Confusing a Platform With Power

I am Jewish.

I am an alumna of Ohio University.

And I work with college students.

It seems important to be up front about those facts because they are the foundation of my conflict regarding the current events at my beloved alma mater. As a Jewish alumna, my heart aches watching this situation unfold at a place I called home for six years. And as someone who works with college students, I can understand how Ms. Marzec arrived at this place, how she made these decisions without full concern for unknown consequences. I’ve worked with students like Megan — students who confuse having a platform with having power. They are students who, well-intentioned or not, fracture a community with their actions.

To be clear, my identity as Jewish is also confusing during this time. Being Jewish does not require also being Zionist and believing in a Jewish homeland. And, further, being Zionist does not require believing in violence to create a Jewish homeland.

Much of this conflict, both on campus and in the Middle East, is composed of gray areas. And that, from my perspective, is where Megan failed.

She failed to acknowledge the gray; she failed to acknowledge that this isn’t a black and white issue that can be resolved by Ohio University divesting from Israel as she requested in her video. She failed to acknowledge the people in the community who are impacted by her words and actions. She confused her platform and passion for power; she lost sight of what her role as student senate president is and should be.  Ohio University was never going to divest simply because Megan made a video requesting it — that was a narrow attempt at influencing change.

Megan had a platform in her role as student senate president in which she could have fostered civil conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how it relates to Ohio University; instead, she took a stand that polarized a community.

I tell my students often that black and white is where there are clearly defined processes; the gray is the place where there are people moving through those processes. The gray is where emotions and intellect converge, creating ambiguity. The gray is where we truly find ourselves and clarify our values and priorities. The gray is uncomfortable and challenging because it’s a test of our character.

It’s interesting with the benefit of time and distance to watch Megan now process through the gray, to find herself in a situation she didn’t anticipate. For a community to heal, the person who caused the strife must show remorse for their actions or demonstrated growth — Megan has shown neither publicly. I hope she reaches that point — not only for the benefit of the campus community, but also for her own self-efficacy.

Mindset List: Think Before You Share

Beloit College released its annual Mindset List today, a list of whimsical historical and pop culture facts intended to help “inform [our] work with [our] students.” The list is released annually in August as new students enter the Ivory Tower.

Seems harmless, right?

But the Beloit Mindset List is a list of sweeping generalizations. It assumes all students are between the ages of 18-22, an assumption that is becoming increasingly wrong across the United States. It assumes all students will graduate in four years by labeling them as the Class of 2018. According to U.S. News and World Report, even Beloit College itself only has a 68% four-year graduation rate. The authors assume students have a certain level of socioeconomic privilege, making reference to things like access to health care, insurance, and technology such as Skype and Netflix. It assumes all students are from the United States, another increasingly erroneous assumption, as more and more institutions increase their international enrollment.

Before you share the list, I encourage you to consider what it really says about students. Does it inform your work in a meaningful way? Or is it click bait for higher education and student affairs?

Last week Lake Forest College welcomed its largest group of new students. I’ve met some of them through move-in and orientation events. If there’s anything I’m sure of, it’s that 55 historical and pop culture references don’t really tell me who they are, what they’re excited about, and why they’re here. Two men affiliated with Beloit College can’t tell me who these new students are; only these students can.


I was ill during the ACUHO-I Annual Conference and Exposition. This was evident to anyone who knows me well. My extraverted nature was quashed and replaced with quietude; rather than seeking out large social opportunities, I connected with people individually or in much smaller groups. I left socials early and, in fact, left D.C. early thanks to a compassionate friend who drove me to the airport twelve hours before my scheduled flight and also thanks to a gate agent who watched me cry as I pleaded to get onto any earlier flight  [he got me on a flight that left 35 minutes after I walked into the airport - that man is a saint in my world].

It’s not a surprise then that my favorite moment of the conference came in a one-on-one conversation in the hotel bar, where I sipped green juice and Matt had coffee. We talked about everything – social media, former supervisors, the future of our field, our respective futures in the field.

I shared with Matt something that had been on my heart for several months –

We spend too much time worrying about the groups we aren’t part of rather than appreciating those to which we belong.

Social media, in many ways, makes this worse because of the constant influx of pictures and posts from people who are with other people doing other things. It’s easy to caught up in the idea of being left out and lose sight of where we are connected most meaningfully.

When we’re always confronted and inundated with pictures of where and what we’re not, we forget where and who we are.

I’m not naive enough to think this issue solely exists within the circles of student affairs; I do think that the size of our field and our propensity to place others on pedestals contributes to this. The number of Twitter followers, blog posts, and bullet points on a resume blur together to create a picture of a person that’s not entirely realistic — or attainable.

In the months since first having this revelation, I’ve more intentionally invested time and energy into the relationships that matter most to me. I send more notes and emails checking on friends. I let people in more often, showing my vulnerability and asking for help or support.I did this just a few weeks ago — still ill and a bit emotionally drained, I reached out to a core group and asked for their support as I awaited some further testing. And that support was exactly what I needed — a boost of positive energy to remind me that the people with whom I surrounded are there for all of the right reasons.

As I wrote in my journal after the conference, I now spend more time with the people who matter to me rather than those to whom I want to matter. And it’s made all the difference.

Can I Help You Tweet Better?

I like to help people. And today I am going to help some of you with an unsolicited Twitter lesson.

When you start a tweet with a person’s username, only people who follow both of you see that tweet appear in their main twitter feed. For example:

@LynnEllison: The ACUHO-I volunteer call went out. Shall we three-peat our tandem volunteer shift?

Only users who follow both Lynn and me see the above tweet in their main twitter feed.

So why is this important?

If you’re live tweeting an event such as a conference, speaker, webinar, etc. or participating in an online chat and start the tweet with the presenter or moderator’s username, only people who follow both you and the tweeter will see it in their main feed. Your great, valuable content may be missed.

There’s an easy workaround for this.

.@LynnEllison: The ACUHO-I volunteer call went out. Shall we three-peat our tandem volunteer shift?

Add a period in front of the username and the tweet will then go to all of your followers’ feeds, regardless of whether or not they are following the other person.

Of course, using a hash tag will populate the tweet into the feeds of those following the feed of that specific tag.

@LynnEllison: The #ACUHOI volunteer call went out. Shall we three-peat our tandem volunteer shift?

Using a hash tag makes it unnecessary in most cases to include the presenter or moderator’s username, which gives your additional characters to share your great content in the tweet.

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.