The second place I recall living while in second and third grades was 1630 W. Fulton:
It was a tall skinny white building. When you opened the door, there were a lot of steps to climb to reach the attic apartment where Daddy Gilbert’s brother and sister-in-law lived. Daddy Gilbert’s brother was very pale with straight black hair. He was sick and always in bed.
Daddy Gilbert’s brother died.
Muhdear and I began to sleep at the apartments of other relatives.
Muhdear and I stayed in one place long enough for me to go to school for a few months. For Halloween, Muhdear bought me a yellow plastic costume to wear to school. The kids at school tore it off me.
I was miserable.
I was confused.
I wished I was back in Memphis.
I loved that I could put Ovaltine chocolate in my milk.
I imagined that I was the girl in the after-school television show when she said at the end of the show, “Take me away Mr. Pegasus, take me away!”
I recall living in four different places while in second and third grades. The first was Castalia Heights:
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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.
Breaking news about gun-related devastation, proliferation of hate crimes, waves of roll backs on previously sanctioned rights, revelations from the January 6 Select Committee hearings, television ads of extreme political candidates, and on and on.
We’re constantly accosted by the sound and fury of idiots. We want the sound and fury to signify nothing, but as we can see from recent Supreme Court opinions and laws being enacted in states, it’s clear that the sound and fury have power.
One way to wake up from this shared nightmare is for everyone to vote for those political candidates who seem to be the most sane from your point of view. This, then is a different kind of power—not the “reckless and abusive” kind wielded by the sound and fury. Instead, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it, “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
Political engagement is necessary to continue progressing toward the realization of our shared national ideals—the dream, as it were.
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?
I was very pleased when Gwen asked me to write a piece on any subject that I wanted for her blog….
When I was younger, I thought life was basically random. I grew up in southern Illinois in Carmi, located on the Little Wabash River. The population was around 5,000 people.
Carmi was my dad’s hometown. He was born in 1914 and grew up attending a segregated school and the segregated Mitchell Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. My mom met my dad when she came to Carmi to visit her uncle who lived in nearby Maunie. My parents married in 1943.
My mother had been born in 1919 and raised in Whiteville, in western Tennessee. She also attended segregated schools and was raised in the Bartlett Colored Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church. The name was changed to Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in 1954.
My brother Charles and I were both born in St. Louis, Missouri—he in 1944 and I in 1947. Our family moved back to Carmi in December 1947.
There were very few Black people in Carmi. Charles would integrate Washington School by going to the first grade at age 6. My mom took Charles to school on the first day. When she went back to pick him up, she said she met him already on the way home, happy and skipping down the street. After Charles passed away, several of his classmates wrote me that they remembered meeting him in the first grade.
Growing up, Charles was much more self-assured than I was. He excelled in math and science and played basketball. He was outgoing and everybody liked him. I was concerned with being nice and polite and modest. I liked reading and writing and English.
Our lives in Carmi were integrated in every way except for church. This was a time when most people went to church, which at that time was largely identified as mainline Protestant denominations. I do remember going to Vacation Bible School, concerts, and programs at the White churches, but on Sunday we went to Mitchell Chapel AME Church.
Mitchell Chapel was located a block off Main Street across the river in East Carmi. The church must have had a guardian angel, for in today’s world it would certainly be condemned as a fire and safety hazard. The church leaned to one side, there was only one entrance, and there was neither running water nor a bathroom. We had an old-fashioned coal stove and one of the men who lived across from the church would go early and make a fire when it was cold.
Not all of the Black people in Carmi attended the church, but they would come to funerals and also to fundraisers. There were probably 15 to 20 of us attending Sunday services, for which I remember getting dressed up and having new outfits for Christmas and Easter programs. We became part of a circuit with two other AME churches in Harrisburg and Carrier Mills, Illinois.
We were pioneers. My mother was the church recording secretary, and my dad was the lay reader and taught Sunday School. On Communion Sunday, we put up the white cloth around the altar and served communion with a chalice, using the silver communion set for the grape juice and wafers.
I remember the Sunday the minister “opened the doors of the church” and Charles walked forward to the altar to join. I followed him, joining the church because he did. Charles was in high school, and I was in junior high. Everybody cried.
We never invited any classmates to the church, and I am sure most people did not know the church existed because of the isolated location. When classmates asked where I went to church, I remember answering in a low voice and not with any pride. I do not remember any of the ministers as being special or giving outstanding sermons. We did not have a choir, but I do remember students from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale coming to sing.
In the late 1960s, Mitchell Chapel was allowed “to die” with the changing times. My family would be joyfully welcomed into the Carmi First United Methodist Church (FUMC). We had many friends at FUMC and would make new ones. My mom was especially happy and would become very involved in church activities.
When I graduated from Carmi Township High School in 1965, I did not have a plan beyond knowing that I would leave Carmi. I was encouraged and expected to leave by everybody including my parents and teachers. I moved to Champaign, Illinois, to stay with my aunt and attended Illinois Commercial College.
In Champaign, I attended Bethel AME Church. The church had a choir and a good minister, and I could get involved in activities of my own choosing. I knew a few people and made more friends. Most of all I knew the AME liturgy and songs having learned them at Mitchell Chapel AME. I became an usher and taught Sunday School briefly.
Charles was at Eastern Illinois University in nearby Charleston. He would come to Champaign on weekends and practiced teaching math at Champaign Central High School.
There were just a few Black students at the Commercial College. Just before graduation the man who was in charge at the school sent me to talk with the State Director at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Farmers Home Administration State Office in downtown Champaign. He offered me a job and I accepted. I had just turned 19 years old. The office was small and convenient to where I lived, was with the federal government, and the employees were friendly and welcoming.
I would at times have challenges working with USDA but it was very beneficial to me overall. I worked with many smart and helpful supervisors and co-workers and made life-long friends. I felt rewarded and USDA enabled me to transfer from Champaign to St. Louis and Washington, DC. I received training, took business trips, and was able to retire after 41 years of service with a pension and health insurance.
When I moved to St. Louis, I joined Centenary United Methodist Church, which was part of the Plaza Square apartment complex where I lived downtown. Centenary was an elegant and historic church. I became a greeter and served on the church board for a year and participated with other programs and activities.
Charles and Gwen had met in college at Eastern, and married in 1967, when I was 20. They now lived not too far from me in suburban St. Louis with their young son Dan, but would later move to the Washington, DC, area. When an opportunity and encouragement came for me to also move to DC three years after they did, I wanted to move but also felt uncertain about doing so.
It would have been easy to stay in St. Louis. The move would take me away from the Midwest and my family, but I also knew I could easily fly home for vacations. DC was expensive and I wondered if I would be able to find an apartment and live in a safe and nice part of the city. I prayed and knew I wanted the transfer. I found a nice and very small apartment in a pleasant part of the city with the help of a friend. Being on the bus route and convenient to the Metro, it was a short commute downtown to work.
I had read about Metropolitan AME Church before I moved to Washington. The church was convenient to where I lived. It was a beautiful and historic church with a storied history and prominent members. Walking in the church, you feel the ancestors. I would come to understand that the AME Church, which was founded in Philadelphia in 1816 by Richard Allen, was about so much more than just segregation. I joined the church and became involved in many activities including ushering, the Love and Peace Missionary Society, the food bank, and serving as a chaplain for a seniors’ club. I took my co-workers to the church on weekdays when the seniors prepared a soul-food lunch.
I came to feel I was following God’s plan for me, which had always been there from the beginning. I would never have joined Metropolitan AME if I had not been raised in Mitchell Chapel AME Church in Carmi.
Watching the Communion Sunday church service online during Covid, I would use the Mitchell Chapel chalice my mom had given me before she passed and really feel the connection between the two churches.
I had been in Washington for 12 years and Metropolitan AME was going through changes. I was ready for a change also. The Washington National Cathedral was close to where I lived in northwest Washington. I had visited and toured the Cathedral and was awed by the beauty and peacefulness of the church and the grounds.
I liked the idea of the Nation’s Church which welcomed everybody. I did not expect to become a Cathedral volunteer or think it was even possible for me. I was not an Episcopalian. I made friends and met with the volunteer coordinator to find my place. I could volunteer at the Cathedral and still keep my membership and participation at Metropolitan AME. I would start as a greeter and become an usher, a lay reader, and volunteer in the gift shop.
My last time with Charles a week before he passed away would be attending a Sunday morning service in the Cathedral. Most people did not know Charles was seriously ill. When he passed away from a rare disease, I wondered why it had been him instead of me. At the end of the play Hamilton, there is a song “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” I felt I survived to tell Charles’ story. I was the only connection to Carmi and our classmates.
I belong to a grief support group and recently we discussed how we would like to be remembered. I would like to be remembered as a Christian hopefully for kindness and outreach and inclusiveness and for understanding and forgiveness for myself and others. I feel blessed for the ways in which God has led, and I pray he will continue to guide me along my journey.
I was eagerly looking forward to the release of Top Gun: Maverick since it was postponed more than once during the height of the pandemic. I’m a huge Tom Cruise fan and I don’t care if he jumped up on Oprah’s sofa in excitement when he appeared on her talk show eons ago.
As I’m still taking some precautions regarding the transmission of COVID, I wanted to see the film when the theater may not be as crowded in order to have some distance between myself and other moviegoers. The movie was showing at the largest theater on the largest screen in the area. I waited until the movie had been out a few weeks and went to the box office on a Saturday afternoon for a 4:10 showing. You know what happened: Sold out!
I bought advanced tickets for the following Wednesday at 1:10 p.m. since some very senior people in front of me chose that date and time. I figured that there would not be many of us in the theater at that time. After all, those not retired would be at work or at the gym or doing something else that more senior people might not be interested in doing.
You know what happened. Every seat was filled in this huge theater on Wednesday at 1:10 p.m.! And there was a wide diversity of ages. I, like everyone else I’ve spoken with, thought the film gave us what we wanted from it, meeting our expectations. The images and accompanying sounds were so intense that there was very little time for eye-blinking. I’m sure I’m not the only one who had dry-eye when this vivid and visceral experience was over.
Clearly, dialogue was not the heart of this film, and I doubt if anyone other than me listened for words to ponder following the experience. However, when I left the movie theater and images of the aerial scenes and the intense emotion portrayed by some of the characters began to fade, I recalled three short sentences from the dialogue.
Admiral Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky, played by Val Kilmer, says to his friend Maverick, “It’s time to let it go.”
And when Maverick responds, “I don’t know how,” I thought that this movie was about to exceed my expectations.
At some point during this same exchange, the Admiral said, “It’s not what you are, it’s who you are.”
I’ve heard that evidence of a good musical is when you leave the theater humming the songs. For me, a good movie is one that allows me to reflect on something someone said that made me think.
I spent some time recently chatting with doctoral students about the evolution of student affairs in the community college. The conversations reminded me of the profound impact that our profession has had on America’s community colleges since the 1960s. They also helped me realize that, in many respects, I owe my career in student affairs to an army of colleagues in colleges and universities throughout the country who served as guides, sounding boards, and—occasionally—rescuers. On the flip side, there were a few people along the way who did their best to make me feel inadequate or powerless. Spoiler alert: their efforts failed. When I read your blog last week, I thought it might be fun to share my list of the first five people in my personal hall of fame. As you can imagine, it was challenging to settle on just five; but I met these people early in my career, and each had a profound and lasting impact on me as a person and as a professional. They deserve to go first.
Hall of Fame: The first member of my hall of fame is the vice-chancellor of the Virginia Community College System who sat next to me in a graduate class at the University of Virginia in 1966, convinced me to consider a career in community colleges, and cheered me on when I obtained a counseling position at a large community college near Washington D.C. When my best friend was killed in Vietnam, he checked on me weekly, helped me to continue to function professionally, and set an example of courage and friendship that I will never forget. The entire time the man was helping me, he was battling cancer—and never said a word. When he finally told me, I was furious: the man was only thirty-five years of age and just beginning to make a difference in the world. When I voiced my thoughts, he looked me in the eye and said something I will never forget, “It’s not the time you have, but how you use the time that matters. I will continue to make a difference because you and many others like you will carry on the work I started. Make your life count, Maggie.”
Ten months after I started work, the college hired a new president: a young, innovative educator from the Florida Community College System. After the president assembled his leadership team, he asked me to orient the team to the programs and services provided by student affairs professionals. He also gave me four pieces of advice that I never have forgotten. Educate your colleagues: most community college leaders are familiar with academic affairs because they are former faculty members, but they know very little about student affairs. Focus on teaching and learning: help the leadership team understand how partnerships with student affairs have the potential to increase every student’s ability to learn and every faculty member’s teaching effectiveness. Speak with confidence: student affairs professionals may be junior partners, but they are essential junior partners. Keep it real: use facts and figures to introduce the team to their students and to remind them to pay attention to the whole student. That conversation alone would have earned the president a spot in my Hall of Fame; but he sealed his selection by nominating me for an NDEA Fellowship and providing numerous opportunities for me to grow professionally, acquire new skills, build positive relationships with faculty, and try out new ideas.
While attending a series of national conventions, I kept running into an interesting guy whose brain seemed to generate an idea a minute. When I first met the man, he was a dean of students in Florida. The next year, he was a higher education professor at the University of Illinois. Seven years later, he became the executive director of the League for Innovation. Every time I met the man—whether at a formal presentation or over drinks and dinner—I left with dozens of new ideas. My commitment to educating the whole person, student-centered learning, helping students understand who they were and providing them with the tools to lead a good life and earn a good living grew out of our early conversations. Our paths continued to cross over the years. We recently collaborated on a book, and—over fifty years after our first meeting—he still managed to teach me a few things.
At another convention in St. Louis, I suspected that the speaker was drawing conclusions not supported by data and raised my hand to ask a question. When the presenter skillfully evaded the core of my question, I raised my hand again and asked how he planned to reconcile the inconsistencies between recently published research and the conclusions he was drawing. As I finished my question and started to sit down, the gentleman seated in front of me turned around, extended his hand, and said, “I do not know who you are, but I love you.” And that is how I met the dean of students at a large community college in Texas who, over the years, offered me sage advice—even when I was not sure I needed it. He taught me how to deal with difficult people and effectively read—and navigate—complex political landscapes. He also introduced me to dozens of student affairs professionals in colleges and universities across the country who played starring roles in my professional life.
There is no better way to close out the list of my first five hall of fame candidates than by including my trusted friend, frequent collaborator, and valued writing partner. We rarely worked in the same time zone: Virginia, Florida, and Texas for me; Illinois, California, and Arizona for him. But we always stayed in touch, celebrated the good times and offered support when times got tough. For over forty years, my friend never was more than a phone call away, elevated every book we wrote with his keen insights and finely-tuned prose, motivated me to look for innovative solutions to some challenging problems, and had a knack for seeing through bull****. Whenever I found myself in a professional hole—as I did in 2020 when Covid prevented a writing team from submitting a chapter on time for a book I was co-editing—he handed me a shovel and helped me dig my way out. In 2020, the “shovel” was agreeing to work with me to research and write a replacement chapter in three weeks.
Hall of Shame: The only thing I can say about the following list is that I rarely think about these people. Remembering them occasionally, however, reminds me what life was like for many women of my generation and how some of our time and talents were squandered dealing with Neanderthals, opportunists, and saboteurs—and the negative force fields that seemed to surround them.
Neanderthals proudly lived in the past. My first run in with a Neanderthal occurred when a university professor told me to “get laid, get married, and have children” because no reputable university would waste a seat in a doctoral program on a young, attractive female. Then there was the dean who, when the president decided that the college would remain open four nights a week until 7:30 p.m., ordered the single women to cover the extended hours because the men had family responsibilities. My favorite Neanderthals, however, were the deans of three institutions who interviewed me—in different years and in different states—for counseling or leadership positions. One asked if my husband approved of my working. Another wanted to know if I planned to become pregnant in the next few years. The third asked where I worshipped each Sunday, if any of my ancestors had fought for the Union, and if my hair color was natural or came from a bottle. The Neanderthal who left me speechless, however, was the female faculty member who, when I gently reminded her that Jesus would have said that slavery was immoral, cheerfully replied, “Yes, he would have said that. But Jesus would have been wrong.”
Opportunists had no principles except “me first,” liked to build their reputation at someone else’s expense, and saw work as a zero sum game where only one person could win. Charter members of this group include every administrator, faculty member, or student affairs professional who took credit for programs that worked and publically blamed others when something went wrong as well as those who took credit for another person’s ideas or accomplishments. Card-carrying members also included staff members who “butted” ideas to death, made supportive statements in meetings and derogatory comments in private, and were absolute artists at denigrating colleagues while insisting they were only trying to help.
Saboteurs appeared to be honest and above board on the surface, but they had their own agendas. I will never forget the reporter for a weekly newspaper who interviewed me about a new program the college was launching for mature women. He was pleasant, asked solid questions, and then wrote a front-page article that focused almost exclusively on the fact that I wore a pants suit, came from Boston, and probably was trying to bring women’s lib to the county. There also was the seasoned counselor who casually would chat with me about a class I was teaching, or a project I was coordinating, and then go straight to the dean to outline what “the new girl” was doing wrong. I will never forget the vice-president who, when he saw me working every day in my office during spring break, seized the opportunity to criticize my boss and my colleagues before offering me a position in academic affairs where my talents would not be exploited.
Why the Stroll Down Memory Lane? The surface explanation is that I am trying to stay sane in a world that increasingly resembles the holiday fruitcakes I receive every year: wherever you cut them, there are too many nuts! Remembering all the wonderful people I met during my career and how I managed to educate or isolate the Neanderthals, inactivate the saboteurs, and neuter the opportunists motivates me to continue to fight the good fight; to make a difference every day no matter where I am; and to trust that, in the end, the views of people who are thoughtful, kind, and decent will prevail over the views of the negative and nasty, the power-hungry egotists, the conspiracy theorists, and the data-deniers who seem determined to destroy this country.
The slightly less flattering explanation is that I was disappointed in myself last week. Workers repairing my sprinkler system started to spout “truisms” like a college degree is worthless because the curriculum has been watered down to allow women, Latinos, and Blacks to graduate; the events of January 6th never happened; and Putin has the right idea—take what you want. I patiently tried to help them rethink their “truisms.” When they doubled down, I verbally eviscerated them and fired the company. Later than day, I could hear my dad telling his nineteen year old daughter that “The toughest battle you will fight in your life is not the battle to change the world, but the battle to make sure the world does not change you.” Creating a personal hall of fame was an attempt to remember who I was, work harder to prevent the world from changing me, and not disappoint my dad.
Marguerite M (Maggie) Culp is a higher education consultant and former faculty member, counselor, dean, and senior student affairs officer. She is co-Editor of six books including the recently published Student Success in the Community College: What Really Works?
If you’re like me, it’s easier to recall the slights, humiliations, put-downs, and general meanness experienced than the kind, gracious, generous, and loving messages received.
In my quest to clear my memento cache, I discovered that I had squirreled away some of the kind messages that I’d received.
For me, this blog serves as a way to preserve parts of these messages kept for a rainy day. It is my hope that this encourages you to not only reflect on such messages you have received, but also to be the giver of such encouragement. Such messages go a long way in countering the negative messages, and often are treasured by the receiver far more than we know.
For instance, when I faced challenges in my leadership role, Mike affirmed that, “You, more than any single person, are responsible for the success of NASPA. I thank you for your amazing service to our Association and for your friendship over the years.”
And KC took it to another level:
Thank you very much for another year of progressive and excellent leadership at NASPA. You have had a wonderful and lasting impact especially with the new and young professionals who have become a part of the organization. Your leadership has been very “Heroic” meaning it is visionary, energizing, passionate, enduring, courageous, and loving. During my undergraduate years, I always heard and witnessed the Jesuits speaking and going on about “Heroic Leadership,” and I thought it was something unique to them as an order or religious organization. However, after witnessing you, your presence, and your leadership at and with NASPA, you too have it and are a “Heroic Leader.” You and your presence touch thousands in a very positive manner year in and year out. Thank you very much for leading and creating an organization that all members can be proud of and develop full ownership in. (December 31, 2007, KC)
Indeed, the messages from and about the young professionals like RW that I sought to mentor hold a special place in my heart:
Bless you! Thank you so much for supporting my efforts to pursue my education. I am very thankful for you taking time out of your hectic schedule to support me…. You are an amazing role model and mentor.
And when I wasn’t always sure how well a presentation had been received, messages like these made all the difference:
I can’t begin to describe the passion and sincerity with which luncheon participants described your presentation. They were deeply moved, and they were moved because you told them the truth in a manner that allowed them to hear it. However, after telling them the reality of these times we live in, you gave them reasons for and ways to keep hope alive. (December 2000, GE)
I really enjoyed my one-on-one visits with you and was grateful beyond words that you were our group leader. Your presentation Thursday really got me thinking, and I have been working hard on articulating my personal formula (which we hope to have our staff do as well later this summer). (July 30, 2007, JC)
And in those times when you wonder if others see the vision toward which you’re working as the leader of an organization, messages like the one from XR let you know that the sacrifices are paying off:
During your tenure NASPA has expanded internationally, grown in membership, significantly expanded its financial assets, and has become “the” voice of student development nationally. In addition, under your vision and leadership, NASPA has become our collective voice in Washington and on Capitol Hill—a role that becomes stronger as the years pass. (November 3, 2005)
And, finally, there are the messages that convey more than collegiality, but a true friendship and understanding of one as a person (down to the use of “integrity” as part of my FIRE mnemonic):
It is a pleasure working with you, Gwen. In addition to your high level of competency, and even, rational approach and warmth with people, you have a tremendous integrity that underlies all your work. I am so proud that you represent NASPA to the world—you make us look really good, and I consider myself fortunate to have this opportunity to come to know you and work with you. (December 17, 1998, KRH)
I just wanted to sincerely thank you for your support and friendship over the past few years. I truly enjoyed my time on the Board and have always been so impressed with the amount of passion and grace with which you do your work. I have learned so much by simply watching you and I sincerely hope we are able to stay connected. Thank you for everything and know how much you are appreciated. With much gratitude. (March 16, 2010, Pauline)
I am truly grateful for the support and friendship of so many over the years.
I called the cab stand and Miss Henrietta, the operator, answered saying, “Orange Mound Cab Stand.” As always, without giving a name, I asked, “Is my Daddy there?” I heard her yell, “James, your baby is on the phone!” When Daddy came to the phone, he asked, “Are you alright? Where y’all at?”
I was seven years old going on eight, and my little brother was one going on two. Reflecting on what happened in 1951 and 1952, it’s as if the ring of the call I made was a bell tolling for the demise of our fragile family. Except for during the first months of my life when James rented a room in a boarding house to which he could bring Lottie Mae shortly after I was born in 1944, it was during 1951 and 1952 that we lived together as a family.
It wasn’t long before we were once again living with our mother’s parents on Hollywood Street. Sometime before my eighth birthday in 1952, our mother’s father was called to Chicago to help take care of his gravely ill brother. After being in Chicago for a short while, he sent for our grandmother to join him.
Because our mother, Muhdear, also was gravely ill with what had been diagnosed as terminal, our grandmother insisted that Muhdear, my brother, and I go to Chicago with her. Muhdear did not tell our Daddy that she was leaving Memphis and taking us with her. She was too sick to remain on her own with us in Memphis, and she knew that Daddy would never allow her to take us to Chicago. He didn’t know where we were until he received that fateful call from me.
In Chicago, my grandparents were able to rent what was called an attic “apartment,” in the same building where our grandfather’s sick brother lived. The apartment was one long room under the eaves with enough space for a small bathroom, a stove, and refrigerator. The eating table was at the foot of the bed, the only space available.
Leaving her baby boy with her parents in the “apartment,” Muhdear and I were essentially homeless, sleeping on couches and makeshift floor pallets at the homes of various cousins, aunts, and uncles. During the day, Muhdear sometimes took me with her while she looked for work.
Life in Chicago made me long to go back to Memphis. Because our condition was so bad and she was so sick, I frequently asked Muhdear if I could call Daddy to come get us. Years later, when I asked what made her change her mind to allow me to call our Daddy that day, this is what she told me:
Snow was deep and the street cars would not wait for you to get on with children. One day, I got up on the streetcar and paid my seven cents. When I looked around, you were still on the platform. This really scared me, and I began to wonder if I could take care of my children in my condition. I knew that if anything happened to you all, I would rather be dead, and I knew if anything happened to Rabbit’s (James’) children, he would kill me because I left him and took you all with me.
So, when Daddy arrived to take us back to Memphis, she got in the car for the sake of her children to make the risky but necessary trip back to Memphis.