Long time no blog!
It’s not a secret in the Student Learning and Transitions department that I tend to avoid blogging. This isn’t my most comfortable writing style and the amount of research I’ve done into best practices and style expectations for blogging makes it feel forced. That said, I was on a roll with a promising entry last week when – without getting overly political – a certain event transpired in a neighbouring country that knocked the wind out of my sails for a few days. In response to this event, I found myself questioning a lot of what I believed and I, the person who is known for showering rainbows and sprinkles of optimism on stressed students, became cynical, angry, and defeated. Needless to say, the happy-go-lucky post I had waiting in the wings felt more forced and unnatural than usual. My ideas for blog posts are few and far between, so I didn’t want to throw out all of what I had written. In fact, I want to celebrate my accomplishments more now that I have had time to reframe what I have learned as a result of them. So here we go…
I have been in my role for 4.5 years so when September 2016 came around after a summer of projects and transition, I was pretty confident that I would find a sense of calm and familiarity in the cycle of the academic year that I had come to know. I knew that I would slowly begin to see students and gradually close up the summer projects.
Wrong. So, so wrong.
I opened my appointment software at 8:30am on Monday, September 12 while on the phone with my childcare provider and almost spat out my coffee (emphasis on the almost because I never waste coffee). I was completely, and I do mean completely, booked. I hadn’t had the forethought to book lunches into my schedule and I was staring at a lunch-less week! I hung up the phone, scrambled for my ever-lost nametag and ran to the waiting room to start an appointment for which I was already late!
I’m happy to report that the week of September 12 wasn’t an anomaly. When I compare September 1-November 16, 2016 to the same period last year, my appointment numbers are up 148% and my unique students are up 174%. I credit a number of factors with this increase, but needless to say, I’ve stopped predicting what the year is going to look like.
The dramatic increase in my appointments has exposed me to an incredible array of students. I have worked with more students dealing with the ongoing symptoms of concussions; I’ve seen a surprising number of students who have come to their appointments within hours of breaking up with partners or learning about their parents’ plans to divorce; I’ve made more referrals to Student Counselling Services for anxiety, depression, and early signs of disordered eating; and the list goes on. The past 2.5 months have been professionally and personally transformative.
Now, how can I link this experience to my introduction? Great question. Following the events of last week, I needed time to think and be one with the hollow feeling I had in my chest. I wanted to see hope and, honestly, until three days ago, I wasn’t sure it was there. When I’m battling anger and sadness, it’s hard for me to see the amazing things that have literally been taking up my days for weeks.
I was watching some late-night TV (because funny) and I saw an interview that wasn’t funny. It moved me and began to fill the void in my chest with something; it wasn’t the hope I was looking for but it was a flicker of optimism. That interview did its other job because I reported to my e-reader and downloaded the book that was the focal point of the interview.
The first chapter of the book highlights the transformative nature of higher education and co-curricular involvement. It was in university that this person first became engaged in the issues that laid the foundation for a life dedicated to equality and progressive values.
Those pages helped me in developing a sense of optimism for the future because when I looked back at the huge number of students I have met over the past few weeks, many of the appointments have centred around getting their lives under control so they can focus on academics. Why do they need this kind of help? Because they are involved. They’re involved in student governance, on-campus clubs, off-campus art collectives, fundraising initiatives, and local riding associations. In the immediate sense, this involvement has resulted in some jam-packed agendas but in the medium and long term, seeing this degree of involvement and dedication motivates me. It makes me feel like things will be ok because somewhere among these students could be the next person who openly champions for progress from a position of influence and if I helped that person get organised so they could handle all of their commitments, then that feels pretty great. In the meantime, I have a book to finish and some actions of my own to take.