Bridging the Divide: A Call to Action

In a post on Inside Higher Ed earlier this week, author Russell Olwell discussed the importance of faculty mentoring for undergraduates. This rang close to home as I think back on my career as an undergraduate; the faculty that I had in my first year helped me hone my skills as a writer and taught me how to think critically; skills incredibly necessary for an undergraduate student in the program in which I was entering.

Yet, the post also had me reflect on the work I do now as a student affairs educator. I work in Housing & Residence Life at Virginia Tech and our department is constantly thinking of ways to bridge the divide between student affairs and academic affairs (literally divided by the Drill Field) by bringing faculty to the residence halls. Virginia Tech is home to two residential colleges (Residential College at West Ambler Johnston and the Honors Residential Commons at East Ambler Johnston) where tenure track faculty live in the residence halls and interact with students in numerous ways outside the classroom. Programs like these (living learning programs) are essential to bridging that divide and strengthening undergraduate education.

In addition to my work in Housing & Residence Life, I also work with our Fraternity & Sorority Life office due to my position overseeing our on campus fraternities and sororities. In this capacity, I often think of how to bring faculty mentors into the fraternity and sorority life community. While residential programs across the country move towards greater and greater faculty-student interaction, it is essential for other functional areas within student affairs (e.g. fraternity and sorority life, leadership programs, identity centers, etc) to bring in faculty to provide more and more opportunities for faculty and undergraduate students to connect and build relationships.

The work of bridging the divide cannot be left to residence life programs. While the majority of students on a traditional residential campus pass through the residence halls, many students do not find community within those halls. Thus, other student affairs functional areas need to rethink their work (as residential programs still need to do too) to bring in more faculty, helping to bridge that divide.

Liberal Arts Education and Hope

In the midst of the vitriolic political discourse the United States is currently facing, there rages a debate as to the purpose of education generally and higher education specifically. Many seem to think that higher education should be an avenue to teach skills for jobs and careers while others see higher education as a means to teach mores, critical thinking, and the assist in students’ meaning making capacity. While the debate has not centered on a ‘winner’ the skill based education side seems to have the edge.

A recent study seems to indicate that a liberal arts education – the idea that higher education can teach mores, critical thinking, and assist with meaning making capacity – may yield positive results for liberal arts graduates (outside of just salary). This could be a huge victory for the liberal arts side of the debate, yet the article (and study) seem to miss the major point of one side of the debate. While the study focuses on graduates leadership capacity, orientation towards lifelong learning, and the like, proponents of skill based education do not even value those things that a liberal arts education hopes to instill in students.

The idea that an education should lead to better people is opposed to the idea that education should lead to high paying jobs (though they don’t have to be opposed). The debate will rage on and this study will embolden supporters of a liberal education but fail to impact those that believe a liberal education is not necessary in today’s global society.

Education, though, has to be about making individuals better versions of themselves. Education needs to teach individuals to think critically, the ability to sift through facts and figures, and the idea that two opposed views could be correct is incredibly valuable in today’s hyper-polarized society. The United States election of 2016 saw this debate play out on a national scale as Democrats and Republicans were yelling at one another, assuming the worst of the other. While this is not all explained by the philosophy of education, it certainly is embedded in it. A liberal education is ever more important in this complex 21st century. We cannot simply hope that graduates learn skills to do a job (though that is important – I want my doctor and electrician to know exactly what they are doing) we need to also hope that our graduates can think critically and hold opposing viewpoints. Education – a liberal arts education at that – is the only hope we have to begin to break down the divisiveness that our country currently is faced with.

New Year, New Focus

Happy New Year!

2016 was a busy and growth filled year, which saw the significant decline in my writing habits. As I sit in this coffee shop in Blacksburg, I am filled with a desire to write more regularly on this blog in hopes of continuing to work on my writing, keep up my scholarship and knowledge of the field of higher education.

The posts will take a different approach from here on out. Once a week I will link an article related to higher education and offer a short commentary on it; maybe 300 some words. Occasionally, I will post about something else (e.g. politics) but will try and stay focused on higher education commentary. These posts will have my commentary coming from my lens of a student affairs educator and my work at Virginia Tech.

Here’s to a new year, reenergized efforts to write, and a new desire to stay connected to the field!

Changing Mindset

When I tell folks that I work with or interact with that I work with fraternities and sororities, their first question is almost always “are you affiliated?” to which my response is “no.” This short exchange is always comical to me as the reactions to my answer range from surprised to shocked. And to be honest, I am surprised that I keep being assigned to this type of work when I do not have any affiliation.

Yet, this past weekend I was afforded the opportunity to facilitate at a weekend retreat for the interfraternal community that I work with in my first professional position. I was anxious heading into the weekend, as my knowledge of fraternities and sororities is limited even though I have worked with the community on two campuses.

The weekend was draining. As an introvert, it is hard to have to be on in facilitator mode for 12 hours each day. Yet, it was a weekend that I felt started to change my mindset. Most of my concerns and hesitations in working with the interfraternal community centers on my lack of affiliation and lack of knowledge of the community. Yet this weekend illuminated how I can do good work with this community and help those students develop into more impactful leaders.

The weekend retreat utilizes Peter Block’s book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, as a way to engage the students in conversations on creating change within their community. It is a text that is not about fraternities and sororities, nor higher education. But it contains valuable lessons for leaders in organizations, whether undergraduate students or elected officials. Facilitating those discussions was a positive experience and saw me engaging with students who are thinking critically about their experience in their fraternity/sorority. They were receptive to my probing and reflective questions. They left those discussions thinking differently about their experience and the role they play in creating a more positive interfraternal experience.

Having engaged in this experience, I am now seeing my ability to educate these students, in spite of my lack of affiliation. My skills in facilitating and educating are transferable to this setting. While I cannot relate to their experience in a fraternity/sorority, I can make them think critically and evaluate what role they have in creating positive change. I had to rely more on the students I was learning with to share their stories in a different way than if I had an affiliation. Facilitating this leadership retreat was mindset changing, as I started to see the impact I can make.

I will never be fully comfortable in a fraternity/sorority setting, but this weekend was what I needed to begin to make me feel more comfortable in the role I play in educating these students.

Election 2016

Please excuse the rambling nature of this post; there is a lot to be talked about.

By now every political news site, commentator, and novice political observer has commented on the recently surfaced comments from GOP nominee, Donald Trump. The comments made by Mr. Trump in 2005 indicate that he believes he can sexually assault women simply because he is a ‘celebrity’. And that is not liberal spin or an intentional misquoting of Mr. Trump. He stated that he feels that he can grab the groin of a woman, and start kissing her simply because he finds her attractive. I refuse to quote the actual verbiage of Mr. Trump because of the sexually explicit nature of the comments.

The comments (and subsequent spin from Mr. Trump’ and Ms. Clinton’ surrogates) have been predictable and what you would come to expect out of this asinine campaign. The comments made by Mr. Trump describe sexual assault, plain and simple. Mr. Trump’s supporters have been stating ‘who can blame a guy for being attracted to a good looking woman’ which is just perplexing. Do Mr. Trump’s supporters believe that when someone is attracted to a woman that it is okay to fondle and push yourself on her? Is sexual assault just something that we should accept? These comments by Mr. Trump’s supporters are sickening, even more than the actual comments from Mr. Trump. Since I work in higher education, I know I live and work in a bubble; yet it seemed that progress was being made in the realm of sexual assault and gender based violence. Yet, with the comments from supporters of Mr. Trump, we seem to be no further along in stopping sexual assault and combating rape culture.

Although the defense of Mr. Trump could be something just as disturbing as believing in rape culture. Mr. Trump’s supporters could be defending him because they feel that if they condemn and criticize their nominee that they will be supporting Ms. Clinton, Mr. Johnson, or Ms. Stein. The idea that if you condemn or criticize one candidate you must support the other is highly troubling. We do not live in a world that is dualistic; our world is more complex, has nuance, and is substantive. You can disagree with someone and not support the other. And if you do support the opposite candidate, what is wrong with that? Can we do more than coexist? Should we be able to work together, differences and all, to make the country a better place? It would seem that in the current political climate that we cannot, and both major parties are at fault for that.

The Presidential Election of 2016 is something this country should be ashamed of. The two major political party candidates are widely unpopular and have flaws that should be dissected and interrogated. Yet, Mr. Trump’s rhetoric, actions, and statements disqualify him from being president. The latest comments were not a ‘final straw’ for a candidate who entered the race by declaring that Mexicans are rapists and criminals. The comments are yet another example of the character of Mr. Trump and why he is entirely unfit to be president.

The election is a month away. Everyone should be thinking seriously about their vote and why Mr. Trump, a man who has the most divisive and incorrect statements since George Wallace, deserves one single vote. He doesn’t deserve our votes, let alone the presidency.

I’m Home

It’s been a few months since my last post… since graduating in May 2016 with my Masters of Science in Student Affairs in Higher Education I enjoyed a few months off and then began my job as a Residential Learning Coordinator at Virginia Tech. It has been a whirlwind summer and I cannot believe October is in just over 24 hours.

The adjustment to being a new professional has been as expected; challenging, rewarding, stressful, and full of surprises. Having been in school for 18 consecutive years, my first fall without having to go to class, prepare for homework, and worry about the next test has been surprisingly stressful.

I was born and raised in the Midwest; the longest I lived somewhere outside of the rust belt was in Seattle for two and a half months in the summer of 2015. Now, living in the Southeast I am out of my comfort zone adjusting to life as a professional. Overall, it has been positive but there were numerous times when I would ask myself “Can I do this?” or “Why was I hired?” There were even nights when I would think that I was not worthy to be working full time; that I had missed some important lesson in graduate school. Luckily I kept going, mostly hiding my stress and self-doubt from my colleagues, because now I am starting to get it. The sense of self-doubt and fraudulent being is not anything new; anyone adjusting to a new role or new area is bound to experience this ‘impostor syndrome’ that is so often discussed in higher education. I too felt it as I transition(ed) here to VT and Blacksburg.

However, this week was the first week since moving down here that I haven’t felt the self-doubt or worried about the mountains of work. Part of that is we are finishing week six of the semester, but another part is that I have started to connect with friends back home and colleagues here and begun to develop a support system. As cliche as it is, that sense of support and camaraderie has been a world of difference as far as my conception of my role as a professional. Now that I feel this sense of support and camaraderie I can worry less about navigating two offices (I am a dual report to Housing & Residence Life and Fraternity & Sorority Life) or the mountains of emails I wake up to everyday. Instead, I can put my head down and get to work knowing that when I do mess up I have folks who can support me and laugh off the mistake.

I’m finally home.

On Activism

By now, everyone is familiar with the largest mass shooting in United States history that occurred at a LGBTQ night club in Orlando Florida early Sunday morning. This latest act of terrorism is yet another addition in the never ending list of mass shootings in the United States. It is beyond comprehension, tragic, and disturbing that a U.S. citizen could walk into a crowded nightclub and open fire with a semi-automatic weapon.

This post will not attempt to tackle the gun control issue (which a good friend of mine wrote on earlier) or the issue of hatred for LGBTQ folks. Instead, I will attempt to tackle the issue of the current state of political activism in this country.


In the wake of almost every shooting (in particular the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary) a rise in gun control activism takes place. Elected officials (particularly Democrats) call for increasing gun control measures, while (mostly) Republicans discuss the 2nd amendment and gun rights. A few citizens get riled up enough to add their perspective on the issue, and within six months the nation is back to being fixated on the latest reality TV show or Netflix Original.

That disinterest in activism is not exclusive to gun control. The average United States citizen is more interested in anything but political activism. Why? Early on after the adoption of the United States Constitution, Founding Father and Framer, James Madison, introduced a series of amendments to the newly adopted Constitution. One of them, the First Amendment, enumerated six civil rights.

A Constitutional Interlude

The First Amendment states:

Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging freedom of speech, or of the press; or the rights of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The rights contained in the First Amendment are crucial to a healthy civil society. The Framers of the Constitution believed it to be crucial to enumerate rights to better guide the nation in what rights were necessary for the new nation. Additionally, it is important that these rights are listed first in the Bill of Rights, as they are the most essential in the eyes of the Framers. The colonial history of the United States is all about religious freedom, the free exercise thereof, freedom of speech, press, and the rights to assemble and petition. Hence, their inclusion in the First Amendment. For the purposes of this post, the last rights listed, assembly and petition, are what we are focusing on.

Activism

Recently, with the rise of Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ rights movement, you would not be criticized if you thought activism was alive and well in civil society. And yes, those two movements are great examples of political activism and the role activism plays in policy making. Yet, those seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

Citizens do not seem all too concerned with activism. Citizens across the nation seem to act as if activism plays no role in civil society. To be clear, I am not talking about joining large scale social movements, rather I am talking about being active in civil society. As an example, my parents live on a dirt road in a township with some of the largest reserves in the county. My parents have hoped for the last 21 years that the road will be paved. Yet, not once have they contacted their township board, attended a township meeting, or any of the other myriad of things that could be done to have their voice heard. This story is being played out across the country while everyone is complaining more and more about how government does not work.

The Framers truly believed that for a successful republic (we are not a democracy) the citizenry needed to be involved in the civil society; they needed to do more than vote every two years.

And so, with the recent events in Orlando, many on social media will be quick to post, tweet, or snap their opinion on gun control, LGBTQ rights, immigration, or any other issue embedded in this latest tragedy. Yet, how many citizens will write a letter, be involved in a protest, or call their state representative with their opinion on gun control? I would be surprised if more than 10% of the United States do anything to express their opinion in civil society.


The attack in Orlando on Sunday is tragic. Senseless violence has occurred far too often in our country as of late. Everyone has an opinion on the issues embedded in the tragedy, yet hardly anyone actually takes part in civil society and attempts to make change.

As a republic, we cannot continue to look to our elected officials to craft good policy. We cannot sit back and trust that the country will be run effectively. We are not doing our civil duty when all we do to participate in civil society is vote in the Presidential and Congressional elections. Citizens need to be involved and take their role in governance. The Constitution, after all, begins with “We the People…” not “We, the Elected Officials…