Tag Archives: Student Affairs

A Love Letter to Housing Operations

On this, the loveliest of days, I want to express my love and gratitude of all those members of Housing Operations teams, particularly those professionals who work in assignments. This week I got a sneak peek of the work that they accomplish, and have more gratitude for our housing assignment team than I ever had before.

This week was one of those where you hit Friday at 5pm and don’t know what happened to you. It was a perfect storm of student staff selection, housing applications and lottery, moving staff office and apartment placements for next year, and approximately one thousand other things. The running theme in my world was the need to collaborate with our housing assignment folks to make all of this work and to be able to forecast problems, issues, and needs for the upcoming year. I feel like I used parts of my brain that I never have before!

The main impetus of this firestorm was the implementation of a new Theme Community program. I am extraordinarily proud that we were able to get this off the ground in only a few months and will have 60+ rising sophomores participate next year! None of this would have been possible without our assignments staff. Our Theme Community program charged current first-year students who are members of existing Learning Communities to propose a theme for the upcoming year, including the need to find a staff or faculty advisor, commit to both on and off-campus activities, and to propose learning outcomes. The benefit to students is additional funding for programming, extra support from staff, and the ever seductive lure to skip the housing lottery and instead be assigned prior to lottery numbers being sent out, thus in theory lessening the stress of all involved.

All of this sounds great on paper. I met with Clair, our assignments guru months ago to plot out a timeline, but when working with students, timelines often need to be shifted at the last minute. I realized this week, when working with the ever emotional, dramatic, and political beast of asking students to choose their roommates, all bets are off.

I was struck this week by how calm Clair, the Assistant Director and Melissa and Kristen, our Housing Assignments Coordinators were during the madness of multiple student meetings and last-minute changes. I felt my blood pressure steadily climb the closer we got to the accept/decline deadline and it seemed like they barely noticed the madness. I was thrown off when a student in one of the groups suddenly disclosed a religious need that required specific accommodations, while our team barely blinked. I felt thrown off when multiple groups of students just showed up to meet with me after the were assigned a hall not in their top three choices, while Clair, Melissa, and Kristen just sort of laughed at the flurry of activity from my office. My eyes started to blur every time I pulled out the floor plans and tried to keep the difference between a bedroom single, bedroom double, studio double, designated single, and other configurations straight, while these three amazing women were able to take one look at a floor and tell me exactly what the occupancy should be. I got a pit in my stomach when we started discussions of lost revenue as we took spaces offline for new student leaders, while Clair said it was par for the course, all the while talking about first-year projections and something called “the funnel” from Admissions, which I’m still not entirely sure I understand. My brain simply shut down when we decided a very complex domino scheme that involved moving, swapping, renovating, and rehabbing seven different staff apartments and offices in four different communities. Clair simply took copious notes and made the changes, without even asking additional questions.

In short, our Housing Ops professionals have skills that I do not. They have the ability be both analytical when looking at occupancy needs and immediately shift to being empathetic when a sobbing student walks into their office because they’ve reaching their breaking point with a roommate, are in the midst of transitioning genders, or have to disclose the need for a disability related accommodation. They have to simultaneously be forward-thinking in order to make occupancy and revenue predictions, while also being nimble enough to respond to a downed server or other technical glitch. They have to be able to understand how physical environments can truly impact a student’s ability to learn, develop, and grow while dealing with the pressure of keeping those beds filled.

I don’t know how you do it. I was immune to those issues before this week. I realized how much we depend on our Housing Ops team because if the beds aren’t filled, the Res Life side of things doesn’t get funded. We are not able to hire staff, do renovations, build new buildings, or program around educational topics if we don’t have enough students living in our halls. Housing Ops, you make my job possible, and I love you for it.

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Student Storytelling: Brace for Impact

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of leading a small group of students through a Story Circle experience. This group of 25 Student Ambassadors was being trained through a campus-wide committee I sit on called Perspectives, which is charged with leading trainings for student leaders and classes on diversity and social justice topics. The purpose of our training with the Ambassadors was to better equip them to work with prospective students, families, tour groups, trustees, and University officials with which they do not share an identity. Their supervisors let us know that several Ambassadors had felt discomfort and general anxiety about answering questions or “selling” Santa Clara when they themselves were not a student of color, 1st Gen student, a low or high income student, etc.

I had recently heard about the Story Circle facilitation from a regional conference from a great moderator and thought this could be a good opportunity to try it out. I walked away from the 90 minute session blown away, inspired by the stories shared and on a mission to create opportunities for storytelling on campus.

The session started with a quick debrief of identity definitions, such as gender, sexual orientation, racial identity, immigration status, SES background, etc. The rest of the time was devoted to storytelling. The question I asked the group was “Tell us about a time when you realized one of these identities was important to you or was different from others.” That’s it. No more, no less. You could take it in so many ways. Students were given two minutes to share a short story and then spent the rest of the time simply listening to the stories of others. The power of Story Circles is that the emphasis is placed on both telling your story AND listening in silence to the stories of others without interrupting, starting a dialogue, challenging, or affirming.

If I’m being honest, I had low expectations for the experience. I thought there would be the typical surface-level items and that I would really have to dig to find content. Boy, was I wrong! The very first student talked about an experience she had at the Wailing Wall while on a Jewish Culture Club trip. Another student talked about a family member being murdered due to race-related gang violence. Yet another student spoke about how her great-grandparents were held in a Holocaust concentration camp, immigrated to the U.S., and adopted a French name and imagined history to distance themselves from their Jewish roots. Several students spoke about struggling with eating disorders or abusive family backgrounds.

The final student took several moments, many deep breaths, and with tears in his eyes and a trembling voice, shared that he is an undocumented student who fears deportation on a daily basis. At the end, he said we were the first people at the University to know his status. He said he wasn’t going to share, but since others had been so brave that he felt like he deserved to honor their bravery with his own disclosure. (FYI: An important piece of storytelling is the expectation that you can share stories, but not the “authors” of stories. This allows everyone to share stories that deeply impacted them without disclosing the identity of the author. This was set up at the beginning of the session so I am not betraying the students or the experience by sharing specific stories in this post.)

There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. During the debrief and affirmation portion of the experience, several students mentioned that they had only shared their story with a few other people, but in this space with others showing courage, they felt they could finally be courageous as well. Two women said that they had been friends for three years, but never shared their respective stories with one another. Nearly every student thanked and hugged me on my way out.

This was such a moving experience for me as a student affairs professional, diversity facilitator and quite simply as a person, that I couldn’t help but think about where this type of experience could be implemented in our work. Res Life trainings? Orientation sessions with new students? Preparing students for study abroad of service learning experiences? My brain was firing with possibilities!

This brought me to the realization that we so rarely ask students to share their stories. We ask what they think, how they feel, what their opinion is or how they compared two sides of an issue, but how often do we ask them to share their truth? Perhaps even more importantly, how often do we ask students to listen to the stories of other students? Truth be told, in the 90 minute session I facilitated, each student only spoke for 3-5 minutes. The rest of the time asked them to listen. To listen with empathy and to reserve judgement or questions. To simply hear and believe their peers. Again, to hear and believe their peers.

Let’s start storytelling.

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