NeVer ForgeT

Seven years ago today….

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I sat in my office on a Monday, sorting through an inbox full of emails. I had gotten to work early to get a jump on administrative stuff (my least favorite activity).

The morning was going along nicely. Nothing significant happening inside, but outside the unseasonably cold day was gorgeous. You know that kind of day when the air feels clean and the sun is blazing by 7 am. The bluest sky was visiting, and campus life hadn’t quite awakened from the weekend.

Simply the perfect way for an introvert to start her week.

I was in the lobby chatting it up with a student, when my supervisor approached. He face said nothing in particular. But he stopped by to let me know that two students had been shot at my school.

I remember frowning because I thought that was strange. Probably some accident, I assumed. Working and living on a college campus, few situations shocked me. I continued on with my day as normal. An hour or so passed and students crowded the lobby. They whispered to each other, looking concerned. And that’s when I felt the energy around me change.

After that, honestly, I can’t recall the exact order of events. I knew it was a shooting, but when reports started coming in about fatalities, I couldn’t process that information.

How could that be? Virginia Tech was the safest university ever. My Alma Mater was the safest school, tucked away in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

I had just graduated the previous year and the Hokie  community was family. Literally my family was there, my brother-in-law, cousins, RAs, colleagues, and dear friends. Watching CNN that day, I knew all of them were affected, but I wasn’t sure if they were all still alive.

And here I was at work, on a college campus nearby. I wanted to leave and be with my Tech family. But I needed to stay. The crisis was starting to unfold among the students around me.

VT is the largest university in Virginia and most of my students had friends there. Students in front of me, behind me cried, but I couldn’t. Not yet.

The world changed that day. The sun seemed different. Food didn’t taste the same. My job felt different. Truth is I was different. That day my worldview changed.

A week later I was able to talk with a colleague at VT, and something she said never left me.

I couldn’t fathom what that day was like for her and other Residence life staff there. The first shooting occurred in a dorm I lived in the previous year. Wrapping my mind around such a tragedy was hard enough, being there when as it happened, I couldn’t imagine.

But I wondered how did they handle it? What did the RAs do knowing they had lost a fellow RA and residents?

She paused and said, “We were working. We worked.”

Now, that to me was shocking. But once I let the words sink in, I was inspired. That, in the middle of the biggest tragedy to ever happen on any college campus, RAs and professional staff worked. It was powerful. And I couldn’t have been more proud of the way they pulled together.

Hokie Community at the Memorial VT

Hokie Community at the Memorial VT

Residence Life staff members across the country face several types of issues living the halls. The work they do is irreplaceable and invaluable. Universities need them more than I can explain. I just wanted to write a story to capture the RA experience—the Residence Life experience. And I did.  Because they work when no one is watching, they are always working.

I’ll never forget that day, the heart always remembers. To my dear friends I lost that day, we live for you!

We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry,

and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

~Nikki Giovanni

www.thriftywebsites.us photo credit

A Dream in Me and the Must-See Project

“No matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid” ~ Lupita Nyong’o

Early on as an RA I knew my job would never be in jeopardy (with this economy I wish I had that kind of job security now).  The dean of students pulled us together to go over university budget cuts. I know, budget cuts in education—such a shocker. At the time, I hardly cared, being a sophomore, and more concerned with classes I needed to study for than sitting through another department meeting.  But a fellow RA asked the dean if we would lose our job, if that was part of the budget cut.

I can still see the peculiar smile that spread across the dean’s face as he said, “Oh, no—you don’t have to worry about losing your job.  Your position is irreplaceable.”

Those words really caught my attention. Just a few weeks into being an RA, I wasn’t really sure what the dean meant. By the sixth time I was on RA duty, I knew exactly why my role was so important.

RAs:

 Train twelve’s hours a day for a week or more during the summer, Spend all day moving in their residents, Live with their co-workers and customers (residents),  Handle more paperwork than most secretaries, Serve on-call, confronting just about any student or building issue, Counsels the homesick, confused, abused, and I-just-need-someone-to-talk-to kind of students, Write up the drunk student and befriend them at the same time by inviting them to a program, Teach all sorts of life skills, Make the building pretty with bulletin boards and door tags, Have lots of meetings, some at odd hours of the night, All this while getting a degree and trying to balance that thing we call, “life.”

Q: I mean, who does this?

A: My Dean was right, this role is so important to the university.

For one day, I wish every college student could experience RA life. It’s a unique, unforgettable, unbelievable college adventure.  So much so, I had to write a book about it—had to! RAs are some of the greatest students I know.

My dream is to see Reslife go mainstream, past the halls, past college life, and into living rooms everywhere. Even if my novels aren’t the breakthrough project to do it—I still want Reslife to be celebrated.  I’ve always thought Reslife would make a stellar TV show, it’s like a Glee meets Grey’s Anatomy dipped in a little Friday Night Lights. I know, I sound like a Reslife fan and that’s… correct.  It may be a small dream, but it’s a dream in me. So, I couldn’t be more excited to share with you, Res-Life: The Musical. Chad King, RA and director, created a story that takes place in the upbeat world of Residence Life. A team of dedicated students are helping him put it all together. Here’s the synopsis:

concept art by Anabel Boyanova

concept art by Anabel Boyanova

Starry-eyed resident advisor Oliver seemingly manages to have it all while looking after the first-year students in his hall. But when he is stuck on duty during campus-wide Date Night, an unexpected breakup with his boyfriend catapults Oliver into an emotional crisis.

Now, he must decide if his busy job is worth the stress if it means losing the love he so desperately wants. Meanwhile, his resident Leah struggles to make college feel like home. Singing, dancing, and important realizations ensue as both Oliver and Leah attempt to find love over the course of an unforgettable night.

For more details, check out Res-Life: The Musical on Kickstarter.

As with any film, funding is a huge aspect: stage set, costumes, equipment, and practice locations. This can all get pretty expensive, so they’re asking for support. Helping others live out their dream is a wonderful gift. However big or small the help, it provides the artist with hope. As artists, writers, and dreamers hope is something we always need!

A Story to Tell

I’ve busy lately, and trying not drown in the mid-semester burnout ocean. I know,  I’m not even taking classes. However, I have two little boys so that counts as 24 credit hours at least.  And I work with students and there’s a ton going on with campus life this month and next.

The campus years are such a special time for students. As I’ve mentioned before major life decisions happen in college. During this time, one of the biggest things that students need is validation, knowing that their contributions matter and more importantly that they matter.  Without constant support it’s easy for them to indulge in self-deprecating thoughts.  And who can blame them?  Every day we are all faced with, and fighting the feelings of being less than—not enough.  I enjoy reminding young adults that they are enough, that they matter, and that their contributions are valuable.

One of the ways that has helped students see their value, (or at least the ones I’ve worked with) is by creative writing. A literary agent twitted, “Everyone has a story to tell but not everyone has the innate ability to write it.” Well, I think everyone has a story to tell and has the ability to write it the right way.

With all my business, I was able to catch a movie, Saving Mr. Banks, with a friend.  It’s the story behind the well-loved Disney classic, Mary Poppins. It’s an incredible, must see movie, for sure. Personally, I was surprised that each character in Mary Poppins represented someone in the authors’ family or something from her past. And let me say, these connections were very deep and at times sad, but beautiful. It confirmed the power of stories and how our lives and experiences tend to shape a story.  At one point in the film, Walt Disney says, “We all have our sad story. Imagine the past–how it should have been, and write it.” (not the exact quote, hopefully I didn’t butcher it too much) Because of this, I’m convinced that we all need to write more! Even the I’m-too-overwhelmed-by-classes college student should write. There’s nothing like writing what’s in our heart and seeing the proof that we are valuable as the words spill out. Because our experiences, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs matter.

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photo credit : http://allthecoloursofmylife.tumblr.com/

So, this is what happens…

tumblr_mvra4qwrYt1qcm0m3o1_500.gif ron

When classes are cancelled and the university shuts down, guess who’s babysitting? Yep, Ron Swanson! Well, not really but close. This scene is the best representation of  how Reslifers feel during inclement weather. There’s this little dot on the job description that says, “duties as assigned,” which means “wearer of many hats” for residence life staff members.

My experience includes walking around during a Nor’easter trying to get my students to stop playing football in flooded areas. Without the structure of classes students go a little crazy, especially if they’re stuck in a dorm.  To be honest, I was not happy that day. I just wanted to sleep– you know, take a day off. However, looking back on all those adventures I don’t regret a single moment. Because our experiences are the foundation for great stories.

I just wanted to share as it’s rumored we are getting another snowmageddon in the D.C. area.  Much love to my local Reslifers this week! When the snow starts falling, keep your sanity by encouraging students to watch movies, play board games, and of course read a great book! 🙂

Image Source: A Passionate Mind and whatshouldwecallstudentaffairs

What Everyone Should Know About College Life

College campuses are constantly changing. Nowadays, they can look more like a vacation resort than a place to get an education. So, here are some of my thoughts on college life and things I’ve noticed. These are great points to keep in mind if you write about college students or choose to use a campus setting in your novel.

1)   College is Weird and Stress Inducing.

Let me begin with a quote from a  student:

“college is so weird like you give people a bunch of money to provide a service that just stresses you out and makes you poor so that hopefully one day they give you a piece of paper that says you’re qualified to earn all of that money back this is too much i need a drink” –Brandon

Stressed and under pressure–that’s everyone, especially college students. Even before the semester begins it’s not uncommon to find students studying, preparing so they can get ahead.  So when you’re on campus and students walk in front of your car like it’s invisible, give them a break.  They are overworked and not getting paid at all.

“College kids literally don’t care about walking in the way of cars at school because we’re like “hit me i don’t care pay my tuition.” – Christina  

2)   The Best Food in Town.

Virginia Tech Dining

Virginia Tech Dining

Seriously, it’s no mystery college kids gain weight. Restaurants love being close to campus, it’s guaranteed business. Some the best places I’ve eaten have been these little hole-in-the-wall diners near my school. Also, the food on campus is not too shabby. At Virginia Tech, you can pick out your own Lobster and order filet mignon.  They even have their own campus ice cream shop and bakery. And the quality is pretty five-star!

3)   Neutral Living Space

Live with Opposite Sex

Live with the Opposite Sex

Co-ed rooms –yep, guys are girls can share a room. Heck, they can share the same bed if they want, all by choice, of course.  Many schools are providing gender neutral housing assignments. I image parents to have the biggest issue with this one. 🙂

4)   Free stuff

Free is Neat

Free is Neat

It never fails.  Each time I’m meeting with a student on campus free stuff is available, they are just handing it out as you walk by. Anything from pens, cups, t-shirts, hats, food, even computer software. Surprisingly many students don’t care. So much free stuff and so little space to put them, I guess. And there’s a such thing as having too many t-shirts. Believe me, I know!

5)   Puppies and Babies Pretty Much Get The Same Reaction From Students

puppy and baby

It’s one of the best things to witness, seeing the stressed out faces soften anytime a baby or puppy is around.  It’s as if babies and puppies help remind students that there is life outside of the institutional bubble. I had my baby while I was still living/working on campus and everywhere I took my son, everyone wanted to see him or hold him. Bring him to various campus events completely changed the atmosphere. I heard less profanity, saw more smiles, got more attention from strangers.  Very similar reaction my co-worker got when she’d bring her puppy. 🙂

6)   Entertainment Weekly

Dave Matthews Band

Dave Matthews Band

Since I’m originally from Charlottesville, I had to find a way to include Dave Matthews. He performed at UVA all the time and generously donated money to the school. But most colleges have concerts, plays and other forms of entertainment. And they are not just for the students. Many of these performances and events are open to the public. Universities are a big businesses– everyone is a potential customer, so inviting the community on campus actually helps revenue. Date-night on campus isn’t so bad with great food and concerts at a reasonable cost!

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Photo Source:

http://knightnews.com

http://bostinno.streetwise.co

http://social.virginia.edu

http://www.babble.com

Stuck: Personal Rights vs. Public Safety

A few weeks back me and my hubby attended a Mental Health seminar held at the University of Maryland. We work with college students, and mental health is a continual problem on campuses everywhere. So we are constantly seeking advice because we love our students. The seminar was informative, for sure, but I left with more questions.

I’m going to take you back to my Hall Director days. And what I’m about to share my make you feel uncomfortable. But that’s not my intentions.

One of my RAs called me because her resident was banging her head against the wall. I was in my pajamas so I slide on my staff jacket over it. I didn’t have to go far, just down the hallway. When I got there, the resident was still hitting her head against the wall and she was bleeding. Even though I had worked in residence life for five years, handled several situations, I was still a little scared. She assured me she was fine—just stressed. Somehow I got the resident to calm down and to promise me that she wouldn’t hurt herself. It was 4am-ish, and I honestly wasn’t sure if I was making the right decision in leaving this resident alone. But she told me she wasn’t suicidal, and I wanted to believe her.

When I got back to my little apartment, I didn’t bother to wake my husband. He looked so peaceful, I, on the other hand, couldn’t sleep. All I thought about was that resident and if she’d be dead in the morning. I prayed that I had made the right decision. I called her two hours later, she was okay and a little shocked about my concern.

On college campuses, situations like this happens more than anyone would like to admit. Most schools want prospective students (really parents) to believe they’ve creative some Utopian environment that will foster academic growth and personal development. And I believe many practitioners really work hard to do just that. But here’s the deal, let’s drop off thousands of 18-21 year olds, give them a ton of work and remind them that their future success depends on it,  make them live with each other, encourage self-discovery, and there are bound to be a few mental melt-downs.

At times I felt lost confronting situations because students weren’t required to self-disclose. I never knew which students struggles with mental health unless they told me. So I spent many years treating symptoms because the cause was a privacy right that each student had—and still have to this day. I respect this right, I do. I just wonder can a right to privacy compromise public safety? For me, it’s a hard question to answer. Mental health is one of the themes in my book. I hope it will spark discussion that helps lead to a solution.