With everything going on in our country right now, where do I begin on this post? First off, I am going to keep this blog post non-partisan and focus on the larger issue which I initially was planning to write about– using social media accounts personally and professionally. Some folks have two profiles, others have one, and others still have none. I have one Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Snapchat that I use for both personal commentary and information sharing as well as professional networking and learning. This post will explore some of the reasons why I do this.
First off, I have to mention a bit about authenticity. Brene Brown writes in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
There have been discussions about being authentic online and whether or not that is a good thing, let alone something that can happen for groups of oppressed or marginalized individuals. I believe one should strive to be authentic online, and that one’s personal brand should reflect themselves to the safest extent possible. The alternative is an exhausting, disingenuous persona. That said, we unfortunately live in a world where some people have to censor themselves online, for fear of backlash and becoming a target.
We also of course, know that cyber bullying and the anonymity that can come with an online presence may provide a platform for people’s true feelings or beliefs to come out. Hiding behind a screen name, they can say what they are really thinking without the same repercussions as if they said it “in real life”. Many prominent figures believe that digital platforms are modern communication tools, and feel responsible to stay connected to followers and promote information about social causes.
I cannot tell other individuals how to live and this post is not intended to tell you to get or use a social media account. However, I can share with you how I choose to use my personal social media as an extension of myself, both in the personal and professional arenas. As an educator, I am thoughtful any time I hit “post” because I know my students, and others at my institution including my supervisor may see what I write. As a Counselor of Student Life at an institution that uses the Social Change Model of Leadership Development as its framework, I must be a role model. I must practice acting in congruence with my values, I must navigate controversy with civility, and I must practice active citizenship.
I believe in speaking out when policies or political activity goes against my personal values. I integrate this belief into my online persona, and strive to do so appropriately. Online debates, discussions, sharing of resources, and soliciting the opinions and perspective of others are valuable and necessary aspects of digital civic engagement. Of course, it is important to do everything with love and respect, as opposed to belittling or bullying someone else’s point of view. I would like to think that my spaces online invite conversation, a free exchange of ideas, and different perspectives. Many of my current and former students debate with me on a variety of topics, and in those moments I strive to teach. I hope to show that appropriate and friendly dissonance, despite different points of views, is necessary and possible when it comes to civic conversations.
By standing up for what I believe in, and using social media as another platform to engage with others (including my students) I am modeling civil discourse and active citizenship.
By standing up for what I believe in, and using social media as another platform to engage with others (including my students) I am modeling civil discourse and active citizenship. Therefore, if I choose to integrate my personal life with my professional one, I must be absolutely vigilant that everything I post is honest, sincere, with integrity and decorum. As anyone who values their position of authority in society and understands the importance of being a positive role model for our children, realizes this importance. It is essential that I use social media in a way that represents me and furthers my voice without silencing or belittling others.
Posting photos of me participating at a protest or rally and doing other forms of civic engagement shows all my followers what I believe and stand for. This is important because as someone who teaches leadership and develops opportunities for civic engagement in my professional life, I want to show online causes in my personal life that I feel passionate about. They then become examples I can point to of how I am aware and involved in civic issues.
I strive to also be informed and aware before I share. This, unfortunately, is becoming increasingly difficult as the inter-webs grow filled with noise and nonsense. Here are some tips I have found useful when sharing information like articles and posts (clever headline, right?). If looking for unbiased news, Debate.org offers some suggestions here.
Finally, I make sure to have the opportunity to process and vent with others before logging on. My close friends, significant others and family become sounding boards. I seek out opportunities to safely share what I’m grappling with, to vent, or to make sense of what is happening in the world. Doing that in real time and in person gives me the outlet I need so I don’t resort to childish Twitter rants or drawn out arguments back and forth with followers. The ability to honestly express our feelings and seek understanding is so important for us educators. We must seek out appropriate ways to work through our emotions and determine appropriate ways to respond to what happens in our world, to take a stand, and continue to be the role models and mentors our students need.
With this in mind, I encourage any student affairs professional reading to build a online learning network. Seek out folks in and outside our field who hold varying viewpoints and values on issues you care about. For example, in response to the presidential election and national discourse and events surrounding it, NASPA is offering a #SATakeSpace Dialogue all week long. This event, and others like it, allow us student affairs professionals to openly share and learn from each other. Let’s face it– it is hard to do our work. It is hard to help students navigate this world. But, by having the space to reflect and discuss with our fellow colleagues of the field, it helps us get through it. Through conversations like these, healing and clarity can restore us so we are able to go back to our campuses, and our online platforms, renewed and ready to support our students.
Embrace the voice technology can give you. And remember, the world is listening.