#RyersonSA: Past, Present, & Future
Last week we celebrated @RyersonSA reaching 1000 followers on Twitter. Now, I’m not going to lie—it feels nice to see a four digit number of followers when looking at our Twitter profile, but in reality it’s a vanity metric. Knowing the number of people that clicked “follow @RyersonSA” doesn’t tell us real information about the impact we’re having on those followers, or how people actually feel about our brand. But it did get me thinking about who we are and how far we’ve come since starting this journey. I’m going to take advantage of this opportunity to share with you some of the reflections we’ve been having about #RyersonSA: where we’ve been and where we are, and most importantly where we want to go—with you—next.
by Ian Crookshank, current Director of Housing & Residence Life, former Director of Student Community Life (2013)
It was October 21, 2013. Ryerson Student Affairs was celebrating its first full year as a formal division, formed from four distinct departments that, while sharing a great deal in common in terms of their goals and portfolios, had actually worked together very little.
Thinking on this fact one day, Hamza Khan and I discussed an idea that had been brewing in the back of my head for a few months. What if we created an online community to help us break down barriers and grow as a department and community? We took note of some of the student affairs communities in the digital world and noted how US centric they were, and while much of the material was still relevant to our work in student affairs, it was not necessarily supporting the development of a student affairs culture at Ryerson. So we proposed the blog (RyersonStudentAffairs.com) to John Austin as a way to build community, establish our identity, and add a voice to the Canadian Student Affairs profession.
In the early days, the blog focused on articles that brought attention to individuals, programs, outcomes, and musings from members of our Ryerson Student Affairs team. To go along with the blog, we created a hashtag (#RyersonSA) which served to unite our thoughts and voices over social media, connecting our community digitally.
During that first year we saw successes, like staff members connecting over something they read on the blog, shared over twitter, or realized they had in common. What began as a community building concept quickly became a source of pride for team members, and we saw ongoing gains in commenting on posts, sharing posts with colleagues across the country (and internationally), and actively seeking opportunities to contribute.
In June 2014, Hamza and I presented on the success of navigating change through digital storytelling at CACUSS:
Through that first year we realized that additional resources and intentionality would be needed to expand on the initial successes, hence the development of SA Creative (an in-house creative operation focused on synthesizing ideas and amplifying our voices, ideas, and programming). We were lucky that our leadership saw the value in investing resources in these technologies even before we had a clear idea where they would take us. The stories we have been able to share and their impacts have more than made up for the initial investments.
The RyersonSA hashtag that we used to provide space for our staff to build relationships and a united identity eventually led to the creation of our own Twitter handle. This transition seemed natural so that we could share content from our blog in a more intentional way, but it also heralded the birth of a new goal for us. To be a strong voice and advocate within the Canadian context of Student Affairs.
Today, #RyersonSA has quite a bit of data that tells us we’ve gotten better at telling our story. We’ve had 405,009 page views to the blog, over 21,000 engagements over Twitter since November 2015, and we’ve had noticeable increases in budget as a result of our improved ability to share stories about the impacts of our work. Our emphasis on digital storytelling has also resulted in a culture of technological fluency amongst our staff that has made it easier for them to reach students, and in many cases, understand them better.
But while we’re excited to see the results from telling our story better, we’ve also noticed that sometimes our excitement and passion makes for a loud voice. It’s so easy to get lost in the excitement of sharing that we overlooked the need to make space for the voices of our colleagues doing equally important work across Canada. We’ve been lucky to have resources and opportunity to develop our digital voice, and now we’re asking questions about how we can empower others to do the same.
Our Future Belongs with You
Our roles in student affairs have continually evolved since Canadian institutions first began hiring staff to support the out-of-classroom experiences of students. We have often looked south of our borders for inspiration, since our American colleagues had a more robustly structured and resourced system of Student Affairs than we did. But we’re finding now that our evolution hasn’t necessarily been convergent, but parallel; that there are systems and structures in our institutions, government, and country that mean we must find our own ways to reach our students.
#RyersonSA as a brand has striven to create a concrete identity within our division’s staff, so that in our unity, we can more proactively and seamlessly do our work. To a large degree, we have succeeded in doing so—but at a price. As we capitalized on visionary leadership and available technologies, our voice got louder to the point of noise, losing the signal. We struggled to determine what defined that voice, and more importantly, how it supported the growth of Student Affairs in Canada.
We hope to build a broader vision of Student Affairs in Canada into our RyersonSA community, and share that beyond institutional boundaries. Our diverse backgrounds and preparation for this field are a strength, but this also means that we must be continually educating staff about the foundational values and core competencies of our field. For us, that means looking outside our walls to facilitate learning for our staff about who we are in Canadian Student Affairs, and using our skill sets to share learning opportunities with others.
We are moving our brand into its next phase of development and while we will continue to provide opportunities to showcase individual staff perspectives, we will also focus our efforts on showcasing researched, informed content that further advances an agenda of compassion, access, equity, and inclusivity in Canadian Student Affairs practice. We want to seat our influence appropriately in the landscape of Canadian higher education, and we will work with other influencers to ensure we’re listening as well as sharing. We will not only share stories of our own work, but will provide a platform for storytelling from other institutions across the country. To meet our goals we will endeavour to amplify the voices of others, not just our own.
To that end, we’ll be doing so in a series of institutional case studies that offer the chance for other professionals to craft their own story arc and share the thoughts of their staff over the course of multiple posts. In addition, we’ll be inviting professionals to participate in a new Partner Spotlight series to get to know each other on a bit more of a personal level. In this way we’re hoping we can make a contribution to continued community building among student affairs professionals across the country.
We hope you’ll join us on our journey forward and jump onto the RyersonSA platform so we can hear your voice. If you’re interested in sharing your stories, please let us know by contacting our community manger, Lucas Gobert, at LGobert@ryerson.ca.