Tag Archives: Residence Life

Building Positive Coworker Relationships in #ResLife

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” – Brene Brown

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:

Be authentic.

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.

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Our lovely HD staff.

Be hospitable. 

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.

Be intentional. 

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.

Be supportive.

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.

 

Rejection, Reflection & Moving Forward in my #SAGrad Process

“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?

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Pittsburgh will always be home! Thankfully I’ve had the chance to reflect over these past 2 years in order to realize this is where I’m called to be. Plus we have some of the best colleges around…

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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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).

 

 

Providing Hope in Chaos: Discovering my Passion for Prevention Work as an #SAPro

“Having hope will give you courage” – Job 18:11

 

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 assault will 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.

 

For more info on the Green Dot program, please visit https://www.livethegreendot.com/

Girl in the Woods, by Aspen Matis is also available through the following:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/girl-in-the-woods-aspen-matis/1117137870

 

Finding Passion (and learning that it’s okay to change your mind)

“I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you are not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

Sometimes it takes a complete “post-college crisis” to understand what you are called to do in life; sometimes you have to quit something and close the door in order to move forward, to grow, and to understand your passion. I’m saying this because I did that 2 years ago with my student teaching experience. I quit something important for the first time in my life in order to do what I love and it was the best decision I have ever made.

I have always felt called to life as an educator from a young age as I played school with my dolls and idolized my own teachers in the classroom. I knew upon entering Saint Vincent College in 2009 that I wanted to pursue Secondary English Education so that I could share my love of literature with high school students. I went through my entire 4 years of college knowing that I was called to be an educator, yet somehow deep inside, something felt off when I went into the classroom to teach. I had a very successful, happy life, yet nothing felt quite right. It was during my student teaching experience in October of 2013 when I fully understood how much I hated being a high school English teacher. I despised “teaching to the test;” matching every single thing I spoke about to a state education standard. I hated that students did not find passion in the same literature that I had loved so deeply when I was their age. I did not like the environment, and I no longer found passion in the classroom.  And so in October, I quit student teaching because I wanted to find happiness. I knew that going through one more day of student teaching would not make me any happier, and so I quit to take on projects that I loved in Student Affairs in Higher Ed.

Throughout the entire student teaching experience, I was starting to realize how much I loved being an Assistant Hall Director (which was my other job during student teaching) and sharing those learning moments with students outside of the classroom. I knew I was called to be an educator, just not in the classroom. After quitting student teaching I began to seek more opportunities at Saint Vincent and gained experience making rubrics for the Office of Student Conduct and assisting the VP of Student Affairs with compiling our Annual Report for the year. My post-grad year at Saint Vincent was an extremely difficult, yet humbling experience for me and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I worked at a Barnes & Noble part-time while fulfilling my ARHD duties and completing side projects. During that time, I decided to start applying for full-time Hall Director positions, and in July of 2014, I ended up here at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN as the Hall Director of Holy Cross Hall.

My time at Saint Mary’s has been a huge period of growth for me personally, professionally, and spiritually. I have grown so much in confidence through the incredible young women I work with here. I have learned to challenge myself to go outside of my comfort zone in order to grow. Ultimately, I have learned that I am in a position that I love and I am finally fulfilling my passion in life. Throughout my time here, I have grown to be the extraordinary, confident young woman I am called to be; I wouldn’t trade my life for any other.

I am thankful for the courage to quit something I failed to love, to accept that failure in order to grow, and to move forward into doing what I love every day. My job is challenging, but fulfilling; I am an educator who helps students to grow as individuals outside of the classroom through their real life experiences, new-found independence, and daily challenges. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to turn my life around in order to do what I love. As I reflect on this past year-and-a-half, I realize that my time here at SMC has truly been a gift;  I’ve learned to love and to accept myself for who I am in order to be a role model for the students I work with. I know that I’m in the right field, and that my next step (wherever that will be) will continue to help me to grow in confidence. I know that the future holds so many wonderful things for me (and I seriously can’t wait).

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The Importance of Being Young

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12


Sometimes being 23 is challenging, especially when you start a new professional job. Being 23 becomes more challenging when you work as a supervisor for 18-21-year-olds. Although being young has been a consistent challenge, I must admit that overall, I’ve found that there are a lot of benefits to being close in age to my staff members. Not many SA professionals can admit to owning The Lizzie McGuire Movie or being a 90’s child. I’ve learned to embrace the fact that I’m the “baby” of our professional staff as well. When some of my fellow pro staff members talk about their college or high school experiences, they will often ask “how old were you, Angela?” and I have to admit that I was in the single digits age wise. My supervisor also brought in teen magazines from her childhood and I had to admit I was in the 3rd grade when half of them were issued (who knew that Justin Timberlake was so old…).

Despite the common humor of my young age, I was challenged last week when a resident tossed the fact that I was only one year older than her back in my face. The resident was upset about a sanction I provided for her Code of Conduct hearing (lots of big Student Affairs words), and to simplify a long story, she brought my age into the equation because I was a “college student not that long ago” and could surely understand why she wouldn’t want to complete the task I assigned (which I didn’t agree with FYI).

So there is both a positive and a negative to this situation: the positive being that I am relatable to all students because we are close in age. Yes, drawing that line between friendship and supervisor has consistently been a struggle (like it is for all SA professionals at one time or another), but students appreciate knowing that I can understand where they are coming from because I’m only a few years older (for the most part anyway). The negative point is that I felt disrespected because of my age to a point. If I were older, the student may have respected my decision a bit easier (maybe) and would have accepted, rather than fought me on it.

I guess I knew that my age would always play a factor since I made the active decision to pursue employment before my MA in Student Affairs. Although I had that one challenging situation, I must admit that overall my youth has been a blessing and I’m thankful for that ability to connect and relate to the students I work with every day. I realize that I still have so much more to learn and to take from the world, so I may as well make the most of it.

Other Perks of Being 23:

  1. I can get away with traveling for Spring Break in a little over a week (woo San Francisco).
  2. It’s not weird for me to use Snapchat/I know what Snapchat is.
  3. It’s socially acceptable for me to wear yoga pants all the time (ok maybe not, but I like to tell myself this).
  4. I still get to go Grad School shopping in a few years!
  5. It’s acceptable to read young adult fiction (a lot).

An Introduction

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” –Mr. Fred Rogers


The quote above is my favorite quote of all time by one of my favorite role models. If you’re not familiar with Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, the popular PBS children’s show, you’ve definitely missed out. Fred Rogers, a native of Latrobe, PA (home of my undergrad, St. Vincent College), served as an advocate for the importance of children’s education for decades; with his words of wisdom and brightly colored sweaters, I still find myself inspired by his mission in another way (I also love brightly colored sweaters). I like to think of the quote above when I’m experiencing those rough days where I feel like I can’t just get it right or I’m not influencing the life of a student in a way I had hoped. I like to think that even though I have these moments at times, somehow, someway, I am positively influencing the life of another person.

See: Residence Hall Director.

Hall Directors are those essential, yet sometimes forgotten members in the world of Higher Education. We’re the ones who keep the building in line by supervising your lovely Resident Assistants, planning cupcake decorating events, and having those often dreaded, yet enlightening conversations about the 10 shots of vodka you overconsumed (and then vomited everywhere in front of security) last weekend. We process a lot of paperwork-y things (see: work orders for all things broken, see: key reports for all missing keys ever) and serve as a supportive resource when you’re not comfortable in your living space or struggling with a difficult situation. Despite the challenges, lack of sleep, and assortment of chaos, we love what we do (or most of us do anyway).

In July of this past year, I accepted a full-time Residence Hall Director position at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN, a beautiful little all-women’s liberal arts institution just a mile across the street from the University of Notre Dame. I knew when I accepted the position that I would continue to grow as a leader, a Student Affairs professional, and a strong young woman. Despite the challenges, I know that I was called to this place to be a role model for my young women and to somehow grow personally within my own life. I know that I will continue to learn from my mistakes, to grow as an individual, and to continue to develop as that extraordinary young woman that I am. I like to think that with every “hello” or “goodbye,” every roommate conflict meeting, every documented alcohol incident, or professional development experience, or community program that I am somehow, someway leaving a positive part of myself with someone else. Here’s to a fabulous final semester!