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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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?