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.

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Colleagues from the U.S.
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Built by students

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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).

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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.

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

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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!

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Cultural Exchange vs. Cultural Appropriation

Cultural Not a Costume2During the 2001-2002 school year, I was the President of the Student Senate (and Vice President of the Student Body) at North Carolina State University. I attended the Conference on Student Government Associations (COSGA) at Texas A&M University with a group of fellow student government leaders. One night was a thematic night where we were to “dress up” in Texas attire for that night’s festivities. Being a “city-boy,” I only had a vague idea of what that meant. Yet, I had no problem with taking a great deal of liberty “dressing up” like a cowboy, or what I thought looked like a cowboy. It was bad. Think of me, in overalls, a belt around said overalls, Timberland boots, a straw hat, and a plaid shirt. Again, it was bad. I wasn’t the only one, a few others with me were also dressed up in their cowboy best and we all looked a mess. We then proceeded to walk into a local establishment, where many a’real cowboy sat, and walk through as if we would blend in. We did not. In fact, we looked like fools. But that’s OK right? We were, after all, just playing dress up, and knew that we looked a bit foolish anyway – so that didn’t matter much.

What did matter to me was the obvious disgust, hurt, and offense that I saw on the faces that we passed. In that moment, all at once, I realized just how dangerous and hurtful playing dress up can be. We felt so ashamed that we left immediately, and changed clothes. I was embarrassed and hurt that I took what was essentially the everyday experience and culture of another group of people, and knowingly mocked it for my own enjoyment. My people and my culture for centuries have had this very same thing done to them. I knew better, and yet I didn’t do better.

I share this story now after reading an amazing article written by Jarune Uwujaren in Everyday Feminism, on the website Good Men Project. It was written with such care, balance, pace, action-orientation, and tone that I had to write about it and share. The article, What’s the Difference Between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation?, and its tenets are something that should be talked about in homes, work places, and schools across this country. In particular during this season, when at the end of the month many across the U.S. will celebrate Halloween. College campuses are notorious for hosting parties where people go beyond just dressing up as fictional characters for fun. They take the extra step to make the people with whom they interact with everyday, caricatures for their night of fun and revelry.

This has happened at colleges and universities where I have attended, and worked. I was happy to see students at Ohio University create an amazing campaign a few years ago, where they declared “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume.” Cultural Not a CostumeThis campaign beautifully captures the damage that can be done by thoughtless celebration. Check it out, and share it with others. More important, do something about it. Whether you are a student, employer, employee, or volunteer, read the article above, do your own work to gain wisdom and understanding. And please, share this with those who need to see it.

Dr. Anthony

Political Discourse The Right Way

Sometimes I come across a regular, common sense post on social media that is profound because of it’s simplicity. This is one such post – that is pasted below in its entirety – from one of my former students at the University of Louisville. Thank you Tyler (AKA Fish) – for schooling us on how it should be done. And let me add that this process doesn’t have to be laborious, it just takes longer than the few seconds it takes most people to word vomit on their page. Don’t be lulled by the thought that you have to respond immediately to anything; you don’t! Think before you speak, even when you’re not speaking…

Think Before You SpeakFrom Tyler Lance Walker Gill on Facebook:

“This is my advice for everyone when it comes to getting involved in political discourse, which I believe we all should do: The next time you are tempted to watch the “news”, don’t. Instead, go turn on C-Span (1 or 2). You’ll notice the extremely boring nature of this programming. You’ll also get to hear all the bullshit without the “media” filter, straight from the horses’ mouths. This, my friends, is politics. Beware: this is no place to find truth or facts of any kind. After you’ve gone straight to the source, do your best to find a good secondary source or two – just be careful, and pay attention to where their money comes from; all it takes is a google search to find out whether or not a source should be trusted. Now, see if you can find a good study reinforcing what you heard from our representatives. Find something that uses math and numbers to reinforce findings. Politics should not really be entertaining, and this method of ingesting information is not fun. It’s actually a lot more like homework. But, you have to stop trying to find something that sounds good to you and reinforces your opinions, and go searching for some facts. This is the only way to really get involved in the discussion, and I promise, you’ll feel empowered by information, and you’ll find yourself caring a lot more about whatever issues you find most important. When we all know the facts, we can stop wasting our time arguing over our opinions – two very different things. Then maybe, if we’re lucky, we can more easily hold our representatives accountable.”

Please, share this with someone that may need it!

Dr. Anthony

12 Things Killer Students Do Before Five

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This post was inspired by a recent article in the Money & Careers section of US News & World Report found here: http://money.usnews.com/money/careers/articles/2012/08/08/12-things-killer-employees-do-before-noon.

Here is my list of 12 Things Killer Students Do Before Five. I changed the time to 5, because come on – ain’t nobody got time for getting up early unless they have to! You will see some similarities in theme and practice to what killer employees do, but realistically, start and end of the day for students can shift dramatically from a 9-5 work day. So I will shift some of the premise of this article just a bit.

1. They plan how to use their FULL day / including time between classes. Particularly as an undergraduate, there was so much time I wasted. I always said “I don’t have time to __________.” Until one day I was challenged to write out my day. Even as a type A, high “J” (on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) I was really bad at realizing why I couldn’t seem to keep up. I wanted to work out, go to class, be involved, and hang out with friends and just couldn’t find the time. Then when I wrote it out – a light bulb went off. That time from 2-4 when I didn’t have class, I would just chill it away, not intentionally, just because that was easiest to do. Rethink that – chill smarter. Use that time to study, or follow-up on emails, or check on family (see #8 below for what I’m talking about) and then you’ll realize you won’t need extra hours in a day..

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2. They don’t pull “all-nighters.” Yes I have done it, yes you will do it if you haven’t already. But these should really be the rare exception, never the rule. In other words, this should not be your strategy for success. Rest [good rest] is important. It helps you be clear, focused, and less of an ass the next day. Remember, if you get thrown off one day, it starts a snowball effect. Not to mention the things you can’t control which will throw a wrench in your schedule. You may not get an entire 8 hours every night, but you can try!

3. They avoid hitting the booze. Saying “It’s five o’clock somewhere” and laughing about it only works like once. Every other time you are bordering on having a problem. I love to get a little “nip” as Ray Charles would say, but really? Practice being a functional and responsible adult during the daytime. It will be good practice for if/when you do start the 9-5 grind. Even if you don’t plan to work 9-5, many other folks do, and you will want to be in a good head space working with those folks.

4. They exercise. I don’t care when you do it, just do it. I feel a bit convicted about this one, because I don’t do it as much now, but I did in college! Find time, your own time, and get it done. I actually felt like I made the hours in the longer when I worked out. I was sharper, felt better, and made better choices all around.

5. They identify and practice a ritual. Just like in the Jensen article, I recommend doing something everyday (other than your exercise routine) that gives you some “me” time. That “me” time is critical; at least it was for me. As someone who typically extraverts all over the place, it helped me to sit with my thoughts, and challenged me to remember why I was doing what I was doing. College is such a transitory period in the grand scheme of things, so whatever your ritual is, use it to center and steady you.

6. They eat…good food. Do I have to explain this? Of course I do. Eating gives you energy right; but it can be a recipe (pun definitely intended) for disaster if you don’t watch it! As someone who struggled with my weight growing up, and as an African American southerner, food was and is LOVE. You eat when around friends, you eat when you’re happy, you eat when you’re sad. In college you have meal plans, abundant fast food, and loads of free food every freaking week – so it can get out of control. The Freshman 15 is quite real. So pay attention – I mean you don’t need to be a prude; continue to honor your culture and traditions, but remember your body is the only one you get. Putting on weight is easier than taking it off. And for goodness sake you shouldn’t eat only at the end of the day! I did that a lot too, which really does cause problems. If it’s 5pm and you haven’t eaten, go get a sandwich or something!

7. They arrive to classes and meeting on time. The vice president of a large company once said to me, when you are late it tells everyone else in the room that your time is more important than theirs. Don’t be late. You miss out, you look lazy, and you lose respect. It’s your schedule, master it and be on time. I learned this the hard way just before entering my senior year in high school. I was in Army JROTC at Olympic High School in Charlotte, NC. As the new battalion commander it was my responsibility to oversee set up for the commencement ceremony with the rest of the cadets. Needless to say, when I showed up late, my normally gentle and caring Master Sergeant Benjamin Davis let.me.have.it. I never felt so small in my life. Not because he just chewed a quarter of my ass off, but because I knew he was right. Being late was not an option, and no excuse I presented was worthy. Don’t be late.

8. They check in. College is about endurance – it’s not “hard” I don’t think, it takes persistence. How better to persist than by leaning on those closest to you. When you are most busy, most overwhelmed, and most behind the eight ball is when you need your closest allies most. But you can’t just call on them when you are in trouble – you have to cultivate those relationships. You do that daily by checking in with the people you care about, and doing so often. This includes your family, roommates, friends, sorority sisters, pen pals, etc.

9. They tackle the big projects first. Not much need to explain this, but I have found that when I do this (in school and work) I get more done. Think about it – whenever you start your day, you tend to be most motivated, most focused, and most optimistic. Use that time to knock out the hard stuff, knowing your reward will be the low hanging fruit. Going after the low hanging fruit first (checking emails, sending out an agenda, making a few phone calls) will lull you into the false sense of accomplishment. Stephen Covey differentiates between the “urgent” and “important” stuff in your life. Thrive in the important, and manage the urgent.

10. They avoid too many meetings. I was very very, very, very, very involved in college. That was the bane of my existence my second year (where I earned a .6 GPA that first semester). No that is not a typo – that is a 0.6, just less than 1.0. Let me tell you, you have to WORK to get a .6! I was doing too much…of the wrong thing. I was “busy” sure, but busy doing what? Being over involved is what. And over involved is relative. That same load my senior year and “super” senior year (5th year), gave me an incredible amount of focus and purpose. But you have to work up to that – don’t spend too much time in meetings, clubs, organizations, at the expense of your academics.

11. They allot time for reflection. As I mentioned in #5 above, reflection is clutch! And this can be done a number of ways, so please don’t give me the “I don’t like to write my thoughts” line. You can reflect a lot of ways. Talking with a close friend, being quite, blogging (which feels to me a bit different from journaling), working out, listening to music or using your hands to create something. John Maxwell (one of hero’s) says in his book Thinking for a Change, that reflective thinking is like a crock pot for the mind…it let’s your thoughts simmer until they are ready. That’s sexy, so do it. And really, it does go very fast. I remember my time in college (undergrad and grad) so vividly. I’m only 33, yet I’m an entire 10 years removed from my undergrad experience. And the things that have happened in that 10 years are significant (marriage, child, buying houses, PhD, changing jobs, moving, tragedies, etc.). Appreciate this season of your life, and make sure you are learning the most from it. You’ll never have the benefit of your current perspective again.

12. They take breaks and honor flexibility. Too much rigidity in your schedule can be a real problem. You need time to shirk responsibility, you need time to just let it all go. You also need time to be in a funk, or get sick, or just be lazy. Your body and mind will tell you when it needs a break, and you’d better listen to it. Don’t schedule your day so tight that there is no flexibility. I did that my first two years, thinking I was being efficient. We all now know how that ended (ahem, .6). But we are not machines, we don’t perform within specified ranges day in and day out. We just don’t. So it would behoove you to plan for “stoppage.” Just like a rubber band that is pulled too tight snaps, or a rod bent too far breaks; so will you break. Be flexible, and be better.

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Please, share this with someone who needs it!

Regards,

Dr. Anthony

Only Light Can Do That

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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

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