Northwest Association of College & University Housing Officers

Why Student Affairs is My Life

By Acacia Kapusta

I bet you think I’m going to say that I love this job, it’s what I’m passionate about, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.  You’re not wrong, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. What I’m here to talk about is systemic oppression.

Yeah.  Ouch.

Weren’t ready for that one were you? We never really are, I don’t think. That’s probably why it continues to exist in an atmosphere that prides itself on fighting against oppression, being advocates and allies, raising up those who have historically been pushed down. But we’re not perfect. Far from it.

I have a whole laundry list of disabilities, but to spare you, I’ll fill you in on the main four.

  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) is a genetic progressive neuromuscular disease, meaning that my nerves and muscles deteriorate over time.
  • Idiopathic Hypersomnia (IH) is a nervous system condition of unknown origin that causes my body to be unable to regulate sleep, which results in it being literally impossible to feel rested.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a disorder of the large intestine which causes cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.
  • I have depression in part as a result of all that I deal with from both society and the government because of my disabilities.
  • There are also innumerable other diseases, issues, conditions, complication, etc. that I experience either directly or indirectly as a result of my four “primary” disabilities.

So, as you could imagine, the needle on my energy-ometer is pretty much permanently stuck on E. Now hold that thought for a moment while we take a detour and do some quick math. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, among working-aged (18-64) citizens with disabilities:

The employment rate is 32.0%. Wait what?!  ONLY THIRTY-TWO PERCENT of us have jobs! Unemployed people with disabilities (PWDs) who are looking for work is 7.7%, and PWDs who are not even in the labor force is a whopping 60.3%. 30.5% of women are employed, and 33.5% of men. By the way, I’m a woman.

Looks like my opportunities are slimming down even further.

I also identify as biracial/multiracial, and here my dice roll at 30.7% while white folks are at 33.9%.

This isn’t looking good.

Let’s move on to the breakdown of working-aged PWDs in the major occupation types. The document provided does not describe how they categorize each of their listed occupation types, but I would imagine that a Resident Director would fall under “management-related,” which puts me in the three to four percent of people who work in a “management-related” job and have a disability.

Pull out your calculators and run the numbers listed. Even when considering only employment rate and occupation type, a shocking 0.024% of all working-aged PWDs in the U.S. work in the types of jobs that mine would be considered under.

In addition, according to Cornell University’s U.S. Disability Statistics, as of 2015 only 14.0% of PWDs aged 21-64 were reported as having attained a bachelor’s degree or higher (unfortunately they don’t break it down any further).

This means that only 14% of PWDs could even qualify to enter into a professional career in Student Affairs.  This is in comparison to 33% of people without a disability, all other variables withstanding.

So, there you have it. The fact that I exist in this field at all is an anomaly. It shouldn’t have happened. There were so many systems in place that were supposed to keep me from reaching my goals, but somehow, I found a loophole.

And now I’m chained to this life. Remember that energy-ometer? It’s no secret that this is a field that views a normal work week to be anywhere from 60-80 hours, missed meals, suicide ideation interventions, sexual assault reports, and who knows what else. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to get that report turned in by 5pm. All in a day’s work.

Permanently running on fumes while trying to accomplish all of this just to be considered keeping up with my peers means that I literally have no energy for anything else. I spend every weekend where I’m not working (which, let’s be honest, isn’t very often) in bed sleeping usually around 16-18 hours on Saturday and 12-15 hours on Sunday. When I am awake, I’m cathartic, weaker than usual, dizzy, disoriented, and in immense amounts of pain, despite scarily high doses of three different types of pain control medications.

Student Affairs is consuming my life. Student Affairs is my life. But it doesn’t have to be, if each of you is willing to take a good hard look at the intensely ableist systems we have created, and work with me and each other to rebuild these systems justly.

We are educators.

Let’s start educating ourselves on how we can be and do better, so that someone like me is not an anomaly, but simply that one colleague down the hall from your office.

Acacia Kapusta is a Residential Education Director at Washington State University, and enjoys long naps with her cats. But when she is awake, Acacia endlessly watches documentaries of all kinds, and elicits great joy from making others laugh.

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