From Cotton to Corn: Grad School Year One

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Let’s be clear from the start, my transition to Iowa this year was awful. I have been in “survive” mode more than “thrive” and I even began a new grad school search in November. In my experience, I was sold a perfect picture of grad school from peers, supervisors, and institutions: cohorts that become automatic friend groups, opportunities all around, and all the adventures at your fingertips. We have done this to ourselves. We think of our experience in school and try to make it the same/think it will be the same for each new member. I genuinely struggled this year. I failed assignments, I cried, I wanted to quit and pack my bags for Mississippi (probably first time that has ever been said in the history of the world). To put it bluntly: this year was shit.

However, among all the failure, struggles, and loneliness, I made some self-discoveries. I’ve learned a great deal about myself, the profession, and just life in general. I’ve read some difficult articles, been challenged in class, and met confrontation head on. In true Rebel fashion, I challenged what was preached to me in classes and pushed myself and others. Now that the dust is starting to settle and I prepare for the summer and my two months of hard time on the beach at FGCU, I have a few things that I wish to share to the world about my adventures on the other side of the Mississippi (and 10 hours further up river).

  • Loneliness. Moving to a new school, city, and state was hands down the hardest challenge I’ve faced in my life (privilege acknowledged). I have taken for granted all the many friends I’ve made along the way. I forgot what it was like to be a stranger in the crowd, the new kid on the block, the person that is from a place no one has been they ask “why did you come here?”. I have spent my share of hours and days by myself, without someone to casually hang out. Granted, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some great people and finally have a small amount of friends, I still feel as if I am all alone. No one could have prepared me for this. However, I now revel in my loneliness. I have time to reflect, think, and meditate. I have learned more about myself than I could have ever done in the crowds at the Square of the Grove. I’ve learned to be ok silence and to sit in the quite. No I won’t go to a movie or bar by myself but I can go and eat a nice sit-down meal, go exploring, and shoot hoops for hours without talking to anyone. I’m always open to meeting new people but I now can handle being the only person I know.
  • Dating. It hasn’t happened. I’ve done the whole tinder, bumble, you-name-it apps. I’ve meet people through people and even tried the whole “lame pick-up line game” at the grocery store, bars, and the likes. I do not know what it is, but the belles up here aren’t the same as they are back home (must be the lack of sweet tea). Granted, I’m a white, cis gendered male so I have no room to complain about the dating culture (privilege acknowledged), but it has been “awkward af”. Granted I have some things to work on personally both in terms of myself and my past emotions, but still they don’t tell you about the difficulty of separating yourself from undergrads and trying to find a cute date. Not to mention the fact I live in a residence hall (but I have my own apartment!) and that tends to put an even more awkward twist on conversations. I’ve learned a great deal of patience and grown calmer in my spirit. I have journaled my struggles and don’t mind laughing with friends on my failed dates. I still am an eager beaver, but I know that my future is in fate’s hand and I am only playing my part.
  • Culture. The people here are weird. This whole “Midwest/Iowa nice” thing pisses me off. People run all over each other and are so damn indecisive. There isn’t any sweet tea, they put peppers or hot sauce and call it “Cajun”, and don’t even try and ask me about the tailgating (they do it in parking lots, they were this gaudy cover-alls, and they just stand there staring at each other drinking shitty beer). “Country” and “being from the South” to them is just a flannel and camo pants, talking in a “funny accent”, and kissing your cousin. They think they “know football”, “know what good soul food is”, and “know what hot weather is”. The amount of times I have shook my head, bit my tongue, and kept a level head this year when people talk badly about my home is astronomical (granted the South has a shit ton of problems, Iowa isn’t that far behind). However, I’ve learned every town, city, and state has its own unique culture. I’ve learned not to make Iowa like Ole Miss and to always learn in every situation. I’ve learned my way of living is just one of multiple realities. I’ve learned so much about my own culture back home and have noticed the many underlying privileges I have. It may not be Ole Miss, but Iowa is kinda nice.
  • Self. If you ask anyone around here what my name is they will (more times than not) call me Justin Kyle. JKT is a pet name, Justin is what I’m called when I’m in trouble or in Tulsa (long story), and Kyle is just another name in the crowd. I’ve always loved how my two names roll together and I spent the first part of the semester being so self-conscious about it because if I wanted to go by that, it would be “odd”. People have met me at various times of my life may be confused as to why this is. I’ve always struggled with making my own identity, name, and reputation. From Kell (oh high school) to Myrtle (because people my freshman year that it was hilarious), the words I’ve gone by have been many, but they just haven’t been me. In all the loneliness, awkward dates and talking about myself, and being a stranger in a new culture, I’ve discovered so much about myself. The things I have uncovered, re-discovered, changed, and shunned are many. The greatest of all, however, is my true name. A name that means the world to me. A name that gives me pride, makes we stick out, and truly captures my identity. Justin Kyle is more than just a couple words that confuse the hell out of people, it is who I am now from this point forward. The greatest thing I have learned since coming to Iowa is this: The man I was and the man I want to be is up to the man now to change. I am the author of my own path (in the hands of my God). We go to college to “find ourselves”, so even in grad school you can learn more about yourself.

The mistakes I have made in my life can make a grocery list jealous. I’ve pushed away people I have loved and not realized it. I’ve done what I can to impress others. I’ve been unauthentic, self-centered, and an egotistical bastard at times. I’ve done a lot, I’ve learned a lot, I still have a winding path ahead of me. Grad school has been hard, but it has been the best for me. No matter how much I wanted to leave, I know I couldn’t. I had to make myself learn by living in dissonance. I had to get out in order to come back home.

There is no telling what is in store for me from this point on, but I will take it head on with a stiff drink of Maker’s Mark, momma’s prayers, and passion for making a change. William Faulkner once said “to understand the world one must first understand a place like Mississippi”. For me, I’m trying to understand the world so that I can one day go home and make a difference. Iowa has given me a great deal of challenges, but a year in and I’m still going. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got 800+ students to move out of my damn building and drive to Florida for another experience. Cheers.

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Grad School: On moving to a new school, new city, new state

Each learner is unique in their own way. This is evident when John Dewey believed that the learning experience should be tailored to the individual needs of the student. Lev Vygotsky believed that we learn based on our interactions with our environment and Nevitt Standford wrote about the necessary balance of challenge and support. Because of this, there is an unlimited possibility on how one can experience their graduate experience. To truly plan for everything one could experience would require omnipotent powers. Sadly, I cannot bestow such powers on anyone. However, what I can do is make my experience open for anyone to observe and learn. This is a list of possibilities one can experience during their transition to grad school. This is a list of things to watch out for, things to give caution to, and things to just completely avoid.  My experience is not yours, and neither is yours mine. However, I there are some things that have some universality. This by all means is not an exhaustive list, rather a starting point for one to reflect on their true selves and how they will react to a new environment. This list is not absolute, something you will never see. However, some things to consider:

  1. It isn’t always fun
  2. You will not always become automatic friends with your classmates
  3. You will struggle
  4. You will be overwhelmed, exhausted, bored, and even pressured
  5. Imposter Syndrome is real (look it up if you don’t now. It will be good practice for you to do your own research on topics).
  6. You have to advocate for yourself and make sure “you get yours”. Chances are, a lot will be asked of you and you will feel a lot of emotions. If you don’t take the time you need, you can and will fail.
  7. You have to get away. Get off campus, off the map, go reflect, go be you.
  8. Make friends that you don’t work with, take classes with, or do “student-affairs things” with. When you make said friends, limit or try not to talk about work and class.
  9. You know only your experiences. Period. You don’t know all, you can’t, so be cool with feeling dumb/lost.
  10. Don’t talk about your undergrad. As much as I love Ole Miss that is Ole Miss. Give your new place a chance. Be careful when you do talk about your prior experiences because you can easily offend people. Hard lesson learned.
  11. Go for a walk, listen to music, and explore.
  12. Find a mentor, someone who will call you out, someone to cry with, someone to laugh with. This can be one or multiple people.
  13. Don’t gossip. Listen when people do and make mental notes. People can be real shitty and stupid at times and you don’t want none of that toxicity in your life.
  14. Learn from other’s mistakes
  15. Learn from your mistakes
  16. “They” will tell you it is not about the grads but what you learn. True. But when you grow up in a K-12 and undergrad system that depends of pure memorization and “getting the grades”, it is about both. If you not satisfied with what you are learning or the grades, change it.
  17. “Trust the process” or don’t. Make it your own. (I’m a Rebel so I make my own way)
  18. Don’t say “I know this will probably offend someone but….” Chances are, you are going to shove your own foot so far down your mouth it will become a permanent member of your digestive system. I’ve said this, others have, and many will. Just don’t. Reflect, write down your thoughts, think about your privileges, and reflect some more.
  19. It is ok to make mistakes. It is not ok for your ignorant privilege to attack, offended, or appropriate others.
  20. Speak from your own view, do not ask someone to speak for a whole group of folks.
  21. If what you are thinking is not “good”, then don’t say it and reflect. Mistakes are ok but don’t be an ass.
  22. Journal, blog, talk to yourself, whatever you have to do to help reflect.
  23. It is ok to hate your classes, your job, your whatever. Everything can and will be ok. Reflect, make the necessary changes, and carry on.
  24. Take time to plan your schedule. Be deliberate.
  25. “Treat yo self”
  26. Say “yes” and “no”. Opportunities are all around. So take advantage and also know there are always more.
  27. Take time to talk to family (I like postcards personally), undergrad friends, and mentors. Don’t let the grass grow under you relationships.
  28. Do your own research. Look up random stuff, stuff you don’t know, stuff you think you know.
  29. Even if you think you know, you can still learn from any experience.
  30. Make your own theories. Self-author something that explains how you know what you know.
  31. Learn what words are “PC” and what isn’t. It shouldn’t be other people’s responsibility to correct you. Do your own research but don’t get caught up on every detail. Mistakes are ok but don’t be an ass.
  32. Find someone “different” than you. Make that person your friend. We learn at the intersection of discomfort and unknown. You will find out new things, both good and bad, about yourself. Embrace what you learn and do what is necessary.

This by all means is not everything that can happen. This is not what all you will experience or see. Make your own list and share with others. Know that you are not in this struggle/journey alone, but you have to respect yourself too. Learn from my mistakes, learn from others, and learn from yourself. Learning is a lifelong process so enjoy the ride because it will get intense.

Cheers.

Kim Davis at fault: Looking through the eyes of Human Resource Managment

Before I even begin, I would like to quiet all the uber conservatives out there that are super loud and proud about their religion. Not that that is a bad thing, but some tend to condemn a lot of people with one hand and be a hypocrite with the other:

“ye without sin cast the first stone.”

“love your neighbor.”

Ok cool now I can continue with my diagnoses of the Kim Davis situation. So let me tell you about my views.

  1. I am a Southern Baptist born and raised however, after being in the “real world” some of the spoon feed doctrines have lost some of the power over me. In my opinion, God put you on this earth to make your own decisions and whatever you choose to do, i’m cool with. I can and will respect your choices and I will NEVER talk down to anyone as long as they respect me. I mean I think this is fair.
  2. I want to one day enjoy an environment where religion is respected and so too are the personal life choices of others. Why not stop there? I hope one day EVERYTHING that makes us different is respected and cherished. I may never see this utopia, but it is still great to think about and work towards.
  3. I believe that men, women, trans, non-conforming, and everyone else are created equal and deserve the same rights under our laws, unfortunately this isn’t the case (#blacklivesmatter).
  4. Your freedoms end where my nose begins.
  5. I am making my opinion on Kim Davis using what I have been taught during my undergraduate studies in Human Resource Management.

Ok so let’s start.

In the business world, when I go to hire someone for a particular position, there is a certain criteria they must meet called job descriptions and bona fide occupational qualifications (or BFOQs). The job description is a literal list of duties and tasks that MUST be done in order to be successful in one’s job. In order to be a cashier at Wal-Mart, one must know how to operate a cash register, basic math, money handling skills, and just good manners. The job description would list what kind of knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to fill this job and do the necessary job functions.

BFOQs are a little more tricky as they typically are traits of a job that are unique and required. To provide a easy example: in order to be a Kosher butcher, one must handle foods in a way required to maintain the Jewish dietary requirements. Typically, the actual butcher is Jewish and knows the faith. If I owned a meat company, I can make being Jewish and knowing the restrictions a BFOQ for the job of Kosher butcher. Legally, I am protected because it is REQUIRED to have the qualifications to successfully complete the job and can advertise as so. If someone wanted to try and and sue me based discrimination of religion, two things would happen: 1) religion is not a protected group such as sex and age; 2) once it is proven that you do not met the BFOQ required for the job, case is closed. If at any point you have a change in status, say you change religions, you are no longer qualified. If you notify your employer, that are impressed upon by law and good manners to find you an equivalent job of equal pay with them or support you as you find a new job.

Simple so far, right?

So let’s look at Kim Davis

So Kim was qualified for her job. She had served in the position and was find until the recent ruling that made gay marriage legal. At that point in time, Kim should have notified her employer that a new part of her job would go against her religion. Then her employer should have found her a suitable job or provided some kind of assistance. Everyone is happy. Unfortunately, this is not what happened.

Kim Davis did not notify her employer through the official channels. Not only this, but her employer did not do the due diligence to inquire if new practices would be “ok” with their employees. However, Kim is responsible for notifying her employer and since she did not, she should be terminated. And the employer is 100% covered by the law with the catch that they did take the time to inform and inquire about the new policies.

So, using the HRM approach, Kim Davis is responsible. The employer is covered, and we need to hire a new employee.

To summarize, religion is not a covered class. It take communication on all sides to make a fluid and productive work environment. Kim Davis is wrong, but her employer should have made some efforts. Case closed.

The “little too late” man

Regret is never a way to live out your life. Regret can come in many shapes and forms. Regret can come at any time, last any number of years, and quite frankly bring you to heartache.

I’ve had my share of regrets and I’m only 23. Dear God how am I to function in this life if I keep at my current rate?

You know that girl you were best of friends with and you just skipped by her and now it is too late. You know that friend you could have hung out with more and now you’ve moved away. You know that money you could have saved, that work out you could have done, or that job you should have taken, it is all gone now, it is the past.

Seems like we are hard wired to live a life full of regret. But is regret truly bad? Is regret better than failing? If you learn by failing can you not also learn by not doing?  These are the questions I ask myself late at night.

Regret can eat away at you. Taking away a little of yourself each time you think about “what might have been”. Although you might wish you had done this or that, would it not also not have worked out? It seems more and more you can’t have cake, you can’t eat it, but you most defiantly get calories just by looking at it. So I pose the question: What is regret and is it bad?

We serve students, not Wall Street: Why the dress code?

So here I am, post undergrad life, going to grad school and trying to survive. I am expected to not only act professional (completely understandable) AND dress professional. Why? Do students dress that way? Is this a private school with a special dress code? Do you really wanna wear that collared shirt and coat in 90 degree weather or that dress when its negative 20 degrees? If you answered No to any/all of those, then you understand what I mean.

Dean of Students. LITERALLY they are here to work for the students. If so, then why do they have to look like they are ready to make a James Bond remix? I work in a residence hall. A hall in which students live. Not a hall where we have the town ball. Now the President, I can understand. The name president literally implies “I’m going to dress the way I want people to view our school, professionally successful”.

Maybe I am just too young and not yet adjusted to this life in Higher Education yet, but seriously, why do I have to dress up? It seems we have gotten to a point in society when we are so worried about a certain image rather than meeting students where they are, making them comfortable, and just having fun. But wait: its summer, students are here (or there isn’t that many) and we get to dress down. WHAT. How does that even make since. “Ok y’all, the ones we work for aren’t here, now we can let loose, unwind, and not dress like we are on the board of trustees.” This is what I imagine is said when the summer polices take place and they send the email that I can wear jeans…IN SUMMER.

All of this and more blows my mind, hence this blog post.

Relationships are for the Birds

So here I am, age 23, no long-term relationship, at grad school, yet I’m suppose to be in a committed relationship? Looking a lot of social media, Hollywood, and other various things, I apparently have fallen behind in life. Everywhere I look, someone is moving in with someone, people are getting engaged, and my God the amount of children being born. I have obviously missed some kind of memo.

Now and days it seems we are pushed to new channels of communication to interact with potential partners. Now we have things like tinder, farmers only, and whatever website or app you can find by typing “relationship” in the search bar. We are now the generation where we don’t marry the girl/guy next door but rather the girl/guy one state over, 10 hours away, or with a different citizenship. IT BLOWS MY MIND. I’m over here just trying to survive school, have some sort of fun, and decide if my pants match my tie.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have the typical southern idea of finding a belle of my own, having 2.5 kids and a huge yard to mow 2-3 times a month. But come on, can’t we hold off for a little bit? Everywhere I turn there is a couple on a date, someone posing for engagement photos or someone telling me where their registry has been set up at, it’s so draining.

It seems relationships are now a dime a dozen yet marriages last half as long as they did 50 years ago. Is it technology to blame? Is it because we are just becoming more good looking? Who knows, but I do know I am not close to calling it quits. I mean everyone has at least one person on their minds. Whether its the cute waitress, your fitness instructor, or some person you met in college you still are in contact with yet for some reason relationship is not what is happening. I guess the thing now to complain about is how to make “relations” happen, but that’s another blog for another day.

Keep living your life happy couple people, I’ll just be over here stuffing my face with Chunky Monkey ice cream and spending all my time with my lovely tv.

“Hey y’all” and not “hey you guys”

So as I am (attempting to) becoming more professional in my attire, lingo, and mannerisms, I’ve noticed something people of the Midwest (and others) love to say: “hey you guys”

Although I love the classics like “The Goonies”, there has to be some subtle changes to our everyday life if we ever hope to become more inclusive. The South may have it’s own grocery list of problems, but we do one thing right: we do not show gender preference in our common phrase of grabbing attention.

I cannot begin to count the number of times I have traveled to other states outside the South and used the word “y’all” and got that “oh you’re not from around here look”. But at the same time I cannot begin to count the number of times already during my short stint in the Midwest the amount of times I have heard someone reference a group a people as being all male and they weren’t all male.

Now I know it is a nit picky thing but is it really? We live in a society where inequality is so deeply rooted and systems of oppression are so heavily ingrained into our habits. Although I personally don’t have a 5 step action plan to make the world a better place, I do know that I can use more inclusive words when interacting with society.

If you are a guy, imagine how weird it would be if you’re in a group and someone says “hey you girls”. Imagine how women feel when we mask their gender identity and enforce this crooked society we live in today.

So when you’re out and about, working with students, children, or coworkers, say y’all. It may sound like turpentine on your lips but I promise not only will you be more inclusive, but you will also get some really odd looks and can then explain yourself and spread the message about being intentional in breaking away the system of oppression we live in today.

Y’all come back now, ya hear.

I will not stand by idly

For too long I have sat still. For too long I have listened to the times of old. For far too long I have let the words of outsiders predetermine my life. Not any more.

For too long I have been told the greatness of the South has come and gone and no longer will she rise again. For too long I have been told that because I am a Mississippian, I am born to live in the dirt. For too long I have listened to statistics, studies, and history that tells me I will live a below-average life. Not any more.

For far too long, I have been an outcast, called a “racist”, taunted for my upbringing, and laughed at because of my state. Not any more.

No longer will I stand by idly as my state is condemned by others who have never graced her boarders. No longer will I stand by idly as the history of my great home is used to judge my present. No longer will I stand by idly as an “uneducated and closed minded” back-woods boy. Not any more.

No longer will I let you judge me on the actions of a few. No longer will I let the murmurings of few reverberate louder than my Rebel yell. No longer will I let our history control our future. Not any more.

Now I will look to a bright future. Now I will look to myself and those few Rebels around me willing to make the leap of faith. Now I will shatter all expectations, break all the myths, and destroy the stereotypes. Now is the time.

Now we should look at our actions. Now we should open our eyes, close our mouths, and listen to the voices that were once gagged and trampled. Now we should put away childish things and become the new (wo)man. Now is the time.

No longer will I be quite. No longer will I avert my eyes. No longer will I turn to the other cheek. No longer will I stand idly

No longer will I watch as Dixie is condemned to live a backwards life. No longer will I let my school be defamed. No longer will I let my first love be trampled on. It is time.

It is time for the new South to rise. It is time for all to be equal. It is time be leaders of industry. It is time to be teachers, doctors, and engineers of our own futures. It is time for the individual voices to rise and the masses to stop huddling. It is time for us to stop bickering, complaining, and crying. It is time.

It is way past time equality was brought to the banks of the Mississippi. It is way past time for the voice of reason to be heard in the bayou. It is way past time the presence of unity to be seen in the field of cotton. It is way past time for the leaders to rise tall among the pines and magnolias. It is way past time, Mississippi.

Let us rise together, on equal grounds, with words of wisdom, open minds, and voices raised. Let us respect ALL, and not just the few. Let us raise up our new South, show the world the love of Dixie, and make this great land one welcome for all. Let us look to the future, embrace our past, and learn from the present. Let us not stand by idly.

The flag that flies is (should be) the same for you and me

I can go ahead and tell you that this post will probably piss someone off or rub someone wrong, if so go read my other posts and find out I don’t care. This post is all about flags.

So people want to ban the Confederate flag because it is linked to racism, old ways, etc. Ok. We always want to progress as a society, not regress. But there is something that should be added to the arguments and it goes a little like this:

We want to remove a flag because it it linked to racism and the old South and anyone who flies it is racist. We want to ban it from Walmart, Apple stores, and state capitols. However, when someone burns an American flag, steps on it, desecrates it, we are told it is their freedom of speech and right as a citizen.

I call shenanigans

How on earth is that even fair? I am not preaching for the sake of heritage nor am I blasting progressives, I just want to show how unequal things are ALL over this current hot topic. I can understand removing it from government places, as all governments here in the US are of the 50 stars and 13 bars. However, this recent endeavor to ban it (the confederate flag) is making it very hypocritical as we step on rights of some and bend over backwards for others. I’ve always heard and been told if you don’t like the flag you live under then move. So if we are going to do something about flags, let’s be fair on all fronts.

Now on the subject of symbols, monuments, and other things in the news

We can change everything we want: military base names, street names, building names, take down monuments, remove all signs of our ugly past but two truths remain constant:

  1. our past will ALWAYS haunt us and will readily come up. Just look at Ole Miss and the great bounds we have accomplished yet we always have something, small or large, come up and bite us on the ass.
  2. you can remove anything you want, but until you change the people, nay the attitude, perspective, and equality, all the change in the world is a waste.

Now, I am lover of history. I am one for social and equal justice before the law. I call a terrorist a terrorist and my rights your rights. There are somethings that should change, and somethings that shouldn’t/won’t/can’t/etc. Distancing ourselves from our mistakes is important, but it also important to never forget where we have come from. Maybe we should change how children are educated. Maybe we should re-dedicate statues and once and for all decide the meaning of monuments. Maybe we should just all move to Canada and cause them problems. I don’t know nor will I ever know, but I know that during my lifetime, I will never see a perfect United States of America.

I can’t even: facing today’s issues

If you cannot make a half-hearted list of at least 10 problems facing your community, state, or country, then that is a pretty large rock you are living under. It seems everywhere we turn, there is someone, somewhere with something they did that caused something.

Now, hear me out, I’m all about change. Progressing for a better tomorrow is great, while there are some basic truths that should always remain constant. However, it seems there is always someone offended by something. I’m told to keep quite, just listen, and educate myself on other people’s experiences. OK, I can deal. The thing I cannot even begin to explain how frustrated I am is when I want to help but I’m looked at and told “you just don’t wouldn’t understand” or “you’re XYZ so you don’t get it”. Then help me get it! Don’t limit my experiences. Don’t lower your voice. Learn, Educate, Repeat. 

Something I recently come to realize is that there is always someone who will be offended by something you say or have harsh words towards something you do. That is just the cold hard fact. There is no such thing as Utopia and the moment we realize that it isn’t possible to live peacefully with all the sooner we will realize what our own problems are so that we can attempt to be at peace.

I say all of this because I can’t even. I can’t deal with how people react to social posts. I can’t deal with how people get offended at the first sign of difference in opinion. I can’t deal with how hostile people get with people of different views. We need to get a grip on how we interact with humans because if we can’t, then I can’t even deal.