Challenging Our Process

“We [student affairs] are overly focused on outcomes and not process” (Jones, 2004, p. 4)

There are a lot of challenge competitions people can participate in going around. All one needs to do is check out Facebook to see a variety of them in diverse forms (pictures, lists, ice buckets, etc.). I’m sure that there is quite a bit of time and energy put into starting such challenges so that they become passed around to a lot of folks. I don’t really have those skills, nor the time to put into figuring that out. Still, though, I have a challenge to put out to the universe (specifically of student affairs) and I look forward to seeing what the universe does with it.

(hint: you could be the universe if you so feel up for the challenge 🙂 ).

Challenge: Spend two weeks focusing on seeing the process of your practice.

I think that if we were to do so, we might be disappointed in ourselves. For example, we might see that often we speak about inclusivity, but we practice including only those most like us…at all levels. Or that we say we value difference, but our approach neutralizes out any difference…or assimilates it, so that the difference becomes something we are more comfortable with. I think that no matter what we do discover, it will include a disconnect between saying and doing (is it really a surprise then when students demonstrate the same disconnect?).

I could be wrong about this.

Taking the challenge could help to discover if I am, and I’m very much open to that.

I’m sure that there are lots of reasons too for such a disconnect. The structure of society, my own desire to idealize things, etc. Rationalizing our practice so that it stays the same is something we might discover that we are also quite good at, even though we talk about the need for change (one of those disconnects). Perhaps this means that we need a rule to go with the challenge:

Rule 1: No rationalizing/explaining away why you follow the process that you do. Just notice it as it is using thick, rich description…who does it include, what value(s) it is enacting, etc.

Oh, and this makes me think of:

Rule 2: No blaming other people or deciding things about/for them as you notice various processes you enact. This is about you looking at your practice.

Although I really do believe that we would discover disconnects, I also think that we would discover opportunities. A chance to find new ways to align our practice with the values we espouse, so that they become the values we enact.

Finally, because it seems like it wouldn’t be a challenge if it didn’t have a social media component. So, post the challenge to someone on FB to take, but when you do, share with them at least one value you are working to better have guide your practice.

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Starting a Student Organization for First Generation Students

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A few students within the College Student Personnel program at Western Illinois University and I have been meeting over the past few weeks to discuss (and put in motion) the creation of a student organization for First Generation students. This next week, on September 25, we will host our first interest meeting (Sept. 25, 5-6 p.m., Fox Room, University Union). How am I feeling about all of it?

I’m nervous and excited at the same time.

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The idea for a student organization came to me when my student affairs background and research interest collided in my mind.

(I “grew up” in the student activities area…orientation, leadership, commuter affairs, fraternity and sorority life, etc.)
+
(transformative learning)
= First Generation Student Organization Idea

And the idea was affirmed the other night when I attended a speaker, President and CEO of the NIC, Pete Smithhisler, sponsored by the fraternity and sorority life community at WIU. As I sat there listening to Pete speak about courage, I could not help but consider the founders of my own organization, Pi Beta Phi. What it took for them to first decide to go to college, and then to start I.C. Sorosis. I can see how the structure the Pi Beta Phi founders modeled is the same structure the students and I are emulating as we work to get the first gen. group up and running. I also think the creation of both groups is somewhat similar…or at least comparable:

A group of students with similar identities coming together to form what in many ways is a family as they proceed through college together.

These similarities give me hope, as I reflect on Pete’s speech and how much good fraternities and sororities have made in the world. We want the student organization to do good. Yet, how it will is still to be determined. We want the students to contribute to the creation of the group around the following values:

Dedication
Grit
Curiosity
Community
Integrity

Still though, even with the identification of values, how they are enacted is left to be determined. We know we don’t want it to be like a class, and aren’t trying to become a bridge program. Such initiatives are worthwhile, but different than the aim of a student organization. We do hope to have first generation faculty and staff involved in some way, but that way is still to be figured out. So much is still left to be decided, but that’s a part of what makes me nervous and excited. Here’s hoping for a nice turn out next Thursday night…all are invited. 🙂

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First Gen Flier

The Rejection Letter and Start to a New School Year

I’ve waited awhile before publishing this post.  Waiting seems to be the standard advice on the Internet if one Google’s “rejected journal manuscript”…wait a few days and then consider the feedback and keep working on the document.  That I did (and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for goodness from the new submission location!), although I waited longer to write this post.  Mostly because I was still mulling around some of feedback I received.  Additionally, it is hard to receive a rejection (This site indicates that there are four steps for responding to it…none of which apply to the kind of rejection I received).  In this case, I am talking about the rejection of a journal submission, but I think rejection is painful to receive not matter the context (at least this is what I recall from school dances). This post, however, will focus on the feedback I received about a research paper I wrote.

As you know from another post (where I confessed that a part of my motivation to blog is to improve my writing), writing does not come easily to me. I have to work at it, and while I have improved due to my continued commitment, I know that I need to keep doing it. So, this blog will not be about the feedback I received related to my writing abilities. Although I do want to add that I received three positive comments about my writing (woo hoo! 🙂 ). Instead, this feedback will be about two similar comments I received regarding the results of the research I was reporting.  Now, before I share more about the comments, please know that after spending time with them, I can see how the reviewers came to understand what I wrote in the way that they did. I actually agreed with what they wrote, and I believed that the research I was reporting did too, however, that is not what they read. Instead, they read that my research was incongruent with other, previously published research and they indicated that it should be rejected because of that, which is what got me thinking.  Again, please keep in mind that this was not the case, but I still couldn’t help but wonder what if I had made a new discovery that was not congruent with the previously published research?

What if my research discovered something different?

It was clear to me that if that had indeed been the case, the two reviewers were not open to it.  They did not even seem to notice that my research results section started off with a sentence indicating congruency (not opposition) to current research. So this got me thinking about what that might mean for the field of student affairs.

Are we so focused on what we’ve been doing that we have closed ourselves off to what is different and new?

This, to me, is a Thomas Kuhn question,

This video of Thomas Kuhn is hilarious: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-v_onEWGv0

You should go here though to learn more about his contributions: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/aug/19/thomas-kuhn-structure-scientific-revolutions

and a question that I look forward to exploring with the students in College Student Personnel (CSP) program as a I start by fourth year as a faculty member tomorrow at Western Illinois University.

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Innovation and Higher Education

Over the past week, I read the book The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. I’d read several other books about what he calls disruptive innovation theory, but not yet this book, so I decided that it was time. I am one of those faculty members (I did this when I was a student affairs professional too) that enjoys reading a book from another field and considering what it means for the field of higher education. The book is worth reading, although the amount of discussion about the disk drive industry and innovations with in it made me feel quite old. For example, I can remember when disk drives served floppy disks that looked like this:
8-inch-floppy

And now disk drives serve disks that look like this:
SanDisk_Cruzer_Micro

One of the points, I’ve been spending some time with is that the cause of “every successful company’s ultimate demise” is,

“the two principles of good management taught in business schools: that you should always listen to and respond to the needs of your best customers, and that you should focus investments on those innovations that promise the highest returns” (p. xxxiv).

Although I am not a fan of likening higher education to a business in the manner that it is often done today (it seems such a narrow way of viewing a complex organization), I’m not one to fully throw out the entire idea. So, I’ve found it worthwhile to consider how these two principles of management are enacted in higher education…at least in relation to the experiences I’ve had.

The first principle, “that you should always listen to and respond to the needs of your best customers” I’ve most certainly heard within higher education. From time to time I also hear it from the students I teach.

“We must meet the students needs!”

The issue, for me, becomes do the students know what they need? For that matter, does anyone really know what they need? I know that I often think that I know what I need in the moment, but when looking back I more often see a much smaller list of necessary items than I originally put together. So, it seems that perhaps what we might be responding to are people’s wants disguised as needs. I also know that, from my experience, I can always need/want more. In fact, I’m not sure that I know too many people, myself included, that are quick to say, “no, no, that’s enough…I only needed that amount” of whatever it is that they are being given (hence my struggles with dieting).

Another issue I have with the principle, but again, one that I see being enacted in higher education has to do with responding “to the needs of your best customers”. I can certainly see how this can cause issues for any organization facing a disruptive innovation. After all, those that are not identified as your best customers, but that are still your customers, are not fully being considered. Thus, while they still might consume your product, they are being taken for granted. It doesn’t seem too far of a stretch to realize that when they find a place that will value their contributions more that they will go there. In a day and age when most institutions are facing retention issues this seems like a more high-risk way to keep students. In a day and age when higher education is being questioned about its purpose, this seems like a sure fire way to produce people who are dissatisfied and frustrated with their experience—especially if all that they have to do is glance around to see that the needs of others are being met.

The second principle, “that you should focus investments on those innovations that promise the highest returns” seems like a formula for stagnancy. After all, how do you know what the return rate of an innovation is if it hasn’t been put out to market? Furthermore, even if it has, and it is not showing a high return, perhaps that is simply because the right market has not been found (which means that it eventually will lead to a high return rate). So, while I can understand how it seems safe to focus on innovations one can anticipate will provide a high return, I can also understand why Christensen warns that,

“Experts’ forecasts will always be wrong” (p. 178).

Furthermore, what does this mean in terms of failure? Is it not okay for institutions of higher education to experience failure, which thus allows learning to occur? Is society okay with institutions of higher education failing? Imagine if such failures were approached primarily as learning opportunities instead of primarily as unacceptable. If it isn’t, I only see such practice teaching others that they must be perfect in all that they do, which seems incongruent with valuing the life-long learning, which is professed to be a purpose of higher education.

Perhaps enacting these principles, as I’ve experienced higher education do, means that a disruptive innovation is on the horizon for higher education.

On First Generation Students

I recently finished reading two books about First Generation college students (The First Generation Student Experience: Implications for Campus Practice, and Strategies for Improving Persistence and Success by Jeff Davis and First-Generation College Students: Understanding and Improving the Experience from Recruitment to Commencement by Lee Ward, Michael Siegel, and Zebulun Davenport). Each book was a fairly quick read, and both have been on my mind since completing them.

What was quite clear to me from both books (Davis’s book contained more personal narratives, and Ward et al.’s book discussed more institutional strategy) is that what is known about first generation students is that they are hard workers.

Hard workers.

I put it out there because I don’t hear a lot of folks in higher education talking about first generation students being hard workers. Rather, if first generation students are spoken about at all, I hear folks identifying things they usually need to “tell” first generation students so that they will “know it” and thus catch up them up to everyone else around them (I, myself, admit to having thought and spoken this way about first generation students). Yes, it is true that there are things that first generation college students might not know about how college works. But I worry a bit that we are missing out on what it is that they do know. Instead, we are too busy trying to fit them into the processes and structures we have in place, which only continues to encourage us to see first generation students as less than other students. The deficit model approach. So, I thought it might be helpful to post three (well, really four if you count what I noted above about first generation students being hard workers, which I most certainly do count) of the key points I read about first generation students that might help to counter such a common approach:

1. Focusing on creating learning environments in which students are shared what they will learn, how it contributes to the mission of the institution, and then have experiences aiming to reach those learning outcomes helps first generation students understand and get on board with the experiences they are participating in. (Incidentally, creating such environments assists non-first generation students too.)

2. First generation students are conscious of the opportunity they are receiving. This is not necessarily how either of the books discussed first generation students approach to their experiences. Instead, they discussed the “imposter phenomenon” and how first generation students are constantly questioning if they should be in college. I chose to re-frame it to highlight the awareness they have of the opportunity they are experiencing (which does include if they are deserving of it–my goal isn’t to leave that out) because in doing I hope to draw attention to the approach many non-first generation students take to their experience, which is more of a taken-for-grantedness.

3. There is no common definition of what it means to be a first generation student. Davis’s book discusses how this is a problem, and Ward et al.’s book selected a definition and used it throughout. I, however, think that there not being a common definition is an opportunity for first generation students to identify for themselves if this is an identity they have and what it means to them.

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Considering Social Class in my Classroom Learning Environment

This morning I finished reading Social Class on Campus: Theories and Manifestations by Will Barrett. I purchased the book for several reasons.

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One, social class is an area I want to personally continue learning more about as I find myself noticing it more. I’m also considering incorporating a focus on it in the Internship 2 course that I teach, which currently contains a focus on chaos theory and disruptive innovation theory. I’ve been considering social class a disruptive “innovation” to higher education in my mind for the past few years, but am still wrapping my head around it so have not yet incorporated it into that course.

social-class-and-ecology

Second, the book contains personal narratives in the last chapter, and I’m always looking for such narratives to add to the courses I teach. I am of the belief that learning occurs best when it connects to lived experiences, and providing the lived experiences of others can sometimes help to build those connections. Perhaps not at all surprising is the challenge in actually finding such personal accounts in print. One of the points that the books contains is that valuing narratives of lived experiences is not often something valued by those in a higher social class–hence, a potential reason as to why I am always on the hunt. A final reason I selected the book was due to the structure in which it was written. Each chapter contains suggestions for activities, as well as discussion questions at the end. I value both of these as an educator for myself and others.

I gained a lot to “sit with” from the book, and would recommend it to others working within higher education. Social class isn’t necessarily one of those areas that gets a lot of attention directly, yet as I reflect on all of my experiences and conversations on college campuses (starting with the college search in high school) it is an ever present guiding force. This I’ve known, but continuing to learn more about it allows me to “see” it even more. As an undergraduate student, I recall being told by an administrator that it was refreshing to work with a student wearing flip flops and a ponytail, and similar, yet different, messages continue to be sent to me as a faculty member.

At one point in the book, Barrett discusses how students who are the co-creators of knowledge are more likely to reach self-authorship. Self-authorship in a very reduced definition is a way of making meaning in which an individual determines their own values and beliefs while seeing others’ views as important, separate, and worth considering (Important to note: Separate does not mean disconnected). This internal value and belief system enables individuals to consider experiences from multiple perspectives and make responsible, ethical decisions for the common good. Arguably, this is the goal of higher education.

Barrett draws the connection between types of pedagogy found in courses hosted at various institutions (discussion based, lecture style, etc.) and class. For example, a student who was able to attend a high school where discussion was valued in the classroom might seek out a college experience where the classroom experience is discussion based. He then draws the connection to those students being more likely to be self-authored. This was one point in the book where I found myself thinking two thoughts:

One, simply because something is discussion based does not mean that students are developing toward self-authorship. Baxter Magolda provides several examples of various ways, including lecture style learning environments, that promote self-authorship, and the key, according to her, is the incorporation of all principles and assumptions within in the learning partnerships model (a model designed specifically to promote the development of self-authorship). My own experience in higher education demonstrates that discussion based learning environments to do not inherently promote self-authorship, as it was not until my graduate education that I was asked to “situate learning in my own experience”, as well as experience being “validated as a knower”–the two principles missing from Barrett’s discussion about what is necessary to develop toward self-authorship. I engaged in discussion based classes at my own undergraduate institution, yet, I was rewarded for being able to argue/defend/repeat claims made by others about the field of study–not consider those claims in terms of my own lived experiences, which would have validated that I brought knowledge with me to the classroom.

The second thought I had was not to dismiss quickly the point Barrett was making. This got me thinking about the classroom experience I seek to provide, and the messages that are being sent about class. It is extra complicated when considering that,

“We all have a social class of origin, a current felt social class, and an attributed social class” (p. 7).

I’m still working on exactly where I land with the classroom environment I try to create (I just finished the book this morning!). I do know of at least three ways that I can be more inclusive, so that even if students are being taught cultural capital in a variety of ways throughout all of their experiences (this is a whole other blog post, and is really just one type of capital..it sure is complex stuff), they aren’t being asked to completely reject whatever cultural capital they do bring. So, here are my list of three:

1. Provide on my syllabus information about purchasing any books electronically. Often publishers allow for purchasing of hard copy and electronic copy with the electronic copy being less expensive. I’ve also already done this one, but want to keep doing it…work with the library to make sure that the assigned books for class can be checked out of the library.

2. Discuss class attire on the first day of class. Learning does not require business clothes. I look forward to seeing how this conversation goes this fall.

3. Continue to have library orientation and technology orientation involved in the Intro. class I teach. Continue also assisting students in learning APA style through a continual learning process, rather than provide a workshop and expect that they “get it” after the workshop.

Wouldn’t it be GREAT if Support Could Take Away the Challenge?

In student affairs, one of the “go to” standard responses (especially during the job interview process) when asked how one translates theory to practice is to provide challenge and support. The origin of this phrase in the field comes from Nevitt Sanford’s (1967) theory of challenge and support. I’m not always certain based on my experiences, however, that the theory translates over into the field exactly how it was designed. In fact, the more experiences I’ve had in the field the more I’ve found myself responding by asking the question, “what do you mean by that?” or “what does that look like?” when I hear someone say that they will “challenge and support the student.” I ask these questions because in my experience using challenge and support often looks like this:

Step one: Student finds a student affairs professional and says that they are overwhelmed/stressed/upset/not doing well with something.

Step two: Student affairs professional listens to the student and then helps the student figure out what to do about the problem. The help that is given to the student more often than not involves telling the student what steps they need to take.

Step three: Student follows the steps, or does not, and either the problem is solved or it is not (if it is not, and the student returns to the student affairs professional to discuss it again, or the student affairs professional hears from someone else that the student didn’t follow the steps they were told to follow, and discussion is often had about how it is the student’s fault for not “accepting the help” they were receiving…in other words, not doing what they had been told to do)

Step four: Student affairs professional feels good because the professional helped provide support for the student as the student was experiencing challenge.

I can’t help but wonder, however, if students are learning from such experiences what they should be learning from institutions of higher education. I’m also not sure that using challenge and support in this way is what Sanford intended… as I don’t really believe in the idea of using support to remove the challenge. I also don’t believe it is very helpful to create relationships with students where they are dependent on student affairs professionals to get the answers to their questions. Doing so often results in students repeatedly coming back to student affairs professionals to ask what they should be doing in a variety of situations, and student affairs professionals telling them how to address their issue (although this might make us feel popular/wanted as student affairs professionals, it has potential to result in quite a number of challenges for students upon graduation when they no longer have a student affairs professional to go to for all of the answers to the challenges they are experiencing). I’m not saying that students should be ignored when they seek out help, or be told to “figure it out” for themselves. Rather, I think we want students to learn to consider what they already know and how that might help them navigate through whatever experience they are being challenged by. Doing so, does not mean that students are alone in the process of navigating through whatever challenge they are experiencing, but rather it means that we partner with them. In other words, the support we provide is us being with them as they work through the challenge. I actually experienced such support this morning as I installed a ceiling fan.

Yes, challenge and support is applicable to all learning experiences…including installing ceiling fans. 🙂

This is the finished product:

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Yet, it almost didn’t become a finished product because I had reached a point of maximum frustration and impatience (lots of “this is stupid” and “why did I ever start this?” kinds of thoughts were occurring both in my mind, as well as being muttered under my breath). You see, I have learned just enough about changing out lights/fans/etc. that I am now the family member volunteered for such home improvement projects when visiting relatives. Given that I currently am visiting my sister, I was volunteered (and agruably I volunteeered myself, although I am hesitant to admit it given my most recent Sarah-as-an-electrician fan installation experience) because I wanted to do something nice for her (she is having surgery today, and I thought it would be nice to do something nice for her to experience when she returned home). I had most certainly reached a point where I just wanted to be told what to do by someone else to solve the problem of the switch not working after I thought I had done everything I should have done. So, reached out to my partner, John, and asked him to do just that. I even, in quite a sassy tone, told him that I didn’t know what to do and was done.

“I’m done. I quit. Just tell me what to do.”

Instead of responding by telling me what to do, he asked me to explain what steps I had taken. At first, I will admit, I was quite frustrated by this question. I didn’t want to tell him what I had done, I just wanted the switch to work!!!

Once I told him the steps I had taken, he asked me what I knew about why it might not be working. This led to us determining that perhaps the wiring wasn’t as straight forward as it appeared. In other words (this will make sense if you’ve ever done any electrical work) matching the black wire to the black wire, and the white wire to the white wire no matter how many times I did it was not going to provide different results (indeed, my continual repetitive trials of doing so were already proving this!).

At this point in time, I had calmed down enough that I started to consider again what might be going on. This time, however, John and I problem solved together, and the question of how we could figure it out was raised. This led to me getting on the internet and searching words that explained the experience I was having. At the same time, John thought that perhaps looking at the wire connection of a switch hook up in another room could help. Once we each did that, we discussed what steps we would take next and low and behold we got the switch working. (Hallelujah!)

Funny enough, John providing me with this kind of partnership, instead of just telling me what to do, has actually resulted in me feeling satisfied and motivated to install a second ceiling fan. While I shared this experience as an example of the kind of partnership that reflects a more complex way of providing challenge and support, and not one in which John used support to “solve” my challenge, it also illustrates the motivation and skill development that results from such partnering.

The next fan I will be replacing:

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(Yes, you are correct…that is a baseball fan ;))

Share a Story of an Intercultural Challenge

I presented a workshop last week, and one of the activities that I asked the participates to engage in has stayed with me since. The activity was to identify an intercultural challenge you’ve experienced and to share that story with a partner. The partner than tells you, the storyteller, what values they hear being communicated. Your job, as the storyteller, is to then stay open to hearing from your partner the values identified, and consider whether you meant for those to be the values shared.

So powerful.

Because of this activity, I’ve now been hearing the stories that I share with others, and considering the values being communicated. (I highly recommend trying this activity at home, although doing so, is quite challenging.)

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The institute at which I presented this workshop was the Harbor Institute’s Cross Cultural Fraternal Advisors Institute in Atlanta Georgia (check it out and register for next year’s institute here: http://www.theharborinstitute.com/ccfai.asp and https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2015-cross-cultural-fraternal-advisors-institute-tickets-11972290443). It was the first time for the institute, which is the first time I’ve ever participated in the first go around of a conference/institute/etc that wasn’t something I was creating from my own professional role on a college campus. It was an intense, rewarding, learning experience to say the least. I am quite grateful for the opportunity I received.

An aside: I mentioned in my last blog that it was going to be my first time in Atlanta beyond the airport. Now I can confidently say that I’ve been to the Atlanta airport, and to the Marriott Marquis Downtown. At this rate, it appears as though Atlanta is going to be a city I get to know building by building each time I visit.

I do know, however, that I wasn’t really there to “see” Atlanta, but rather I was there to be a part of an experience unlike many others I’ve attended. My saying that makes it sound as though I was more conscious of what the experience would be like than I was, which isn’t true. Yes, I was aware of the two sessions I would be facilitating, but I wasn’t sure exactly how the overall experience would go. I think that some of my unawareness of the atmosphere of the institute has to do with how much time, or shall I say how little time, I’ve spend considering (beyond research that I’ve read and interacting with students) what it means for members of Culturally-Based Greek-Letter Organizations to be advised by someone like me. I certainly think about it much more now as a faculty member in a preparation program, but I’ve only been doing that for three years if I also give myself the two years prior to becoming faculty that brings my “considering what this means” up to five years total, which really is not that much given that I’ve been working in the field for going on 14 years. What I mean by someone like me, is someone who is a White woman that is a member of a National Panhellenic Council organization….the description of someone like me is the description of most fraternity and sorority life advisors at institutions across the country.

So important to realize
.

Seriously, I want to state again…I’ve spent minimal time given my professional career, beyond reading studies and various student interactions, considering what it means for Culturally-Based Greek-letter organizations to be advised by someone like me, and I don’t believe that I’m alone in that. I know that such organizations can often be the only place students feel welcome, especially at predominately White institutions, and I know some of the differences between my own organization and all other Greek-letter organizations. But I can see now how some of my own behaviors weren’t helping to successfully learn more about all of the organizations I was there to support, and I’ve come to this realization not just by participating in the advisors institute, but by engaging in the above storytelling activity I spoke about.

As a professional, I was hesitant to ask questions of the students because I was unsure if the language I was using was correct. I wanted Culturally-Based Greek-Letter Organizations to be at all of the same events that all the other Greek-Letter Organizations were at, even if I was asking the same four students over and over again to step up to the task, because I thought it would help them to feel included. I also though it would prove to others what Culturally-Based Greek-Letter organizations have to contribute. In essence, I was underestimating the students who joined Culturally-Based Greek-letter Organizations and I was placing on their experience my values of competition, community, and competence–without even realizing it! (This is not to say that Culturally-Based Greek-Letter Organizations don’t share these same values…but I had not asked). I was underestimating that they wouldn’t help me learn if I didn’t know the correct language to use, and I was setting up their worth as groups to be the same as other Greek-Letter Organizations as though all groups are the same. It is ironic to reflect back and see my behaviors and realize that they are connected to underestimating the students. One of my mentor’s once gave me advice, that I often still pass along to students, and that is to

“never underestimate the students”

yet, I can see how I was doing exactly that. Unfortunately, I can’t go back in time, and I don’t want to simply say that I will work to be more aware going forward. That sounds too simple. Too dismissive. I am grateful for my time at the institute this past week because it helped me to see how important it is to create spaces where such reflection can occur (including such reflection for myself) because it is through such reflection that true change can occur. I’m not sure that we do a good job of that as student affairs professionals. We blame time, energy, and other resources as to why we don’t spend time reflecting on the impact we have on our practice. Although all of those reasons maybe very true, I believe that we make time for the things we find important, and to be able to do that, we must see what we are currently viewing as important and determine if the values we are communicating and enacting are the values that we want to be communicating and enacting.

Privilege and Developing One’s Mind

About two weeks ago I decided to give running a try again…10 years ago I ran every other day pretty consistently.
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(This is what I imagine I look like when I’m running)

Since that time, I moved away from running and began doing other things such as spinning, a Les Mills program called Body Pump (a great program that I highly recommend), and I will admit it…sometimes nothing. This winter, though, felt endless. And so, as soon as the weather turned a bit warmer I decided it was time to get outdoors and be active. A few students within the program I teach inspired me to take up running by sharing their stories, and so this spring I began running again. So far I am up to two miles, and it feels great!

Not only have I felt better physically, but running has provided me with some greatly valued reflection time. Lately, I’ve been spending time considering learning on my runs. To anyone who has spent time with me as a student affairs professional or now as a faculty member, you will know that I have a passion for learning….student learning, organizational learning, etc. I am known for describing the process of learning as magical, the biology behind learning, and I work hard to be a good learning partner to others around me. While I could speak about the challenges and rewards in helping others to learn, what has been on my mind recently is the privilege that exists in higher education when one does not consider learning. It isn’t that I think privilege is suddenly gone when learning is considered, but I can’t help but wonder what it means to not be intentional with what individuals are learning from one’s practice.

James Zull speaks about the learning process in both The Art of Changing the Brain (2002) and From Brain to Mind (2011), and reminds us that learning isn’t necessarily an option. Just by simply interacting with the world around us we are bound to learn. So, learning isn’t something we can simply shut off or separate out from our understanding of the world around us. Zull encourages educators to help students (arguably he considers everyone an educator and thus, every is a student) move beyond encouraging the kind of learning that is comprised primarily of copying, and toward the kind of learning that develops ones mind. This is the kind of learning that Mezirow (2000) labeled transformative learning, which is the kind of learning we are called to practice in Learning Reconsidered (2004) and Learning Reconsidered 2 (2006). These documents encourage us, student affairs professionals, to establish learning outcomes, shape the environment to reach those learning outcomes, and to assess for learning in the experiences we provide through our practice. Regardless of the method one follows to move through this cycle (I strongly encourage being as inclusive as possible), I can’t help but wonder what one’s practice is doing if one is not pausing and intentionally moving through this process? What does it mean if one thinks that it takes too much time to consider what people should be learning from their practice, if they are helping them to learn it, and how they know if they are helping them to learn it? Or, if one thinks that learning is for the classroom? For faculty members to take care of? So, as I’ve been asking these questions on my run, I keep coming back to how much privilege must be present to be able to not consider what one wants others to learn. It seems to me that without the incorporation of intentional learning, one simply stays in a place where they are able to copy what either they themselves, or someone else, is doing, and prevents one from developing one’s mind.