Tag Archives: #sachat

A Recovering Racist

Two weeks ago, I stood on the NASPA stage and called myself a racist. It was in the context of an SA Speaks session, which is similar to a TED Talk. Professionals are given 10-15 minutes to give a talk about a topic near and dear to them, and for me, growing up in a racist environment, being racist as a child and adolescent, but being transformed by my college experience was the story I needed to tell.

In an age of police brutality, structural and systemic oppression, and all the way to professional Facebook groups, racism is everywhere. In light of all of these continuing dynamics and especially in light of the magnificent #BlackSAPBlackout in the Student Affairs Professionals Facebook page at the end of last week, I wanted to share the script of my talk before the video becomes available online. In complete transparency, I know I diverted from the script a few times and don’t remember a ton of it (thanks adrenaline!) so the finished product will be slightly different, but here it is, as it was meant to be given.

I would also like to thank Heather Browning and Bulaong Ramiz for being my incredible editors and feedback providers. Their incredible work made my work so much better, so please think of them the next time you need a critical eye.

Hello everyone! My name is Marci Walton and I am not here to talk about assessment or retention or budgets. I’m not going to share my research or talk about a program I’ve implemented on campus. Instead, I want to talk to you  about race. I want to talk to you about someone who grew up in a racist environment, internalized those messages, held hate in my heart, but was transformed by my collegiate experience, and stand before you as an aspiring racial ally and accomplice.

I want to talk about race because the time for passive head-nodding of white student affairs professionals is and has been over. I titled this session “A Recovering Racist” because I view racism as a socially constructed sickness. One that is insidious, can lay dormant for years and mutate into different manifestations and college campuses are the perfect Petri dish. The racist part of me will always be there so I must be vigilant and battle flare-ups from time to time. I also want to acknowledge the inherent privilege associated with being listened to during this session. I was quite literally given a stage and a microphone when so many of my students and colleagues of color are not given the same opportunity, so I have to use this moment to say something, to stir something inside of you, to help inspire less hand-wringing and more action. So here’s my story.

To know me is to know my hometown. I grew up in the village of Sycamore, Ohio. Census data from 2000 shows a population of 914, 99.67% identified as white. This meant my teachers were white, my friends were white, my church congregation was white, my pharmacist, doctor, dentist, hairdresser, and banker were all, you guessed it, white. This meant the only messages I got about race were from people who were white, plus movies, magazines, and TV. This means that when my Dad got a deep tan one summer and I asked him if he was now Black. This environment meant hearing the N word used as just another way to describe people in my community or to refer to the lower income part of town. This environment meant confederate flags were a dime a dozen and my high school mascot was and still remains a Mohawk Warrior. It meant I became a stereotypical white first-year student who freaked out when I was matched with a black roommate.

Move-in day was stressful. I was scared to death to meet Kia, my college roommate and it wasn’t just typical jitters. This was going to be the first time I EVER had a conversation with a person of color and now I was living with a phenomenal Black woman. I remember overhearing Kia’s younger sister whisper to her, “Kia, you have to live with a white girl? Good luck with that!” I immediately bristled. I thought to myself, “I’m not a white girl. I’m just me.” I had never been asked to think about my race before, but I was about to get an education I did nothing to deserve.

For some reason, Kia gave me grace that I did not deserve. She deserved to have a college roommate who was easy to live with and not someone who asked her if she was in a gang when she wrapped her hair and threw a scarf around it our first night as roommate. I was shocked when she said her high school didn’t have metal detectors. I snubbed my nose when she turned on BET. I told her collared greens looked like weeds. I was racist. 100%. And for reasons I still don’t understand, Kia gave me a chance. She invited me to come along to weekly meetings of Concerned Black Students, our campus organization dedicated to Black students and racial equity. I so distinctly remember the uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach during the first meeting when I was the sole white face in the crowd. I whispered to Kia, “It’s so weird. I’m the only white person. Is it really okay for me to be here?” and she whispered back, “You’re fine. This is what it’s like in every single class I’m in. How does it feel?” This was a turning point. I decided to reserve judgement. To listen more than I spoke. And to learn everything possible to supplement a racial education that had just begun.

Kia invited me to hang out with her friends. There was a group of about 10 Black women who lived on our floor and they welcomed me with open arms and a healthy dose of skepticism. I continued to attend CBS meetings. I began taking classes in Africana Studies. I broadened what movies I watched and what music I listened to and what books I read. I walked out of classes to attend an annual CBS Walk-Out for racial awareness and equality on campus. As I was preparing for this presentation, I reached out to some of my college friends to compare my recollection with their experience. Erica recalled me asking lots of questions about Black girl’s hair and attending as many of her gospel choir concerts as I could. She said her favorite memory was seeing me in my CBS stole at graduation which showed her unity across skin color. Travette remembered my presence at CBS events and participating in and attending forums on race relations. She said my presence and participation were a testament of my effort to try and understand cultural differences  and learn that although we have differences that does not make us unrelatable. Kia, my roommate, had perhaps the most poignant reflections. She said she expected to have issues with me due to my small town roots. She remembered me be unsure about attending CBS and later apologizing for my nervousness around having a Black roommate. Kia remembered me listening to her when she expressed opinions around race and asking questions to better understand, but never invalidating her experience. She said I was supportive during times of racial turmoil on campus. “I really wish more people would approach racial relations in the way that you did, by holding back their opinions, listening to others, and being supportive when needed.  Overall, it was great having you as a roommate.  You taught me a lot of things too…that people can change their views if they are really open and want to understand the other point of view.”

It’s clear I was getting what college should be, a truly transformative experience.

But then I had a healthy dose of reality set in. I was on fire for my Africana Studies courses and wasn’t for the classes of my major. So over Christmas Eve dinner of my sophomore year, I boldly announced to my parents I was switching my major, wanted to go to the peace corp, and then become a professor of African History. It did not go over well. They told me I could change my major all I wanted, but they wouldn’t pay for my education. As hot, angry tears rolled down my cheeks, my father’s words rang in my ears. “Who cares what a white person has to say about race?”

So I did what any logical 19-year-old would do and that was continue to take classes and just not tell my parents. I kept my original major and supplemented it with Literature of the Caribbean, Slave Narratives, African-American history, and more to feed this desire. I read Martin AND Malcolm. I stayed active in CBS, attempted to get my white friends to come to meetings and events, called out my sorority when they tried to have a “ghetto” themed party, with varying degrees of success. Some white friends were receptive, many were defensive and I often impacted relationships. I used my role as a Resident Advisor to do programming around racial justice and invited sometimes resistant white residents to attend CBS events. I did original research on the racial discrimination my friends faced, wrote a senior thesis on the sociological implications of the Divine Nine, and marched on Washington with my friends when an affirmative action case was being heard by the Supreme Court. My parents still don’t know about that one!

I don’t share these example to do what so often well-meaning white people do and that is collect “ally” cookies, expect a pat on the head for being a decent human being, or to prove I’m one of the “good” white people, but instead to illustrate the possibilities of engaging white students in reflections on race through conversations across cultures, co-curricular engagement, and academic curriculum.

It is this critical reflection, acknowledgement of my responsibility to use my racial privilege to work towards critical change and the amazing educators/friends that led me to student affairs. It was this undergraduate foundation that brings me to this stage. It is being pushed and challenged and called out and called in by amazing professors in my graduate program like Dr. Dafina-Lazarus Stewart and Dr. Ellen Broido. It is reckoning with my privileges and realizing I didn’t need to be an expert before I could think critically think about myself, my peers, or my students in new ways.

So what does this mean now? What does my story have to do with us in this room? Well, first I want to apologize. To my Asian, Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and multiracial colleagues, I am deeply sorry. Your white colleagues, myself included, have not done enough. We have been silent. We have mistaken the feeling of being uncomfortable with being unsafe. We have huddled in corners and looked to you as experts and asked you to educate us. We have re-centered conversations with our tears and have crowned ourselves allies when we have done nothing to deserve the title. We’ve been all about social justice during job interviews and then operated like business as usual when black and brown bodies have been brutalized, not just in Ferguson or Baltimore, but on our very own campuses. We have lost opportunities to educate white students about their privileges. We have looked to diversity offices to do “the work” of inclusion and equity when this is everyone’s work because students of color are everyone’s students, even if we don’t act like it. We have been so worried about doing the wrong thing that we don’t do anything at all. And it is unacceptable.

So what can white professionals do? We can stop christening ourselves allies without taking action. I know I try to be an ally, but you need to talk to my friends, colleagues, and students to see if my actions match up with my aspirations. We can stop trying to learn on the backs of our colleagues. By constantly positioning professionals of color as the educator of able white professionals, we place undue burden on them when we have all the resources we need right at our fingertips. Want to know more? Do the work. Google brings up 146 million results for the “white ally.” Don’t ask your colleagues of color to labor for you for free. By doing so, you are further perpetuating problematic systems of inequity. For example, I had two amazing women of color, Heather Browning and Bulaong Ramiz read over this speech and provide suggestions and I paid them for their time. I didn’t expect them to want to help me, simply because I’m showing some commitment to progress.

White professional can stop using intersectionality as a reason to opt-out of conversations around race, because yes, I am a woman and middle-class and temporarily able-bodied and many other target and agent identities, but none of them make me any less white. We can interrupt racist assumptions. We can sit down and be quiet when people of color are gifting us with their truth and we can stand up and shout when their voices are not being heard. We can ask students of color how they are and actually listen and respond with compassion. We can realize our colleagues of color are weary, not just from doing their jobs, but also from living in a world which consistently tell them they don’t matter.

We can think about how racism is woven within the structures and institutions on our home campuses. I realize this can be especially overwhelming. I get it. But you take down structures brick by brick, so what’s your brick going to be? Maybe you will look critically at how students are given housing assignments so the students of color aren’t placed in segregated housing due to economic resources. Maybe you will suggest an author who isn’t white for your first year common read book. Maybe you will ask why there are so many people of color as cafeteria and custodial workers, but few in top leadership positions. Maybe you will ask how financial aid practices impact retention rates of students of color. Maybe you will take a critical look at getting beyond tolerance during your student leader training. Maybe you will commit to diversifying your social media networks so you aren’t constantly seeing narratives similar to your own. Maybe you won’t so quickly dismiss white students who don’t “get it,” around issues of race because I didn’t get it until I was asked to think and reflect and struggle with myself. Maybe you will instead think about how to provide an experience like I had in college which wove race into conversations across cultures, co-curricular engagement and the academic curriculum. Maybe you’ll ask why the racial composition of your college doesn’t match the glossy pictures of your brochures. Maybe you will not just buy tickets to a Beyonce concert, but engage your students in conversations of the #BlackGirlMagic found in Formation. Maybe you will partner with your campus police departments to address relationships with communities of color. Maybe you will vote. And help your students become informed voters. Maybe you’ll listen. Maybe you’ll read. Maybe you’ll think. Maybe you’ll do something. Anything. If you’ve been waiting for a sign, this is it. Let’s collectively answer my father’s question, “Who is going to listen to a white person talk about race?”

Let’s get to work. We have plenty to do. Thank you.

 

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Join Us for #SAsearch Office Hours!

Amma Marfo, in all of her glorious wisdom, had an idea. When Amma has an idea, you say yes. It’s just what you do.

Amma had the idea to hold virtual “office hours” surrounding the upcoming and seemingly never-ending student affairs search season. Are you a grad searching for your first position? We’ve got you. Running a search for a new team member? All over it. Want to know how to thrive as an introvert, extravert, or ambivert?  Need to ask a question you are worried about throwing out to a colleague, mentor, or social media? Come to office hours! We are there for you. We aren’t experts, but we are experts of our own experiences and we are here to HELP!

On Tuesday, March 1st from 7pm until I decide it is time to get back to West Wing episodes on Netflix, Amma and I will be on a Google Hangout. The session will be recorded, so feel free to pop by for a little bit or for awhile, post a question for us to marinate on, or check out the session when it is more convenient for you. Basically, we are here for you!

You can leave your questions in advance via the Q&A app for the event (at http://bit.ly/OfficeHoursLive), or tweet them to us via our handles– we’ll be answering them on Tuesday, March 1st at 7pm EST via a Google Hangout chat! No worries if you can’t make it live, we’ll share the link to the recorded event afterward…plus there may even be a few additional downloadable treats afterward!

Looking forward to hearing from you, and hopefully helping out a bit!

Office Hours Are Open!

 

About Amma:
Amma Marfo is a thoughtful, yet incurably silly, independent educational professional based in Boston, MA. As a writer, higher education speaker and popular culture enthusiast, she’s dedicated to the idea that our leisure pursuits can inform and enrich the work we do. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from the University of Rhode Island, and a Master of Education from the University of South Florida. 

She is an outspoken advocate for creativity, believes strongly in the power of humor, and looks forward to helping you find the way you live and work best. Her other interests include running, yoga, surfing, trivia, and gluten-free cooking/baking. You can follow her on Twitter @ammamarfo, especially if you know how she might be able to become friends with Gina Rodriguez or Jack Falahee.
About Marci:
marci headshotMarci Walton is proud to serve as the Associate Director for Residence Life at Xavier University. Marci has been involved with recruitment and selection cycles of undergraduate, graduate, and professional staff for more than a decade and loves helping candidates find the right position for them. She tries to bring humor, honesty, and efficiency to search processes and in doing so, bring more compassion and transparency to the #SAsearch. Marci is interested in residence life, social justice, service, and the intersections of identity. She is passionately curious about social media, women’s leadership, and becoming friends with Adele. Marci can be found on Twitter @MarciKWalton and blogs regularly at www.marcikwalton.com.
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When a Great Job Isn’t Great for You

I recently transitioned out of what I thought to be my dream job. It was in a major city, I was supervising Masters-level professionals, and was working with faculty to build and improve a living learning community program. My professional peers made it an entertaining and motivating place to work, the institution aligned with my personal values about higher education and yet, I was still unhappy. So unhappy that I decided to leave after a year and a half. After a LOT of soul searching, I realized a position can be great and still not be great for you.

I didn’t plan to job search. I planned to tough it out, make the best of it, and learn some things I could look back on and say, “Look at me! Look how much grit I showed. Look how resilient I was.” But then I realized the only person I would be hurting would be me. I simply was not happy, but it took a lot to talk myself into realizing it. The problem became not about the department or people or processes, but instead about fit.

I think fit has gotten a bad wrap in student affairs. It is often seen as a magical reason not to hire someone who doesn’t align with the culture of the department or university and we can severely limit the diversity of our candidate pools. However, fit matters. Feeling like you belong and align with what matters to the university, quite simply, matters. At least it did to me.

The problem with fit is that it often changes. I really thought my last employer was a good fit when I applied, interviewed, and came to campus. I thought it was a good fit until it wasn’t. Until I got overwhelmed during our department meetings that were 35 people strong. Until I realized I didn’t actually like living in a huge city. Until rent sucked up more of my paycheck than I had anticipated. Until I realized I wasn’t interacting with students nearly enough due to departmental structures and my own workload, both of which often kept me in my office.

I also realized this mismatch in fit was no one’s fault. It wasn’t my department or university’s fault. It wasn’t mine. It wasn’t my co-workers. It just wasn’t working. And this is in no way an indictment of my previous workplace. I will sing their praises until the day I die. Their work ethic, ingenuity, ability to make things happen with little notice, commitment to social justice, and many other attributes all make it a wonderful position, great department, and the job will be the perfect fit for another great professional. It just wasn’t a perfect fit for me. And that needs to be okay, too.

But then the worries and naysayers and caution creeps in. The voice that says only staying 18 months at a job “looks bad.” Looks bad on your resume, looks bad to future employers, looks bad on your LinkedIn, looks bad at conferences, it simply looks bad. You know what else looks bad? A burned out professional who leaves the field, or worse, phones it in, but doesn’t give it their all. Our students deserve more.

I’m writing this at the start of my second week at my new job. It is too early to be sure, but I am already finding a better alignment within what now matters to me and what the position will offer. I’ve had more student interaction in the past week that I did in the past several months. Our department has nine people around the table. The city I’m in has a ton of arts, culture, and restaurants, but I feel like I can explore without getting overwhelmed. I’ll have the opportunity to grow and shape processes that matter to me and matter to the student population. I’m on the path to home ownership. Is it a fit? It certainly feels like it.

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“Do Your Research!” Wait, What Does that Actually Mean?

I was delighted to be asked to write a blog for The Placement Exchange website. My topic was all about being prepared and “doing your homework” for the looming job search. Thanks to Nekesa Straker and the TPE blog for the opportunity to write about researching, while not creeping, on future employers and positions.

 

If your job search turns out anything like mine, you will hear the advice of “do your research” over and over again. You will hear it so often, it may start to lose its meaning, but doing your homework is often what will set you apart from other candidates. Showing off your research will help convince employers you want their job, not just any job.

  • Ask yourself, “What is the university all about?” Community college? Research 1? Liberal arts? HBCU? Religiously affiliated? Urban campus? Showing you have a comprehension of the type of university is the first step to doing your research and showing it off in your cover letter, interviews, and on-campus experience. For example, I have always worked at Jesuit institutions. If a candidate doesn’t mention anything about Jesuit education anywhere in their cover letter, or gives a blank stare during an interview when we ask about their understanding of the Jesuit mission, they will likely not be moving forward in our process.
  • Get the basics right. Nothing turns off an employer more than getting small, easy details wrong like the name of the position. Writing “Residence Hall Coordinator” when the job is actually “Hall Director” shows a lack of care and makes an employer wonder if you can bring an attention to detail to the position. Take a moment to check the spelling and titles of search committee members before you fire off a cover letter or thank you note. This means taking your time, and making sure you are applying to jobs in a slow, methodical fashion and not in marathon sessions, because this is often when details get missed. This also means reconsidering your plan to make a template cover letter and simply cut and paste specific details. Employers can smell a template a mile away!
  • Think about the resources already at your disposal. Reach out to your network, your professors, your cohort-mates, your mentors, and co-workers to ask if anyone has connections at the university. Even if there isn’t a direct link to the specific department, you can still connect with folks to learn so much! You can gain knowledge about campus culture, student life, what it is like to live in the location, or if there are good support networks for your specific identities.
  • Social media is your friend, when done in moderation. There are so many online resources for you to access information about the jobs that make your heart flutter. Official and unofficial Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts, LinkedIn profiles, YikYak, SnapChat, university hashtags, student newspapers online, and don’t forget the tried and true departmental website. If you ask a question for which the answer is easily accessible from online resources, it may give the employer pause and wonder if you are serious about the position. Also, I offer a small caveat around online resources. You can be informed and ask thoughtful questions without coming off as a creep. For example, perhaps you notice an interviewer tweeting on a conference hashtag. Don’t ask them how their dinner was with their grad school bestie, but perhaps ask a question about their favorite session they have attended at the conference.
  • Find a way to keep yourself organized and a way for this to be sustainable. It is great to have your stuff together during the phone interview season, but if you don’t keep this up during the TPE experience, you could sabotage yourself. One method I found helpful was to compile all of the information about the university, department, and position into a comprehensive folder with tabs. I also created a one-page overview of the most important information as a “cheat sheet” which I could quickly review during time between interviews. This helps keep it fresh and at the forefront of your mind to incorporate all of that hard-earned knowledge into your conversation with the employers. Whether it be note cards, file folders, a Google drive, setting up an Evernote account, or Post-Its, do what works for you to feel centered and as balanced as possible as you go into interview season.
  • Allow yourself to be surprised. You should absolutely be prepared, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you know everything about a department or position solely from your extensive research. Ask thoughtful questions and be receptive to the answers. You could find out your dream school isn’t a great fit after all, while an underdog may race to the front of the pack.
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SA Speaks: Getting a Tshirt that Fits References

If all goes according to plan, this will post just as I’m taking the stage for my NASPA SA Speaks talk about the intersections of shame and overweight members of the student affairs community. It’s possible I forgot every single word, but it’s also possible I killed it. Either way, several publications and resources helped inform my talk and are listed below.

References

Bennett Shinall, J. (2015, January 15). Why Obese Workers Earn Less: Occupational Sorting and Its Implications for the Legal System. Retrieved February 21, 2015, from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2379575

Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York: Gotham Books.

Cable, D., and Judge, T. (2011). When it Comes to Pay, Do the Thin Win? The Effect of Weight on Pay for Men and Women. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 96(1), Jan 2011, 95-112.

Kinzel, L. (2014, November 28). New Study Finds That Weight Discrimination in the Workplace is Just as Horrible and Depressing as Ever. Retrieved February 10, 2015, from http://time.com/3606031/weight-discrimination-workplace/

Ross, J. (2014, November 11). 9 Facts That Disprove The Most Common Stereotypes About Fat People. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/11/9-facts-stereotypes-fat-people/

Strange, C. C., & Banning, J. H. (2001). Educating by design: Creating campus learning environments that work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

All photographs used in my presentation were accessed at Flickr.com and are licensed for public use under Creative Commons licensing. Or were taken by my mother before a dance recital when I was five. 

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Need Not be Present to Learn: Distance Learning from #ACPA15

I had a great ACPA experience. I learned a ton, I was challenged, I connected with other student affairs professionals, I debated the merits of ideas in the field, and I widened my professional circle. I supported my friends, asked questions to presenters, connected an awesome SA grad with an equally awesome SA pro, and I already have ideas of how to take my conference experience back to my campus.

The catch is that I accomplished all of this from the comfort of my apartment. I cooked dinner, took my dog for a walk, worked on a blog, called a friend, and in between, grew as a professional. This is all because of the vibrant Twitter backchannel, generous pros who documented their “a-ha” moments, as well as their struggles with the conference experience through blog posts and copious tweets. While I wasn’t able to feel the energy in the room of the annual Cabaret, I caught snippets of Instagram videos and more pictures than I knew what to do with. And you had better believe I will watch every single Pecha Kucha once they are posted online.

The days of in person conference attendance being a requirement for learning are over. There’s no excuse. Can’t afford to go to both national conferences or any conferences at all? So what. Get online. Engage. Ask questions. Critically reflect. I didn’t spend a single dime and still feel like I had one of the most fruitful conference experiences of my career.

Does my online experience take the place of sitting in a session and dialoguing in person? Of course not. The feeling of seeing an old friend, being challenged by a mentor, or running into a faculty member in the hallway will never be recreated online, but learning? Learning is always on the table. It’s up to you whether or not you take a seat. 

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What Do You Do All Day?

I recently transitioned from the role of Resident Director to Assistant Director and moved across the country. While I was home for the holidays, my mother naturally asked, “What do you do all day at work?” It was a fair question. She could wrap her head around my role as a Resident Director because she lived in a residence hall in college. She often likes to say that if she knew student affairs was a career, she probably would have gone into the field.

Truth be told, I struggled to answer her question. My sarcastic, pithy, one-sentence answer was, “Emails and meetings, all day long.” I know I do more than that, but how can I quantify it? Sure, I often have hilarious stories about the requests or reactions of students or parents, and I can wax poetic about the future of higher education with the best of them, but what is it that I do? Why am I getting paid? What output is expected of such compensation? I’ve been pondering this for awhile after listening to a ProReps Aside podcast from Valerie Heruska and Matt Bloomingdale that asked this question and then I stumbled upon this tweet from the incomparable Mallory Bower:

Ma’am, I dip my hat to you. I think it is a really good question to think about. What is it that you do? Not what you hope to do, or want to do, or write on your professional development plan, or what you tweet about, but what do you actually accomplish on a day-to-day level? 

In the past two weeks, this is what I have accomplished: 

  • Had one-on-one meetings with four incredible new professionals who I supervise as Resident Directors. Those conversations ranged from job searches, to training new student leaders, to facilities updates, to roommate conflicts, to their own professional development plans, and about a hundred other topics in between.
  • Wrapped up a job description for a summer ACUHO-I intern; scheduled interviews by juggling 11 different schedules and started to look at candidate profiles
  • Packed my entire office and said goodbye to my surrogate professional home for the past six months. This is in preparation of our department’s office reunification after nearly two years of having a main office and a branch office
  • Assisted my supervisor and co-workers in their office packing, which often meant telling them to stop telling stories about the items, cards, photos, or mementos in their hands and to instead start making decisions about what to keep or toss
  • Attended the first National Residence Hall Honorary chapter meeting of the year and offered advice as their co-advisor around induction ceremonies and upcoming programming
  • Read, sorted, replied to, and crafted hundreds of emails. Hundreds.
  • Booked my hotel and travel for NASPA and started working on my speech for a SA Speaks session
  • Organized a meet-and-greet for several faculty members, administrative partners, and Residence Life staff for our Learning Community program in an attempt to pair in-class learning with out-of-class experiences
  • Presented three times in one day to 100+ Resident Advisors and Learning Community Advisors during winter training about OrgSync, a new programming model, and ways technology can work for them
  • Laughed a lot. Like, more than you probably expect. Our work is fun.
  • Attended my first CASCHA meeting; met several other Chicagoland professionals, sat on a panel about interviewing in student affairs, and conducted a mock interview with a new professional
  • Rolled out OrgSync implementation to our entire department and held my breath when all of our student staff members logged on for the first time; spent several hours troubleshooting said issues with student staff members
  • Completed really boring, but really necessary parts of my job like approving timecards, submitting receipts for purchases, and updating budget logs
  • Met with partners and faculty to discuss the future of our Service and Faith Learning Community, which spawned ideas on how to improve the entire LC program in the future
  • Reviewed resumes and cover letters from graduate students at my current institution, from my alma mater, in addition to grads who have reached out over Twitter
  • Attended the annual Res Life Prom. Yep, it’s a thing.
  • Brainstormed online training modules for Learning Community Assistants to increase academic support and integrated learning for members of all Learning Communities
  • Attended a divisional retreat for half of one day and a departmental retreat for an entire day
  • Rolled out an entirely new programmatic offering for our rising sophomore students in an attempt to increase participation and engagement while in our halls. So. Freaking. Excited!!!
  • Followed the incredible Higher Ed Live podcast on #blacklivesmatter and participated in the backchannel
  • Met with colleagues in our Admissions Office to streamline the housing application process for incoming first-year students who are interested in joining a Learning Community
  • Attended a total of 21 meetings in ten days, most of which required prior preparation and follow-up

This was just the past two weeks and I would argue it was a light few days since only one week had students on campus. I would also add conduct, parental phone calls, mental health concerns of students, being on call for our department, and regular committee work to a typical work week. So why is it that I was so dismissive when asked, “What do you do all day?” Did I not want to sound like I was whining or bragging? Did I underestimate my mother’s ability to understand the ‘intricacies’ of the work I do? Or is it because I’m not used to hearing what people actually do in their work?

As a new professional, I often remember thinking, “Hmm, what exactly does my boss do all day? They don’t supervise RAs, they aren’t first responders, they aren’t doing the ‘work’ of committees, so how do they spend their time?” As a student and Resident Advisor, I remember thinking the same thing about my RD. I think we all need to talk about what we actually do more often. Not in some cute sound-bite, or conference introduction, or carefully crafted Twitter profile, but in depth and in detail. How else are our graduate students and new professionals going to know if they actually want to continue in the field? We owe it to them to be transparent and we owe it to ourselves to quantify our day-to-day work so when someone asks, “What do you do all day?” we are ready, whether that person is your mother, an accrediting agency, your supervisor, the university president, or students who should be the focus of this work every day.

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Middle of Somewhere: 5 Ways to Stay Connected as a Middle Manager

We’ve all heard the adage, “The higher up you climb, the less student interaction you get.” I remember hearing this for the first time in grad school during a seminar my program hosted. Our VPSA walked us through a typical day, which consisted of approximately eleventy billion meetings, strategic planning, lots of emails, caucusing with other professionals at his level, and “If I’m lucky, I’ll have a quick conversation with our student office assistant.”

My naive grad school brain was floored. How could someone in such a position of power and decision-making have so little contact with the very people who would be impacted by such decisions? Why did the people with the least amount of [perceived] power (i.e. grad students such as myself) serve as advisors, supervisors, hearing officers, mentors, and more? I remember promising to myself that as I moved up, I would maintain regular contact with students at my institution.

Well, that is much easier said than done. I have recently transitioned from entry to mid-level management. This means I no longer supervise student leaders, I don’t have a front desk with a ton of student traffic feet from my office door, I don’t advise a hall council, I’m not expected to attend late night programming, I haven’t yet had a judicial case, and I work in a central office. Therefore, between administrative work, answering emails, having one-on-ones with with RDs, and running committees, it is entirely possible to go throughout the day and never see a student.

I was reminded of my grad school experience as I was transitioning into my new role and I was determined to not be an out-of-touch administrator, especially during my first year while I am still figuring out student culture. Even though the desire was there, the means were not as clear. I couldn’t just show up in classes or sit down to lunch with random students without being viewed as a creeper. I didn’t have the same responsibilities and expectations, and now I was living off-camus. This meant I usually left around 5pm and enjoyed cooking dinner, blogging, and catching up with Netflix. So how was I going to stay connected? For me, it was all about being intentional.

Duty Walks with RAs

Since I started my position the same day our grads did, I missed two weeks of RD training. I hadn’t had the chance to really walk our facilities or be on floors due to the blur of RA training and opening. I knew that if a major facility issue happened while I was on-call, I was going to struggle to envision the problem or quirks of our communities. Therefore, I’ve been doing the first set of rounds within one community per week since the start of school. This has not only helped me understand the unique needs of our community, but also connect with our incredible staff of Resident Advisors, as well as students we encounter while on our walks. There have also been a few challenging staffing situations in our department, so members of our Leadership Team are sometimes given the narrative of the bad guy, so I like to think of duty walks as a miniature goodwill tour as well.

Grad Assistant 1-on-1s

One of the very first things I did at the start of the year was send an invitation to all 13 of our Assistant Resident Directors and offer to set-up a lunch or chat over coffee. Nearly all of them took me up on my offer and I’ve been meeting with one or two ARDs per week. This has been absolutely amazing. Our department is fairly large (nearly 40 when everyone is present) so it is easy to lose connection with our graduate students in the haze of meetings and agendas. I’ve learned about their coursework, path into student affairs, side hobbies, how their staffs are doing, how they are transitioning to the field, or what their job searches may look like in a few months. These conversations have been mutually beneficial. I’ve received feedback that many grads appreciate someone in my role reaching out to them, getting to know them better, and also sharing pieces of my own journey.

Advising Opportunities 

When our chapter of NRHH needed a co-advisor, I jumped at the opportunity. Yes, this meant several more meetings and nighttime programs on my docket, but getting the chance to have direct contact with amazing student leaders was something I could not pass up. These student leaders represent the top 1% of all residence hall students on our campus so they are driven, organized, motivated, and genuinely invested in living out the organization’s values. I meet with the executive board every other week, do my best to attend general board meetings twice a month, and I plan to support my team as they put on monthly programs on campus. More time? Sure. Worth it? Absolutely.

Staff Meetings and Trainings 

I’ve offered up my love of presenting and facilitating staff development workshops to a few of the RA teams and I’ve been booked to present Strengths to an RA staff next week. This smaller, more focused opportunity not only helps me get more face time with our student leaders, but also takes some pressure off of the RD and ARD as they don’t have to facilitate the activity. I hope the RAs will enjoy learning more about their Strengths and how its impacts their leadership styles, and if it goes well, I hope to be invited to more staff meetings throughout campus.

Social Media Outlets

While the other options I’ve listed do require physical presence, engaging with students via social media can be done from the comfort of my home, usually while wearing sweatpants. I’m a firm believer in the phrase “lurking is learning,” so even if I’m not having conversations with students online, just scrolling through Instagram or searching for key phrases on Twitter gives me a jumpstart on understanding student culture. Also, for all of its shortcomings, Yik Yak has also served as a useful tool for me to see what is going through the heads of our student body, or even community members who are within a certain radius of campus. Yes, there are horrible things going on through the app (which is another post for another day), but I’ve also learned a great deal about classes, study habits, party culture, and transitional issues of students through the posts, upvotes, and comments.

In order to do my job well, I need to make decisions based on student needs and not just my perceptions of those needs. This can’t happen if I’m holed up in my office, huddled over my email, or constantly in meetings. Even if it means using some of my nighttime or weekend hours, its worth it in the end. I didn’t get into this field to work a typical 9-5 schedule, so sometimes those non-traditional hours make the 9-5 a heck of a lot easier.

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Middle of Somewhere: Transitioning to Middle Management

I just wrapped up my first week on the new job. It was a unique first week, because the first two days were spent at a staff retreat and Friday was at an all-day, off-campus day of service. It was also unique for me because I have made the transition from entry-level professional to mid-level professional. For the past seven years, I’ve been used to the typical start of the year for Res Life professionals, which means training with the professional team during July, student staff training during August, and opening halls in September.

While my previous two positions were amazing, rewarding, and challenging in many ways, I was ready for the transition to supervising professional staff members. During my first week, I realized just how different this experience has been compared to starting positions as an entry-level professional. I’ve decided to write about my transition, for better or worse, to supervising professional staff members and serving on my department’s leadership team.

I am no longer one of many. In my first job, I was one of 12 Resident Directors and in my last job, I was one of nine. Now, I am one of three Assistant Directors. I obviously knew this going into the job, but I was struck at how different the room felt. My current department has nearly 25 full-time and graduate RDs, so the rooms are very full, but not with people who do what I do. This means I no longer have a giant pool of folks who are sharing my experience and it has been a little jarring.

Oh yeah, I’m the one who gets the questions now. One of my new supervisees pulled me aside at the day of service to chat over her supervision plan with her grad. It took me until half-way through the conversation to realize that she was asking for my permission versus just my thoughts on her idea. It was weird. I’m so used to processing with my peers that it took me a bit to get my feet under me.

I’m part of departmental decision-making from the get-go. Day three involved interviewing a candidate for a Resident Director position and on day five I was asked who I wanted to hire, since I would be supervising this person. Um…what? I’ve spent seven years giving opinions and knowing they were valued, but also knowing that I wouldn’t be motivating or keeping that recommended person accountable. This changes things. I required me to shift my thinking from “Which one do I want to work with this year?” to “Which one is going to fit on the team, serve our students best, and will best benefit from the position?”

Stepping back with opinions, to allow others to step up. During my previous professional staff training experiences, I was always up for sharing what had worked in my community, with my staff, or with my students. I found myself purposefully stepping back this and allowing the current staff speak to their experiences instead. I found myself being very aware that while I had done the RD job before, I hadn’t done it here and before I started spouting off experiences, I should first be a student of this institution’s culture.

I still got nervous on the first day! For some reason, I expected a surge of confidence, but I was just as nervous as I had been started my other positions. I’m still a new person who needs acronyms to be explained, struggled with way-finding on a new campus, and needed to be reminded of people’s names.

The excitement is different, but still there. I can distinctly remember my first day as a new professional and it mirrored, in many ways, my experience last Monday. In the back of my mind, there was still a little bit of the Imposter Syndrome rattling around, but I took a deep breath, reminded myself that they chose me, and that I did belong here. I’ve got a lot to learn, but I know this is where I’m meant to be.

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Why I’m Going to Stop Apologizing for Tears

I’m a crier. I have been since senior year of high school when I realized I was experiencing the “last” of everything. The last lunchtime conversation. The last Yearbook class. The last prom planning meeting. (Sidenote: Is it any surprise that I ended up in student affairs?) My combination of deep sentimentality combined with empathy means I not only feel all of my own emotions, but also pick up and internalize the feeling of others in the room. Additionally, I like to say that no one should ever have to cry alone. This means as soon as I see one person tear up, I’m as good as gone. A dear friend likes to say that I have a glass heart. Easily chipped and broken, but simultaneously admirable and beautiful.

I’ve cried my way through graduation ceremonies, weddings, commercials, religious ceremonies, end of the year affirmations, a particularly powerful Broadway song, kind notes from students, sorority initiations, and more. Last week I found myself on the verge of tears during our department’s leadership class. I co-teach this class of newly hired student staff members and was on a panel of Resident Directors, Resident Ministers, and an undergraduate Assistant Resident Director talking about working with professionalism. One of the incoming student leaders asked us to describe our motivation for our work and how we know we are making a difference. First, what a great question! Second, I immediately felt the lump in my throat start to form and the butterflies in my stomach start to flutter. I knew tears were eminent so I deferred to others on the panel. I was fine until Gigi, the Assistant RD started talking about the support of her team and the growth she’s seen from them. She couldn’t get through the next sentence because she was so moved with emotions, and me being the sympathetic crier, immediately started to well up. There was a bout of nervous laughter from the crowd, which so often happens when truly authentic emotion is observed, and I immediately started to apologize to the group.

I tried to laugh it off, to defer the emotion of the question and to make light of the moment. I apologized profusely and saw the nervous looks from my students who just realized that their instructor was maybe also a person. My coworkers deftly moved the conversation along and we didn’t discuss the break for emotion any more. I sucked the tears back into my red-rimmed eyes and tried to forget it.

A few days later Sue Caulfield, Kristen Abell, and the Student Affairs Collective launched #SAcommits, a call for the field to continue the conversation about mental health in a constructive and not reactionary manner. I applaud their efforts on so many levels and soon realized that by apologizing for my emotional reaction in class, I was dismissing emotion too. I had, in an effort to save face, dismissed a great teaching moment for incoming student leaders. I had taught them that showing emotions is not okay and perhaps even worse, is shameful. I felt the pressure of maintaining professionalism, of creating distance between instructor and student, and the pressure of keeping it together as a woman in order to be taken seriously all funnel down into two words: I’m sorry.

Guess what? I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry these student leaders saw how impacted I have been by my work. I’m not sorry they got to see that I am more than someone who grades their papers. I’m not sorry they got to see that emotions are a part of people’s lives. I am deeply sorry that student leaders who plan to work in our residence halls, which is arguably some of the most emotionally charged work a student leader can do, didn’t see me take a moment, and address the fact that the question sparked something personal in me that I was still working through. I’m sorry they weren’t able to see me be kind with myself in the moment, that I waved away the tears like it was an annoying mosquito that kept buzzing around my face. I’m deeply sorry that Gigi, the Assistant RD who first started to well up, got verbally abandoned when I apologized for my own tears, and underhandedly got the message that her tears didn’t matter.

These student leaders are going to be privy to some of the most emotional situations a college student can face, from the break-up of a relationship, to not living up to academic potential, to struggling through the redefinition of their relationship with family members and countless others. I told my class that viewing the humanity of the person in front of you is tantamount to stepping on someone’s toe in a subway or knocking a glass off a coffee table. We’re more than that. Emotions do not require apologies. They require care and compassion and taking just a moment to be in that space.

So I’m done apologizing, dismissing, and making light of my tears. My tears make me a kind, empathetic person who values the connections found in the world. In the words of Queen Elsa, “conceal, don’t feel” isn’t going to cut it for me any more.

 

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