Student activism transforms with each generation. But for many student affairs professionals, navigating politics while being a representative of an institution can be confusing. On today’s episode, we speak with scholar-activist Ashley Gaddy about how SApros can work in solidarity with their students and find the teachable moment.
Meg Sunga: Hey y’all, it’s Meg Sunga and welcome to “Will There Be Food?”, the student affairs podcast that, like your job, is so much more than free pizza. Every week we get to explore a new topic in higher ed with humans in the industry. On today’s episode we have Ashley Gaddy. Ashley is the founder and head consultant at Ashley Gaddy Enterprises where she serves social justice education, social change, and empowerment realness. She’s also the Director of Intercultural and Inclusion Student Services at Coastal Carolina University. Ashley, thank you so much for joining us today.
Ashley Gaddy: Hi there Meg, I am so happy to be here. Very excited.
Meg Sunga: Yeah, so Ashley, when I was doing research on this topic and student activism, I think what was really great is you came to mind because you talk about on your new website —congratulations — how you are a scholar and an activist. I want to just kind of open up in regards to your work within social justice issues and where that activist piece comes in?
Ashley Gaddy: Absolutely. So this started as a little girl actually. I grew up in a very active family. I am the little girl who got NAACP lifetime membership card for like her 12th birthday. So that gives you an idea of who my parents are and an idea of where their passions and their activism lies. And that has kind of traced how I have been able to be a student and how I have been able to be a scholar and a professional. So going into undergraduate, my undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington, everything I did had a social justice lens. Now I was a broadcast journalism major in communications studies, but that did not take away from the activism that I wanted to do. So the way that I wanted to do that, is my dream job was this segment called Everyone Has a Story. I wanted to open a Yellow Pages, go figure, I don’t even know if they still exist, but I wanted to open the Yellow Pages and just pick a person, call them up and say, tell your story, which allowed them to talk about their struggles, their challenges, their successes, but most of all their identity. And that was going to be the way that I did activism as a broadcast journalist. Things did not work out in that field and now here I am, after going to corporate, now I am in higher education. That type of narrative still follows me. I am totally into identity, self-identity, and how that shapes our lens and then how identity plays into systems of power and oppression. And then what I look into in my academics — I’m a doctoral candidate, just became Ed.D recently which I’m very excited about, so there’s the only the dissertation process left. In that type of work, I focus on postcolonial feminism and how the identity of decolonization comes into play for girls and women of color specifically. And how those bodies have been managed in the past and how they are managed now. So it starts when I was a little girl and kind of the social justice identity specifically lens has been able to kind of shape all of that.
Meg Sunga: I love that. So we’re going to kick off this first opening question. Ashley, why is college the place for students to cultivate their activism experience? Why is that the common historical thread, I guess, throughout university history?
Ashley Gaddy: College is the place where student activism can be cultivated because that is the place where freedom and liberation begin to expose itself in person. Whatever someone’s lived experiences are up into that point are normally shaped by their community, shaped by their parents, shaped by an older sibling, shaped by their church. Something — a person or an institution — shapes their narrative and their ideas of thinking. College is a place where, um, they can come and start to figure out who they are for themselves and they can begin to shape their own thoughts and ideas. And in doing that, this feeling of liberation comes; this feeling of “I disagree”, right? That’s a phrase that we start to hear a lot in college. Some of my students have said, “I can’t say that when I go back home. But I can disagree at college.” Right? Because how dare I tell my momma I disagree with her. Right? And we could all probably think about who we probably will that say “I disagree” to that sometimes in our lives at some point, but college is that place where liberation starts to form and development is happening. And they’re also finding themselves and their self-identity. They might be breaking away from things that they thought before or they may be finding new identities, exploring as themselves. And then historically, college has been the place where activism and the social movements, especially in the 1960s came about, students wanted to see ethnic studies in their curriculum. Students wanted to see women’s studies in their curriculum. College as the institution was the place in which they wanted to break away from standard academia at the time and they wanted to create a platform for their voices to be heard. So we’re just continuing to do what has always been done in the past few decades in order for students to get what they want.
Meg Sunga: Ashley — this is the part where I always get really excited because this is the question that I have had struggled with myself — how do you navigate supporting students on issues while trying to remain neutral, or as neutral as possible because you’re a representative of an institution.
Ashley Gaddy: Absolutely. And so this is trending now. It has been trending for a while. Here’s my philosophy on it. I don’t go into a situation feeling that I have to be neutral. I think that I go, I think that when we start to place this idea of neutrality or we try to tell people that they must be neutral, we are also taking away from the idea of thought and voice of that person. What I do understand is that as an employee of an institution; as a staff, faculty and administrative member, whatever the case may be, I do know that I am representing something that is larger than me, but I also know that what is larger than me is also made to hopefully support me and my ideas as well. So I think this idea of being neutral silences the person from an institution that’s supposed to be taking care of the person or looking out for the person. My number one lesson for anyone is time, place and manner. If you have time, place, and manner intact, then you are still able to have a voice, be opinionated in a way that is still aligned with your institution. So what I do to navigate and support students on issues while remaining who I am within time, place and manner, is they come into my office with an issue, they’re frustrated, whatever the case may be, first of all, I literally tell them “go off!” Like this is the place to go off. My office is that space. Scream, yell, cry, whatever it is that you need. Because one thing I think that we’re not doing in higher ed, is we’re not allowing space for the emotional release. The emotional release for me is step one. Rage. You see what I’m saying? My office is the place where you can have a pure emotional release and I’m going to let you. I think that that is where professionals think “whoa, don’t get too upset in here” or “If you’re crying too hard, I might have to report you” and that person starts to feel like, “Oh, I’m a person of the institution. I must step in here.” No, let them go, let them go. And I think that that is the first step. And then you can then begin to maybe listen to their points and then if you do align with their points or if you believe their points, it can be something as simple as validating them. It can be something simple like “true. Heard. I understand.” It doesn’t necessarily have to be “My opinion is…In my views and my voice…” We’re thinking of it too big sometimes. Sometimes where we stand, sometimes can come out in validating a student and where they are and where they stay.
Meg Sunga: I love that. Sometimes I wish that I had you in my undergrad experience.
Ashley Gaddy: Yeah I just don’t want us thinking too deep into it and then we have silenced ourselves and another human.
Meg Sunga: Right, like it’s exhausting policing how you really feel. And then on top of that policing how another, you know, a student feels. Well then, the flip side of that, Ashley, is how do you handle students who are on the other end of the ideologic spectrum, like political spectrum or issue spectrum?
Ashley Gaddy: Sure. Yeah. It happens often and so I have only been at predominantly white institutions and so that has been my experience as a student and as a staff member and that comes up very often for me. I have had to really be connected with myself in this word called “patience” and in this word called “grace.” Here’s what I tell people. I leave room for ignorance and I give grace for ignorance, and so in the same vein that college is that place where they are developing, finding themselves maybe potentially learning something new and breaking away from what they’ve known, I have to leave room for that process. If a student comes to me and they’re on the other side of my view spectrum, then I am going to stop and listen to what they have to say, to listen to their arguments or to listen to their opinion or to listen to their facts or voice or whatever the case may be. And I am not even battling them in my head. I think that’s what we do. I’ll listen to you, but our meta communication is totally reading, “you are not digging me, you are not listening to me. You already got your debate ready in your head.” And we want to be so bold and be so fast that we don’t actually have the same open mind that we asked them to have, or the same open ears that we ask them to have. So I’ll listen to what they say. More times than not, in genuinely listening to their viewpoints, I can find where the teachable moment is. I can usually find where their grandma told them something or I can usually find where privilege lies or I can usually find where the disruption is and then that is what I did tackle. So I’ll say something like, “let’s go back to what you said about this idea or this thought. Have you ever stopped to consider that you are that view from a different vantage point? I know that you cannot be outside of yourself to see, but have you ever stopped to think that that narrative is totally different from a different identity?” And then I have them go on and list a few identities for me. Sometimes it’s short, sometimes it’s long. Now talk to me about what you think that thought is from the lens of that identity. Just take, just give me an idea of what you think. And it almost always never matches their actual lived experience. So before we get so hype and before we get so concrete that this is the only narrative or this is the only truth, this is a little activity that we just did already disrupts that. So how about you leave room for something else? I don’t battle them on their thoughts. I always just simply ask them to leave room for another narrative. Another idea, another truth, another something, another system. Cause if you don’t leave room, you think you know. And one of the biggest issues in DEI work is that when you think you know everything, you’ve already missed up. I just say, talk to me and I can let my eyes and ears and my mind can usually pinpoint the disruptive point. And I’ll take it from an educational standpoint without trying to battle the student. I’m not going to battle with no 18-year-old. I’ll tell you that. I’m not doing it. And I think sometimes we, we get excited and then we end up battling with students. I’m not doing it. No, you’re not gonna take my energy. You’re not going to take my breath. No, no. And especially if your argument is fabricated or newly developed, I just teach them and if they don’t get the point, they have an invitation to come back again for another teachable moment. But I’m not battling with students.
Meg Sunga: That is just don’t like true, true. In the student affairs world, we don’t have time, period. Really. Like really? That’s just another very big waste of time. And I’m — you had me and my producer laughing. We both just died. But it’s true,
Ashley Gaddy: Because the reality is that I got a meeting after you. I’ve got another student after you. And I’m not going to sit here and lose my self on you for a thought that is not even fully developed. And then go to my next meeting mad. I’m not gonna do it. Here’s the thing — I’ve done it before and that’s why I’m so firm on not doing it. Because I have literally lost myself for somebody who just came out of high school and don’t know no better and I just refuse.
Meg Sunga: That is a mood. That is mood 2019. I feel seen. Okay. Love it. Ashley, what are some of the challenges you have about being open with your political, social, economic issues that you care about?
Ashley Gaddy: Yeah, this has developed over time. And I think that the reason why it has developed is because with every position that I have taken, it has been a higher position. And so I think that what I would…the challenges that I was facing about being open as a resident director are not the same as being a director. I actually do feel more open as a director as far as being able to voice my concerns. And I will say this: I am a director of student services. So I think that…I tell my supervisor all the time that I am at the last tier that I get to, like, directly claim students. I’m at the last tier. So because I get to directly claim students by being a director of student services, I am going to use their lingo. I’m going to use their word choice. I am going to use their music. I am going to use their fashion. I am going to directly connect with them. And so I may go to a meeting where it’s directors and VPs and I’m talking just like this in the meeting, because I need y’all to know who I’m repping. And so I’m very open as me, Ashley Gaddy, like what my thoughts are. But I also…y’all have to understand that I am the advocate for the student support services directly, and so I do feel more free. Now, the other side of that is the follow-up conversations are a little different at a height, right? And so that is…as a resident director, I think that I did not, I was not as open as I am as a director. However, the follow-up didn’t hit as hard. So that’s the opposite side of that; when I now have a follow-up conversation, it’s a follow-up with a VP, not a follow-up with an assistant director. When I have to talk about the bird’s eye view, it’s at an institutional level, not just my hall. So that is the challenge. Who’s looking and the politics of it. That very next step starts to become administration and no longer is kind of staff. So I always have to have my eyes open when it comes to that type of administration, politics, institutional-level things now. But again, it doesn’t necessarily stop me from advocating and I will be very transparent. The reason why I am so confident is because I have an amazing supervisor and an amazing support system. And so I normally, the person who calls my supervisor to say, I’m gonna go ahead and tell you what I said. […] So we’ll already be on the same page about what happened. And more times than not, it’s something that is supported and if it is not, if it’s not supported in exactly how I delivered it. There is a way in which feedback is open and fluid.
Meg Sunga: So if there was something — I love that — if there was something that happened, that you said or you know, opinion that got across that wasn’t exactly taken well, would your supervisor just be able to have that conversation with you or is there a recourse or process you have to go through?
Ashley Gaddy: My supervisor would be able to have that conversation with me directly and immediately. Sometimes it’s something that happens right there on our cell phones while we’ll both walking to a meeting. And I love that because one, she is experienced enough and well versed in her mind where it’s quick enough to be able to be like, all right, here’s what I’m thinking right now in the moment about something that might have been a better way to say that or handle it. And then if there’s more processing that she does in our one-on-one, I’m able to get more. But I open my ears to that feedback immediately. And even if something else comes up two weeks from now, because I know it’s something that she’s been able to process and sit with. And this is also a shout-out to black women administrators in higher education. I am very honored to be supervised by a brilliant black woman who was the vice president at an institution? So this is a shout-out, if this makes it, this is a shout-out to all of the black women as administrators in higher education. Y’all are valued and appreciated.
Meg Sunga: Doing the work, doing the damn work. I love it. How do you support students who want to protest their institution or administration?
Ashley Gaddy: I give them the tools. I give them the tools to make the best argument, protest, whatever they can. Because here is what is not going to happen. I do not want students out here unprepared, unorganized, because the reality is, is the institution can’t protect you from everything and at some point you have now opened the door of society. And society may not be so graceful. So in order to ensure that the point that you want to get across to your institution or your administration is something that will be able to be digestible and be received, I give them the tolls and I, and the tools can just be simply saying, asking them the questions. “Have you looked at SGA’s statement and mission? Have you looked at the strategic plan? Do you even know what a strategic plan is? Do you even know that we have one?” Because if you gonna battle with the big boys, you need to know the documents that the big boys wrote. So I give them the tools and direct them to documents or policies, historical context that they may need to find on their own in order to make the best plan possible. And this is a time where time, place, and manner is crucial, especially if it is directed to the institution or the administration. I am always wanting to be grateful for institution administration that allows me to … allows me to live, right. My livelihood is contingent upon the resources that my job provides me. And so I’m never going to be one that bashes the institution that I work at. It’s like when you roll up to a fast food place, whatever the case may be, right, and the person just can not stand they job, right? And they’re like “how can I help you?” And it’s just like if you mad, you can leave. Like why would you come to work this mad? And if you’re going to be this mad about my order, right? And it could be other reasons why they mad, it could be the ways of the world. But like, you just threw my coffee at me? Are you that mad? I’m not going to be that person for an institution. I’m not going to be so mad than I’m like, just here. Fight your fight. I’m here. I’ll help you fight them. I’m not going to be that way. What I am going to say is, is if you feel in your heart that you have been done wrong or something is unjust, you have a right to set up a plan and make your voice be heard. And I give them the tools to do that. I also empower them. I’m amazed at how many students don’t think that they have a voice. And I go, there are so many things you can say that I can’t. There are so many things that you can do that I can’t and I empower them to be motivated and inspired to make change for themselves. And for other people. And so I think after giving them the tools and empowering them, I give them this last, this tidbit: The battle does not have to be the loudest and the biggest to hit the hardest. So if your plan is, is only, do you think you just have to have the loudest platform every time, right? Reconsider your plan. Because if you’re loud on a megaphone, that’s one thing. But if your action items are poorly written, I’m worried about that. I’m not saying don’t be loud on the megaphone. I’m just saying don’t let that, let that be your only avenue and if everything else is going to hit hard, let it hit hard. And that is the piece that they usually need assistance on; how to write an action plan, how to write their demands. What policies to reference…and those are some things that I help them with because it’s public information. Here’s the link to the university strategic plan. Everyone has access to that. So I also feel that I’m still within my boundaries as an employee.
Meg Sunga: Absolutely. You’re just pointing out things and where they are and open access options. That’s honestly how anytime a student come to my office and they have questions about, you know, I want to do an internship or a job or whatever. And I’m like, literally the only thing I do different from them is just have them watch me type in things on Google. It’s not to discredit their work, but you know what I’m saying? Like sometimes they just need that, you know, person to point them in the right direction. In your time in higher ed with the students that you currently work with or have worked with, what are some of the biggest issues that you help support students on or have guided them through?
Ashley Gaddy: Yeah, I think that at my previous institution we had a very high undocumented population and when information from the president around DACA came out it really did disrupt and terrify our students. And so that has been a topic that a lot of institutions may not have to deal with based on their demographics. But it’s one that I am grateful that I got to work directly with students on. Actually my past two institutions have very high undocumented populations and so I have been very honored to work with people who identify that way or people who do not and are just like, this is just wrong. I get to work with DREAMers and I’m just very happy that I got to experience that. So that is probably the most moving topic that I have been able to work with students on in my time in higher ed. I think that voting, recently, and voting registrations and voting rights and who gets to vote and what are the kind of indirect, subtle ways that people are finding that they cannot vote. Voter registration laws and things of that nature. That has been on the come-up in my time. And I am very excited to see that because at some point I do feel that between like my parents’ age group and the students that I serve, this idea of voting is something that decreased. Right. “I don’t have to vote my vote doesn’t matter.” Whatever the case may be. And however you have an opinion on where your stance is, that’s fine. What I’m saying is I saw students that reminded me of stories of student activist groups when my parents were in college and it was just this, this passion around voting and like “no that is a right that everyone should have. How dare you talk about a PO box doesn’t matter? Do you know how many people identify as Native American or American Indian who are on reservations? And you’re telling me that PO boxes no longer count? So I am just like yes, be passionate about voting. So I had something that I’m starting to see a lot more of in higher education. And then there was also always in my time is going to be something around racism or sexism, trans bodies in and, and how they should be managed. And also reproductive rights is something I’ve also worked with students on. And so some of these things are not directed to the institution or the administration. They are mad at the, you know, at what’s coming out of politics or our law and policy. And I get to help them on those things as well. I also get to help students — and I want to make this very clear and I think that this is something that is not stressed enough — I also get to help students heal from all those issues that are happening. That is part of student activism; how do we recharge, restore and heal from all the things that we are being active for? So I have also had the honor and privilege to create healing spaces for students, working together with other people in the department or collaborate with other departments on campus to create support spaces, dialogue circles, relaxation rooms. Open my office to be able to have them kind of share very authentic narratives. This is a place where they can say I am undocumented and that’s the first time I said it out loud. Or, you know, I am trans and this is the first time I’ve, I’ve said it to anyone. That is also ways in which I think activism plays a major role, is that it empowers people to share narratives and, and share stories but also heal some of the things that they are fighting.
Meg Sunga: I love that you brought up, you know, the self-care piece of student activism because I think they obviously go hand-in-hand but it is easy to overlook for sure. When you were talking, Ashley, an image popped up in my head actually. I was watching, I started the new season of Dear White People (season three) and the first episode, one of the characters is going around with a clipboard issue at hand that he’s trying to get support for is making the campus a sanctuary campus for undocumented immigrants. And people in that episode are kind of dismissive, almost, like, you know, like we’re all trying to do something, you know, everyone has an issue, everyone has something that they’re trying to put their energy behind. And it just made me think of, you know, is there such thing as issue fatigue? Like when there’s so many problems and things happening and we want to be able to put energy forth, you know, and support a number of things. But we’re only one person and we definitely have limits. How do we, how do we deal with that? Or how do you choose what to focus on?
Ashley Gaddy: Yeah, absolutely. I mentor someone who had this very same question, or rather, I guide someone in their professional and personal career. And here’s the analogy that actually I said. I am a social justice nomad, and what I mean by that is, is I give a little bit, to kind of everything, but I don’t have enough energy to give all to one thing. And so, because for me, if it ain’t right, it ain’t right. You see. So and that can just be enough sometimes. Sometimes, I don’t have to necessarily be on the front line for one issue I can just say, hey, that ain’t right. And as long as I’m saying that ain’t right and all of my spaces are staying consistent with that message, I do believe that I am still contributing to fighting that thing. And then over here, I might donate over here, and over here I might be able to give five hours on a Saturday for the walk. And over here, I might be able to cite this person in an article and okay, I’m able to still be a nomad to all the things that ain’t right, without having to say, “and I’m going to be on the front line at everything.” Just like I’m not going to battle that student, I’m not losing myself for a movement. Because then I won’t be able to be present at anything. So I call myself like a social justice nomad, because I am able to fight the battle or, or fight the cause or understand that I don’t want to put energy behind something that is not right. But I do it in ways that are still allowing me to be healthy. And I think that as we can think about someone who might be… Who might live a nomad type lifestyle, where they all live here for a week and then they’ll travel, will live somewhere else and then they’ll travel somewhere else. The philosophy or the idea of nomad or not staying in one place is something that we’re, that we’re familiar with. I just like to use that analogy when it comes to social justice topics, because I do believe that I have something to give to every injustice. I just can’t give everything. And then sometimes I’m heightened. Right. So in the summer of 2016, you were able to find me giving a lot more energy to police brutality because it was situational. I was mad and I was tired of black men being executed on national television. And so yeah, I might not have been able to make it to the women’s walk, but because I was really fighting police brutality for that summer and I still do, and so I think that that’s something that’s going to be situational as well, but it doesn’t stop. It doesn’t die down. I still give to Black Lives Matter, even though I may not be on the megaphone today. I’m still constantly staying consistent with how I fight injustices. And everybody can’t get that. Everybody’s like, well, you’re not down for the cause. You a sellout. And I’m like, well, who the one healthy, bruh? You ain’t ate a good meal all week. You ain’t got no voice. So who really went in right now? And it’s not a competition, and let me say that, so winning was the wrong word, it’s not a competition. And I’m certainly not playing oppression Olympics with anybody, but what I’m saying is, is if you go lead the cause, I would rather you be healthy and doing it and not about to fall over telling me I’m a sell out. I’m sorry that I’m healthy. You see what I’m saying?
Meg Sunga: Absolutely. Ashley, how can SApros help keep up the momentum of the movement?
Ashley Gaddy: Yeah. I think that that starts with SApros knowing what’s happening in the world. I think that it is worth knowing — having an idea of what’s going on in the world around them and in the world around their students. And I think that that doesn’t have to be a long time, right? It doesn’t mean that you have to read five articles every morning before you start your work. Sometimes you get everything that’s happening in the world just by scrolling your thumb once on your phone or on social media or whatever the case may be. So I think it, it starts with having an idea of what’s happening, even if it is not your identity group that it’s happening to. I think it also requires them to check in on self. So I think the momentum of a movement can only be, again, as much energy as you give to it. And I think that the energy that you give to something is contingent upon how much space you have for yourself and how healthy you are. So I think that SApros need to check in with self. And I think that we need to continue to practice the word “no” which seems to be so hard. And don’t get me wrong, there are systemic reasons why that is still a thing. And so I’m not just going to put that on an individual person. There are systemic pressures and there are systemic, unwritten rules that make people feel that they have to say yes. So sometimes we kind of badger the SApro. But I’m also going to give voice to the fact that there are a lot of systemic things that are, that are happening in our field that make people feel that they have to say yes. So I do want to give voice to that. And then the other thing that I have is, is I think that we keep the momentum by allowing our spaces to be open for students to come in for student activism. So even if you do not work in the multicultural affairs office or even if you do not work in an affinity center, you are still letting students know this is the place you can come for your activism, questions, thoughts, check-ins. So yes, I may work in housing, yes, I may work in career services. I may work in admissions, whatever the case may be, but you can still come here for that. You don’t have to necessarily just go to that office all the time or go to that person all the time. And we holistically support our students and their activism efforts, even if you’re not in a direct functional area that we think doesn’t correlate with it.
Meg Sunga: So we can’t talk about student activism on campus without mentioning the work of the students. In 2015 at University of Missouri — Mizzou, for any of those around the Midwest. I’m so keen on bringing this up because it was during a time where obviously I was still in school and hearing about things from afar, so not being obviously fully immersed in it, and I just saw people posting, reposting and falling it on social media. Um, but why was this protest so monumental? And let’s talk about the impact it has on current day students protesting.
Ashley Gaddy: Sure. So I think that it was so monumental for a couple of reasons. And I keep referencing back to the 1960s, one because I do spend a lot of time there in my work when it comes to Black feminism and academia. But I do believe that there are some key things that came out of the civil rights movements. And I think that that was this emphasis on money and economics, and this emphasis on unity. Like we all have to be in this idea of money in order for things to kind of move quicker. And so I think that Mizzou had the ability to have those two things come together. Unity when money and power were involved. And so when athletics were brought in and when everyone was standing for the same thing at the same time together, the university had to move. It had to notice and the world had to notice in a way, right? Because I had some students who were abroad and they were talking about Mizzou abroad. And so I think that that is why it was so my monumental; because rarely ever do we talk about or do we hear about athletes being in unity with non-athletes on an institutional cause. And so I think that when you start talking about athletics, you start talking about money. I am now for the first time at an institution with a football team. I did not have a football team as a student. And both of my prior institutions did not have a football team. So I have never been kind of fully immersed in full athletic culture, I would say. We did have really good basketball teams and basketball was certainly the core of my previous institutions. But I’ve never been at a place where football reigns. And so I think that sometimes I’m oblivious or naïve to how powerful athletics can be, at times. But I do know, I’m from North Carolina and my team is the Tar Heels. That is my team, I will say. And so when I kind of think about myself as a fan or when I see people fill up, the Dean Dome or Kenan Stadium and places like that, I’m like “Oh this is, this is money.” When I see people filling NBA stadiums and NFL stadiums and say “Oh this is money.” And to the point where sometimes athletics is deemed more important than academia. So now you have this power, this persuasion of athletics, then you have this economic piece of athletics. And so when you get the players who are often left out of the conversation along with power — cause it’s usually coaches or owners or whatever the case may be — we seem to forget the people who are doing the labor in the name of power. So usually they’re not the people saying “enough” because they are usually controlled by a larger power entity. So when we then have the players that are equated, that are aligned, with economics and power and then the students and then faculty and staff, it becomes something that you can’t deny. And I just think that that is where some movements are missing, because they may not be hitting an economic factor or they may not be having enough unity to make their platform shake-up an institution, or institutional level-type issue. And so that is my stance on Mizzou. And while I think it was so successful because those two things were in play, unity and economics.
Meg Sunga: I love that answer by the way. Oh God. Money makes a local round, man. Goodness.
Ashley Gaddy: And it does! I think people realize it as a saying or realize it in their world, but until you have seen some old money, you see what I’m saying, old money is different than new money. Old money is decision-making money. And that hit different and you need to be aware of what old money is, who got it, and how powerful it is. And a lot of old money is in academic.
Meg Sunga: These students don’t realize that, you know…like a problem will come up and the student’s really angry and I’m like honestly, follow the money. Cause that’s what you’ll see where policy and priority, you know, take control there. If you can find where that leads, that’s usually how I point them in the right direction.
Ashley Gaddy: And what I do also ask them to do, is I also ask them to know the actual amounts of money. Because when we start talking fast and talking loud, we’ll mix-up somebody’s salary in a heartbeat. “Did you know that President got $3 million?” And it’s like, oh honey, they ain’t got nowhere close to $3 million. Like you just talking fast. We always think that somebody might be doing better off than we think; perception of reality, right? And so if you, if you don’t know of such things or if you don’t know about pay bands, if you don’t know about, you know, state laws on increases…certain states can only give up to 15% or 10% or whatever the case may be. And you just see a title you think is tied to a whole lot. People be like, yeah, my professor, they probably, they’re probably making, like, six figures, 200 grand, and that assistant professor is like, “Where? Who got 200 grand? Can somebody show me?” Because people think that when you, when you’re postdoc that it automatically puts you in a certain pay grade. […] lecturers, assistant professors, associate professors are not even remotely close seeing six figures. But students don’t know of such things. And they just like, “yeah, my professor out here just making six figures.” And I said, “Oh, Oh no, no, they, I bet you they wish they were.” So that’s a part of giving them the tools, is it you’re giving them accurate information. Because if you’re throwing out wrong numbers, you can already find yourself in some turmoil.
Meg Sunga: Ashley, the last question I have for you is how can SApros do a better job of supporting their student activists? What tips do you have?
Ashley Gaddy: Yeah. First of all, I think that SApros, on top of opening their spaces, like I said earlier…I think that sometimes we have to not stifle ourselves, SApros. And so what I mean by that is leave room for you, too, in that space. Leave room for you, too. And I think that by us leaving room for our selves, and again — time, place, and manner — well, it was us leaving room for ourselves. It makes our students go, “okay, all right. I’m not the only person who’s mad. I’m not the only person who thinks this way. I’m not alone. I do have support. I see somebody who I call mentor. I see somebody who I’ll call supervisor. I see somebody who has a master’s degree or I see somebody who’s been there before. I see them kind of having a stance. I see them that feeling some emotion. I feel them caring, Hey, I’m not alone. Okay, I can do this.” Sometimes I say frozen though, and I just kept a straight face and I said absolutely nothing. And I just wrote down after they left and I’m like, you gave them nothing. No emotional response at all. No, I can’t let my students see me emotional. No, that’s not my philosophy at all. I let my students see me emotional because — or emoting, in a way because emotional has a negative connotation — I see, I let my students see me emote. And that gives them more power than words sometimes. Sometimes I go back and I think SApros can also share their narratives of being undergraduates. And I think that we need to be real with them and we need to say, “Listen, I almost got caught up. That’s not what, make different decisions.” Tell them that story. We’re not too cool for school now that we got the degree.
Meg Sunga: No, not even close.
Ashley Gaddy: Sometimes the students have it more together than we do, and I think SApros need to expose their transparency about the fact that they don’t have it together. So I think that that’s how that role modeling piece is how SApros can better support student activists. Because they get to see and feel; that hits different than words, that they are supported or that they care or that they’re cared for or that we care about an issue that concerns them. And then like I said, the other thing that we can do a better job of is educating ourselves about our own institutions. Sometimes you get so caught up in our functional areas that we don’t know how much the president made, either. Why, why not? You should know every aspect of your institution for the people who are paying you. Where your money going, who, who giving them money, how much comes from the state, how much comes from the board, how much is donations? Learn about your own institution, whose nametag you wear. And when you do a better job of educating yourself about the place in which you work, it is easier to pass down that information to students in order for them to make a plan. So there’s a lot that we don’t know about our own backyards.
Meg Sunga: Ashley, thank you so much for coming on the show today. I’ve enjoyed every single thing you’ve said because I feel like I’ve been like trying very quietly to snap and clapping in the background, but thank you so much for joining us on “Will There Be Food?”
Ashley Gaddy: Absolutely! And definitely folks can feel free to check out my web page, AshleyGaddy.com or my social media, Ashley Gaddy Enterprises. And I was very excited to be here. Thank you so much for the invitation.
Meg Sunga: Of course. Thank you. Thanks y’all. You’ve been listening to “Will There Be Food?” with me, Meg Sunga. My guest this week was Ashley Gaddy, founder and head consultant at Ashley Gaddy Enterprises. You can follow Ashley on Twitter at @GaddyEnterprise. You can follow “Will There Be Food?” At @HelloPresence on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. For the episode transcript and show notes, head to presence.io/podcast. Don’t forget to rate us, subscribe, and share with all the friends and let us know what topics you want us to cover next. “Will There Be Food?” is a production of Presence. It’s hosted by me, Meg Sunga. The show is directed, edited, and mixed by our producer, Luke Burton. Our executive producer is Cassandra Corrado.