It’s a Small World in SA

By Lindsay Ritenbaugh
@lindsayrite

I recently had one of those “this cannot be real life” moments, experiencing just how small the student affairs world can be. Inspired to see if other colleagues have ever had a similar experience, I emailed, tweeted, and started a thread in a Facebook group looking for stories. The response was overwhelming and excerpts have been included below. Names and locations have been omitted to protect the not so innocent. These are their stories:

 During my undergrad I only had one friend from high school who also became an RA. As my experience as an RA unfolded, my best friend went to a placement conference and interviewed at over a dozen schools. After several offers he made up his mind that he was in love with a particular institution. Around a week after he accepted his offer I saw that my friend from high school had also accepted a position there. Two really good friends of mine who had never met are now really good friends.  



15 years ago I was a hall director and worked for someone. I am now a VPSA and recently she applied for a job at my institution. She was hired.

I was working at University A and on an interview committee for a position. I interviewed a person (call him Mr. X). He made it to our second round. He found a position at another institution (off my radar at the time). About a year and a bit later I was applying to work at University B and I found this person (in his new role) on my host interview committee.

I met someone at a professional conference and we began a romantic relationship shortly after. The week after we parted ways, I interned with a cohort mate from this person’s graduate program. Since then I have not seen or heard from them in almost a year. I found out this person had interviewed for a position with my current supervisor at his former institution. I recently learned he would be my partner for a professional development course and we will be sharing a two-hour phone conversation to complete an assignment.

I experienced a program as a student at my alma mater and when I became a resident director at another school I brought that program with me and did it for 2 years. In my third year I was telling one of my new colleagues about the program and they were excited because they started doing that same program at another university. They had gotten the idea from a colleague at a different university who we discovered had been a student leader with me!

I did an informational interview for a first year grad student last year that a friend set up for us. This year I took a job with a sorority she belongs to, used to work for, and now volunteers with. I even got to visit the campus where she’s in school last month. It’s been great getting to know her more and see her develop. (This person was a first year in my graduate program last fall)

Last year I presented at a pre-conference. I did not coordinate the presenters. I presented with 5 people—including someone I worked with 15 years ago and another person who was my VPSA as an undergrad. In the audience were previous undergraduate students, a previous graduate student, and two colleagues from previous institutions. It was an interesting feeling.

I worked at an institution with someone who worked in the advisement office. She moved onto another institution. I then moved onto another institution. It was the same institution. We were assigned together as a professional “mentor/mentee” pair. We have continued this relationship to this day. (She actually posted in my Facebook group discussion as well)

Just started at a new institution. One of our assistant directors worked at an institution with another professional who not only interviewed at my last institution, but was also my former supervisor’s sorority sister.

I saw some guy at a placement conference several times. Then I saw him again at another conference three months later. Then I started my first day at my new job in July. Guess who walks in, also on his first day? And now he’s one of the best friends I have here!

My new coworker (from a different side of the country) went on Semester at Sea with one of my cohort members.

I took a group of students to a metropolitan area for an alternative spring break trip. A woman who worked at a local non-profit noticed our college logo one day and mentioned she had just gotten married to an alumnus. That alumnus turned out to be my former resident/suitemate his freshman/my senior year.

I met a woman at a placement conference, who I then saw the next week at another conference. I now work at the same institution where she worked last spring, and she works about 35 minutes away from the place from which I moved.


I share this to offer a simple suggestion. Be careful of the comments you make, the conversations you have, whom you trust, and even the company you keep. Whether you are a graduate student, new or seasoned professional, this is still a valid request. Student affairs is an incredible community in which you can make professional and personal connections with colleagues. Just remember there is a very large chance your past will collide with your future if it hasn’t already. This can be opportunistic or detrimental. You may not realize this now, but I certainly learned this lesson the hard way.

“There’s so much that we share that it’s time we’re aware

It’s a small world after all” (Disney, 1964).

Student Affairs - the First Years

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