Words of Wisdom (for my first year grad school self)

After two years in Iowa, Student Affairs, and trying to be an adult, I think I’ve learned a few things. While I am not now nor ever perfect, I think it both responsible and important to pass on a few life lessons I’ve learned. To anyone reading that may be starting their Grad journey, these are not an ends to a means. To someone struggling to be themselves, you are your own author. To the person rolling their eyes, bye.

It is ok to not be happy. Not everything will go according to plan. You may not like a professor, a class, a work assignment. It is ok to feel like the odd one out, stressed, and hopeless. Make your journey full of dissonance. Rejoice in the small things and don’t stress the big things.

You won’t be friends with everyone. The cohort (and program) is small in comparison to the rest of the University. You won’t get along with everyone. In fact, you can go your whole 2 years being able to count the social time you’ve spent with your classmates on two hands. THAT IS OK. Your cohort is not everything and don’t buy those happy-go-lucky fantasy stories that may be sold to you.

You have to speak up and advocate for what you want. Looking back, there is so much I should have asked to do. I was both worried about speaking up and was lazy thinking opportunities would fall in my lap. You have to watch out for yourself, advocate for unique experiences, and build that resume.

Do a practicum/internship outside of the University. Your University is great, but you will learn SO much more if you do a practicum/internship. I made my practicum visits a day-long event and did not worry about time. I was able to multi task by getting off my campus, building outside networks of support, and doing some real meaning making.

Find your social and support networks outside of your program and assistantship. Per the fact you won’t be friends with everyone, you need to find a friend and support group outside of well, your graduate experience. Connect with people in the law school. Find a student org. DO SOMETHING. If you spend all your time in HESA you will quickly limit your experiences.

Dedicate time for you to get away from Iowa City. There is so many cool things in and around your state. Check out websites like onlyinyourstate.com or just google search things. That randomly “wold’s only/largest xyz”, yea go check that out. That town with a cool name, go explore.

Actually read for class. You may either roll your eyes or think duh, but you will understand that reading is essential. However, you will have a temptation to not read, skim, or pretend you read. Don’t. Take the time to invest in yourself. Read, take notes, and make real meaning with your experiences.

Try to get a week or two ahead in your assignments. I discovered that when I got ahead in my assignments, getting away for a weekend was easier. Also life happens and you never know when something will come up that will prevent you from working on your classwork for a few days. If nothing else, for sure do this in the Spring semester of year two, you will thank me when the job search happens.

Don’t stress about comps. Period.

Start saving now for the job search. I know that is so long for now, but invest in yourself and save. Plane tickets, U-hauls, baggage checks, and airport food quickly adds up.

Don’t compare your journey to others. You do you and make sure you don’t get competitive. The program will say grades don’t matter, but if they matter to you then work hard for them, just don’t get caught up that XYZ got an A and you got a B+. Also when you do fail that first writing assignment, chill, it will work out and you will get better.

Reflect. Journal. Love yourself. Repeat.

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What they don’t tell you about speaking out (and having different views)

If you are privileged enough to go to college, then hopefully you are challenged, faced with hard decisions, and exposed to new ideas. College is meant to be a place of self-realization, exploration, and enlightenment. I spent five years as an undergrad and didn’t fully realize how much college changes you until my last year. I realized pretty quickly that I had abandoned my ultra-conservative roots and picked up a more liberal, left-winged way of thinking. From the Black Lives Matter movement to DAPL, I consistently had different opinions than my loved ones (specifically on Facebook).

I am a loud and proud individual. I am privileged as hell. I suffer from white guilt but choose not to be immobilized by it. I am a God fearing Christian. I am all of these things and more, yet I find myself constantly questioning my role, what society is suppose to be, and how to make a true difference. All of these things I have learned about on the job, in the classroom, on a Saturday night three drinks deep at a bar. There is so much knowledge I have gained, questioned, and created – however they don’t tell you everything.

They don’t tell you how to respond to harsh criticism to your ideals and beliefs by your friends. They don’t tell you how awkward it will be at family events whenever you’re the “flaming liberal” who has betrayed their conservative upbringing. They don’t tell you about the tears, rage, and fear you feel (all at once) when a family member you have loved, looked up to, and have worshiped all your life tells you they don’t know who you are anymore, that you have betrayed your heritage – essentially cutting ties. They don’t tell you the pain you will go through as you change into the person your trying to become.

They don’t tell you that sometimes you will wonder why you even bother to speak out about injustices, the hypocrisy, and the hatred. They don’t tell you that your family will slowly walk away whenever you don’t sit on the same side of the political spectrum. They don’t tell you have you sit, for hours, wondering if all you have done is even worth it. There is so much they don’t tell you – so here I sit, wondering if my activism, yearning for a socially just society, and hundreds of hours of self-education is even worth it. What am I really accomplishing? Is it even worth it?

I don’t know. I am terrified. My greatest fear is being lonely. They don’t tell you about all the shit that comes with picking the high road, the road less traveled, the road not in-line with your family. I am so young, yet I feel so old. I am so privileged, yet I feel like I have lost so much. No one told me that I would be where I am at right now. The only thing I have left to do is pray, read, meditate, and reflect. I don’t know what I am meant to do in this life – what I know now is that it gets real ugly, real painful, real. This is not the guilt confession of another white ally. This is not the bickering of a privileged male. This is true hurt, true confusion, true desperation. This is so much and more – the things that did tell me when I started this journey.

Public or Private: Who pays for college?

Recently in The Daily Iowan, it was announced that the University of Iowa Student Government was able to petition the board of regents to approve a new fee for students. This fee, approx. $12.50 in value, will be charged to students to help fund the UI Counseling center. Hopefully, the new fund will allow up to 8 new counselors to be allocated. Iowa is currently one of the most understaffed in terms of counselling services. UIC is led by Barry Schreier, who is the Counseling service Director, is an amazing professional that is needed at the University and has been a catalyst for change at Iowa. While this is great and also helps to draw attention to mental health on college campuses, I argue it is also hurting an important cause: the public benefits of college.

Currently, most politicians (specifically the right but known on both sides of the isle) would argue that college is more of a private than public good. Not only is this fallacy incorrect but problematic. While UISG is doing great things, this new initiative is creating an even larger burden on students to pay for college. Currently, the student debt crises is a hot topic and will continue to be as states slash education budgets (because education is “discretionary”) and pass the burden to the students. I could spend all day telling you about students who are predispositioned to not being able to afford college and the social oppression in our society, however I will save that for another time. What I will tell you is that cost to attend college have increased and what is the easiest thing to do in order to raise funds: charge the students. State governments – and even institutions of higher education – are to blame.

College not only benefits those who obtain the degree, but also society. Through positive externalities, college attainment improvements society in numerous ways. Having a better educated work force decreases unemployment, increases spending, and strengthens the economy. However, due to the lack of funding (federal, state, and even institutions such as Iowa) I argue that education is not properly valued, is neglected, and is a missed opportunity for bettering our society. I praise UISG and their efforts to better support their constituents. I praise those who work to improve the living conditions of all those who are oppressed due to our fucked up system. However putting a band aide on a gash the size of Texas will not heal the problems we face. What needs to be done is reevaluation of education: increased paid for K-12 teachers, increased pay for student affairs professionals who are overworked, increased resources for special and developmental education, increased money for all of education. We will never make true change until we attack our problems head on and actions needs to start with education.

I’m tired, but I have no reason to complain.

Regardless of the results of the past presidential election, I have been so damn tired. So tired because people are being hurt and oppressed while others are blind and refuse to see the whole picture. As someone who works in student affairs, I have become emotionally attached to the current state of our country because my students are diverse and are affected differently. What I call “empathy overload” has been a label to describe myself over the last year. The sad thing is, it hasn’t always been that way. Even sadder, I am a white, cis gender, male. I have literally a buffet of privilege to choose from. Why should I complain?

I have done a lot of reflection, questioning, and journaling over the last year, trying to better understand myself and why I am feeling the way that I am. During this time, I have dove deeper into my identities, my lenses I use in the world, my biases, my blindspots, my everything. Each time I stop to reflect more questions come up. Each time I sit down and ask why I am so tired I keep coming back to my identities.

I have a really great friend who is super wise in the ways of identities, power of privilege and oppression, and she said something real powerful: oppression hurts everyone and the liberation of the oppressed is something we all gain from. It wasn’t exactly like that as I do not have a way with words so look past my butchering of her beautiful words. I agree with what she said and we all lose when people are oppressed and have a lot to gain from a society that is liberated and free. I say all of this because I think of so many student affairs professionals who share privileged identities like me that have done what I have done (and still do because privilege is so over powerful and tricky): centering myself in the situation and making it all about me. What am I talking about? Well since you asked….

Remember when I said I have struggled to understand to say why I feel so tired, so hurt, so over this recent election? Well I argue that because I wasn’t able to truly identify why it was I felt the way I was without centering myself lead me to this notation that we as white folk, white folk that want to do good, white folk that say forget being an ally and want to be an accomplice, still have tendencies to center ourselves. When we feel the empathy, the tug on the heart strings of the recent election, why do we feel the way that we do? White folk don’t suffer from oppression the way our marginalized friends and family do. NOT EVEN CLOSE. Yet we shed our white tears (another blog soon to come on the fallacy of white tears), grab our baby pins, wave our “SafeZone” stickers and think we are victims too and we are here to support. However, we are doing what we try to avoid: we make it about us, our whiteness, our ability to save and help, us, we, I.

Now, this is not to say my views are correct, that everyone does this, but I argue it is true. Until we as white folk can clearly connect why the way we feel the way we do. Until we as white folk can see how our tears, our protests, and attention seeking is still trying to center ourselves. Until we realize we are taking space from those of our oppressed and marginalized friends and family. We have a lot of work to do. So next time, before you complain about “being so tired”, being drained, so over this election, reflect on why you feel the way you do. If you are white, why do you care about the hate crimes of your Black, Latinx, Muslim, and so many other friends? If you are white and “are so shocked by this election”, why is that? Can you clearly articulate why? Or are you just reflecting the emotions of those around you, centering your whiteness, and not realizing your privilege is showing.

We as white folk have to get our shit together. We as white folk have to do work. We as white folk have to stop centering ourselves, stop trying to save people, and start doing real work. And you can’t do real work until you understand yourself. It is not an easy journey. This journey has no mid-way point, no quick fix, no happy story. This journey is long and hard and will not end until all are liberated. So I ask you my dear white folk: why are you shedding your white tears, why are you “so tired”, why do you even care? Answer this without centering yourself completely before you start putting on your baby pins and SafeZone stickers.

“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.