I’m writing this blog post for those who, like me, are also feeling a little beaten down today. Who aren’t on their “A” game. Who are struggling to stand up and say “I’m awesome and I’m going to get through this.” I like to practice what I preach, and even though I really try to find the good in everything I still need to be realistic. Sometimes life gets the best of me and drags me down.
Like many other SA Grads out there this job search feel endless and completely defeating at times. I’ve worked so hard, yet the uncertainty of my future is still lingering. Where will I be two months from now after graduation? Why aren’t half of these jobs calling me? What is wrong with me? Although I need to keep my head held high, I still have moments where I wonder whether or not I’m going to be jobless. The job search process in the field of student affairs is, to be blatantly honest, terrible at times. Yes, I know that everyone says “trust the process,” but in reality, the best that we can do is keep reapplying for jobs and surviving.
Of course, moments like this come with everything stressful happening all at once. A million assignments. Personal family issues. Anxiety. Complete exhaustion. When it rains, it pours. Always. And even though it’s cliché, I still have to keep reminding myself that it can only go up from here in these moments. Because it can. And it will.
So if you’re also on this SA job search journey like me, know that there are others out here struggling. My last blog post was about maintaining positivity throughout my journey, and I’m going to commit to just that. I am deserving of the opportunities I have been provided. I will end up somewhere where I am meant to grow. I am strong, confident, and competent. I will not let rough weeks when life, family, and everything else goes wrong destroy me. I can do this. We can do this. You’re strong, confident, and competent, too. Now let’s show them what we’re made of.
Originally posted by my friends at Involvio @ blog.involvio.com.
The journey of a Student Affairs graduate student is not an easy one (as I’m sure many of you know). Many SA grads like myself have to balance an assistantship, classes, internships, volunteering, family, friends, self-care, and a million other things. Last year I quickly learned that a combination of many stressors can bring a person down.
This is why my goal for the second year of SA grad is to be more positive and to make more time for myself.
Although I am typically a very self-aware person, I often forget how challenging life becomes when I do not make enough introvert time for myself. My first lesson learned is that I need to create concrete, scheduled, non-negotiable introvert time for myself during the week. Another really crucial thing for me to realize is that I should not listen to people who tell me that I am not an introvert because I am “too outgoing” and that I am “not quiet at all.” Introversion and extroversion are the ways that we recharge when we are at our busiest. So yes, I am very outgoing and bubbly but I am still in need of my time to recharge and refocus in the ways that work best for me.
In addition to taking care of my needs as an introvert, I also learned that venting is a very unhealthy coping mechanism for me. If you know me, you would say that I am not typically a negative person. The unfortunate reality is that I allowed myself to fall into a very detrimental, dark mindset where I struggled to find positivity in the world. I struggled with managing my negative emotions and did not process through those emotions in an appropriate way. I am now getting into the habit of stepping back and reframing my mindset before I speak poorly of a situation or individual. Yes, the world is not perfect and bad things happen, but this is not a reason to continuously speak out of negativity. It is a challenge, but I know in my heart that this is the right thing to do. Although venting is a healthy coping mechanism for others, it certainly is not the best one for me.
Finally, I learned that I need to celebrate each moment and to appreciate this experience. Again, life is not perfect and graduate school is extremely stressful at times. I need to step back in order to be thankful for this journey. I also need to live in the moment because the experience goes by quickly.
In conclusion, I want to leave you with some things that help me with living a more positive #SAGrad life! I hope that you will make it your goal to do the same.
• Write in a gratitude journal daily. I write 3 things that I am grateful for in the morning and at night, and then write 3 goals for myself each day. Instead of writing job or school-related goals, I write simple things like “laugh a lot” or “make self-care time.” I find it easier to accomplish these simple, yet fulfilling goals.
• Take care of your mental health in the ways that work best for you. I feel a drastic difference in my mental health when I take the time to go to workout classes and eat healthy. I absolutely love yoga and Zumba because they are a fun way to get in a workout. Some other strategies that are helpful to me are attending regular counseling sessions, getting enough sleep at night, and taking my medication. The more we talk about our mental health needs, the less stigmatized it becomes. It is important to find out what works for you!
• Make time for the people that mean most to you. I am a very family-oriented person, so I spend the majority of my time with my fiancé, my family, or my fiancé’s family. This means that my friends sometimes fall by the wayside, which is not okay. My new goal is to make time for my friends, especially the long-distance ones, and to give them a call at least once a week. I also plan to schedule time for my friends in the area at least once a month. Grad school is tough and many of us abandon our friends for a period of time because of our insane schedules. By scheduling out my time, my hope is that I can continue to stay connected to the people who mean the most.
It took me a very long time to recognize that I deserve the beautiful life that I have. Often times we find that our struggles define us and for some people, it’s nearly impossible to get past the bad times in our lives. I’ve been taking a lot of time to reflect on my journey. I’ve reflected on how far I’ve come as a person despite my past relationships, traumatic situations, and at times, having the cards stacked completely against me. No life is perfect. It may seem that some people have it all together but what we need to realize is that we all have a journey and all of our life journeys are sloppy at times. Here are just a few of the life lessons that I’ve learned from my beautiful, yet sloppy life.
I Deserve to Be Where I am Today (& so do You)
I worked a very long time to get where I am in my career. Although I’m only halfway through graduate school, I’ve had quite a journey so far in regard to employment and my career life path. Throughout my whole life, I thought I wanted to be a teacher. In the fall of 2013 I quickly realized that this wasn’t my life path (right when I was in the middle of my student teaching experience). I truly believe that I had a mental breakdown at that time. I knew that I wasn’t happy. I came back to my room and had panic attacks every single day. I knew in my heart that I wasn’t on the right path. And so I decided to quit student teaching to focus on my mental health. I worked at a Barnes & Noble for almost a year (which I loved, by the way) and focused on taking on side projects in student affairs (which is what I really love). I’ve had at least 10 random part-time jobs and work study positions over the years. I made it through undergraduate school despite the challenges of being a first-generation student. And now I’m here, working through grad school and doing work in Residence Life. I hope to continue to be successful after graduation.I deserve it.
No One Can Define You But Yourself
People are mean sometimes. Yes, I believe that people are mostly good but in reality, people tend to be mean when they are not happy in their own lives. I suffered through years of bullying as a child. I was called names because of my weight on a daily basis. Fast forward into high school and college. I was in an abusive relationship and other relationships with abusive tendencies. I learned to hate my body and everything about myself. I was never pretty enough or smart enough or thin enough or outgoing enough. It took me roughly 24 years to love myself and the life I’ve worked for. My time working at Saint Mary’s College was the turning point for my self-confidence when it came to my body image and my career. I took an intentional two year break from dating. I focused on “dating” myself and reflecting on the things that I love to do. I also reflected on and refined the skills that I am good at. I truly learned that I deserve to be where I am: happy and successful. I am the only one who can define my life. By learning to love my body and myself I took away that power from those who would try to hurt me with their words and actions.
Laugh so You Don’t Cry
Life is stressful. There will always be stressful days and things that go wrong. I learned that I need to laugh things off instead of constantly crying over them and letting them destroy me. It is so easy to let negativity consume our thoughts. When something goes wrong at work, I try to step away and laugh at the absurdity of the situation. When I think about something particularly sad, such as the death of a loved one, I try to reframe and think about a joyful memory with that person. Laughter is truly the best medicine. When we try to find the good in our unfortunate circumstances, we have the power to reclaim happiness instead of letting negative emotions to destroy us.
Happiness is Something that You Create
I know a staggering number of people who say that they would be happy if they had more money or a new car. I’ve learned that waiting for happiness to come to us is not how we should live our lives. Happiness is something that we personally define and create.Yes, having money or other things may ease some difficulty in our lives but that is not truly the answer to a happy life. We need to take steps to create our happiness. Go out for coffee on a Saturday. Make a phone call to the people you love. Do whatever you can to create happiness for yourself. Your life will be so much more fulfilling.
Capture Life in Moments, not Things
At the end of the day, you’re going to find the most joy from the moments that captivate you than from the newest electronics. Yes, buying new things is nice (and often necessary), but when you have the option between going on an adventure and buying something for yourself, I suggest that you go for the adventure. Life is all about the little quirky moments that make you happy, not about the new expensive things that you want to buy. For example, this year for our anniversary, my boyfriend and I decided to take a trip to Washington D.C. instead of buying gifts. We had an amazing time, laughed a lot, and had the opportunity to spend a super fun weekend together. We have no regrets about this decision and plan on trying to do it every year if we can!
It’s okay to have a Career that you Love without Allowing it to Take Over your Personal Life
In America, we have this tainted perception that in order to have a career that we are passionate about, we must give up a lot of other things, like a family, relationships, self-care, etc.It is important to know that you do NOT need to pick or choose which of these things you want. Life is all about balance. I am currently a full-time graduate student pursuing a career that I absolutely love and feel called to. I also spend every weekend I can with my significant other, his family, and my own family. I map out the workout classes that I want to attend every week. I also make sure that I go grocery shopping for healthy food so that I’m not eating like crap. If you plan out things accordingly, you can have it all. Yes, having a career while balancing a life is extremely stressful, but you need to know that it will all work out if you make the time to invest appropriately with all aspects of your life. Yes, I love my job, but my family and my significant other come first. I want to be successful in my career and to help others as well. It is okay to want both of these things.
Make Self-Care a Priority
I say this all the time, but one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is to make self-care a priority. Self-care doesn’t have to be extravagant trips to the spa or vacations to Hawaii (although those sound amazing). Self-care is simply the daily, weekly, monthly or yearly things that you do in order to maintain your balance, to refocus on your happiness, and to take care of your body and mind. My self-care practices involve getting at least 7.5 hours of sleep every night, taking coffee breaks when my anxiety is high (I know this doesn’t make sense, but grabbing a cup of coffee really helps me to recenter myself despite the caffeine), talking to my loving partner every day about the good things and the bad, grocery shopping instead of doing takeout, and going to yoga and Zumba classes as much as possible (which is about 2-4 times per week when I can). Self-care is saying no to things that you cannot add to your “plate.” It’s about advocating for yourself in the workplace and knowing that it is okay to speak up about your feelings. Taking care of myself is not selfish. You need to know that this is a part of life. If you don’t take care of yourself and practice self-love, you will not be able to love and take care of others.
My Mental Illness Does Not Define Me (& neither does Yours)
Mental Illness is often difficult to talk about because many people are still extremely judgmental about the validity of mental health needs. Although we are doing much better as a society at reducing the stigma, there are still many people out there who choose not to understand what we go through. I’ve learned that even though my Depression and Anxiety are a huge part of my life, they do not define me. I am not my mental illness. It has taken me years of hiding my mental illness and refusing to accept it for what it was. I went of medication when I thought that I was “better” (which I wasn’t). I still have days where I want to hide in my room because facing the world seems too difficult. I sometimes have panic attacks when I have a million things going on and my brain does not know how to cope. I’ve grown so much in self-awareness when it comes to my mental health. Your mental health journey will look very different from the journey of others. Just know that your needs are valid. Learn to embrace and understand your mental illness in order to practice the self-care that you need. Also know that what works for one person may not work for another.
Life is not easy. It wasn’t meant to be easy. Life is sloppy at times. We have absolutely amazing days where we wake up and feel like we can handle whatever comes our way. Other days we can barely make it out of bed. I deserve laughter and love, a career that I am passionate about, health and happiness, family, a partner that I couldn’t live without, and an extraordinary life worth living. You deserve this too. Get out there with your head held high. Pick up your feet. Yes, some days are really tough but I need you to know that when you get to a point of true joy in your life that the journey will be worth it.
I am happy to say that I’ve officially finished my first year of my student affairs masters program! Although it’s been a difficult transition at times, I’m happy to say that I’ve grown as a person, learned a lot about myself, & know what I need to do going forward into my second year.
The first thing I learned about myself is that I need to accept what I cannot change and to embrace the challenges that I am given.
Grad school is not meant to be an easy journey. Sometimes you’ll have 200+ pages of reading while you’re on-call for a big party weekend. Sometimes you’ll plan an event and no one will show up. There were times that I struggled deeply to accept my challenges for what they were. I complained a lot and ended up falling into a deeply negative mindset at times. I recognize that going forward, I truly need to reframe my mindset in order to accept my challenges and to understand how that challenge will help me to grow as a person and a professional. I also can’t fixate on the bad things that are happening. There is always something to be grateful for in the midst of the bad. I need to remember this.
I also learned that it is important to focus on self-care, even when I have a busy week with class, my assistantship, and life.
I have a tendency to say “yes” to helping everyone, eat terribly when I don’t have time to cook a healthy meal, make time for other people instead of taking introvert time for myself, etc. There were multiple times during the semester that I would let all of my stress pile up until I had a minor meltdown. Going forward, I truly need to work on establishing a balance, planning accordingly, and refusing to negotiate my self-care practices. Practicing self-care isn’t always the easiest when we have a million things going on, which is why it’s important to make it a priority at all times.
Professionally, I learned a lot of lessons from my assistantship.
It was difficult at times for me to go from a private institution to public branch campus. At my private campus, I had control over a lot of processes and had more autonomy to create programs/events/processes for my residents. I have learned an important lesson about respecting and valuing the political structure and established processes of an institution. It took a long time for me to recognize the importance of this lesson, and I know now going forward that I need to take a step back in order to understand the institutional structure and processes while also working to understand the policies and procedures that may not make sense to me right away. I also learned that I need to reflect on institutional style when I apply for a job. Overall, I have gained a lot from working at a completely different type of campus, and for that I am truly grateful.
I learned to focus on being grateful for my students and what they teach me every day.
After all, working with students is why I am in this field! My students have challenged me, made me laugh hysterically, made me feel valued, and helped me to grow as a person more than I could have ever imagined this year. I am so grateful for them and the amazing work they do. It is also rewarding to recognize the impact that I’ve made on their lives as well.
Personally, I also reaffirmed the importance of maintaining a personal life outside of grad school.
As an older SA Grad I knew that I wanted to make sufficient time for my partner and my family. I am thankful that I successfully spent time with them almost every weekend, as well as some of my cohort friends. It helps to have a boyfriend who sits with me for hours at Starbucks when I write papers and understands when I need to take some time to finish my readings in the evenings. After spending 3 years living in another state, I am extremely grateful to have been able to spend more time with the important people in my life and to strengthen our relationships over the past year. Make time for those you love. You’ll regret it in the end if you forget about them during your graduate journey.
Things for Future SA Grads to keep in mind:
Based on my experience, I thought it would be good to pull together a list for those of you who are going into SA Grad year 1 next year to keep in mind. Essentially these are the lessons I learned from this year and I hope that they are helpful for you to know before you start your journey.
Accept your challenges for what they are and take time to reflect on how they are going to help you to grow. Your experience isn’t going to be an easy one. Focus on why the challenging things are happening and what will come from them.
Focus on your self-care practices. Don’t let them fall by the wayside. We slip up at times and forget about ourselves, but ultimately, we should make time to re-center ourselves to focus back on what we need to succeed.
Understand the structure of where you are working. How do you fit in as a grad? What are the policies and procedures that you need to understand and to accept? Know these things and respect them. It is okay to question things respectfully, just don’t let the things that you don’t understand or those that you cannot change to hinder your experience.
Start reflecting on what you want from your future institution when you are in the job search. That’s the point of this experience. You are here to not only fortify your skills, but to know what you need (and don’t need) from a future employer.
Make time for a life outside of graduate school! And know that you’re not selfish for not making grad your everything. Yes, it is important, but you need to be human outside of it.
Know who your support system is and embrace them.Make time for them and allow them to take care of you when you need them.
Find healthy outlets to process your frustrations.I had a tendency to verbally (and negatively) vent this year, which was actually detrimental to my positivity. Although venting works for many people, I have a healthier outlook on life when I take time to actually reflect on and to process my frustrations. Blogging, journaling, and having constructive conversations with your support humans definitely help!
Know that your journey isn’t going to be like everyone else’s and that’s ok.Sometimes we have more difficult weeks than others. Sometimes those around us are going through more than we know. Focus on your journey and don’t compare it to others.
It’s ok to have bad days, but don’t let it bring you down as a person. You don’t have to be happy 24/7 as a grad or to know what you’re doing at all times. The important thing is to move forward when you’re having a bad day. Don’t fixate on it.
Have fun! The biggest thing is to enjoy the experience because it goes by quickly!
SA Grad is an incredible, yet difficult journey. You’ll fall at times. You’ll have many triumphs. You’ll meet a ton of incredible people. Know that your journey is what you make it. Whatever you do, make sure that you focus on what you want and need from this journey. And know that there are a ton of other student affairs professionals who are rooting for you along the way!
As many other Residence Life staff members know, 9pm staff meetings and programs are a normal in our functional area. Despite the fact that this is common, I still struggle with staying awake past my bedtime (I like to be home by 10 TBH) and finding the motivation to socialize later in the evening. This was the case last Thursday for our first year buildings area meeting. I was already dragging because I had just had another staff meeting at 7pm right before. I was also exhausted because I was getting used to my 6am wake-up time for the first week of classes. Needless to say, I was dreading the thought of going to another meeting.
Despite the fact that I was dragging, my colleague friend and I decided to put together a scavenger hunt for each of the 5 first-year Residence Halls staff so they could bond with new staff members. We added a number of funny items that the students would enjoy, such as taking a photo with the mountain cat mascot statue on campus, writing a poem to their AC (since there are 3 of us that oversee first year halls), and finding something Harry Potter related.
By the time the meeting came, I told myself that I had to put on a smile and fully show-up, both physically and mentally. By forcing myself to stay positive despite my exhaustion, the meeting ended up being one of the most entertaining and engaging experiences I’ve had with my students this year. The RAs were excited about the activity and had a great time taking the photos for the challenge. We all laughed until we were crying, which is more than I’ve laughed in a long time.
The biggest lesson I learned is to go into all my meetings and events with students with as much energy and charisma as I would if it were 11am instead of 9pm. That energy ends up being contagious and the students participate if you are excited about the event. It is so easy to pull into negative thoughts during times of exhaustion, especially in our field. On days when I’m struggling with a student or something that happened on campus, my supervisor reminds me to think about the small victories. Even though they are fewer than the challenges, those moments remind me of why I love what I do. We should all be celebrating our small victories. That’s what keeps our passion for SA fully alive.
Deciding where to begin a career in Student Affairs is often a challenge for a lot of professionals. Typically aspiring SA Pros will begin their journey by attending a post-graduate program and receiving a Master’s Degree before pursuing employment. A number of professionals, however, decide to take the road less traveled by gaining a few years of professional employment experience before pursuing a Master’s degree. This is the path I took to begin my SA Pro experience.
Beginning with employment in Student Affairs, rather than starting off with a Master’s program, is a huge challenge. Although it was a difficult road, I am so thankful that I worked before pursuing my degree. The greatest challenge was finding a position that was entry level & didn’t require my Master’s. After a lot of job searching & flying around to on-campus interviews, I finally found my first job as a Hall Director at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN.
Many may be wondering why I decided not to begin my journey with my Master’s program. Although this was a difficult decision, I knew that reaffirming my passion for Student Affairs & Residence Life was crucial for me. As a college undergrad, I thought that I was going to be a secondary English teacher until I was in the middle of my student teaching experience. Not only did I realize that I no longer had a passion for secondary education, but that I was completely miserable in the classroom. I decided then to quit my student teaching to focus on my mental health and my desire to pursue Student Affairs. This was the most difficult, yet beneficial decision I’ve ever made. By stepping away from the English classroom, I learned that although I felt called to be an educator, it was no longer inside of a classroom. I also learned that I much rather preferred working with college level students.
It was this decision that caused me to work as a Hall Director these past few years. I have not only reaffirmed my passion, but have given myself the practical experience that will help me to relate to theories and to learn new things in my Master’s classes. I am so thankful that I took that time to myself. If you are still on the fence about a career path but are considering Student Affairs, I seriously recommend that you do the following:
1. Consider working in Higher Ed before pursuing your Master’s Degree. This will give you time to make sure you are in the field you want to be in while also reaffirming the specific content area/office that you want to work with. I always knew that Residence Life was my calling, since I was an RA and an Assistant Hall Director for my undergrad institution. This will also allow you to “dabble” in other content areas and potentially work with advising, which is crucial experience to have.
2. Consider moving away to a new state/area if you do decide to work before your degree. I’ve gained so much independence from my move to Indiana these past 3 years. This has also reaffirmed that I wanted to return to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where my family/support system is. The most growth comes from finding yourself in a strange place alone & with developing a new life/support in that strange new place.
3. Talk to other professionals in the field. I know that I had the help of a number of Student Affairs friends to push me and guide me toward making the right decision for myself. Talk to people in different offices and ask what they do on a regular basis. Ask to do some job shadowing. It’s nice to have some background on some of the job options within our field.
Overall, make the decision that is best for you. If you are one of those people who needs to pursue a Master’s Degree immediately post undergrad, then go for it! If you want to test the waters first, know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing so and you will NOT be behind when it comes to pursuing your degree. Know that there are other professionals in the field who have been where you are and are right there with you in your journey.
“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” – BreneBrown
Building coworker relationships is not always easy, especially if you all work and live in the same place. The dynamic gets even more challenging on a 4 person HD staff at an all-female institution. I’ve gone through many years of either witnessing divided Hall Director staffs in my undergrad to experiencing them myself in my professional life. This year’s HD training, however, has been going so exceptionally well that I needed to stop and process what went right. Of course, a huge factor is that we all have similar personality types, interests, and communication styles (so many INFJ’s and blues here). Regardless, us returning staff members were very intentional about how we went about welcoming our new coworkers. Here are a few that I would like to share:
As a student affairs professional (and human being in general) I embrace that I’m a quirky, energetic person (I’m the notorious quirky cat lady on the HD staff if that puts anything into perspective for you). Don’t be afraid to show who you truly are from the beginning while maintaining that professionalism in your conversations. Your coworkers are eventually going to be around you so much that they see the real you. Why not learn how to embrace that from the beginning? Also, it will allow your coworkers to feel more comfortable about being authentic with you from the beginning.
As a product of Catholic Benedictine higher education, we were taught to strive for living the Benedictine values in our everyday lives. One that has always stuck with me is the value of hospitality. I love to make people feel welcomed, loved, and accepted. Before HD training started we coordinated an HD brunch with the new staff members so that we could chat and enjoy a meal before getting into actual training week. Reflect on how you will make your coworkers feel like a part of a family, rather than just a staff. When you build these healthy and more personal relationships from the beginning, it’s much easier to grow together professionally.
Before the new HDs even arrived to campus, my friend (the other returning HD) and myself talked through all the pro-staff issues we had the previous year and vowed that it wouldn’t happen again if we could help it. We worked hard to be more intentional with our initial conversations with the new HDs, and wanted to do more causal HD bonding from the get-go. We also talked about how important it is to discuss “pet peeves” with the other HDs early on so that we can all be more aware of one another in the work place.
Be real about the issues.
As we all know in higher education, we are constantly striving to make improvements in our departments. It’s okay to discuss the issues of previous years and things that would be great to change with your new coworkers (in a professional manner of course). As we have learned, our 2 new HDs have SO MANY incredible ideas for the future of our office, so connecting and discussing our challenges/issues was definitely a positive.
We have to recognize as SA professionals that we all come from a variety of backgrounds and student affairs experiences. It’s always good to open up conversations about what the new staff members are uncomfortable with in regards to the job, whether that is on-call situations or having difficult conversations. When we start these conversations, we can help to reiterate to them that we have their backs as a staff. We also have the opportunity to brainstorm some ways that we can help make them feel more prepared and supported in these situations (like on-call shadowing or mock conversation practice).
I challenge you all to reflect on how your will support your new coworkers. Yes, we’re not always going to be best friends and we’re going to have our moments, but it’s important to be a unified front right from the beginning. It also makes overcoming future challenges together a bit easier.
“If at first you don’t succeed…you’re normal!” –Kid President
After an unintentional 5-month blog hiatus, I’ve finally decided to write again. I guess it’s taken me this long to process through my year, to decide what I need from the upcoming year, and to finally come to terms with the fact that it’s already July (and I literally have no clue what happened to the summer).
In January of 2016 I attempted to begin my student affairs grad search. Despite my acceptance to the institution I wanted to attend, I did not get the graduate assistantship I hoped for. Essentially, I put all my eggs in one basket and made an “all or nothing” decision with this program. After a lot of processing and reflecting after my assistantship rejection, I decided that the best decision for me would be to continue a third year as a Residence Hall Director here at Saint Mary’s College while picking up my grad school search for the Fall of 2017 semester. Although rejection was difficult, I have come to realization that it was absolutely the best decision for my SA career and for myself on a personal level.
Initially, I hoped to attend the grad program because I absolutely fell in love with the city that it was in (mistake #1) . I didn’t take the time to process and reflect on the pros and cons of the institution and what it had to offer. Although Residence Life is my key focus area, the institution did not really offer other structured practicum experiences in other departments. I also did not reflect on the difficulties that a cross country move would be for me (financially and personally). Also as a Pittsburgh native, I feel more and more called to return back home each time I visit. How would I feel if I moved thousands of miles away from my family, especially my 87-year-old grandma?
Although I really enjoyed what the program had to offer and decided to put all my eggs in one basket, I have to admit that the grad assistantship rejection was a blessing for me. Here are a few of the positive things I’ve reflected on and gained from this experience:
I’ve learned that I really need to search for a program that is not quite as far from my family and friends. Yes, I understand that they will always be there to return to when I am finished with my education, but this experience has really helped me to realize where my support system lies. My family and friends are everything to me, and I truly believe that my grad school career would be much more enjoyable with them by my side.
I need to reflect on what I need from both an assistantship and practicum experience. Although I know that I want to advance in Residence Life to a Director-level position, I understand the value in exploring other areas of Student Affairs. A few areas that I would love to gain more experience from are student activities, power-based personal violence prevention work, and multicultural student services.
I need to accept this third year at Saint Mary’s as a finalization of my development here in this position. Through a lot of processing, I have determined some more of the skills that I need to build if I want to be a Director of Residence Life someday. Thankfully, I work at a small, supportive institution where my supervisor and Assistant VP of SA want to work with me on the experiences and skills that I need in order to make my dream job happen someday. I’m looking forward to developing more of these skills and experiences this year, especially co-advising our Residence Hall Association.
In closing, I want to offer some advice to some of my fellow colleagues that are starting their SA Grad search right along with me:
Make a list of what you need from your SA Grad program and what you can do without. Also look at your assistantship and potential practicum opportunities (if the institution offers them) and reflect on which ones will help you to get to that next point in your development.
Don’t be afraid to look at institutions that are close to your support system. I had a long conversation with my Assistant VP of Student Affairs about my desire to look at a program closer to my friends and family at home. I initially thought that I would be judged for wanting to move back home, but she truly commended my decision and said that we need to reflect on what is the best for us personally. If there is a phenomenal student affairs program close to home, don’t run away from it just because it’s near home.
On the opposite end, I strongly encourage you to look at living away from your home in another state for a few years, whether that is during your SA grad career or if you decide to work in higher education before grad school (like I decided to do). I have grown so much as a person by living away from family and friends in another state for the past 2 years and I definitely don’t regret that decision. I have personally gained more independence, have learned to find my niche in the community on my own, and have taken the time to realize that Pittsburgh is where I inevitably want to end up someday in the near future. I have also had the opportunity to affirm my passion for Residence Life and student affairs overall.
I would love to hear back from other SA Pros who are starting their SA grad search or for those who have already gone through their graduate careers! Hopefully I’ve sparked some reflection for those of you starting the search with me (and have reassured you that the SA grad search process isn’t easy for everyone).
Over the past few weeks, I’ve decided to start reading Girl in the Woods, by Aspen Matis. Girl in the Woods is the nonfiction memoir of Matis’ journey along the Pacific Coast Trail as a way to heal as a rape survivor. Although the book is sometimes graphic and disturbing, I have found so much inspiration in Matis’ account and quite honestly, I think this is a book that every student affairs professional should read.
Matis’ story begins with her first night of freshmen year at a university in Colorado. Matis recounts a disturbing scene where she meets new friends, gets high, and then finds herself victimized and raped by one of the students who came to her room. She proceeds to describe her fight with the institution, which inevitably ended in her being removed from her residence hall while her rapist proceeded to go through classes as if nothing happened. As a student affairs professional and residence life staff member, I ask myself why this was allowed to happen. More importantly, I ask myself why this happens as a result of a lot of campus sexual assaults. Although many institutions are taking measures to meet the needs of survivors while appropriately penalizing persecutors, we still find ourselves in an era where sexual assault survivors are not receiving justice for the wrongs committed against them. We are also still struggling to overcome the normalization of rape culture on our college campuses. As student affairs professionals, it is our time to do something about this violent crime that plagues our campuses. It is also important to recognize that we can also help to train our students to potentially prevent some of these situations from happening with the right tools.
As a Residence Hall Director, I will tell you that Matis’ story has reaffirmed my choice to get involved with prevention work here on our campus. Last May I was offered the opportunity to be certified as a Green Dot bystander intervention instructor. Green Dot (a program created by Green Dot, et cetera, Inc.) is a program that teaches students how to intervene in a situation known as a “red dot,” or an instance where a potentially negative situation could occur. Think of a “red dot” as that moment when your gut is telling you that something is off; for example, an intoxicated student may be leaving a party with another student with seemingly no indications of what is happening. In Green Dot, we teach our students how to intervene in these situations with a simple gesture, such as a direct comment or calling campus security to assist. As an advocate for the Green Dot program, I strongly believe that we can utilize this simple-to-implement program to change our campus cultures and to make it clear that sexual assaultwill not be tolerated on our campuses. As student affairs professionals, we need to rally behind our students with programs like this so that they are informed, prepared, and able to support their fellow students.
I challenge you to consider what you can personally do to help support our campus communities. Does your institution have a prevention program in place? If not, what would it take to implement something like Green Dot? As we often say in the Green Dot program, you only have one choice: to do something or to do nothing. There is no in between. There is no neutral ground. There is only one way to move forward.
“You’re not meant to do what is easy. You’re meant to challenge yourself.”
Sometimes being a #SAPro is difficult when your staff hits a “wall.” When I talk about a “wall,” I’m talking about crippling senioritis, doing the bare minimum, and struggling to push themselves harder. When I chose a staff of primarily seniors (which was unintentional FYI), I knew that Senioritis would be a consistent challenge. Yes, I have a staff of strong, empowered, confident, creative young women who love what they do, but let’s be serious, we’ve all been at that point during our senior year of Undergrad when we wanted to live it up, do the minimum, and just make it to graduation. Because of this, I have been consistently working to challenge my staff in new ways while coming up with a range of new activities that we can conquer together.
Here are a few that I came up with:
During 1:1’s last week, I challenged my staff to think of the following 2 prompts. Prompt A: what is one way that you can build community (in your section, staff, or building) that you do not normally do? Think of a simple task or gesture. Many of my RAs talked about placing post-it’s with positive messages on the bathroom mirrors or inviting a student to a meeting on-campus that she would not typically attend. Prompt B is a bit more challenging: think of one way that you can be a leader this week (staff, section, community). Think of something concrete. A few RAs mentioned taking initiative to plan a staff event or writing letters to each staff member and posting them during on-call rounds.
During my first staff meeting this year, we had a conversation about the significance of staff collaboration regarding programs and bulletin boards. A few of the boards and programs last semester were becoming a bit lazy, so my leadership team of Senior RAs and I challenged the RAs to take their programs and boards a step further. Needless to say, their bulletin boards for February are gorgeous! I can’t wait to see what programs they come up with in the future.
I asked my RAs what “real world skills” they hoped to gain before graduating. As a Hall Director, I feel like it is my role to help prepare my ladies for the real world in whatever way I can. My staff came up with a great list of things, including Taxes/Financial Planning and cooking. I’m looking forward to planning a few of these “workshops” together. I also think this would make great staff bonding time.
I now challenge you #SAPros to consider the same. Are your staff members struggling to reach their potential? Are they finding themselves in the “bare minimum” mindset? I would love to hear what many of you have done to help reengage and challenge your staff to grow (I also need some more ideas as the year goes on).