Of advocacy, risk, loss and holiday anxiety

sad-cat

I’m damn lucky.
I’m financially stable, secure in my facts, able to convey opinions and comfortable in the loss that comes with advocacy.

But as the holidays approach, I realize this places me in a seat of privilege that our students do not have but so desperately need.

For the last four months, college students across the country have done a deep dive into serious issues of violence, sexual assault, drugs and alcohol, race, police brutality and the right to basic civil liberties. As administrators, we have encouraged the dialogue and ability to have this conversation. We have championed opinions and told students they have ideas worth sharing.

Suddenly, students face a very real decision – share these stories and risk so much loss.
-What will your student say when their aunt claims “I don’t see anyone protesting black on black crimes. Besides, it should be #AllLivesMatter, not #BlackLivesMatter.”
-What will your student say when their dad claims “Well, of course she got raped. She shouldn’t have been so drunk or wearing a short skirt.”
-What will your student say when their grandfather claims “No one in my family is a faggot.”
-What will your student say when their brother claims “Of course the US is justified in the use of torture. Don’t you remember 9/11?”
-What will your student say when their best friend from high school claims “You’ve changed. You were more fun before you left for you college.”

Being true and authentic to one’s self has many real life consequences.
-Students face the very real situation of losing support from their family or friends.
-Students face the very real situation of being cut off financially from their family.
-Students face the very real situation of being disowned from their family.
-Students face the very real situation of becoming homeless during any break – winter/holiday break, spring break, summer, Thanksgiving.

I’m damn lucky. I can get a hotel room, rent a car and go back to my home in Boston. For my students, the conversation is more difficult.

Advocacy is hard. There is real risk and real loss associated with advocacy.

When a student tells you that they’re anxious about going home for the holidays, think about why. They may be facing significant loss.

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Posted in Emerson College, Personal, Student Affairs, Uncategorized

Of mourning and gratitude

thoughtful-cat

A simple view of my Facebook newsfeed tells me I should be mourning.

I should be mourning the loss of my grandmother, Ernestine. Ernestine was more than the matriarch of my family, she was a subtle force of nature. Never one to complain, she kept her head down and did what she felt was needed. My entire family is hurt.

I should be mourning the loss of jobs at my former place of employment, the University of Alabama at Birmingham. As we speak, students, faculty and staff are fighting to keep their campus intact. With jobs and scholarships on the line, what’s happening at UAB will forever negatively impact people’s lives. And trust me when I say that this is much more than about a simple football program.

I should be mourning my fellow brothers and sisters who have lost their lives to HIV and AIDS. Every year on World AIDS Day, we reflect on the past, how far science has come and how much further we have to go.

I should be mourning the stories of black men and women throughout the country – men and women who are being stopped by cops in Michigan for walking with their hands in their pockets, being gunned down in playgrounds and not finding closure to what happened last week in Ferguson.

So, I took a walk in the rain this afternoon to try to make sense of it all. I had just gotten home from a whirlwind trip to Iceland. My heart was full of joy and memory. Why should I be mourning? Instead, it dawned on me. I am grateful.

I am grateful to have had Ernestine in my life. I’m grateful to have learned to play cards with her. I’m grateful to have spent hours playing marbles with her. I’m grateful that she died as she lived, surrounded by family.

I am grateful to have worked at UAB. I’m grateful to have spent almost four years with some of the brightest, most engaged students, faculty and staff I’ve ever met. I’m grateful for the opportunity to help stroke the sparks which are creating flames at UAB today.

I am grateful for those on the forefront of HIV and AIDS research. I’m grateful that we are able to discuss HIV in an open and honest way, a way that is slowly chipping away the stigma of a disease that has ravaged the LGBT community.

I am grateful for my friends who have rallied in response to the tragedy that is Ferguson. I’m grateful that stories are being told and shared in response. I’m grateful to have such prolific and brave friends who are able to stand up for what is right.

Today, I make the decision not to mourn, but rather to be grateful. I make the decision to recognize perspective and privilege. Today, I make the decision to move forward instead of dwelling.

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Posted in Personal

An open letter to the men of Boston

Cat Calling is a faux-paw.

Dear Men of Boston -
For the most part, I don’ t have a problem with you. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life we pass by each other on the streets, smile, nod our heads in acknowledgment and move on.

That isn’t the case for everyone. I’m lucky. This is my only interaction on the streets. For my female friends, this isn’t the case at all.

At least once a week, a female friend of mine takes to Facebook with a similar situation – being cat called, gawked and/or physically touched by random men on the streets.

Let me run down a list of things to never do when you see a woman walking down the street -

  1. Call her Baby, Sweetie or Doll.
  2. Talk about her body.
  3. Stare at her body.
  4. Call her body hot or phat or anything, actually.
  5. Touch her, grab her or put your arm around her.
  6. Whistle at her.
  7. Mention her clothing.
  8. Ask her where she’s going.
  9. Ask her her name.

It doesn’t matter what they’re wearing, how they’re smiling or how attractive you think they are. It doesn’t matter if you’re drunk or sober, just joking or being serious. There is no look, no expression, no eye contact, no mini-skirt from anyone that warrants you harassing them.

If you are so unlucky to be near me when you do this to another person, you can expect all 6’3 of my awkward self is going to come down on you like a ton of awkward, angry bricks. I may not be physically imposing, but you can bet I’m going to be in your face like a ridiculous and angry honey badger.

It’s time we start calling this behavior out. Let men know it’s not okay to demean and harrass women. Tell perpetrators it’s wrong and why it’s wrong.

And if you don’t think this is a problem in our city, I suggest asking your female friends, co-workers and family members if they’ve ever felt victimized while walking down city streets. The stories of street harassment are as disgusting as they are eye-opening.

If you want to know how you can help, I suggest visiting Hollaback!, an organization devoted to stopping street harassment. And when you’re done doing that, I suggest you saying something when you see and hear it on the street.

It’s time to be an active voice. I hope you join me.
Jason

 

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Posted in Boston, Personal

With inclusivity, it’s the little things

trans

Sometimes it’s the littlest gestures that mean the most.

I’m proud to work at one of the most LGBT-friendly colleges in the country. Because of this, colleagues frequently ask what we do to be so inclusive. It’s the little things.

Today, during an Orientation workshop, I was reminded of one of the little things we do so well. In meeting students at Orientation, we use the following dialogue:

“Hi, my name is Jason. I’m one of the Orientation advisors and I use he, him, his gender pronouns.”

We don’t do it once. We do it all of the time.

We don’t do it with just new students. We do it with all students.

This isn’t an introduction but a continued dialogue.

Let your students share their chosen name and prefered gender pronouns. Don’t make it a big deal. Just make it a normalized behavior.

Sure, it might feel funny to you to say something that might be obvious if you’re a cis-gendered individual… but for those who identify as trans, gender queer or non-gender normative, it gives them an opportunity to proclaim who they are in a safe and non-threatening way.

Besides, knowing someone’s prefered gender pronoun is far more helpful to know than what their favorite ice cream is or their favorite Disney movie or their spirit animal.

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Posted in Emerson College, LGBT, Student Affairs

Unravelling the Tank Top Convention

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Last night, I was lucky enough to spend time with friends and colleagues. We gathered together at a nearby restaurant and took our spot on the 2nd floor lounge. That’s where we first saw them.

It started with one guy, wearing shorts and a tank top. Not unusual on a hot day, but odd considering the venue. Further perplexing was his demeanor – he walked around the lounge as if he was an employee, but an emmployee who is clearly not adhering to dress code.

Tank Top Guy disappeared for a bit… repearing wearing a different tank top, continuing on his weird trek around the lounge. His friends would disappear and reappear, also having changed into different tank tops.

After a bit, Original Tank Top Guy disappeared and reappeared wearing what can be best described as a tank top, skinny shiny black pants, dress socks and sandals. It made no sense.

These guys walked around a restaurant, occassionally looked in a giant box full of tank tops, changed clothes, put on bedazzled high top sneakers and then all abruptly left. They left before anyone of us could find out what was happening. They left before we had an answer to our greatest question – “Are you a part of a Tank Top Convention?”

Is this important? No, not at all. But it does illustrate a point.

We all have Tank Top Conventions in our life. There are all things that happen that we don’t understand and we’ll never have answers to.

We can make up our own answers: they were back up dancers for a drag queen OR they were on vacation from the Netherlands and having a fashion show OR they were trying on outfits for a Lady Gaga concert OR they were practicing for their vacation to the Jersey Shore.

We live in a world where we expect answers. Sometimes we don’t get them. We’ll never get them. We’ll never know why certain things happen (ie. the entire run of the show Lost).

I’ll never know why dude was wearing a tank top, dress socks and sandals… but I have to be okay with that.

It’s time to learn it’s okay to have unanswered questions. 

 

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Posted in Boston, Humor

Finding the finish line

lolcat_45_running

I wouldn’t say I’ve been a runner my entire life, but for a period of time, it was an incredibly important piece of my life. But things change, and priorities change.

Upon moving to Boston in January 2011, I quickly found myself in a new situation. Over the next few months, my priorities evolved and suddenly my personal and professional life took front seat, leading myself away from any focus on running.

I had lost the starting line, with even less hope of finding the finishing line.

Two months ago, I had a punch to the gut the night before the Boston Marathon as my partner of three years decided his life had a different path, a different finishing line.

I was lost, deflated. I couldn’t make it to the course, much less line up. I started reaching out to friends, discovering a lot of us had this in common. The stigma of a long-term relationship ending is a shameful one, indeed. It leaves lasting blisters on our feet, runner’s fatigue in our hearts. It’s another piece of the mental health puzzle we don’t talk about, but impacts a lot of us.

Over the last few weeks, I started putting my running shoes back on – getting back to who I knew I could be again.

Friday, I received an email inviting me to race, literally. Having not run in over three years, I foolishly agreed. Having not trained, I foolishly assumed I could run again.

And yesterday, I ran. At the starting line with one of my best friends next to me, I discovered something – sometimes we trip and fall. Sometimes that fall hurts but we have the capacity to stand back up and run. So, I ran 3.5 miles. And instead of falling to the ground in defeat, I found the finish line.

In that moment I cross, I realized this wasn’t the finish line, but rather the starting line for what comes next.  And with that, I’m back in the race. Time to find the next finish line to cross.

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Posted in Personal

Stumbling through veganism

invisible-dining-chair

Well, that’s that.
A week of veganism is in the books and I survived.

Me, the king of bacon and steak frites, lover of ice cream and red dye #40 survived a week of being vegan.

It wasn’t always easy. To prove a point, I ate most of my meals in dining facilities of the college I work at (Emerson College, for those of you who haven’t picked up on that yet). There were good days and bad.

Day #1 on my own was good. I was in control.

Day #2 in the main dining hall was good. Options were limited, but I was okay.

But then, there was Day #3 where we tried to eat in an auxiliary dining unit (“The Max”). Upon arrival for breakfast, it was clear that this would be a difficult day. We had the option of a banana or an apple. Nothing was vegan. Nothing in the grab and go was vegan. There was chance for cross contamination at nearly every station. There were no options for me to eat here.

If I lived in this building and had to eat here, I would be out of my mind angry. I would be so frustrated. And truthfully, I stayed as true to the experiment as I could… so I went pretty hungry on Wednesday/Day #3.

That’s when it happened. I was hungry. I was irritable. I was difficult. I found myself unable to articulate by the end of the night.

If a student is hungry, how can you expect them to learn? How can you expect them to be successful in a high stress environment?

Yes, you’ll say that my body was adjusting to veganism… but how many students decide to take up a difficult diet with little research. Anything I knew I found by googling or asking friends. There was no literature to assist a student looking to maintain a diet like this.

Luckily, Day #4 was back in the dining hall. I knew I would be okay (despite having basically the same meals that I had two days prior), but I still wasn’t getting the caloric intake my body required. I still wasn’t getting the nutrition I needed. It impacted my stomach, my wellness, my temperament and other areas.

But, I finished out with style on my own on Day #5 and have been slowly integrating dairy and meat into my diet. I skipped meat totally on Saturday and had some on Sunday.

It’s a life choice I can’t sustain, but it’s something I can partially integrate. I could easily maintain a Meatless Monday, or a Vegan Tuesday. My cravings for candy is substantially less.

 

I did learn a lot. Here are some takeaways -

Today’s college students don’t advocate for their own dietary needs. When they don’t see options for their diets, do they introduce themselves to a dining manager and see about a fix? For the most part, no. They just complain to administration or a family member. If a dining manager knew, they could assist in a meaningful way. All of the dining managers I met would love to interact with students in this way.

Today’s college students don’t have the variety needed for sustainable dietary restriction. If they’re going to be successful at a vegan lifestyle, it isn’t fair to force them to have the same rice/noodle bowl for lunch and dinner every day.

Cross contamination is and will always be a problem. Students aren’t thoughtful. They’ll stick a butter knife in a container of peanut butter, tainting it with dairy and making it non-vegan. They’re not being malicious, they’re just being thoughtless.

When you’re in a small space (like Emerson), its hard to have separate grills/fry stations, which creates cross-contamination. Some of the auxiliary units don’t have the spatial capacity to have a vegan or kosher station. They’ll never have the capacity.

Chances are the dining administration at your college would be willing to listen to your feedback and concern… just like the team at Emerson Dining. They were wonderful dining companions last week and took a great interest in this project. I’m so happy to see them engaging and can’t wait to see what they do with it. It will certainly better our entire community.

 

That said, I need a milkshake. And a maple bacon donut.

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Posted in Boston, Emerson College, Student Affairs
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