Since the NASPA Board of Directors voted to support holding the 2012 annual conference in Phoenix, Arizona there has been a wide-ranging discussion about the wisdom of that decision. In the spirit of transparency I must reveal that as a member of the NASPA Board at that time I cast an affirmative vote on the matter of holding the conference in Arizona. My reasons for voting as I did are complex and probably not worthy of elaboration in this blog post. When I cast my vote I had not yet accepted the invitation to serve as the 2012 conference chair. When asked to serve as chair I responded enthusiastically. I feel grateful, honored and privileged to be in this leadership role. Allow me to share why I decided to lead the planning committee in the context of this controversial decision
I accepted the responsibility to chair the conference knowing the pain it would cause and the healing that would need to be done to address the pain and disappointment experienced by some members of our Association community. I do not contest the perspectives of those who feel we should not have made the decision to hold our annual meeting in Phoenix; certainly this is a point on which decent and reasonable people can have differing opinions. I do know that since we have decided to be in Arizona that we must ensure that our presence makes a difference.
My personal feeling is that Arizona (and the other states that will mimic their legislation) represents our generation’s Mississippi Delta. Just as the consciousness of our nation was challenged concerning what to do in response to the hatred, violence and rigid social segregation in America’s Old South; our generation will be challenged regarding what to do with portions of our country that deny racial justice, human dignity, worker rights and other forms of justice to which members of the student affairs profession are committed. Our challenge and dilemma in these situations will be whether to avoid or engage with those pockets of hatred. As was the case for those who had to wrestle with the decision regarding engagement with the South, the choice is a very personal one. As someone whose personhood was denied and denigrated by the segregation of the South, I am thankful that others decided to engage, as opposed to allowing the system to persist in isolation from those who considered themselves to be decent, just and committed to social equity. Just as those who rode busses in the 1950′ and 60’s had to sort through their own conscience, each of us has to weigh their values, feelings of personal and psychological safety and other considerations in making her/his decision about whether to attend NASPA 2012.
I have the eerie feeling that we are at such a point in our society where we will constantly be confronted with moral dilemmas in our decisions regarding where we meet and how we respond to the local and regional dynamics in our host cities. As we make those decisions we will experience decisions by our members to both engage with and refrain from attending our annual meeting – both of which will be informed by the personal consciousness of the member. It would be unwise and insensitive to imply that those who do not want to go to Arizona or other locations that challenge his or her sensibilities are not activists or change agents. Activism and change can be initiated from close and afar.
I believe there is good that can come from the thoughtful work NASPA will be able to do in our time in Arizona. I am also convinced that change can also be influenced from a distance by those who choose to not attend our conference. As leaders we will respect and support the personal choices made by members of our NASPA community.
The 2012 planning team is committed to offering a conference that allows participants to give voice to the issues that concern them and that should matter to our profession. We hope you will share your perspective, whether through this vehicle or at the annual conference in Phoenix.
Thank you for your support of NASPA.