Monthly Archives: July 2022

Castalia Heights

I recall living in four different places while in second and third grades. The first was Castalia Heights:

Images

Muhdear, Daddy, Mama Rosie (Daddy’s mother), and baby brother all living together. Mama Rosie and I slept in the same bed in one bedroom and baby brother slept in a crib in the room with Muhdear and Daddy.

Events

Uncle Richard (Daddy’s brother) came to the apartment one night and Daddy told him he had to leave. Mama Rosie was angry with Daddy for making him leave. Daddy said Uncle Richard was a thief, a liar, and no good. For most of the next day, Mama Rosie cried and prayed really loud. She scared me. When Daddy came home from work, he found Muhdear, my baby brother, and me sort of hiding out in their bedroom. This made Daddy really mad at Mama Rosie.

Then something happened where Daddy and Muhdear were angry with one another. Muhdear took my baby brother and me back to 494 S. Hollywood, where her parents, Mama Bennie, and Daddy Gilbert lived.

Emotions

Before Uncle Richard came by, I was happy because we were all together. After, I was scared and confused because everybody was mad.

I choose not to remember

Muhdear told me that she became ill shortly after leaving my Daddy in Castalia Heights. She said that she lost so much weight that she was only about 89 pounds. One day she passed her own father on the street and, because she looked so drastically different, he didn’t even recognize her. She told me that her skin had darkened to black; her eyes were open wide and protruded out from her face; and her once long hair was so short it stood up like a crew cut. She had a lump under her neck, and she shook like someone with palsy.

I was trying to become

Invisible

494 S. Hollywood

I am fascinated by what my memories reveal when I just stick a pin into something as unremarkable as my previous addresses.

Who was I trying to become when I lived at my various addresses?

What images do I remember? What events stand out? What emotions do I recall?

What do I choose NOT to remember?

Images

Next door on the right, Miss Alice’s yard was just brown dirt with no grass or flowers, and her boys, Jesse and Curtis, always had dirty faces, hands, and clothes. Jesse’s skin was almost as white as Miss Alice’s, and his hair was brown and not too curly. Curtis had brown skin, but not as brown as mine. I liked his curly black hair.

Mama Bennie had very dark brown skin and she was kind of fat. Daddy Gilbert had very light skin and his eyes were scary because they looked green. He was very skinny.

Events

I think I was four when the cousins from Mississippi came for a visit and burned the house down.

When I was five years old, my birthday party was in the back yard and all the children in the neighborhood were there. I wanted all the flowers on the birthday cake for myself. To my surprise, they tasted very bitter.

Daddy Gilbert made a wooden stool for me to stand on to reach the sink, and Mama Bennie taught me how to wash dishes.

The little brother that I prayed for was born when I was seven, and Muhdear said that since I prayed to have him, I had to take care of him. I washed his diapers and only let one of them go down the toilet.

I was able to go to the store by myself to get the “strik-a-lean strik-a-fat” salt pork for Mama Bennie to put in the greens she cooked.

I got my first two-wheeled bike. It ran away with me downhill and I crashed.

Emotions

Since everybody in the house was tired most of the time, I was proud that I could do things to help.

I was always happy when my Daddy came by to drive me to school. Sometimes he came by when there was no school and he let me stand on the running board of his Dodge.

Mama Rosie, my Daddy’s mother, made me feel pretty and precious. When she visited, she kissed and kissed and kissed me. She always brought me something. She brought dolls for my birthday and for Christmas. I felt sad when Mama Bennie scolded her for bringing me candy.

I choose not to remember

that Muhdear often had migraines when she was at home, so I had to tiptoe and be very quiet.

I was trying to become

a good girl who was not lazy like some of the people Mama Bennie talked about.

Off to College: Student Imaginings and Creating an Aloha Spirit

I’m 18 and about to go off to college. I think I’m supposed to see this moment as an opportunity to refresh, to become untethered from my life before college. In other words, find my personal identity.

What I hope will happen in college is that I will find a core group of friends who are similar to me in some ways.

What makes me anxious about going to college is that the academics will be more challenging than I might have imagined.

People ask me if I’m excited about starting college. Although I say that I am, I don’t want to have expectations that are too high and be disappointed.

I think it will be an adjustment to have roommates.

Because my parents have taught me well, I’m confident that I will have good judgment about right and wrong.

I can’t wait until I’ve completed my first semester and I’m comfortable in the environment and with my routine.

I think my parents are as anxious as I am because they don’t know how well I will adjust.

I would love it if I can be the best version of myself and college proves to be a positive and inspiring experience.

It may be too much to wish for, but after the isolation of the COVID pandemic, I want my college experience to be an adventure full of fun encounters that I will always remember.


I’m 24, the single mother of a 4-year-old and I’m about to start college. I see starting college as a key and pivotal moment in which my life will finally come into focus.

What I hope will happen in college is that I will discover and develop talents that I never realized I had.

What makes me anxious about going to college are the challenges of doing well in school and being a good mother to my child. I will need to balance my life in a way that I’ve never had to do before. I’ve been successful in working and taking care of my child, but the addition of college courses will test my ability to do it all well. I’m fortunate that my parents are willing to be a back-up for taking care of my 4-year-old’s needs.

People ask if I’m excited about starting college and I tell them that it’s exciting and terrifying in many ways. My greatest fear is that the courses, faculty, and collegiate environment won’t live up to my high expectations. I’m willing to take out the loans and to continue working and doing whatever is necessary to go to college, so I want to know and feel that it is worth it.

I think it will be an adjustment to be in a classroom with students who are just finishing high school and with people much older than me. I don’t fit with either group. Although I’m relatively young, my experiences as a single mother have made me more mature in many ways.

Because my parents have taught me well, I understand that sometimes sacrifices must be made in order to accomplish your goals. I have the resilience to stick to my plan, barring negative circumstances beyond my control.

I can’t wait until I actually have my books and can begin my journey to reach my potential. I feel like I postponed my life by not going to college immediately after high school, and now I have a chance to fulfill my highest goals.

I think my parents believe in me and that makes all the difference. They have always had my back, and that fact gives me confidence that I can succeed.

I would love it if I could accelerate the time to complete my degree requirements and find a group of folks with whom I can develop friendly relationships.

It may be too much to wish for, but I hope that someone such as a mentor or teacher will help me discover what I know is waiting for me and will help me use my education as a perch from which to soar!


Though these future college students are in different stages of their lives, they both are hesitant to allow themselves to feel the true excitement of attending college. Why might this be the case?

Storybook and movie versions of college often depict an environment in which people are interacting and having fun together. Also, in imaginings prior to college, individuals cannot help but feel that this is an opportunity and time when they can be all that they can be.

These expectations can be shattered when in a classroom, residence hall, dining hall, or just walking across campus if they feel as if they are in the wrong place or that they are unexpected visitors. When one feels like this, headphones and text messages are a refuge. The student doesn’t have to look at those who won’t acknowledge them. They don’t have to risk looking at someone who won’t look back. They don’t have to feel the sting of being invisible.

College and university staff, especially in Student Affairs, understand the need for a welcoming campus climate and they provide resources for students to be involved or to get help when needed. However, it takes initiative on the part of the student or someone close to the student to move toward what is available to help students feel as if they belong at this college.

Many students genuinely don’t want to be involved in any prescribed activity. However they do want to be in a warm and friendly environment.

I think colleges and universities with students on campus ought to require everyone to do their part in making the environment welcoming. In short, everyone should contribute to an Aloha Spirit throughout the community.

I’ve seen the idea of creating an aloha environment work. Dr. Doris Ching, a highly respected administrator for years at the University of Hawaii, was president of the NASPA Board of Directors during 1999-2000. Traditionally, the annual conference is the culmination of the term of the board president and a showcase for their leadership. How well the conference was attended and feedback on the quality of the speakers and programs often served as measures of the success. 

Having no control over the conference’s location, which often drives attendance, Dr. Ching decided that the conference marking the end of her term would be one where every person attending would feel more welcomed than they had ever felt at any conference before.

Dr. Ching made it a thing that not just NASPA staff and volunteers, but every single person who attended the conference was given the duty to contribute to the Aloha Spirit. All the nametags had some kind of message such as “Happy You’re Here” or “How can I help you?” Dr. Ching, herself, was the role model, for there simply is no more gracious and welcoming person. She modeled how everyone was to contribute to the spirit of aloha.

In every way possible, Dr. Ching conveyed the message that everyone was responsible for making everyone else feel welcome. People got the message. Although it sometimes seemed that people were self-conscious about their active role in creating this warm and welcoming environment, they wanted to do this because Dr. Ching asked them to.

As we traversed the hallways, it seemed that everyone was smiling, nodding, and in some way greeting others. As we passed one another on escalators, we were waving and smiling as we greeted people. In the conference program spaces, people were introducing themselves to the persons sitting near them. I’d never seen anything like it. I observed and was part of this experiment that proved that an aloha spirit can be created when everyone takes responsibility for making all in the community feel welcome.

At the end of the conference, it didn’t matter how many people had attended. The point Dr. Ching wanted to make was realized. Everyone was an ambassador and felt personally responsible for creating an environment where everyone else could feel that they mattered.

Simple gestures such as looking at someone, perhaps smiling, or saying hello are small acts of kindness when encountering other humans, especially those in your college community.   Speaking and smiling when encountering a fellow human being is not just about manners. It’s all the other things that these gestures represent.

Constant and pervasive messages about everyone’s responsibility to create a positive and welcoming environment is worth a try. I saw it work at a conference where people were only together for a few days.

What effect might it have if the college environment is a mirror that reflects and reinforces the positive self-image that these students have of themselves as they embark on their college careers?