Why is a student affairs pro on her way to a radical grassroots organizing conference? #roots12

I am writing this post while on a flight to Washington DC, headed to my first RootsCamp “unfconference” where hundreds of organizers from across the US will come together to share ideas and create conversations about successful practices in order to organize around causes they care about.

At first glance, I am sure many people in the field would dismiss this conference as “something my students would go to”, or possibly “what I might be doing if I wasn’t so busy on my own campus.”  It is true that this conference does not offer the tradition Student Affairs practitioner sessions.  It won’t offer speeches from authors in our field, a chance to meet other people around the region that do the exact same thing as us, or speak specifically to how we retain our students.   But in these differences are its real strengths.

When was the last time you stepped outside of the HigherEd bubble and saw how things were run in the corporate or non-profit world?  When have you taken time to volunteer for a major (non-college related) organization?  I find that there is immense value in stepping outside of the field of Student Affairs and interacting with individuals whose goals are in alignment with our own (make this world a better place and help others succeed) but are working at it from a different angle.

What I hope to gain from RootsCamp:

A reminder of what is important

I hope that this conference will remind me of what is most important in my work.  Sure, things like how quickly a student can fill out a spring break form matters, but what matters more is that our students are aware of what is happening in the world around them.  Yes, it matters that students learn how to plan a program, but it is matters more that a student who is struggling to make ends meet has the supports in place to finish her degree. I expect that going to a conference with hundreds of organizers will put my work into perspective.

A completely new way of doing things

When ask to think about it, you may be forced to admit that it has been a while since you have learned through a Student Affairs conference a completely new way of approaching a problem or designing a program on our campus.  Many times we are reminded of things we heard about, but didn’t take the time to fully research and implement, or a slight shift in how you were doing something on your campus already.  There is a really obvious reason for that – we are all recycling the ideas we learn at our past institutions.

Getting outside of the HigherEd bubble I expect to be exposed to some completely new ways of approaching problems; new ways of engaging an audience or growing a movement.  We need to step outside of our own insular world sometimes to bring fresh ideas to the table.

A new approach to communicating

This won’t be my first unconference.  I may actually be going on number 3 or 4 since I first heard of the concept.  However, I recognize that it is still a fairly new idea for our field.  UNconferencing asks people to come forward on the first day of the conference and make up the conference schedule on a giant wall.  Some people (who don’t know each other) with similar themes will join together and joint present on a topic, others will bring pre-set presentations to share.  The scale of this unconference is going to be so much larger than I have ever seen and I am looking forward to being on the volunteer side of things so I can see how it is all put together!

I will no doubt have much more to share after the weekend, and I certainly will also have something to say about being ‘radical’ on your campus after having broken the mold of SA conferences by headed to RootsCamp.  But I will leave you with this one thought for now: What have you done lately that has exposed you to fresh ideas?  When was the last time you stepped outside of the Student Affairs field and gotten a truly new perspective?  What was it you learned?  Please share in the comments section.

I’ll be tweeting throughout the conference at #roots12 . Rootscamp is sponsered by the New Organizing Institute (NOI)


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