As citizens of the United States, we’re proud of our culture of using the democratic process in most situations where there is a diversity of opinions and values. However, our democratic process of majority rules gave me pause as I watched or read about how the call-in votes were going on the television show American Idol. As most of the viewers of this show, my judgment about who should be in the bottom three and who should be competing to be the next American Idol is based on what sounds good and what is an entertaining performance. I have been blown away by the talent of all of the seven who were left this week, and when I learned that 16-year-old Jessica Sanchez with her outsized talent had to be saved by the judges last week, I couldn’t believe it! How could anyone doubt that she would be vying for the title?
All along, I have thought that Colton Dixon – the young man with the really weird outfits, the multicolored hair, and good teeth – from Murfreesboro, TN, was possibly the best musician of the bunch because he could play the piano and sing. I didn’t realize, according to an article in USA Today, that Colton was playing to a Christian audience for their vote. According to the news article, Colton thinks he lost the Christian vote when he sang a Lady Gaga song, Bad Romance.
The Idol judges were visibly upset when the votes were not there for Colton. If the judges – people who are supposed to know music – had made the decision, Colton would be among the finalists. Because the decision for Colton to leave the competition was based on a democratic process in which the majority of votes decides, it seems that a worthy candidate for winning the American Idol competition was eliminated.
This turn of events brought to my mind this year’s presidential election. Who will we voters select as our country’s leader? Will the democratic process of majority rule be based on criteria that has less to do with who has the potential to be the best qualified leader for our times or some other criteria? Will our democratic process yield a president based on whether or not the candidate sings a religious or secular song? Will we vote based on what talent the candidate has or what kind of music the candidate selects? Perhaps most important, will our college students exercise their rights and responsibilities of becoming familiar with the candidates and following through and actually voting?
Colleges and universities, and student affairs in particular, can use the opportunity of this election year to encourage students to rehearse what it means to be an engaged and responsible citizen in a democracy by exercising their rights to vote. Ideally, we can engage them in learning that will help them use their critical thinking skills to make a studied judgment as to the candidate for whom they will vote.
While in the airport to take a flight to Charleston, Illinois, where my alma mater Eastern Illinois University (EIU) is located, I was reflecting on how my two return visits since graduating were beyond anything I could have imagined while a student. My first visit was to receive the Distinguished Alumna Award, and now I was returning to receive the Outstanding Alumna Award (read remarks) from the Graduate School and the Department of Student Development.
The first recognition was the same month and year I became executive director of NASPA, I believe. I remember as part of those remarks referencing how bittersweet the homecoming was. The bitter was reflecting on being a student at the university at a time when I felt neither welcome nor counted. I had the temerity to be there because the courts said I had a right to be there.
This time the visit had no bitter. Only sweet. Two African American graduate students took me on a tour of the campus, and everywhere I looked, there was racial diversity. All students looked as if they belonged at EIU. The progress made helped me think of all the benefits I have enjoyed as a graduate.
May we continue to progress as we serve a new diversity of students, that none might be hampered by barriers, but all might join me in seeing clearly the benefits of higher education…
Sitting in a private dining room at a table with 10-12 students who had been invited to lunch with me by the Dean of Students’ office, I might have thought I was in a reality show that had been heavily scripted because these students loved their school. Yet, I know that the comments were not scripted because of the sincerity of the students and the integrity of the academic community at this small private college in New England.
I thanked the students for spending time with me and, to get them to relax before beginning our discussion, I asked them what they would be doing if they were not meeting with me. Some of the things they said they would be doing made us laugh, and we were soon ready to talk. Each student told me their name, year in school, major area of study, and a little about their background. Then I asked them some questions.
As we moved into the conversation, I told them that over the years demographers, the press, and others have attempted to group a generation of students under various labels such as Gen X, Millennial, etc. because the students, as a group, shared some common characteristics. I asked them what name would they use to describe their generation. There were some interesting suggestions, including “‘micro-organisms’ because of social media, we are always in each other’s face and space whether we choose to have it that way or not.” Another student suggested “dependent,” and all agreed and gave various examples of why “dependent” was the best term to describe their generation. By the way, none of these students saw themselves as “dependent.” All of their examples were from observations of other students.
Interestingly, what these students like best about their college is that it is “so supportive.” They loved their school and could not say enough about the many ways the college demonstrated its support. What became clear to me during these fascinating discussions was that the college’s brand connected with families who knew that their students were dependent and needed a lot of support.
I could give my opinion here, but I think it’s best that you form your own. What do you think?
Hello good people,
Today, I began the second week of my retirement, and just as I did when I began my role at NASPA as executive director, I wrote out goals for myself. The goals are for one year, and I’ve been working hard as if I’m racing against a clock to get them done because someone told me that people have all of these plans for when they retire, and they never get around to doing what they said they would do.
So far I have been disciplined about the way I’m using my time. I’m working with NASPA on some parts of the strategic plan particularly around international interests, and I’m continuing NASPA’s work with AAC&U on civic learning and democratic engagement among other ongoing partnerships. I’m looking forward to having more time for writing and speaking. One thing I’m determined to do is continue my commitment to promoting the contributions of student affairs to the academic aims of higher education and the personal development needs of students of all ages. Because of this, I will continue to communicate my thoughts and welcome feedback in order to keep learning and growing. To me retirement is not stopping; it’s getting a second wind.