Monthly Archives: August 2012

Fleeting Days of Summer…

August, as usual, flies by like a blur! We try to hold onto it because in our minds, once it disappears, the summer is gone.

During the first week in August, it was a privilege for me to participate in the AAC&U Summer Institute funded by the NEH and aptly titled, “Bridging Cultures to Form a New Nation: Difference, Community, and Democratic Thinking.” Participants were teams of faculty from ten community colleges who became students for six days to think about how to make practicing democracy a part of their pedagogy. I had the immense privilege of serving as facilitator for four teams of faculty in which we met for two-hour blocks to explore pedagogy and democratic thinking stimulated by a reading list from U.S. founding documents to Malcolm Gladwell. The discussions were amazing and there was phenomenal learning when the teachers became the students.

Mid-August, I had the privilege of going to the University of Southern California (USC) as the keynote speaker for the annual student affairs conference, which is no small matter. The conference pulls between 400 and 500 participants, and speakers include Olympic stars and legendary heroes. My friend and colleague, Michael Jackson, exhibited a lot of faith in me to have me serve as the keynote speaker. I think the mission was accomplished in what is the “Shangri-la” of university campuses.

It seems to me that the easiest job in the world must be working as a recruiter in the admissions office at USC what with their national rankings, their endowment, the Trojans, famous alumni, and the many huge gifts that have made the university a wonderland of resources, beauty, conveniences, and support for students. I hope USC students know how privileged they are. My hat is off to my colleague and friend, Vice President Michael Jackson, for the diversity in talent on campus and among his incredible student affairs staff.

It was more than a treat for me to attend commencement ceremonies at Texas A & M University, where I witnessed Lesley-Ann Brown, a former MUFP Fellow, receive her Ph.D. Lesley-Ann is a role model for all of us in persistence and courage. I met her lovely family and can see that the entire family has more than its share of talented and beautiful people.

During my stop at home this weekend, Charles and I got to some of our “things to do” list around the house. I can’t tell you how good it feels to begin to put checks by those tasks completed. The list is still long, but there is some light coming through the cracks.

Oh yes! I almost forgot that Charles and I took the AMTRAK to New York City with some of our dear friends to see Clybourne Park on Broadway. I sat transfixed by the actors who burrowed under my skin in showing the horrors of racism in the 1950s and then the horrors of entitlement during a period of gentrification in the 2000s. My take-away from the play is that nobody was a winner because in the midst of all the rationalizations, there was a tragedy where someone took their own life because they could not face the judgments of their fellow humans. The metaphor for me is that the issues of racism and entitlement can kill us, and we keep this fact hidden from ourselves in order to continue to indulge in the gratification of being right. The beauty of this work of art is that no one should feel justly satisfied with their contributions to this ongoing argument.

Well, I’m happily on the road again next week traveling out west, and I must say, I love this gig I call “retirement Gwen’s style.” One of my friends told me that I’m definitely not her role model for what retirement should be.

That’s it for now. Have to get back to my check list. Wishing you the best.

The Life-changing Work of Student Affairs

In the spring, I was in the airport to take a flight to Charleston, Illinois, where my alma mater Eastern Illinois University (EIU) is located. I’ve returned to campus twice since graduating: Once to received the Distinguished Alumna Award from the University and now to receive the Outstanding Alumna Award from the Graduate School and the Department of Student Development. It is beyond anything I could have imagined while a student at EIU.

The first recognition was the same month and year I came to NASPA, I believe. When I made remarks at the celebration, I remember referencing how bittersweet the homecoming was. The bitter was when I reflected on being a student at the University at a time when I did not feel welcome and counted. I had the temerity to be there because the courts said I had that right.

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 and students all looked as if they belonged at EIU. The progress made helped me think of all the benefits I have enjoyed as a graduate.

Other alums who were recognized spoke of faculty who had a profound impact on their lives. I talked about the incredible experiences in which I learned that I could be given responsibilities and be expected to do well. It is because of EIU and the support and encouragement of student activities advisers that I have had the confidence necessary to face and overcome challenges. I don’t remember their names or their faces, but I will always remember what they gave me in character and skill development.