Low Maintenance Friends + Student Affairs

I used to be a high maintenance friend; I thought frequency of communication or proximity were markers of depth of friendship. When I thought that way, I was also younger, and I believe thinking that way is a normal part of development and our understanding of friendship. However, I’ve grown in my understanding of friendship, and I am thankful for not only the examples of friendship I see in the lives of my loved ones, but also my friends who have taught me how to be a friend. The purpose of this post is to speak to the importance of low maintenance friendships especially when one of you has a career in Student Affairs.

Well firstly, what do I mean when I say “low maintenance friend”? In my opinion, a low maintenance friend is a person with whom your relationship remains intact without you having to “do a whole lot”. These are the people you don’t talk to every day or week, and most likely don’t see often either. To give you an idea, I will give some details about 3/6 of my low maintenance friends.

  1. Lives 2 hours away, we talk on the phone maybe every 2 months. We send long text updates monthly. Full time student with a full time job.
  2. Lives 15 minutes away. Travels often. Married. We talk on the phone maybe once a month.
  3. Lives 1.5 hours way. Full time student. Part time job. We never talk on the phone. Bump into each other at random/ call each other for important events, needs or crises.

If you asked me to name my best or dearest friends, those three would make the cut every time.

So, why are people like this important when you have a career in Student Affairs?

Because our schedules are weird.
      When I look at my calendar, my supervisors’ calendars or even my classmates/colleagues, they never look the same, and they often look overwhelming. There are always a few random weeknights, Sunday mornings, or consecutive days that don’t align with the “traditional” 9-5 M-F job that many people associate with full-time employment. What does this mean for you as a friend? Well, maybe you friend has to be at a program until 8:30pm after working 9-5, so no hanging out that night. Or, is your friend completing a degree program on top of their career? They might be in class til 10p a few nights a week. Is it the beginning or end of a semester? There might be some extra programming happening for students that your friend has to go to. In many functional areas, there is no such thing as a “typical day” or “typical week”; the ever-changing nature of the work is something many of us enjoy, but can be a hard concept to grasp for those close to us. I hope this helps you understand the level of grace that is necessary when in friendships with people who work in Student Affairs, and also those who are students while working in the field.

Because our work is also hard and important.
     
I know, not many people know what Student Affairs is, and sometimes the importance is diminished. We are educators, counselors, administrators, event planners, supervisors, advisors and more all wrapped up into one. We engage with college students on a daily basis, and life is always happening. The students with whom we work are real people going through real life on top of their studies or campus involvement, and sometimes (oftentimes) we are the ones rolling up our sleeves to guide them through their emotional work. This can be draining, and sometimes we don’t have the energy it takes to connect with you after a day at work. Sometimes, all we want to do at the end of a day is relax, and that might not always include other people. Truth be told, sometimes it may include people other than you (family, roommates, significant others etc.) In the same vein, sometimes what we want to do is listen to a podcast or music or practice self-care, and with our limited free time, we may be choosing to do those things instead of talking to or spending time with you. That does not mean that we don’t value you or the friendship we have with you, but that we also value ourselves, our mental, emotional and physical health and our inner lives.

Because friendship is not about frequency or proximity, but intentionality, presence and quality.
     
Sometimes, we feel like people aren’t our friends if they don’t like every social media post, respond to every text message or come out to every happy hour, but is this really all friendship is? I’d dare to say no. For me, I measure my friendships on the love and support we provide for each other, the substance of our conversations/interactions (however limited they may be) and the places we hold in each other’s hearts. Can I share the deepest parts of my soul with you? Will you still be my friend when I am in a pit of darkness? Do you encourage me? Can I trust you? If those answers are yes but you can’t come to brunch or don’t talk to me every day, does that mean you aren’t really my friend? Of course not, because it is clear that our friendship extends so far beyond those social interactions. I’d pose that against the backdrop of a career in Student Affairs, brunch and drinks may be pushed to the wayside, but your support and love as a friend will be noticed. Why? One is a requirement in friendship and the other isn’t. I can go to drinks and brunch with coworkers and classmates or anyone else, but everyone won’t love and support me like my friends.

Although there are so many other things that makes friendship important and difficult with a career in Student Affairs, I hope that something above resonated with you. Friendship is such a beautiful and necessary part of life, and it often gets tricky. In any relationship there will be times to sit down and be honest about what’s working and what isn’t, so maybe this will serve as a conversation starter if you’re feeling some of those pressures in your current friendships.

The ACUHO-I Internship

Many national Student Affairs organizations offer the opportunity for graduate students and future grads to earn experience in a functional area via a paid summer internship. Two of the most well known internship programs are NODA and ACUHO-I; in New Student Orientation and Housing and Residential Life respectively. Between my first and second years in graduate school, I went through the grueling and competitive NODA and ACUHO-I internship interview processes, and at the end, was offered 5 positions. I had the privilege of completing my internship at a medium-sized, primarily residential, state school in south Georgia, United States. The purpose of this post is to share strategies for making the most out of the ACUHO-I and NODA internship.

Creating Community
Uprooting yourself and moving to a new environment for 3 months is a big deal, and it might be helpful to think about how important community is to you now, and what that will look like at your internship. I was 14 hours away from home, 3 hours away from anyone familiar, and not keen on driving long distances. Prior to me arriving at my internship, I was given the contact information of people who worked in the department, and I never used it. That was mistake number 1; don’t allow the busyness of your semester to prevent you from preparing for those three months at your internship. Building relationships (no matter how superficial) with the people in your new department will make this transition significantly easier.

For me, it was also important to find a spiritual family and home for those three months, and that is something I did prepare before arriving in Georgia. I searched the interwebs for churches similar to mine at home in Philadelphia, and came across a church where I felt I would fit. The first thing I did after putting down my bags in my new apartment was drive to Sunday morning service at this church. Two of the people who greeted me on my first day became my friends and support system for that whole summer; I also foresee us being lifelong friends. For you, if there is something that is the foundation of your life at home, please be sure to plan for that at your internship; you’ll need some semblance of similarity when everything feels foreign. It could be a dance class, a weekly open mic, small group, volunteering at a rescue mission or any number of things, make sure that you find your people and your place while you’re away.

Know Your Role
This is another way that the busyness of the semester distracted me from setting myself up for success. I asked too few questions about what would be expected of me when I arrived, to the point where I did not have any idea at all of the work I’d be doing. Even though I would not have been able to start the work until I arrived, if I had a clear picture of what I’d be tasked with, I would have been able to think of things and mentally prepare for the summer. This may not make sense to everyone, but trust me, there are some people who like to dream and imagine how they’ll do specific projects and research similar ones. If you’re one of those people, there are so many opportunities for you to ask questions about your role, be sure to use them wisely.

Ask for What You Need
This did not occur to me until the semester following my internship, but that was a perfect opportunity to gain some of the skills that I would not gain in my GA or other internships. I had nothing but time on my hands for the summer, so working on projects with supervisors that would teach me skills necessary for the job search would have been the perfect way to spend that time. If there are areas that you need more experience in (think: student conduct, supervision, budget management, assessment and program evaluation)  ask your supervisors for projects that will give you the experience. When you go home, you'll be grateful that if you took away the name of the internship and/or the university, your experience would speak for itself. 

Of course during this process, you'll be told what to do and more often than not, you'll do it. However, be sure to take this internship opportunity as a time to grow as a professional, figure yourself out personally and prepare for your future. Although it is summer, it is far from a break, and if you look at it as a concentrated time to do some amazing work, you'll get a lot out of it. 

The Line Between Professional & Robotic

Recently I've realized that there are many people who don't know how to balance being a whole person and a professional (or respond to colleagues who attempt this feat). A professional degree or title does not negate the experiences, emotions and tendencies that balanced adults have. Professional or not, there are instances in which people become excited, annoyed, angry or stubborn; work is a part of real life, so real life responses should be expected to an extent.

Too often, people don't know how to deal with authentic people in the workplace; although these people aren't necessarily being disrespectful, there is a level of sugarcoating and polishing that is almost always expected. 

I pose that team building and professional development efforts would be easier if we genuinely revealed ourselves to our colleagues. Some people are outspoken, others are direct, and more are reserved or shy. When situations arise and the true personalities of our colleagues are revealed (if they are not aligned with the public face they've been trained to portray), we respond with shock or disapproval, but had we allowed people to be genuine up-front, we would have less trouble processing their current responses. 

The ability to understand that we work alongside other people and not (Insert Career Field Here) Robots, enables us to relieve each other of some of the pressure to be perfect. People have quirks, likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and all of these are partially responsible for the making of a unique person. 

It would behoove all of us to carry ourselves in a professional and respectable manner, but I believe that more often than not, the organization as a whole would benefit from its employees being authentic. 

Inclusivity

As an aspiring Student Affairs practitioner, Inclusivity is a word that I hear frequently in conversation. As a lover of people and an advocate for treating all people with kindness and love, I certainly support creation of and education about inclusive spaces. However, I take issue with the fact that (in my experience at my undergraduate institution) Inclusivity does not extend far beyond the LGBTQIAA community.

Certainly, people in this community are marginalized and mistreated, and facilitating dialogues and trainings for others to learn more about the struggles and challenges that they face is a necessary step in fostering a sense of Inclusivity. However, the LGBTQIAA community is not the only community wherein exists hatred, discrimination, disenfranchisement, and brutality.

Sexual “Orientation”, Sex, Gender, Religion, Nationality, Race, Ethnicity, Ability, Age, Employment and Socioeconomic Status are eleven categories to which people belong, that are commonly cited as reasons for discrimination.

Why is it then that the conversation about Inclusivity does not extend to many of these other groups? My argument is not that there is not conversation happening at my undergraduate institution about all of these issues, my argument is that there is an obvious bias from Administrators to program around one specific topic.

Safe Zone training is a wonderful example. At my institution, Safe Zone is offered at least five times per year, and two of those are at University Housing and Residential Life’s Resident Assistant training. This training is nationally renowned, and facilitated by trained professionals only. Participants receive a certificate of completion after this training, because it is a legitimate program with an official start and end, and a curriculum and schedule. People have invested time and energy to create an effective way to teach people about the LGBTQIAA community and help to create inclusive institutions.  

Where is the diversity training for Religious, Ethnic, Racial and Age differences? Where is the sensitivity training for working with people with physical disabilities, or people from socioeconomic classes and employment statuses other than your own? There are programs that exist to start some other dialogues, but they aren't as weighty as Safe Zone.

Sometimes, we value Inclusivity so much that we want speakers to be credentialed and have specialized in/completed research on their topic of choice for years and have proven results. Other times, we throw anyone who has some free time up in front of students to speak to a particular issue that they may not have even dealt with their own biases about.

Inclusivity is supposed to extend to all marginalized people; it cannot stop at one group. In order for public spaces to be safe for all people, there can exist no marginalization in the dialogues, training and available resources for and about Inclusivity.

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