May 2021 Issue

Humans of Campus Life Series

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Sarah Shouvlin, Associate Director of Campus Recreation, Programming

Sarah Shouvlin

Which identities are you most proud of? 

Daughter, Sister, Wife, Auntie, dog Mom, Leader in collegiate recreation, team Captain for the Philadelphia Freeze.

What kind of household/family did you grow up in and how did this impact your identities?

I was born in Cincinnati, OH and spent the first 21 years of my life in southwest Ohio (Springfield, Troy, and Cincinnati). I am a Midwesterner at heart, though I have lived in seven different states at this point and I now call the Mid-Atlantic home. This is usually where our answers stop, right? … The truth is that my home life was pretty complicated. During those 21 years, my parents divorced, our family navigated the complexities of my parents both suffering from alcoholism, I didn’t have the freedom to express my identities and explore my interests freely, we heavily struggled financially, my dad remarried and divorced a second time, among other challenges. Though there were difficult times, there were also good times that I still cherish and I am so grateful that my parents worked hard to support us as best they could. 

I also have a large extended family that believes in celebrating each other and our history, which is extremely valuable (if anyone wants to watch the “History of the Shouvlin Family” DVD and learn how my great-great grandfather came over from Ireland, just let me know, ha!). In general, my household was strict and fairly conservative. We had to do our weekly chores to be given our lunch money for the week ahead. I held my first paper-route job at the age of 12 and have never stopped working since. I am proud to say that I was the first of my family to attend and graduate college, especially from a low-income family. I am also one of the very few family members that moved away from Ohio to live in cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore, etc.

These experiences have undoubtedly shaped me. Though my identities have put me at odds with my household/family at times, I have also been incredibly blessed to ultimately find support, love, and guidance from my given and chosen family.

How do these identities impact you and your work at Princeton?

Every day I consciously put effort into making my family proud, including my Campus Rec family. Noted above, one of my identities that I am most proud of is being a leader in collegiate recreation. I believe Campus Recreation has the power to provide priceless experiences, human connection, fun, and foundations of well-being to our next generation of leaders. Just like my old boss did for me as I worked as a lifeguard/student manager of the recreation center on Xavier University’s campus, I want to pay it forward in whatever way I can – I may not be as book smart as some of our Princeton students, but I surely have life experiences and lessons learned that I can offer to support them, wherever they are headed in life! I am particularly sensitive to the experiences of First-Generation, Low-Income students on campus, because I know, from personal experience, how difficult it can be to navigate college on your own and I can only imagine trying to do so at one of the world’s most prestigious universities.

As a leader, it is also extremely important to me to show up authentically, which demands vulnerability and honesty about the identities one holds. I speak pretty freely about my identities, even though it can feel risky at times. I also try my best to seek to understand others’ identities, so that we can better support and celebrate each other.

Reflecting on your identities and taking into account what you learned from the Campus Life diversity and anti-racism training, how has your understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion shifted/changed? 

In the past, I was more focused on the issues surrounding my identity as a member of the LGBTQ community and my social justice efforts were primarily dedicated to that. While I would often call attention to certain injustices surrounding many EDI issues and offer support to my friends who suffered as a result of inequity for their identities, after careful reflection, I realized I may not have been practicing my ally-ship in the most effective ways. Through the Campus Life diversity and anti-racism training, as well as other resources I sought out, I began to see and understand more deeply what my privilege affords me on a daily basis.

How has your understanding of EDI and the University’s priorities around EDI and anti-racism inspired your work in new and/or different ways?

First off, I can say I’ve read more books and entered more webinars/workshops about anti-racism and equity, diversity, and inclusion this past year than I probably have in the last 5 years. I have learned a lot through this process. Secondly, I am experiencing a renewed sense of commitment to social justice work and I want to ensure we remain committed to these priorities through sparking and instilling systematic change. That is all to say, YES, I have totally been inspired by my colleagues’ and the University’s priorities around EDI and anti-racism work! It has been both extremely refreshing and extremely challenging, for which I am so grateful.

We invite you to share a brief, specific anecdote or perhaps a self-reflection that captures how the recent events around racial injustice have had an impact on the work that you do in your role with Campus Life. Perhaps an exchange you had with a student or colleague whose family has experienced and/or been impacted by racial injustice.

Last week, a student who identifies as a female and a “privileged” (her words) daughter of immigrants told me, “I always knew that Princeton didn’t care about me.”

She did go on to explain that she realizes that there are resources available but Campus Rec is the only place that makes her feel like she has family here. Wow. What a call to action! This year has been so, so tough for many reasons. Our sense of community has been shaken, but we really need to step up for our students in any way we can – we may be the only stable sense of family and safety that they have.

Is there something you want to share that we have not covered?

Thank you for letting me share a bit about my story and perspective with you. I challenge you to seek out the story of another Campus Life colleague on your own this month – you might be surprised at what you find!

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