The Student Affairs New Professional

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Learning to Fly - Post 4

Quote of the Day:
"...I bumped into a woman I hadn't seen for nearly three years. The first thing she said to me? 'You've lost a lot of weight since the last time I saw you!'

'Well,' I said, slightly nonplussed, 'the last time you saw me I'd just had a baby.'

What I felt like saying was, 'I've produced my third child and my sixth novel since I last saw you. Aren't either of those things more important, more interesting, than my size?' But no - my waist looked smaller! Forget the kid and the book: finally, something to celebrate."

- JK Rowling, author of Harry Potter

Sometimes, when you've given up hope, people will surprise you.

Yesterday, I took my RAs to a cabin in the wood (okay, that just sounded a little creepy...) for our first real staff development. I could tell you about the hassle it was to organize this, the stress of trying to find someone to cover our building, the frustration when my staff didn't follow through on tasks they'd been given to prepare for this and and and. Yes, I was frustrated. I was annoyed. I didn't feel like going to the retreat anymore. Why did I have to do this in the first place? This wasn't required. And it was clear that my staff wasn't appreciating it...why else would they do everything last minute...wait for weeks before even seriously starting to ask their friends to cover duty. Why did I have to be such an overachiever?

But then we got there and we had a great time. We were playing games. I had some activities planned (an identity teambuilder, a review of staff expectations of each other); others we came up with at the spur of the moment. We made smores in the fireplace, told stories, laughed. It was getting late and I could see my staff starting to fade...they were about ready for bed...but I had one more activity planned. I wanted to talk about language...about words or phrases that can hurt and offend. They weren't all that enthusiastic when we started. I could hear the groans and felt their looks on my back, as I put up a big piece of butcher paper on the wall with the phrase "words can hurt" written on it. I asked them to think of words or phrases that upset and offend them and then to come up and write those on the paper.
We sat there...for a few moments I was afraid nobody would get up. Then, one of the RAs stood up and wrote, "You're a fag" on the paper. The others followed the example. Slowly the paper was filled...comments about weight, race, ability, sexual orientation.
And then we started to talk. Again, at first it was just me and my graduate assistant sharing stories, explaining why certain things offend us. We definitely had those awkward silences with everyone staring at the floor hoping I wouldn't call them out, shifting uncomfortably in their seats, praying someone else would break the silence. But then the stories came out.

I had been worried about my staff's awareness of social justice issues; their openness toward those topics. Now I found out their stories - stories about themselves, their friends, relatives, loved ones. They touched on topics I hadn't expected them to bring up, expressing their thoughts in mature and openminded ways that blew me away. Maybe I've been underestimating my staff. Maybe I have been making assumptions based on the region of the country I'm in, the general climate on campus, their reluctancy to openly speak out for issues.

I have hope again. Okay, so they still don't hand in their reports on time. They don't respond to my e-mails or plan programs well in advance. But they care; and they have an understanding and appreciation of diversity; they are trying to be open and accepting and want to promote an open and accepting environment; and most of all they're willing to talk and to learn. We may still have a long way to go, but at least I know now that we're walking in the right direction.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Tryin' to Get Paid-Post 2

Post 2 from Tryin' to Get Paid

Music I'm Groovin To: OutKast "Morris Brown"

Another week of work is done, and I'm still amazed that I have a full time job. There are some days I'm expecting to go home to do homework, and I walk through the door, sit down...and I've got nothing to do. And it feels so good!!!

I remember the last few days of grad school, where our professor asked everyone to state what they would do when they entered the professional world. Many said they would read, some would exercise, some would save money and travel, and some would take some time to do artistic works. I, on the other hand, proudly stated that I would do absolutely nothing. I would go home, sit on my couch, and just exist. I would consume oxygen and release carbon dioxide. In a metaphysical sense (an in the words of my good friend Alvin), I would coalesce in a space of self. Now that I can do that, it feels wonderful. However, there is a drawback...I'm alone most of the time in front of my non-functioning TV, and I've gotta find something to do.

On the work front, I'm still trying to navigate the campus culture at my new institution. It's still very interesting to learn new idiosyncracies the students come to campus with, and the type of environment I'm in now. Before working here, I've never heard 5 languages spoken at once, met a vegan, knew what the world "hegemony" meant, and knew that clothes could be made from recycled materials. It felt like I'd been living in a no-man's land where I was cut off from the rest of the world. However, I have to keep reminding myself that these kids grew up in a completely different environment than I did, and have been through vastly different experiences than I have. That doesn't mean that they're any better than me (and I'd definitely correct them on that point, if you feel me), nor they're more educated than me (I've got 2 degrees with my name on them, and I've busted my ass to get them). In fact, these kids are more than willing to show this fool what's up in their world, and it's pretty cool that they're willing to invite me in to their circles.

Well, "My Super Sweet 16" is on (it's my guilty pleasure), so I'm gonna run. Until next week...

Monday, September 18, 2006

Learning To Fly - Post 3

Quote of the Day: "We're adults. When did that happen? And how do we make it stop?"
- Meredith Grey, Grey's Anatomy

I'm not taking classes anymore.

Somehow I still can't believe it! School has been such a huge part of my life for the past 18 years and now I'm done (Well, at least until I get really ambitious and decide to get a PhD...but don't worry, that won't happen for at least another 5-7 years). I thought that working on a college campus, I would be even more aware of not taking classes...after all, everyone around me is: my residents, my RAs, the graduate students who work with us in the department...but surprisingly, I feel like it still hasn't hit me that I'm not a college student anymore.

Maybe it's because I've been so busy and I haven't really had time to think about it yet. Maybe it's because I value "professional development" and have been trying to read professional literature, glance over the Chronicle of HigherEd on a regular basis and even try to turn a grad school paper into an article for publication. Maybe it's because the job is still so new and I'm still learning a lot of things. No matter what the reason, I still feel very much a part of the school life and I have to remind myself that I'm not a student anymore.

The one thing that has changed is that classes suddenly sound a lot more exciting to me. As I'm advising my residents (I am a Hall Director and Academic Advisor for a first-year building) and am going through the course list with them, I find all these classes that sound so fascinating. I remember groaning about the general education requirements at my liberal arts undergraduate I find all those classes exciting and would welcome the opportunity to learn about those topics.

While not taking classes isn't as "strange" as I thought it would be, some of the other aspects of being a grown-up definitely are.
I have a retirement portfolio. Can you believe that? I know what a Roth IRA is! (Or at least I think I do...okay, maybe I should take that back...but I have one, whatever it is.) I've starting to think about investing.

Just a few weeks ago, I didn't even know what any of this was. Then, the Human Resources session happened during training and you could see the panic and confusion on all of our faces. I'm just glad I didn't have to go through this by myself. Who knew all the things you have to do and decide!!! That's one thing they forgot to mention in grad school.
So now I have the same retirement plan and savings account as at least half of the ResLife staff. I still don't really know what it means and what I'm doing, but I'm pretty sure that I've signed everything I had to and making all these important decisions and at least I don't have to stress about it anymore. And I have the rest of my life to find out what I actually picked and what that means.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Tryin' to Get Paid-Post 1

Post 1 from Tryin' to Get Paid

My office is annoyed by: "While I'm Alone" Maze f/ Frankie Beverly

Okay, okay, I was supposed to start the blog a week ago. But...I've got a great excuse...Orientation. Yep, we had orientation during the Labor Day weekend, which meant I got to celebrate the efforts of hard-working Americans by...working. But, before I go any further, here's some background about this simple fool.

I just graduated from my Master's program in Higher Education (if that wasn't obvious to you) and I started working in late June. I'm at a private, liberal arts school in the upper Midwest. However, I'm in a major urban area, which is fine by me, because I'm a city guy. I can't stand driving several hours to get basic essentials, like a decent haircut and hear good old school music.

My's rather unique. I went to a large, public, rural agricultural school, so I'm used to kids rolling down the main drag in souped-up F350 diesel pickups with Alan Jackson blasting from their windows. Also, the campus was pretty conservative, so any ideas of diversity were immediately greeted with scorn. Now, I'm at a place where kids are driving hybrid Civics (well, at least their parents are), listening to Ani DiFranco and sipping on free-trade Rwandan dark roast coffee. Plus, this place is pretty liberal (just think about it...I consider myself a left side of the aisle kind of a guy, and since I've been here, I'm seen as the conservative voice on campus). It's a dramatic shift, but I'm getting used to the environment, and I love it so far. Plus, the students here are just like any other late teenagers; they want to take the world, but are still trying to figure out how.

Well, I hope that was a great intro for you. But, I've got to get back to work. Until later...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Learning to Fly - Post 2

Quote of the Day: "Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game." - A Cinderella Story

It's 1 a.m. and I should have been in bed a couple of hours ago. I have a meeting tomorrow morning at 8:30 AM and I don't even want to think about how hard it will be to get out of bed that early. In case you didn't know: I am NOT a morning person!

But there's something I've been thinking about...

It all started when I was doing laundry tonight. I hate doing laundry. The worst part is when you get the clothes out of the dryer and you have to fold them...and in some cases even iron them. It takes forever and you know in a few days, you'll just have to do it all over again.

I was walking down the hallway and I saw light in my office. Did I leave the light on by mistake? My dad's a physics teacher and all about conserving I rush over to the office to turn the light off. As I open the door, I find one of my RAs sitting at my computer. He's been using my computer to do his homework because one of the programs he needs doesn't work on his machine.
We start chatting. He's quite the character and comes up with the most random comments. So we're talking about feminism and - knowing that I am a feminist - he says, "Did you know that [another RA] says that she wouldn't care if the feminist movement never happened?"
Silence. I look at him. I'm not really sure what he expects me to say. Did he think I would die from shock that someone actually said that.
"Because she'd be happy to be a housewife and raise children and all that," he goes on...trying to get a reaction from me.
So this started a whole debate about what it really means to be a feminist and what feminists fight for. I believe that it's all about having the choice whether you want to have a career as a woman or whether you want to be a stay-at-home mom. I'm not saying one is better than the other...but it should be your choice and not something society forces onto you.

But is it enough to just have the choice between the two? Shouldn't we, as women, be able to have both? A man can have a career and a family. But can a woman do that?

I love my job and I could never imagine not working. But would I be able to continue working as I do now and have a family, run a household, raise my children? I want to move up in the field, but can you be a Director of ResLife, a Dean of Students or even a Vice President of Student Affairs and have children? If I had a husband, who's willing to be a stay-at-home dad, definitely. But would I want that? I'm not going to carry this baby for 9 months, then spend some painful hours in labor and after that push it off to his father and only see it on weekends and holidays. I want to be a mom...a mom who's around...a mom who goes to school plays and soccer games...a mom who makes sure that there's always a fresh batch of cookies on the table when the children get home from school.
But I also want a career. I want to make a difference in this field. I want to have an impact on students, take the lead on new initiatives, shape departments, be regionally and nationally active in professional organizations and and and.

But am I asking for too much?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Learning To Fly - Post 1

Quote of the Day: "I like a quiet life, you know me." - Harry Potter

Welcome to this blog! And welcome back to those of you, who followed my journey last semester as "Candidate #0000."

It's just been a few months since I put on my cap, gown and hood; only a month and a half since I packed up my car, said goodbye to friends, colleagues and mentors and drove for 13 hours...It feels like a lifetime.

The summer was filled with the excitement and anxiety of knowing that I would soon start a new part of my life, a new adventure. I spent half of my last paycheck on new books, all related to Residence Life, learning communities and being a new professional. I spent countless hours organizing my computer files and documents, sorting through papers and notebooks...after all, I wanted to start off my new life "well-organized and prepared." I spent precious hours with friends trying not to ask when I'd see them again or whether or not we'd manage to stay in touch in spite of the distance. I daydreamed about new opportunities, about being the "perfect" new professional...and in the back of my mind - even though I never admitted it - I worried about not being good enough, not being "liked" at the new institution, not being able to make new friends, and not being able to succeed in my new position.

And then the day came: my car was packed. A last look around my apartment to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything. Handing in the keys at the Complex Office. Saying goodbye to my supervisor and a few colleagues. A last look at the institution that had been my home for the past two years. And then I was on the road...

The first few days were filled with anxiety hidden well behind a big smile. How would I fit in here? What will this year bring?

Now, I've survived Week 2 of the Fall semester. I made it through the long days of professional staff training. I bonded with my Resident Assistant staff during Student Staff Member training. I was astonished at how smoothly opening went as I welcomed 220 first-year students to my building. And before I was able to take a deep breath, the semester started. Students stormed my office to ask academic advising questions (yes, working for residence life here, I don't only run a building and supervise a staff but also am the academic advisor for my first-year residents). There hasn't been a dull moment yet. And I don't think there'll be a dull moment...EVER.

But what can I say, I LOVE it!

No, not everything has turned out the way I expected it too. Yes, there have already been many long and stressful days, unexpected challenges and frustrating discoveries but some things have also been easier than I expected, there have been positive experiences, fun surprised and memories that will last a lifetime.

And it's only the beginning....