Like many of my Facebook friends, I annually participate in November’s 30 Days of Gratitude, in which my status each day proclaims my gratitude for something. This was the third or fourth year I participated, and I always find the reflection to be helpful. I have so much to be thankful for — my husband, my friends, my family, and the little corner of the world I call my own. My statuses ranged from reflective to slightly humorous (I really do have nice hair).
And so this morning as I prepared to write the final thankful status, I wondered what would happen if I kept it going. What if every day of the year my status was about something for which I’m thankful? Certainly there is enough joy and love in my life to sustain that for lifetimes.
But it’s also important to me that I channel the joy and gratitude in my heart into bigger things. And so I’ve decided in December that rather than a passive Facebook status, I’m committing to performing a random act of kindness daily. I want to actively create joyful moments for other people. It’s time to share what I’ve already found, especially with those who need it most.
Want to follow along or join in? I’ll be using the hashtag #31RAOK on Twitter and posting at Facebook as well.
My local big box store was swarmed with parents and young adults this afternoon browsing the college aisles. I love browsing those aisles annually to predict which things my students will move in with in the fall and which will likely make an appearance in the dumpster at the end of the academic year. I’m amazed at how many of the things that fill those shelves are poor choices. A quick Google search when I got home showed that there are other blog posts about what not to buy students in the realm of technology, but very little about their residence hall. After almost a decade of professional experience in residence life, I’m happy to share my Five Products to Avoid in a Residence Hall.
Disclaimer: Before you go shopping, review the residence hall policies and student handbook. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Big box stores don’t care about those nearly-universal policies; they want to sell you a room full of the comforts of home. But many items featured in those aisles are prohibited at schools — candles, coffee pots, string lights, electric grills, etc. You can save yourself time, grief, and maybe an incident report by reviewing the rules before you shop.
1. Bed Bug Mattress Encasements (or anything related to preventing bed bug infestations): Bed bugs are brought into spaces by people and can live in linens, clothes, stuffed animals, etc. While an encasement protects a mattress from infestation, it doesn’t do anything to protect a student’s assets. The best line of defense is to educate your student about signs of bed bug infestation and know what the process is on campus for reporting suspected infestation.
2. Additional Furniture: Almost every residence hall room will come outfitted with appropriate amounts of furniture. While novelty furniture may seem like a good idea, it inevitably ends up cluttering an already tight space. This may be a better purchase after a student moves in and gets settled. Better? Wait until a fall semester or fall quarter visit and see if there’s a need for it.
3. Dinnerware/Flatware Sets: A first year student will eat almost every meal in the dining hall or cafeteria. It’s the hub of social activity on most campuses. Besides, you’re paying for the meal plan. Use it. Skip the set that’s large enough for hosting a dinner party and grab two plates, two sets of flatware, and some cups and mugs. A student doesn’t have space to store much more than that. Don’t forget to pack the dish soap.
4. Water Coolers: This has been a recent fad and one I don’t understand. There is no shortage of potable water on college campuses. Buying a cooler — or even participating in a water delivery service — is an unnecessary expense and takes up precious floor space in a room.
5. Privacy Pop-Up Tents: I don’t know when these became a thing, but they seem like a mostly unnecessary thing. Roommates should be having conversations about privacy and use of the room, which could avoid someone needed to zip themselves into a nylon bubble. Resident Assistants live in the residence halls and well-trained to help students have those conversations before the tent seems like the best option.
Many colleges and universities also have preferred vendors for items like sheets, rugs, refrigerators, futons, and lofts. Make sure you read and understand the literature; in some cases, the preferred vendor is the only method of having a certain item (microfridges and lofts most often fall into this category). In addition to being good partners with the school, many of these vendors offer in-room delivery of items and, bonus, the school receives a percentage of the sale to support residence hall programs and activities.
I spend a lot of time thinking about silence.
This probably surprises some people who know me, the people who know my husband refers to me as a noisy little thing. I am terrible at both sitting still and being quiet. I sing nonsensical songs in the shower and I chatter as I do my daily work. I am (often regrettably) the first to respond to a question asked of a group and I am more comfortable filling silences than sitting with them. It both despite all of this and because all of this that the idea of silence weighs so heavily on me.
I’m intentional about silence in some venues. It can be a disarmingly effective tool in student meetings and conversations. It opens the door for quiet reflection in an organization’s board room. And though it is still an uncomfortable space for me, I recognize that it is an expansion of conventional communication.
Some of my fascination, admittedly, stems from the fact that silence is both a noun and a verb. There aren’t many of those words in the English language, a scarcity that makes it more noticeable. And just as it is both a noun and a verb, it is also a shield and a sword. We use silence to defend and protect, just as we use it to hurt others.
This is on my mind more than usual because I’ve felt silenced lately, mostly by my own volition, but also by the actions of others. I’m struggling to find my voice again and until then I find myself enveloped in a silence that’s… oppressive? tiring? physically uncomfortable? Maybe a little of all of those.
It will even out or I will sort it out, but for now, it’s a good lesson in being quieter and letting myself be uncomfortable.
Before leaving the office on Wednesday for the holiday weekend, I tweeted a picture of the large dry erase board where I track my long term projects. I noted that my Summer To Do list was now a Totally Done list, as each item had the large, scrawled “DONE” next to it in bright orange dry erase marker. Jason was quick to tweet back that something was missing, a reference to a collaborative year-long adventure in researching and advocating that came to fruition in late June.
As I responded, I realized — maybe with clarity for the first time — that a list of accomplishments would look very different than my seasonal to do list.
The To Do lists are my job. I edit handbooks, update training guides, assign students to rooms, and review processes.
There are a lot of things I accomplish in a day or week that never make it on to a To Do list — tough conversations, navigating potential political landmines, building relationships. They are often the unexpected work associated with my job, the sidecar to the To Do List.
There’s some overlap in these arenas, of course — a Venn diagram of sorts, where an accomplishment is tied to a task, even though I may never have anticipated it at the onset.
As I reflected this, I thought about what I would put on my accomplishment list for the summer, now that the world has seen the completed Summer To Do list. It would include a successful meeting with upper-level administrators, starting an important conversation with colleagues, seeking more professional responsibility in areas of growth, and identifying opportunities for self-advocacy, personally and professionally. It would also include taking more time off this summer and devoting more time to self-care — a huge accomplishment for me and, I hope, setting the pattern for better habits when the pace picks up again in the fall.
I’m glad I have the ability to see both — the list of tasks and projects I got done and the list of things accomplished along the way.
How would your To Do List and Accomplishment list differ?
I learned an important lesson on Facebook today:
I learned that people speaking out against hate speech and violent imagery are more offensive to Mark Zuckerberg and his team of administrators than the hate speech itself.
This morning I shared a post asking people to report a Facebook page. Taking my cue from my friend Chris Conzen, I spread the message because it was apparent that Facebook was not taking action. The page, titled “RIP Trayvon Martin” was anything but a page in his memory. Rather it included photoshopped images of 17-year-old Trayvon in a concentration camp and being hanged.
Let me reiterate that: There were photoshopped, edited images of a child being hanged and lynched.
Shortly after submitting my report, I received an e-mail from Facebook telling me that they reviewed my report, but found nothing that violated their hate speech terms and so the page would remain.
Unsurprisingly, I clicked the “Give Feedback” option you see in the bottom right corner and informed Facebook that their hate speech terms may need to be reviewed more closely, that they also may need to include reference to incidents of bias in order to be more inclusive.
Hours later, I received a text message from Kathryn informing me that my own status asking people to report the page was removed from my page, as well both her page and Chris’ page.
Let me be clear: Facebook refused to remove the RIP Trayvon Martin page with offensive and violent imagery, but my own post — my own words tied to my own name and not hidden behind cowardly anonymous bigotry of a page — were removed from my own personal page. There was no notification of the removal of my own post, only an error message when I tried to go back to it by following earlier notifications:
Facebook came under fire last month for not doing more to intercede in incidents of violence against women and perpetuation of rape culture. But their feeble attempts to recover in that arena have revealed them impotent in facing the issue that their larger than life social network is an arena of oppression of all sorts. No one is safe — not even the whistleblowers and advocates.
Facebook has admitted they have too few humans reviewing reported items. There is work to be done, certainly, and in the meantime, Facebook and its leadership owe an apology and explanation to those who volunteer their time flagging the offensive, hateful, harmful, and hurtful.
Edit: I am editing this to add that the RIP Trayvon page is gone, though it’s not clear if Facebook removed it or if it was removed by the page’s owner, who was being tracked by angry users via an exposed IP address. It has also been suggested that Chris, Kathryn, and I may have violated Facebook’s ToS by requesting a mass reporting. I can’t argue with ToS I agreed to, but I can point out the flaw — a mass reporting can be a solid indicator of a problem, like a neon sign pointing to it, making it easier to find and address.
Last year I wrote about asking my colleagues to take two steps backward to revisit the goals and foundation of one of our most high-touch processes — end of year damages. In some way, shape, or form all of our residents participate in the process. Even by accepting a key on move-in day, they are accepting responsibility for the condition of the room to which they are assigned. When I asked my colleagues to take two steps back and revisit the process, I made it a primary goal to reduce the amount of damage billing we generated — both from individual room damages and common area damages. After crunching the numbers this week, I believe we were successful in both fronts — we saw a more than $9,000 reduction in common area damages and more than $20,000 reduction in individual damages and fines.
While it was my goal, it was the work of a village. Many people have asked over the past few days how we did it. Here’s a recap:
- We returned to a paper room condition report. Each room type had its own report, meaning there wasn’t superfluous information. Everything on a report related to a student’s specific room assignment.
- We returned to staff conducting check-in inspections ahead of a student’s arrival instead of relying on the student to do it in the hustle and bustle of moving in (or trying to do it after 2 or 3 other roommates arrived).
- We did a better job training RAs on the importance of the document, shared our goal with them, and spent more time reviewing how to complete a proper inspection.
- We talked to RAs about how to best respond to incidents of common area damages, including immediate response and then responding within the community in the days following.
- In communities that started showing signs of elevated common area damages, staff met with the residents to find out what was going on. Because I believe damages are a resident’s way of communicating something to us, these meetings were effective at mitigating problems and providing an outlet for students to talk to RAs, RDs, or me.
- When RDs submitted damages for billing, they sat down and reviewed the spreadsheets and photos with me. I reviewed for consistency so one staff member wasn’t harder on community members than another.
- We worked more closely than ever with custodial staff to determine what is reasonable to bill to residents and what is normal use of public spaces. A razor left in a shower? Not billable. Four bags of trash? Absolutely.
Last year 699 students (almost 2/3 of our residential population) received a billing notice from our office. This afternoon just over 300 will and while I don’t doubt we’ll still face some frustration — which we’ll gladly hear in our appeal process — I also know that we took two steps backward to make a giant leap forward in our relationships and expectations of students and their families.
So am I.
There are weeks, especially this time of year, when it looks like a unicorn who devoured a bag of Skittles threw up on my Outlook calendar.
But the number of hours I work in a day and the number of meetings I attend don’t define the work I do. I can spend 14 hours in back-to-back meetings and contribute nothing to my campus. On the flip, I can spend six hours at my desk and make significant progress on a project that will benefit our students.
As a society, we’re in a love affair with our own busyness. It’s an endless topic of conversation in my social media feeds — another 12 hour work day, another string of meetings, another late night student organization meeting. And it’s easy to get caught up in world of competitive calendar comparisons. But it’s also dangerous.
Your self-worth is not tied to your calendar.
I get it. We work in student affairs, a field that can be nebulous in regard to how we define success for ourselves or our students. When I leave at the end of the day, I don’t have a standardized report of what I accomplished and how many things I fixed. I can’t compare my productivity day to day with a graph and I don’t have a sign hanging in my office that says, “Target met for XX days”.
We have to find ways to find meaning ourselves, to measure our own successes in a way isn’t tied to what’s on our calendar. For me, it means writing down three successes I had every day before I leave the office. My little yellow notebook is filled with things that may be inconsequential to others, but are victories for me. They are sometimes tangibles like completing a timeline for a project; they are sometimes intangibles like having a good conversation with a staff member. I’ve done this for three years now and while it occasionally feels like a chore, it reminds me to find my own meaning in what I do and to stop keeping score with calendar items.
It also means, for me, finding victories in little moments — like a great parent phone call, a refined process, a connecting moment with a colleague. While these things may appear on my calendar, they are surface level descriptions. It’s the depth of what happens in those time blocks that matters most.
How will you exit the world of competitive calendar comparison and find meaning for yourself?
We haven’t met, at least as far as I can recall so allow me to introduce myself –
I am an alumna of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism (BSJ, ’02) and of the College of Education (MEd, ’04). I am not at all influential at Ohio University, as I am one of thousands of alumni who crossed both through Class Gate and the threshold of Scripps Hall. I did not pursue a career in journalism; rather, I followed my passion for higher education and now work as a college administrator. I have found opportunities to blend my journalism and education interests — I contribute frequently to a field-specific magazine (edited by a Scripps alumnus), and regularly blog about higher education and student affairs.
All of that is provided only as context for my understanding first-hand the balance of being an administrator and educator. I am writing to express my genuine disappointment in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. It appears that the celebratory annual banquet was held last night, the first night of the Jewish holiday of Pesah, or more commonly Passover. This is a night with deeply meaningful historical and religious connections. And so a night that was about celebrating the accomplishments of student journalists undoubtedly excluded some of them or forced them to choose between a rite of their faith and a rite of passage of their education.
One could certainly argue that an important component of student development is helping students confront and reconcile similar situations, as these moments will not simply disappear after the stage is crossed at Commencement. But one could also argue that there is a responsibility of due diligence for a college or university to maintain an inclusive environment. Certainly there was no conversation of holding the banquet on Good Friday or Easter Sunday.
In my heart, I am giving the benefit of the doubt — this year’s revised academic calendar must have meant shifting the event to another time frame and this was where it landed. But I also know that, more than once, similar situations arose during my time as a student because of a lack of consideration or maybe a lack of understanding. As a society, we have fallen in a complacent trap of assuming that if our decisions or behavior offend, someone will bring it to our attention. Rather, shouldn’t it instead be the expectation that we give universal consideration for how our decisions may impact others?
I am sure that I am a lone voice. It’s unlikely you will hear from anyone else on this topic. For many alumni who shared a similar experience to mine during their tenure, it’s just the way things are and have always been at our beloved alma mater. I hope for better — and I’ve seen improvement since my time on the bricks. In that hopeful thread, I’ve included the contact information of Rabbi Danielle Leshaw of Ohio University Hillel below this message. Rabbi Danielle and the other staff at Hillel are an excellent resource not only for students but also for faculty and staff. I genuinely hope that you also see the potential for the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism to be better for its students — all students — and take advantage of the resources available to create a more inclusive environment.
Best wishes for the remainder of the semester.
The more I read of Lean In, the more it resonates with me. I’m not more than halfway through, but have several quotes highlighted and ideas for conversation topics with the women in my professional life. But something keeps bothering me –
There has been no mention of privilege.
Oh, sure. There is reference to male privilege — the belief that men are inherent leaders, the privileges associated with being males in a classroom or boardroom, the privilege of being a less involved partner or parent that falls to men.
But Sheryl Sandberg has yet to identify or mention her own privilege. Maybe it’s coming later in the book — I hope — but for me, it needed to be acknowledged early. That’s part of leaning in, isn’t it, understanding ourselves and who we are? Sandberg wholeheartedly wants us to know what holds us back — and I agree with that idea — but we also have to pay respect to what launches us forward.
For Sandberg, it appears to be the privilege of an Ivy League education, both undergraduate and graduate degrees. There is, of course, no discussion of how this education was financed, but she does reference her father’s career as a renowned physician and the volunteer work her mother did. The Harvard education undoubtedly opened more doors for her, created more opportunities for her, likely ones that my state school education wouldn’t have in a similar major or field.
And so it becomes critical, as we read, that we ask ourselves about our own privilege and understand how it affects our seat at the table and our voice in the room. As someone who feels the tremendous weight of having leaned in most of her life — I can’t remember a time I didn’t ask for what I wanted including additional compensation and more opportunities at work — I also know that tendency to lean in comes from feeling like I was at a disadvantage in many situations and needed to advocate for myself.
I know that my education, on par with my colleagues, is a privilege in many facets of my life. I know that my current socioeconomic status affords me opportunities to travel, connect, and give of my time. I know that my parents’ socioeconomic status afforded me an excellent public education, including extracurricular activities and leadership opportunities. I know that my privilege is inherently tied to my opportunity, and as I help other women on their path, I need to be respectful that we have all had different experiences and are not playing the game with the same hand of cards. In fact, many of us are not playing the same game or even using the same deck of cards.
As I said, I hope Sandberg touches on this later in the book, though I have a lingering suspicion that the topic will never come up. Sometimes it’s the absence of acknowledgement that provides the most meaningful context. And so I will move forward in the book thinking less about where I am going and instead where I came from.
I’ve never seen my social media feeds so amped for the release of a book as they have been in recent days for Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. And the more I read of the debate and discourse surrounding the book, the more frustrated I get. I don’t dispute Sandberg’s factual points that women are underrepresented in leadership roles, particularly in corporate America. I don’t negate that women face obstacles that men would not recognize if they ran into them face-first.
I’m tired of being told how to be successful and what success should look like. And I’m mostly tired of it because it’s other women screaming these messages at me in conference sessions, via social media, in books, in blogs, in networking opportunities.
Ask for that.
Volunteer for this.
Network with this person.
But don’t talk to this person.
Go to this conference.
But don’t wear that.
I won an award last year from a professional organization and instead of congratulatory messages, the messages I most often received were about how I could do more, be better, and be more visible in my field. This award was a launching pad to larger, greater successes. And those messages came from women. Men in my field, including my mentor, congratulated me with a handshake or a hug with no expectation of how I would use this to get closer to where I am going. And maybe it’s because they don’t have to think about that regularly, but I grew to resent the unsolicited ideas and feedback on where I should go next to be successful because no one was asking me where I wanted to go. I stopped being a person and started being an example of how a woman can succeed and, in turn, that somehow turned me into a token of success instead of a person with her own plan and path and definition of success.
We talk regularly in my professional circles about how women need to support each other, how we need to lift each other up. But there’s a faction who confuse lifting with pulling and dragging, who have stopped listening to individuals and made assumptions about where a person wants to be or should be.
I regularly have conversations with one of our entry-level staff members on campus about this, about how success looks different for different people. And as we talk, I know in my heart that she’s going on to do great things no matter her path because she has a clear vision of what success means to her. She knows what it is and what it isn’t. She knows where she wants to be and how she’s going to get there. She takes the help offered to her, but refuses the help that conflicts with her own values. And at 24, she’s a role model for women in ways they won’t recognize right away. I listen to her thoughtfully process what she sees from other women in the field and reconciles it against her own plans, which involve next jobs, her family, her partner, and maybe adopting a pet. She hasn’t leaned in to her career; she’s leaned in to herself.
And isn’t that more important? To understand ourselves, to know our own strengths and plans and goals? To be resilient in the face of unsolicited advice and expectations? To be content with the path we’ve chosen if it’s where our heart is?
Lean In is currently downloading on my tablet. Having not read it yet, I can’t make promises that I won’t be back to share more thoughts and opinions on its promise of new age feminism and how it integrates with student affairs.