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A fax machine may be outdated, but it’s also an opportunity to serve our students and their needs.


In defense of the fax machine

Why #icebreakers will be the end of Student Affairs

It’s Spring Break… a time of the year where Student Affairs professionals finally get around to doing the things we say we’re going to do all year. For me, that’s cleaning.

In cleaning the office yesterday, I stumbled upon a gem – a box labeled “ABRIS – Adventure Based Resource Index System” full of 3×5 laminated index cards. As best as I can tell, this is from 1991 and proof for me that Student Affairs is doomed.

These dainty, colorful index cards contain ice breakers and team builders “designed to save valuable planning time, offer refreshing new material and provide you with hundreds of programming hours.” Yes, that’s a direct quote from their website.

So what does this refreshing new material include? Well, frankly, it includes things that will get you fired today.

Love Handle Tag

That’s right. Love Handle Tag. Because holding someone’s hips from behind them has been appropriate behavior since 1991.

Albanian Dwarfs

Albanian Dwarfs. While I’d like to give them credit for the grammatically correct use of dwarfs vs dwarves, it’s still just wrong. Just wrong.

Butt Bounce

The Butt Bounce. Nothing beats a good “double-barreled Butt Bounce” with a bunch of strangers.

Tingling Touch

Ahhhhh… Tingling Touch. No better way to kick off a workshop with whispering soothing words with every exhale.

So there you have. Adventure Based Resource Index System – a surefire way to discredit what we do as student affairs practitioners and an even quicker way to ensure a trip to HR to talk about those awkward “games” you play at meetings.

Why #icebreakers will be the end of Student Affairs

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

Rape culture isn’t a novelty

For the past 15 years, sexual assault advocacy and support has been a thread that has interwoven through my life. Because of this, I frequently have a trigger reaction when I read or see something. Case in point…

This morning, I received a piece of email from an agent wanting me to book an event. I opened it and found myself speechless. The more I read it, the more angry I became. And after a few minutes, anger turned to rage.

The headline of the email reads “Put It Where You Want It” and features a photo of a young man looking into the camera with his arm wrapped around a young woman. The young woman is wearing a t-shirt with the words “Put It Where You Want It” across her chest.

It’s not okay. Nothing about this is okay.
It isn’t funny. It isn’t a clever play on words.

There’s no way a copy writer could innocently write “Put it where you want it” and not understand the sexual connotations that goes with it. This wasn’t an innocent mistake. This was done to appeal to young men. This was done maliciously, with no respect to women. 

This is a nasty tag line that says that men have the right and ability to do what they want with whomever they want.
It’s objectifying.
It’s offensive.

It’s promoting rape culture. Cutting Edge Productions is promoting rape culture.

You can  see it for yourself on their website (which I’m very hesitant to link to but will do for empirical evidence) – click this with fury.

The worst part? On their website, “Cutting Edge Productions Inc., The Leader In Novelty Entertainment” uses the following tagline:

Top Novelty Variety Events and Health and Wellness Events Available Nationally

How can a company that promotes health and wellness even start to joke about rape culture?

I asked myself if I was overreacting to this, but I’ve come to the conclusion I’m not. We all have a responsibility to promote a culture of consent, to call out rape culture and those who promote it.

I’m asking my friends who book novelty events to not do business with a company that objectifies women, mocks survivor’s experiences and creates a culture where men are encouraged to take advantage of women. I’m asking you to publicly help me tell CEP Inc. this is not okay. Forward this blog to them. Tell them why its not okay. Tell them you have more respect for women than this.

I’m asking my friends to actively create a culture of consent, understanding we each play a role in ending sexual violence.

Rape culture isn’t a novelty

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

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.

Rethinking Parents in Higher Education