One Coat Too Many

Last week, out of nowhere, my coat rack fell off the wall. It was covered with coats, jackets, fleeces, a variety of purses, dog leashes, and more reusable grocery bags than I could count. I was flummoxed. I’ve had this $10 Target gem since grad school and for the better part of a decade, it has hung in three different hallways. Since I’m in Residence Life, I have to make the apartment I am given my home. This includes creating a hall closet where there isn’t one. My current apartment only has one designated closet, so this sucker is isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

The part that threw me so completely was that it was out of nowhere. It didn’t fall after placing a particularly heavy coat on it, or brushing past it or even a big gust of wind. It just fell. I scooped up all of the items on my kitchen floor and ended up doing a much-needed spring cleaning. Items found new homes, things got donated and I was left with only the essentials. A few days later a friendly Facilities worker anchored the rack to the studs in the wall (which I had failed to do when I originally installed the thing) and I had a good-as-new, much leaner coat rack.

What the heck does this have to do with anything? Well, I couldn’t help but make the connection between my coat rack experience and the continuing conversation on mental health and wellness in the field of student affairs, particularly as we approach the planning season for professional and student staff summer trainings. For the sake of the analogy, the proverbial coat racks are student, graduate and professional staff; the jackets, coats, bags, and more are all of the sessions and obligations we pile onto ourselves and our teams with the expectation that just because it has held up in the past, we can assume it will hold up in the future.

The problem with my coat rack is that there was no warning. There was no creak or groan, or the splintering of wood, or any indication that it was struggling. It just broke. All too often, I see this with my colleagues and student staff members as well. One day they are plugging along just fine and then the next minute, they are a puddle of tears in my office or over a cup of coffee. For me, my breakdown happened in the middle of the glue aisle at a local craft store. 

During the crazy months of training, I always ask myself if it has always been this way and if it always has to be this way. Is there simply so much information that packed days, busy nights, and weekends full of work necessary or are we so conditioned that we’re unable to say anything until we are broken down, in a puddle on the floor, much like my poor coat rack? I am an eternal optimist so I think we not only can do better, but we must do better.

If you have a free moment, take a look at your upcoming training schedules or any time-consuming processes that your office offers. Honestly, does every session have to be included? I’m not suggesting that we toss the duty presentation out the window for RAs or fail to go over the core curriculum for academic advisors, but maybe that session on time management would be better served during a staff meeting when students are actually struggling instead of three weeks before the year begins.

Additionally, how are you using technology to enhance or even take the place of sessions that usually feature talking heads in a room full of students either struggling to stay awake or trying harder to hide their phone usage than paying attention. Interactive presentation tools, flipped classroom models, incorporating YouTube videos, or a variety of other methods could not only appeal to a diverse set of learning styles, but also cut down on the time, energy and effort usually required of a traditional training model. I see this having a direct impact on both student and professional staff leader’s ability to role model appropriate health, wellness, and self-care techniques for students. Is it really fair to ask students to go 100 miles an hour for weeks before school begins and then expect their behavior to change once they get into their actual day-to-day lives? We’re setting ourselves and our students for failure and its time to change. Are you up for it?

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