Rethinking Parents in Higher Education

It’s not their fault.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and it’s not a parent’s fault they hover over their new college student.

Popular culture and the media has a term for this: Helicopter Parent. They’re wrong, and we’re wrong for perpetrating it. Let me backtrack and explain.

Every fall, higher education faculty and staff bemoan parental involvement. Facebook statuses and tweets overflow, each complaining about the latest, most over-the-top parent interaction. People complain and fear that parental over-involvement will rob a new college student of the opportunity to become a fully realized person. I’m just as guilty of this. Overseeing New Parent Orientation and Family Weekend give me plenty of interaction with families… and plenty of moments, both good and bad, with said parents.

This year, it’s finally dawned on me. It’s not their fault.

Parents can’t help but be helicopter parents because this is what we’ve told parents to do.

In 1992, the US Department of Education made a booklet about how parents had to take an active role in their child’s education. It was a 48 page document about how to teach their children to study, how their children should take tests, how parents should interact with teachers and how parents should interact with administrators.

This document has been updated several times, most recently in 2005 to incorporate information on No Child Left Behind. For a good laugh, check out the use of Comic Sans on page 4 (used for a quote by President George W. Bush).

For parents to be successful, they’ve always been told to be helicopter parents.

Why are we, as administrators, so shocked they might want to be overly involved with an 18 year old’s college education? After all, 3 months prior, the government told them they had to be a helicopter parent if they wanted their student to be successful.

I’m not saying there has to be a partnership with the parents to ensure success for their student (after all, if you are in college, you should be treated as an adult), but administrators should be respectful of where the families are coming from. They’ve been trained to be overly involved. We can’t break their training in the 3 months between high school graduation and the first day of classes.

I may never be a parent (oh god, kids are literally shitty) – but I can respect the relationship between a parent and the institution their student chooses to attend.

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Rethinking Parents in Higher Education

Help us tell a story

April 15 started out as an interesting day. By noon, I had already talked to The Barefoot Contessa on the phone (no really, it was a weird morning), did a ton of work for our end of the year leadership banquet and had been tracking one of my student leaders as she ran the Boston Marathon. I was thrilled to see her cross the finish line.

Within hours, all of us in the city had been shaken to the core. Things were rearranged and altered.

In the coming days, students, faculty and staff across the city of Boston reacted with a swift and sure hand, despite our general unease and confusion. We reacted with care, compassion and creativity. We reacted in the best way we could to help each other.

Today, three staff members from three Boston-area institutions want to tell this story. I want to share how three Emerson students started a movement called Boston Strong and in turn, started a healing and grieving process none of us expected. My friend Gordon wants to share how Boston University altered and evolved an admissions event by using social media when the city was on lockdown. My friend Amma wants to share how students at her college made their response expectations loud and clear.

The three of us want to present at Austin’s South by Southwest EDU. To do it, we need you to log on to their site and vote for us.

Take a few minutes and register at the SXSW PanelPicker and give us a comment and an upvote.

We want to share this story. It’s a story worth sharing.

Besides, you should just click on this because Robin Thicke wants you to do it.

Listen to Robin Thicke.

Help us tell a story

How I stopped being bothered & started listening

It’s August.
I get it. You’re busy. I know you are. We all are. And that’s my rub.

I won’t lie.
Every time I saw a higher ed person tweet or update their Facebook status about how busy they were, I’d roll my eyes and wonder if they had any idea about what career field they were in. I’d go on a mental rant about how ridiculous it was to see my newsfeed flooded with the exact same garbage from so many people. I’d imagine my snarky responses to all of them.

I was so annoyed at people proclaiming how hard their jobs were in the month of August and September. I rationalized if all of these professionals spent less time complaining about how busy they were, they’d have more time to do their job and get home at an earlier hour.

This week, I checked myself. After swimming in so much negativity, I had no idea why I was tired and crabby all of the time. After a night out with some Squirrelfriends on Tuesday, I realized this was getting to me. I had to check myself.

People post whatever they want on Facebook and Twitter because they need to…

  • They need to get something off their chest
  • They need to encourage themselves
  • They need some assistance
  • They need someone to understand
  • They need someone to listen

Instead of over-reacting, I had to realize people are doing what they need to do. We all walk a hard road. People post how busy they are because they need someone to hear them… not someone to judge them. I can be a part of their solution, or I can be a tired brat.

While I’ll always be a brat, I choose to be a positive force.

How I stopped being bothered & started listening

Born This Way

It’s nice working at a college where we don’t fear the results of the annual Princeton Review.

When I worked at a large SEC institution, we dreaded the results. There would inevitably be some reference to binge drinking, promiscuous sex and a guaranteed top 10 finish in Best Party Schools. We’d then be forced to beef up our programming efforts in a belief that would change the results for the next year. It never worked.

Life at Emerson is different. For the second time in as many years, we’ve been named the most LGBT friendly college in the country.

What is interesting is you won’t find administrators waiting for the ranking, nor will you find an official response to it. It’s not that we don’t care.¬†We were just born this way.

I know… that’s a silly response, but it’s true. While we’re incredibly proud of this title, it’s not something we set out to achieve. Our goal is to be as accepting and caring to every student as possible, to treat each student with the respect and dignity they deserve, to embrace the identity of every student. This filters down to the hiring of faculty and staff, to the policies and procedures that govern us and the admission of students. We don’t try… we just do.

We don’t have a dirge of LGBT-focused programming. Our LGBT student group, while strong, isn’t a force on campus as compared to other orgs.

What we have is a group of students, faculty and staff who care. We integrate LGBT issues into classes, programs and events. We seek out ways to be inclusive and accepting. We embrace all of our populations. From the beginning of a student’s career in the Admissions Office to the eventual step of becoming a part of Alumni Relations, this is a priority – not because it makes us buzz-worthy, but because its the right thing to do.

Seven years ago, at the SEC school earlier referenced, the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs told me I acted too gay and I needed to tone my gay down so I wouldn’t offend the normal students. It was humiliating and devastating.

Today I hold my head up with immense pride… pride that I call an institution home that embraces all students, that respects human worth and fights to spread this message. Even if we don’t brag about it.

Born This Way

Do introverts make better comedians?

I think a lot about comedy.

Because of my job in Student Activities I’ve literally seen hundreds of comedians (many of whom I consider to be friends). I can honestly say I’ve lost hundreds of hours of my life to the art of comedy. Being around so many comedians has sharpened my own sense of humor and comedic timing, a skill I’ve been able to bring into my job and my personal life.

Last night, a group of friends and I met up to see Panic! At The Disco. We weren’t quite so successful at standing in front of the stage, but what resulted was better- six gays and a girl tossing comments, judgements and observations out at a wicked pace. It was on par with any comedy routine I’ve seen in the last 15 years. I laughed for two hours.

When I thought about the make-up of the group, it dawned on me a vast majority of the people at that table self-identify as introverts. There has been a growing discussion on #sachat about introverts. As an extrovert, I’ve been fairly quiet on the topic, choosing to read and digest rather than speak loudly (how un-extroverted of me). But for the first time, I thought about the differences between extroversion and introversion and how it played into my life.

So, what made the introverts at the table the funniest people?

  • Introverts speak less than their extroverted counterparts. When an introvert finally interjects, the comment/joke has more weight.
  • Because introverts speak less, the comments are funnier. They’ve mentally omitted the least funny comments and only say the lines that have true resonance.
  • Introverts observe. Because the extroverts are speaking on everything they see, they’re not paying attention to the funniest opportunities. The extroverts are throwing everything against the wall to see what will stick. The introverts only throw what they know will stick to the wall. The introverts are able to consistently make more pointed, funnier observations.

As comedy is based upon observation, a skill introverts excel at, are introverts better comedians?
I’m not certain if I’m qualified to speak on that… but last night, I certainly recognized the evening was funnier because of the introverts performing last night.

Do introverts make better comedians?