On the return to normalcy

Monday, August 29, 2005 changed my life. As Katrina hit New Orleans, I knew my job at LSU would never be the same but had no idea of the impact it would have on my life.

In the weeks that followed, we volunteered, we changed our work patterns, we helped where we could.  What I wasn’t ready for was how we get back to normal.

Two weeks and several cancelled back to school events later, my supervisor and I were in a heated argument about programming and when it was okay to return to normalcy. It wasn’t an easy conversation and I’m thankful to Steven for the challenging time. It may not have been pleasant at the time, but it has since framed my outlook on student affairs.

That said, today I find myself in a similar situation.



At 2:50pm yesterday, I found myself a block away from the second detonation site during the Boston Marathon attack. As I heard the first explosion, my fingers furiously typed text messages to my boyfriend and my family, letting them know I was okay (at the time, no one knew anything… my poor parents were so confused). Seconds later, the second explosion left us all in a momentary stunned silence. As the crowd ran in different directions, I slowly moved through the streets, looking for my students running the marathon who I knew were only minutes away on the road. Herded in different directions, we did the best we could, listening to the police (and later the National Guard) as they tried to maintain order in the worst of situations. My ability to text ended soon after, leaving Facebook and Twitter my only means of communication.

I never found my team of runners who I was trying to cheer on, but I knew they were away from the blast. What I didn’t know was who was impacted by the explosions… and which of my students were there. Thank god, all seven injured are physically going to be okay.

But now what? How do you proceed with care and compassion to those who are afraid for their safety? To those who are mourning a loss of innocence? To those who may be triggered by a word and experience post-traumatic stress?

Do you cancel events? How do you modify?

How do we go back to normal?

Today, it remains clear to me – People come first.
Programs and events will alter and evolve but people need to be cared for, people need to know they’re loved.

My brain goes back to the book/movie Contact –

“See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.”

-Carl Sagan

Go hug someone today for no reason. Because all we have is each other.

On the return to normalcy

When you can’t afford to be silent any longer

I’m just going to leave this here for a minute for you to read –

Letter to the editor: Student Life has had enough of hateful graffiti

It didn’t take long after it posted when the first comment came:
“why would someone whose primary pastime is hateful graffiti care what Student Life has to say about their hateful graffiti?”

I can’t speak for anyone else who has their name on the letter, but I can say I don’t care what the perpetrator thinks. This is about showing our Emerson family, our community that we care. I want anyone who feels hurt or victimized to know that we love them unconditionally. We have to express to our community that we as administrators feel it, too… and we recognize people are silently hurting from vandalism.

I’ve wanted to tweet this for weeks: “Listen assholes, the next one of you who scribbles racist & hateful graffiti on our campus will answer to me.”

But I didn’t. Something held me back.
In a uncharacteristic Jason moment, I didn’t stick my neck out there. I was hesitant to say this. I was afraid of the reaction of other administrators and other professionals I’ve connected with all over the US. Was I overstepping my bounds? Would a more measured and gentle response get more traction?

Yesterday was enough.

I’m proud of our office for saying something with passion and caring. I’m proud of us for sticking our necks out in a vulnerable and honest way. I’m proud of us for standing up for love and respect.

Today I’m proud to encourage discussion and look forward to the conversations that follow… conversations that happen face to face and those that happen in digital space. Because at the end of the day, love is louder. Let’s trump hate with love.

When you can’t afford to be silent any longer

The Overworked Badge of Honor

It took a long time to get here, but today I’m taking a mental health day from work.

I'm just so tired.
I’m just so tired.

I’m tired. It’s been a long month (it’s only April 8!) and I’ve been burning the candle from both ends. Today, I’m taking charge of my health and stress levels by spending today at home… drinking coffee, watching TV, playing video games and relaxing.

Five years ago, I couldn’t have done this.

In my first job out of grad school, I thought I was Superman. I could work a 12 hour day (which I did) and make it back in the office at 9am (which I did). I had no regard for my health (that’s another post) or my work performance. It was an unrealistic expectation I levied upon myself.

Too many #sapros view being overworked as a badge of honor, something to be celebrated (or at least bragged about).

What I’ve learned over the years: Working around the clock and not taking time off impresses no one. It simply robs you of your own well-being.

We all have wonky hours. We all work weekends. There’s no shame in taking some time off so you can be the best YOU possible tomorrow. You’re the best barometer for your own health. You have to be the one to say you need a day off.

I’ve got a lot of responsibilities in the weeks ahead and I want to be the best Jason I can be. So, I’m spending the day on the couch. I have no guilt.

The Overworked Badge of Honor

Why pop culture matters

I was thrilled on Wednesday night to participate in the Higher Ed Open Mic via EDUventures (read the entire recap here).

And while its not a word for word recreation of my spastic, arm flailing 10 minute talk… this is a pretty good version of it.

I don’t think people realize how lucky I feel. I work in the nexus of higher education, student affairs and popular culture, also known as Emerson College (or as I like to call it, Season One of Glee the College). For me, my days are filled with conversations about the latest show on AMC, Nielsen ratings, the NYTimes bestseller list, the upcoming summer blockbuster movie season, what shows are selling out at the House of Blues or Paradise Rock Club, the latest internet memes and what to expect from New York Fashion Week.

Basically, for me to be successful in my job as Director of Student Activities, I have to be up on the latest Grumpy Cat meme, understand that The Walking Dead is the highest rated TV show today, the fact Emerald is the Pantone Color of the Year and that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs sold out their at the HOB in less than two minutes. Clearly, I know a lot about pop culture. But you should know about it, too.

You may not need it in the same way I do, but understanding pop culture helps give texture and context to the interactions with your students. Knowing pop culture clues you into the slang you’re students are using and you’re not understanding, the movies they’re watching that you’ve never heard and the songs they’re illegally downloading in genres you’ve never imagined. You see, pop culture matters to them, so it should matter to you, too.

If I tweeted right now: Pop Culture is more important than a 60 year old student development theory, what would people do? I’ll tell you:  Young Student Affairs grad students and new professionals would grimace. Seasoned vets would shake their head in disapproval. Pop Culture gets a really bad rap.

You see, pop culture isn’t about coming up with a meaningless theme to a conference, an RA Training or an irrelevant hook in an educational session. It’s so much more than that. It’s just that so many student affairs professionals give pop culture a bad name by shoehorning the Avengers into a annual leadership conference, making antiquated Harry Potter sorting hat jokes when assigning residence hall rooms or inexplicably using Jersey Shore to explain expectations of health and wellness to a bunch of 18 year olds who haven’t watched the Jersey Shore in three years.

So, let’s go back to that idea, that notion of student development theory. Theory has a place. I have to believe  that theory has a purpose otherwise we wouldn’t be teaching it.

Student development theory tells us how one might react under certain situations. We study theory so we can help predict how our students might act one day.

On the flip side, pop culture tells us why people react.
If we are a profession built on telling stories, isn’t the why more important than the how?

If administrators paid attention to pop culture, no one would have been shocked that Gen Xers were rebellious and distrustful of adults.

We would have remember that as kids, Gen Xers saw movies where children were portrayed as evil. Remember The Exorcist? The Omen? Bad News Bears? And for some reason, you’re shocked that a bunch of latch key kids who were abandoned by adults might grow up to be distrustful of administration?

If administrators paid attention to pop culture, no one would have been surprised by the do good nature and entitlism of the millennial generation.

In 1994, Nickelodeon created The Big Help, an awards show dedicated to honoring the civic engagement and community service of young people. Nickelodeon was promoting community service long before higher ed. Why did it take us so long to catch on? And further more, of course they’re entitled. Look at the movies they grew up with – Look Who’s Talking, Three Men & Baby, Curly Sue… kids were cute and adored then. They’ve always been adored, that’s why they’re so entitled now.

If administrators paid attention to pop culture, no one would have been surprised by the instant gratification and technological advancement of our current generation.

In 2001, our students began using iPods. They’ve always had technology. They’ve always had texting. They’ve always had a computer in every classroom. Yet we don’t understand why they might expect instant gratification. They’ve always had it.

You see, I think pop culture matters. It lets me understand why students act the way they do. It gives me a deeper understanding of where someone is coming from and what they might have experienced. Pop culture lets me have a nuanced conversation with students. I understand what they’re talking about and where they’re coming from. I understand why they are that way.

Because for me, the why is important. The why matters…. it matters just like pop culture matters.

Why pop culture matters

When Confession Hurts

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about an article written by a friend at BostInno.

In her piece, Lauren dissects the Facebook trend inspired by PostSecret[insert your college here] Confessional. You can find the entire article here.

Our own campus has its own slew of [insert your college here] [insert other word here] pages on Facebook. Like Lauren explores in her article, Emerson Confessional started as a fun account. It was cute. It was silly. And then it took a turn in some serious territory. Students share stories of sexual assault, depression, self-harm, suicide attempts and drug use.

And I worry. I worry about a student holding the names and identities of so many personal stories. I worry about a student holding a secret over other students. I worry about students one-upping each other. I worry about an entry triggering an emotional response an average college student isn’t equipped to handle. I worry about why students reading aren’t recommending people to go visit our Counseling Center or the Center for Health and Wellness. And, I worry about casual administrators seeing this unfold and how we react (or, even IF we react).

Someone has told me this is no different than the JuicyCampus craze a few years ago… but I disagree. Unlike with JuicyCampus, our own students are holding the gossip. They’re the ones with the names and stories. If your story is power, people participating in this craze are giving their power away.

When do we say enough is enough? There are students (and staff) savvy enough to understand this is a loaded and potentially unhealthy avenue – but they continue to read it, continue to send their own confessions and continue to feed into this frenzy. The competitive desire to one up each other is dangerous and unhealthy, to say the very least. When do our students realize by feeding into this frenzy that they are part of the larger issue?

Is anyone else dealing with this on your campus?

What are you doing about it?

When Confession Hurts