In #SAcdn, Articles

by Sarena Johnson

Happy New Year, SA-pros! It’s hard to believe that SA-exchange is celebrating its first anniversary this week and we look forward to sharing a post each day, in the theme of Past, Present and Future in SA. It’s a fitting theme for the first anniversary of a new online space. We are still early in this new year, and many of us are in thinking, reflecting and planning mode for the year ahead. With the Lunar New Year just around the corner – we are also welcoming in the Year of the Pig on Tuesday, February 5th.

In last week’s post, Kerrin Duggan, editorial board member, shared her go-to New Year’s reflection and planning tool – the Year Ahead Compass. The Year Compass is an awesome resource to help you reflect on the past year and really plan your ideal 2019. Kerrin’s contribution sparked the idea of adding an ‘SA Resources’ section to the website, so look out for that in the coming weeks. If you have anything you think others would benefit from, please share!

I have begun the Year Compass process and the first step is to look over your past year’s calendar and write down any noteworthy/special/memorable events from 2018. Let me just say, this last year was bursting with special and memorable events for me! Using the tiniest handwriting possible, I could not begin to fit them all into the space allotted. That says a lot about my first full year in student affairs. Launching has been a fantastic opportunity for learning and growth. What wondrous opportunities and learning I have been gifted this year!

With humble beginnings we are slowly and steadily growing SA-exchange into what I hope will become a useful resource for student affairs professionals across Canada. The first little while it was just me – being completely new to SA- rattling together the odd article once in a while. Given that mental health is a very prominent conversation in SA right now, and knowing that readers are SA pros, I feel comfortable sharing that this has been a huge factor for me personally and professionally both in general and especially over the last year. I had an injury and resulting concussion one year ago this week, with definite impacts on myself and inadvertently on SA-exchange. Anyone who’s experienced multiple concussions will know that they often worsen existing mental health conditions. Anxiety, depression and PTSD still take a lot away from my life, and some days it’s extremely challenging just to get on the subway to get to work, since that’s where I was injured. Some days it’s difficult just to be, let alone stay positive and motivated to get ahead in planning. Like just struggling to tread water. So self care hasn’t been optional, it’s become my first priority. In a way it’s fitting that this experience has been so present in the development of SA-exchange, since mental health and self-care are definitely on the current pulse of student affairs.

Coming from working in the Indigenous community I was not unique in any way. My diagnoses of depression, anxiety and PTSD are sadly normalized for Indigenous people in Canada. It is my conviction that they were purposefully created through ongoing government policies and structures over generations of Canada becoming a nation-state. Many SA pros are keen to add Indigenous cultural awareness to their SA Competencies, which is part of the reason SA-exchange has centred Indigenous voice from the beginning. Look out for a book review on “The Digital Bundle,” by Dr. Jennifer Wemigwans this Thursday. Wemigwans, creator of, overviews how Indigenous people have been utilizing online technologies and advocates for more access to Indigenous Knowledges online. With higher education aiming to “decolonize” or “Indigenize”, there is much work to be done in altering how we perceive difference and stigma. And Indigenous discourse is very relevant in discussion of “mental” health, as Indigenous ontologies refuse to compartmentalize the individual into just mental, physical, emotional or spiritual, but know these as holistic and intricately interdependent.

There’s a huge emphasis mental health this week with Bell Let’s Talk Day this Wednesday, January 30th. Most of us are familiar with the available support resources in our areas, and I’m thrilled to also have Dr. Sarah Thompson’s Focus on Emotions series available on SA-exchange. If you haven’t yet given her series a read, please do and share with anyone in your life who might benefit. I also recommend Thrive RU, the multi-faceted resilience training project by Dr. Diana Brecher. ThriveRU’s website contains downloadable course materials for students, staff, faculty – and anyone who’s interested.

Mental health was a popular topic for presentation material at CACUSS’s SeaChange conference in Charlottetown. It was my first CACUSS and it was an incredibly beautiful and memorable experience. It was there that I had my AHA moment – or rather several of them – as to what student affairs is really about. The warmth and magnanimity of the SA community was overwhelming, and I fell deeply in love with this work. CACUSS was also where I began to meet people from across the country interested in sharing their time and expertise.

SA-exchange is steadily growing, in a large part due to the support of the dynamic new Editorial Board. Assembled in September 2018, the Editorial Board has been a complete game changer for SA-exchange. We have thirteen dedicated SA-pros from various communities of practice across the country writing, generating leads, sharing with their networks and providing feedback on material. It is an honour and privilege to work on this portfolio with these amazing folks:

Patty Hambler, Tim Fricker, Kathy Offet-Gartner, Kerrin Duggan, Carrie Chassels, Auggie Senis, Cori Hanson, Alero Ogbeide, Kyle Baillie, Melissa Warden Black, Laura Pasquini and John Hannah.

We chose the theme for this week to be the Past, Present and Future in SA. The rationale was that the new year is fresh, and SA-exchange is still a very new resource on the SA radar, whilst being partnered with CACUSS, an organization with much more history, that there were many ways this theme fit. We did not however, factor in the Ford government’s effects on higher education in Ontario. Not to centre the Ontario voice, but for those of us here, the future piece is a bit more precarious and I have certainly felt some anxiety in the air around it amongst Ontarian SA pros.

Our primary goal for 2019 is to grow this resource so that it can benefit the entire SA community in Canada more fulsomely. SA-exchange is a place to share provocative and cutting edge innovative concepts, programs, challenges and solutions. Yet many of us want to play it safe. We don’t want the risk of putting these things out there because of various fears. Let’s work together to make SA-exchange a brave space in 2019. We’re always accepting content, so please consider sharing your story. There are things people need to hear that only you can share in your unique way. #SAcdn

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  • Melissa Warden Black

    Beautiful letter, Sarena!

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