Whose shoulders do I stand on?

When I reflect on where I am as a person, as an educator, as an activist, and as a soon-to-be-parent I know that there are a lot of people who have helped me exist where I am currently. There are people who have taught me important concepts & skills, people who challenged me to approach things a little differently, people who expanded my consciousness and knowledge, people who were examples for how to succeed in ways that I admire. I wouldn’t be the person that I am without them.

We all have these people in our lives. Whether direct relationships or indirect. We have partners, friends, supervisors, mentors, parents, and neighbors who have influenced us positively. We have public figures, entertainers, educators, speakers, and authors who have challenged us and pushed us. I don’t think enough about who those people are and how they’ve influenced me and I don’t think often enough about how we should demonstrate gratitude to them.

I recently thought more about this when listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time. Period. One of the hosts, either Kevin Avery or W. Kamau Bell, mentioned in an episode from almost a year ago about the reason they were doing the podcast is because they want to be able to tell Denzel Washington (and other people) how much they admire him before something happens to him or he passes away. And I think we all need to do that more. Whether in a public manner (like a blog post) or through an email or gift or some personal gesture.

For me, this reflection and this demonstration of gratitude is personal so I won’t be shouting anyone out today. There are many people I feel grateful for being in my life. There are people who simply took the time to sit and have coffee or lunch with me. There are people who were supervisors and teachers and imparted so much. There are family and friends who challenge me to push my perspective beyond what I think I know. There are authors and entertainers and public figures who have written or spoken or acted in ways that I admire and helped me shift my own beliefs and actions toward their example. These are the people whose shoulders I stand on. These are the people without whom I wouldn’t be who I am.

One of the easiest things that I can do to show appreciation is send a message to those who have helped me through the years. Whether they are personal contacts or public figures, I can find a way to contact them to demonstrate gratitude. Another way is to live within their example and pass along the inspiration they’ve shared with me to my own sphere of influence. Then I can recognize that their influence is being passed along through me. I can recognize that the conversation that I may be having with a student or mentee or peer is inspired by their work and that our interbeing is stronger as a result of learning from them that I’m passing along to another.

I firmly believe that we all need to (myself included!) pass along gratitude to our inspiration both directly through tokens and messages of gratitude. But we also can embrace the concept of indirect gratitude through sharing their wisdom with someone else and spreading the word/knowledge of what we have gained so that others may also grow through their work.

Experiential Facilitation

Students learn more fully when they are able to engage with each other and have the ability to voice their own experiences as a means of peer learning. This means principles of democratic education are the foundation to effective learning in trainings, workshops, classrooms, and any communities of learning. I recently led a workshop for my colleagues about how we can do just that.

Chart depicting Kolb's Cycle of Experiential Learning - At the top is concrete experience, to the right is reflective observation, on the bottom is abstract conceptualization, and to the left is active experimentation.I currently work with students who are serving in internships while they make
meaning of their experience through the lens of their future career, so I combined the concepts of democratic education with Kolb’s Cycle of Experiential Learning for the workshop. I built the workshop around discussing the experiences both good and bad we’ve had in group dialogues. We then discussed what the outcomes of those experiences were, what we can learn from them, and how we can use those experiences to improve our own skills and planning.

Once we were able to conceptualize why classroom activities were successful or needed improvement we shifted gears to discuss how we can use our experiences, concepts of democratic education, and Kolb’s theory to add new elements to our existing workshops so we can encourage more the peer learning that is valuable to our students. We then discussed the experimentations we came up with to improve peer learning in the current workshops and took notes so that we could incorporate our ideas in the future. The workshop was designed to use Kolb’s model to conceptualize our own learning about facilitation as a framework for how we could use the same method with our students to encourage more peer learning. The workshop was successful in implementing this concept and highlighted new ways for us to proceed in workshop design and implementation.

Unproductive Resistance

If we are so stuck to what we believe to be true we can never learn anything. Are you engaging with the material negatively or positively?

When I’m facilitating a training, I frequently provide examples of whatever it is that I’m talking about. So if I’m talking about microaggressions based on race, I may provide some examples that I’ve overheard or witnessed (Where are you really from?) Another example that I’ve used to talk about privilege is the relative privilege that faculty have over staff at an institution of higher education. I think examples of concepts (in this case, a specific microaggression) highlights the reality of the concepts that I’m training on. It allows people to “see” a real life example and use that to fully understand the concept.

That’s the purpose anyway.

Most of the time it goes to plan with some quick conversation on the validity of the example. Sometimes the dialogue goes completely off the rails because people apply their critical lens to the example instead of using the example to critically consider how their experiences or thinking may be limited and then to learn using the example. Those are the times that I want to discuss for a brief moment.

If we are so stuck to what we believe to be true we can never learn anything. That means that hearing an example of a microaggression or privilege and then trying to find ways to dismantle the example is avoiding learning. What it does is misdirect the conversation to finding ways in which the example is somehow flawed. What this means is that we’re applying the same knowledge or lens (which could be inherently flawed or informed through privilege) that we’ve always had to the example instead of understanding how the example can change our perspectives and knowledge.

I’ve seen this play out in conversations where a person telling a story about how they’ve been the target of a microaggression is told that must not be what the other person meant. Which essentially is defending the person who said something ignorant. And while it isn’t necessarily the microaggressors’ fault that they said a microaggression (because privilege usually prevents those with it from understanding what they’ve said is harmful), it is harmful to defend the ignorance of a statement once it’s been defined as inherently ignorant.

Or sometimes it’s finding ways that one small piece of the conversation may not fit entirely within the conversation. I’ve heard one conversation about faculty relative privilege over staff derailed by bringing up the fact that some staff members’ salaries are higher than some faculty salaries. While this is true for a few cases, overall staff are at a disadvantage and using a small example erases the other issues in the different treatments that staff and faculty receive.

All of this is to say that when we’re in a space designed for us to learn, we need to critically reflect on how we’re engaging with the material. Are we asking questions that poke holes in examples? Or are we using the examples and the dialogue to poke holes in our thinking? Those are important self-reflective questions to consider within the context of social justice education trainings that if we do not answer for ourselves we can end up learning nothing and preventing the learning of others.

The paths to burnout

I’ve had a relatively short career in student affairs but over the course of my 3+ years post masters degree, I have seen (including myself) a couple dozen new professionals accept positions directly out of graduate school and the results haven’t always been awesome. With that in mind, I’ve thought of a few examples of things that I’ve seen or felt take a toll on myself and my peers.

I’ve had a relatively short career in student affairs but over the course of my 3+ years post masters degree, I have seen (including myself) a couple dozen new professionals accept positions directly out of graduate school and the results haven’t always been awesome. With that in mind, I’ve thought of a few examples of things that I’ve seen or felt take a toll on myself and my peers.

Taking everything too seriously

In student affairs, we sometimes get stuck dwelling on the very A grumpy looking catserious situations that we work with. These incidents or interventions can stick with us for a long time. We tend to focus on these draining experiences rather than the inspiring or uplifting interactions with have with students who are engaging with their community in a positive manner or advocating for a change in policy or creating a new program/initiative that is going to make a difference. With that in mind, we have to know when to have fun. We play an important role at the university but that doesn’t mean that we have to be stuffy all the time. If you’re stuck in the serious and negative all the time you’re going to reach your limit more quickly and then you won’t be able to assist students and do the important stuff when it’s called for.

Not taking time away

Vacation days are time when your job is paying you not to work. Use them. Sick days are also for us to actually be sick and recuperate. Limiting your life to your job can be seriously detrimental to your health and prevents you from being the holistic person that we help our students strive to be. I’m not even asking you to take a week-long vacation but find some hobbies, make friends, and get away from campus to recharge. Explore your town, I’m willing to bet that there is something there for you to engage with.

Making unilateral decisions

People don’t like change. That includes our A heterosexual white couple sit on a couch. The man says to the woman, students and peers when we move into new positions. Little changes to routines for our students can be difficult to grasp. We need to make sure the decisions we make take into account the audience that the decision will impact. This usually results from not learning the culture around you and how to exist within that. Learn the students and what they need from you. Make decisions that are going to help you all succeed and accomplish your shared goals (that should also be developed within the context of your university and department values and vision)

Ignoring your successes

We all make mistakes and one of them is ignoring when we do something well and staying stuck in the mistakes. Supervisors are going to define success how they want to but you also need to establish your own vision for success so that you can meet your own goals. Be realistic but also find ways to push yourself. Also think outside of your position (check with your supervisor first though!)… One of my goals one year was to get trained to facilitate a diversity and inclusion workshop that is hosted in our Multicultural Education office and use that as a platform to connect with students outside of my residence hall. One way to continue this work is to write down three things that you’re grateful for or that you did well each day. This simple gratitude practice can help you focus on what success is at hand.

Ignoring your passions

You may find your position limiting in terms of working with your passions outside of your day-to-day work. Ignoring them and not connecting with them are going to wear you down and demotivate you. One of my passions is social justice education and college access and I’ve been very fortunate in working at a university in which these ideas can come together in a summer bridge program for 1st generation college students. I’ve also created programs focused on social justice education that give space for us to learn from each other. I’ve made space for the things that I care about to be present in my daily work even though it’s not in my title. Find ways to make that work for you.

Avoiding reflection

A huge part of our lives is making meaning of A moleskine journal and penwhat’s happening in front of and around us. If we don’t take time to reflect on what we’ve been doing then we aren’t able to adjust to do things better in the future. Reflection should be a huge part of any professional’s work flow, but I think it’s especially critical to entry-level professionals because you’re establishing your career. Learning from what’s happening around you (both positive and negative) can be better professional development than  attending conferences. Set a reminder to reflect regularly whether it’s daily or weekly or monthly. Think about what you’ve done and what was great and what you can do better for next time.

Not having a mentor

Mentors are so critical! They hold us accountable to what we want to accomplish and the professional (or even person) that we want to become. Find someone you look up to who you trust and talk to them about being their mentee. Talk to them about what your goals are in your position and where you want to go in your career. They can also talk through how their career started out


There a lots of ways to make these things happen and this is obviously not an exhaustive list. Consider what’s going to work for you. Think about setting up regular practices such as journal writing in reflection. Meditation can also be a day changer (it has been for me) and there are lots of apps available for smart phones that help guide you through meditations (my favorite is Stop, Breathe, Think). Another app that I’ve used recently is Lift. It’s a coaching app that helps establish new habits. Whatever you do reflect on how you’re feeling at work and what you can do to take care of yourself.

Celebrating Little Victories

A couple of weeks ago I received an award for focusing on diversity and inclusion work at George Mason University. While I’m deeply honored that I was nominated by students, peers, and friends, (and honored that my alma mater wrote a story about it) the real win for me on that night was Jorge receiving the award. The work he’s doing on this campus is astounding and I’m looking forward to calling him a colleague as he pursues work in Student Affairs. Jorge is doing great work and has been since he got here.

I’m also looking forward to learning more from him and the MasonDREAMers at the UndocuAlly training today and I’m ecstatic that this training will soon be available for all of our students, faculty, and staff as the MasonDREAMers look to create a more inclusive campus for undocumented students by increasing awareness of legislation will positively impact the experience of undocumented students. MasonDREAMers are planning a week of programming in March that will feature Jose Antonio Vargas and intersectional programming around undocumented and LGBT programs. They’re doing great work and I’m happy that I get to work alongside them.

Averse to Needs

I was recently reading a chapter from Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach called The Trance of Unworthiness. Within the chapter Dr. Brach writes about the inherent value in our culture to be autonomous, self-reliant, and independent (very patriarchal). She includes a story about these values and how we internalize them. This internalization can mean that if we do have needs we immediately feel “unappealing, undesirable, even bad.” This small quote caused me to think about how much we talk about “needs” in student affairs without acknowledging this culturally implanted aversion to being perceived as needy.

As my department refreshed our community development model, we embracing the concept of needs based programming and investigated how to help our resident advisers understand how to assess the needs of their residents so they can effectively program based on our learning outcomes. A chunk of that conversation was about helping RAs learn to interpret and respond to a wide variety of data points that they may not consider data (vandalism issues, increased documentation for behavioral issues, lack of attendance at programs, visible signs of stress with their residents at mid-terms, etc.) Another part was talking about this cultural aversion to being needy.

We didn’t spend much time on that conversation but we did consider the language that we used to frame the needs-based programming concept for our RAs. We settled on purposeful programming as that is specifically what our RAs are doing. They are finding their purpose for their programming through assessing what is happening in their community. The community/resident needs drive the purpose of the program and we really want our RAs to focus on the purpose of the program and how it addresses. We thought this would help prevent RAs from getting stuck on what may be considered problems and focus on programming interventions (solutions).

We “re-launched” our community development model about two weeks ago during RA training and it seems as though our RAs are grasping the concept of purposeful programming and thinking outside of the chart that we used to program within that had 3 different types of programs they had to facilitate each month. Overall, I think the refreshed model is a good place for the new year despite my hesitation to the language around “needs”

Reflections on ACPA 2013

It’s already been a few weeks since ACPA 2013 and lots has already happened, but before I left for the conference I thought a little bit about what I wanted to accomplish in terms of my own learning, networking, and involvement.

One of the main things that I wanted to do was to get more involved with ACPA’s standing committees and commissions. Which I was able to accomplish to a limited extent thanks to volunteering at the Commission for Social Justice Educator’s table during the involvement showcase. I also was able to connect with some new colleagues who work with the Standing Committee for Men and Masculinities thanks to a colleague I met at ISJ. It was great seeing some awesome colleagues and meeting new ones! I just wish I was able to reconnect with more people who I didn’t have time to catch up with.

As for planning what educational sessions that I wanted to go to I tried to think about the gaps that I feel that I have in my professional knowledge and practice to get more information in those areas. Instead I focused a lot on gender programs to apply some new knowledge directly to an LLC proposal that I was working on at the time, facilitation training, and stress involved with students.

Looking back on the conference after a few weeks, the educational sessions were mostly great and gave me access to new knowledge. My focus on critical masculinity studies based in feminism really helped me think about some of the men and masculinity programming that I’ve been doing at Mason and how I can expand them to do more and be more effective. The social justice programs that I went to were focused on facilitation and I’m looking forward to getting the Art of Facilitation to help me expand my own skill set.

All in all it was a good conference with some great speakers, networking, and sessions. But Las Vegas was not the best location for a conference. They’re going to need to work on their network connectivity and the expensive wifi. Both were ridiculous! It’s also weird walking around casinos and streets where people are consistently drinking and in a haze. All in all, ACPA was great and I’m looking forward to Indianapolis in 2014!

Recording an Acoustic Guitar #impmooc

I’m enrolled in the Introduction to Music Production on coursera.org and the first week was all about sound, audio interfaces, and microphones. As part of my first week, my assignment is instructions for recording an acoustic guitar.

Back of audio interface
The 48v phantom power is just above the power cable on the bottom right of the interface.

The first step is going to be connecting the microphone to the audio interface. Before connecting the XLR cable to the condenser microphone, ensure that the 48v phantom power on the interface is turned off and the gain is turned all the way down to prevent clicking from running through your system. After the XLR cable is connected to the microphone then plug the other end into the audio interface and you can turn on the phantom power and adjust the gain.

Checking the audio levels
You can see the green light meter won’t be hitting the “red” in my recording.

At this point we’re nearly ready to record, but first you’re going to want to measure the loudest point in the recording to ensure that you aren’t going to get any distortion in the recording. Check the sound meter on the outside of the audio interface to ensure that you’re not hitting the peak or red.



Distance of guitar and microphone

Now that you’ve taken precautions to prevent distortion you can record your music. Since we’re using an omnidirectional condenser microphone you’re going to get more sound from the room than if we used a cardioid microphone. Keep this in mind to prevent other noise from getting captured in your recording. Moving your guitar closer or further away from the microphone is going to provide different sounds, but I prefer getting close to the microphone so that I’m only about 12-18 inches away from the microphone so that the microphone is capturing the acoustic guitar as directly as possible.

ACPA: Institute on Social Justice

It’s been more a long time since I got back from the Institute on Social Justice (ISJ) at the University of California, Berkeley and I still haven’t taken the time to sit down and think about what I really got out of my experience… which is awful because I’m sure that I’ve forgotten several things since the conference. And I figured I need to sit down and ensure that I reflect so that I don’t allow this experience to merge into my ACPA 2013 convention experience as I leave for that within a week.

One of the themes that I took away from ISJ was about parenting as a social justice advocate/educator. Some of my fellow group discussion members talked about it, it was a topic for a couple of contributors in Dr. Shakti Butler’s film Cracking the Codes, and Michael Benitez talked about it in his featured speaker address. It isn’t something that I’ve thought too much about previously to attending ISJ so when it felt like it kept popping up, I took notice. Many of the people in the discussion group talked about the hard part being what happens outside your locus of control. At home as a parent you’ve got a substantial amount of influence over what your children experience, watch, read, and you directly influence how they make meaning. Outside the home, at school or someone else’s house, there is far less influence from you and more influence from people who may not share your same values. So I guess the focus is really about making sure that my children (still weird to think about right now…), think critically about what they’re taking in or hearing from other adults. Focusing on the conversations on what they’re day was like and what they learned is so much more important than I really ever thought about. In both Dr. Butler’s film and in Michael Benitez’s talk, the focus was on the influence that we have on our on children. One story was about a white man who started to take racial competence more seriously after watching Peter Jackson’s King Kong with his son. One was about Michael Benitez’s son wanting to do a boycott for something that happened at school and then his daughter creating the word girlcotting because she wanted to protest too and felt that boycotting didn’t apply to who she is. It was an awesome moment to hear about and I believe it spoke volumes to the kind of parents Mr. Benitez and his partner are.

When I think about radical parenting I also think about self-care because it’s become so much more of a focus for me this year for a number of reasons. And challenging my students and then coming to home to make sure that my parenting is matching my values will probably mean I’ll need to be taking care of myself.

Another huge takeaway for me was, as ludicrous as it is to say it, realizing that I’m not alone in social justice education. I rarely feel alone because I have great colleagues here at Mason, but sometimes social justice work feels very isolating and it’s a great reminder to me that there are so many of us working toward change. Whether we’re newer to the work or seasoned educators it’s important to know that we’ve got a huge network.

One of the other major themes I took away (which wasn’t very surprising because I know I will always need to do personal work on my identities) was some of the identities that we spent time on at ISJ. One of the TED-like talks at ISJ was about supporting our undocumented students. This really challenged me to think more about my privileges in not ever having had to worry about my national status or how people might treat me if I can’t fill out certain paperwork. It’s been highlighted more and more as we continue to talk about immigration reform (which the speakers challenged as being a politicized word because there has been natural migration of people and animals throughout history – it was only when we created artificial political borders that we changed it to “immigration”) I also was challenged to think more about my identity as an atheist because I still benefit from Christian privilege even though I don’t identify that way. My family still celebrates Christian holidays which are usually reflected as time off on my university’s calendar but they don’t hold the original meaning to me because it’s always just been time for family to be together.

ISJ was clearly a great experience that gave me a lot to reflect on as I continue to grow as a social justice educator and as a person. In addition to all of this I met some awesome people who I hope I can continue to connect with over the years.

Portfolio, finally!

One of my goals when I repurposed this domain last year was to post some of my accomplishments over the course of my graduate program that reflect who my professional identity. I finally got that page to the point where I wanted to share it today.

I have some of my accomplishments with RA Training, three presentations, one activity, my resumé, and some academic posters that I created for my study lounge. I think they all reflect a part of my professional identity and I’m proud of them.

Recently, there have been lots of #sachat folks creating new blogs for themselves and adding their perspective to the web. I think the next logical progression is for people to begin sharing their work and have a digital footprint of their own professional identities to go along with their perspectives on different topics.