Editors Note: This is second in a series of guest blog posts about the experiences of women in a variety of settings. Niki Rudolph, a professional in higher education, discusses the role men in her life have played in shaping female professional identity.
I Don’t Throw Like A Girl
by Niki Rudolph
I have never considered myself a competitive person, but I always enjoyed being one of the first girls picked for sports. Playing organized sports was limited for girls when I was a kid, but I still honed the double play in our backyard that was perfectly shaped like an infield, and I had a nice shiner from a line drive to prove it.
I am thankful that my mom never seemed phased by the fact that I wasn’t into pink or Barbies. I owe an incredible amount of my strength to her, a working mother with a backup plan always at the ready. Many of us can rattle the list of women who were influential to us, but it is important for me to also acknowledge how the men in my life have shaped my identity as a female professional. I am privileged, as you will see, to have such All Stars in my life.
The Manager: I spent most of my childhood listening to Al Kaline call Tigers’ games on the radio with my father. A prosecuting attorney, whose calm demeanor is more fitting of a judge, has only ever raised his voice at hockey games. I still remember his smirk when I came home ranting about my college not allowing an LBGT organization to be recognized, angry that we were hiding behind our denominational history. He simply stated, “You’re right, so what are you going to do about it?”
The First Base Coach: Although I gained three stepbrothers later on, my big brother has been with me through everything. He’s the ultimate ally. You need someone to share the inside jokes and to keep you from getting too full of yourself; to keep you focused but relaxed. If ever I am honored with becoming a university president, he will still call me Buffalo Breath at my installation.
The Third Base Coach: An actual baseball coach, my stepdad was not prepared to inherit an emotional teenage girl after raising his three boys. His favorite line, “There’s no crying in baseball!” has become an inside joke between us. And even though we are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, I could not ask for a better go-to person, to tell me when to bunt, to cheer me on, or to wave me home. I admire how he loves my mother, and I appreciate how, even though he would never call himself a feminist, he would be outraged if I was not afforded the same opportunities as my brothers.
The Lead Off Batter: Howard Ward was the Dean of Students when I was an undergraduate. He is the reason I am in student affairs. No conversation with “H” is ever small talk. He pushes me to think. He sets the bar high for me. And when I feel like I just don’t have it in me, hearing his warm baritone say, “Hey, baby girl, how’s it going?” is like medicine. I hope to mentor like he has, and I hope to beat him in golf someday.
The Fielders: I have been supervised by some of the most caring and competent supervisors in students affairs, all of them men until my current role. Jim, George, and James have each role modeled support and humor. They have allowed me to make mistakes and to exceed my own expectations. But most importantly, they have each demonstrated that it’s about the students. Period.
We all have people who have become part of our definition. I have been shaped by the negative people as well, but that’s just dirt in the skirt, right? I am more concerned with appreciating the ones who have brought me confidence, opportunities, and laughs. I have learned from the wisdom of my team. I am my own player, shaped and challenged by those around me. I have chosen my own style, my own finesse, and my own way of being a woman in higher education. After all, I don’t throw like a girl.