This year has been trying in so, so many ways; which is exactly why I feel that I need to try and try again, harder, better and differently in 2013.

In thinking about what my One Word for 2013 would be I talked with my dad. He said “what about success?” after thinking for a minute I said, “I can’t control if I am successful or not but I can try.” And that’s when I knew – I had to try.

Try to embrace. Try to change. Try to catch up on. Try to bite my tongue. Try to push myself. SO many things to try!

Sometimes I get caught up in the negative, if I can’t do it the first time, or it doesn’t make sense I am quick to give up before I have even tried.

So, for 2013, I will try!


I’ve created a Pinterest board to inspire myself to try throughout the year. What is your one word for 2013?


This I Believe: #SAchat Partners with ACPA Commission for Social Justice Educators

This post was originally published on The Student Affairs Collaborative Blog – and as a co-author I wished to repost it here!

The wonderful folks at the Student Affairs Collaborative have agreed to collaborate with some of the folks from the American College Personnel Association’s (ACPA) Commission for Social Justice Educators (CSJE) Directorate this week!

The #sachat on Thursday, December 6 will feature social justice education topics.  The CSJE folks are hoping to develop a twitter chat around social justice education, but want the community to drive that initiative.  We look forward to seeing you for the chat on Thursday and in the future.

To gear up for this week’s social justice chat, three of the CSJE Directorate Body members contributed a short post on what they believe about social justice education.  Inspiration came from This I Believe.


Kayla Nuss (@KaylaJNuss):

“Don’t go past the railroad tracks,” said one of my coworkers. “Oh yeah, I saw a property over there and I was afraid to get out of my car. That’s a really BAD part of town,” responded the other. As I sat listening to my colleagues discuss where they’d looked at homes for sale, I felt it boil up inside me. It was something akin to fury- hot and angry- rising into my throat. I clenched my hands over my keyboard and my nails made marks into my palms. ‘What should I do?” I thought, “I barely know these people. We just started working together What if I ruin the relationship that we’ve just begun building?” As they went on and on about the ‘good parts’ and the ‘bad parts’ of our suburban, mostly white, college town, I just couldn’t stay silent any longer.

“Hey, could you two please come into my office? I need to speak to you both,” I said, my voice trembling and cracking. “I’m worried about the words you’re choosing to use to describe parts of town. Things like ‘good’ or ‘bad’ are pretty loaded terms. Could you tell me why you chose those?” My colleagues stared back at me blankly. I wasn’t sure if it was surprise, horror, embarrassment, or something else on their faces. One finally said, “I guess I never thought about why I’d chosen those words. I just looked around at the houses and cars around some of those neighborhoods and they look run down and old.” I explained that it sounded like they were making huge assumptions about groups of people based on where they lived. I explained that they never knew which one of the students we served lived in the very neighborhood they were describing.

What I believe is that the students I work with and the people in my community deserve my voice. They deserve it because I am in a position of power and privilege. I never earned this power but, based on what I look like, who my parents are, and where I grew up, I have it. And I need to, no, I HAVE to use it- as anxiety provoking as that can be, it’s my responsibility to muster the courage, and care, to use it. It’s my job and that’s what I believe.

Sarah Glassman (@slglassman):

I see it everywhere, it’s systemic; on billboards and in magazines, images of violence against women – images of patriarchy, power and oppression. I hear it on the radio, in song lyrics and spoken by the DJ. It’s on TV, not just on Lifetime, but primetime. Am I the only one who sees it?

It is big and I feel small.

And then I heard it in the hallway near my office “dude, I totally just raped that exam!” It took me more than a minute to realize what I’d heard. With my office door cluttered with ‘Safe Space’ stickers and information about campus resources, it’s rare that I hear students acting so much like…themselves. I peeked out into the hallway to find who was speaking, a student I know. As their friends left I asked if we could talk. We sat in my office and I said, “what did you mean when you said you ‘raped your exam?’” The student explained that it’s “just something people say” and that he “didn’t mean it like that.” We had a conversation about understanding one’s intent versus their impact; we talked about violence against women. Our culture normalizes violence through phrases like the one he had said moments before; and if he’d said that comment in the presence of just a few others it’s likely that one of them has been sexually assaulted.

It may have seemed like an ordinary weekday to him, he may not reflect on the conversation for months or at all. But I believe it’s important to promote a culture that reflects knowledge and awareness through vocabulary and actions.

It wasn’t a long conversation but it’s a drop in the bucket that wouldn’t be there without me.

The language of our rape culture is bigger than any one individual but all of us have the power to do something. I believe I can interrupt and change it. I believe my simple action, my voice, move us toward a more just world.

Erica Thompson (@EricaKThompson):

I remember sitting on the bus, on my way to school in the seventh grade.  I had become old enough to sit at the back of the bus, where the “cool” kids sat, and really enjoyed that half hour or so every morning.  At the time, blonde jokes were all the rage; being naturally blonde, these always made me uncomfortable.  I considered myself smart and capable, something those jokes never portrayed.  I couldn’t see myself in the (almost always) women who received the brunt of the so-called humor.  There were whole books devoted to the concept that women born blonde were inherently stupid, incapable, ditzy, and promiscuous.  I hated them.  Every single day.

Then it got worse.  The blond jokes turned to cultural offenses that I feel ashamed to even discuss.  My young peers cracked up over indecent descriptions of our fellow humans of Polish and Jewish descent.  There are probably other populations whom were struck down with similar obscenities, but I have repressed which specific groups they were.  What I can recall with distinct shame, sadness, and discomfort is how I felt inside when those jokes were rattled off without a second thought.  My heart broke for the people who were the subject – even though my small town Iowan roots had never met anyone like them.

Even as a young teenager, I could feel at my core the injustices in our world because of race, gender, religion, and even appearances.   Those years ago, I didn’t have the knowledge and information to understand those injustices at a societal and academic level nor the tools to address my peers.  Now I have some knowledge and a few tools to do what is referred to as social justice work.  More than ever, though, I have that feeling – deep down inside – that it is my responsibility to work for justice.  This I believe – without working for justice, I will not find peace in my heart.  And I know more than ever before how much work I have to do, both internally and externally.

What do you believe?  Why do you do social justice work (if you do)?

We look forward to connecting with you.

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Planting a seed

There’s this old Jewish story about a carob tree, I can’t recall where it comes from but it goes something like this:

A wise man was walking along the road and saw a poor man planting a carob tree. The wise man asks, “Why are you planting that tree? It will take 70 years to bear fruit. Do you think you will live another 70 years to eat the fruit of the tree?” The poor man answers, “maybe not. But, when I was born into this world, I found many carob trees planted by my father and grandfather. Just as they planted trees for me, I am planting trees for my children and grandchildren so they will be able to eat the fruit of these trees.”

I’ve recently realized that so often in my work I am like the man planting the tree.

A small moment or routine part of my day, to a student in my office, may be huge. Like the man planting the carob tree, I often do not see the fruits of my labor. I often meet with students only once and do not know if they use the advice or information I give them. I can only hope that the students reflect and are able to see their own growth. I simply plant seeds, provide a watering can and sometimes sunlight.

There are people with whom I’ve spent just a few moments who have made the largest impact on me. They planted a seed. Where I am today, my professional path is largely due to the words and actions of other people. Most of those moments were, at the time, small and seemingly inconsequential. Only when I look back can I connect the dots and see the many people who have shaped my path – each adding a drop of water or a ray of sunlight.

My students and my mentors have helped me realize that you never truly know when your words or actions might make an impact on someone else. A little encouragement, acceptance or praise, small actions that seem insignificant may alter the course of someone’s life.

It’s hard to remember on those days when I have eight back-to-back meetings but I’m certain someone is going to benefit from the fruit, enjoy the shade and swing from the branches of my work.

Moving forward after irrational moments

If I had to pick my own spirit animal, this week I’d choose a deer. Imagine driving at dusk, a deer runs into the road and in front of your car, it freezes. I am that deer in headlights. Or at least, I was this week. In the fight or flight response I prefer freeze. My freeze is automatic and non-conscious.

At work this week I was the target of someone’s anger.  I know this certainly isn’t something unique to me yet, it’s important that I respond as, in the moment, I froze.

The only way to describe this individual’s action is an adult temper tantrum. It was irrational, uncontrollable rage.  I have worked with children and know how to handle a child throwing a temper tantrum but when someone in your workplace behaves irrationally – I’m unsure what to do.

Being the subject of someone’s anger in the workplace is belittling and can easily deflate ones self-esteem and sense of self-worth. It creates an unhealthy environment where you cannot express yourself without fear—where you cannot speak up or defend yourself without consequence.

Immediately after being yelled at, I cried (and called my dad). Despite him and others in whom I sought solace reminding me I have worth, I spent the rest of the workday feeling worthless.

Upon a few days reflection I’ve come to realize a few things:

Despite being the kind of person who often thinks that bad things occur to bad people, I’ve realized I did not deserve this treatment. Treating others without respect is not a reflection on the person being disrespected. Treating someone disrespectfully does not enable someone to gain respect but sometimes, it does enable brief control over another person. Power and control are what this person was trying to gain through my fear. Nothing more.

Temper tantrums (in this case, adult temper tantrums) are a performance of anger, power and control.  Think of a child throwing a tantrum – while yes, they may actually be hurt or upset that they did not get their way; much of their tantrum is an act.  This performance is intended to gain control (of the parent, in most cases)—to make them behave a certain way, to make them do what the child wants. In this instance, the person’s performance of anger was intended to gain control (over me or the situation) because they felt that their power had been violated or taken away.

I am moving forward and resisting my own feelings of worthlessness. I’ve decided to 1) let myself feel hurt. I have a right to my feelings and it’s totally okay and normal to experience them however they come. I’m working to get over that by 2) reflecting with others who I trust. Talking about my feelings is important. And 3) responding (through this post) in order to process and understand my experience.

Trusting their process?

Last weekend I spent some time at home with my two and a half year old niece. She is extremely well behaved (even cleans up after herself) but occasionally I was in the position to remind her to be cautious. I found myself using the voice I sometimes use with students. It went something like this – “before you walk on the edge of the stairs again, let’s think about what might happen,” or “let’s stop and think for a minute, what are the consequences of running around with food in your mouth?” While I know full well I said most of these things for the benefit of my sister, not my niece – I’m curious why the same voice I occasionally use with students came out toward a child.

In the last year anticipating potential consequences has become a regular part of my practice. While I understand that part of my role, as an administrator, is to see things in ways my students cannot, I wonder if my regulation of their ideas and creativity inhibits their growth.

It has occurred to me that being asked to constantly check in with those above me on each idea or new initiative my students dream up can serve to narrow, control and assist in pushing the ‘right’ agenda.  We tell ourselves that we don’t want students to fail or get out of hand; to this end we’ve implemented policies to protect students from themselves – but what are we inhibiting in doing so?  While I never enrolled in a legal issues course, I understand a little about liability and the ‘CYA’ thing. I get that we have regulations so that if something happens we can say we took measures to train and educate our students on X, Y or Z.

At the same time I’m expected to be a helicopter parent to my students because I must report up any change before it has the potential to happen to my own helicopter supervisors. The goal of the practice of reporting up is positive, soothing any possible tension before it happens but, I know, to my students – this feels like a restraint.

So – how do you flip the script? How do you allow students to follow through with their dreams when so many regulations are in place? What amazing things may happen if we stopped babying our students and allowed them to use their full potential? Sure, perhaps there may be some flops but unless we try, we have no idea what amazing initiatives, events or actions our students may engage in. Maybe I trust my students more than most but I’m willing to take a chance because I know the innovation of my students will challenge me to be a better professional.

Being ‘the man’

This week I attended my campus’ Take Back the Night event.  The event is one of the hallmarks of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and provides a space for rallying as well as speaking out against power-based personal violence.

I’ve attended Take Back the Night events for the last several years but this year felt very different. This year was the first year I wasn’t sure if the space was mine. Every other year I’ve attended as a student. Whether in grad student or as an undergrad, the school was mine to learn from, it was a space for me. As a staff member, I am to provide that space. It isn’t about me anymore.

I’ve recently realized that I am becoming (or maybe I already am) ‘the man.’ Prior to attending and during the event I was concerned about my own presence in the space. I became incredibly aware that my presence could be seen as intrusive to a safe student space. I feel I am slowly becoming archetype of those whom I did not feel respected by and rallied against just a few years ago.

How do I work to create an environment where students do not feel disrespected by me even though, at times, I do have to be ‘the man’? How do I continue to do my job, often enforcing policies, while creating spaces for students to be authentic? How can I be authentic when I do not necessarily agree with policies and practices of my institution (especially when these policies and practices create a more hostile environment between the students and administrators)?

My small and momentary solution was to speak at Take Back the Night. In front of all the students, I read a poem I wrote. Hopefully, even for just a moment, I helped my students realize I am just like them in a lot of ways. Perhaps in the future they will think of that moment, where I was on their side and one of them when they feel hurt by the policies and practices I sometimes must enforce.

Fitting the ‘file’ image.

This week I’ve had the opportunity to interview many students for our summer staff positions. Prior, during and after I had a lot of conversations with my students who were going through the interview process. One in particular stood out – my student and I talked about how during interviews they often felt “fake.” They know what professional staff members in my department want to hear, they know the answers they are supposed to share and the “correct” outfit for the occasion but they simply feel that isn’t authentic to who they are.

Our conversation really made me think about how we can pigeonhole students through our interview processes. We are looking for students who look and act a certain way. But what way do we mean when we say that?

During the conversation, my student and I talked about the ‘just be yourself’ idea; but, perhaps what people really mean when they say that is, be a version of yourself that you pull out for occasions like this. Be yourself but a little more cleaned up. Be yourself but in an outfit you’d never typically wear. Be yourself but sell yourself through the experiences you’ve had. Be yourself but don’t really be yourself.

What message does this all send? We can be accepting if only you look, act and are a certain way?

I don’t think this is something only undergraduate students experience. It’s not something that can be chalked up to a “developmental phase” – it’s something, I believe, all feel pressure in.

I was thinking about this throughout the week and then something clicked. I had the opportunity to hear Jess Pettitt speak on social justice and I realized why this bothered me so much. It’s about power and privilege; it’s a social justice issue. I think I’m finally able to put some language to this feeling but bear with me as it may be a bit rough…

During the lecture, Jess Pettitt talked about envisioning a dentist. Do this. What does a dentist look like? Most people recalled an image of a white man. Then, perhaps an image of their own dentist. But the ‘file’ image in your brain for ‘dentist’ is a white man. What is the file image for RA? Student affairs professional? Etc.?

If you don’t fit this image, of who is first recalled in the mind of most when a particular profession is mentioned, how much harder do you have to try? How much more time do you spend making sure you look the part? What are the ways you compensate for not being the ‘file’ image?

The inauthenticity my student was feeling might be because they didn’t fit that file image. They were attempting to ‘fit’ a mold, which wasn’t ever made with them in mind.

This begs the question – what do we do to change this? Do we need to? Where is my role here? For now, I’m not sure but this is certainly something I will continue to reflect on.

Listen first.

One of my favorite ways to help my staff team get to know one another is through writing. With each new staff, I have my students write a ‘Where I am From’ poem. These are easy poems from a template. Yet, I’ve seen my students display such creativity with their words through this medium. For the past few years I’ve compiled the poems and printed them to make a book for each staff member.

I think it is so important to understand the context each person comes from in order to work together. When others disregard my context or don’t feel the need to first understand me as a whole person, I feel small and insignificant to them. In supervising I always seek to listen first.


I am from Shabbat candles, from High Holy Days and unanswered prayers.

I am from keeping up with appearances. From perfection on the outside & chaos within. From yells, screams and too much emotion behind the suburban white picket fence.

But, I am from Æbleskiver Day and kindhearted, well- meaning men, from Frohlich’s and Shapiro’s who never gave up on their dreams.

I am from the books that became safe places and taught me how to live. I am from reading, writing & creating.

From ‘you can be anything, except that’ and never good enough, ‘too much, too big, too this, too that…’

I am from praying to the porcelain god one too many times. Running, counting, pushing, pulling.

From learning silence.

I’m from a community of activists who taught me not to be afraid to speak out even if my voice shakes. From protests, grassroots action and empowerment.

From living honestly & for me; I am from my chosen family.