Of Post-It Notes and Positivity

A year ago today, I covered my office window with blank post-it notes. Many of you followed this activity via an earlier blog post – Post-It Project 2014.

My hope was students and staff would stop by, share a note of positivity and inspiration and then anyone could take a note as needed. One year later, it’s time to look at some of my favorites notes that went unclaimed this year.

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I’m not certain I expected a drastic change in myself over the course of the year, but I spent a year looking at notes like this. I spent a year of students and staff members silently walking into my office, taking a post-it note and leaving. I spent a year of students and staff walking into my office laughing, writing a note of positivity and leaving. I spent a year of students talking about why sharing positive news was important. I spent a year thinking about happiness, light and laughter.

It wasn’t an easy year – but whenever I needed it most, there was light coming from my window.

I haven’t put any post-it notes on my window yet… and I might not. For once, I like seeing actual light come through my window. As another work year comes to a close, I wish you and your loved ones nothing but light.

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Of Post-It Notes and Positivity

With inclusivity, it’s the little things

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.

With inclusivity, it’s the little things

Why I’m vegan this week…

Food privilege. It’s a thing.
As a meat-loving carnivore, I knew I would never go hungry eating in the cafeteria where I went to college. It never crossed my mind that having diverse selection of foods to choose from was a privilege.

As someone with no religious leanings, I never had a dietary restriction due to my religion. It never applied to me.

A few weeks ago, a parent of a student shared an article that changed the way I thought about food.

Cornell Dining team follows special diets for next five days

Students, staff, faculty and administrators followed the diet many young people live by… vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free. Eating on campus is easy if you have no restrictions. But the minute you have to think about what you’re consuming, things become more difficult. I never put myself in these students dietary shoes. I never thought about their day to day eating lives.

Inspired by this article, we’ve put together teams to eat the diets many of our students live by and we’ll be eating those diets exclusively in our campus dining facilities. For me, I’m Team Vegan. And truth be told,  I’ve been a bit nervous, wondering about the following:
Will I go hungry as a vegan?
Will I be frustrated by selection?
Will I get enough protein?
Will dining staff be knowledgeable about what is vegan?
Are things properly labeled?

I’ll have a few more questions in the preceding days… never mind what my body is going to do with a significant diet change.

If I was hungry, could I focus on class with a rumbling stomach? How can a student be successful if one of their basic needs isn’t being met? (Again that Maslow guy is so FREAKING smart)

I’m proud of our dining operations for being willing to support this challenge. Dining staff have already been joining us for our meals, taking notes and responding positively to experiences and feedback.

In the upcoming days, I’ll be sharing specific stories and experiences of my life as a vegan. I hope you’ll join me!

Why I’m vegan this week…

On the topic of recognition

I’ve spent the better part of the semester working with an incredible team of students to plan the annual Emerson Recognition and Achievement (ERA) Awards. It’s what you would expect for a college leadership banquet.

2014 ERA Awards

Fancy reception for outgoing leaders and advisors.
Fancier dinner at a fancy hotel.
Awards.
Clapping.
Sound and lights.
Really outstanding sound and lights.
Performances.
Really outstanding performances.
Speeches.
More clapping.

It’s a lot of work for a community that *NEEDS* recognition. Our students need every award, every bit of recognition. Most are volunteers. Most are building their careers. An award today gives them something to add to a resume, something to help get their foot into a door for an internship or job. They need it. They deserve it.

Meanwhile, the student affairs twitter community (#sachat) has been planning their own awards ceremony, The #SAChat Awards – a homegrown, community nominated affair.

For whatever reason, the thought of these awards have brought the ire of many people, mostly those who were nominated. And I’ve been thinking about why there is the angst about it and this weekend, it dawned on me.

We have recognition and awards ceremonies for people who NEED it. The pros that were nominated for #sachat awards don’t need it. They don’t need the validation. They don’t need the resume padding (I still have Nominee Funniest #SAchat Tweeter 2013 on my resume). They’re not looking for the next big job. They don’t care.

But there are people who want it. There are people who need it.
The student affairs community seems to have rallied around the concept of StrengthsQuest – an online assessment that measures your top talents.

We’ve forgotten that one of the talents is significance. There are people who need to be recognized, who thrive off of communities where they are recognized. They yearn to achieve and have a lot of drive to reach their goals. They’re also the people who understand the significance others hold. They want to inspire others to reach their own significance.

By mocking the #sachat awards, we’re denying someone’s talent, someone’s strength. We’re mocking community builders who are trying to do something nice for a community they love.

Let the awards stand. I’m not saying that everyone deserves some recognition, but what’s so wrong with giving recognition to people who need it?

On the topic of recognition

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

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

Slowing down

I’ve been pretty quiet for the better part of two weeks. Call it what you will: processing, grieving, coping, healing.

I’ve responded to dozens of emails, texts and tweets in the last few weeks and I give the same response – “We’re all physically okay.” But in reality, many of us (myself included) are still healing.

I’m certain I went through all of the stage of grief – I ate my feelings; I drank my pain away; I stress-vomited nightly; I threw myself into work; I went on a mini-vacation with #MyEric; I did it all.

But what I couldn’t figure out was how to get my groove back. How do I get back to me? How do I get back to life on April 14?

And it hit me yesterday. Slow down.

As part of Orientation training, I conducted a One Word Workshop with the student leaders. For some reason yesterday, my one word came back to me… and it was exactly what I needed.

My one word is #Slow. A reminder to enjoy where I am and what I’m doing; a reminder to appreciate the work I’ve done to get here and the work I will be doing in the future; a reminder I’ve accomplished a lot and I’m lucky to be in a place I want to be. 

You’ll find me later today, slowly walking through the Public Garden, viewing storefronts along Charles Street and appreciating where I am.  #BostonStrong

Slowing down