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

In defense of the fax machine

We’ve all heard the noise.

That noise, while archaic, doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant.

My friend Eric Stoller wrote a blog post this morning about the irrelevance of the dated fax machine. In his post, Eric suggests faxes are silly and a waste of technology. And they are.

Eric is right.

Unfortunately, not everyone else agrees. The majority of businesses around the country do not agree. We can disagree all we want, but we can’t ignore the reality of the situation.

College students have to fax things all of the time: proof of address, health records, insurance forms, student loan information.

And you know what? Fax machines are hard to find. This is a huge burden on a lot of students. It can stress the hell out of them. When students are told to fax a form immediately or be evicted from their apartment, they don’t know where to start. Why should they? WHO THE HELL HAS A FAX MACHINE?

I would counter and say we, as student affairs professionals, can provide a service. Have a fax machine in your Student Life office. Provide a fax service free of charge. Be helpful.

A fax machine may be outdated, but it’s also an opportunity to serve our students and their needs.

#endrant

In defense of the fax machine

My final word on burnout

Have you ever had one of those blog posts that has been simmering in you months and months? This is one.

On August 30, I tweeted this:

Am I the only one who isn’t worried about #studentaffairs burnout? Aren’t we all replaceable? Aren’t there new grads every year? #SAchat

Truth be told, I hadn’t thought about it much. I had observed an unusual amount of people tweeting about their burnout concerns (seemingly for others, but never for themselves) and how we as a profession can help those who feel burned out. Not being the most empathic individual, I was unsure why I was supposed to be concerned about burnout.

The more I think about it, the less of a problem I have with burnout. In fact, it’s a good thing. We need it.

1. There is a thought that many new #SAPros aren’t joining the profession for the right reasons… new pros are joining the ranks because they think Student Activities is “fun” or they don’t know what else they want to do or they never want to stop being Greek or  they can extend their college career FOREVER! When these pros finally get into the field and see the work that goes into it, many of them experience instant burnout. It’s not what they thought it would be and they go from an energetic person to someone instantly defeated. We don’t necessarily want them to stay if they’re unhappy with their new career field. Shouldn’t we be helping them make a graceful exit and re-entry to a different profession?

2. For our new #SAGrads, its hard to get a first job. There are too many of them and not enough jobs. They’re counting on one of two things:  a new pro to be burned out and quit so they can take that job. OR, they’re counting on a middle manager to be burned out and quit so someone in an entry level position can move up, freeing that entry level job for them. This is a twisted circle of life… Mufasa probably doesn’t approve.

3. When you’re burned out, not only are you unable to give 100% any longer, but your student interaction suffers. Maybe instead of “helping” them, we need to be calling out those professionals and letting them know the impact their attitude is having on their respective institution. Students know when a staff member is suffering from burn out. They can smell it.

4. Maybe burn out is nature’s way of telling us we’ve overstayed our welcome at a particular institution. When you notice you are suffering from burnout, its time for a change of venue… or a change in position. As long as you recognize it, I don’t think burnout is something to be feared.

So yeah, I’m not worried about burnout. It’s natural. It happens in other fields. It happens in every office across the country. Instead of being worried about burnout, I want to be able to recognize when it happens to me. That’s infinitely more important.

My final word on burnout

Why #Divergent is bad for Student Affairs

On Friday I was lucky to catch a sneak preview of the movie Divergent.
This isn’t a review and there aren’t any spoilers here (besides, it was an unfinished print with unfinished effects) but watching the film scared me.

It scared me because I see where this is headed. Student Affairs latches on to new hip thing and runs it into the ground. Some of you have the uncanny ability to take something that brings us joy and then you beat us over the head with it’s applications to student affairs. You did it with Harry Potter. You did it with The Hunger Games. And you’re about to do it with Divergent.

Remember all of the horrible leadership workshops you created where you would explain leadership styles based on the different Hogwarts Houses? They’re on their way back… but this time, it’s what Divergent Faction you’re in.

Start prepping all of your inspirational talks about how it’s important to carry multiple positive traits instead of just one. It’s best to be Divergent.  How can your students be Divergent in your leadership?

Think about all of the greek life conversations we can have about hazing rituals and how characters in Divergent used bystander intervention skills to make things better.

Imagine all of the times we’re going to see a new student with three black birds tattooed on their clavicle.

No. Divergent is bad for us because it’s going to inspire someone to try to turn it into an educational moment.

You’re doing what you think will make you seem cool and hip… you think this will make you appear to be approachable to new students when instead you should be looking for what will be cool and hip in six months.

Instead of forcing everything to be educational, let this one just be fun. Steer away from the Faction-themed door decks. Steer away from the personality assessment. Please.
It’s okay to just let something be fun.

Why #Divergent is bad for Student Affairs

Creativity is a privilege

This week I was lucky to find myself sitting around a table with other Emerson College professionals in a meeting called “Conversations on Creativity.” As a college that prides itself on innovation, it’s important we create a common vocabulary about what creativity means and how it impacts us. Together with tenured faculty, adjust instructors, entry level student affairs administrators, deans and Vice Presidents, we would start a meaningful conversation.

A colleague threw down the gauntlet early in the conversation and it changed how I thought – he took a deep breath and said:
Creativity is a privilege. 

Higher Education is a conservative beast. Many of our offices, and many of our own leaders, call for us to be forces of creativity, to use our ideas to further the scope of the college, to push boundaries, to break down walls and to challenge others. But are we really allowed to do that?

Are faculty willing to try innovative teaching strategies and curriculum that may leave students feeling unsettled? Will faculty be willing to try to teach difficult material when their salaries and jobs are directly tied to assessment provided by those students?

Are students willing to create ground breaking projects and challenge academia when their grades are tied to the success of an assignment? Are they willing to challenge convention when scholarships and internships may be impacted by their grades?

Are young student affairs professionals really allowed to create new and exciting initiatives, or does campus tradition and pressure from alumni force new pros to recreate the same programs that have been occurring for decades? How many #sapros are told “But we always do it this way.”?

True creativity comes with failure. Higher education, being a conservative beast, is not okay with failure. We don’t allow ourselves to spectacularly fail. We aren’t given permission to watch a pet project sputter upon launch.

In an exit interview from a job early in my career, a Vice President once apologized to me. She said it was a shame the institution couldn’t appreciate new ideas and she sincerely hoped I would find an institution that valued progress, that valued creativity.

The words didn’t make sense at the time, but today, I understand. At my current job, I’m fortunate to sit on the privilege to create, to change, to modify and to take risks. I have been given permission to push boundaries and to fail in the most spectacular ways. I’m one of the lucky ones.

Creativity is a privilege.

The future of higher education is dependent on innovation and creativity.
Are we willing to change the system… change how we assess our faculty and staff for merit raises… change how we grade our students?

Until we are willing to do that, none of us will truly have the privilege to be creative.

Creativity is a privilege

On the topic of privilege

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about issues of privilege, feminism and social justice. 

Here’s some backstory – Over the last six months, my twitter feed has slowly transformed. I’ve unfollowed a lot of people and followed new interests… as I’ve done that, my feed has become less higher education/student affairs focused and more focused on issues surrounding feminism and social justice.

You see, I was that guy. As a white male, I sit on a lot of privilege. I recognize this. I’m a progressive minded person. I’ve been to “diversity” retreats and workshops (I can always sneak in undetected by using the gay card). I’m well-read. I would have used the word “ally” in the past.

But after spending the last few months, I’ve changed my perspective a bit. Here are some new takeaways –

On issues of being an ally –
Announcing to the world you’re an ally is exceedingly self-serving. Stop patting yourself on the back. I’m glad you think you’re a male feminist. Stop bragging about how great you are and do something meaningful. Actions take a lot more effort than a Facebook comment or by simply stating “I have a black friend!” What are you doing?

On issues of space – 
I see white people inserting themselves into hash-tagged conversations started by people of color concerning race/social justice. STOP IT. Tweeters are trying to carve out a space for themselves. As a white person, we have a giant space available for us. Make some room for others to talk without your interruptions and watch from afar. Your input isn’t as relevant as you think it is. Who knows. You might learn something.

On issues of anger –
Yes, a lot of social justice/feminist bloggers & tweeters can come off as angry. Why wouldn’t they be? Doesn’t everyone have the right to be angry? No one questions your anger or frustration. When you come from a marginalized community (as many people of color do), you are frequently told to be submissive and go with the flow. Anger is a manifestation of years of being told to be submissive. Give everyone space to be angry and frustrated. And again, listen to the anger. You might learn some context.

On issues of education –
You know what to do to become better educated surrounding people of color. Stop asking. Read a book written by a Zora Neale Hurston or Banana Yoshimoto. Familiarize yourself with the filmography of Pedro Almodovar or dabble in your first Bollywood film. Stop listening to Taylor Swift or Katy Perry and give some Afro-Cuban music a try.

On issues of gender –
Being gay doesn’t make you an expert on feminism. Liking Ani DiFranco does not make you qualified to give perspective on feminism. Are you a woman? That’s a qualifying factor. Otherwise, you are pro-feminism.

I have more. But I’ll spare them for now. Because damn it, I’m white and I have opinions.

On the topic of privilege