There’s no TikTok tutorial for this: Completing the first year of doctoral studies in a pandemic
If you’re like me the chapters of this pandemic probably have meshed together at this point. The chapter of Tiger King feels like a lifetime ago and I’m not sure which chapter we’re on in terms of TikTok dance trends anymore. While I can’t say for certain, it feels like we’re between Chapter “Millennial vs. Gen Z memes” and Chapter “To mask or not to mask”. The messiness of this story can only be described in the words of the newest popstar sensation Olivia Rodrigo, “It’s brutal out here”. In September I shared the chapters of my own story (see here) starting a doctoral program during a pandemic and spoiler alert, there is no TikTok tutorial for this. Now that I have completed the first year of my studies, my story continues with lessons on the power of connecting with others, balancing a never ending to do list, and navigating doctoral studies while countless traumatic events unfold. Chapter four: More than just “likes”-Virtual connecting. Meaningful connections are helpful in any doctoral program, whether you are studying during a pandemic or not. While the pandemic impacted the way I made connections, in some ways the ease of zoom allowed me to connect with people I normally would not have been able to. Lesson: It’s the Building Community for me. Collaboration vs competition: I’ll admit that in my doctoral program search, I was pretty particular in that I wanted to join a program that promoted collaboration versus competition. I wanted a program that brought people together, not pit us against one another. Academia has this sneaky way of making you feel like you always need to produce to get ahead (#thankscapitalism). A doctoral program is difficult enough with the amount of workload required and feeling like you have to compete with those you are studying with is (in my opinion) an unnecessary, stressful path to take. This past year I have leaned into the community provided to me through my program and it has made all the difference. From writing zoom sessions to help us meet those paper deadlines, to sharing scholarships and professional development opportunities with one another, to peer reviewing each other’s papers or projects, to hopping on a zoom call to vent- I can honestly say that I would not have made it through this first year without these moments of support. Let’s talk research teams: I think many people imagine academics to be people who work continuously on their own individual research projects and papers. While this is a reality for some, it’s not the only reality that exists. I had the opportunity to work on a research team this past year, where a group of us collected data, analyzed data, and co-wrote manuscripts. While the work was challenging some days, the community of working with others and bouncing your ideas and thoughts off of someone else was extremely helpful and supportive. It also showed me another way to do research that did not feel as overwhelming or lonely as doing a solo study. It is important to acknowledge that no two research teams are the same, but if you find people you work well with and have similar research interests, it could be like catching lightning in a bottle (as my research team leader says). More than just LinkedIn: At this point, probably everyone has heard of the importance of building your network. This year I have been able to virtually connect with scholars whose work I am interested in, as well as other doctoral students. While those conversations may or may not lead to collaborations, they can be extremely helpful in shaping your research interests, identifying other scholars or published content you should engage and also demystifying academia. While initiating the interaction can feel awkward, I found that most of the time people were happy to spend an hour chatting about what they do with a current student. I’m fortunate that my advisor was willing to do some first-round introductions to alleviate the awkwardness of a cold email and I also found connecting via social media was helpful too. In addition, although we live in the digital age, I recently learned that engaging on platforms like twitter during a conference (i.e., tweeting at the provided hashtag) was beneficial in connecting with other students and scholars. There is something to be said about building your digital presence in your respective field and virtually engaging others on your research. While it may not go viral, you never know who is keeping up with your work. Chapter five: For-evvv-er (any Sandlot fans?) It’s true, there is always some task to get done, some paper to write, some article to read, the list goes on (and on and on). No matter how productive you are each day, the work technically never ends. As someone who thrives on completing a to do list, this was tough for me to accept and acknowledge. To be fair, I have heard this many times even before I started my program, but sometimes it takes being in the environment to fully understand what this meant for me. Lesson: Make a Schedule that Works for You (and tweak as needed) Finding your medium: Whether you are a pen and paper to do list person, a scheduling software guru or a combination of both, figure out what works for you (but be open to other options too). I have always loved having a physical planner with color coded pens to map out my weekly and monthly schedule, but I found my schedule in my doctoral program moved quicker than my previous work schedule. This meant adjusting to using an online calendar and other online software that allowed me to map out my research projects and school projects, and even include others on them too. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the satisfaction of crossing off an item on a to do list, but I found ways to incorporate both. Defining your non negotiables: We all have competing priorities and our schoolwork and research are not the only things that require our attention. Figuring out what your non negotiables are when it comes to making a schedule is the first step. For example, I need one day a week where I don’t do anything school or research related. This day is up to me how I want it spent and it gives me an opportunity to disconnect from the world of academia which I have found to be immensely helpful. Writing, writing, writing… did I mention writing: There are countless blogs on best tips and tricks when it comes to writing in higher ed. I will say that incorporating writing into my schedule ended up being the hardest adjustment for me. Figuring out what time of day I could zone in for 30-60 minutes and work on one of the many writing projects I had was a task in itself. But once I found the time that worked for me and limited my distractions (aka phone had to be put on do not disturb) I gradually incorporated this into my schedule. Now I’ll admit that there are times I’m still writing on the day of a deadline, but having time built in my schedule 4-5 times a week has lessened the load in a positive way and kept me engaged. This year has truly been like any other, it is difficult to even name the growing list of traumatic events that have occurred (i.e., the white supremacist domestic terrorist attack on the capitol, the continuous racialized harm inflicted on communities of color, mass shootings, a controversial presidential election) during this pandemic. While I have learned many lessons throughout this first year (considering the historical, social, and political context we all have been uniquely situated in) one lesson that has been ever present is that there is a lot going on outside of your studies that take your time and energy, and it is okay to acknowledge that. It is okay to take the time to process, whatever that may mean for you, because while I’m a student I’m a human too.
Here’s to completing year one and writing the rest of my own doctoral story, once I figure out how to cite each chapter according to APA 7 (casually googles PurdueOWL)...
Reflections on Engaging Research Focused on URM STEM Students
As a former student affairs professional whose brief interactions with STEM students were limited to orientation and first-year programming, researching underrepresented minoritized students (URM) majoring in STEM has been a new venture for me. In my role as a higher education doctoral student, this past year I have assisted the ILSPRA research team on a few projects. These projects included analyzing the impact of the COVID-19 response on URM STEM students through data collection, data analysis, manuscript writing, and also conducting interviews with institutional leaders. In these experiences I have come to better understand the concerns for these students, the intent and impact of programming and support structures in place through the alliance, as well as the importance of acknowledging my positionality in this work. During the pandemic, programming and support for students have looked differently on every campus in order to adapt to the public health crisis. Through working on research projects, I have learned that although every student is experiencing this crisis differently, there is a need for additional attention to URM STEM students. With the cancellation of internship opportunities or not being able to have interactive lab experiences, finding innovative ways to keep these students engaged is a priority. Some former programming was easier to adapt to a virtual setting, while others did not translate as well. In addition, students carry a wealth of knowledge, and engaging in dialogue with them on how they would like to be supported during these “unprecedented times” is something to consider and center in our work. My own identities influence the way that I interpret my surrounding environments and the work that I engage in. As a white woman who did not major in STEM, I will never be able to truly understand the lived experiences of URM STEM students and therefore cannot assume an “insider” view in the work that I do on the research team. Instead, I can continue to educate myself on the experiences of these students and challenges they may encounter through scholarship and communicating with those in the alliance in order to improve my research practice. Lastly, working on a URM STEM project with others has been a very enjoyable experience. Being able to combine our own knowledge and experiences to analyze data or create processes to collect data has been immensely helpful to my development as a researcher. As I continue to learn about the work that ILSPRA is doing, I am looking forward to upcoming projects and opportunities to support the alliance and its growth.
More than Lab Coats and Test Tubes: A URM STEM Student's take on URM focused research
In perhaps living up to the idea of being a STEM student, writing is not my forte. I often overthink what to share and how to make it sound professional. There’s something permanent about seeing the words on paper that aren’t there when having a conversation. If I take nothing else away from working as part of this team, I will have more confidence in my writing. Or to at least be happy with a rustic draft. Sometimes that means turning on speech to text and just talking at my computer or turning a bulleted list into a paragraph that vaguely reads like proper English. It helps when everyone else on the team also waits until the last minute to get things done; a reminder that even with years of experience, things don’t always get easier. There is this bonding moment when everyone is documenting their writing process at 11 PM, a sense of community in sitting down at the same time miles apart to work on the same thing. A sense of community is probably what makes being a part of this team so important. Beyond the amazing people I’ve gotten to know over the past few months (they’re still cool even when they try to argue that cereal is a soup), there is that hope that the work we are doing will impact others. The human-centered approach to STEM that I’ve seen on this project is radically different from the STEM research I thought I would be doing. I have to admit, when I think of STEM research, the first thing that comes to mind is someone in a lab coat and goggles standing over test tubes and carefully watching chemicals mix together. It seemed like something cold and lonely; I could not understand why people were excited to do it. I’ve since learned that research is also interviewing people, talking to them, and getting to hear their stories. Stories that resonate with me even when I have never stepped foot in Illinois. In one of our interviews with ILSPRA staff, the interviewee spoke about a program to get STEM students comfortable with writing, and I was ready to ask her if I could attend the workshops. The conversation also evolved into how the interviewee was doing all that she could to support her students. As a current undergraduate navigating the pandemic, it was awe-inspiring to see that there were people in the institutional hierarchy that were doing all they could to lessen the burden. It is all too easy to forget the real people trying to make things safe when most communications occur through a toneless, generic email that leaves more questions than answers. Before joining this team, I had spent years working as a mentor for URM applying to college but had no idea that I could help them in a STEM capacity. Working with a team that conducts interviews and works with students to learn about their STEM journey opened my eyes to the possibility that research was not just sitting in a lab. It is rewarding being able to look at something that is currently affecting millions of URM students and feel as if you’ve done something that will make a difference. Cover Photo: National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
Is there a TikTok Tutorial for this? Beginning a Doctoral Program in a Pandemic
Anyone else feel like the pandemic has had different book chapters? Chapter One: Binge-watch “Tiger King” and debate who the real villain is (spoiler- all of them). Chapter Two- consume so many TikTok tutorials and dance videos that you question your age while simultaneously wishing for the simplicity of Myspace. Chapter Three- Attempt that DIY project you put off for years since you have run out of things to do while on lockdown. All joking aside, the pandemic has led to an underlying sense of uncertainty and confusion for all of us, even as we watched Tiger King or watched TikTok videos these past several months. And this underlying uncertainty and confusion has trickled over into my own story of beginning a Ph.D. program in the midst of a pandemic. Concerns of how I was going to build community, relocate during a crisis, and battle the creeping feeling of imposter syndrome began to fill the pages of my own story. Chapter One: Connecting Over Zoom? When initially researching doctoral programs, a cohort was important to me. There is something comforting about having community with a group of people who are going through the same experience as you. Learning that my first semester of my doctoral program would be fully online was disappointing. Not because of academics, I had faith that the faculty would adjust and provide us with solid instruction, but because I would be losing those initial interactions with my classmates (working on assignments at a local coffee shop, celebrating the end of the first week at happy hour). How do I connect in a substantial and meaningful way when we are limited to only virtual spaces? Lesson: Time and Effort. Community building looks different, but it exists with time and effort. Some could argue that millennials and Gen Z have an advantage since we have been connecting virtually since the mid-2000s. Although I have mixed feelings on that argument, I can say that a few things have helped me in forming and building my own community in school during a pandemic. Virtual orientations: Ice breaker anyone? As a former student affairs professional who worked in orientation I have an appreciation for these spaces. As a new student who did not know a single student at the institution while applying, these virtual spaces became a stepping stone to figuring out instruction via zoom and where to start building connections. This leads me to my next point. Graduate student organizations: Utilizing graduate student organizations has helped me to connect to current students at the university who have assisted me with the typical transition pieces (where to submit immunization records, how to get a student ID card, etc.).
Universities generally offer these types of organizations through the graduate school or even have program-specific organizations to help you connect with students studying similar content areas. Building your network is important professionally, but beyond that, having a community who understands the rigors of academia and the institution-specific issues is essential. Faculty and Staff: Reach out to them, seriously. As I navigated radio silence to the overwhelming amount of communication from the university- they helped clarify new procedures and expectations. And despite juggling a new landscape of higher education themselves, they were always happy to help. GroupMe: Technology wins are important! This platform has been a helpful space of clarifying assignments with my cohort, checking in to see how people are doing personally, and providing a space that is instantly accessible to connect no matter where we each are geographically. Replace GroupMe with Slack or a group text or a Facebook group (do people still use those?) and you have a similar space. I am not sponsored by Zoom or GroupMe, but at this point, I should be. Chapter Two: Relocating in a pandemic. Relocating for a job, school, or even a fresh start is not an easy process. It takes time, labor, and often significant finances to make the move happen. Now relocating, across the country in my case, during a pandemic for school that is now fully online made things a little more confusing. Lesson: Support Systems during Uncertainty. Deciding to relocate or not to relocate for school during a pandemic is a personal decision impacted by a multitude of factors. For me, it ultimately came down to evaluating finances and proximity to my support system during an “unprecedented time” (as every email mentions these days). Support system: Graduate school is taxing on your mental health and having friends and family as a positive support system can be that extra push you need to keep ongoing. No seriously, a good support system can help with stress and ultimately degree completion. Which is exactly why I made the decision to stay local while taking classes online (which was not an easy decision, just ask my family who heard me debate logistics and pros and cons for at least a month). Finances: Now the above combined with some math showed me how much money I would save by staying in my current state versus moving to a bigger and more expensive city. It sealed the deal. There is financial uncertainty for countless people during this time and being able to be more secure in mine by delaying a move did not seem like a bad idea. Chapter Three: Imposter Syndrome. Imposter syndrome, the “thing” that many of us experience but do not always have the words to define it in the moment. We doubt our abilities and think others will eventually find out we are “frauds”. Pandemic or no pandemic- imposter syndrome tends to find a way to creep up. The added stressors of working on class and research from home and feeling a loss of control can contribute to this feeling. Lesson: Space and Grace. Space: This seems simple, but creating separate spaces to dedicate to school has been important for me. I found myself being overwhelmed as I juggled zoom classes in my small room in a house with three roommates and a barking dog. Separating where I did school, slept, and ate made a difference immediately (and somehow is training my dog to know the difference of the spaces too). Grace: Be kind to yourself. You were accepted into a school and a program; this is the world showing you that someone believes in your abilities and you should too. Also remember that others are navigating this new “norm” with as much uncertainty, awkwardness, and uneasiness as you are. It is okay to not get every day perfect, it is a marathon not a race. My life currently feels like a book chapter that combines High School Musical “We’re All in this Together” and Jack and Rose trying to stay afloat in icy water in Titanic. To simply put it- things are complicated. Add the largest social justice movement happening on top of starting school in a pandemic? That is a blog for another day.
Naming the "Huff & Puff": Failing to Withstand My Academic + Personal Big Bad Wolf
This blog post has been a long time coming. I started this website and project three years ago with the best of intentions. I wanted to be a public scholar like some of my mentors. I wanted to deftly move between different worlds and audiences to get my ideas and thinking out into the hands of people and organizations that wanted to think about what it might take to cultivate an equitable and inclusive democracy. I thought my work would inform policy and practice, and I would see and feel the difference I was making in the world. But alas, here I am, three years later with a grand total of 2 blog posts to-date and a sinking feeling that what I am doing doesn't matter. This internal tension was perfectly encapsulated during a recent exchange on my fraternity group chat. We were debating the Milwaukee Bucks historic move to boycott a playoff game in the wake of the Jacob Blake murder. The resulting 48-hour work stoppage placed the NBA players in a moment where they sought to engage the team's owners "governors" around more direct action in support of racial justice efforts. Anyways, one of my frat brothers was making a case that the NBA players' efforts were meaningful because they had such a large platform. I pushed back and shared my belief that the magnitude of the platform doesn't matter. The empirical research is inconclusive around how much "media and social elites" actually influence political behavior (but this is a whole different case when it for consumer spending). So I shared that any person can make a difference in the Black Lives Matter movement and we shouldn't necessarily hold up NBA players. My fraternity brother proceeded to screenshot a picture of LeBron James' Instagram account with a circle around the number of his followers and then a picture of my Instagram account with a circle around my number of followers. Suffice to say, the point about platform was made. I despise the pressure of academia to pursue peer-reviewed publications that sit in pay-walled journals. Yet, at that moment, I had to admit that I've succumbed to those pressures. This micro-interaction, that on most days I would brush aside, tip my cap, and keep it moving, came at a time where I am starting to put together my tenure materials, so I've had a lot of time to reflect on what I've done and not done over the past four years that have gotten me to where I am. The trouble in my spirit though, is that I don't really know "where I am." I don't have a kajillion followers like LeBron or even a more fair measure of the "LeBron like" education scholars. I share the reflections below to make transparent aspects of the hidden academic curriculum that have been most salient for me as I start to think about what is next for my intellectual journey based on where I thought I wanted to be and what has transpired in the intervening years. I own that I am immensely fortunate and privileged in a lot of ways. I am sitting here writing a blog and being in my feels at a time when there is record unemployment, political and social unrest (especially in Chicago), and the most severe public health crisis in my lifetime. My hope in wrestling with these issues publicly isn't to "whoa is me" but part of my process to help me unearth and name dynamics that I have had to navigate: On being a Dad (#GirlDadGoals): The most significant change in the last three years of my life is that my child was born in December 2017. Growing up without a father around, I dreamed of the day and opportunity to finally become a parent and do better for my child than I had experienced. Turns out, I had zero clues about how hard it is to parent well. How exhausting it is. How thankless. And while I strive to be egalitarian in my relationship, I know that child-rearing still falls disproportionately on my spouse. So there's also the guilt of knowing I am reinscribing norms and patterns that I am supposed to be aware of and actively dismantling. The literature on academic motherhood is compelling and clear. The pandemic's impact on faculty who identify as women has only made gender dynamics in higher education starker. So I carry with me the reality that even with how hard I feel like it might be to be a dad and a professor, there's little space or room to layout those issues because of how it contributes to the marginalization of academics who identify as women, whether they have childcare-taking responsibilities or not. If my child pops into my Zoom feed during a meeting, everyone thinks, "how cute" – if that happens to a woman, everyone thinks, "why can't they handle their child care duties." I get it and it's gross and harmful. In hindsight, I wish I would have prepared myself better for the responsibility of being a dad, spouse, and academic. To know that the intellectual realities of understanding gender dynamics in my field will continuously be at war with my lived and felt truth would have been a nice pro-tip to have. The constant need to unlearn my gender privilege and press into my blind spots while not entering into a space of paralysis, because someone's (my child's) life depends on me to be active and engaged is just the tension that exists and I am learning how to navigate - but I am constantly feeling like a failure and not measuring up in this area of my life. On being a mentor (#GuruMentorGoals): One of my favorite parts about my short-lived foray into student affairs was the deep connections I could form with students. One of the recurring authors on this blog was an undergraduate student at IU while I was a grad student there. Perhaps my favorite part of being a professor is mentoring and advising students. There's the instant gratification of seeing my efforts manifest in students' lives. However, I did not realize how much time it takes, how emotionally exhausting it can be to navigate life with mentees and advisees. The first challenge was finding the courage to be vulnerable. My mother passed away two days before I formally started my role at Loyola (and three weeks after I got married). The grieving process I went through (and am still going through) had me compartmentalizing and being guarded in a way that made it difficult to connect with students and colleagues and to be my full self. In addition, my organizational style of always being sure I am speaking truth to dynamics that I think are perpetuating inequities does not always land with others in a way that demonstrates an ethic of care and concern until trust and rapport have been built. Finally, I had never actually seen anyone through an educational process from beginning to end, so there was just the learning curve of simultaneously being on a journey and just trying to stay a couple steps ahead. That said, I could not be any more proud of some of the students I've worked with in my first few years here at Loyola, who are most likely successful despite my mentoring! I feel like I am finally prepared to mentor and advise well, but that has come at the expense of many mistakes, regrets, and harms. I know I will continue to have those things, but I am also more hopeful that I will be more aware of them and more responsive to address them well. That doesn't make up for the mistakes though and I cringe every time I think about them. On being the Point Guard (#LeaderGoals): Growing up playing team sports, I often think and process information in sports metaphors. I didn't realize how much time and energy it would take around the additional tasks of serving as a project leader on both research and service-related tasks. In grad school, I sort of just had to show up and be great. Other people were cultivating the space and the contexts to allow me to flourish. I never took stock (or properly thanked) those people for facilitating my experiences and success. The sheer amount of unseen minutia that it takes to get a manuscript that I am a lead author on out to a journal, or the effort required to help lead a campus-wide initiative, or merely finding times to meet with a project team scattered across the country in different time zones is significant. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the community of collaborators I get to work with and it is a source of energy in my work. But the "set up and tear down" of the experiences include a lot of hidden labor that sometimes outweighs my enthusiasm and excitement for the next publication or actualizing the goals of a workgroup. And I know what some may be saying, well you should just get better at saying "no" – and I agree I should. But as a Black scholar, there are additional dimensions that exist. For instance, if I say "no" to working with a student of color, that very likely means they may not ever get the chance to work closely with a faculty of color. If I say "no" to trying to be the faculty liaison to campus voter engagement efforts, there's the chance that staff won't able to connect to or be read in the same ways by other faculty. That "if not me, then who" game in my head is unsustainable but it's also an unsatiable mechanism developed in response to seeing people and communities I care about let down for so long. On having multiple interests (#FullPersonGoals): This one is short, but I find joy in doing a lot of things. Writing at times can be one, but the academic process has made reading and writing feel like work. I am thankful for a book club I was able to participate in this summer that has helped me reconnect with my joy for reading. My faith journey has become increasingly important to me over the last couple of years. The effort to immerse myself in that process takes time. Likewise I also try to carve out space to follow sports, as a less intellectually heavy outlet. Point is, I thought the freedom and autonomy that came with being a faculty member would provide ample opportunities to develop areas of interest outside of my line of research. Looking back: Therefore, my engagement in some of those activities comes at the expense of #scholargoals and #girldadgoals and #gurumentorgoals. This means that even when I am engaging in non-academic things that bring me joy, there's always some guilt that I have to take on and navigate through to be fully present. I am not good at this but I am becoming more aware of it, so at least its a work in progress. Inconclusion My intent isn't to leave you with recommendations or encouragements. To be frank, with everything that's going on, it's not the headspace I am in right now. I thought I could do things differently in the academy. Still, the reality I am sitting with is that the structures are too ingrained, the norms too strong, and the incentives too perverse to allow for different outcomes. People that appear to have their stuff together are the exception and not the norm. It sounds "duh" to say – but I convinced myself that with a little elbow grease and a few right breaks, anyone could follow their dreams and goals, especially if they were rooted in the pursuit of equity justice. The moral arc of the universe bends towards justice, right? Well, as DJ Khaled says: One of my child's favorite stories this summer was the Three Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf. She was so comforted by the fact that our home in Chicago is made of bricks just like the third pig in the story so that our house couldn't be blown down when the big bad wolf comes along. There's a connection here for me to the platforms we desire or have, to generate change at a moment such as this. What I am left with is a more full understanding that no one's platform is better than another person's per se. But each of our platforms is made of different materials. Our ability to withstand the variety of real-life big bad wolfs that come for our professional and life goals is predicated on how our platform is built and what it is built with. I am only now coming to terms with the lack of attention I've given to the construction of my platform rooted in what I set out to do versus what I've actually done. Is it too late to course-correct? Does it matter to me or to anyone if I do or don't? Should I work more on "not hating the player (myself), but hating the game (academia)" I plan to sit with all these questions and more as I embark on an unprecedented season in my work and personal life. Nothing is guaranteed in academia with tenure decisions. So I've told myself that I need to allow room to entertain what life would be like outside academia. This post is my flag in the ground and I hope to try to be as real and transparent as #scholargoals and #girldadgoals, #fullpersongoals, #leadergoals, and #gurumentorgoalshashtags will allow. More soon, DLM
Policed While Black in an Institutional System
As a 4th year doctoral candidate in the midst of data collection for my dissertation, I would be remiss if I didn’t have a lot on my plate. As an emerging scholar, I am often managing competing priorities while maintaining an unrealistic standard of living on a graduate student salary in the city of Chicago. This past week I have attempted to push through my writing as my mind, body, and spirit are left in turmoil and stress. While writing for a manuscript submission deadline and attending a virtual dissertation writing retreat, the countless hours of writing have left me at a loss for words. I can longer write because my inspiration has lost its steam…the words are not formulating or concise, so bear with me as I write this. These past few weeks have been a constant reminder of the injustices and pervasive ways that white supremacy and racism is entrenched in the social fabric of our nation for Black people. George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis, MN two weeks ago. As images and videos of his murder ran through social media, I could not bear myself to witness viewing another Black death. Knowing his last breaths were taken by the hands of a White police officer is enough. Throughout my life, I have seen how police have used excessive force and power, specifically over Black bodies. Growing up in a predominately Black neighborhood, I’ve seen police lights and cops dehumanized my community in devasting ways. My earliest interaction with the police was with my mother when I was in elementary school. With permission granted by my mother, I want to share this unforgettable moment that she and I experienced almost twenty years ago. My mother was driving in-between states, and the police car stopped us. For what reason, to this day, I still do not know why. I vividly could hear the sounds of the police car and the light glaring me and my mother’s eyes. The cop pulls up to the car and starts speaking to my mother. As a child, I do not remember the exact verbatim exchange between my mother and the officer. My mother, as she always has been a well-mannered, kind, witty, and loving womxn and person. While her hands on the staring wheel, I could see them trembling. From the car mirror, I could see my mother’s lips move, but I couldn’t remember what was coming from her mouth. I hear the cop say, “Ma’am, can you please step out of the car.” The look on my mother’s face was something I had never seen before; I saw anger, but also, I could sense fear. My mother proceeds to get out of the car. I saw my mother being asked to perform a series of tasks such as walking in a straight line with her hands pointed to her nose. I can hear my mother saying the alphabet from A to Z and Z to A. My mother would occasionally look back at me, and as a child, you don’t know what to do. I was not only scared for her, but I also was confused and upset that she was being subjected to this. My mother was not doing anything wrong in terms of reckless driving or putting us in danger, so it was perplexing that she was pulled over in the first place. They then proceeded to give her a breathalyzer test, in which my mother was not drinking at all. It felt like a continuous cycle of chastising her and asking her, “where was she going?” and other unrelated questions. It felt like she was there with this police officer for hours. As a child, I felt helpless and wanted to help her. I remember when she first got out of the car, my mom said, “Quortne, stay here, I’ll be fine, do not leave this car.” After the countless questions and interrogation by the police, they give my mother a ticket, and they leave. She received a ticket and was stopped by the police because her taillight was dimmed. My mother gets back into the car, and I ask her how she’s doing. She looks exhausted, debilitated, and angry. My mother said, “Quortne, I’m okay…are you okay”? I respond, “I think so…are you okay, Mommy.” My mother pauses, and I can see the tears in her face, and she says, “Quortne, if you are ever pulled over by the cops, just do what they say and comply. You understand Quortne”. This is something I will always remember for the rest of my life. What my mother experienced was dehumanizing and antagonizing. From that moment on, I never trusted law enforcement. They treated my mother with so much disrespect and disgust. My mother did not deserve to be subjected to this…at all. It was then where I lost my faith in people that were meant to protect and serve. This person used their power and abused it on my mother of all people. It made me question if I was ever stopped by the police, what would they do to me and how would I be treated? Little did I know I would also have my interactions with the police later on in life. I was stopped by campus police at my current institution, Loyola University Chicago, on two occasions during my third year in the doctoral program. One incident was a Monday afternoon, during Martin Luther King holiday observance. I had plans with meeting a professor at his office on campus, and when I arrived at the building, the door was closed. I noticed that as I was walking up to the building, I witness campus police open up the door for this young White womxn. I assumed that okay, well, it’s a holiday and campus building are temporarily closed, but the police officer is there to give students temporary building access. I walk up to the door, and the campus police officer stops me and asks me, “What are you doing here?”. I immediately got frazzled and mentioned to him that I was meeting a professor here for a meeting, but the doors are locked. His response was, “Well, no one is here, and I have not seen this professor you speak of, do you know if he’s here.” I said, “I’m not sure, but I have his email, and I can contact him.” The police officer said, “Do you have a student ID?” I told him, “Yes, I do, can I go in my pocket and retrieve it for you?”. I slowly had my one hand up and the other shakenly getting my ID out of my pocket. I had my bookbag with me, so I thought that would be a given I was a student. It is also worth mentioning, I have served as a staff member at the institution over a few years. I even showed him proof of the email of the professor and my correspondence to our meeting time and location. He then says, “Well, no professor is coming here…I would know, so you might as well leave”. So, I did. I ended up leaving, but the feeling of his interrogation and moments of my safety being questioned, I just went home. As I walked away from the building, I felt unwelcomed on campus that I would recruit students and staff members to join. I decided not to say anything to anyone or report him. No one was around, and if it was his word against my word…we all know the outcome of this “investigation.” Another incident happened a few months later, where I was stopped by campus safety, asking why I was entering the School of Education building and where I was going. It caught me off guard because I had never been asked that question before after the years of me entering and exiting the building. I told him, “I’m just going to my cubicle to write…I’m a doctoral student”. He then let me proceed to use my student ID card to enter the elevators. As I approached the 10th floor of the building, I asked my peers if anyone got stopped by campus safety downstairs. Everyone said, “No…why?”. I then proceeded to tell them about my story and what happened. As I am retelling this story, I felt embarrassed because I was reliving this traumatic experience. At that moment, I decided to mention this to my advisor. It was comforting to know that my advisor, as a Black man, felt the same emotions I did and advocated to make a report to the School of Education Interim Dean at the time. A few weeks later, I had a meeting with my advisor and the Interim Dean, and the Dean reported him. While I appreciated his advocacy in addressing this, I could not help but feel anger. I had to relive and share this story again with another person in hopes that some “justice” would prevail. I never knew if any course of action happened to this campus safety officer, but the damage he did to me forever changed how I felt being a student at Loyola. I have had to see both of these campus safety officers numerous times on campus. I never received an apology or anything from campus safety. It is as if my experience didn’t matter to them or the institution. My heart still skips a beat every time I walk into the School of Education building or when I walk past that building on campus. I have to relive that trauma every single day of my life on campus. I know my story is something that many other Black students have experienced at Loyola. Us having to use documentation to validate our existence on a Predominately White Institution (PWI) is arduous coupled with the institution mission’s claims of caring for the whole person. My care as a Black queer man was never considered, my existence was unwelcomed and a threat. My interactions with these men fail in comparison to the countless stories of Black people murdered by police. I share these stories because the murder of Black individuals such as George Floyd, Nina Pop, Troy McDade, and Breonna Taylor should have never happened. They should still be here with us! They should still have breath in their bodies! This injustice will forever impact these people’s families. Even if these officers are charged with murder, it will never bring them back. I am deeply hurt and exhausted by the lack of regard for Black lives. As Black people, we have been subjected to violence as we have been the ones who built this country, along with being on indigenous land and the genocide indigenous people have endured by settler colonialism. My ancestors’ bones, skin, labor, cries, and pain are a part of this nation under the guise of freedom and democracy. If we lived in a true democracy this nation would value Black bodies. Black people have been screaming and shouting for dismantling white supremacy and structural racism, and it is continuously met with threats and violence towards us. As an emerging scholar, I feel it is my obligation and responsibility to ensure that Black queer, trans, gender non-conforming, non-binary, and other individuals are advocated for on college campuses and society at large. I will continue to fight for social change. I don’t know what the outcome will be given our current sociopolitical climate, but I will fight with every breath in my body for justice for Black people and our lives. Quortne is a fourth-year doctoral candidate pursuing a doctoral degree in higher education.
Student Activities Without the Students: Higher Education in the Time of COVID-19
For several weeks, there was persistent chatter. Rumblings, guesses, and questions asked among my co-workers and colleagues across the country. How would COVID-19 affect our universities, our students, our jobs? Not to mention our health. Speculation continued until an answer arrived on a Friday evening in mid-March. The official announcement was made: all university staff would begin working from home effective immediately. What once seemed like an uncertain few weeks ahead, became a prolonged absence from campus life - a development that has turned my professional worldview on its head for the foreseeable future. I work in student activities at a small, urban Midwestern university. My institution’s mission, as it happens, is to educate future healthcare professionals in a variety of fields including medicine, nursing, and occupational therapy, among others. This also meant that for weeks, staff received a litany of comprehensive emails — informed by physicians and infectious disease specialists, the university, and the larger hospital system — that it was necessary to cope with any challenges presented to students, faculty, staff, and patients. Hence, I was more alert to the drastic effects coronavirus could have on collegiate life than had I still been employed somewhere else. Despite this steady stream of information and daily updates, neither the medical experts nor university administration truly knew how long coronavirus, and the required social distancing efforts, would impact business as usual. A sense of urgency emerged and I grew more anxious as the days went on. How many more times would I have to ride a crowded bus to work before I would be told to stay home? Was I more at risk each time I rode an elevator with hospital staff? Was it safe to exercise at the campus gym after work? Information on COVID-19’s spread was simply evolving too quickly, with new details emerging faster than could be comprehended. Now, though, the outlook is much clearer. As of this writing, shelter in place has long been in effect across the state, in-person commencement cancelled, and our summer semester (May to August) will be entirely online. This is without a doubt a blow to all those who cherish the vibrancy of campus life. I woke up on my first day of work from home disoriented, without any of the structure provided by the mundane rituals of my previous morning routine – running to catch the bus, squeezing into an elevator, greeting students and colleagues each morning as I walk into my office. This is, of course, the correct response to our public health crisis. And working from home is a tremendous privilege not afforded to “essential workers,” who are often working class people of color. But it’s been hard to shake the surreality of everything changing overnight. My kitchen table became my desk, my tiny apartment became my office. And while May 2021 marks my five year anniversary as a student affairs practitioner – a significant milestone – none of the experience in my young career could have prepared me for the disruptions brought upon us by COVID-19. File this one under “Things They Don’t Teach You in Grad School.” For me and many other student activities professionals, a typical workday might involve advising appointments, on-site program management, or students dropping by our office just to say hello. But in the time of COVID-19, the student affairs role has changed. Still relevant, no doubt, but inverted, adulterated, warped. While most in-person activities and interactions can convert into a form that accommodates social distancing measures (the now ubiquitous Zoom meeting comes to mind), I can’t help but feel perturbed by the forced-upon-us realities of our newly digital lives. As such, supporting students, creating programs, or doing anything at all, has seemed more difficult than ever. No perfectly written email can convey the nuance of in-person communication, and an online event can’t replicate the feeling of connection we get from interacting with students face-to-face. It’s a decent substitute, but one that’s merely adequate. This may come down to personal taste, but the sense of shared experience derived from guiding a student through a personal challenge, or a student leadership conundrum, can’t be translated one-to-one when mediated by a digital device. Certainly, student support services existed for distance learners prior to coronavirus. Truly unprecedented, thankfully, these times are not. However, it would be misguided to suggest that the majority of student affairs professionals, particularly those in student activities, were equipped for the transition to all-digital interactions. During my now two month-long stay in my apartment, there’s been plenty of time to ruminate on the merit of student affairs writ large, and by extension, the value of a student activities office. Nearly every day I’ve considered ways to better support students, while feeling guilty for all things not accomplished. I’ve found solace talking to friends and colleagues in the field who’ve reminded me that some institutions are modeling a way forward. A handful of schools have doubled down on the importance of providing engagement and support to students outside of the classroom. The costs of these services are high, though, and understandably, not all schools can easily provide their events or services at a distance. However positive some stories are, they’re overshadowed by the disheartening realities for many student affairs professionals. I truly feel for the hard working people in residence life. Even before COVID-19, do more with less was a common refrain from senior level university administrators. We need this done by the end of the day. How? Figure it out. Today, such dynamics are still present, only exacerbated by the global pandemic. What was true before coronavirus is only truer now, and across the country, institutional priorities have come into stark relief. Even though working conditions will likely improve as institutions begin to adjust slowly, staff – especially those furthest down on the organizational chart – will remember how they were treated at the outset of the outbreak as institutions scrambled to address other concerns deemed immediate. The effects of coronavirus on higher education extend beyond the student affairs arena. A startling number of institutions face existential threats due to the economic and other stressors. For faculty and students, switching to online learning has proven to be a challenge. Proper digital course instruction requires extensive technological infrastructure, preparation, and practice – something most faculty do not have. Although some have (unfortunately) proclaimed the coronavirus as the “great equalizer," for students it has instead revealed deep inequities among the college experience, and not just in the classroom. Reliable internet access, academic support, and access to mental health services are just a few examples of services more available to those with the economic and racial privilege needed to ensure COVID-19 is only a minimal disruption. For low-income students, though, it’s a different story altogether. Where does this leave us? I don’t know. To admit uncertainty elicits a mixture of anxiety and strange comfort. In a time where so much is up in the air, I’ve tried to find peace in relinquishing my sense of control. Yet, each day I’m afraid to check the news, terrified by what new developments I might read. Politics looms large in my life, and with the 2020 presidential race around the corner, now is a great reminder that elections have consequences. People’s lives are at stake, and there’s no exception for those in academe. My hope is that when our campuses and communities reopen, we’ll return with a sense of patience, empathy, and an extension of grace toward students, colleagues, and fellow citizens. Maybe this will jolt awake those who, until now, have been able to ignore many of the troubling dynamics brought to the surface by COVID-19. Or even build a wider acceptance for progressive public policies such as Medicare for All. Perhaps more changes are yet to come, only this time, for the better. Graham Davis is a student affairs practitioner based in Chicago, Illinois. A version of this piece was originally published in the Student Affairs Collective.
Reflections From an Independent Study: Resilience in Higher Education
Angela Duckworth’s Grit (2016) begins with a fascinating look into military cadets’ acclimation to life at West Point, setting the stage for a thoughtful overview of her research on perseverance and passion. As a student affairs professional, I couldn’t help but notice connections between her studies at West Point and undergraduate students I’ve worked with. Whether it be a top tier military academy or any given undergraduate institution, the transition to collegiate life requires some level of grit and self-control. Much like Duckworth, I often wonder what factors into our students’ academic and co-curricular success. Further, I often ask myself what practitioners can do to aid in our students’ development of short-term self-control and long-term resilience. This blog post will delve into these ideas and ask questions about how these concepts manifest. Learn more about Duckworth, pictured above, and her findings by watching her Ted Talk. Self-Control Sriram, Glanzer, & Allen (2018) define self-control as regulative behaviors that contribute to one’s everyday achievements, while grit leads to exceptional achievements over time. Studies tell us that both are predictors of academic success. Nonetheless, it’s easy to simplify these terms and assume that people are inherently self-regulative or gritty, whether it be the product of nature and/or nurture. An example Duckworth gives is Olympic athletes: there’s an assumption that these athletes are inherently talented and self-driven instead of focusing on the hard work it takes to truly excel. Olympian Simone Biles, pictured above, must have remarkable work ethic. Given this widely adopted belief, it’s equally as easy to assume students are predestined to thrive or fail by the time they’ve started their collegiate journeys. However, I believe that educators and practitioners play a crucial role during an extremely important developmental period. Duckworth’s research shows that individuals get grittier over time. In the case of traditional students in their late teens and early twenties, they are likely beginning to develop their personal and professional goals and commitment to executing them. As Johnson, Gans, Kerr, and LaValle (2010) posit, emerging adulthood is often defined by instability, often due to changes in one’s living situation, work experience, and relationships, especially for college students. Given this information, it’s also important to take social capital into consideration. In a world where instant gratification has become the norm, how do we teach our students self-control in their daily activities? Social Capital Relationships with family and friends prior to college play a crucial role in one’s academic and emotional adjustment. Given that we are living and working in the age of helicopter parents, a largely middle-class affliction, it’s important to consider how familial relationships will affect one’s development of self-control and grit. In contrast, first-generation college students and/or those from low socioeconomic class backgrounds may struggle with the financial transition while trying to navigate college with fewer resources and without experts to support them. During students’ transition to collegiate life, it’s hard to know what their social capital looks like unless they’ve told us, so I believe that practitioners can put more effort into programming for self-control and resilience during this developmental phase. As student affairs professionals, how can we fill in the gaps for those who need social capital? Growth Mindset The first year is an important period to foster growth mindset both in and outside the classroom. During this crucial developmental phase, the transition to college becomes a make-or-break moment for many depending on their own conceptualization of their intelligence and self-efficacy. Those with a fixed mindset, believing that their ability and achievement is unchangeable, may falter when faced with failure. Contrarily, those with a growth mindset will realize that they’re consistently improving by virtue of failure and feedback. By being upfront with students and helping them understand the importance of failure, we can help them embrace growth mindset while becoming increasingly self-regulative and gritty. What are small steps that we can take every day to move away from a fixed mindset and toward a growth mindset? Healthy Coping Without effective and long-lasting strategies, students may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Often, it seems that students are afflicted with difficulties adjusting to collegiate life, especially away from home. By developing self-control, establishing social capital, and embracing a growth mindset, we can help our students grow from failure instead of turning drugs, alcohol, or other detrimental behaviors. Not only will this inform retention and academic achievement, but it will set our students up for success beyond college if they can responsibly respond to failure and hardship. What are some early intervention strategies for healthy coping during the first year? Next Steps I implore my fellow educators to critically consider how our preconceived ideas about our students influence our perception of their retention and worth. For me, this requires an acknowledgement that success is not the result of natural talent, as Duckworth passionately reiterates. It’s easy to mystify success and to conflate talent and grit, but there’s so much more to achievement. We cannot simply embrace the students who easily acclimate to college and jump into leadership roles or excel academically. We must notice those who struggle more and are harder on themselves. As educators, we have the gift of potentially making a difference. In this case, that means teaching a growth mindset, self-control, healthy coping, and grittiness to the malleable minds we interact with.
Why should I care about the federal prison system?
Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post entitled "We treat everyone the same, right?" arguing that the American prison system is inherently flawed. Our current criminal justice system is not as just as Americans believe it is - in 2017, America incarcerated 693 of every 100,000 people. If you do not think that is a lot, think about it this way: that is five times Britain's, six times Canada's, and 15 times Japan's (The Economist, 2017). America incarcerates a lot of people, but, today, let's focus solely on the federal prison system. First and foremost: What is the federal prison system? The American federal prison system, also known as the federal bureau of prisons (BOP), is a subdivision of the Department of Justice. This prison system specifically deals with people who have violated federal law. Federal offenses include: Banking and Insurance, Counterfeit, Embezzlement; Burglary, Larceny, Property Offenses; Continuing Criminal Enterprise; Courts or Corrections; Drug Offenses; Extortion, Fraud, Bribery; Homicide, Aggravated Assault, and Kidnapping; Immigration; Miscellaneous; National Security; Robbery; Sex Offenses; and Weapons, Explosives, Arson. Let me give you 5 quick facts about our federal prison system (straight from the BOP site): 1) Its motto is "Correctional Excellence. Respect. Integrity" 2) They currently are responsible for 181,282 inmates (as of current 2018 reports) 3) The recidivism rate is 34% 4) This department employs 36,015 people 5) The Fiscal Year budget request for BOP is a whopping $7,141.3 million (an added $54.4 million from the previous year) At a glance, you may think that this department is just in its actions. It has a good number of employees, low number of inmates, and a low recidivism rate. So what is my problem with this? 1) Of the 181,282 federal inmates, 18,276 are in "privately managed facilities" aka contract prisons. The BOP claims that this helps "manage our inmate population" aka the BOP cannot properly manage their abundance of inmates and uses federal funds to pay for these contracts (Retrieved from BOP). 2) According to the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) Booker Report, disparities between Black and White criminal sentences have been increasing in recent years. In a 2014 study conducted by the University of Michigan Law School, researchers found that Black people receive criminal sentences that are "almost 10% longer than those of comparable Whites arrested for the same crimes" (Rehavi & Starr, 2014, p. 1320). Moreover, the same University of Michigan Law School study determined that if the sentencing disparity on the federal level alone were eliminated, the number of Black men in federal prisons wound be reduced by around 9%! Take a look at these reports from the BOP: Reported percentages of inmate race (as of October 27, 2018): Reported percentages of inmate gender (as of October 27, 2018): Reported percentages of inmate ethnicity (as of October 27, 2018): Based on what I have described earlier, understand that these demographics are only a small part of the larger story (keep in mind that the percentage of White inmates, compared to inmates of color, will serve significantly less time in federal prison for the same exact crime). 3) Drug Offenses make up 46.1% of inmate offenses, while the second highest offense is Weapons, Explosives, Arson at 17.9%. While there are no statistics on how many of these crimes were violent versus non-violent, it is safe to say that the high percentage of Drug Offenses in the federal prison system is shocking enough. But we will come back to this part later on. 4) As of August 31 2018, 15,705 inmates were enrolled in a General Education Development (GED), of those inmates only 2,519 GED credentials were earned. Other than that, I could not find ANY up-to-date statistics on education attainment level of the federally incarcerated population, post-secondary or college educational programming, or a budget for educational programming in federal prisons. The one thing I did find is a report from 2003 that reported 76% of inmates have not received any post-secondary of college education. From my last blog post, post-secondary educational programs in prisons have proven effective in lowering recidivism rates, increasing confidence among inmates, and creating safer environments for inmates and staff. Yet, the US Department of Education received a 13% reduction in its 2018 budget...but I digress. At the beginning of President Trump's presidency, there were 192,170 people in federal prison. As of today, there are 181,282. For the past two years, there has been little to nothing done about our prison system until May 2018. The First Step Act is a bipartisan criminal justice legislation that is currently moving through the US Senate. The Act was introduced in May 2018 by Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Doug Collins (R-GA), and Karen Bass (D-CA). In short, the First Step Act asks for a bipartisan approach to prison reform and sentencing reform. Here are some of the prison reforms this Act proposes (taken from the First Step Act website): 1) Ban shackling of pregnant and postpartum women 2) Ensures that people are places in facilities within 500 driving miles from their families 3) Brings 4,000 people home immediately 4) Asks the BOP to match individual needs to programs, training, and services (like education!!) As for sentencing reforms: 1) Lower lifetime mandatory minimum sentences for people with prior nonviolent drug felony convictions to 25 years 2) Apply the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 to reduce disparities between cocaine- and crack-related offenses 3) Free judges from handing down disproportionate sentencing The First Step Act also authorizes $250 million over five years for development and expansion of prison programs, as well as allows formerly incarcerated people to serve as volunteers and mentors, both of which promote social justice reform in the prison system. On November 15, 2018, President Trump endorsed the First Step Act and urged the Senate to pass this bipartisan bill on prison and sentencing reformation. The First Step Act is the (literal) first step towards prison and sentencing reform in 2018. While the piece of legislation is still in the hands of the Senate, we can expect to hear more about it since President Trump's formal endorsement. Even if prison and sentencing reform is not your political passion, I urge you to seek out information regarding the issues plaguing our system (I have provided some sources at the bottom of this post). Also, if you haven't already, please read my previous blog post titled "We treat everyone the same, right?" to learn more about educational programming in the American prison system. Ways you can get involved to help change our system: Gain Knowledge: Check out the First Step Act's website Learn more about prison reformation in America Learn more about life in prison with NPR's podcast 'Ear Hustle' Learn about education initiatives going on today Reach out to Local Organizations: Chicagoland Prison Outreach The Prison Arts Coalition Update (12/20/18): On Tuesday, December 18, the Senate passed the First Step Act 87-12. The bill is expected to be passed by the House and move on to the President, who has publicly endorsed the First Step Act, before the session ends. Measures to adjust the bill were debated, as well. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Senator James Lankford (R-OK) successfully added a package that excluded categories of crimes for sentencing reductions, as well as allows faith-based groups to continue to having freedom and involvement in the federal prison system. It is important to note that while the First Step Act is a bill that was brought to Congress by Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Doug Collins (R-GA), and Karen Bass (D-CA) in 2018, this is not the first bipartisan effort to reform prison. The First Step Act derives from the minds of Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa (R-IA), who both put forth a very similar piece of legislation under the Obama Administration. Unfortunately, the efforts of the two Senators were blocked by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who was adamantly against anything the Obama Administration supported. Senator McConnell voted in favor of the First Step Act on Tuesday. There have been arguments on both sides regarding this piece of legislation. For example, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) tweeted both her support and criticism of the First Step Act. Senator Harris specifically tweeted, "But, to be clear, the FIRST STEP Act is very much just that – a first step. It is a compromise of a compromise, and we ultimately need to make far greater reforms if we are to right the wrongs that exist in our criminal justice system." Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) has been a vocal opponent of the First Step Act, claiming that it does nothing for the victims of federal crimes. Senator Cotton, speaking to Fox News, said "You’re releasing thousands of serious, repeat, [and] in some cases, violent offenders within weeks or months of this bill being passed...it’s almost certain that they’re going to commit terrible crimes.” In the end, Senator Harris voted in favor of the First Step Act, whereas Senator Cotton was one of twelve Republican naysayers. Finally, I would like to reiterate that the First Step Act only affects the FEDERAL prison system, not the state. The federal prison system only incarcerates 10% of inmates in America. There is a larger problem at hand, but, for now, we should focus on the positives and work towards a brighter future for the American prison system. Here's who voted against the First Step Act: Senators John Barrasso (R-WY, elected 2007), Richard Burr (R-NC, elected 2005), Tom Cotton (R-AR, elected 2015), Mike Enzi (R-WY, elected 1997), John Kennedy (R-LA, elected 2017), Jon Kyl (R-AZ, retiring December 31, 2018), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK, elected 2002), Jim Risch (R-ID, elected 2009), Ben Sasse (R-NE, elected 2015), Dan Sullivan (R-AK, elected 2015), Mike Rounds (R-SD, elected 2015) and Pat Toomey (R-PA, elected 2011).
Notes from the Field - Your Brain on Leadership: The Causes and Consequences of Over-Involved Studen
*Notes from the Field are a special series of blog posts that will be published during the summer of 2018 from friends of the Diverse Democracy and Higher Education Project. Authors are current professionals working in a range of education related fields. They were simply asked to reflect on pressing issues that they have engaged with over the last year. The hope of the series is to provide fresh perspectives from those most proximate to the topics of relevance to this project! - Demetri If you’ve worked on a college campus, particularly if you call a division of student affairs your professional home, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with awards season—the time toward the end of the spring semester in which outstanding student leaders are honored through a slew of celebrations, ceremonies, and banquets. And if you’re like me, your relationship with awards season goes one step further because you’ve either headed or participated in any number of selection committees tasked with determining which of the nominees are most deserving. Participating in the selection process instills in me a sense of excitement and institutional pride. It’s both personally and professionally rewarding to see honorees commemorated via framed photos and plaques. proudly displayed in highly visible campus locations, while promotional materials bearing their faces and stories are distributed with the hopes of attracting top-tier prospective students. The efforts of those honored provide tremendous benefits to the campus community and beyond. Their achievements serve as a testament to the invaluable experience modern higher education can provide—something I value deeply as a student affairs professional. Although the positive outcomes of the typical student awards process are manifold, a closer examination raises some concerns. In theory, selection committees are designed to thoroughly comb through the stacks of résumés and letters of recommendation, considering the full range of nominees. But in practice, the process often boils down to simpler criteria in which the same type of student rises to the top. Quantity more so than quality attracts the lion’s share of attention, as those who can list the highest number of positions held, awards and scholarships received, and projects completed tend to receive the plaudits. Susan Cain, author of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, observes a similar dynamic in her New York Times op-ed written on the politics of the college admission process. Cain asserts that college applications packed to the brim with a never-ending list of leadership experiences are frequently favored over students who’ve sought depth rather than breadth, or those whose accomplishments are less-quantifiable. And while there is nothing wrong with a prodigious résumé, per se, when admissions offices, or in our case student awards selection committees, prioritize multiplicity, many meaningful student efforts are unfortunately not given their due. At this point it might be worth reiterating that I am pro-student involvement. Its benefits have been demonstrated again and again. However, what also must be stated is that what qualifies as worthwhile involvement has been defined too narrowly. Those of us who frequently participate in student awards selection committees must make a concerted effort to ensure that a diversity of student experiences are valued and promoted. Otherwise, the message is sent that anything less than pursuing as many top leadership positions as possible is unacceptable. Such a prevailing attitude could result in students negatively self-selecting out of award opportunities: “Why bother? I’m only an officer in one club on campus.” This carries extra significance when considering that for many underrepresented students, extracurricular involvement of any kind is often a significant accomplishment in and of itself given the litany of challenges many of them face. Perhaps more concerning than the lack of formal recognition, though, is the potential impact the awards selection status quo could have on a student’s development. Broadly speaking, development designates a process by which one positively expands their capacity to achieve, think critically, and make meaning of oneself and others. As student affairs professionals, we are charged with intentionally promoting the development of college students in all things we do. But as a field, our attention to that responsibility is quickly called into question when viewed through the lens of the student awards procedure. In fact, as things stand, the student awards system in place may instead be hindering a student’s ability to learn and grow. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Hougaard, Carter, & Afton (2018) put forth a premise that should haunt any of us who’ve been members of a selection committee. The authors state: “When we are busy, our brains default to pattern recognition. It wants simplicity. And when others talk to you, your brain will automatically look for what it has heard before and eliminate what is new.” When students scramble to acquire a multitude of leadership roles, an ostensibly constructive effort, science tells us they may be actually decreasing their ability to gain or hone the important skills extracurricular involvement is supposed to provide to begin with. But who can blame them? The type of behavior Hougaard, Carter, and Afton caution against is what’s most frequently rewarded. To understand this fully, we must explore the difference between development and change. As mentioned above, development denotes significant, lasting transformation. Change, however, simply implies a new state of being. And even though change can be positive in nature, it doesn’t always stimulate the same sort of deeper, positive adjustments contained within the development process (Patton, Renn, Guido, & Quaye, 2016). So while I don’t doubt selection committees believe they are acting as positive influences in students’ lives, there’s a compelling case to be made that the opposite may be true. This is not to say excellence and achievement cannot be valued—they should be—but as members of selection committees we must seek to cultivate a campus environment in which students are incentivized to pursue more measured forms of student involvement. Regrettably, many selection committees’ habits are deeply ingrained, originating from systemic issues found within many student affairs divisions in which more is frequently the expectation. This reality has further implications, too, considering that highly-involved student leaders are often encouraged to pursue a career in student affairs (Hunter, 1992). The same pattern of behavior that drives undergraduate students to pursue résumé padding could, in turn, rear its ugly head at the graduate preparation and professional levels, suggesting a possible through line contributing to the high rate of attrition among young student affairs professionals (Silver and Jakeman, 2014). Despite the current literature on student development and leadership that places value upon a diverse array of extracurricular involvements and student experiences, not simply positional roles, I worry that in functional terms, the systems of recognition currently in place do not properly align with the texts meant to guide our practice. In this way, unless student affairs professionals are willing to address their proclivity for more, more, more, the field will continue to provide students with the a lower quality of service than so many of its members believe to be delivering. -- Graham’s nascent student affairs career began in 2016 upon his graduation from the University of Vermont’s Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration masters program. He currently serves as the Assistant Director of the Student Activities and Leadership Center at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City. Follow him on Twitter @graham_davis14 where he can be found tweeting about his favorite topic, the intersection of sports and politics.
What Education Researchers Can Learn from the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook
Revelation - #AERA18 #Fak
*I was invited to participate in a panel session about the role of education researchers in the era of Fake News during the the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) on Tuesday April 17, 2018 in New York, NY. This is an issue I've been thinking about for some time so I was appreciative to have the opportunity to stop and put my thoughts into a short blog on the topic. The other panelist also wrote blogs and they can be found here. If you're interested, the session will be live-streamed starting at 8:15 AM (more details for those that will be in New York can be found here here) News sources estimate that over 87 million Americans were impacted by Cambridge Analytica’s unlawful acquisition of data from Facebook. While justifiably much of the outrage has been targeted at these two firms, what has been conspicuously missing in the national dialogue is a question about why so many Americans presumably “fell” for the fake news articles that leveraged their data. This to me sheds light on two issues of relevance for education researchers and the academy more broadly. The first issue is around how we still struggle to effectively galvanize educational spaces as sites of civic and political development and resistance that equip students to effectively engage in a complex democracy. This is not to overlook the many individual scholars who are taking on this work, but as a whole, AERA and many higher education institutions have preferred to either remain silent or promote apolitical volunteerism rather than committing resources to researching, debating, and building consensus around the competencies and skills students that come through educational systems need to ward off problems of a democracy, such as polarization, apathy, and inaccurate information. In response, we must re-commit ourselves to being leaders in the academy for championing the civic and political purposes of educational experiences and being sure that our practices and pedagogies are informed by research. Paradoxically, the second issue of relevance stems from how well nefarious organizations were able to leverage Cambridge Analytica’s data and profiles to target their content to best insure that the stories were plausible and accessible. This reminded me of an AERA session I attended a few years ago where I heard Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings share that one of the keys to the success of her esteemed career was that she always made sure people in the communities she cared about could access, read, and understand the work she was doing. As a graduate student hearing this from a scholar I deeply admired, I began to think intensely about how I was being prepared, or not, to do research that was accessible and understandable to a range of audiences. Sure, over my time as a graduate student, I received some direct “how-to” training on how to produce relevant and rigorous research, but much of my socialization was tied to trying to emulate practices that I saw from scholars in the field that I respected or that I read in textbooks. An honest self-reflective observation of this practice would suggest that this makes me and others that “fit my profile” prime candidates to repeat and reify the mistakes and oversights of the generation of scholars that have come before me. So as an early career scholar, when I think of our collective roles in the production, dissemination, communication, and use of research, I begin with a question of how we have and are currently preparing students in our Schools of Education to respond to the social and political tensions of the Fake News era. In the higher education world, when we think of many of our most vexing issues, we deem it a “pipeline issue.” – For instance, not enough low-income, first generation students in college, “it’s a pipeline issue.” Not enough women and underrepresented minorities in STEM, “it’s a pipeline issue.” Not enough diverse faculty in tenure-track positions, again – “pipeline issue.” So it would stand to reason that if we are being confronted with issues of the role of education research in an era of Fake News that we must more centrally focus on the education research pipeline. Just as organizations (allegedly) leveraged data to target the desired audience to influence U.S. elections, so too, we must leverage what we know about the consumers of our research and prepare students to meet them where they are. So, what could that look like in practice? Just a couple of initial ideas – scholars from across the AERA footprint could craft thoughtful guidance and suggestions for Schools of Education to consider around training both researchers and practitioners to navigate tensions in an era of Fake News. For example, Schools are slowly nuancing the traditional five chapter dissertation towards providing students with flexibility to instead produce two or three stand-alone articles. But how would a portfolio of data visualizations, technical reports, and editorial blogs intended to address a relevant educational issue and targeted at wider audiences and policymakers be viewed by the normative standards of the academy? We’re not serious about being relevant in a Fake News era until we are open to new ways of preparing students to respond to these demands.