Tragedy & Support

Sitting on the couch during spring break, my mind was in no way focused on my home campus, the building I manage, or the students I work with. Yet, my phone rang with my supervisors name on it. My mind races back to work as my gut tells me something is wrong.

Hours later, I am just finishing an email to the RAs I supervise, informing them that a student in our building has passed away. The worst thing imaginable, and one I thought would never happen to me, has occurred while I am away from campus. While I did not know the student, it is still tragic news. Being five hours away from campus, I felt helpless and unable to provide the best work possible to support the family and friends of the student.

Yet, the fact that the incident occurred during spring break meant that few students were aware of the passing. The next day I continued to be on the phone with my supervisors and leaders in our Division, creating an action plan for support when students returned to campus. It felt good to be doing something to help the recovery efforts.

I met with the RAs I supervise when they returned to campus, providing them up-to-date information and processing their emotions. I have written emails to students and staff, updating them on the situation. The hardest email was telling the entire community that a student passed away. Yet, it was helpful to write that email and to share information with students.

Now, as I write this post, I cannot help but begin to think about myself. Days after first learning of the incident, I am now thinking of myself and what I need to do to remain healthy. A student passing is the toughest thing someone can be confronted with in this field, and now in my last semester as a graduate student I am having to confront this.

I am fortunate to work in a field of helpers and have been getting immense support from them. Yet, how do we, as a field, support folks who are confronted with a student death? In particular, does this support look different for a graduate student as opposed to a full time professional?

Supporting folks who are confronted with a student death is in some ways more challenging than supporting students. We are all helpers, and we go into helper mode. Any sign of distress or discomfort may not arise until days (or weeks) later. Thus, we need to be mindful how we structure our support for our staff. It needs to be different than our support for our students, because this incident impacts staff in vastly different ways than what our students experience.


Springtime in a College Town

The sun is shining bright and the blue sky is full of large puffy white clouds. The windows of my car are down as I drive back to campus after grabbing some things from Walmart. I enter the Mile Square, which is where most of the undergraduate students at Miami University live. The eccentric house signs took a back seat as I notice students of all sorts doing yard work.

Yes, undergraduate students are doing yard work on a beautiful spring evening.

Of course, this is not the yard work that often comes with a nice spring day. Instead, the students are setting up tents and fencing off parts of their yard with orange construction fence or rope. Newly laid hay covers some of the more worn lawns, and students line up on the porch of one house, cash in hand, ready to purchase a green and white t-shirt.

Now, were I new to Oxford and Miami University I would think that the Miamians are jumping on the Michigan State bandwagon as the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament is starting up. Instead, I am firmly aware that this yard work and green and white t-shirts have nothing to do with March Madness or a nice spring day. Green Beer Day is a few hours away and students are eagerly awaiting the start to their debauchery.

Green Beer Day is a Miami University tradition that has students wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning to drink, have breakfast, and continue drinking for the rest of the day. Always the Thursday before spring break, Green Beer Day is a long standing tradition here at Miami. The students are enamored with the tradition and want nothing more but to engage in the holiday.

The entire town of Oxford is fixated on the tradition. Local bars have been gearing up for the holiday at the start of the spring semester. Walmart and Kroger have ‘Green Beer Day’ cakes and goodies in their respective bakeries. Bagel and Deli, the local late night drunk food location, has been selling the green and white Green Beer Day shirts for the last two weeks. The entire University community is aware of the impending holiday and the implications that come with it. Student affairs educators and the rest of the University community do their best to provide alternatives to the drinking holiday and educate students on healthy practices. Yet, the tradition goes on.

Holidays like Green Beer Day are a part of the greater collegiate culture. Michigan State had their NCAA tournament debauchery occur after any loss (or win) with couch burnings and (more recently) bagel throwing. Ohio University has ‘fest-season.’ I could pick any institution of higher learning and find a similar event that leads to unnecessary and unsafe binge drinking.

But why? For years colleges have faced this problem. They have implemented countless educational measures and policy changes to combat the problem. Yet the problem persists. I cannot help but think that nothing will soon change unless our laws and culture around alcohol change. But that is a larger societal issue, and one that no college will be able to face alone.


Reflections on #TPE2016

I currently am sitting in the hotel lounge watching the Michigan State basketball game and thinking about my experience at the Placement Exchange (TPE) the past few days. It was a whirlwind of interviews and networking for three very long days. Heading into TPE I had high expectations of imminent exhaustion and high stress. Yet, as I sit here on Sunday cheering on the Spartans, I cannot help but feel as if the narrative around TPE is a bit overblown.

I began my process at 9am on Thursday. Eight interviews lay in front of me. There were schools that I was excited to talk with and schools that I needed to learn more about. It was a full day of talking and networking. I was nervous, as this was my first real foray into the job search, which made the ‘realness’ of the job search all too tangible. I sat in the waiting area while the other individuals waiting to be picked up by their institution anxiously waited. I talked with a few candidates that I sat next to throughout the process and the anxiousness permeated all the conversations. It was good to know that others going through the same process were just as anxious as I was.

Throughout the three days, I could not help but notice how similar this process was to dating. Schools would offer candidates information packets, trinkets, and candies expressing how excited they were to meet with the candidates. If the first interview went well, the institution may invite the candidate to a social, offer a second round (think middle school ‘do you like me?’ notes), or a piece of chocolate. Again, it was a strange process with how much candidates and institutions focused on the incentives to continue the dating process that is interviews.

Overall, my process at TPE was a positive one. I left feeling excited about where I stand in a few schools processes and need to reflect more on what I want out of my first job and what is important to me. Wherever my process takes me, it is exciting to know that this process at TPE helped me clarify what is important to me and how I should continue to navigate the job search process. Best of luck to everyone searching; hopefully we land at institution that we feel truly excited about!

The #SASearch

The Placement Exchange is later this week and I am starting to do phone and Skype interviews. It is strange to think that in a few short months I will (hopefully) be starting my career as a full time student affairs educator. Yet, the #SASearch is a fun process.

Throughout my search thus far, I have been excited at the possibilities that seem to be open to me as I look for the first job. Not being geographically bound is helping with that endless opportunity, as I am looking in the northwest, midwest, and east coast. The ability to weigh location over job responsibilities and vice versa is exciting.

Of course, this process is also stressful. Everyone I talk to is always checking in on the job search and where my mind is currently. That is a natural desire, especially amongst my family and friends. I even enjoy sharing my excitement with them about jobs and locations.

The possibilities open to me, and my other #SAGrad colleagues, are exciting. Finally it seems real that my time in graduate school is coming to an end and a major transition is beginning. I am trying to stay positive and upbeat throughout this process. I am thankful for everyone who is supporting me through this process and giving me some much needed energy.

The questions I still have in my head about the search are nagging at me. As I walk between meetings and class, my mind immediately wanders to the job search. For now, the questions (and their answers) have to suffice. It may be frustrating to hear the phrase “Trust the Process” over and over, yet that is all I can do at this moment. I have prepared my materials and sent my application out to many schools. It is now in their hands and as long as I try my hardest, I have to think that I will end up at a place that is a right fit for me. This will not be an easy mindset to keep, especially as the semester quickly draws to a close, yet it is one that I must keep holding onto, if only to stay motivated.

It will not be an easy process from here on out; for everyone who is working with a #SAGrad, make sure to check in with them and give them a much needed lift. They will appreciate it.

Graduate Care

The floorboards groan under my shoes as I walk into the Highland Coffee House. Backpack over my shoulder and winter jacket zipped up tight to block out the cold, I am out of my element. Oxford is some fifty-minutes away, yet it feels like I am across the country. The worries of the work day, of the residents and students I work with, are gone from my mind. I order a cup of jasmine tea and sit down at a rickety old table and a well worn chair. A night of writing is about to begin.

My comprehensive exam has been out almost a week (six days as of this writing) and I have worked on it each day. This writing project is my final test to pass my graduate program and finally earn my Masters of Science; it has been a long two years and now it is very much in the forefront of my minds eye.

Yet, even in these high stress times (the Placement Exchange is next week, in the middle of my comps writing period) it is so vital for student affairs graduate students to take time away from campus, to get out and refresh the mind. Coming down to Cincinnati for a few hours to work on coursework is a way for me to refresh and recharge. It may be inconvenient and a hassle to get in a car and drive an hour just to set up a writing location, yet I am not worried about work. I am separate from work and truly focused on my writing.

Student affairs graduate students in their final semesters are incredibly busy and stressed. Final projects and finishing up coursework are overwhelming. The realization that, in just a few months, the start of a full-time career is just a few weeks away can be daunting. The never-ending commitments from work and other involvements keep piling up, even as the graduate student begins to transition out of their institution and role as a graduate student. Thus, in this time of tumultuous transition, graduate students need to take time away from the bustle of campus life.

Getting away from campus keeps me calm. It centers me and allows me to have clarity in my thoughts. I can think about what’s next for me and how I envision getting there. I can think about vacations with friends and family. I get a time to sit and truly enjoy a meal, rather than rushing through it. I can laugh with friends and devote my full attention to them.

If you work with student affairs graduate students in their final semester, encourage them to find their space away from campus to reset and recharge. They may not realize it, but they will eventually thank you for giving them permission to leave for a few hours.