I thought I would blog about self-authorship to help clear up some misunderstandings I’ve personally experienced throughout my time in the field. Self-authorship is something that I research and study, so I try to notice when it is misunderstood. I thought an easy way to clear it up would be to share four main myths I’ve heard about the concept.
Myth #1: Self-authorship is simply saying “I’m making this decision myself, so therefore, I’m self-authored.” For example, “I’m sorry Sarah, I decided to self-author my homework and not do it.”
Myth #2: Self-authorship is only for White people.
Myth #3: Self-authorship is participating in self-reflection.
Myth #4: Self-authorship doesn’t allow you to build relationships with others.
So let’s start with some basics. Self-authorship is a way of making meaning. A self-authored individual makes meaning of their experiences by determining their own values and beliefs while seeing others’ views as important and worth considering (Garvey Berger, 2011). This addresses myth #1 and myth #4.
Another way of looking at self-authorship is that it is a way of making meaning in which individuals possess the ability to face economic complexity, balance multiple roles, interact effectively with a diverse world, and responsibly confront social issues (Baxter Magolda, 2001). Having the ability to face each of these issues most certainly is necessary for those working within the field of student affairs, as the problems of our field seem to only be increasing in complexity within each of these areas and more.
A self-authored way of thinking isn’t just about thinking about oneself (myth #1), it actually requires one to become closer to others in order to see their view point. Kegan (1994) discusses this by stating,
“When we see that we are not made up by the other’s experience, we then have the capacity not to take responsibility for what is now genuinely and for the first time not ours. And as a result, we can get just as close to the other’s experience (even the other’s experience of how disappointing, enraging, or disapprovable we are!) without any need to react defensively to it or be guiltily compliant with it” (p. 127).
Imagine if in student affairs, we could interact with each of our colleagues and others at work having this capacity!
Myth #2 is addressed through research that is being conducted worldwide, as documented in Development and Assessment of Self-Authorship: Exploring the Concept Across Cultures (Baxter Magolda, Creamer, & Meszaros, 2010). Within the book, there are chapters on Bedouins and Jews in Israel, Latino ethnic identity, and other groups of people; and those aren’t the only studies occurring. In fact, if you explore almost all development theories, you will find a common ebb and flow to them if you explore “how” development is occurring, not just “what” is being developed. Like almost all development theories, those who experience the most dissonance are the most likely to develop toward it.
Myth #3 is not what self-authorship is, but is instead a way to promote the development of self-authorship. Again, given the issues facing our field, I believe we want to promote it. We need people who are conscious of themselves and the systems that are at work in student affairs and higher education, so that they can make responsible decisions for the good of the community by recognizing what is their responsibility and what is not in an ever increasingly complex world. Other processes that promote self-authorship include:
- “an ingenious blend of support and challenge” (Kegan, 1994, p. 42)
- “listening without judgment, working on the process of one’s own way of making meaning, and intentionality” (Garvey Berger, 2012)
- “identify diverse experiences, epistemological reflection, and participation as methods” (Mezirow, 2000, 2009; Zull, 2002)
It is also important to remember that being self-authored in how one makes meaning isn’t the end goal–there is more to our development and it continues to be explored. Being self-authored in how one makes meaning allows individuals to move beyond solely depending on the external environment to tell them who they are and what actions they should take. Being able to think for one’s self is a way of thinking that employers seek in employees (Kerry, 2013, para 6; Krislov and Volk, 2014, para 13). However, my own research on new professionals indicates that those entering the field of student affairs aren’t yet self-authored (Schoper, 2011) (sorry if I’m bursting that bubble), so how can we expect them to assist in fully developing undergraduate students to meet the qualifications that employers seek? I don’t believe it is simply the fault or full responsibility of student affairs preparation programs. It seems as though the field of student affairs may still be, “overly focused on outcomes and not process” (Jones, 2006, p. 4).
To me, it is the collective responsibility of all of us to promote continued development, not just in our students, but in ourselves. If for no other reason then it enables us to approach the problems we are facing with a different mindset.