Tag Archives: Residence Life

Book Review of The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border, by Francisco Cantú

Originally posted on the MACUHO Diversity Blog.

Recently I had the opportunity to read The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border, by Francisco Cantú. As a member of the Campus Read committee our goal is to read texts that continue to enrich the educational experience of our student population. Further, our hope is to select a book that can be interwoven into many elements of campus programming, such as Residence Life. This text was selected by the committee because the topic of immigration is critically important, especially with the upcoming 2020 presidential election. I cannot praise Cantú’s work enough.

The author worked as a Border Patrol agent from 2008-2012 and shares his personal account of the horrific incidents that migrants face both at the border, and in their home country of Mexico. The first part of the book talked about the beginning of Cantú’s career as an agent. One of the most disturbing stories described an incident where Cantú’s fellow agents found the belongings of migrants who were crossing the border. What many Americans may not realize is that the Mexican/American border is a desert, which naturally serves as a dangerous barrier for those who attempt to cross countries. The agents destroyed the belongings by kicking them around and urinating on them. The migrants who owned the belongings would face possible death without water and clothing. This is one of many accounts of unnecessary cruelty by Cantú’s fellow colleagues. The author consistently describes his struggle to maintain a sense of humanity throughout the duration of his career, often describing night terrors of the incidents that he witnessed.

The second part of the book described the part of the author’s career when he worked in intel from an office. Although he was away from active duty on the border, Cantú speaks about his cravings to return to the border where he used to serve. This again was a point where the author struggled with his sense of humanity. Although he recognized that many Mexicans crossing the border faced treacherous conditions, possible death, and additional horrific conditions after they are potentially caught by Border Patrol, the author still desired to return to active work on the border. The author did return to more active duty before stepping away from his role in 2012.

In the third part of the book, Cantú is working as a barista in a coffee shop and befriends a man named José, who he later learns is an undocumented immigrant. José went to Mexico to visit his dying mother after living in the United States for over 30 years and was detained when trying to cross back into the country. The third chapter paints the challenging process that many undocumented Americans face when they are detained. Although José had a good immigration lawyer who collected evidence to prove that he was a dedicated American and loving father, he was still deported to Mexico. The author concludes the book with an afterward about the current political climate in relation to his experience; he summarizes this perfectly with the following: “Today, instead of looking back on an uglier time, we see a border that has become ever more militarized, ever more deadly for migrants, ever more dismissive of their lives and indifferent to their suffering. (251)” Cantú also speaks to how critically important his story has become with the current fixation on “building the wall” and ostracizing our fellow humans from the south.

As student affairs professionals, it is critically important that we understand our student populations and their stories. Many students are undocumented on today’s college campuses or have faced stories similar to the ones shared by Cantú. The Line Becomes a River has moved me more than any book I have read in a while and I cannot recommend it enough. I have also learned a lot about what the border genuinely looks like and the horrific challenges that are faced by detained undocumented individuals. The unfortunate reality is that many Americans remain ignorant to the inhumane conditions of the Mexican border due to deeply rooted xenophobic beliefs. It is critical that Americans deepen their understanding of how inhumane the conditions are in detention centers and how challenging it is to become a United States citizen. Our system has failed so many and it is time for us to do better.

The author concludes the book with a number of sources and information on how to become more involved with immigration reform. As responsible citizens of this country it is our duty to learn about all social issues that are faced by fellow Americans and aspiring Americans daily. It is also critical to understand why many of our neighbors from the south seek refuge in our country. The book talks about the drug cartel in Mexico and the terror that many face in the wake of the cartel as they try to live their lives in Mexico. In the final section, José says that he does not want his children to grow up in Mexico because growing up in the midst of the cartel is a way of life: “I realized that, as a good father, I could never bring my boys here. I think a lot about the environment here in Mexico. Here it is normal for children to hear of murder. There’s a school just down the street from here, I walk by it every day. I see the children in the schoolyard play at killing. (234)” José also shared a story of how the cartel murdered 43 educated college students in Mexico because they were simply trying to be politically active and make positive changes. So many people fail to check their privileges when it comes to safety. They fail to recognize that many come to our country to live a safe life, one that they may not be able to live in their homeland.

My hope is that this book will inspire others to become more educated on immigration reform and that those who express hatred toward the Mexican community will understand why many are faced with no other options than to cross the border illegally for the sake of their families. My hope is that those who read the book will create space for empathy; To think about what they would do in the shoes of our migrant siblings. My hope is that as student affairs professionals we can do a better job to understand the stories of our students and to understand the extreme challenges that they may have faced to get to where they are today. Again, I cannot recommend this book enough and I encourage you to make time to read it before voting this upcoming fall. When we vote, we vote for all Americans. We vote for those who may not have the space to vote. We are responsible for all our fellow humans in this country and those who aspire to walk among us as citizens.

 

Cantú, F. (2018). The line becomes a river: Dispatches from the border. New York: Riverhead Books.

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MACUHO Networking Tips for #SAGrads

With the upcoming MACUHO 2019 conference, I wanted to create some tips that helped me to navigate my conferences as an #SAGrad.

MACUHO Networking tips for SA Grads

Step outside your comfort zone!
The first step to networking is to get outside of your comfort zone. Networking is super awkward at times, so it’s important that you challenge yourself. Ask a professional colleague to grab coffee at the conference or go introduce yourself to someone from your dream institution. You’ll never know what may happen from these valuable connections.

Always keep business cards on you.

While we know that not every institution provides their grads with business cards, it’s still a good idea to have something. You can get them made at a reasonable price online or through a vendor like Staples. Having business cards allows you to easily provide your information to fellow grads and professionals. Don’t be afraid to hand them out like candy.

Use your connections to help other grads and colleagues.

Don’t be afraid to introduce your peers to your network. Remember that as grads, you’re all in this together. Someday you’ll be job searching. You never know if a friend will get a job through a connection that you helped them make. Also when you’re an SA pro, don’t hesitate to connect grads and fellow professionals to others. The world of housing is very small, so these connections may help you out someday.

Go to fun things at the conference!

Yes, we plan fun excursions and activities so that we can enjoy some down time at the conference, but these are also great networking opportunities. Affinity group meetings are also a great way to connect with peers in the region. Plus it helps to build connections in a more casual setting.

Get involved.

MACUHO provides a TON of ways to get involved, from joining committees to writing for MACUHO magazine to getting involved with Engagement Coordinator programming. The list is endless. If you have more questions about involvement, come see one of your engagement coordinators!

My Positive #SAJob Search

I’m sure that many of you 2019 Student Affairs grads can agree that the tedious, exhausting job search process is not necessarily one that we are looking forward to. Yes, we’re excited to graduate and move into the “adult” world, but I know that I personally would rather have the option of just automatically having a job handed to me instead of doing all-day interviews. The student affairs job interview process is extremely mentally taxing and exhausting, especially to all my fellow introverts, which is why I decided to step back and reflect on how I plan on surviving the search over the next few months. As some of you know, I worked professionally for 4 years before returning to grad school. I’m no expert (and I’m just as anxious as everyone else about getting a job), but I did learn a thing or two the first time I searched for a student affairs job. Hopefully these “words of wisdom,” hacks, or whatever you want to call them will help to bring some peace and organization to your job search process as well.

Everyone’s job search process won’t be the same. Try not to compare yourself to others.

The first thing to keep in mind is that we are going through this process together, but none of our processes will be the same. This is why I hate the phrase “trust the process.” By saying the process, there is an implication that all of our job search processes are the same. Based on our functional areas of interest, skill sets, locations of interest, etc. our job processes will all be very different. I know that I’m personally conducting a location-bound search, so I won’t necessarily have as many options as my peers who are comfortable moving all over the country. We will all end up where we are meant to be at the end of our individual processes.

Try not to compare your skillset to your peers as well.

This is especially important to keep in mind if you are applying to the same jobs as your peers. Know that we all carry different skillsets and have different personality types that may be a better fit with certain institutions over others. Try not to be discouraged when you don’t receive an interview with an institution, but a friend in your cohort does. You just may have a skillset that aligns better with another role or institution.

Support your cohort members and build each other up.

Yes, this is a competitive job search process, but we need to accept and to celebrate the achievements of our peers and cohort members. There is no reason to disregard the relationships we gained over the past few years in order to be combative during this competitive process. This process is also very mentally draining (and disappointing at times), so we need to move forward into the next few months with kindness, support, and encouragement.

Take Care of Yourself.

Again, this is a mentally draining process for many, if not all of us. It’s ok to take breaks from sifting through job search sites and postings (even though I’m currently struggling to stop doing this). Make time for you. Schedule specific times to job search and complete applications instead of allowing it to dictate your entire life.

 

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Celebrate your small wins.

Remember to keep your confidence during this process and to celebrate the small wins. Even something as simple as getting your first phone interview is exciting! You have a lot to bring to the table, so try not to bring yourself down when you don’t find a job right away. The first time I completed my process, I only had my bachelor’s degree. I had maybe 20 phone interviews and 8 on-campus interviews before I scored my first job. It’s easy to become discouraged (and completely okay at times). The important thing is to bounce back and express gratitude for the good things happening during this process.

Stay Organized.

Keep a spreadsheet of every institution that you apply to and every institution that you are highly interested in. It would be extremely disappointing to complete an application and then to finally realize that you already submitted one to that institution. Something else to keep in mind is that some institutions do not post to hiring platforms like higheredjobs because of the costs, so it’s a good idea to check HR websites of institutions of interest as well.

Remember that institutional fit is just as important to you as it is to the hiring committee.

Always keep in mind that you are also interviewing the institution when you have an on-campus interview. You want to make sure that the institutional fit is a good one for you as well. Don’t settle if an institution gives off “bad” vibes or something doesn’t feel right. It’s also important to make sure that the mission of the institution aligns with your values for the most part or if there are some policies that you do not agree with, that you can still work with them and maintain your personal values. Also, ask about the basic requirements of the job. Not every “Resident Director” position, for example, is the same. You want to make sure that you are aware of all of your requirements before going into the position.

Be as genuine as possible during interviews.

It is just as important to be as “real” as possible during interviews as it is to be on our professional “A game.” You can still let your personality shine through while maintaining professionalism. During my first job search I would make a joke about not judging my professionalism based on my dining habits when I would share a meal with interviewers. For the most part, the individuals would laugh. When I interviewed with the institution that ended up hiring me, a colleague (who later became a good friend) accidentally spilled water on her shirt during the meal. We all laughed, and I knew at that moment that the institution was a good fit for me. When you’re genuine with colleagues during an interview, it shows.

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Me right before attending my first job placement conference at MAPC!
The reality is that many professionals in our field don’t find their dream job right away. The important thing is to keep searching. Hold your head up. Try to continue to build your skillset wherever you end up so that you can continue to that next professional step in the near future. Every day we can do something to better ourselves both professionally and personally. To my fellow class of 2019 grads and others who are job searching right now: I’m rooting for you. I hope that you all get your “dream jobs” (or something close enough) where you’ll continue to grow and bring a lot of amazing skills to the table. We’re going to get through this. Keep your head held high every step of the way and to remember that you’re not alone in this.

A Life Worth Living: Lessons Learned Through my Journey Toward Accepting & Loving Myself

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.

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Me & my last RA staff from Saint Mary’s College. I grew so much as a person from my experience there.

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. 

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In March of 2015 I decided to go on a trip to visit a friend in San Francisco. It was one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever taken.

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!

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My boyfriend, Dave, & myself. We had an amazing time in Washington D.C. for our anniversary. Spend time with those you love. You won’t regret it!

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. 

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A good cup of coffee, time in the sunshine, & blogging are all good self-care practices!

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.

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It has taken me a very long time to finally believe that I am deserving of love & happiness. My mental health does not define me. It just makes me stronger.

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. 

#SAGrad First Year Wrap-Up: Lessons Learned & Goals Going Forward

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.

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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.

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My SAHE Cohort friends & I went to see RENT in Pittsburgh this semester!

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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!
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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!

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Thankful to have learned so much from this incredible group of SAHE Faculty this year!

What I learned from (fully) “Showing Up”

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.

 

 

Choose Your Own Path: Why I decided to work before my #SAGrad Experience

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.

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