The more I learn about the field of student affairs, the more I have come to realize that there is no true or direct path into the field (duh). I find it fascinating to hear the different journeys that fellow #sagrads and #sapros have taken to come to where they currently are. The common thread? Having a mentor that took them under their wing, and introduce us to what the field has to offer. I am not the exception. I had so many positive role models that did amazing things at my undergraduate institution, and I wanted to be just like them. I often hear “then somebody told me that student affairs was a thing,” and the same thing happened to me. I discovered that this was a field, a career, and a community. Now that I’m neck deep in course work, professional development, and an assistantship (and you know, life), I’m at that point where I can give back, and I can be a mentor for the next generation of student affairs professionals. How do I do this? Where do I find all of that wisdom to impart onto others? Is there a course titled “How to be an inspiring Student Affairs Mentor, 101?” If that exists, please let me know where I should enroll.
I can only rely on what I know, and what has influenced me in the past. I am a firm believer that everything can and should be related back to the Harry Potter series. I was born in 1991, and I am in that lucky generation of millennials that grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. In my opinion, they had the best mentor of all—Albus Dumbledore.
Here are just a few life lessons I’ve learned from him, and how we can use them in our work to mentor students.
"It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live."
Having hopes and dreams are absolutely necessary to give us something to aspire to and work towards. Unfortunately, we often live up in the clouds and forget to think realistically. Students have fantastic ideas, and are truly creative, but as mentors, we need to work with our students understand to take practical steps to reach those big, lofty goals they have. SMART goal-setting anybody? Additionally, how often do we see students run themselves ragged with their involvement? This quote speaks to the notion of self-care and finding happiness. As mentors, we can share some of our experiences and model the way in how to deal with life/work balance.
“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”
Student leaders are in such a difficult position, battling between friendships with their peers, and managing and working with those same peers to get a job done. As mentors, we have the ability to give our students the challenge to assert their beliefs, and increase their capacity for self-efficacy. Mentors can talk through situations with mentees, and give them tips and tricks of how to navigate these challenges.
"Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open."
I can’t begin to recount how many conflicts I’ve seen occur between students that stem out of not understanding different working styles. As mentors, we can give our students the tools to understand how they can effectively work with those that are different than they are. If the end goal and purpose is the same, we can help our students navigate through the journey. The college experience can be the first time where students are exposed to difference. Mentors have the opportunity to challenge our mentees to be more culturally competent, and uncloud the biases and preconceived notions they come in with.
"We must all face the choice between what is right, and what is easy”
I wish the right thing to do was the easiest. Unfortunately, when our students are faced with ethical dilemmas, the right thing to do is not always the most natural thing. All of our students will be at a different stage in their moral reasoning development, and it is up to us to help them think through different decisions, and understand how and why to make the right one. We are setting up our students for success after graduation, and without our guidance, this is something that is difficult to learn. As a mentor, we can be supportive when we know they are struggling.
"It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it."
One of my favorite parts of being a mentor is helping students see their leadership potential, and it’s not always the student who is the loudest, most extroverted, or most charismatic. We have the ability to push them outside of their comfort zone, and encourage them to take chances. As mentors, we have the ability to see things in them that they don’t. We can make our community better by empowering those who would be truly the best for the job, not just the ones who want it the most. As mentors, we can also prepare our mentees for situations in which their leadership abilities might be challenged.
“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
Life can get really overwhelming and stressful. We need to remind ourselves and our students that looking toward the positives and remembering the impact we are having at our institutions can turn any negative situation into a positive one. No matter how bad things get, we can find happiness!
"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"
Last but not least, this teaches us to stay weird and be true to who you are!
Albus Dumbledore had a way of inspiring his students to be greater human beings. As champions for Student Affairs, we have the ability to connect with our students and help them live up to their full capabilities. Mentor relationships have the ability to influence student development, and prepare students to be productive citizens after graduation. If Dumbledore can give Harry, Ron, and Hermione the confidence to defeat Voldemort and save the entire wizarding world, we have the ability to give our students the confidence to be change-makers in their own communities.
If you have yet to experience the greatness that is Harry Potter, I encourage you to dive in by reading the novels or watching the movies. I recommend both!
Hannah Torrance is a West Coast native, finishing the first year of the CSPA program at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY. She is passionate about Greek Life, Student Activities, Leadership Development, and facilitating meaningful college experiences. She is a lover of books, social media, Netflix, and dry humor. Check out her blog, and follow her on Twitter: @HannahT_SA