When It Don’t Come Easy

Tuesday May 26, 2015

I spoke about “going places and doing things” in one of my previous posts. It’s good to get out and about, in the world, your community, or your neighborhood. One thing that inevitably happens when you travel abroad – is that you hit a bit of a wall at some point in your trip. The tenor of this post may sound more subdued, but learning is learning, even when its hard.

As I drove in to work this morning with Jerome, I felt more foreign than I have since arriving. The traffic patterns, the people and faces, the bikes, the lack of the kind of coffee I want when I want it…even nature betrayed me. The trees and grasses looked different, and unfamiliar to me. I was taxed trying to follow what Dutch words I could on the radio, and I wanted to be back with familiar people, sights, and sounds. This is the cost of traveling, particularly abroad. I imagine that our students feel like this after they have started college. The language is different, the people, the expectations, the rules. And despite their preparation via orientation, websites, and talking to folks – they still feel like strangers. I also prepared for my trip here. For over a year! Even still, I find myself well into my trip – feeling lost and alone. What gets me through it is the love, counsel and support of others, connecting with my routines, being resilient and knowing that it will pass. I wonder how I can apply this same process of coping to our new students. Those first three – six weeks is so critical to student success for the entire semester. We need to empathize more with what our students are experiencing – put ourselves in their shoes to discover new insights into their lives. And we need to ask them – then ask them again – then ask them again, until we get better at helping our students feel that the college environment is familiar to them. Success can then flow from familiarity and belonging.

That passed for me, and I found my joy again at work (that didn’t take long did it). Arriving at the Sports College in Amersfoort I was able to meet with the students in Jerome’s mentor group. Each teacher here has a group of students with whom they mentor throughout the year. These teachers meet with their students as a group and 1-1 once a week. Talk about student support! I met with two of the students afterwards and heard from them about why they were there, what they hoped to do in life, how much they felt supported (or not) by the college, and just generally about their lives and journey to Sports College. I was going to talk more about the stories they shared, but decided not to, for their privacy. Let’s just say this group of students (in this cohort/class/etc.) are really going through some things outside of school. Again, without going into detail, this is some heavy stuff that would tax the most capable and well-adjusted person. But many of these students are not capable and not well-adjusted. Of course they will be, that’s why they are in school, but the journey is a long one. Jerome and I agreed that here and in the U.S., the “stuff” that is going on in our students’ lives have everything to do with how successful they are or are not in school. I believe some in my circle at Oakton think that being a student is the end all be all of our student’s purpose – yes they are students, but it is not all they are. I also think we forget just how important  those things are that happen outside of classes. I am not talking about co-curricular and extra-curricular activities – I’m talking about life. To complicate this fact, is that within a community college space (and in the ROC here), and increasingly in four-year spaces, students have a very utilitarian view of higher education. They are going to school to learn something, that they can then apply in very visible and rewarding ways afterwards. Do we engage students understanding this reality? Are we fighting to make them want to value education for education’s sake as in days of old, or at our elite universities? I know what we say, but do our policies reflect that? Do the courses students take and the teaching in the classroom reflect that? Do we have this conversation with our students on a regular basis? These are the questions I want to press upon my colleagues. There are no right answers, just different ones. And these questions deserve our attention on both a personal and institutional level.

While there are many students struggling, there are many students thriving. I had the opportunity to sit in on an English class (where they are learning to speak English that is), and students were giving presentations that day. They were of course nervous with a native speaker in the room, but they were fantastic. I had a chance to learn about their work experiences in their internships, while also providing feedback about their presentations and English. It was good to be in the classroom again in that way – and to interact with the students in that way. Later I traveled to the Tech and Bouw & Interieur (Building and Interior) Colleges.

IMG_5981
Colleagues from the U.S.
IMG_5989
Built by students

IMG_5982 IMG_5986 IMG_5987

Here they do a number of things, electrical, plumbing, concrete, woodworking, automotive, flooring, upholstery; basically anything in and out of buildings. Once again, I saw students on state of the art equipment doing real work, learning their craft. It is fascinating to watch this system of vocational education at work – and these students are quite young. They enter their ROC experience at 16/17, when many of our students are finishing high school still. It’s too early – as I expressed in an earlier post – but we don’t get it right either in the U.S. And many of these students seem so focused and mature for their ages. None more than those I met at the Horeca & Travel College (Hospitality and Travel).

IMG_5990 IMG_5991 IMG_5992 IMG_5994 IMG_5997

Much like our culinary schools, these are the cooks, facilities managers, and hospitality experts. We were greeted by a level 4 student, who served a the facility manager for his lower level peers. He was 19. After touring the grounds and meeting with the ROC Academy (which is their faculty professional development center or teaching and learning center in four-year spaces), we had a world-class dinner in the restaurant. The food was prepared by students, served by students, and the manager was a student. He was 17 – and he was good. Each student has this potential when coached, trained, and trusted. I love to see it in action – much like I love to see our students taking on leadership roles and student work experiences at our campus.

Dr. Angela Neal, Volunteer State Community College, and our Student Manager
Dr. Angela Neal, Volunteer State Community College, and our Student Manager

I’ll end this post with some fun shots from my holiday on Monday March 25 – which was also Memorial Day in the U.S. I visited Den Haag (The Hague), which is the political seat of power for the Netherlands. I went with Sandra (my host), and her brother-in-law who works for the government and is very knowledgeable about the city Though Amsterdam is the capital, Den Haag is where the parliament, prime minister, ministries and justices do their work.

IMG_5779
Ministry of Education
IMG_5811
Parliament Building
IMG_5813
U.S. Embassy (not so hot huh lol)
IMG_5818
Me and Sandra (she’s so photogenic!)
IMG_5831
Embassy of Pakistan (now that’s an embassy lol)
IMG_5842
Peace Palace

IMG_5772 IMG_5775 IMG_5778 IMG_5781 IMG_5783 IMG_5784 IMG_5786 IMG_5789 IMG_5796 IMG_5798 IMG_5802 IMG_5803 IMG_5804 IMG_5808 IMG_5814 IMG_5817 IMG_5820 IMG_5826 IMG_5828 IMG_5841 IMG_5847 IMG_5848 IMG_5849 IMG_5850 IMG_5854 IMG_5855 IMG_5856 IMG_5860

There is also a great little attraction known as Madurodam, which is basically a model village of all the major attractions across the country! It is one of the coolest things I’ve seen. Such amazing detail and attention to the many wonders of this place. Enjoy!

IMG_5864  IMG_5865 IMG_5866 IMG_5867 IMG_5871 IMG_5874 IMG_5875 IMG_5880 IMG_5882 IMG_5896 IMG_5899 IMG_5900 IMG_5901 IMG_5908 IMG_5910 IMG_5912 IMG_5918 IMG_5923 IMG_5926 IMG_5928

IMG_5935

A Life Worth Living

To thine own self be true

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a retirement celebration for the outgoing President of Oakton Community College, Dr. Margaret B. Lee. Peg, as she is affectionately known by all, is retiring after 20 years as college president, and 30 years total at Oakton. I could spend this post raving all about who Peg is and her career, but that’s not really necessary. A simple web search, or conversation with anyone in her circle will yield you plenty. Instead, I will share what I came to understand as I shared in her celebration (oh, and remember, she is a bit of a Shakespeare nut ;).

I am an educator. Sometimes it is hard to define what that means. I teach, learn, coach, and support people. I am a leader. I empower, supervise, develop, and manage people. I am not the only one, many others do the same thing. But few of us do it with the humility and grace that I see in Peg Lee. Peg’s life is the intersection of love, passion, education and leadership. To see that, to really see her and her example, is a privilege. It is particularly salient for me as someone who is looking at another three decades or more of life and work. The road before me is long, God willing, and I am very thoughtful about how I want this life to play out.

My life won’t mirror Peg’s life exactly, it can’t. My life and my impact will be my own. But I can only hope that I can strive to do what Peg has done. Peg has lived a life that she was meant to live. She has lived a life full of challenge and success, across a number of industries and geographic areas. Each of those challenges and successes shows up in who Peg is today. She is authentically and genuinely the sum of her experiences, integrated into her very being, and shared with the world in each of her interactions. Who can ask for anything more? As a parent, family man, consultant, educator, and much more – that’s who I want to be. No matter what I do in my life, at Oakton or otherwise, in higher ed or otherwise, I want to be what Peg has epitomized. Peg is not perfect, Peg is Peg. And at the end of your formal career, is that not what we all want to be said about ourselves? Is a live worth living not one in which you were all that you hoped to be – and people are better because of who you are? That message was reaffirmed for me this weekend, and I am inspired to continue to lead and educate, without the need for recognition, or any pay off.

To be or not to be

I am thankful to have worked under her leadership for the last few years, and had the opportunity to see her; flaws and all. I am thankful to have seen what it truly means, to be. Thank you Peg.

Dr. Anthony

What Happened to My Piece?

Image
A few hours into my experience at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (#NCORE2014) in Indianapolis, IN, I have been inspired to write this post that has long been on my heart.

Back in 2008 at the University of Louisville, there was a pretty big shift about to take place within a long-standing office on campus. To complicate matters this office was steeped in tradition, and had long served the university’s African-American student population in many important ways. At the same time, there was need for a new direction and vision, one that was more inclusive of other students of color and traditionally under-represented students on campus. I was tapped to lead this important transition, and to literally rebuild a center that would both honor the traditions and work of the past, while moving boldly into the future. One need not live in Louisville, KY to understand that this was going to be a challenge.

When working within the “diversity and inclusion space” there is an analogy used that I can only imagine is borrowed from the budget and finance world. Groups of people (typically clustered around race/ethnicity) will often speak about and vigorously defend their “piece of the pie.” This piece of the pie refers to their slice of the college’s resources that are committed to “diversity and inclusion.” As you can imagine, this is problematic on so many levels, and it showed up during this important transition that I was asked to lead. The prevailing question I was faced with, very loudly from those in the community, alumni, students, and faculty, was; “what about our piece?” Underneath the surface of that questions, was this: “how are we going to get ours, if we let all those other people get theirs?” And, “we don’t have enough already, how are we going to share with them?” These are real questions, born out of real oppression and frustration, and I understand it all too well. As a Black man, raised in the southern part of the U.S., I know well how this “pie” is often doled out by some faceless entity(ies) that expect the recipient(s) to make it last. This can be in the form of public assistance, quality education, financial aid, space, or other resources. The problem is, I think we continue to ask the wrong question. Which leads us to have to ask the same questions time after time.

By way of providing a solution to this dilemma, I would like to offer advice that Dr. Marc Lamont Hill shared during his keynote. We need to reframe the questions that we ask. Instead of saying “what will happen to my piece of the pie,” let’s instead ask:

“Who made this pie?”
“Why is this pie the current size it is?”
“How do we get a bigger pie?”
“Is there different kinds of pie we can have?”
“Who else doesn’t have any pie?”

This shift is beyond mere semantics. As Dr. Hill said in his keynote, this change literally requires an epistemological shift. Asking “what will happen to my piece of the pie” is a deficit way of seeing the world. It assumes limited resources, perpetuates siloism in our lives, and necessitates competition in and amongst communities that are intersectional and oftentimes similarly marginalized. Furthermore it ignores, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that “injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” Even if the injustice is being committed to someone different from you. And as if that isn’t enough, this deficit thinking ignores the fact that people are, by design, interesectional beings. I am Black AND (Christian, male, cisgendered, able-bodied, etc.). We force people being oppressed already, to oppress other parts of themselves and pick a “side” to defend. This is the worst kind of torture.

The latter questions, however, redirects the solutions and places the onus of those solutions on the institutions and systems wherein the real power and privilege lies. These questions allow us to own, defend, and advocate for the multiple and intersectional identities that we all have. It also helps us to build allies in our struggle, and deconstruct the real privilege and power systems that create the pie in the first place.

I will incorporate this reframing into every meeting I attend, and every conversation I have. Whether it be in the realm of the personal or professional aspects of my life. I will encourage (and push) those in power to do the same. What questions have you been faced with that need to be re-framed? Where in your life are you asking the wrong questions, and how can you make a change?

Share this with someone who can use it!

Dr. Anthony

Let Them Lead

look-kittens-sometimes-experience-is-the-best-teacher

In 2010 I contributed to a newsletter within one of NASPA’s (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators) knowledge communities. The Student Leadership Knowledge educates and connects leadership educators within colleges across the US and abroad. I wrote a piece that implores practitioners to let students lead, understanding that the best practice is experience. I am continually reminded of that as I work day-to-day with students who need the experience (for that future job as much as for anything else), and administrators who continue to struggle to let go. I would not be who I am today if my mentors and advisors didn’t get out of the way and let me make mistakes, try new things, and learn through leading. I’m attaching a copy of that publication in the “free stuff” section of my site. I hope you enjoy and share!

Only Light Can Do That

kovvers-love-drives-out-hate_052612013345

As we move past yet another 9/11, I am reminded of the relevance of this quote in both my life and in my work.

Much has changed since my last post. I have been blessed to have my family move up with me finally, we have found an amazing condo in Rogers Park in Chicago, I am affirmed daily in the work I do at my new job, and we have began to find a new spiritual home on the South end of Chicago. I wanted to quickly post this as a reminder that despite all the horrible despair that we face day to day (crime, death, genocide, hunger, poverty, discrimination, fear, depression, etc.) that these things can only be overcome through our commitment to shine light in the darkest corners of our existence. What is really cool is that we don’t have to do it alone. I was reminded by a friend yesterday who was in a dark place, that the universe has a way of conspiring to support and lift us up when we most need it. That’s really a fancy way of saying “we” as individuals decided to take a moment to shine light in the lives of others. What is the light? It’s a smile, a phone call, a flower left on a desk, a perfectly timed joke when you’re not in a joking mood. Lights’ natural inclination is not to hide, but to shine. Only when we prevent it from doing so, do we find ourselves surrounded by darkness. Dark thoughts, dark people, and dark situations.

In my work as an educator and diversity advocate, I find it very easy to be consumed by the darkest actions and thoughts of others. It is during that time I seek the darkness to fight back – thinking its the only way to combat such persistent ugliness that surrounds us. In fact, that is the worst possible action I could take. Darkness is only permitted to exist in the absence of light, not the other way around. So I remember that, as I start each day, trying to bring light and love into the work I do. From the smallest conversation, to the biggest cultural shifts we need to make – I will be positive, and try to use my light to chase away the darkness.

Dr. Anthony

Related articles

Strong Man, You Gotta Leave

In her famous song, Strong Man, The Rev. Shirley Caesar, a legendary African American Gospel singer, sings the following words:

“There’s a strong man, in this house, with my spiritual eyes I can see,
Just what this strong man, is doing to my whole family
He’s got a grip on the feeble, and the spiritually blind,
Strong man, you better leave here, because you’re wasting your time,
Strong man, you gotta leave here, because you’re wasting your time.”

Who is this strong man to whom she references? In some world religions, Christianity being one of them, we believe this to be an evil spirit, presence, or being, that is very real and very dangerous. Quite literally, the devil. If you’re not Christian or a believer in a particular religion, think in terms of negative/bad energy, thoughts, or feelings. Bad mojo in and around you. Ok, we all on the same page? Good.

Do you have a “strong man” causing confusion or angst in your life? I ask because this strong man tends to pop up in my life and in my house often, and despite my vigilance, “it” finds a way to shake my confidence, replace love with fear, and just plain ruin my day/week/month. I’m going to suggest something to you that I have to remind myself – words are powerful. They can start and end wars; they can drive people to take their own lives; and they can keep someone alive who may have no other reason to live. Use your words to take back whatever situation the “strong man” may try to disrupt.

Here’s the leadership lesson – the most productive leaders and managers are those who articulate their goals. Those who literally tell themselves they are going to be successful, and somehow will it into existence. The thoughts, ideas, and the words we have are the beginning of what will be the next big thing. Just as we speak our goals into existence by writing them down, or sharing them with others – we must do the same thing to speak trouble out of our lives. When the strong man shows up in your life or organization, call it out for what it is, and then politely ask it to leave. And declare, “you’re just wasting your time.”

Own Your Stuff

I will preface what I’m about to post as such: I am a DIE HARD and ardent NC State Wolfpack fan. Oftentimes I have thought to myself, “they can do no wrong.” Period. I will admit, that sentiment can be reckless. I also, at the same time, value loyalty: to things/places, causes, and people (in that order). I value family a great deal, and within my community loyalty to family and our people is sacred. A rapper I used to listen to (and still secretly do) said, referring to his brother, “even when he’s wrong, he ain’t wrong, cause he’s my brother.” That pretty much explains how I have felt about my family through time no matter what; but to NC State, not so much. It is an organization; it, and the people within it, make mistakes. And when they are wrong, they are wrong, and should be held accountable.

I am concluding a week long academy for student conduct administrators on college campuses. There are folks here from all over the country, from California, to Texas, to Pennsylvania. In fact, there are several people here from Penn State, and many alumni of Penn State. Of course as we are discussing conduct matters, the scandal at Penn State was obviously going to come up on more than one occasion. After each mention of Penn State, and subsequent snicker, discomfort, or “oh yea – Penn State” comment, some employees and alumni acted like they wanted to be upset! Some playfully, others playfully but kinda serious. They would respond with, “hey now,” or “watch it,” or as one of our speakers apologetically said “I’m a graduate of Penn State, so don’t get me wrong, that’s my school,” before she went on to leverage criticism.

Simultaneously this week, I began reading the Freeh Report, detailing the Penn State abuse by Gerald Sandusky. It also details the appalling lack of accountability, responsibility, and empathy of several in the Penn State community for years and years. My question is, why are people so reluctant, offended, and outraged at the notion of saying anything bad about Penn State? This is exactly the reason they are in this position now; blind allegiance to an entity at the expense of rational critique and ethical protection of innocent people. Pen State messed up…no if, ands, or buts. I teach Educational Leadership to graduate and undergraduate students, and have been in higher education for 10+ years – but a first year freshman can tell you that Penn State messed up. We all should be able to say that without apology. This does not take away the fact that PSU is a great educational institution…but they messed up. Let’s leave it at that for a while.

The leadership lesson: own your stuff. Each of use will fail. Each of us will fail those we love and care about; our family, friends, constituents, customers, etc. Our goal should not be to hide or obfuscate the truth, or to show blind and reckless loyalty to ourselves or others. Rather, we can admit what we did, apologize for what we did, attend to those to whom we caused harm, and commit to act in ethical and consistent ways moving forward. As leaders, it is paramount that we act with integrity at all times, as much as humanly possible. The funny thing, though, is that humans are fallible, and we make mistakes. When we do, we need to own our stuff.