The Diverse Democracy and Higher Education Project
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
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.
Nobody wins when the family feuds: On being an early career faculty member at the "new normal&q
Nobody wins when the family feuds We all screwed 'cause we never had the tools Jay-Z (2017) Over the past few weeks, as the Loyola Men’s Basketball team has been making an unprecedented run during March Madness, I’ve had this huge pit in my stomach. As a huge basketball fan, normally I’d allow myself to get wrapped up in the awesome buzzer beater shots and the excitement of a quintessential Cinderella team upsetting teams from great conferences and igniting the passion of a big city. Yet, as a faculty member at this institution and seeing things unfold behind the scenes, I found myself starting to think like “that” faculty member. You know, the old curmudgeon faculty who is always annoyed that the recent success of an athletic team is overshadowing the GIGANTIC and far more consequential issues that institution is facing. What issues are those you may be wondering? Well for starters, over the last two years Loyola has been “negotiating” with the non-tenure track (NTT) and adjunct faculty union, represented by SEIU Local 73, regarding enhancing and stabilizing job security, pay raises, and working conditions. More recently, there was a campus policing/racial mishap that saw campus security officers poorly handle and escalate a situation (ironically enough outside a basketball game) that involved Loyola students being detained. While these two issues are the ones receiving the most attention, in just the last few years Loyola has seen other contentious issues arise such as: Recent student deaths Cutting the mic of a controversial comedian Graduate students unionizing Inaction to student protest and demands for safety and inclusion An athletic scandal with the women's head basketball coach Budget and enrollment challenges Votes of no confidence in the school of education dean This is quite the juxtaposition with the puff pieces that have been written and filmed about Loyola in the last two weeks that extol the institutions commitment to social justice, the great things students and faculty are doing in city, and of course Sister Jean. Even as someone who purports to study institutions of higher education, the ability for one institution to be such a contradiction blows my mind. We’ve seen record incoming first-year classes, while letting vacant staff positions remain unfilled. We hired our first lay, female-identified president, while ignoring, at best,issues of reproductive justice. We opened a first-of-its kind community college, while seeing enrollments of students of color stagnate at the 4-year campus. As a person responsible for crafting learning experiences for graduate students who will go on to work in similarly complex higher education organizations, I’ve racked my brain on how to keep my posture as an educator relative to my own personal and political stances on these topics. So as my colleagues in the College of Arts and Sciences prepare to strike and protest in a few hours (#TimesUpLoyola) and as students plan to walk-out of their courses and to state their demands (#NotMyLoyola) to the institution. As both the LUC administration and NTT/Adjunct Union call each other out for lacking a commitment to students and co-opt the language of social justice – here I sit, trying to deal with the pit in my stomach. I’m convinced, I think, that the tension I feel is due to the fact that for a person who is supposed to, in the least, know how to get to the answers and explanations regarding dynamics in higher education, I have so many questions: Do I stand in solidarity with these groups? Is this “my fight” to get involved with? What about all the other NTT/Adjunct faculty across the university, why aren’t they in the union? Why are both sides sending me propaganda emails invoking things like the Koch Brothers and Poison Pills or framing well-intentioned faculty members as neglecting their students and commitments. Why do I feel so disconnected from these issues, especially the undergraduate student concerns? I’ve known nothing but turmoil as I come to the end of my second year at Loyola. This is the stuff they don’t and can’t teach you in a doctoral program. I know that I could be somewhere else and write the same thing. So, herein lies my sense that this messiness is probably just the new normal for LUC, which is just a symbolic and parallel trend of all of higher education. If the administration meets the union’s demands, then what’s stopping other NTT/Adjunct faculty from seeking the same package and how does LUC continue to afford that arrangement given rising health care costs and pressure to reign in tuition increases? If the Union strike continues what harm does it do to the institution’s reputation and ability to attract students and cultivate relationships with alumni. Furthermore, if students don’t feel like their voices are heard by the institution, what does that do to their efficacy and trust in social institutions or their ability to learn and grow into productive members of the community? With all that and no easy answers, I’m just left feeling drained and exhausted. No one wins and more fitting, everyone loses. Our March Madness has given way to April showers right on cue and the forecast doesn’t look great for Loyola or higher education.
From kindergarten to grad school, learning has always been rewarding and exciting, despite the underlying challenges of depression and anxiety. With coping mechanisms, both good and not-so-good, I’ve navigated academia successfully. In my higher education courses, the emphasis on accessibility, inclusivity, and critically breaking down traditions has revealed that curriculum may systematically and inherently conflict with our social justice values. The design of courses and assignments seem to follow strict, unwavering expectations of students’ work, assuming that all students are on a level playing field mentally, physically, and emotionally. But we aren’t. It’s time that we consider how curriculum design may be inherently ableist, leaving those afflicted with mental illness at an invisible, nuanced disadvantage. Ahhh, the often-forgotten ism. Embedded into our society’s individualistic work ethic, ableism rarely makes its way into conversations about social justice, most often represented by a few meek sentences in a textbook, for the sake of covering bases. When we do talk about, read about, or write about ableism, it’s usually a broad overview of physical ability, with little to be said about mental health. Some may argue that it’s often left out of the conversation due to the stigma of laziness and ineptitude. In fact, you might be thinking, what does ableism have to do with mental health? That’s okay. Let’s talk about it. Ableism affects those afflicted by physical and mental symptoms. Yet, mental health is often left out of a conversation that is seldom had in the first place. As members of the higher education community, it’s necessary for us to foster inclusive environments and to challenge problematic ideas, and that includes how we talk about ableism and mental health in all capacities, especially in the classroom. Institutions of higher education’s central mission is to educate both in and outside the classroom, yet there are barriers to doing so inclusively and holistically. In recent years, society as a whole seems more willing to acknowledge mental health as a legitimate concern, yet it remains undeniably taboo. As mental health awareness grows, do individual’s practices truly change? We can all benefit from giving ourselves and others grace. When it comes to mental health, we don’t always know how to. The current conversation surrounding mental health in the United States is undeniably tempestuous, especially as access to affordable healthcare is challenged. The stigma surrounding mental health can be witnessed in any and all institutions, negatively impacting our students and ourselves in a variety of ways. Lazy, Entitled Millennials? Yeah, Nope! The common narrative remains that college courses have gotten easier, life has gotten better, and younger generations are just lazy. Such broad statements don’t account for factors that contribute to the collegiate environment. Tuition is more expensive than ever, yet many students are pressured to go to college with no prior knowledge of finances or budgeting. The current political climate is robbing many students of their healthcare, as previously accessible services grow in cost. While there isn’t a finite answer to whether or not academia is more difficult, there are certainly significant social changes that contribute to the resilience and coping mechanisms of students at any and every age. It’s time for us to critically think about how our traditional practices in the classroom are disadvantaging those afflicted with mental illness. In recent years, increasing numbers of individuals in the academic community are visiting wellness and counseling centers in campuses across the country. Is this attributed to awareness and acceptance of mental health disorders, or is it due to the increasing stress of academia? I’d say it’s a little bit of both. Rarely, mental health makes its way into discussions of higher education. As educators, we often ask ourselves, how can we be inclusive in our practices? By offering accommodations, resources, and referring students to ability services or the counseling center, we can surely do the bare minimum. However, how often do we consider how ableism is embedded into academia? As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, it’s easy for me to blame myself for behaviors that inhibit my ability to grow as a student, educator, colleague, and friend. Yet, how often do I consider how I’ve internalized other’s opinions of mental health that I’ve been subjected to and socialized with since my childhood? I can tell you that I hardly ever do. Sometimes, it seems easier to ignore social factors and suffer in silence. It’s time to take a step back and seriously consider how we are factoring mental health into our practices as higher education professionals. Further, it’s time to challenge what is taboo, emphasize individualized student development, and embrace healthy coping mechanisms. Let’s encourage discussions how we can reconstruct our discussions, centralizing evidence based practice. Ableism: Insidious and Fluid What can we, as social justice advocates and educators, do to change cyclical, difficult assignments that have become rites of passage? How can we use our creativity and compassion to co-construct solutions with our students? Most importantly, how can we be flexible and patient with our students who are suffering from mental health disorders? We know that the standards for curriculum and liberal arts has evolved much since its formation. We also know that learning is changing: students learn differently depending upon the times, so why aren’t the methods of teaching changing, too? I believe the inherent disconnect between knowledge of different ways of learning and rigid ways of teaching are contributing to underlying ableism in academia. For example, consider the last syllabus you read. Most likely, it followed a strict timeline with lengthy, daunting assignments, and hundreds (or thousands) of pages of reading. Now, consider all of the additional tasks you were taking on at that time. Whether it be an assistantship, a job, multiple jobs, volunteer roles, etc., I’m sure your plate was pretty full. For some, the challenge is exciting. For others, it can lead to the symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health symptoms that are reported in high numbers every year for students at every collegiate level. Next, think about the definition of ableism you’re familiar with. It probably looks something like this: a·ble·ism, noun: discrimination in favor of able-bodied people. Thinking about the syllabus you envisioned, what evidence of ableism do you see? Here’s my guess: none. Besides, how could it be ableist when every professor copies and pastes the same generic diversity statement? How is assigning 150+ pages of reading per week ableist? How is assigning 3 20-page papers per semester ableist? How is requiring lengthy sections of group work every week ableist? And so on… My argument is not that these assignments and expectations, each with the possibility of valuable and meaningful learning outcomes, are not inherently ableist. Practitioners, faculty members, and other professionals are not being intentionally exclusionary: that’s not the issue. However, mixing a demanding, strong cocktail of assignments over the course of a semester can have detrimental effects on students. During a depressive episode, reading can be impossible. When coping with high levels of anxiety, finishing a 20-page paper can be an incredible feat. For some, engaging in group work is incredibly draining. The list goes on. Continue the Conversation for Future Generations I challenge you to critically think about ableism has become so embedded into academia that we forget about mental health, among other invisible disabilities. Go forth and converse with your professors, colleagues, and friends to reduce the stigma. Challenge the idea that mental health symptoms are synonymous with laziness. Open the channels of communication for the future of higher education for students at every level. As society evolves, so do students and as does the political, social climate we all reside in. Tuition costs may continue to rise, healthcare may become more difficult to access, and mental health may continue to be stigmatized and forgotten. But if we want to preach social justice and inclusivity, it’s time to work together to make the classroom safe and accessible for those affected by mental illness. While I don’t have a concrete, step-by-step solution to ableism in the classroom, resources are available. Until we, as educators, venture away from outdated curriculum and rethink how we are educating students, there are options to improve one’s experience. Accommodations can be made through ability services centers, and the counseling center continues to be a wonderful resource outside the classroom. I hope that as mental health awareness grows and the stigma around it diminishes, additional resources will get the funding and attention they deserve.
"When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong": Advocacy and Dissent for Black People
In a sudden fit of nostalgia last week, I sat for TWO HOURS watching old skits from Chappelle’s Show. My obsession ultimately led to me creating one of those ranking lists that you have in your phone that means nothing to anyone else but gives you some sense of satisfaction in thinking highly of your own taste. My absolute top skits were “When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong” where a Black main character would find themselves in a predicament where they could either ignore something offensive or “Keep it Real” which would eventually lead them down a hilarious downward spiral they couldn’t have predicted. Dave Chappelle’s genius is a real battle for Black people and other people of color, a kind of painful learning experience he expertly cloaked in perfectly timed quips and laugh tracks. Growing up, my father would always tell me to “keep your head down”. My dad’s words were intentional in their harshness as he prepared me to get to this point in my life as a Black woman. As a child, this meant keeping opinions to myself when my brothers got a larger share of candy than I did and shrinking myself to be smaller and less noticeable when curious White friends would touch my puffy curls. Sharing my own narrative was not a part of learning the daily navigation through life in a predominantly White neighborhood – a sentiment he would share growing up on Chicago’s west side in the 1950’s as he was chased home from school simply by being the only Black boy in school. By the time I got to high school, I wasn’t about it. I watched my White peers’ parents getting entire courses changed for the needs of their student, I watched my classmates confidently stroll out of the classroom and never return; everyone was living life the way they felt entitled to, so why couldn’t I? Thus, my transformation from “keeping my head down” to “keeping it real” had begun leading me down a road of being labelled as aggressive, angry, and dominating as a Black woman speaking her mind. By the time I reached undergrad, my “keeping it real” when a coworker consistently talked about my weight lead to a disciplinary meeting with my supervisor in which I was asked to formally apologize or be removed from the position. “Keep your head down” is now a part of my daily life. As a rising Student Affairs professional, the very first thing I picked up is the vitality of “playing the game”. Functioning in loose hierarchical systems and a small network, my learning is ever more important as the stakes are far higher than playground tears and threats of detention. However, my life course on behavior is now mingling with others’ “advocate for yourself”, “speak your truth”, and “own your experience” – ever more synonymous in the classroom and workplace with social justice and liberalism rooted in careful phrases rather than brazen honestly from a place of hurt. With recent upticks in social conversation surrounding truth and justice within the stories of others (#MeToo and Parkland High School shooting), this idea of owning your experience with the near expectation of understanding and acceptance is a consistent topic in higher education, especially in student services where so much of student interaction is story telling. But, is this liberty primarily available to White people who define and control what is acceptable in our current “call out culture”? (looking at you Colin Kaepernick haters) How can I ever ensure my standing up for myself is gently labeled as “advocacy” as opposed to brushed off as a colorful person colorfully “keeping it real”? The honest answer is: I can’t. As my mother so eloquently said, “Because of what you look like, sometimes you have to choose between doing what’s right and what’s smart. It will almost never be fair or feel good, but it’s the game you will always have to play”. Students arrive at our institutions with already shaped ways of communicating and navigating their identities, salient or not. But, where the dissonance lies in is the ability to share opinion without a fear of repercussion or no longer “fitting in”. What does that teach us about dissent? Labeling outsiders in the classroom and field is dangerous and reckless in a way that prioritizes preferable opinions decided, arbitrarily, by the top of the hierarchy. Isn’t this the point of a higher education? The ability to hold bits and pieces of information from varying disciplines and schools of thoughts to craft a cohesive and original intelligence? WHO decides what is “right” and what is “wrong”? Do your identities allow you to decide? Today I only have questions and no answers. I can only strongly recommend the best skit on the Chappelle’s Show (according to my phone list, *clears throat*) in effort to lick your wounds after a long day of “playing it smart”. Season 2, Episode 7 - Vernon Franklin Season 2, Episode 8 - Brenda Johnson Season 2, Episode 6 - Darius James