Our Love Affair With Dualism

As a society, we love dualism. We enjoy reducing our options to two, and framing it so that the only options we have are the two that we often can’t stop obsessing over. Yes, our love of dualism is a lens to view the most recent presidential election and its aftermath (e.g., You either were for Trump or participated in the marches this past weekend, You either were for Trump or are for abortion, etc.).

It is also a lens to view most decisions. A few dualisms related to higher education, and specifically student affairs are:

films-cinema-movie-choices-romances-tedium-rte0331_low.jpgWe either go to college or we don’t; We are either life-long learners or we’ve stopped learning; and one that has been on my mind over the past two years, “I will either get better or I will not”.  Thankfully, given my health challenges I’ve had to make my options for this one more complex than a simple one or the other.

Another that has cropped up recently in my mind is:

We are either for students developing/growing/learning/becoming complex in how they make meaning or we are for student success.

Why is it that we do this?

I genuinely am interested in knowing. It makes no sense to me why we would frame our practice as though we have two options (please know that I am not perfect in not doing it either..see above). Yes, there is a movement to use “big data” to shape the higher education experience for students. And I agree that it has potential to result in some more personalized experiences for our students, which is great! Still, I believe that it is us humans that assist in the dfear-greed.jpgevelopment of students (aka, helping others learn), not computers exporting formulas. Thus, I believe that there will always be a need for some sort of student affairs professionals.

Additionally, although I agree that the innovation of the assembly line in the United States (U.S.) allowed us to gain traction in terms of having an advantage on a global scale economically speaking, I do not think that human growth occurs in an assembly like fashion. If it did, I hope we would have had it figured out a long time ago. Thus, another reason why I believe that there will be a need for student affairs professionals.

Another way that we enjoy dualism in our everyday lives is to reduce our interactions with others to be simply an evaluation of someone’s intelligence.

They are either intelligent or not.

This one I’ve heard a lot lately due to the el130003e1461282313o8184.jpgection, so not just within education.

Although lately in higher education, we seem to be doing this in regard to a variety of issues: social justice issues, what it means to be professional, political perspective, etc. I hope that we catch ourselves in these moments and pull back from drawing a causation between a person’s intellectual abilities and how they make sense of the world. I know that we often don’t…as evidenced by conversations I’ve witnessed in person and on social media.

The multitude of options that exist between two choices is an area we as student affairs professionals can assist others in seeing. As long as we continue to be the folks who have examined change (aka development) on the individual level, as well as on the organizational level–including how the two interact. Again, there is another reason we need student affairs professionals….perhaps even for life, not just within institutions of higher education.

Lynn Pasquerella, President, Association of American Colleges and Universities, speaks to our belief in dualism as well in a video published by The Chronicle of Higher Education in December, 2016.

So, again, I ask: Why do we reduce our options to only two? And this time I add to the question: What can you doing to recognize it and help move beyond it?

Today is my Happy New Year!

Today is the two year anniversary of what I’ve dubbed “my life explosion“. Some might think it is odd that I acknowledge this date, and even sometimes refer to it as my new birthday.

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My life on  January 6, 2015

For me, however, I’d rather put it out there than keep my acknowledgement of it inside. So, here I am, two years later still working on recovery…a process that is measured in years and not months or days like some other illnesses.

 

“The actual length of the rehabilitation process varies according to the person and to the severity of their injury. Some people may only require a few weeks or months of rehabilitation, and others may require years or even lifelong rehabilitation.”

(http://www.brainline.org/landing_pages/categories/rehabilitation.html)

 

I can see my growth over the past year. I am much stronger, and can therefore walk a bit better and last longer before hitting complete exhaustion (and my goodness the exhaustion).  I am better able to complete higher order executive functioning skills. And, I continue to challenge myself so that my neurons build complex pathways.

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Me=Snoopy

I also recognize the accomplishments I’ve achieved. For example, several times over the past year my Physical Therapist has strapped me into a harness over a treadmill. Each time my goal was to get to 3.5 in my speed (the lowest speed that is considered running), and the past few times I’ve done it I have reach my goal….albeit, the longest I can last at that speed is 5 minutes, but still, I was running.

I have hit my goal of 4,000 steps a day for almost all of this current school year (I take one day a week off…see exhaustion note above). It has helped to have a furry friend to enjoy going on walks with, and he goes at whatever speed I go, so it works out well. I’ve fallen several times on my walks, but let’s be real…I’ve always been clumsy. The best part is that Optimus is right there looking at me when I do without judgement.

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My furry friend, Optimus Prime.

Somehow I’ve managed to travel and present at conferences, as well as attend and participate in a wedding, and I say somehow because there is a ridiculous amount of sensory input in airports and conference centers. Even hotel carpeting…seriously, what is up with hotel carpeting? Does it really need to be (often) bright geometric patterned?  These are important questions, people, so please pay attention…it is dizzying. Not one of these adventures would have been possible without my co-presenters and my a0aab073555e4c72cd69f8d1e00ec450bdventure partner.

I often spot others with walking challenges wherever I go. Yes, these folks were probably around me before my life explosion, but I truly see them.

I also recognize the hypocrisy of a call for social justice that continually stays silent about the issue of disability.  If 19% of the population reports having a disability perhaps we can find a way to talk about it more?

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I really hope that you saw this and were not okay with it no matter your vote.

I  wrote a book. I’m not sure if it is any good, and I’m still working on editing it. I often remind myself that it took Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor 10 years for her to share her story. Perhaps I am emulating her in some sort of way.  What I do know is that I needed to get my life explosion out of me as a method of grieving (also a reason I talk a lot about Optimus).

There has been a lot that I’ve lost, and I am sad about it. It is okay to be sad.

Still, I want to use my story to encourage/help others, and so I’ve shared bits of it at community wide events, a classroom of speech therapists in training, and a monthly support group for caregivers of stroke survivors. I hope that by sharing it I’ve helped others in some way as all of these groups of people have helped me.

Goal for 2017: Do much of the same as this past year, except add looking at my experiences with more gratitude.  I spent a lot of time over the past year thinking “I woke back up for this?! Why?”

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My Macomb Family (Me, Optimus, John, Anas, and Amjad)

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with two students from Syria, and couldn’t help but think about how amazing it is that we were eating good food, playing games, and enjoying each other’s company. Who would have thought I would be sitting around a table two years later enjoying time with two people from Syria in Macomb, Illinois?

 

This world we live in often looks like this:       scribbles

when we want it to look like this:       straight_line

Perhaps if it did we would miss out on discovering all of the:       main-thumb-t-1800-200-lon8kkfhqfctckdt2gwalfgnc0jejhmv

that exists where the lines cross.

Happy 2017 Everyone!

On My Journey Through Darkness

I recently reread a short essay by Maureen Watson (2015) titled: Treasures in Darkness: Loving the Questions.  In the essay, Watson speaks about what it feels like to live in the darkness. A year ago I was in a dark place, and although I had good reason to be there, it was torture. Parker Palmer’s metaphor of winter also speaks to where I was at the time. It was cold and it felt like the wind was blowing hard as I stood on a flat plain all alone in the dark of night.  1488905_10102331116884928_919608754_n

My choice to phrase the above paragraph in the manner that I did was intentional, and does mean that I’m no longer solely in that place. I don’t want it to be heard that I’ve somehow done a 180, but I have made progress. And I can see the progress. All of this I share because recently I’ve been thinking about how I once had a counselor who asked me if it was okay to revisit experiences that I thought I had worked through.  I was in a very stubborn place and was sharing with her that I refused to consider the past…I just wanted to be fixed even though I knew that she wasn’t going to tell me how I could be fixed. She pointed out that despite working through something in the past, I had since had more experiences that might lead me to see my past experiences differently, and she asked me if I thought that was possible.  Her question stayed with me, and is often something I still consider.

All of these thoughts combined with a passage I was recently reminded of in my Introduction to College Student Personnel course:

“Personnel workers see the person–at whatever age–not as a single moment independent of the past and the future, but as a transition point in a stream of experience that goes back to infancy and will continue on into the future” (Lloyd-Jones, 1954).

And the combination of these thoughts with current events such as the shooting of Keith Scott, the homelessness of the Syrian Refugees, the Native American tribal land protest, and the weekly interactions I have with first generation students place my mind in a spot where I can’t imagine how we could ever feel settled in higher education.  Yet, feeling settled is often what I believe we desire.  I know that I’ve desperately wanted to feel the security of having settled over the past year and a half–the safety that I can count on at least one piece of knowledge and believe it to be true.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could feel comfort in spite of today’s current events instead of only frustration and darkness?

It is in these moments of desiring comfort and stability, however, that I can see that I’ve managed to get through the dark place I was in and find a bit more light by going one step at a time.  And this time, I deeply value the light rather than taking it for granted.  In other words, now that I am able to see how far I have come, I find that I want to make sure that I am always a bit uncomfortable, and in many ways I hope that we all are a bit uncomfortable. For it is in that spot, that I believe we discover the most about ourselves.

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Another School Year Started

I took a break from personally blogging this summer, and need to get back into the swing of doing it at least once a month. For these reasons, I thought I would post about my summer and the beginning of the school year.

For starters, the first week of the new school year is over.  Woo hoo, 🙂 I did it!  I will say that I notice my energy went up over the summer, which is exciting.  Still, I am quite exhausted in the evenings and have spent a good bit of time sleeping this weekend.

I am still going to physical therapy at the local hospital to work on my continued recovery.  Yes, this means that I’m continuing to also improve physically too.  I do still have foot drop, but I have become much stronger, the spasticity has decreased, and I can walk faster.  One of my goals is to be able to run, and I am happy to say that I got to a speed of 3.5 on the treadmill (which is the lowest speed for running), and I can do that for just over 3 minutes.  Yes, to do this I wear a harness that is attached to the ceiling in case I fall, but I can still do it!

This summer I worked again on the book I’m writing about my January 2015 life explosion (as I now call it). I finished another draft of it in early August, and am having someone edit it for me now. I actually think it isn’t too bad, and might possibly be something folks want to read. I’ve kept it focused on the patient perspective of everything I’ve been through. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it is worthwhile.

Third, I did get to go to my favorite place, Lake Vermilion, MN, this summer for two weeks. This year I had a chance to spend time with family, and I swam in the lake. I tried out a pool later in the summer too. FYI, swimming is very hard, but also very enjoyable. A special moment was when my niece taught me to do all of the swimming moves she learned from her swim instructor when I told her that I was afraid to swim. Like a good student, I listened to her instructions.

I also taught a summer course, which was quite enjoyable, and I prepared for my fall semester courses.  Now that I have a better understanding of my disabilities, I was able to be more strategic in my planning.  All of this is to say that I feel as though I’m both improving and adjusting…hopefully the first year back was the hardest for this “new” body I inhabit.

It was great to see the students both in classes this week, as well as those in the Western 1st Generation Society (W1Gs) group.  I am very excited to say that all of the students in the group came back to WIU this fall, and are prepared for the Activities Fair next week.  I anticipate it will be a great year thanks to all of them too!

Finally, no great year would be complete without a new dog.  He is a 5 year old PomChi mix that we adopted from the McDonough County Animal Shelter.  I know that not everyone is a dog person, but it is pretty awesome to have something SO EXCITED to great me each time I come home.  Dogs are the best! 🙂

Optimus Prime our 5 year old ChiPom mix.

Optimus Prime our 5 year old ChiPom mix.

Are Our Inclusive Communities for Those with Disabilities?

Since the beginning of 2016, I’ve challenged myself to have new experiences, which have led me to increasingly realize how hard it is to function in a world that isn’t designed for people with foot drop.  I have a physical disability that can be seen, and although people can see it, I often think of disabilities that aren’t as visual.

Where are our student affairs conversations about any of those who comprise these groups when we talk about social justice? 

In our efforts to create more inclusive communities?

Unfortunately, I can find it only occurring among those like me (or those who are close to us), and I am new to the group.  So, please don’t take what I’m writing here as me speaking on behalf of everyone with a disability, and don’t dismiss it either, as it is insight into one person’s experiences.

Identifying as a person with a disability is not unlike many other identities, except that it is not always visible.  Nearly 1 in 5 people have a disability in the United States.  It is an identity that cuts across race, class, and gender, etc.

As someone who has more recently become disabled, I get it:

The world would be easier if people like me, people who looked abnormal when trying to function in a “normal” way (in my case walking) would just go away.  I feel that message from the systems that exist in the world almost every single day. I know that I am not alone in feeling this way, and I know that the feeling does not belong to just those with a disability.

I’ve spent time considering a few points this semester since attending and presenting at a conference, and participating in recruitment days

Western Illinois University representing at ACPA (I am on the far left)

Western IL University representing at ACPA (I’m the far left)

for the program in which I teach–neither of which were especially challenging for me physically prior to everything occurring.  I am not sharing these points because I want everyone to constantly think about what it must be like to have a physical disability.  In fact, I suspect that most people, even after reading this, will do what I used to do, which is go back to a comfortable, able-bodied routine.  However, I still think I have some points worth sharing, so here are three thoughts for the field of student affairs to consider:

  1. Please understand that I will not walk into a crowded room and work the room, as I don’t know who will be paying attention to where they are walking and/or what might suddenly change about the environment.  In fact, I would prefer to sit and, as I meet people, I will explain to them why I am not getting up.
  2. Just ask me if I need help and know that I am okay with saying that I have a disability.  Perhaps I haven’t had my disability long enough to insist on person first language, and I do understand (deeply) the negative stereotypes that come to mind when folks use the world disabled.  However, after all the work I’ve put into my recovery, the last thing I have energy for is serving as the “word police.”  I get it…if you are describing me, I’m okay if you say “the disabled person”.  I’m just happy that you saw me without me having to remind you that I exist.
  3. Finally, I know there is talk about gender inclusive restrooms within the field, which is great. For me, at the end of the day, it comes down to being able to use any restroom.  At.  All.  So, please stop going into what is often the only accessible stall simply because it has more room.  I know people do it…I used to. I’m six feet tall and used to weigh 36 pounds more than I do now (I’m still considered “big boned”), add to that a backpack, a winter coat, and I feel more comfortable using a larger stall.  Now, I need it. Please don’t hear that we should decide who gets which stall and when. However, for me, there is no getting off the toilet if there is no bar to use to pull myself up.

Is Illinois’s Higher Education Funding the State’s Massive Resistance?

A few weeks back, I was listening to a radio show about the upcoming presidential election that will occur this November. Please know that I typically limit my intake of political advertising because it is overwhelming and designed purposefully to have you think a certain way.  However, the radio was on, and the show came on, so I listened.

The hosts on the radio show were going to go to various places around the country to explore if where you live impacts what you want from your government.  They call their show “The View from Here”.  Unsurprisingly, although perhaps it is a surprise for those that do not live in Illinois, the most representative place in the United States based on race, income, religion, etc. is Peoria, Illinois.  So, this is where the hosts decided to start their show.  And, it is for this same reason of representation that I believe those who work in higher education throughout the United States should pay attention to what is going on within the state of Illinois.  It is bound to come your way soon too.  After all, our world is interconnected.

What is the “it” that I am talking about?

It is not the high taxes.

It is not the dismantling of unions.

It is not the strategic movement of money from the public to the private sector.

I have two thoughts about what the “it” is:

First, it is the inability to compromise between two polarized points of view.  For example, not wanting to raise taxes, and keeping pension plans the same.  You might ask, what is being learned from this dichotomy?   To me, it is that if one has enough means one does not need to compromise, but rather should dig in their heels until they get what they want.  A point to consider is that in this battle, no matter who wins, the winner will be of a class that most of us do not have access too.

Second, higher education will become what public k-12 education was in Prince Edward County during the Civil Rights era.  If you are unfamiliar with Barbara Johns and the walk out that she led, you should become familiar.  A quick overview: In

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Photo credit: Joan Johns Crobbs

1956 the state of Virginia moved to block itself from having to desegregate their school in accordance with the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education.  The move was coined the Massive Resistance. For five years, because Prince Edward County did not want to desegregate, they closed the public schools.  This, as one might imagine, led to only those who could afford private education to be able to attend school.  In other words, and at the time, the White students.  The hope was that other counties in Virginia and other states would view Prince Edward as an example and follow suit. A fairly long, but quite engaging series of events occurred, which prevented the Prince Edward County example taking root in other places. To this day, Prince Edward County is healing both economically and in terms of community relations.

So, how is it that I see this connected to the current issues within the state of Illinois?  If Illinois is not careful, it will rid itself of public education, which will leave private education to only those that can afford it. 

Yes, one might say, but they would never rid themselves of the University of Illinois, it is an elite institution.  Yes and at many elite public institutions the questions of going private has surfaced for many reasons.  Here is another article on the difference between public and private institutions.

Now, keeping this in mind, and switch out the idea of race from the Virginia Massive Resistance, and replace it with the idea of class (albeit there is overlap between the two identities), thus is born Illinois’s version of the Massive Resistance.  You might be thinking, what is it that is being resisted?  And that is a fair question. My response is connected to point number one above.

No compromise is being found because the two polarized points of view are actually connected.  Each side is resisting the other so that everything stays exactly the same, which is a Virginia a la 1954 kind of move Illinois-style.  No budget is passed in Illinois, Prince Edward County did not have to desegregate…no matter the method, the price is great for all of us when we abandon education and there will be ramifications for years to come.

Myths About Self-Authorship in Student Affairs

I thought I would blog about self-authorship to help clear up some misunderstandings I’ve personally experienced throughout my time in the field.  Self-authorship is something that I research and study, so I try to notice when it is misunderstood.  I thought an easy way to clear it up would be to share four main myths I’ve heard about the concept.

Myth #1: Self-authorship is simply saying “I’m making this decision myself, so therefore, I’m self-authored.”  For example, “I’m sorry Sarah, I decided to self-author my homework and not do it.”

Myth #2: Self-authorship is only for White people.

Myth #3: Self-authorship is participating in self-reflection.

Myth #4: Self-authorship doesn’t allow you to build relationships with others.

So let’s start with some basics.  Self-authorship is a way of making meaning. A self-authored individual makes meaning of their experiences by determining their own values and beliefs while seeing others’ views as important and worth considering (Garvey Berger, 2011). This addresses myth #1 and myth #4.

Another way of looking at self-authorship is that it is a way of making meaning in which individuals possess the ability to face economic complexity, balance multiple roles, interact effectively with a diverse world, and responsibly confront social issues (Baxter Magolda, 2001).  Having the ability to face each of these issues most certainly is necessary for those working within the field of student affairs, as the problems of our field seem to only be increasing in complexity within each of these areas and more.

A self-authored way of thinking isn’t just about thinking about oneself (myth #1), it actually requires one to become closer to others in order to see their view point. Kegan (1994) discusses this by stating,

“When we see that we are not made up by the other’s experience, we then have the capacity not to take responsibility for what is now genuinely and for the first time not ours. And as a result, we can get just as close to the other’s experience (even the other’s experience of how disappointing, enraging, or disapprovable we are!) without any need to react defensively to it or be guiltily compliant with it” (p. 127). 

Imagine if in student affairs, we could interact with each of our colleagues and others at work having this capacity!

Myth #2 is addressed through research that is being conducted worldwide, as documented in Development and Assessment of Self-Authorship: Exploring the Concept Across Cultures (Baxter Magolda, Creamer, & Meszaros, 2010).  Book+Self+AuthorshipWithin the book, there are chapters on Bedouins and Jews in Israel, Latino ethnic identity, and other groups of people; and those aren’t the only studies occurring.  In fact, if you explore almost all development theories, you will find a common ebb and flow to them if you explore “how” development is occurring, not just “what” is being developed. Like almost all development theories, those who experience the most dissonance are the most likely to develop toward it.

Myth #3 is not what self-authorship is, but is instead a way to promote the development of self-authorship.  Again, given the issues facing our field, I believe we want to promote it. We need people who are conscious of themselves and the systems that are at work in student affairs and higher education, so that they can make responsible decisions for the good of the community by recognizing what is their responsibility and what is not in an ever increasingly complex world.  Other processes that promote self-authorship include:

  • “an ingenious blend of support and challenge” (Kegan, 1994, p. 42)

  • “listening without judgment, working on the process of one’s own way of making meaning, and intentionality” (Garvey Berger, 2012)

  • “identify diverse experiences, epistemological reflection, and participation as methods” (Mezirow, 2000, 2009; Zull, 2002)

It is also important to remember that being self-authored in how one makes meaning isn’t the end goal–there is more to our development and it continues to be explored.  Being self-authored in how one makes meaning allows individuals to move beyond solely depending on the external environment to tell them who they are and what actions they should take. Being able to think for one’s self is a way of thinking that employers seek in employees (Kerry, 2013, para 6; Krislov and Volk, 2014, para 13). However, my own research on new professionals indicates that those entering the field of student affairs aren’t yet self-authored (Schoper, 2011) (sorry if I’m bursting that bubble), so how can we expect them to assist in fully developing undergraduate students to meet the qualifications that employers seek?  I don’t believe it is simply the fault or full responsibility of student affairs preparation programs. It seems as though the field of student affairs may still be, “overly focused on outcomes and not process” (Jones, 2006, p. 4).

To me, it is the collective responsibility of all of us to promote continued development, not just in our students, but in ourselves. If for no other reason then it enables us to approach the problems we are facing with a different mindset.

Einstein