Of advocacy, risk, loss and holiday anxiety

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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Of advocacy, risk, loss and holiday anxiety

Stumbling through veganism

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.

Stumbling through veganism