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.

Waiting

There is something positive to be said about having almost two months off between jobs. I finished my contract at Miami University on May 20th and will start at my new position at Virginia Tech on July 13th. I looked forward to this time off to get my life in order, see friends and family, and recharge after working through my graduate program for two years.

Yet, as I sit in this liminal state, I cannot help but feel restless. Just a few short weeks ago, I was feeling restlessness as I went through the ritual of commencement. In some respects, this restlessness is to be expected for a newly anointed master of student affairs. Yet, that restlessness is tiring.

I spend my mornings going through a ritual of turning on the news, drinking a cup of tea, and making breakfast. This ritual is important, as it adds structure to a time filled with anything but structure. Lately, that ritual has been filled with responding to emails from my future employer about my placement or notes of welcome. The restlessness to move to Blacksburg and start my new position is starting to get to me, and I am in only my second week of my break.

It helps to know that the restlessness I am feeling is natural and one that my peers across the country and undoubtedly feeling. Yet, the desire to get up and get started with my next position hangs over me like a heavy cloud. The possibilities that wait for me at Virginia Tech are numerous and have the rose colored glasses to make the impending transition seem incredibly exciting and without trouble. The next five and a half weeks are going to be filled with restlessness and the desire to get started. How I stay grounded in this liminal state is important to the enjoyment that I can get.

Best of luck to all who are feeling similarly as they wait for their new beginning.

Restlessness at Commencement

J4816 2016 Spring Commencement Yager Stadium
2016 Spring Commencement Yager Stadium- Photo Credit: Ricardo Trevino Jr. Photography

Saturday May 14th 2016 I, along with my cohort, graduated from Miami University. It was a cold and blustery day on that Saturday afternoon. The chill was more akin to early November, not mid-May. Yet, we sat through the ceremony eagerly awaiting our opportunity to walk across the stage, shake the President’s hand and know that we completed two years of hard work and are no longer Masters Candidates; we are Masters.

As I sat through the University Commencement, I saw myself reflecting on my time at Miami University. It was a strange feeling, knowing that I was done studying (for now) and would no longer be taking courses; I would be working a full time job in just a few short months. That excitement (and anxiousness) was palpable among my peers. Yet, I also felt drastically different than when I graduated from Michigan State University with my Bachelor of Arts.

Two years ago when I walked across the stage in the Wharton Center for Performing Arts, I was filled with immense pride, joy, and nostalgia. I had completed something that no one in my family before me had; I was the first to attend, graduate, and complete my studies at an institution of higher learning. I knew I was going to attend graduate school by my commencement ceremony at Michigan State, and I knew I would be leaving behind friends that became family. It was a bittersweet moment to be sure.

Two days ago, when I walked across the stage at Yager Stadium, I was filled with restlessness and pride. The feelings were strikingly different than when I walked a similar path two years prior. My time at Miami University was a good one; I developed friendships that are akin to a family unit, I learned a great deal, (both personally and professionally), and once again accomplished something that no one in my family prior to me had done: attended, graduate, and complete my studies in graduate school. Once again, I knew where my life would take me in my next chapter. But the feeling of nostalgia and joy was missing from this commencement ceremony.

Graduate school is vastly different than undergraduate studies. I made strong friendships and continued to grow, but that feeling of restlessness and eagerness to move on was something that I had not yet felt. Maybe this feeling of restlessness is a product of being in school for 18 years straight, but somehow I think that is too simple an explanation. Instead, I think the restlessness is a result of knowing that I am ready for the next chapter.

When I left Michigan State, I was unsure if I was ready to be a graduate student. I was not entirely confident in my ability to be successful. Now, after completing two years of a rigorous Masters program, I know I am able to be successful in a full time position. I know that it will be challenging, but I know that I can persevere through those challenges.

Restlessness is not a normal feeling at University Commencements, but it’s a feeling I’m glad I felt two days ago.

Transitioning

With every major transition, the inevitable packing of boxes, donating of old clothes not worn in years, and the puzzle of fitting everything into a car is always in the mind of folks as they transition out of an experience. Yet, more important than that picture hanging on the wall and the closet full of dress clothes, are the relationships that were accumulated during an experience.

Right now, I am sitting in my office having begun the packing process. In a few days I will graduate from Miami University with a Masters of Science in Student Affairs in Higher Education. I am excited about my new position at Virginia Tech and am eager to return home and see my friends from Michigan State. The summer will be filled with camping, seeing old friends and family, and relaxing before my transition to Virginia Tech is complete in July.

But over the last few days, I have begun thinking of how to successfully transition out of Miami and keep the relationships I have formed, close. I know that my friendships with folks will undoubtedly change, as we will not be on the same campus any longer. Yet, keeping in touch with people is important and it is something that I know I will have to do to be successful.

Everyone I talk to, and everything I read, makes a point of saying ‘oh, social media makes it super easy to stay in touch with your friends, no matter where they are’ and that is true. Yet, as someone who often falls prey to the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ trap that often comes with location changes, I know I have to put in an effort to sustain friendships.

My transition to Miami University taught me how to keep relationships. I have successfully kept in contact with my friends from Michigan State, but even now we still are struggling to conceptualize what it means to have friends all over the country. Still, the transition away from 24 people who I have built strong friendships with during my two years here wont be easy and I will have to relearn how to sustain friendships with these people.

Undoubtedly, friendships will fade. Yet, as numerous folks are moving across the country this summer to start new opportunities and adventures, it is important to really reflect on what it means to transition away from friends and how to sustain those friendships. No advice, not even the cure-all that is social media, will help someone in that transition. Best of luck; it wont be easy.

On Searching

During my posting hiatus, I was immersed in the job search. I had a few on-campuses and a great deal of time to sit and reflect. The search process was stressful and seemed to take many turns. Yet, now that it is concluded, I felt it important to share my thoughts here for other folks that will search or are still searching.

The (False) Hope of TPE

I attended The Placement Exchange in Indianapolis. I had an interview schedule that I was happy about and a few jobs that I was intrigued by. It was a busy three days, yet I left TPE feeling good about my experience.

TPE has a mythic lore surrounding it. No matter who you ask, you will get some opinion that mentions the importance of self-care and not to do too many interviews. Both of those bits of advice were true. What I found frustrating was the amount of folks that I spoke to, all made it sound as if TPE is where you will get your job. For me, that was not the case. TPE was great practice for interviews, but I felt the pressure to get a job from TPE and when I kept getting ‘no thanks’ emails after TPE, my stress levels skyrocketed. However, that does not mean that TPE does not work for some people. TPE was a generally positive experience and I would recommend it to anyone searching.

The On-Campus

During my search I had four on-campus visits, one of which was for a non-student affairs position. These experiences all varied, but what stayed true was the exhausting nature of the on-campus. As an introvert, having to talk about myself all day is not only taxing, but slightly stress inducing. The seemingly never ending onslaught of people talking with you and little time to take a breath alone was an experience that I don’t want to experience again.

I had hoped that the on-campuses would allow time to recharge, even for a few minutes, during the course of the day. However, that was not the standard and I would find myself hurrying to the bathroom just to be in silence.

Landing the Job

The job search is a vastly different experience for everyone who goes through it. Some are bound by geography, others by functional area. Yet, no matter what stipulations you have (or don’t have), the search is not any less challenging. The process is bumpy and an emotional roller coaster. One of my cohort-mates, describes the search as a constant state of being manic, and I find it hard to disagree with her.

After my on-campuses and the initial offer, I was ecstatic. The job that I most connected with was the on-campus I felt least confident in, yet they saw something in me that would work on their team. I could not be happier to be working there starting in July.

It is a surreal feeling, knowing I am done with the search. I don’t think it has really sunk in that I am done with graduate school and will be starting full time employment. Yet, the lessons I learned through the job search will stay with me as I advance through this field.

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.