Books 1-3: #52in52 Challenge

I just finished reading my third book of my #52in52 challenge. Instead of blogging about each book, I decided I would choose my favorite of each group of 3 and share my thoughts.

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My favorite book out of these 3? By far: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

I didn’t read this book because I thought it would teach me anything specific I could apply towards my career path in student affairs. I read the book because a good friend recommended it.

This book is about a military war veteran and his squadron who are home from war for a short period of time, being honored as heroes for their work in Iraq. Again, while the book had nothing to do with higher education, the number of veterans returning to college continues to rise. I think there are some great examples in this book, reminding us how veterans may/need to be treated and how to better help this population transition.

“Or maybe not so much a function of calendar days as the way Iraq aged you in dog years…”

I highly recommend this book whether you’re looking to learn more about veterans or just read a good book!

ONE Thing You Want Your Students to Know

Today I had the pleasure of speaking with Jason Connell of Ignited Leadership. His work focuses on working with millennials to create leaders who can change the world. During our conversation, he asked me this question:

“If you were standing on stage beside me and I told you I had a magic wand that would make your students believe/understand whatever you said to them, what would you say?”

Ummmm, what? I did the awkward laugh, “that’s such a tough question”, umm wow, lemme think. At that point, I figured I couldn’t stall anymore. It’s not that I couldn’t think of anything, it’s more so the fact I had a million things running through my mind. I have to choose ONE thing, just one? As I continued to think, and probably spent more of Jason’s time than he actually had, I said this:

“I want them to know it’s okay to ask for help.”

For those of you laughing and thinking to yourself: Millennials, need to know it’s okay to ask for help? Are you crazy!!! These students will ask for everything! While in some ways, I agree with you, I think there’s a little more to the story. A story I’m going to tell you. Last spring, I conducted a workshop with 25 high school women. These women were some of the brightest students from across the Nation. Each student was paired with a mentor for our week in DC. The beginning of my workshop went like this: “Please put on your blindfold, put your hand on the shoulder of the person in front of you. I will lead you outside.” All the students entered a “maze” I created. But here’s the thing, the maze really wasn’t a maze. It was enclosed and went no where. It was basically a circle, never ending. There was no way out. For 30 minutes, I watched this girls walk and walk and walk. During those 30 minutes I continually said, “If you have any questions just raise your hand.” “If you need help, we’re here.” In 30 minutes, ONE girl raised her hand and asked for help. The rest just walked… When we got back inside, I asked, “How many of you would never have asked for help no matter how long we were out there?” Every single one of them raised their hand. Why? Because we have a need to prove ourselves. We can do it on our own, without help from anyone. Why do I tell you this story? Because some of our students believe success comes from doing it all on their own. Now, back to my conversation with Jason. What is the ONE thing I want my students to know.

I want you to know you don’t have to do it alone. I am here for you. Your friends, your family, they’re here for you. Your advisor, professors, counselors, they’re here for you. All of the campus resources are here for YOU. They’re here for you and they WANT you to come to them with your concerns, questions, hopes, and dreams. Asking for help is not weak, it is a sign of strength. If at first you don’t succeed, try again…or ask for help.

That’s exactly what I want my students to not only know, but believe.

What’s the ONE thing you want your students to know?

Vandalism

With the recent news about Howard’s Rock at Clemson, I wanted to say a few quick words.

There’s something in these hills and I suspect that’s what it is – the ability of an institution through the unending dedication and greatness of its people – its administration, its faculty, its staff, its students and alumni – to impart to all it touches a respect, an admiration, an affection that stands firm in disquieting times when things around it give impressions of coming unglued.

I don’t think there is a better passage from Joe Sherman’s “Something in These Hills” to help me explain this post about vandalism.

A few things really bug me about this story.

One: the automatic assumption that the University of South Carolina Gamecocks are to blame. Don’t get me wrong, I often assume the worse concerning the Gamecocks as well, but by doing that, publicly all over the news and social media, Clemson loses class.

Two: the posts, blogs, phone calls talking “revenge” on whoever did this. I’m obviously upset that someone could and did come into Death Valley and deface Howard’s Rock, but fighting fire with fire gets us absolutely no where. It also makes Clemson look just as bad as whoever did this.

Three: It’s not really about the vandalism to me, it’s about the lack of respect across the Nation when it comes to higher education. At the end of the day, it’s not about the football or basketball team. I hate the Gamecocks just as much as the rest of the Clemson fan base, but at the end of the day, we are two fine, quality higher education institutions. Can we not find a way to respect the traditions and values of each other? Same for Auburn/Alabama after the poisoning of Toomer’s Corner. It’s terrible to lose a tradition loved by so many, but what hurts me more is the lack of respect. We’re all at Clemson, Auburn. South Carolina, Alabama, etc. to get a degree and better ourselves.

Four: Bringing me back to my main (and to me) most important point. When Joe Sherman wrote “something in these hills” he wasn’t talking about Howard’s Rock. He was talking about the spirit of Clemson, the people, we make Clemson the place it is. I love the tradition of Howard’s Rock, more than I can tell you, but at the end of the day, Howard’s Rock missing a piece doesn’t change Clemson University, it doesn’t change who we are, and it certainly doesn’t give us a reason to take revenge.

Go Tigers!

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Millennials

Attending the NACADA (Academic Advising) Region 3 conference this week, I heard a lot of talk about the Millennials (Gen Y).

These words were used to describe this generation:
– Special
– Sheltered
– Achieving
– Confident
– Team Oriented
– Pressured
– Unable to think critically

As a “millennial” myself, I can agree with all of these descriptions in some ways, but does that mean we treat every student based on these assumptions? No! Would our jobs be easier if we could use the same advising method with every student? Of course, but I also think my job would be rather boring.

While all these words may in some ways describe the millennial generation, I think it’s extremely important we remember that within this generation are students who have a variety of personality types. I think it’s the personality types, at the end of the day, helping me realize which approach to use with my students.

Working in an advising center where we only utilize one on one appointments, I can see the advantages and disadvantages of this approach. While yes, I think the majority of our traditional students want the one on one appointment because they desire the opportunity to share with their advisor the semesters happenings, etc. I also think about our extremely introverted students whose worse nightmare is sitting down one on one to talk about life, classes.

You may think I’m crazy to say group advising may be a better fit for our introverted students, but this approach gives them the opportunity to hear answers to questions from other students they may have not asked for themselves.

The group approach may also be encouraging to our “less organized” students. Maybe their roommate attending a group session would get them there? (Yes our students need to learn responsibility, but would it be such a terrible thing if we meet them halfway and work with them to get the where they need to be?)

I’m not saying there’s a wrong or right way to go about advising sessions, but I do think it’s time we consider options rather than doing things the way they’ve always been done.

If we’re going to talk about Millennials and how we have to do so much to reach them, why are we still operating the same way we always have? And why are we pretending Millennials come from a cookie cutter a can all be treated the same?

Ally: For ALL Students

I had a conversation recently that went like this:

Ally Training is coming up. If you haven’t attended before I really recommend it! – Me

“We’re already an ally for ALL our students. Why do we need to go to training?”

“Are we though?” – Me

“Well of course! All our students know they can talk to us about anything!”

Blank stare – Me

**This ally training is geared specifically towards being an ally for the LGBTQ community.**

This is what we want our students to believe about us, but at the end of the day, especially concerning this topic, the last things our students assume is that we’re their ally. I mean lets be honest, this is conservative, Clemson, SC we’re talking about. I think this partly stems from the belief that in order to be your ally, I also have to agree with you.

At the end of this ally training you’re asked to wear a pin, put something in your office, etc. to show students you are a “safe zone”.

I also heard this statement, “I’ll go to training, but I’m not going wear a pin!”

So, are we really an ally for ALL students? I mean if you bring it up, I guess I’ll listen, but I’m certainly not going to invite the conversation or let them know this is a safe space?

No matter our personal beliefs, our students need to know they can confide in us. We’re now working with a generation who likes to share. Look at Facebook and Twitter, we want to tell our stories. We want someone to listen. LISTEN. So maybe you don’t agree, but just by listening you changed that students life. You gave them a safe zone to discuss their identity, the impact it has, and now, just maybe, they can continue through that development process.

I’m a firm believer in knowing your biases and addressing them if you need too, keeping your values at the forefront of all you do, but I’m also a firm believer in respecting ALL and providing the same opportunity to ALL. I was once asked in a counseling class, “what one person could you not serve as their counselor if asked professionally to do so?” Of course some things came to mind (which is why I’m not in clinical mental health counseling… I don’t think I could respectfully counsel a child molester). But at the end of the day, my job as a professional in higher education is to give fair, equal opportunities to all. The least I can do is just listen. You don’t have to agree or disagree, tell them right or wrong, just LISTEN and then if you feel uncomfortable working through some of those issues, respectfully refer them. But for the love, please give them, a safe, respectful environment to share their story…you may be the first person to just listen.

Helicopter Parent or Just Parent?

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Working in academic advising provides a lot of opportunities to talk to parents. It’s probably one of the toughest aspects of my job and every once in a while, one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. In higher education one of the most common terms referring to parents is “helicopter parents”. Admittedly, I use this term quite often after hanging up the phone with another parent. When most parents call to check up on their students grades, request paperwork, or register their students for classes (yea that happens), it’s no wonder helicopter parent is common in my vocabulary.

However, the past few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time talking to parents who really took a backseat because they didn’t want to be “those parents”. Some of them called because they believed their son/daughter was suffering from depression or alcohol and/or drug abuse. I listened to a father sob over worry for his child. I listened as a mother blamed herself for where her child is now.

We tell our students college is the time to learn independence, “cut the cord”, “leave the nest”, etc. But there has to be a happy medium of independence and support, right? Should we really expect 18-21 year olds to be able to handle the pressures and stressors of higher education alone?

How do we as higher ed professionals help parents understand the happy medium of giving their student autonomy as well as support? How do parents figure out when it’s time to just be a parent and forget feeling like a helicopter and being that parent?

How do we as higher ed professionals encourage our students to seek support whether it be from parents, advisers, friends, or counselors when they feel they can’t do it alone? How do we encourage them to have a healthy balance of independence and support?

I do realize there are a lot of other factors to consider when it comes to student success. The past few weeks I’ve really been thinking a lot about the parents role in higher education. So, what are your thoughts? How do you handle parent interaction?

Diversity: It’s More than Race & Color

Before I get started, let me go ahead and say, this post is in no way meant to take away from the importance of diversity & inclusion as it relates to race, color and all other areas.

NASPA_Logo_RGB smaller versionNASPA (Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education) is the leading association for the advancement, health, and sustainability of the student affairs profession. In the Student Affairs Master’s program at Clemson, we often talk about the importance of developing these professional competencies.  One of the competencies I recently started to further develop is the area of equity, diversion, and inclusion. (Honestly, in a Student Affairs program, you begin developing this competency whether you are intentional or not).

NASPA recognizes and appreciates diversity in relation to, and across the intersections of, race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, veteran status, age, socioeconomic status, and disability. Believing in inclusive environments, we emphasize the importance of understanding, approaching, and owning diversity and equity from a personal, interpersonal, institutional, and global level.

When I attended the National NASPA conference in March, I attended several workshops relating to diversity. The workshops provided great information, programming, etc. to use with diversity education, but I noticed they focused on the same areas of diversity: race, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Again, I truly understand the importance of educating ourselves and our students in these diverse areas, but I feel because they are such a buzz topic right now we’ve forgotten about some of the other diverse populations.

In my opinion, the forgotten about diverse area is individuals with disabilities. The word disability and whether or not you agree with its usage is another post for another day, so don’t get caught up on it for the moment.

Something happened in my office (academic advising) recently breaking my heart and encouraging this post.

To make what could be a long story, short, let me lay out a few things for you. Every student at Clemson is required to see their academic adviser in order to register for classes each semester. During the scheduled appointment advising times, a 5 minute “buffer” is in place for students to get to their appointment. Therefore, if a student has an appointment at 9:20 he/she has until 9:25 to walk in the door. After the 5 minute buffer passes, students must reschedule their appointment.

Is this a fair rule? Absolutely! The response I typically give students upset because they need to reschedule for arriving more than 5 minutes late, “Would you show up to a job interview late?”

Do I think there are times when you ignore the rule and do the right thing by the student? Absolutely! (to an extent of course)

I promise, this is making it’s way back around to diversity and inclusion.

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As far as I know, we have ONE student out of 500 in a wheelchair. This student is confined to his/her wheelchair with very little mobility in his/her arms. This student happened to show up at 9:26 for his/her appointment. That’s right, just one minute past the 5 minute buffer. I could see the frustration on their face and I just knew the tardiness was out of his control.

I pleaded through the look in my eyes for the adviser to take the student on back to their office for the advising appointment, but instead this student was told to reschedule and turned away. As my heart broke, my blood begin to boil. At this specific moment, there was nothing I could do to get the appointment to take place, but in the back of my mind I was beginning to take action.

I needed a few minutes to breathe and cool down so I took a walk around the building (inside and out). I’ve worked in this building since September and not once have I considered the accessible doors locations (or lack thereof). For a building with at least six exterior entryways, ONE of them is “accessible”. By accessible I mean, no stairs. (aka…not accessible).

I came back to my office and emailed the student. I apologized and begged him/her to help me understand the limitations he/she faces outside and inside this building and around campus. I truly wanted to advocate for the student. Yes, he/she is just ONE of our 500+ students but he/she matters just as much as the other 499.

This is an excerpt from the email I received.

First and most importantly, I want to thank you for worrying about me. It really means a lot to me and I really do appreciate it! The only thing that I have trouble with at Sirrine really are the doors because I can not open them by myself so I have to wait for somebody to open them so I can go in, but almost every building on campus is like that so it’s not a big deal.

When I read your e-mail, I got really happy because I see that there are people who care about my needs.

I cried. Bawled. You may think I took to the tissue box because a student thanked me and appreciated me and while I’m thankful I had that impact, that’s not the real reason I sobbed like a baby. This student doesn’t think it’s a big deal he can’t get in the majority of buildings on campus, because we haven’t made the effort to let him know it is a big deal. That’s what I mean by “Diversity: It’s More than Race & Color”. We’ve forgotten about every piece of diversity and inclusion. ALL our students matter and all our students deserve to be advocated for. Whether ONE of 500 or 450 of 500, our responsibility as student affairs practitioners is to advocate and make a difference in the lives of our students.

What does accessibility look like around you? You never know who may need you to look around, ask some questions, and make a difference.