In Which I Go Rogue… Again

Last week I put out a call to the student affairs community on Twitter to participate in a rogue chat about the social justice implications of our campus policies and procedures. I used the word rogue intentionally — it was a moniker assigned many years ago to iterations of #sachat that popped up outside of the scheduled chat times. I remember sitting on the floor of my living room in Indiana participating in one such chat. It felt a little daring and mischievous to chat without the iconic orange logo popping in to moderate — hence, the term rogue, which means exactly that… mischievous.

I wanted to talk about social justice implications of our policies and procedures because it weighs heavily on me given the nature of the work that I do. My job is rooted in Maslow’s Hierarchy. I don’t do much on the residential education side of the house in my current role; rather, I provide room assignments and meal plans and I work with staff and students to ensure safe communities. As I do every function of my work, social justice is in the back of my mind because it’s not only one of my own values, it’s a value of my work place.

I consider how differential pricing of housing impacts students, particularly our first year students with less autonomy in choosing their housing communities. I worry about the meal plans we offer and if students have access to food when they need it. I think about our break housing policies and if they are as robust and inclusive as they should be. Not everything is ideal — there are a lot of factors to consider — but my role is both administrator and advocate.

And so when I proposed this rogue chat, it came from a place of positive intent — as do most things, right? It was a discussion that I wanted to have with others who view their work through a similar lens. There was no ill will or attempt to undermine the leadership team of #sachat. On the contrary, I formerly served on that team and greatly value the work they do to support and encourage our community members’ professional development. Beyond scheduled chats, they provide podcasts, awards and recognition, blog posts, conference tweet-ups, and much more. The work done by the leadership team to cultivate our community is important.

Chat topics are currently chosen weekly by democratic vote. Could I have submitted my topic and waited for it to be voted on by the populous? Of course. But the beauty of social media is that it’s free for our use. Rather than sit and wait, I took action to create a conversation that I wanted to have when I wanted to have it. Participation was beyond my expectation, and I’m sincerely grateful for those who came to the conversation both to teach and to learn, who shared with vulnerability and grace.

You can do the same thing. You all have ownership of the #sachat community. It’s a co-op of sorts where we share responsibility for its continued growth and prosperity. There are no true celebrities on Twitter or in student affairs — it’s a trap we’ve fallen into, a social construction within our field. Anyone can propose a topic or ask a question on the hashtag and build momentum and enthusiasm for it.

And I encourage you to do so. You may find a community beyond what you expect and more professionals who will rally to provide you with resources, tools, and support. Share what’s on your mind candidly and recklessly; disrupt in confidence and with positive intent.


Can We Have a Conversation?

Last night I shared a link on Twitter to a CNN article about homeless college students. This is a topic dear to my heart after I recently wrote an article for the ACUHO-I Talking Stick about the social responsibility of college and university housing when it comes to students in need, including homeless students. There’s also a blog post on the same topic in the queue for ACUHO-I, expanding on the topic with more data and information than could be included in the article.

The ensuing conversation about social justice implications of institutional policies and procedures was vibrant and engaging; however, there were only a handful of people participating. It may have been the late hour or other factors, but the conversation turned to, “Why don’t we discuss these types of things on the #sachat hashtag?”

I spent the past two days at a student affairs staff retreat that included a look at the MBTI type of individuals, departments, and the division.

Yes, the entire division.

We talked about what the type of the division is and how it impacts the work we do and, more specifically, how we are perceived by students and other departments.

All of this context made me wonder about the MBTI type of the #sachat community. Are we quick to include and engage, but hesitant to deviate from popular opinion for fear of hurting feelings? Do we come to chat hoping to share and simultaneously underprepared to expose our vulnerability?

I don’t have an answer – I have years of experience with this community, and I know we’ve sometimes shied away from difficult topics.

So I’m inviting – and encouraging  — you to participate in a rogue #sachat on Monday, July 21 at 8:00 p.m. CDT/9:00 p.m. EDT about the topic of social justice implications of institutional policies and procedures for our students. We’ll be on the #sachat tag, of course, and I hope the conversation will be robust, transparent, and honest.

I hope you’ll join us.


I Will Find the Rainbow

I was on a train this morning when I read a Facebook status from a friend that said, “The world shrinks a little when a poet dies.” My heart sank, as I knew that this likely meant Maya Angelou died. After all, what poet is more beloved than Maya Angelou? I clicked over to a news source and as I did, a breaking news alert appeared on my phone confirming what I thought.

I wrote my own Facebook status, recalling that I went to see Dr. Angelou speak at Memorial Auditorium at Ohio University while I was an undergraduate student and how meaningful that experience was to me. This afternoon, I was still thinking about that night and how much it meant to me. It occurred to me that as a voracious reader and prolific writer, I journal often — and for more than a decade, that journal was electronic. I found the file and searched for “Maya.” And I found this from May 6, 2000:

I went to hear Maya Angelou speak on campus tonight. It was one of the
most incredible evenings of my life. I got the tickets for free so I
assumed they would be balcony or in the back somewhere. Instead, they
were fourth row center. I could see her, hear her, and feel her
energy. It was truly amazing.


She talked of so many things…so many anecdotes, poems, and wonderful
stories that were deep on so many levels. She made some points that
were touching and funny at the same time. I didn’t expect to laugh so
much…but it felt good.


Her main theme was about finding the rainbows in clouds — the people
and events in our lives that are light in dark places. I felt as
though she was speaking directly to me. For so long, I’ve been trying
to sort through the good and the bad. Just as I start to make some
headway, the clouds throw me off again. Tonight, through the words of
one of my favorite writers, I was reminded that I need to keep
looking. I will find the rainbow.

 

I’m immensely grateful that 19-year-old Stacy took the time to write this — and I’m grateful for the reminder 14 years later because I needed it as much today as I did that night.


Culture of Recognition

It’s Chicken Dinner season in student affairs — the time of year when we gather nightly for a banquet meal in recognition of our students, our staff, our student staff. A former supervisor of mine used to joke about how many types of chicken he would eat during the two weeks at the end of the semester. Ten years later, campus menus have expanded — but I wonder if our understanding of recognition has evolved as much.

I’ve thought a great deal about how to create and sustain a culture of recognition in the work place, particularly one that persists throughout the year and isn’t simply about the very end of the academic cycle. While the end of year recognition is excellent, wouldn’t a culture of recognition be more motivating and engaging for everyone?

Last week I watched this video on gratitude:

 

And I thought about the emotional connection we have to gratitude — that the more we express our gratitude, the better we feel. Our happiness increases.

Isn’t this what a culture of recognition should look like?

So often at our banquets and receptions, the recognition is internal and self-serving. This year I challenged my staff to think about we could recognize others outside of our department. As a result, we created a Friend of Residence Life award, recognizing someone outside our department who supports our mission, vision, and goals — and that award was presented at the end of year banquet, making the RAs part of the process.

It’s a small step, but I’m hoping to broaden the conversation next year and identify more ways we can continue to create this culture.

In the meantime, who can you thank today?


You Put Your Left Foot In…

(This was originally planned as a Pecha Kucha talk for #ACPA14. Due to a strong sense of responsibility to other areas of my life, I was unable to attend and have turned it into a blog post instead).

I love the hokey pokey. I love it because it’s message is so simple, but often overlooked — you are the sum of your parts. You are more than your right arm, your left foot. In the end, you put your whole self in, and that’s what matters. That’s how people get to know you and celebrate you. Or is it?

I started seeing a specialist in August for pain after I self-diagnosed myself using everyone’s favorite medical resource, the Internet. The doctor concurred with my self-diagnosis and began a fairly conservative course of treatments. At the beginning of each visit, he would ask me about my pain level.

And here’s where I’m disingenuous to myself, and to the process of healing — every single time he asked, I lied. I told him I was okay when, in reality, I frequently cried from the pain.

On a cold morning in January, he asked again just before starting another treatment, and, at last, I bravely told him the truth. He stopped what he was doing, sat with me, and talked about what options I had and how he could better proceed knowing exactly what was going on.

Later that night, I wrote in my private journal about it. There was such a positive result that I wondered why I’d been afraid to be honest. And, in the same vein, I wondered why we can’t be that honest about the different types of pain we’re in. Including emotional.

For a week in the fall, student affairs professionals were adamant that we would have better, richer conversation about mental health of professionals in our field. Following a tragic suicide of a residence life professional in Vermont, we committed to doing more, being better, and caring more universally for our colleagues.

But, like, most topics that rise to the surface of our social media feeds, the discussion fizzled and we moved on to whatever current event next grabbed our attention and our hearts. We continued through the motions and stopped seeing each other.

We don’t directly address our worry with the co-worker who is working too many hours. We don’t ask about the colleague who stops going to lunch with their peers and avoids social situations. We express concern for one another in gossipy conversations behind closed doors rather than caring confrontation. We are more likely to make an emboldened referral for a student we just met than we are for a friend who we see daily.

The stigma of mental health in the United States is alive and well while the mental health of student affairs professionals is not well. We work too many hours, we compare ourselves to others too freely, and we take on more than we can handle seeking experience for our next job or, worse, recognition that may never come.

As many as 15 million people seek psychotherapy or counseling in the United States each year. That number feels high, right? Except it’s not. It’s only five percent of the population of the United States. Five percent. Consider that only five percent of student affairs professional may be seeking therapy or counseling and contrast that with the high stress nature of the work we do. Now factor in that an estimated 26.2% of American adults have symptoms of mental illness. And still, only 5% seek treatment — 21% of people with symptoms let them go unaddressed for myriad of reasons include lack of access to resources, fear, and the prevailing stigma of mental health.

How can we take care of our students if we aren’t taking care of ourselves? How can we begin to heal until we are honest about the pain we are in?
Kristen Abell of University of Missouri Kansas City has regularly been a force in this charge, sharing her story of depression openly so that others may connect. And connect they do — people reach out to Kristen as a touchstone, a resource.

I know because I’m one of them.

I emailed Kristen from the floor of a bathroom in a hotel where I’d just had a panic attack at a conference, a panic attack so severe that I lost consciousness. Instead of asking for help from the people I was with, I reached out to someone 801 miles away because I knew what the ratio of support to judgment would be. I didn’t have to fear the stigma.

I am the sum of my parts, as are you. And for many of us, the sum of those parts includes a part of our story that people don’t seem to want to hear because it’s icky and unknown. I am a smart, witty, kind woman with a streak of snark and a gift for writing. I was also diagnosed with a panic disorder, depression, and anxiety in 2008.

I’m here to keep this conversation alive and moving, to bring it back to the table where it belongs.

Care for one another. Ask about changes in mood or behavior. Address directly – and kindly – your concerns. Offer your assistance. Ask how someone is and listen, really listen, to the answers — both what’s said and what’s not.

But don’t let this conversation stop. Be your authentic whole self — tell your story — and love others for the entirety of who they are too.

Because that is what it’s all about.


Current Bobcat Resident

In December, as part of my 31 Random Acts of Kindness, I mailed a gift card for a pizza place to the current residents of the residence hall room where I lived my first year at Ohio University. I was feeling nostalgic for finals week and, watching my current students prepare for their exams, I thought about those times with my friends in our hall fifteen years prior. Like most of my random acts, I sent it off into the world, and didn’t think much about it again.

Until this morning.

I checked my mail on the way to work and there was a letter addressed to “Current Bobcat Resident” at my address. When I mailed the gift card, I was forced to give a return address, but figured it would be ignored by the residents. I assumed this letter would be from a student working with the development office. I looked at the return address, and immediately recognized it as my own former address.

Inside the envelope this morning was a thoughtful thank you note from the residents of the room written by one roommate:

Hello OU Alum!

I just wanted to thank you for sending my roommate and I the generous gift card to study for our finals last semester! We hardly check our mail downstairs so I literally juts got your letter last week. We are both new to [Residence Hall] this year and we love it! It is like living in a hotel…

[That hall has clearly been renovated since my time there and is no longer a first-year hall. He went on to tell me a bit about himself and his roommate -- their majors, what they're involved in, his plan to study abroad next year.]

This was such a great idea. I think I will do something like what you did to my old room in [Other Residence Hall]. Thanks again for thinking of us! OU OH YEAH!

I’m so glad that two students who love my alma mater as much as I do were the recipients.  My heart is full this morning — this letter means the world to me and knowing that they may pass on the kindness makes it even sweeter.

 


A Culture of Invisibility

People don’t really see each other.

You often hear the adage that people hear one another without listening; I would argue the same to be true for seeing.

Since having surgery, I’ve stood in waiting areas of restaurants and doctors’ offices while others sat, wondering what it would take for someone to offer me their seat. Never in the eight weeks since surgery, despite a fairly obtuse walking boot, has anyone offered to trade spaces with me. Tonight at a retail store, a woman pushed past me in the checkout lane — literally pushing me forward and trapping me between the cashier’s counter and my cart —  and when I sighed, she snapped at me for sighing. I pointed out the walking boot, and she dismissed me with an eye roll.

It’s bigger than a small, temporary foot injury though.

We just don’t see each other.

We overlook physical warning signs of depression, anxiety, illness, addiction.  We don’t acknowledge changes to demeanor or behavior in the immediate, waiting instead until others have reached their breaking point before acknowledging the changes or offering help. We ignore what we don’t understand or can’t explain. Is someone using more sick time than usual? Have they stopped engaging in their typical social circles? Is their fuse shorter than it used to be? We avoid asking about these things, not for fear it will make the other person uncomfortable, but because it makes us feel uncomfortable.

Truth be told, I would probably decline a seat if offered most days. But the feeling of being seen, of being acknowledged is an important one to all of us — more important than personal comfort. Feeling invisible, feeling unseen, is one of the most desperate feelings in the world. We’ve all experienced it, and yet, we struggle in these moments to muster courage. In November, someone told me they were worried about me; the things she was worried about had been going on since August. Had she not seen them? Or had she not wanted to see them?

Who have you seen lately without really seeing them? And who do you already know you should reach out to?


#31RAOK: The Random Acts of Kindness

I texted Kathryn yesterday afternoon about a sweet elderly woman who was getting her first pedicure where I was getting a manicure. She was tentative and nervous; she was also apologetic about her lack of experience, her brittle nails, her difficulty hearing. And so when she mentioned that she was 80 and has five children, still lives independently, and is taking care of her ill husband, I was in awe — this woman, with so much life experience and strength, was apologizing for not knowing how a pedicure proceeds.

As I paid for my manicure I gestured to my vacated chair where she was now getting a manicure, her back to me, and quietly asked to pay for her services as well. The shop owner nodded agreeably and wrote down my new total for me. She ran my debit card, I handed her enough cash to cover both tips, and then I slipped out quietly.

And that’s what my entire month of Random Acts of Kindness was — finding joy and opportunity in moments that exist. I rarely had to go out of my way to make a Random Act of Kindness happen — and most didn’t involve substantial amounts of money (or any money). They were all opportunities that presented themselves through my daily interactions with friends, family, and strangers.

So what surprised me most throughout the 31 Days?

I was surprised by the people who doubted my intentions, who questioned whether it was self-promotion to share the acts of kindness via social media. I understand their perspective (as I truly believe the most meaningful charity happens anonymously), but I simply wanted to inspire others that little things can make a big difference. I appreciate the dialog on the topic and hope that there was a mutual place of understanding reached on the topic.

I was surprised by how easy it was to find accomplices — my husband, baristas, colleagues, friends. No one said no when I asked if they would help; no one laughed at the idea. In fact, more people got into the spirit of it and asked how they could help.

I was surprised by the random acts of kindness shown to me. They were easier to see when I saw them through the lens of doing them for others — a surprise $5 Starbucks gift card in my email, my favorite candy delivered from a vendor-turned-friend, coffee brought to me on a difficult afternoon, hugs when I needed them.

After 31 Days — and 31 acts — I’ve learned that I will continue look for opportunities to surprise others, to help them, to show them that there’s unexpected kindness in the world. And I’ve learned to keep looking for that same kindness in my own life.


A Civil War on Christmas

Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard a lot about the supposed War on Christmas. Much of it was to do with my involvement in the planning of a holiday luncheon and discussions of how representative they should be of other faiths and cultures, as well as inclusive for non-believers and doubters. But I’ve also read articles and blog posts about the war, with special attention paid to Fox News reporter Megyn Kelly. I even briefly changed my Facebook profile to the Grinch, a slight nod to the idea that I, as a Jewish person, was undermining Christmas and attempting to take it away from others.

And after a few days, I changed it back to my smiling face — because it’s simply not true.

I sent out glittered holiday cards to friends and family. I wish people a merry Christmas when I know that’s their belief. I annually attend Christmas mass with my husband and in-laws (and it’s my favorite mass of the year). I listen to Christmas carols nearly relentlessly in my office and house. I buy Christmas gifts for my nephews, all of whom believe in Santa and can tell you the real story behind Christmas in varying levels of accuracy.

Yes, they believe in Santa and flying reindeer.

The War on Christmas isn’t with Jews or Muslims or Buddhists or even the non-believers. The War on Christmas, I’m afraid is a civil war being fought amongst Christians.

There are those Christians who celebrate the commercialized version, punctuated by 40% off sales, trees, garland, glitter, and Santa. And there are Christians who celebrate the birth of Christ their savior, punctuated by nativity scenes, Silent Night, and the reading of the Christmas story from the Book of Luke. The people who are made at the War on Christmas aren’t mad  at the acknowledgment of other holidays; they are mad at the watered down version of Christmas that’s become the norm in United States culture.

I, as Jewish woman, am not responsible for polarizing this time of year.

Christians are.

Somehow it’s been projected onto other faiths that we started the War on Christmas, that we made this harder. And yet it’s other Christians who water down the actual celebration and meaning behind the holiday, who claim offense at being wished a happy holiday when — truly — that’s just my preferred language. It’s other Christians who celebrate a sweetened condensed version of a holiday that celebrates the very basis of an entire faith.

Yes, I’ve asked for my beliefs to be respected. I’ve asked for my faith to be included and acknowledged in celebrations. Truth be told, though, I would prefer not having to use vacation days for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the autumn to having a few Chanukah decorations at a December party. I’m not offended by the colors red and green or the singing of Christmas carols and I won’t argue for their removal; I would argue for inclusion of others people and festivities that are friendly instead of tense and forced.

When we can finally acknowledge that the War on Christmas is a civil war, we can begin to address the underlying issues. Instead, as long as finger pointing and fair and balanced opinions are extorted, the blame game will continue — and a lack of understanding will become the unfortunate underlying meaning of the season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Talking Less, Listening More

I’ve had writer’s block for almost a year. I think, at some point, that means you’re no longer a writer — if you ever were one to begin with.

This reminds me of a beloved episode of The Golden Girls in which Blanche sets out to write the great American novel, but first finds herself with writer’s block and later finds herself sleep-deprived and delirious.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54y-Mjxz9vw

(I have an uncanny ability to connect any life situation back to an episode The Golden Girls. Seriously. Try me.)

I wonder sometimes if I’ll ever write as prolifically as I did before, if I have stories left to be told. It feels like there should be something there — after all, life goes on — but when faced with the blank screen and cursor, nothing comes.

As a result, I’m reading more (four books in the past week). I’m absorbing all the words I can, hoping that in the tangle of my brain, they eventually form something meaningful and coherent again. It seems selfish to complain about writer’s block, really, but writing is so much a part of my identity that to not be doing it actively and voraciously is plain old weird.

But maybe it’s fitting. My word for 2013 was “silence,” after all. And talking less, even if in writing, and listening more certainly isn’t a bad thing — for any of us.