Yakkity Yak: Talking Back

Professional conferences leave me feeling so refreshed and reenergized. I recently attended NASPA in New Orleans, and I had a great time. I’d never been to NOLA and so I enjoyed exploring the city as well as attended some great sessions on important topics. It was during some down time that I decided to look at Yik Yak to see what the content was like in a different place. That is when I saw all of the controversial Yaks that so many of us in the field have been talking about.

Initially, I was appalled. People who I consider colleagues were talking openly about their judgements on the appearance of others, about how they wanted a “conference hook-up”, and how they were partying on Bourbon street. In my mind, conferences are a chance to learn new things about our field and better myself professionally by networking and bringing ideas and suggestions back to my campus. I don’t know if it’s my status as a new professional or my naievete, but I was shocked to think that some professionals go to conferences for other, maybe not-so-professional reasons. A lot of the things I saw certainly did not align with my values, and so I began to wonder why people were posting these things that they knew would be controversial.

And then the responses to the Yaks came pouring in. As a new professional, I was offended (and still am, as I recently saw another response that said this) that so many people seemed to think that these Yaks were solely coming from grad students or new professionals. I read many responses from mid-levels and up responding directly to the Yaks…who went on the app themselves. I know many mid-level professionals who use Yik Yak on their campuses…and so I would hesitate to think that it was JUST new professionals and grad students who were posting. And apparently (as some of the Yaks stated) the behavior being discussed is not a new thing at conferences. If it WAS all new professionals posting at the conference…where did they learn that the behavior was acceptable? I feel as though a lot of people responding were hesitating to take some responsibility…

Which leads me to the next point many people were bringing up. A lot of people discussed how Yik Yak is a safe place for people to voice their opinions without being judged for them, and that the larger picture is that there is some discontent within our field. I know personally I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be “professional” lately. We have professional standards for our field, ranging from everything to behavior to dress to how we interact with our students and others. Are there some parts of our standards that  marginalize people? Who set the standards for professional dress? Are our standards stifling people? Are they outdated? There have been a lot of conversations about this type of thing on #sachat, and a lot of people believe that standards need to change. Perhaps they are right. But I just wonder if using Yik Yak was the best way to voice that discontent. We may never know who posted those things and why…and that’s a shame. It was a chance to start a conversation…and that chance has been lost to those who posted.

And then ther’s another small part of me that thinks that people knew those posts were going to get some type of reaction, and were doing it just for that. Maybe these people wanted to bring to light some of the hypocritical behavior that professionals engage in at conferences. We teach our students about healthy drinking habits and objectifying others and safe sex practices…but it would seem that some choose to forgo this during conferences. By posting it, some people could be saying “What we’re doing and what we’re saying are two completely different things.”

All I know is that, admist the controversy it caused, the conversations that have stemmed from this incident are fascinating and pose some overall larger questions about how we want to act and be portrayed as student affairs professionals. Some people have said this behavior needs to stop while others say it’s a chance for us to change. I think we need to look more closely about what “being professional” exactly is, how it affects us, and how we can hold each other accountable for that even admist professional standards.

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The Developer in Me

Recently at a RA In-Service, we began talking about our Strengths (based on StrengthsQuest).  We broke out into our staff groups and were asked to share with each other the Strength that you really identify with.

My Strengths, in order, are Positivity, Empathy, Developer, Includer, and Consistency. When I first took the test two years ago I thought…okay, this makes sense. I’m definitely an optimist, and I love making others happy. Empathy and Includer relate to my love for people and my passion for treating them all the same, which also fits in with Consistency. But I did not really know what Developer meant. Once I read the description and looked back on my career, I thought, wow. This is really cool. It is the Strength that I have grown to admire the most about myself.

My StrengthsReport reads:

“People who are especially talented in the Developer theme recognize and cultivate the potential in others. They spot the signs of each small improvement and derive satisfaction from these improvements.”

I feel as though this is the reason why I’ve gone into Higher Ed and why I love it so much. I can see what my students can be before they even realize it, and sometimes they just need a little push in the right direction. I love being able to say I was the one who helped a student realize their true path, since I admire and appreciate those who have helped me in my path. I love helping students figure out what they’re meant to be. My StrengthsReport also says that I enjoy when my words of encouragement push other people to excel. This is so me, to a “T”.

The only problem with having the Developer skill is that I place the needs of others ahead of my own way too often. My report states: “By nature, you sometimes throw yourself into your work even when you are personally inconvenienced.” It is, unfortunately, very true. I sometimes feel like I’m not doing my job if I don’t go out of my way to help a student. However, it’s important for me to realize that A) I can’t help everyone and B) I need to take more time to myself and not devote so much time to others. I love helping people, but I should not be willing to put my own health and sanity at risk for them. For me, there is just no better feeling than knowing I’ve helped someone…but I should realize that I can’t help others if I’m not in a good enough place or if I’m not helping myself.

A few days ago I recieved a message from one of my former RAs asking for help in her graduate school search. I was thrilled that she reached out to me and was happy to provide her with information. She then posting a status on Facebook thanking me and our former supervisor for helping her. It’s situations like that that absolutely make this job worth it. The fact that I can keep connections with former students and am able to help them even while living on opposite ends of the country makes me the happiest I have ever felt. It’s just the Developer in me.

 

The hardest challenge I’ve faced: separating emotion from my job

I am a caring person. I love to make people feel good. I like to do things for others that will boost them up and make them feel happy. So when it comes to Student Affairs…that part of me has cringed while facing some difficult situations with students who are facing reprimands and sanctions.

I know, I know. You can’t make everyone happy. It’s physically impossible. I understand that. But tell me that your own heartstrings haven’t been pulled when you have a crying student in your office…right. That’s what I thought. My problem is that I just want to help students so much that when I’m in the moment, I’m thinking Well, everyone deserves a second chance, right?

I’ve discovered that second chances, while good for some people, are sometimes impossible to give depending on the situation…and that may be even better for the student in the long run.

I first discovered I had trouble separating my emotions when I became a Resident Assistant. I had a floor with a lot of roommate issues…and I was getting emotionally involved in these conflicts that had absolutely nothing to do with me. It was draining and exhausting, and doing roommate mediations became harder because I empathized with both roommates. It was difficult to come to a solution. I realized how apt I was to do that, and knew it needed to stop. I could and should empathize with students, sure, but not so much that I was agreeing with one roommate and then agreeing with another roommate when they spoke with me. It had nothing to do with me, so why was I getting so worked up? That’s when I realized I needed to leave emotion out of it, and if I really wanted to help my students I would need to become an impartial party and help foster the discussion between them.

Now, as a supervisor for Resident Assistants, I’ve found myself having to do the same thing. As we all know, sometimes people make mistakes, including RAs. Sometimes those mistakes require job action. For me, it’s really hard when an otherwise really good RA messes up, because they say It was a one time thing. I swear I’ve learned my lesson. I’ll never do it again. Well…that’s great. But one thing that RAs fail to recognize is that if we as supervisors let those things go…it sends a message to the other staff members. This person made a huge mistake and violated their contract, but they’re allowed to be on staff. If I was on that staff, I’d start thinking maybe I could get away with something of my own, or that the policies were not valued by my supervisor. The thing about policies is they’re there for a reason. Even though the RA may lose their job for one mistake, one mess up…there could be other consequences as a result of that mistake, and often times RAs don’t see that.

Sometimes it’s still really hard for me to “discipline” students and staff members. The part of me that is concerned about making others happy fights me tooth and nail. But in the end, sometimes it works out better for students and staff. They could learn a hard lesson that they never would have learned otherwise. Sometimes, as they say, you have to go through hard stuff to get to the good stuff. It is now my job as a supervisor and a higher educational professional to think about all parts of the situation and recognize what’s best for all parties involved…not just the sobbing student in front of me.

Hello part 2-Grad School!

Let’s see, where did I leave off? Oh yes, the beginning of my grad school experience! I cannot tell you how challenging, yet fulfilling, my grad school experience was. I learned so much about myself and about working in higher education. I am so grateful for the help and support I received, because I definitely would not be here without it!

I packed up my life the summer of 2012 and drove with my father to Virginia. I immediately started my position as an assistant hall director and knew it was going to be an unforgettable experience. I met so many new great people and was excited to get started in my position. The only thing was…I didn’t, for whatever reason, expect myself to go through a transition period. It got tougher as the months went on and I realized just how much I had changed my life in a small amount of time. I missed my home, and I missed my friends and family….which was surprising because I’ve always been an independent person. I loved my staff and my supervisor, but a lot of the time I felt very lonely. I decided to go home for a visit in October….which was kind of a mistake. It only made it that much header to leave again. But I knew the semester would be picking up and the end would be there before I knew it.

Speaking of the semester, I also found myself struggling in my classes. I quickly realized that academic writing was nothing like the writing I had been doing in undergrad. I had to learn a whole different style and how to do research right away. I was not doing as well as I wanted, but with more experience came better writing.

Second semester was definitely a lot better for me. I finally started to feel more included and welcome, and more comfortable with being autonomous. I applied for an ACUHO-I internship, and got one. I also ran for a leadership position on the e-board of the Higher Education Student Association and got that as well. I worked really hard in my classes and in my position….and in the end, I was awarded as the Graduate Assistant of the Year for my department! I was so honored and thrilled. I felt like all the hard times were actually worth it, and I felt recognized for all the work that I did. It was an amazing feeling.

I then moved to a big city in the Northeast for my ACUHO-I internship during the summer. That was another struggle in and of itself. I probably could have used a break, but there was no stopping because I needed the internship for my program. I was really homesick again because I didn’t know anyone yet again, and it was my first time living in a big city. I did enjoy my work, however, and I liked the different experience I was getting. Yet I was more than ready to return for my final year…or so I thought.

This year has been so very challenging. I have taken my hardest classes, been ridiculously busy,, completed an internship, a capstone, and am in the middle of a job search. Needless to say…I’m exhausted. But I’ve also learned more and grown as a professional and a person. I am job searching closer to home because I discovered I need to be near family and friends. I learned more about NASPA and that I want to be mor involved in that organization. I’ve grown to love being a supervisor and know I want to work in res life for a while longer. I’ve also learned it’s ok to lean on other people when you need to-that’s what they are there for! I am just so excited for graduation and for the next chapter of my life to begin.

I hope that this blog will be relatable, but also educational informative. I hope to post about my experience, articles I’ve read, and anything about higher education that comes my way. I hope you’ll follow me on this continuation of my journey! image

In the beginning…

I’m about to graduate with my Master’s in Educational Leadership, and so lately I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting…especially with the many job interviews I’ve been having. So what better way to start my Higher Ed blogging journey than with the story of how I got here?! Sit back, relax, and enjoy.

(I wish this would scroll like the beginning of the Star Wars movies.)

IN THE BEGINNING….

There was little old me.

Well okay, I wasn’t old. Or little really. But I was younger! I was nineteen, to be precise. And I had just decided to make the wonderful decision to become a Resident Assistant. It was a decision that would change my life as I knew it. Up until that moment, I had been set on becoming a second grade teacher. I had already declared my major and was completing classes in my degree, and that was what I thought I’d be doing. I hadn’t made it into the classroom yet, but I just knew I’d love it. I enjoyed children, and I loved helping people. If anything, the RA job would be great experience to put on my resume…and to help me pay for room and board. But what I didn’t know is how wrong I was.

I’ll admit, my first year as a RA was a little rough. I made a common mistake of first-year RAs, and basically told my floor “If I don’t see it or hear it, it’s not happening.” Eeep. Bad. Very bad. That statement basically declared “I’M A PUSHOVER” and boy, did they take advantage. I struggled that year with keeping my floor in line…but the strength of the connections I made with the residents and my staff members really surprised me.

I knew I would make new friends on staff, but I didn’t anticipate my new friends “replacing” the ones I had made my first year. My first-year friends were great, don’t get me wrong…but my old roommate ended up transferring, and the rest of my friends wanted to do what some college kids choose to do…drink and have “fun”. At that time I was not in a position to lose my job, so I could only hang out with them when I either was not on duty, working the desk, or when they were not making choices that would put me in jeopardy. So I ended up bonding with my staff members. They were a really great group. Many of the older ones took me under their wing, and the rest of us bonded because we were new. There were many ups and downs, but I remember coming out of my first year thinking wow…this is actually fun!

Even though I had made strong bonds with many people, I knew that my relationship with my residents needed to be different the second year. I decided to come in for my first floor meeting and laid it all out for my residents. I was honest, and told them I would be holding them accountable for any policies broken. But I also told them that I was there to help and that my door would be open whenever I was around. Based off of feedback from my first year, I also told them the first night would be tough as first-year students and if they felt homesick to come talk to me. Well. At the end of the year my residents told me that they did not like me that first night and said they thought I was way too strict…but I also know that I had residents come to me that night and say they needed to talk because they were homesick.

That really describes my relationship with my residents that year. I got to know them, but I did what I said and I held them accountable, and in the end I think I had a really strong bond with most of my residents on that floor. They got to know me as a person and I have really fond memories of hanging out in my room at 2 in the morning, watching a movie and eating pizza with them, or hanging out and talking about life in the common room. They were a special group, and I am glad I can now call some of them my best friends. They’re graduating this year, and I could not be more proud of who they grew up to be!

While my relationship with my residents was stronger, my relationships with some of my friends were failing. It was a product of a lot of different things, one of them being my own insecurities. I wasn’t really sure who I was or who I wanted to be. I began to question a lot of things going on in my life. I also started going into the classroom that year…and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. This should have been a big sign of what was to come, but at the time I had no idea.

That summer for me was a time of reflection and of change. I really thought about what I needed to do to be happy, and started to do those things. It was the best that I had felt in a very long time. So I started that year on the note, with some of my old friendships dissolved, ready to finish out the year.

I quickly discovered that something still was not right. I made a lot of new friendships, but I was working two jobs while also going into a classroom three times a week and I felt spread way too thin. I was miserable, because I really did not like the classroom I was in and really felt robbed when my friends could hang out and I had to go to bed because I had to get up early the next day. Right around Thanksgiving, I got sick, and it really threw me off. I felt like I couldn’t catch up with my work or my programming. Everything was suffering, and because of the summer I knew I needed to do something about it to get back my happiness. Towards the end of the fall semester I had a breakdown and knew I needed to give something up. I didn’t want to give up my two jobs, because they were my only source of happiness lately. I felt better when I was working or talking with my residents…and I also didn’t want to let my staff down. The only thing I could bear to give up was…teaching. It was a shocking moment for me when I realized it, but now it really makes a lot of sense. Hindsight, as they say, really IS 20/20.

Luckily my alma mater required education majors to have a concentration area, which was essentially another major, which I had already completed all the requirements for. I knew I could graduate, but the question is what would I do for my career? I had been toying with the idea of working in Housing while I got my Master’s in Education…but now I realized I could do Housing, or Student Affairs, full time! It was perfect, and it seemed like a no-brainer.

The next semester was filled with applying to graduate school after graduate school, hoping and praying I would get an assistantship. Through a Higher Education interest group, I received a scholarship and decided to go to the Oshkosh Placement Exchange to interview for assistantships. I went by myself, and what. A. Trip. It was overwhelming and I was honestly ready to go anywhere. I interviewed with schools across the country, and thought I had a few leads. I pursued a few of those but with no luck.

I was starting to get nervous when I received a call from my current institution asking for an interview for my current position as an Assistant Hall Director. I had interviewed with them at the conference but they hadn’t stood out at the time. As I did more research I was like…WOAH! This school has everything I was looking for! It was medium-sized, Division I athletics, in metropolitan area in the South. How did it pass me by the first time? I wasn’t sure. All I knew is this was it, this was definitely where I wanted to be.

I passed that interview, and went on to the next one, and then the next thing I knew they were offering me the position! I was ecstatic…but then I needed to get into the school. I bit my nails off my hands and worked my butt off for two weeks but I applied to the school…and got in. It was official! I was moving to start my new career.

To be continued….*StarWars scroll*