Holiday Blues for Students

Your students may be suffering more than you know.

Thanksgiving is upon us, and Channukah and Christmas are around the corner. This time is usually a time of rest for students. However, some are facing going home with dread.

Today one of those students told me how they thought about jumping off of the top of a parking garage. As the fall semester comes to a close many students, like this one, are anxious about going home and telling their families that they are failing classes. Rather than face the disappointment, ridicule, or wrath of family and friends, some students would rather end their lives.

This is the time when families start asking students about their classes and school life. What many families don’t realize is that the how, when, and why these questions are asked impact their student psychologically.

Consider asking your student how they are doing in private rather than at the family dinner table. When these questions are asked in front of others it can feel as though the student is on display rather than truly being cared for. What’s worse is if the student isn’t performing well then they don’t have any room to tell the whole truth without facing the embarrassment of failing in front of family and friends.

Pull your student aside well before the hullabaloo of the holidays so that you can have an honest one-on-one with them. If the student is in their first year then do not necessarily panic if their grades are not where you think they should be. Nearly everyone has an adjustment period. Listening to your student talk through what they are going through, both negative and positive, can help them cope with their challenges, and follow through with the last few weeks of the semester to be as successful as they can be.

Students’ mental health can be especially fragile around the holidays as they are met with the hopes and expectations of loved ones. How loved ones respond can determine if students are able to cope well or feel as though they have no way out.

Finally, if a student is suicidal there are people that can help. Most schools have a helpline students can call 24 hours a day. Counseling staffpersons are not off during break, and at least one person will be in the office to answer questions about how to get help for your student even at home. In addition, if you, or anyone else needs help immediately, then please call the National Suicide Hotline at 800.273.8255.

 

Being Where We Are Wanted

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017 I had the pleasure of being a panelist on Tunes & Talk, hosted by Risikat Okedeyi, on WPFW DC. The topic was the seeming backlash from black men to Damon Young’s article on Very Smart Brothas articulating what he had heard before from black women in his social media network – black men are the white people of black people.

The panel was a raucous one, and there have been plenty of hot takes about the piece, so I feel no need to rehash them here. What I wanted to note is that the fact that a man wrote about this idea should serve as a final warning.

Anna Julia Cooper had to remind the readers of W.E. B. DuBois’ work that the problem of the color line was but just one of the problems of the 20th century. That the woman problem, the limitations of gender, were harming black women.

The Combahee River Collective reminded us that black women, and black queer women in particular, will wait on no one to recognize their power.

Deborah King, Elizabeth Fiorenza, Gloria Hull and Kimberle Crenshaw have been telling us since the 1980s and 1990s that one can experience both privilege and oppression, and perhaps the way to freedom is by listening to the folks that have the least of the former.

Moya Bailey made her plea more specific when she addressed the particulars of the degradation experienced by black women in 2010.

I say this not to provide a syllabus of the basics of black feminist thought, although I do encourage reading the work of these women before dismissing Young’s article. Instead I’m merely illustrating that black women have been articulating this thought for at least two hundred years.

The waiting is over.

Black women will no longer cook in the back, and hope that our concerns are addressed from the pulpit. Even if we make a mean macaroni and cheese and potato salad.

There is no more ceding leadership roles, while doing everything else to keep the structures of the organizations black women start afloat.

Candice Benbow articulates another aspect of the black and female experience that also plays a role here:

Many of us born in the late ’70s and ’80s can attest to growing up in single parent homes, which isn’t to say that there were no men who supported us in our communities, at all. However, your uncles and community members are not your parent. Furthermore, if the men in your life do not cede space for black women, then there is only one outcome – a large portion of black women will move on. At this point should black women decide to pack our duffle bags and go, and by go I mean stop organizing, stop feeding, stop advocating, just stop, then this does more harm to black men than black women. We’ve had at least three decades of practice advocating for ourselves since the marriage rate for black women has been in decline. We have learned to go only where we are wanted. But you dear brother, good luck if you decide to go it alone.

Put Your Own Mask On First

This morning I attended a wonderful ceremony for students graduating from a summer program intended to develop their interest in health care careers. Students from a variety of universities came together to take courses in math, statistics, physics, and chemistry. However, the end of the ceremony left me most saddened after the student speaker delivered his remarks.

The student who closed the ceremony was well liked, affable, and thoughtful. He had finished in the top five of the class. At the very end of his speech he recognized one of his classmates who had aided him with his studies, and often stayed up late at night helping him understand the material. She did not finish in the top five.

I have seen this phenomenon over and over again. Community involvement has been so ingrained into black women’s lives that we often sacrifice ourselves in order to be sure we all get ahead. Yet, as the flight attendants tell you before takeoff on an airplane, you must put your mask on first before you can assist someone else. You must take care of your own health and well-being before being there for others.

Self-care has become a buzzword in many spaces, but self-care does not always have to mean luxurious bubble baths. Self-care can also mean prepping for your own exams alone until you feel sufficiently prepared to do well.

I’m sure the young lady will do well as she pursues her medical dreams, but I hope she also recognizes that she has to take the time out to help herself first. Keeping that in mind will ensure she is truly lifting as she climbs and not being stepped past.

What about the Xennial?

I reject the term Xennial. I was born at the end of Generation X, and I walked myself home from school, fixed my own snacks, remember the beginning,and end of, dial up, and am paying my own education debt. The Baby Boomers received the life altering support of the Servicemember’s Readjustment Act, affectionately known as the GI Bill. Generation X received increasing tuition and student loans after our Boomer parents decided we they did not want to pay taxes anymore. To add further insult the attempt of late Gen Xers to protest rapid tuition hikes went unheard until the millennials, with their vast numbers, started attending school. Generation X – forgotten again.

After defunding higher education for decades states are beginning to reconsider the damage they have done to their college students and their own economies. As retailers are finding out, graduates with high debt loads do not (cannot?) live the way their Baby Boomer parents did. They are not purchasing homes or cars or the must have granite upgrades to make their gourmet kitchens socially acceptable for the perpetual group of neighbors that people on House Hunters seem to entertain. Instead Generation Xers and early Millennials are gutting it out and trying to hold jobs and get out of debt.

As states course correct and begin offering free college it seems that Generation X is again a latch key kid. Many of us have no problem paying our fair share of taxes to support education, roads, bridges, etc. However, the question of how states are going to pay for free college is hanging out there. What will those of caught in the college tuition escalation of the 90s and 2000s do if we are paying additional taxes to subsidize someone’s education, while also paying off our own debt? How can states look to the future, while also making up for the mistakes of the past?

Income based repayment and public service loan forgiveness were to be the saviors of those of us caught in the matrix. However, the current federal administration is considering modifying both programs in such a way that they are no longer effective.

Those of us caught between two generations need less names to define ourselves and more suggestions regarding how we can survive a volatile job market, actually pay back what we owe, rear the families we now have, and care for our boomer parents who are aging.

Generation X is the one who has been perpetually skipped over, and some of that is to our good.  We are resilient folks who rode on handle bars, and drank from outside water hoses. Our mommas listen to us chastise them about our semi-neglected childhoods and basically ask “did you die”? We didn’t. But we did pay the price waiting for higher education, and policy in general, to figure out that putting the cost of running universities squarely on the backs of students would lead to long term problematic outcomes. We are pleased that policymakers are starting to get it right, but Generation Xers are left asking, as we always have, what about us?

One and Done: The Game vs. The Student Athlete

Summer television is fairly boring, but this summer ESPN is re-airing its most current iteration of its 30 for 30 series. I grew up in a religious household, so sports was about all I could watch growing up without risking the wrath of Jesus.

This past Saturday “One and Not Done,” told the story of John Calipari, the beleaguered college basketball coach who seems to leave chaos and revoked titles in his wake. “One and done” refers to players who leave college after one year to enter the NBA draft. Students go to college because the league requires that the student’s high school graduating class be out of school at least one year before they are eligible to be drafted.

What struck me most, however, wasn’t Calipari’s story of intentionally recruiting players who want to leave after a year. It was the segment where other elite coaches made their arguments as to why college basketball players should stay in school and play rather than jump to the NBA after one year. Syracuse’s Coach Calhoun went so far as to state that the kid’s should stay for the sake of the game.

My jaw dropped. For decades the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has emphasized that it wants its athletes to be students first. Nevermind that the term “student athlete” was created so that the NCAA wouldn’t have to pay a kid who was injured while playing for a college. Yet, here is a premier coach focusing on the game, and not the student part.

Furthermore, it’s only in revenue generating sports that we seem to care about the student part or the game. Baseball players often do not go to college at all, and get drafted right into the minor leagues. Tennis players and golfers turn pro as early as they are able. At some point we are going to have to come clean and talk about how “the game” doesn’t really accommodate the student part of athlete and either fix it, or get over being salty about a student leaving college and pursue financial security.

If I knew at age 19 that I was good enough to go right into a career that would leave me without student loans then I think I would have been “one and done” also.

On Mentorship

I’ve shown Ava Duvernay’s speech at the 2013 Film Independent Forum to every student with whom I have a mentoring relationship. I can only do as much work as the student is willing to do for themselves. I find that students can Google so many things, but the very things they want and need to advance their careers or their personal interests.

 

Emergency Preparedness

This summer I am working with 300 young people who are taking classes at my university. In preparation I am combing through the emergency and disaster plan prepared by the institution, so that my staff and faculty can know what to do if something happens. For example, today three Metro lines had to be put out of service because of smoke in the tunnel. Our students are often off site for learning opportunities, and I want to be sure that we do our best to keep them safe.

I have now worked in higher education for almost a decade, and this is the first time I’ve really read a campus emergency plan. One would think that after the active shooter at Virginia Tech, and the challenges of 9/11 that we all would be more vigilant about these policies. However, it isn’t something we attend to unless we are responsible directly for students. We forget that we are also responsible for ourselves.

I once had a student in class begin to get violent. Until that moment it never occurred to me that the University Police telephone number should be programmed into my phone. Now, I don’t even need to program the information. I have both the emergency and non-emergency numbers memorized. I also know where they are located in case phone service is down. I have introduced myself to several I see on campus just in case. In case of what I do not know.

I encourage every student, parent, faculty and staff person to review their campus policies. Do not leave it up to student affairs to know what to do with students. Even the mild earthquake my city experienced a few years ago impacted classes. Bring in health and safety professionals to your staff or faculty meetings once per year to get an update. Update your CPR and defibrillator training. There is no use in the university buying life saving equipment if no one knows 1) where it is kept, and 2) how to use it!

Be safe and well.

Community in Higher Education

Primary and secondary education make it a point to try to involve parents in the education process. Just today someone was telling a story about how her child receives checklists from school so that parents know what homework the student should be completing over the week. Schools regularly host parent-teacher conferences. Debates around the merits of a “neighborhood school” versus busing or other means of integration still rage.

Not so much in higher education. It’s as though higher education expects 17-18 year olds to be full formed adults even though part of what we do is shape young people into citizens; at least by the old education is a “public good” standards. We are supposed to know that they aren’t fully formed adults. Yet, why do we cut off their parents abruptly?

With regard to first generation and low-income students cutting off family can be especially traumatic. Research shows that community can be especially important for minoritized students, and first generation and low-income students are similar. When you have had to come together as a community to find ways to defeat racism, or survive fiscally then it can become unfathomable to break from the community when one goes to school. And why should someone do so? The way higher education speaks about access often seems like implicitly marginalized students should reject their home communities and join this “better” way of doing things. The conversation implies that socialization into the academy requires putting away  all that came before.

If we are going to meet the access and completion agendas we have to find better ways to incorporate communities into higher education. It is perfectly fine to expose students to new ideas. It is not okay to for educators to bury their heads in the sand and not try to find ways to incorporate students’ culture and home communities into the college going culture and process. There are many skills that marginalized students bring with them that do not fit neatly into existing frameworks, but those skills may be what leads to new ways of thinking, not only in the classroom, but in the workplace.

Building college going cultures requires incorporating whole families so that they understand what their young person is heading off to do, and thus, the family can support it. Building family into the culture also may save dollars because college going programming may not have to be repeated with younger siblings if parents/guardians also learn the process.

At its heart education is a community process and for it to be effective beyond one person then the community has to be involved from start to finish.

Admitted!

Today we’re proud of our student Katiera Rutledge! Katiera is a student we’ve worked with over the past two years who was interested in transferring from her community college to the University of Maryland at College Park. Her story was featured here.

Katiera was originally denied admission, but after some encouragement from us, called the Admissions Office to find out how to become a stronger application. At that point the Admissions Office discovered that her file had simply been misfiled! Katiera had earned admission to her dream school after all.

This student’s story tells us a few things about the transfer process.

1) It can sometimes be scary. 

Katiera was used to the community college setting, and, even though she wanted to transfer, was a bit reluctant to apply to the larger, flagship school. We worked to demonstrate just how prepared, and ready she truly is, to allay the “I’m not good enough” fears.

2) Follow up can make all the distance.

Katiera did not call the university ranting, but she did ask questions regarding her application, and what she could do to make it stronger. Not all universities are open to such calls, but the lesson here is to let them tell you no rather than assuming the answer without speaking to someone first.

3) Seek outside help. 

Katiera has worked with us over the two years to bridge the gap between her community college and her dream school. Guidance counselors, and university officials are great places to start looking for information about college or transfer, but don’t discount the web, and books! There are a wealth of people in the world who want to see students succeed, and are willing to answer questions. This site is one of those places as well.