Archive for July, 2008
Having completed orientation seasons at two large, public institutions that invited between 300 and 450 students per session, I have often wondered hot to best deal with the problem of so many students, so many activities, so many lines. It seems to me that different programs find different ways to keep students and guests busy as they wait for everyone to get checked in and ready to start the meat of the program. At SJSU students check-in and then go through the process of dropping their stuff in the residence halls, going to get their student ID picture taken, playing SJSU trivia and then completing a bookstore tour, before they are lead over to the resource fair, which in my mind is the first event that starts to get them oriented to the campus. My biggest complaint about this system is that it is always an adventure in crowd control trying to keep people moving along at a decent pace, but not moving to fast and finishing before our next event starts. Those of us in charge of activities later in the series want the check-in folks to go slowly so we don’t have to hold massive groups at our areas. Check-in folks want to start early so they don’t have to look at large lines developing in their areas. Basically I’m left wondering whether it is better to have people wait in one line for a longer period of time or to have them waiting in shorter lines throughout the morning. There are multiple components to this question including location, amenities at the location, and number of staff on hand. For example SJSU’s check-in is outside and the lines usually start to snake around and in between buildings, at a certain point check-in must start because otherwise the lines become troublesome for other visitors and students and they also become fire hazards. We found that having a cart with free water and coffee in the lines keeps many people cheerer. There are also a lot more staff members at check-in, which would imply that they can deal with more people and longer lines than those staff members who are alone or in small groups at other locations.
When I worked orientation at CU-Boulder I remember there being a breakfast available to students who came early and that the first event was the welcome, where the schedule for the next two days was explained in detail. At SJSU the welcome is not until after lunch. I find this problematic because students and parents spend the first few hours of the day not knowing how the day will progress. Once again this may be a question of location, this year has seen a number of venue changes and with that my supervisor may have been hesitant to have people waiting around outside for an hour for the welcome to begin.
I’d be hard pressed to say that waiting in lines is a good way to start out a college career and I would never purposefully create them within an orientation program. However, they are an opportunity for students to start talking and finding out more about their classmates. Also, as long as students aren’t waiting alone, a few staff members can always answer questions they may have and/or get them pumped up for the rest of the day’s events. New students need to be patient and on a big campus realize that they are one of many and that their needs will sometimes be put aside for the good of the group. This might not be the ideal time to be confronted with these lessons, but until checking in hundreds of students becomes magically quicker, playing the hurry up and wait game will be part of orientation.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
A few days ago when I visited Santa Clara University I heard the term social justice numerous times. I’ve been meaning to write about this concept for a while, but several things have been holding me back. One is my fear of sounding like an idiot. I’ll be honest I’m still a bit confused about the term social justice and what it means to me. It seems like a buzz word among certain higher education circles right now but I’ve never heard a definition, only a lot of references to it. Another reason for my hesitation is because my current concept of social justice creates quite a bit of cognitive dissonance in my own mind and there are times when I like to ignore such feelings. With this being said, I type on…
To me one of the greatest difficulties with the term social justice is that it easily gets wrapped up with the concept of community service. When I was in AmeriCorps, I thought the two were one in the same. I thought I was contributing to social justice simply by working at a homeless shelter or lending a hand in hurricane recovery work. Now I see things differently. The term social justice implies more than simply giving back, making the world a better place, or assisting an under-served population; it means recognizing and then responding to the fact that this world is not a socially just place. It means grasping the concepts of unearned privilege and oppression and recognizing one’s place within the systems that create these realities. For me this means not only staring straight in the face of my own unearned privilege, of which I have a great deal, but also recognizing that American higher education contributes and feeds off systems of privilege and oppression. This is where things become problematic for me.
If higher education were removed from systems of privilege and oppression everyone would have an equal opportunity to attend college. However, this is simply not the case. Going to college is a privilege: a privilege not everyone can afford. In addition not is everyone afforded a quality of K-12 education that properly prepares them for college, and not all campuses are inclusive and welcoming to everyone. Colleges separate/admit people based on factors that they have no control over (wealth of their parents, physical and mental wellness, neighborhood schools that they attended); in other words, colleges are tied up in the system of oppression that affects so many American institutions. This is a harsh statement to make and there may be some backlash for making it. However, I stand by my statement and would be happy to discuss it more thoroughly with anyone who wants to provide a different view.
With that being said, I don’t see colleges as the root of the problem and I think that higher education can help lessen oppression and privilege: there is no way I would be continuing on in this field if I didn’t. I recognize that many universities support and continue to increase programs devoted to diversifying their student bodies. I recognize that financial aid, indowments and scholarships are available to help off-set the costs of attending college. I know that their are numerous university staff and faculty members who spend countless hours creating programs, writing grants, attending conferences, and working with colleagues to create inclusive environments and lessen the oppression that some students feel before and during their time on college campuses. Most importantly, I know that many students will not learn about the concepts of privilege, oppression, and social justice unless they attend college. In other words, higher education is a two-faced coin, on the one side part of institution of education which contributes to oppression and unearned privilege, and on the other side an institution that can help students recognize these forces and work in their various fields to prevent their spread and hopefully lessen their impact.
Ultimately this is where my concept of higher education’s connection to social justice must be. We must work to create programs that address issues of privilege and oppression. We must support faculty members who challenge students to recognize and respond to these forces. We must continually encourage and engage students in conversations that make them think about these issues not from a theoretical standpoint, but from a personal standpoint. We must find ways to ask the hard questions and probe the hard topics. Perhaps most importantly we must be able to look inside ourselves and decide what we are going to do, how we are going to react once we have learned about the unearned privilege and oppression that impacts our daily lives. I’ll be honest, I’m still years away from coming up with a response that I’m proud of, but I’m getting closer everyday and reflecting on this concept can never hurt. There will be more to come in this area, just wait and see!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Today I took the 7 mile drive down the road to Santa Clara University, a small, private Jesuit college minutes away from San Jose State. I went on an admissions tour, asked some questions and briefly met the NODA interns stationed there. Visiting left me with more questions and things to ponder than I ever thought possible. My student affairs education has completely changed the way I view universities and I am glad to see my education at work. On the other hand, if I ever am in a position to send a child to college, my partner will be in charge of going on tours. I will ask too many innate questions and my child will undoubtedly feel “uncool”.
Santa Clara looks and feels like a Jesuit institution from the moment you drive onto campus. The visitor parking is right in front of the Mission Church and it is the first building that we walked through on the tour. Of course, this is after the student tour guide had informed everyone that only 50% of the student body are Catholic and that the core curriculum includes 3 religious studies courses. Religion is not overtly mentioned much after the tour of the Mission, however there are signs of its influence throughout the program. The only student organization on the first floor of the student union is the campus ministry. Our tour guide explains her path towards finding her calling, not her job or career. In other words, its there, its not being touted as a huge selling point, but its impact on how the university looks, feels, and operates is quite clear.
There were several things I heard on the tour that made my ears perk up. The funny thing is that 7 years ago when I was giving tours at CU-Boulder I was probably guity of similar verbal slips. I could never have picked up on the things I heard and analyzed now. With this being said, I have no doubt that our tour guide had no idea what messages she was sending when she called students “kids” or joked about incoming female students putting their names on a list to get married in the Mission and then trying to find a husband. Of course, to me the first statement shows a lack of respect for incoming students and the second comment is sexist and not inclusive. Not to mention the fact that every time financial matters were mentioned she directed the answers at parents which basically implied that students at Santa Clara do not need to take responsibility for their financial matters. Perhaps this is true for a large majority of the student body, but for those students who must pay for school on their own these statements must leave them feeling a bit “out of the loop”.
I was happy to learn that there are different admissions requirements for the three different colleges on campus (engineering, arts and science, and business) and that faculty advisors have lighter course loads in order to ensure that they have plenty of time to meet with students. Santa Clara has a number of Residence Hall Learning Communities where each student takes two classes with the rest of their hallmates, which is an excellent way to build both intellectual and social communities among new students. I was also very impressed with the Arts and Science building which had pictures of many world leaders/innovators including Mikhail Gorbachev, Cesar Chavez, Mother Teresa, and Steven Spielberg to name a few. What really impressed me about these pictures was that below each one was a quote by the person and then a small biography about the work that they had done. To me this was an moving way to show how people from different backgrounds, fields, nationalities, and religions could all make a valuable contribution to the world.
All and all I found a lot of the tour info to be similar to the stuff I have heard and said countless times before. Club sports, the recreation center, class size, colleges or departments, safety, library services, and where students can eat and live are all standard tour topics and they seem to satisfy the majority of people’s interest in a prospective college. Like I said before, I’m glad I now have a new outlook on tours, but man does it make my head spin after visiting!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Today in our Student Involvement staff meeting I learned about San Jose State’s new image and branding campaign. All and all there is a 60 page booklet that shows the one and only logo that student organizations can use on their publications as well as the font they must use for all text documents, as well as the required he color schemes and patterns to be used. The report garnered a great deal of laughter from the group as a whole, but there was little discussion about why the changes were being brought about. Granted a discussion was unnecessary because the changes had already been done, but I could have definitely used more info. From what I gather the decision has been in the works for over 10 years now and many other schools have similar booklets with similar regulations. In other words, this is the wave of the future in higher education, not the oddity it at first seems to be. While I do not feel knowledgeable enough to make any comments on whether or not this imaging and branding is inherently bad or good, I do want to voice my feelings on the matter.
It seems to me that one of the main reasons for all the new regulations is so San Jose State becomes more like other well-known and well-respected universities that have already gone through similar processes. The administration wants San Jose State to be a leader among U.S. institutions and as such wants the one and only logo to be recognized around the world as a sign of high quality education. Of course, none of this sounds bad in theory, but my question is what else is being done to promote the improvement of academic and extra-curricular activities to make SJSU a leader? Could the money that has been spent on advertising agents who pick out the best fonts, color schemes, and logos for the school be better spent on programs that actually create academic excellence and student involvement? From what I can gather the California state system (like many state systems) is losing money and programs are being cut and/or seriously underfunded. Isn’t developing a logo that represents high quality education before creating a high quality education putting the cart before the horse?
And even if my above concern can be nullified, even if SJSU could magically have all the money in the world and all the prestige of an Ivy League school, I’m left wondering what all these new regulations really do for student learning and development. Isn’t that what higher education is all about? Isn’t that the end game? If a student organization makes a poster that attracts new students to attend one of its events does it matter that the poster doesn’t follow the proper color scheme? If a univeristy offical doesn’t use the proper font on an email does it really take away the authenticity of the message?
Ultimately I think that this trend is just another example of higher education being seen and promoted as a commodity. Instead of choosing a college based on its programs of study, its extra-curricular activities, its academic standing… students are being encouraged to choose a school based on what image comes into their minds when they look at a logo.
What do these logos mean to you?
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I love the outdoors. I can think of no better place to decompress, exercise, bond with friends, meditate, and reflect on my thoughts than in nature. I need my time away from the crowds, away from the festivals, museums, restaurants, bars and movies that seem to occupy the city life I’ve been living here in San Jose. However gas prices have me rationing my trips into the wilderness and contemplating how I can enjoy our natural treasures without at the same time contributing to their demise. After all, every time I hop in my truck to go for another bike ride or explore a new trail, I’m pumping exhaust into the air that is in effect harming the environment I’m hoping to escape to; for me it’s the ultimate Catch-22. And in San Jose, it has caused me to miss out on some of the better explorations and got me seriously thinking about my next move.
I have one more year in graduate school and then I’ll be searching for employment and in all likelihood a new “hometown” as well. I’m aware that I will be entering a job market that has seen better days and no election is going to magically fix our wilting economy. It is therefore hard to imagine creating a long list of stipulations for my job search and yet I must. I simply can’t move to a place where deciding to enjoy nature conflicts with wanting to preserve it.
Sure that destroys my chances of ever living the city life pictured in oh so many TV shows and movies, but that’s ok, I’ve never put much stock in them anywise and I know from experience that I’d much rather be a visitor in a city than a resident. I will also face limitation in finding a smaller community that is GLBT friendly, but I can rely on the fact that many college towns are far more liberal than their surrounding areas. Ultimately there will be other things I may miss out on as a result of my need to be near nature (independent movie theaters, variety in restaurant options, a good bagel) but I am certain that a walk in a nearby park will more than make up for all the things my oasis will be missing.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Ever since I learned about Sanford’s theory of challenge and support it has been one of, if not the most frequently utilized concept in my arsenal of student development theories . The interesting thing is that until recently I had been looking at this theory through only one lens: a lens where there could never be too much challenge and support come from external sources whether they be student affairs professionals, faculty, parents, mentors, etc. and never from the student themselves. I think this way of thinking creates a large hole within this theory and something that deserves further investigation. While I am positive that this topic could take up an entire thesis, here are some of my initial thoughts on the matter:
Having read The Net Generation, I am aware that one of the patterns among incoming college students is that they have had gratuitous support in all their endeavors. These students have basically had a omnipresent cheerleader or in most cases multiple cheerleaders by their side throughout their adolescence. In my experience, it takes a lot more external support to accomplish something I am not motivated to do on my own or interested in doing myself, than when I’m internally motivated. I can only imagine that most other people are also this way. As such, the extreme amounts of support current students are getting may be a result of the extreme amounts of external challenges that were placed on them as children. After all, haven’t we all heard about children whose schedules are full of sport practices, music lessons, play dates, after-school activities and tutoring sessions?
Where do I see this playing out in student affairs?
First and foremost I think it is rather evident that some incoming students are primarily entering college because their parents want them there and provide copious amounts of support to get them enrolled. This is easily noticeable in the multitude of college applications that are filled out by parents every year, the number of first semester schedules that have parents’ hand prints all over them, and the number of students who admit that college wasn’t necessarily their choice, but just the next logical step in their lives. Personally I can see how this scenario could and in all likelihood does play out in several ways.
From a conduct standpoint, students who aren’t completely committed to being at college may be less likely to want to adhere to a college’s code of conduct. They aren’t quite sure what they are gaining by being part of the college community and therefore may not see the benefit of maintaining the communities standard of behavior. After all the code of conduct is part of a contract with students. The college provides the faculty, classrooms, and other facilities and programs necessary for students to get an education and in turn students conform to a behavioral standard. When a students doesn’t see the value in their education, they are hard-pressed to see value in the code. While, I haven’t personally had a lot of experience with this playing out in my conduct hearings, I would say that it is something that’s going to be on my radar.
I first came to see Stanford’s theory from this different angle while working orientation at San Jose State. To be honest, the first place I saw it was not in the incoming students, but among the student staff. It seemed as though many of them were not motivated by internal desires to help incoming students or to challenge themselves in new ways. Instead they had been motivated by mentors, other students, and sometimes parents to apply for the job. As a result, some found it hard to adapt to changes and challenges that they hadn’t been forewarned about and others were unmotivated to do more than the bare minimum to get by. In my mind this was a result of having a whole lot of support upfront, but very little support when the true challenges developed. These students couldn’t rely on the people who had got them into the position in the first place and they were hard-pressed to find an internal source of support to meet the new challenges.
Of course, I saw similar patterns among new students as well. Students who knew their parents would be helping them make schedules would pay little attention during advising. Students whose parents knew the campus would remain incredibly lost when on their own. The mere thought of not calling on external support to help them survive the one and a half day orientation was too much for most students as was evident by the sea of cell phone lights that dotted evening entertainment at the rec center.
I’m assuming that the full effect of students with lifelong cheerleaders will continue to have a huge influence on student affairs well into the future. I am quite sure that there is an extremely grey line between just enough and too much challenge and support from external sources. I hope to explore this topic more when I begin my internship with academic advising and find out how external support affects that area of student affairs. In the meantime, I am left with the question of how student affairs professionals can create programs and experience and ask the right questions to help student gain greater internal support and find ways to challenge themselves internally.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 7 so far )
So far the greatest hurdle I have faced during my internship has been gaining enough confidence from my supervisors to let me take on bigger tasks. We are currently mid-way through our orientation season and while I am quite certain that I have the knowledge and skills necessary to take on bigger tasks, I’m not sure I will ever get a chance to do so. In large part this has to do with the fact that the bigger tasks I am interested in taking on are tasks that professional advisors are currently responsible for completing. In this situation, I am seen as a bit of a liability. I am fairly certain that my direct supervisor has confidence in my ability, but other advisors and people above her are not ready to answer to concerned students, parents, and administrators who question why a graduate student is doing an advisor’s job. This leaves me trying to get as much professional experience and development as possible, while realizing that there are certain things I may never be able to do while I am here. It is frustrating and definitely something that I should probably discuss at greater length with my supervisor, but for now I’ll just leave it as an unsolved cases file.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
San Jose State requires that all incoming students complete all facets of the orientation program. In an effort to ensure that students stay for the full program student leaders take attendance multiple times during the first day, students are kept busy until 11 PM and then send directly back to the residence halls and are not given keys to the outside door. Additional steps are taken to ensure that students are never allowed too much time or freedom to wander off and miss vital or not so vital parts of the program.
I am completely aware of the rational for having an absolutely mandatory program. I am sure that if certain parts weren’t mandatory most students would be skipping out on them and then they would fail to return or get lost and not make it to the truly vital parts, like registering for classes, receiving advising, getting their student IDs, etc. It is much easier to have one standard for everyone and create policies and procedures that reflect that standard. Despite my understanding of this policy I am left with some doubts, after all isn’t orientation supposed to be a introduction into being a college student? And isn’t college all about choice? After all, the most elemental thing about college, going to class, isn’t mandatory and neither are all the supplemental elements like getting involved in a campus group, going to professor office hours, using the library, or obtaining an internship. If college is all about choice, then why is there so little choice given to orientation students.
I have two answers that help me quiet these questions. One is that orientation students need to be aware of their new freedoms before they use them. Orientation should be a time where they learn about the fact that they don’t HAVE TO go to class, but that the consequences for skipping out can be dire. They need to learn about all the extra activities, clubs and services they can receive before they can go about deciding which, if any, they want to use. In other words, they need to be at all the programs we provide so that they can gain the best understanding of their new surroundings.
My other rationale for the mandatory program comes down to challenge and support. It would be a great challenge to let students make their way around campus by themselves, decide which sessions to attend and when to come back to the residence halls at night. However, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day or orientation staff members available to provide all the support that would be necessary to ensure that all of these students could succeed in meeting these new challenges. That’s why orientation has to be what it is: a chance to learn about all facets of college life, not a chance to live it.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )