When You’re a Wizard: The Mysterious Magic of Being a Student Affairs Professional by Sam Cox
Growing up, I was enthralled by the magical worlds and captivating narratives of fantasy fiction. I read the Lord of the Rings when I was seven and have continued to read fantasy fiction up through—well, if I’m being honest, I finished my most recent fantasy novel, a 1,200-page monstrosity, over this past summer. I unabashedly geek out over the settings that authors create and the worlds they can share with such vividness. I remember the story of Harry Potter, imagining what it would be like to race hundreds of feet in the air on a broomstick or to explore the hidden passages of Hogwarts castle. These moments and many like them played out in my mind’s fictive dream as my father read the last four books to me and my three brothers. Even the stories themselves were a unique sort of magic.
No wonder these worlds, with their splendid clarity, can—and it seems quite literally—capture our imaginations. It is almost impossible to live in North America today and not to have heard of The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Just yesterday at a wedding shower, members of our HESA cohort discussed which of the Hogwarts houses we had been sorted into. However, when I do any sort of online version of the sorting hat, I always make certain to sort myself into Gryffindor. This, inevitably, prompts not a few eye rolls or a, “wow, you played the system! Are you sure you’re not a Slytherin?” Yet I shall say in my defense, that I only do this because, if I correctly recall my Dumbledore, he admonishes Harry to remember that it is our choices that make us who we are. For me, I want to be courageous and chivalrous, and while I think in many ways my bookish personality and tendency to geek out over anything from medieval philosophy to the basal ganglia to university leadership structures to Dungeons & Dragons kind of pegs me as a stereotypical Ravenclaw, I choose to try and emphasize areas where I can grow into the sort of Gryffindor I want to be.
So, what does that have to do with an MSEd in Higher Education and Student Affairs?
Well, just the other day I was in the basement classroom of one of Baylor’s residence halls. One of the first-year fall courses, Culture and Organization of Higher Education, had just wrapped up a class, in discussion of leadership. The idea of leadership (SPOILER ALERT) as we discuss in this class is entwined with the understanding that what we do as leaders and as higher education administrators is helping students, staff, and faculty to see the world in profound new ways so that they can act together for the benefit of our spheres of influence, whether that be Residence Life, Student Activities, the Wellness Center, or other groups on campus. And I sat dumbstruck in my chair as everyone else packed up for the day, because this little bit of information had me shook. I realized something in that class that at first seemed as though it had nothing to do with culture, organizations, or leadership.
In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf does absolutely nothing. Okay, well, he kills a balrog, but once he smites that scaly fellow against the mountainside, Gandalf’s role changes.
Even beforehand, he serves as a mentor and a guide to the hobbits and all those other questy people. His goal is to help them vanquish the dark lord Sauron, and in order to do they that they require not his spells, but his guidance and wisdom. In the Harry Potter books, Dumbledore’s goal is not to defeat Voldemort with his own powers, but to provide Harry and his friends with the knowledge and skills necessary to overcome their enemy. Both wizards are mentors who help those who are at first unprepared to garner the wisdom, strength, and courage necessary to outsmart a dragon or defeat a dark wizard.
Upon this realization, I experienced an epiphany simultaneously terrifying and wonderful.
I am Gandalf. I am Dumbledore. And so are you.
Our role as student affairs professionals is to provide students with the guidance and tools to flourish during their undergraduate experience. It does not mean that we do their work for them, rather we offer insight and direction. Results can be amazing when we act in our work as mentors and wizards, with our spells being the methods we learn in our classes and apprenticeships, to provide students with profound insights on how to accomplish goals or how to develop during their four years. Rachel, my second-year buddy in the HESA program with an apprenticeship in Student Activities, recently shared about how five of her students put on a miniature Texas State Fair event called Howdy. She was proud of the work they did because it was their work, as she primarily offered guidance to help them plan and implement this immense and exciting challenge.
Dr. Newman, one of our first-year professors who teaches student development, calls student affairs professionals “educators”, because we help students to see the world in profound new ways and to develop into capable, healthy, and considerate human beings. She may call it education. I call it magic.
So, if you decide to join us here in the HESA program, then you will be welcome into a world in which the wizardry is real, and fantasy comes to life. It is, I think, not a stretch for me to say that your acceptance letter is a welcome into a marvelous kind of magic, where you will grow and help others to grow. In the HESA program and your work in higher education, you can serve as the professional, the educator, and the wizard.