MEET MITCHELL | Educational Professional
Q+A Editorial by Laura Kilpatrick
INTRO | by Laura Kilpatrick . The past few months have been a wild ride for many of us, with COVID challenging all of us in new and unexpected ways. Many people who work in Healthcare, Education and Social Work are particularly feeling the effects of tirelessly caring for people and communities while also leaving time and space to recharge and refill their own cups. Mitchell Foster works in Education at the University of Arkansas and offers some insight to those who are enduring this challenging time of re-centering and refocusing.
What is your name and where do you currently work?
MITCHELL | My name is Mitchell Foster, my preferred pronouns are They/Them/Theirs. I identify as bi-racial (Filipinx and white) and non-binary. I work at the University of Arkansas as a full-time student affairs professional. In my role I supervise student employees, organize and implement small-scale and large-scale educational programs, serve in departmental and campus committees, advise student groups and organizations, process student conduct cases, maintain positive relationship with faculty-partners and interact with the general campus community.
What challenges have you faced in your current caregiving role, and how have you tackled those challenges?
MITCHELL | Being a leader who is a queer person-of-color in a PWI (predominantly white institution) can be difficult because not all of my students hold an affinity towards me. Being vocal about my progressive beliefs and how that informs my leadership in the South can also be hard as not everyone gravitate towards my message and in fact some, students and staff alike, have the power to put me down because of it. As an entry-level staff I am sandwiched between the expectations/demands of students and expectations of higher management, that can be tough because I find myself giving all the time and losing my identity and sense of self in the process. Both of those things are very important to me, identity and sense of self, because without those I will not be able to live as authentically as I can and still get to where I want to go in life despite the odds. There are days when the odds feel insurmountable.
I am a giver and it does not take long before I run out of “juice” especially in this field where I am expected to give, to serve, and to show up as my full self. The challenge for me is there are times when showing up as my full self is unappreciated; there are norms and standard ways of being that are clearly not aligned with who I am so I have to codeswitch or leave a piece of myself at the door so I can be more palatable/acceptable, even intelligible. That can be very constricting, it limits my creativity, and makes me internally angry. I think about the disparity between my white students who benefit from the work I do, the life experiences I share and the education I offer and the young members of my family in the Philippines, my cousins and relatives, who can also make use and be uplifted by my knowledge and experience but how I cannot be in two places at once; and by making a living for myself (and pay off student loans from grad school) I have to be where I’m at.
In your opinion, how can people in a caregiving role take care of themselves during this trying time?
MITCHELL | It is very important to know what things help you recover, bring you relaxation, joy and peace. As a person of color I revert to an Audre Lorde quote: “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation.” For me skin-care is self-care so I have learned to treat myself to skin care products that I believe in, created by companies that take care of its customers and employees. I have learned to spend my money on products that come from socially responsible creators. That’s one way I see myself contributing to social change. I also take a lot of baths and splurge on bath bombs and Epsom salts. My body always feel re-energized and rejuvenated after soaking in warm salt water. During quarantine, I also set out to familiarize myself with different kinds of wine. Not necessarily splurging on expensive brands, more like knowing the difference between different kinds of wine. I discovered that I really love Chardonnay (the Cupcake Vineyards brand tastes the best to me so far), Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, and Merlot.
What is the most rewarding part of your work and why?
MITCHELL | Student development is the most rewarding part of my work. I love witnessing the talents and creativity of my students and student leaders. I like getting to know them and listen to their stories: what they’re about including their dreams for the future and why they are in university. I like seeing them grow from being quite shy and uncertain at the start of the school year to being confident and ready to take on the world by the time the school year ends.
What is something you feel very strongly about?
MITCHELL | I want to quote one of my favorite writers Glennon Doyle, whose book Untamed I’m currently reading: “what I believe is people are better the 'free-er' they are and I think we need to create communities, relationships, families, nations - all of it where people do feel safe bringing their full self to the table."
As an educational professional, what are some resources you recommend for further reading, education and awareness?
MITCHELL | In the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic and #BLM protests on social inequity, I encourage everyone to engage in practices that protect yourself and your community from getting sick and educating yourself and listening to Black stories and voices. I highly recommend listening to Good Ancestor podcast by Layla Saad, reading Eloquent Rage by Brittany Cooper and Heavy by Kiese Laymon. Research consciousness-raising articles/thought pieces by Audre Lorde and Angela Davis. I ordered How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and cannot wait to get my hands on it when it’s back in production.
ABOUT| Laura Kilpatrick is a Wedding + Elopement photographer in Arkansas.
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