A Quote on What We Lose at the End of the World

A passage I can't get out of my mind from my recent reading of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This quote comes at a point in the book where a character is categorizing what was lost after a deadly flu wiped out a significant portion of the world's population.

An incomplete list:

No more diving into pools of chlorinated water lit green from below. No more ball games played out under floodlights. No more porch lights with moths fluttering on summer nights. No more trains running under the surface of cities on the dazzling power of the electric third rail. No more cities. No more films, except rarely, except with a generator drowning out half the dialogue, and only then for the first little while until the fuel for the generators ran out, because automobile gas goes stale after two or three years. Aviation gas lasts longer, but it was difficult to come by.

No more screens shining in the half-light as people raise their phones above the crowd to take pictures of concert states. No more concert stages lit by candy-colored halogens, no more electronica, punk, electric guitars.

No more pharmaceuticals. No more certainty of surviving a scratch on one’s hand, a cut on a finger while chopping vegetables for dinner, a dog bite.
No more flight. No more towns glimpsed from the sky through airplane windows, points of glimmering light; no more looking down from thirty thousand feet and imagining the lives lit up by those lights at that moment. No more airplanes, no more requests to put your tray table in its upright and locked position – but no, this wasn’t true, there were still airplanes here and there. They stood dormant on runways and in hangars. They collected snow on their wings. In the cold months, they were ideal for food storage. In summer the ones near orchards were filled with trays of fruit that dehydrated in the heat. Teenagers snuck into them to have sex. Rust blossomed and streaked.

No more countries, all borders unmanned.
No more fire departments, no more police. No more road maintenance or garbage pickup. No more spacecraft rising up from Cape Canaveral, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, from Vandenburg, Plesetsk, Tanegashima, burning paths through the atmosphere into space.

No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.”
— - Emily St. John Mandel

A Quote on Current Events

A passage from Between The World and Me that has been rolling through my mind and heart over the past week.

A society, almost necessarily, begins every success story with the chapter that most advantages itself, and in America, these precipitating chapters are almost always rendered as the singular action of exceptional individuals. “It only takes one person to make a change,” you are often told. This is also a myth. Perhaps one person can make a change, but not the kind of change that would raise your body to equality with your countrymen.

The fact of history is that black people have not - probably no people ever have ever - liberated themselves strictly through their own efforts. In every great change in the lives of African Americans we see the hand of events that were beyond our individual control, events that were not unalloyed goods. You cannot disconnect our emancipation in the Northern colonies from the blood spilled in the Revolutionary War, any more than you can disconnect our emancipation from slavery in the South from the charnel houses of the Civil War, any more than you can disconnect our emancipation from Jim Crow from the genocides of the Second World War. History is not solely in our hands. And still you are called to struggle, not because it assures you victory but because it assures you an honorable and sane life...

...This is the import of the history all around us, though very few people like to think about it. Had I informed this woman that when she pushed my son, she was acting according to a tradition that held black bodies as lesser, her response would likely have been, “I am not racist.” Or maybe not. But my experience in this world has been that people who believe themselves to be white are obsessed with the politics of personal exoneration. And the word racist, to them, conjures, if not tobacco-spitting oaf, then something just as fantastic - an orc, troll, or gorgon. “I’m not racist,” an entertainer once insisted after being filmed repeatedly yelling at a heckler: “He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger!” Considering segregationist senator Strom Thurmond, Richard Nixon concluded. “Strom is no racist.” There are no racists in America, or at least non that the people who need to be white know personally. In the era of mass lynching, it was so difficult to find who, specifically, served as executioner that such deaths were often reported by the press as having happened “at the hands of persons unknown.” In 1957, the white residents of Levittown, Pennsylvania, argued for their right to keep their town segregated. “As moral, religious and law-abiding citizens,” the group wrote, “we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community.” This was the attempt to commit a shameful act while escaping all sanction, and I raise it to show you that there was no golden era when evildoers did their business and loudly proclaimed it as such.

”We prefer to say that such people cannot exist, that there aren’t any,” writes Solzhenitsyn. “To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law.” This is the foundation of the Dream - its adherents must not just believe in it but believe that it is just, believe that their possession of the Dream is the natural result of grit, honor, and good works. There is some passing knowledge of the bad old days, which, by the way, were not so bad as to have any ongoing effect on our present. The mettle that it takes to look away from the horror of our prison system, from police forces transformed into armies, from the long war against the black body, is not forged overnight. This is the practiced habit of jabbing out one’s eyes and forgetting the work of one’s hands. To acknowledge these horrors means turning away from the brightly rendered version of your country as it has always declared itself and turning toward something murkier and unknown. It is still too difficult for most Americans to do this. But that is your work. It must be, if only to preserve the sanctity of your mind.
— Ta-Nehisi Coats in Between The World and Me

As we enter a new era of political order and social dialogue, I hope to keep these words at the forefront of my mind.

Vulnerability, Perfectionism and #newSApro Status

"Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval. Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule following, people pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: 'I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.' Healthy striving is self - focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other focused: What will they think? Perfectionism is a hustle." 

-Dr. Brene Brown

The winter view from my office window

The winter view from my office window

Being a new professional is lonely. My personal experience of launching off to establish a professional identity in a new place has included occasional feelings of isolation and a sense that I'm running a maze I should know but can't always recall where to turn.  I find myself asking "am I doing something wrong?"

I think the fundamental dissonance I'm experiencing boils down to the following question: do my peers think I am doing a good job? Tragically, finding a verifiable answer to this question wouldn't assuage my sense of loneliness or perceived inadequacy. No, the question itself reveals the engine of disharmony I feel about my chosen profession and professional identity. 

I should note the delineation between my professional and personal identity. I refuse to believe that life is so easily compartmentalized. I choose here to draw a distinction between the two to illustrate a larger point about transitioning into a new job or workplace. Much about my recent move to Kansas has gone splendidly, and I truly appreciate both the Lawrence community and the place I work. That being said, I know I'm not the only one experiencing a sense of frustration and isolation in the midst of working at a place you KNOW you belong. My hope is this post will serve as an acknowledgement that YOU (dear reader) aren't the only one feeling those feels. 

The Tyranny Of Perfectionism

The view from my typical lunch table. 

The view from my typical lunch table. 

New professionals do things wrong. I've already said "oops" and "ouch" several times this year. The first couple of times I would walk away from these instances with my insides all tied up in knots. If my supervisor made the comment, "well, lets make sure that situation doesn't come up again," or "in the future this is how this situation needs to be handled," I assumed that I was a fundamentally flawed employee. At no point in the conversations that followed such mistakes did my supervisor express that I didn't deserve to be where I was. I drifted towards such thoughts anyways. My perspective in such moments isn't rooted in a desire to do my job well, it's rooted in a desire to be perfect.

Perfectionism is a terrible burden to carry. Where does the imperative to remain crystal clean come from? The answer to that question is probably grist for years of therapy, but professionally, there are some systemic elements that encourage this unhealthy striving. 

In "Becoming Socialized in Student Affairs Administration" (2009) Tull et. al. posit that there are three initial stages connected to a professional's integration into a new administrative position: 

1) Formal Stage: characterized as "learning the ropes" and full of formal training and integration. 

2) Informal Stage: characterized as learning "the realities of working life in the position." A professional hasn't necessarily personalized the role, but is learning beyond how things should be done to how things actually look when addressed in the position. Another way to characterize this might be by saying that a new employee begins to run up against the "unwritten rules" of the position. 

3) Personal Stage: characterized by "Having learned the ropes in the formal stage and decoded the unwritten rules in the informal stage, the new professional truly inhabits the professional role and develops a personal style consistent with the role." 

Each of these stages is composed of personal, professional, institutional, and extra-institutional realms that influence the day-to-day experience of being-in-the-professional-workplace. Each of these stages carries its own set of burdens, challenges, and potentials for excellence. Each stage requires a crucible of trial and error, courage and perseverance. IF one's goal is to "stick a perfect landing" in each of these stages....to remain pristine and not make mistakes, professional growth cannot occur. Perfectionism can ultimately mean operating out of a sense of fear, not inspiration. 

Finding Space For Vulnerability In the Workplace 

The place I typically reflect and collect my thoughts. 

The place I typically reflect and collect my thoughts. 

Mastering the on-boarding process is not the solution to the potentially debilitating effects of perfectionism. Cultivating a posture of vulnerability is a helpful step towards a sustainable solution. Moving to a new area of the country, cultivating relationships with coworkers, and tackling the typical problems associated with my line of work are all grist for the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that my efforts aren't enough.

In her book Daring Greatly, sociologist Dr. Brene Brown highlights the effects of living in a culture that is hyper aware of scarcity, and ultimately encourages dwelling on the things we lack. As she puts it:

 Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyperaware of lack. Everything from safety and love to money and resources feels restricted or lacking. We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don't have, and how much everyone else has, needs and wants. (pg. 27) 

Dr. Brown's solution, ultimately, is seeking a posture of vulnerability in relation to the world around you. Vulnerability here is described as "uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure." ...It's hard for me to think of a better encapsulation of the first year in a new job. For Dr. Brown vulnerability, when understood and utilized incorrectly, can lead to intense feelings of shame. Shame, particularly when combined with perfectionism can lead to a debilitating loss of agency. 

I've taken to routinely asking two questions in my effort to embrace the inherent vulnerability of being a new professional:

1) Are there individuals with whom I can be real? We all need space to vent and individuals we can share our work stories with, but this question also cuts deeper. Inherently, I'm asking whether or not there are folks I'm willing to share my shortcomings and fears with. Are there people I'm willing to reveal my missteps with? We all need to be honest about where we need to improve. 

2) Am I framing an issue or a problem I'm facing through the lens of "what will my standing with others be based off the action I take?" Should I be mindful of the implications of my actions on my supervisor, those I supervise, and the students I serve? - Yes. However, addiction to the approval and praise of the constituents involved can quickly turn toxic. 

This too shall pass 

Eventually, being a "new professional" gives way to familiarity with the institution and a personal interpretation of my role and how I can contribute to the life of the community. Meanwhile, this crucible that is "the first year" provides an opportunity to examine both personal and professional assumptions that influence my being-in-the-world. I'm comforted to know that I am not the only individual working through this transition.

What do YOU (dear reader) think? How have you managed the transition into a new phase of professional life? What did you learn along the way? 

 

Sources

 

Brown, Brene. (2012) Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, New York: Gotham Books. 

(Ed.) Tull, Ashley., Hirt, Joan B., Saunders, Sue A.. (2009) Becoming Socialized in Student Affairs Administration.  Sterling, Virginia: Stylus. 

A morning view from my favorite stairwell in the KU Memorial Union

A morning view from my favorite stairwell in the KU Memorial Union

Residential Curriculum Institute 2014

The morning view from VT's Convention Center 

The morning view from VT's Convention Center 

"Learning Reconsidered defines learning as a comprehensive, holistic, transformative activity that integrates academic learning and student development, processes that have often been considered separate, and even independent of each other."  

Have there been moments in your professional career, at either a conference or other gathering of practitioners, where you thought "oh my gosh...these people GET IT. I thought I was the ONLY person who had some of these ideas!"

A primary take-away from my recent attendance at the Residential Curriculum Institute (RCI) could be easily summed up as "I'm not alone!" RCI was deeply affirming of the reasons I got involved in Student Affairs. I also walked away from RCI with several thought provoking challenges and a reframed perspective on my day-to-day work. Specifically, a challenge to question how I frame my work - as primarily an educator or an administrator? I was challenged to abandon the idea that academic administrators and "student affairs" administrators inhabit mutually exclusive sphere's of student growth and development. I also gained resources on how institutional departments can begin to build narratives for how their work is woven into the greater campus ecosystem of learning.

Am I an administrator or an educator? 

"Student affairs staff members at [highly effective] colleges and universities are partners in the educational enterprise, engaging in enriching educational opportunities for students, team teaching with faculty, and fostering student success." 

Fundamentally, what is my career and work about? I think many individuals, including myself, get involved in higher education with educational ideals but if I'm being honest about my day to day work, I spend most of my time in "administrator" mode. I churn through spreadsheets, fill out forms, and call other offices to get other administrative processes in gear. Framed improperly, this work can be deeply disappointing. A good question was asked during RCI by Keith Edwards- do you spend 80% of your work time fighting to protect the 20% of your work time you spend doing the things you "really love?" If so, why are you expending so much energy on all those other items?

If I'm being honest I spend a LOT of time in this mindset of "how quickly can I get all these other things cleared off my plate so I can do what I actually want to do?" I'm not sure that this is a sustainable mindset for a fulfilling life long career. I DO think that RCI is an attempt to hew some of my day-to-day work back into the educational ideals that drew me into Student Affairs. 

College is meant to be a transformational experience. A common refrain I hear from my colleagues about why they remain committed to this career field is that they want to have a hand in the transformation process. A phrase that commonly follows this desire (and I'm guilty of using this myself) is "when you think about what was most impactful about your college experience, do you usually think about what happened in the classroom?" To compartmentalize the college experience is such a way is incredibly counterproductive and antagonistic to a substantial constituency group in the institutional ecosystem.

Learning Reconsidered 

"...learning must be reconsidered – that new research, changing times, and the needs of today’s emerging generations of students require that our traditionally distinct categories of academic learning and student development be fused in an integrated, comprehensive vision of learning as a transformative process that is centered in and responsive to the whole student. Every resource on every campus should be used to achieve transformative liberal education for all students, and all colleges and universities are accountable for establishing and assessing specific student outcomes that reflect this integrated view of learning."  

When Living Learning Communities Meets A Learning Reconsidered Framework

When Living Learning Communities Meets A Learning Reconsidered Framework

Much of the theory and practice that informs the RCI model of community education is rooted in Learning Reconsidered, a document published in 2004 that called for sweeping reform in how student affairs/services administrators approached their work. RCI pushes a mode of student engagement that emphasizes individual interactions and an assessable, co-curricular structure for engaging with students who live on campus. The hallmark of this approach is a laser-like focus on curriculum/curriculum mapping, rubrics, and assessment. 

For my colleagues with B.A.s in Education this might sound like junior year all over again. That's because it's supposed to sound that way. The common RCI refrain is, "why are we expecting student staff to be experts at planning programmable experiences connected to a wellness wheel when we have reams of educational data and theory about how students develop in college and how they develop cognitively and socially." Instead of trying to get residents to come to events staff think are beneficial, lets meet the student where they are AND implement some assessable learning outcomes within those individual meetings. 

RCI was deeply affirming of some of the unspoken questions I had about how Residential Life Departments try to engage with students in the halls. There were plenty of activities and events that occurred in the residence halls that left me feeling a little bit uncomfortable with how we try to develop students. Many of the programs I worked to facilitate went something like this (tell me if you've had a similar experience):

Want some of this delicious pizza?! Sorry, you need to go get your passbook stamped by a few tabled campus partners first and then I need you to complete this brief survey. Or...

It's almost valentines day. I just spent a number of long hours putting together this elaborate bulletin board with facts and figures about safe sex. My tissue pomp game is totally on point for this one...lots of shades of colored paper. Since it's right by the elevator I'm going to stand here with a bowl of candy and condoms. Let's hope I have some good conversations over the next 2 hours. 

I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with this method of engagement, but is it really the best use of precious time and treasure? Can a 1st year student gain a nuanced understanding of privilege and oppression from one event that included pizza as a reward for their participation? There has to be more to residential programing than the wellness wheel! 

Towards a Curricular Approach

"We came to understand that while student interests are an important consideration when selecting program topics and methods, student learning should be the driving force.We realized that we had been functioning from a paradigm that required students to be exposed to ideas without paying any attention to the actual learning that was or was not occurring."  

The RCI model represents one of the best applications of student development theory to "administrative" work. Specifically, through the curriculum development process departments are able to clearly square what students should be able to learn by engaging with the Residential Community. As an educator I'm no longer grasping to apply Kholberg in a conduct hearing. Instead I can refer you to the curriculum map and learning goals our department has structured. Departments can critically analyze the institution's educational and strategic goals and then target the work of student staff to address those goals appropriately. Instead of inviting campus partners into a residential space for a few hours, our shared institutional learning goals mean I can weave them into the fabric and physical architecture of the residence halls. 

Some of the work remains largely similar to "traditional" modes of promoting learning in a residential environment. Roommate agreements, room condition inventories, sociograms, ice breakers, and roster test pop quizzes all remain tools in the residential learning tool kit, but the emphasis is placed on lesson plans and emphasizing individual interactions around specific topics of discussion. Why do we expect a resident assistant to absorb how they should be teaching their residents? Perhaps giving them a lesson plan is a more appropriate vehicle for facilitating a learning experience.

If you're interested in examining the theoretical and academic foundations for curriculum models there are several articles I would recommend picking up. Learning Reconsidered, Beyond Seat Time, and Are All Your Educators Educating? are excellent, and relatively short reads that can begin to reframe how you think about the work you do as a student affairs administrator. You might find that you prefer to consider yourself a student affairs educator. 


Articles Referenced

Keeling, Richard P. (Ed). Learning Reconsidered: A Campus Wide Focus On The Student Experience 2004. NASPA & ACPA Publications.  

Kerr, Kathleen G. & Tweedy, James. Beyond Seat Time and Student Satisfaction: A Curricular Approach to Residential Education. About Campus, 2006 (6), 9-15.

Whitt, Elizabeth J. Are All Your Educators Educating? About Campus, 2006 (1), 2-9.


Made it to Kansas

I feel the need to post some sort of update about the state of my life and travels. After a month of travel and visiting friends and family we've made it to Lawrence. We are now nominally moved into our apartment.

That being said, I am knee deep into on-boarding and professional training so I can't find the mental energy to provide much of substance. I promise to post a deeper narrative at a later date. 

Lawrence, Kansas is a charming little town and while I'm forming thoughts of how I hope to sink into this community I've found my mind dwelling a lot on the midwest and what it means to come back to this part of the country after having lived in the south for the past two years. 

I'll have more succinctly formed thoughts at a future date but for now I post Midwest, a poem by Stephen Dunn. I first heard this poem on "The Writer's Almanac" a podcast from APM. I've embedded a recording at the end of this post. 

                                                                                  Jay Hawk Country Indeed

                                                                                  Jay Hawk Country Indeed

Midwest

by Stephen Dunn


After the paintings

of David Ahlsted


We have lived in this town,

have disappeared

on this prairie. The church


always was smaller

than the grain elevator,

though we pretended otherwise.

The houses were similar


because few of us wanted

to be different

or estranged. And the sky


would never forgive us,

no matter how many times

we guessed upwards

in the dark.

 

The sky was the prairie's

double, immense,

kaleidoscopic, cold.

 

The town was where

and how we huddled

against such forces,

and the old abandoned

 

pickup on the edge

of town was how we knew

we had gone too far,

or had returned.

 

People? Now we can see them,

invisible in their houses

or in their stores.

 

Except for one man

lounging on his porch,

they are part of the buildings,

 

they have determined

every stubborn shape, the size

of each room. The trailer home

with the broken window

 

is somebody's life.

One thing always is

more important than another,

 

this empty street, this vanishing

point. The good eye knows

no democracy. Shadows follow

 

sunlight as they should,

as none of us can prevent.

Everything is conspicuous

and is not.