and I don’t regret any part of it, but I have been looking back at that experience since being in graduate school and I’ve noticed a few things about how my identities interacted on that campus.
Kevin T. Colaner:
I think that this story resonated with me the most. My most salient identity is my identity as a gay man. On page 161, Colaner talks about coming out being a continuous process. It’s still difficult for me, even though I live in a much nicer political climate, to continuously own my identity. I grew up in and was socialized in Arkansas. I still, instinctively, try not to come off quite as feminine as I actually am. I avoid dressing certain ways and doing certain things to my appearance to avoid certain types of unwanted attention.
Professionally, I think about whether or not to tell colleagues, interviewers, and students, about my identity because I do not want to be taken less seriously because of it. It can be rough because I don’t exactly pass successfully as a heterosexual man. My mannerisms, voice, and the way that I carry myself all lend themselves to stereotypes centered around gay men. So I understand feeling like your identity is always out there.