My History with SACAC with Briana Duncan

Briana Duncan, M.Ed (she/her/hers), College Advisor, Maynard Holbrook Jackson High School (GA)

Tell us about your journey in the field of education and as an admissions/counseling professional. What are you most proud of accomplishing?

Like many other admissions professionals, I began my career as a University Ambassador while completing my undergraduate degree. I realized my passion as students nationwide walked the campus and visualized themselves opening doors to their future through higher education. Getting my foot in the door as a front desk Admissions Office attendant at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, and slowly working my way up to autonomous territory management, I desired a more in-depth knowledge of theory, student development, and policy. While leading an out-of-state recruitment team at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA (amidst a consolidation), checking in and out of Hilton properties recruiting students along the East Coast and Midwest, I started my Masters of Higher Education Administration degree. Yes, being the first in my family to complete a master’s degree was a fantastic accomplishment, and I am truly blessed, but that is not what I am most proud of achieving. My most crowning triumph was the journey itself: a millennial, black woman working full-time in a majority-white space, completing graduate coursework while managing a team of other young women of color in a small country town five hours from home, leading and practicing resilience during the 2016 presidential election – y’all. We begin careers in higher education to transform the lives of others. Still, so many times along the way, our dedication to the students and the students themselves end up changing us.

As a professional and individual, have there been moments when you felt challenged or unsupported?

COVID-19 has turned so many things upside down and changed our lives forever, but for me, it was an unexpected shift in career and a switch to the other side of the desk. As the only person of color in the Office of Admissions at a small, private institution, I was left feeling unfulfilled, misrepresented, and disrespected. Microaggressions assume many shapes and forms, and though often white and white-facing colleagues don’t mean to offend or oppress, it happens more times than not. We all know how small our region can feel. Everyone knows everyone, and word travels quickly. For the first time in my professional career, I was ready to give up and abandon all that I had worked to achieve. Unfortunately, that also meant leaving behind the students that ultimately keep all of us employed. Though feeling unsupported for a short time, it felt amplified while on lockdown and isolated from family and friends. Unmotivated and lost, I leaned on faith and my SACAC network. I am grateful for all of the fellowship and connections I have made and honestly advise others to find a small group of motivators and uplifters to keep you going. Lord knows I am grateful for mine.

We realize this has been a trying year for us all, particularly those of us who are members of the BIPOC community. What continues to affirm your passion for your work and the students you serve? 

In the public school environment with an inner-city district, it amazes me that so many white and white-facing educators still look to BIPOC for ways to connect with students of color. Whether it be trying to garner attendance to virtual class in general or participation in programs and events, there are still many people within our industry who simply do not know or understand the obstacles that people of color face. I remain affirmed each time I reach a student through shared experience and empathy. Our students need our motivation and positivity now more than ever, and the resiliency we display will have long-lasting effects on their perception of education in the future. I do not want them ever to feel unheard, unseen, or forgotten. They matter, and their education matters, and if my presence and representation alone can do that, I will serve with a smile.

What would you like SACAC members to know about ways in which they can better serve their students and support their colleagues?

Only one piece of advice comes to mind, but if we all used this simple tip, we would be better off. SLOW DOWN. When you have an opportunity to connect with a student or colleague, those mounting emails can wait. When you find time to volunteer while traveling and recruiting students, take it and make a difference; when you need a break and feel run down, take time for yourself and your health. These institutions and offices will be there. The recruitment goals and strategic plans aren’t going away. We will also have deadlines and timelines. We know and understand their importance. You can best support your students and colleagues by being your real, rested, and refreshed self. Enjoy the ups and downs, but never take it too seriously. We owe it to each other to slow it down and show up as our best selves.

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