Taking “My Shot” During A Pandemic

Amid the start of the pandemic, just when we were all scrambling to figure out how to adjust to our new normal, I got an email announcement from Quincy, a Spelman Johnson recruiter, letting me know about an administrative position at Colorado College (CC). While I did read the email and told my partner about the position, I was ready to dismiss the possibility of applying for several reasons.  First, our nation was in the middle of a PANDEMIC; second, my timetable for pursuing external positions to advance my career in higher education indicated another year or two in my current position; and third, I am an east coaster and I was not ready to entertain the idea of being so far away from my kids and my partner.  However, my partner, Jim, suggested that I not be so quick to dismiss the email. We began to talk about reasons I should apply for the job and I warmed up to the idea the more we discussed our future together including our career goals. It certainly helped that as I learned more about CC through their website my interest was piqued, particularly by their institutional antiracist plan, a plan that was developed long before the recent wave of protests against structural racism.  I became convinced that it was worth a shot, so I dived in and revamped my curriculum vitae and relearned how to write an effective cover letter.

They say there are silver linings to negative events and finding them helps us get through those events.  I couldn’t agree more when it comes to coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.  Working remotely and being sequestered in our home because of Rhode Island’s stay-at-home order, allowed me some time and space to think about what I had accomplished in my first two years as an administrator and about the direction I wanted to take my career in higher education. Having this time to reflect was vital because it helped me “see” how my current position did not give me the work opportunities I wanted to build the skills necessary to pursue my long-term career goals. Armed with some important new revelations about what I had accomplished, what I really wanted for a career in higher education, and the steps I needed to take to accomplish my goals,  I was able to put together application materials that successfully got the attention of CC’s search committee and led to an invitation to the first round interviews for the position.

I should tell you that at every new step in the interview process for this position, I pleasantly surprised myself given I had not interviewed for a job in over 15 years. At this point in the process, after Quincy told me I was a finalist for the job, I paused to think hard about whether or not I would actually take the job and move to Colorado.  I could not in good conscious interview as a finalist if I would not seriously consider accepting an offer from CC.  Part of this process involved a heart to heart conversation with my children, who are both young adults attending college in the northeast.  With their blessing, the support of my partner, and the endorsement of colleagues who agreed to be references, I forged ahead.

To say I enjoyed the interview process as a finalist for the position is an understatement.  I thoroughly relished the opportunity to share my accomplishments and my ideas for institutional change, and also to learn about Colorado College.  I must admit that the interview structure for finalists that CC put together was a breath of fresh air, especially compared to the traditional two full days of interviewing on campus.  Again, one of the silver linings to our new normal.  Specifically, as a finalist, my interview process lasted about 1.5 weeks.  Over the course of that time, I had 1 to 3 remote interviews per day. On one of those days I delivered my job talk remotely. The talk was recorded and made available to the CC community for anyone who could not attend on the day I gave my talk. This staggered approach to the interview process is perfect for me because I am an introvert who would find it a challenge to give my best self and be “on” for 8-10 hours straight over the course of two days with little to no down time to think and reflect about my interactions with interviewers.

I would be remiss if I did not share what it was like emotionally to be applying for a job during a time when college and universities, and many other industries, were laying off and furloughing employees and also freezing hiring.  It was surreal to be applying for a position knowing that other positions at CC were being put on hold.  However, it also was a great selling point because it was a signal to me that the CC community was taking very seriously the need for major institutional change in terms of DEI, the curriculum, and faculty culture.  Once I was extended an offer, it was the offer negotiation process that stirred a mix of emotions including guilt, pride, and excitement.  The guilty feelings came because of deep awareness of the privileged position I was in to have the opportunity to negotiate a job offer that would improve my finances and give me more resources to engage in my research and professional development.  I was very aware that all of this was occurring during a time when people in the US and around the world are struggling to keep their jobs and make ends meet financially.  The feelings of pride came because I was able to successfully navigate the application process and actually enjoyed the process.  The feelings of excitement came at the prospect of actually accepting the offer and working at an institution I believe I will thrive and grow professionally.

Having accepted the position for Senior Associate Dean for Equity, Inclusion, & Faculty Development at Colorado College, I could not be happier that I took the risk to apply.  Despite COVID-19, applying for this position is one of the best things I could have done for myself, my career and my kids. I recently watched Hamilton on Disney+, which was the first time I saw the musical, and one of the songs, My Shot, really resonated with me, particularly the refrain “I am not going to throw away my shot” (I have lots to say in terms of a DEI analysis of Hamilton, but I will save that for a different blog). The excitement of applying, interviewing, and negotiating a job offer was followed by anxiety from the realization that I would actually be moving across country away from my kids and my partner and starting a new job during a pandemic that was not abating, but rather spreading to more and more people.  The logistics of transitioning my life to Colorado and starting a new job working remotely has been interesting and challenging.  I look forward to sharing “Phase II” of my new job journey during a pandemic with you in my next blog.

Peony Fhagen

Senior Associate Dean of Equity, Inclusion, and Faculty Development at Colorado College

Peony Fhagen, Senior Associate Dean of Equity, Inclusion, and Faculty Development at Colorado College (CC), is a multicultural and developmental psychologist with extensive undergraduate teaching and administrative experience who works from feminist, anti-racist, and social justice orientations. At her former institution, she served as co-founder and co-chair of Diversity, Equity, and Access Leadership (DEAL), a campus entity that supported and guided diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work across campus. She also chaired a psychology department and led two major DEI initiatives: a faculty forum program on diversity, teaching, and learning and an implicit bias training program for faculty search committees. In her current position, she is part of a three-person team that oversees the implementation of CC’s antiracism plan. She also develops, organizes, and facilitates a variety of faculty development opportunities, guides DEI initiatives across the curriculum, and supports faculty search committees. In her spare time, Peony engages in research on cultural identity development in relation to environmental contexts and works on her co-authored textbook on multicultural psychology. To decompress she enjoys yoga, hiking, long walks, and listening to music. Her guilty pleasures include watching reality shows like World of Dance, SYTYCD, Voice, and America’s Got Talent.