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September 7, 2021
Good morning, Student Affairs Roadrunners:
At 8:47am September 11, 2001, I looked at my watch. The train had just pulled into the Chambers Street subway station, under the World Trade Center, and I thought to myself, “well, I’m going to be late today.”
That day was a Tuesday, much like today, with blue skies and comfortable temperature. It was one week after my duties with Orientation had wrapped up, and I was started to learn my new job as a Program Coordinator in the College Activities Office at Barnard College. I had jumped on the A Train at Nostrand Avenue, later than usual, and was standing (probably listening to my Sony Discman) by the doors to the subway car. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Thirty minutes later, when I walked into the Student Center, it was clear that nothing was ordinary. We tried to maintain normalcy; we even conducted our staff meeting at 10am. But as we watched Broadway, and the auto traffic started clogging the northbound lanes while the southbound lanes became a constant stream of emergency vehicles, sirens blaring, we knew we were only postponing the inevitable realization that something major was happening to us.
I’ve written about this day in the context of campus crisis management, and spent 20 years processing and trying to make meaning. I was too new a New Yorker to have much connection to the buildings (other than using them as directional guides to figure out uptown from downtown), but I do remember being in awe that I was able to get home on the subway that evening. I remember the trash that was everywhere for months – papers floating in the air, grey muck lining the streets, and the smell. I remember that we were all kinder to each other, for a while. I remember the absolute disconnect, the feeling that the news must be wrong, because 150 blocks north, everything seemed fine. And then, I remember the hatred that emerged from trying to understand. The corner stores being looted and destroyed simply because the owners were “other” or the “see something, say something” marketing scheme that taught us to look around with suspicion.
As the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches this weekend, many of us will be confronting our own memories. For some of you, the attack was the first major event you remember in our world. Some of you were too young to remember, or weren’t even born yet! For others, it marked the start of a twenty year war where you were deployed to the Middle East. I’m sure some of you felt the sting of hatred as many Americans blamed entire religions or populations for the events of that day. It changed the way we think about travel, the way we think about being in large spaces. I hope that you will participate in the 9/11 remembrance activities planned by our colleagues in CMEI (see attached), as a way of processing your own experiences and supporting our community as we all seek to remember and reflect and rebuild.
As I begin my work-week, I’ll be thinking about what I will always carry as a result of being in that city on that day:
As we work through this week, and next, I encourage you to share stories, to gather, to remember. Only through fully debriefing our experiences can we make new meaning from them, a meaning that hopefully moves us toward a brighter, and better, future.
August 16, 2021
Dear Student Affairs Roadrunners –
1 week to go! Some of you are deep in student training, others are prepping for big events and programs to take place (Hi Diana Ibarra!), while others are furiously trying to respond to the avalanche of student emails, calls, and contact points. MSU Denver knows how hard this team works to support our entire community, and I look forward to celebrating later on.
In the last few weeks, many of us have voiced feelings of finding it difficult, or challenging, to “reconnect” or “reconstruct” our ways of doing business. We made jokes about newfound social anxiety or the inability to make small talk, we’ve commiserated about the parts of Teams technology that we enjoyed during meetings, and we’ve had to navigate lots of tough conversations about vaccines and masks. I’ve been thinking about relationships and how they impact our work, and why they are more important than ever as we kick off Fall 2021.
As I look back at my three years at MSU Denver, I see a ton of evidence where good relationships have positively impacted our strategies:
And there are lots of examples of where a relationship that wasn’t so strong negatively impacted our ability to meet a challenge. Whether it was a failure to build trust before initiating change, a less-than-perfect attempt at inclusive leadership, or the assumption of intent…we can all identify times when we’ve failed to achieve something because we neglected a relationship. I know I can.
So when this Harvard Business Review article on “micromoves” – or “the little things that affect our work relationships” came across my Twitter feed, I flagged it and read it when I had time to reflect. I hope you will as well and think about what commitments you need to make to strengthen and build your relationships with colleagues. Some of the strategies that, personally, I will be working on include:
I’ll continue to think about this and hope you will as well. In the meantime, know that I support you and value your work at MSU Denver, in your communities, and in relationship with me!
July 26, 2021
Good morning, team Student Affairs!
This weekend, I was pondering on the nature of burnout and how to manage it from a place of leadership. Back in grad school, a faculty member gave us an article on burnout in the helping professions. It identified the various stages of burnout and the appropriate interventions. All of the interventions were about reminding staff of the vision, the mission, and clarifying expectations. None of it was about appreciating that burnout also originates from our socio-political contexts, the deep inequities in our communities, and how “workers” have been framed over the last 100 years. So, I thought a lot about “what sustains me” through my personal and professional journeys. Why, after over 25 years of adulthood and time spent on college campuses, do I keep on keeping on? I came up with three notions:
To that end, if you’re looking for a way to get connected professionally, I encourage you to read the message from NASPA Region 4West below. This is a great opportunity to present or volunteer!
None of these sustaining influences can heal or prevent the burnout that could come the issues shared above, but it might help me make it to the other side of whatever I’m dealing with.
In 2001, my staff and I created “Good Stuff Boxes” as a team builder during a staff meeting. I still have mine today, full of thank you notes, hastily jotted affirmations, and other artifacts of 20 years of positive experiences in student affairs. Whether your good stuff box is physical, or even an email mailbox, I hope you’ll save these remembrances and one day reflect on the impact you’ve had on those around you, including me.
With deep gratitude, and hopes for future impromptu chats –
June 28, 2021
Dear Student Affairs Roadrunners:
As some of you may know, this weekend was Denver Pride. It may have looked a lot different than past years, but you can’t mistake the sudden appearance of rainbow ….everything as an indication that Pride was afoot. I remember visiting Denver in 2018 on one of my “pre-move” trips and being stunned at how friendly the city seemed in June; it gave me comfort to know that I was moving to a place that valued my identity. This weekend, my mind often drifted to the 20+ years of Pride celebrations I’ve attended. My first event as an MSU Denver employee was stopping by the Pride March in Cheesman Park to say hi to the Auraria marchers. I’ve said before that I still remember when, nationally, we could count the out VPSA’s on one hand, so that was a meaningful moment for me.
I never saw a Pride March until I moved to Washington D.C. in 1999. When I was in college, we had to drive 45 minutes to the nearest gay bar, so the LGBTQ programming that I participated in was mostly student-run on my campus. That first march was…incredible! There were so many people marching through the streets of DC, not to mention the big name singers performing on the main stage of the rally. This country kid was a little overwhelmed at what, at that time, really only excited in metropolitan areas across the country.
My first Pride March in New York City in 2002 featured newly-elected Senator Hillary Clinton walking down the street in a big straw hat (maybe a nod to Bella Abzug?), a large contingent of folks on motorcycles kicking off the parade, and miles and miles and miles of floats and marchers. I was totally starstruck, again. Over the years, my various Pride experiences also included cheering loudly from a rooftop across from the Stonewall Inn for NY State legislators after marriage equality was passed, screaming until I lost my voice for the “Stonewall Veterans” in vintage convertibles riding down 5th Avenue, and most importantly, days spent with good friends.
This 2021 saw the first ever Pride march and picnic in my hometown of Pulaski County, Virginia. And my niece organized it. Seeing the pictures on her social media feed, and finding not a handful of rebels but a beautiful array of community members decked out in their finest glitter and rainbows walking through streets where I never totally felt comfortable as a kid – that was truly something. And knowing that my niece, who turned 20 years old yesterday, played a role in bringing that to our small mountain town was perfection.
As I’ve said before – Change Is. Pride, for me, is a remembrance that Change Is happening every day, all around me. Change Is a slow forward march to a better day, a day when we can feel included. Change Is generational, it is evolutionary, it is intentional. Change Is carried forward by millions of every day actions that build momentum for cataclysmic advances in human rights and human dignity.
We are all part of that change.
June 1, 2021
Dear Student Affairs Roadrunners:
Does it seem possible that we could already be 5 months into 2021? Today is June 1, the official start of Maymester (maybe we need to rename that?), of LGBTQ Pride Month, and (at least in my mind) summer. I hope that each of you will find time this summer to recover, to take some much earned and needed vacation time, and to enjoy your family and friends.
Like many of you, the grey skies this weekend meant that I stayed inside and consumed much media. From pieces on the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre, to the origins of Memorial Day, I learned quite a bit about history. These were things I should have been taught in school, but never was. Last year, in the midst of ongoing protest and demonstrations after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, Juneteenth offered an opportunity to learn about more of our history. At MSU Denver, we took this day as a day of reflection and asked folks to engage or study in ways that supported their learning and growth. A team of MSU Denver student affairs folks even created a repository of readings to support this growth.
I am asking everyone in Student Affairs to observe Juneteenth 2021 on Friday, June 18, 2021 as a “Day Without Meetings” for reflection, engagement, and education. Here’s what this could mean:
Then, in our Town Hall on June 21, I will ask a few volunteers to share what they did and what they learned or thought about. Remembrance and reflection is only part of our work. From meaning-making activities like this, we move further down the road toward becoming a true anti-racist organization.
April 19, 2021
Good Monday Morning Roadrunners!
Does it seem like we are just on repeat these days? From the weather (MORE snow??) to COVID (ANOTHER wave?) to the academic calendar (are we dealing with Spring 2022 yet?), my mind and body feels like I’m on a racetrack, going as fast as I can around and around and around. It stinks. As I recovered from my second dose of Moderna over the weekend (THANK YOU Auraria Health Center and Dolly Parton), I spent some time thinking about what could characterize our return to a new normal this Fall. Here are 5 hopes that I have for us:
Together, we can do this. Together, we can redefine how institutions of higher education support students. Together, we can make change.
April 12, 2021
Dear Student Affairs Roadrunners,
This week is super special because we are celebrating Student Employee Appreciation Week! Student employee supervisors, please forward this email to your student employees.
When I think back to my own college experiences, it was the time spent in the Multicultural Center as student staff at Virginia Tech that changed my life. That’s where I met the graduate assistant who told me I should think about student affairs as a career, it is where I started to connect my experience as a gay man to the experiences of folx of color and other groups, and where I tested my skills and found my passion. How many of you found your passion through student employment? How many of our student employees are using this as a launchpad to their futures?
Student employees – please know that we ADMIRE you and APPRECIATE you. The work you do, day in and day out, supports your peer students and keeps MSU Denver moving along. You are truly the lifeblood of this University; we couldn’t do it without you.
As a small token of our appreciation, we are providing an opportunity for our student employees to win MSU Denver swag! 20 random winners will be announced on Friday, April 16th.
Stay tuned as we will share some highlights from our very own student employees throughout the week and follow the appreciation shout outs on Instagram @MSUDenverStudents.
We are so glad that you are a part of our family,
February 1, 2021
Good morning, Student Affairs Roadrunners!
While our friends on the East Coast are getting pummeled by 2 feet of snow, we will enjoy a nearly 60 degree day. How about that?
This weekend, I took a walk around City Park. This was actually my first visit to City Park where I could walk around and enjoy the lakes, the statues, and the gorgeous views of the Denver skyline and mountains in the background. But what really stood out to me was the public art sprinkled throughout the park. My good friend Sarah, who was chaperoning our dogs date with me, sits on the city’s public art commission and was explaining how art gets “placed” in these spaces. A certain percentage of development dollars must be spent on public art (policy), and then a community group of stakeholders is convened to sort through submissions and select finalists (process), leading to terrific opportunities for we Denverites to view angry mustangs (DIA!) and gorgeous murals (program).
Policy. Process. Program. Sound familiar?
These are the three tools that we have to build opportunities for student learning. Our policies create the best environment for students to learn, our processes are designed to stimulate growth along a developmental framework, and our programs convey content and opportunities.
But how are our communities engaged in the development of policy, process, and programs? Do we convene groups of stakeholders to guide our work? Who are our stakeholders?
As you think about the work of MSU Denver, I hope you’ll reflect on these ideas. We are a work in progress, and no one expects change to come quickly. But, I know that if we focus on community engagement and refining policies, processes, and programs to support student learning, we will succeed.
Have a terrific week!
PS: Rowdy did NOT enjoy wearing his new MSU Denver alumni red bandana to the park.
January 18, 2021
Good morning, Student Affairs Roadrunners –
Today is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, celebrated across the entire United States, by many as a day of service. As we honor today, and Dr. King’s legacy, we cannot forget our history. To learn more about Colorado’s history and MLK Jr. Day, check out this website.
We cannot forget our history. When I was a kid growing up in Virginia, I remember clearly when our state began to celebrate this holiday. Except we called it “Lee / Jackson / King Day.” Yup – you read that right. The Commonwealth of Virginia had a shared holiday between two seditious generals and a civil rights icon. This sort of conflicting reality was endemic to growing up in a southern state. When the City of Richmond wanted to place a statue of Arthur Ashe, a hometown hero and tennis icon, on Monument Avenue by the Capitol, both the NAACP and the KKK rallied. Neither wanted their hero’s statue to be next to the other. The statue was placed there…and in recent years, many of the confederate statues have been removed. In that same era, Virginia went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States in an effort to maintain male-only education at the Virginia Military Institute (with a women’s program at Mary Washington University)……separate and absolutely not equal.
We cannot forget our history. Dr. King would have turned 92 this year. Anne Frank would have also turned 92. Douglas Wilder, the first Black governor (of Virginia) in the nation, just turned 90 (he was also the governor who suggested that Ashe’s statue belonged on Monument Avenue). Let’s put this into perspective – Betty White just turned 99 and James Earl Jones 90. Dr. King’s legacy isn’t some long-ago tale of courage and justice, it is our recent history, our living history. I saw some posts on social media this week with pictures of the snarling men and women at the integration of Little Rock High School. Where are they now? They are someone’s grandmother, someone’s father. Our history is alive and well and must not be forgotten. It is the context through which all events unfold.
We cannot forget our true history. I believe that our communities must engage in truth and reconciliation processes in order to heal. From Greensboro, North Carolina to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, these truth and reconciliation efforts can lead to renewed trust, community engagement, and a dismantling of false histories.
As you begin your week, I want to draw your attention to Larry Sampler’s Early Bird message on the threats of violence in our state’s capital. I also want to remind you that Dr. Davidson has cancelled this week’s President’s Cabinet so that we can all watch and reflect on the Presidential Inauguration.
As we begin classes, I know that you will all support our faculty, our students, and our community in the ways that you always do. I also know that we all grow weary of managing the concurrent crises of a pandemic, racism, and an assault on our democratic norms. You have my deep admiration for all that you do, today and always.
December 14, 2020
Dear Student Affairs –
Normally, the Monday after Commencement, we would be relaxing, joking around with each other, and sliding into a more relaxed few weeks. But, these are not normal times. I know that many of you are deeply involved in registration efforts, helping to get the Summer 2021 and Fall 2021 schedules planned, and still others are planning for the Spring semester. Whatever is taking up your time this week, please try to do three things:
I look forward to seeing all your mini-Roadrunners for our 9:30am storytime! If you’ve ever wondered what happened to Sneezy the Snowman, you’re about to find out.
November 30, 2020
Dear Student Affairs Roadrunners:
And like that, November comes to a close and December approaches. I hope that many of you were able to disconnect from work-related projects and focus on yourselves and your family. And like you, I found it pretty difficult to get back on my “routine” this morning. Luckily, I have a hungry dog who expects to be fed at 6am on the dot. Nature’s little alarm clock.
I’ve been thinking about two things this last week: ethics and anxiety.
I’m sure many of you noted, with ire, the story that broke last Wednesday of Mayor Hancock travelling to Mississippi to be with his wife and daughter just 30 minutes after he Tweeted out an admonition for Denverites not to travel this holiday week. My friends and I had a debate about what is worse, someone who says the right thing and does the wrong thing, or someone who says and does the wrong thing? In the student leadership literature, this is what’s known as “congruence” – where values and actions align. As someone who engages in the process of leadership, I believe congruence has two merits. The first is typically, if our values are right, and our actions are in congruence, we make the right decision (see MSU Denver, Fall planning). The second focuses on the messages that congruence sense, the example of leadership rooted in values. That message is powerful. I hope that YOUR work to lead MSU Denver gets as much notice as the wrong decisions others are making during these times.
And now to anxiety. What exactly do you do when you are riding a ski lift and your ski falls to the ground far below, somewhere between posts 6 and 7 on the Peak 8 Chair 5? Well, if you are me, and new things scare you to death, you sit in a puddle of your anxiety for the next 5 minutes wondering how in the hell you’re going to get out of this jam. Are you going to have to walk back down the mountain in terribly uncomfortable ski boots? And worse, will people laugh at you? Turns out a few things will save the day:
So, what did I learn? Well, in this case, I learned that I wasn’t alone. That hundreds, thousands of other folks have dealt with exactly the same issue and come out on the other side perfectly fine. My anxiety was rooted in something other than situational panic; it likely had something to do with shame and dignity. But, no one was judging me in that moment other than myself. In fact, everyone else in this story was trying to help me.
So, the moral of this week’s message is….DO NOT clack your skis on the lift in an attempt to get the snow off of them. And, if we put our values out front, act based on them, and remember that most people around us WANT us to succeed, we’ll be fine. Not only fine, but we might actually do something that we didn’t think we could.
See you for the 9:30am Town Hall!
November 23, 2020
Dear Student Affairs Roadrunners:
This weekend, I was curious about what a group of roadrunners was called, turns out it is either a “race” or a “marathon” of roadrunners. I’m choosing the latter, not just because our current work state *is* like a marathon, but also because our journey as a team is about the long-haul. If we truly want to make an impact on career success, student engagement, and equity and inclusion, we need sustained effort, over a long distance, with deep respect for training and conditioning.
As we near the fall break and Thanksgiving holiday, many of us are feeling the fatigue of this marathon. I’ve been sitting this weekend with a tweet from Ellie Murray (@EpiEllie): “COVID fatigue is real & we’re all exhausted, but I suspect a lot is actually *decision* fatigue. The absence of clear rules, information, and guidance means having to think through our every action to decide what feels safest. Good leadership would give us all a break.”
Think about that. How many decisions are you making on a daily basis that have real, life-or-death consequences? Now, how are you taking care of yourself while you do this?
My hope for this week is that each of you will give grace where grace is due. Give grace to yourselves, your colleagues, our students, and our families. Grace does not mean a full lack of accountability – you better believe I yelled at my parents for going shopping this weekend – but it does mean understanding that we are all trying to make the best decisions we can with limited information and multiple pressure points. Grace is leading with our hearts, in a gentle spirit, with the knowledge that we are now and will continue to be in community with each other during and after this pandemic and crisis.
I look forward to seeing you at our 9:30am Town Hall – bring questions!- and later today at our 3PM Fall Appreciation Event where I may or may not be wearing a tuxedo!
PS: “Grace” also reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from National Lampoons Christmas Vacation. “Grace?! Grace has been dead for 40 years!”
October 12, 2020
Dear Student Affairs Roadrunners:
I hope that you all had a lovely weekend (even with the rather strange weather on Sunday!). This weekend, I spent a furlough day on Friday hiking the Fredonia Gulch in Breckenridge (up an old mining road to a cool site) and yesterday hiked the Lock Vale Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, starting out at 5:30am with headlamps on! That was a first…but seeing the sun rise over the mountains was a beautiful, soul-filling experience.
I’d like to wish you all well on this Indigenous Peoples Day. On this date, I believe it is important to celebrate indigenous communities, feel the pride in heritage from so many of our friends and colleagues, and honor the painful history of this nation’s treatment of the first inhabitants of the land.
In Colorado, we have an obligation to engage this legacy, due in part to the local tribal communities and to the fairly recent historic events that shaped our state. As we think about how this manifests at MSU Denver, I’d like to propose three ways that our University can and should engage:
I look forward to the work, to the conversation, and to a future where MSU Denver can fully celebrate our commitment to the Indigenous communities in Colorado and beyond.
There’s a webinar from the Denver Latino Commission on “Empowering Communities of Color during the time of COVID-19.” It looks really fantastic and connects directly to our continuing work to be an anti-racist organization. Thanks to Sonia del Real, Department of Chicano/a/x Studies, for sharing.
September 28, 2020
Good morning, Roadrunners!
What a weekend, eh? From a beautiful, sunny Friday to a smoky Saturday, overcast Sunday, and now a bright, chilly Monday. I guess it is true, if you don’t like the weather in Colorado, just wait a minute.
I hope you’ll join me for our weekly Town Hall this morning at 9:30am. The question of the day is this: What is one aspect of traditional professionalism that you’ve had to “let go” of during the pandemic? What are the new rules of professionalism?
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m calling “Pandemic Professionalism.” The concept of professionalism has always been fraught – given its origins in racism, classism, sexism, and heterosexism among other isms. Merriam-Webster defines professionalism as “the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person.”
COVID19 has challenged us all to rethink how we get our work done, in community with our colleagues. The pandemic is calling each of us to think about mental health, flexibility, pace, balance, and technology – not to mention what we wear each day! For the record, today is a “professional sweater and yoga pants” kinda day.
As Student Affairs makes strides this year toward becoming an anti-racist branch, focused on the “servingness” of being an H.S.I., what are the new rules of professionalism we need to build together?
I look forward to chatting with you later today!
August 31, 2020
Dear Student Affairs Roadrunners:
Did anyone else wake up this morning, look at the temperature, and think, “Welp, summer’s over.” As I watered my flowers in the 46 degree temperatures, I realized how much I’m going to miss the “start of school vibes” that typically connect this time of year. But, at MSU Denver, we are reimagining Fall! I can’t wait to make new traditions with all of you.
So – what has Will been thinking about this weekend? Well, I’ve been thinking about home. I grew up in a small farming town outside Radford, Virginia. Radford is home to Radford University, a regional public comprehensive university that has begun recruiting heavily from across Virginia and the country. The last decade has seen the University invest heavily in new campus housing projects. What I’m saying is, it is one of those towns that triples in size when the University is in session and there’s only one big-box store for parents and students to buy all their residence hall materials. Radford, Va is now also on the list of top 10 COVID19 hotspots in the New York Times. It was also one of the first universities in the country to announce, emphatically, that classes would resume in person for Fall 2020.
Our actions as University leaders impact not only our students, faculty, and staff, but also our surrounding communities. As I’ve tracked the news out of Radford, I am constantly underlining the ethical nature of the decisions we as a University make. My parents (who would kill me if I called them elderly, but they’re almost there) still live in that town. My niece is a student at Radford. This is personal. Radford University’s decisions directly impact the health and wellbeing of my family.
On the one hand, a University has a responsibility to protect the health and safety of its community. On the other, it also has a responsibility as the primary economic driver of many communities. Typically, regional public comprehensive universities are the largest employer in a community. What happens if that university lays off a large portion of its staff, or worse, closes? I believe that we make wrong decisions when we think of our current situation as “either / or.” Either we reopen and save the university’s finances, or we move online to protect our communities and learners. This creates a false dichotomy where one good is pitted against the other.
I’m proud of MSU Denver. I think we have found the “third way” where only select courses are taking place on campus, and we are doubling down on virtual service and engagement. Many of you are the leaders who are making this possible. You have “leaned in” to the “pivots” and are leading not just our campus, but the entire higher education industry with your creativity and care for students. We are proving that we CAN do the right thing and survive, maybe even thrive.
So, thanks for being the dream team who cares for our University, our students, each other, and our communities.
August 24, 2020
Dear Student Affairs Roadrunners:
Well – we made it through the first week! Thanks to YOUR work, MSU Denver is in a very strong position for the remainder of this semester, and headed into Spring 2021. Thanks to YOUR work, our students expressed sincere support, made choices that were best for them, and have returned to the University in numbers we never thought we would see. As of this morning, our enrollment is down 5.06%. Enrollments climbed all last week, thanks to the work YOU have done to ensure easy pathways to virtual services, on-campus support for social distancing and PPE, and the messages and concern you expressed for what’s going on in their lives. I am really proud to be a Roadrunner today.
A few other thoughts from Week 1:
Given where our enrollment numbers are, and after speaking with the Budget Office, I am pleased to report that Student Affairs will be able to release eleven vacant positions for hire that we have held since early summer. This includes 3 positions in C2, 3 positions in Enrollment Management, and 5 positions in Student Engagement & Wellness. In addition, we have been given a tentative “OK” to hire two NEW positions under the one-time budget: case managers to support housing insecure students (1.0 FTE) and justice-involved students (0.5 FTE).
Several of these positions are funded through the auxiliary, so we may wait until Census to move forward to be safe. AVP’s will be informing directors of which lines these are in the coming week.
PLANNING YOUR FALL:
It is still important for us to honor that many of us are working in ways unthinkable several months ago – fully remote work, fully remote education for family members, and financial situations disrupted by the economic fallout. As we celebrate our victories, let’s not forget that many of our community members are struggling. Because I know there will be questions, here are a few thoughts from me:
Finally, I will also report that I received an early morning text today from Barb Grogan, chair of the MSU Denver Board of Trustees. President Davidson wrote her about our enrollment numbers and she said, “Great job. Hooray! Thanks for all your hard work and dedication. Please thank your entire team for me. It is a big deal and a tangible results of all your effort.”
Bring your questions to our 9:30AM Town Hall – I look forward to seeing you then!
August 10, 2020
Dear Student Affairs Roadrunners:
“We can do hard things.” That’s what my pal said to me when I looked at the video of a hiker going up Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park.
“On hard days, we do hard things.” That’s what another hiking buddy said the day she and her sister climbed a mountain on their father’s birthday, several years after he passed away.
I’m not one for platitudes. I think they over-simplify the very real struggles many of us face in our lives. And yet, these two comments have stuck with me, and been a bit of a mantra as I look to this coming academic year. We are faced with some difficult work ahead: the work of ensuring our students and staff are safe and healthy and learning, the work of figuring out how to do “less with less” in the face of budget reductions, and the never-ending work of creating a more just community for all of us. As Dr. Sampson told us on Friday, we are all in the “CAR” of equity; we all have work to do.
So, Will does a 14er, part two. I actually summited Mt. Sherman this time! There were moments when I wanted to turn back: when my feet couldn’t seem to find stable ground to climb, when the heavy winds felt like they were going to push me off the mountain, and when my toes felt like they were being pulled off. But, we can do hard things. And so, I used the same footsteps as the friend hiking ahead of me, our group of four held onto each other to make sure no one was blown away, and we supported each other with frequent rest stops for weary toes and rehydration. And we laughed; we laughed every time we chose the wrong path, every time one of us slipped, every time one of us had to make a pit stop (soooo much water).
Those were my strategies. As you think about doing hard things – whatever that is for you – what are YOUR strategies? How do you persevere? During today’s Town Hall, I’ll call on a few volunteers to share their strategies…so be ready!
Oh, and here’s the picture to prove it.
July 27, 2020
Dear Student Affairs:
This weekend, I attempted my first 14-er. Having read through a few dozen websites, read one (not very helpful) guide, and chatted with folks who had done the hike before, my hiking buddy and I drove to Mt. Sherman. We started up the trail, pausing to take in the views (and take some deep breaths), stopped to ask fellow hikers if we were on the right path, and started climbing. Something felt wrong. The trail didn’t seem like a trail you’d take your kids on, and that 30 foot snow bank covering the trail seemed just a little bit too treacherous for beginners (see below!). And then it happened – we hit a dead end, almost 2 miles up a trail. We hadn’t just taken the wrong turn, we took the wrong trail! And so, with grey clouds quickly rushing over the summits of Sherman, Gemini, and Sheridan, we descended and called it. We’ll conquer Mt. Sherman a different day.
No matter how prepared, no matter how many experts we talk to, no matter how many fellow journeyers we consult, we’re going to make wrong decisions. Our best hope is that we can mitigate those wrong decisions by changing course quickly, learning from our mistakes, and trekking on. My hope, however, is that even if we carry out the best laid plans and realize that we’ve gone the wrong way, we seek to find meaning from our mistakes. I hope that we identify the moments of joy we wouldn’t have had had we not made that mistake (like the amazing sound of water rushing 10 feet below my feet as I hiked over broken rock).
Each of us are hiking through the unknown right now. We, collectively, are making momentous decisions about the health and safety of our communities and families even while we have no previous modern pandemics to judge our performance against. On an individual basis, you are thinking about whether you should send your kids back to schools, weighing if you’ll join a local march or protest, and assessing when is the right time to make that move (both literal and figurative) you’ve been planning for the last few years.
As we support each other through this uncharted territory, let’s lead from our values (community, access, diversity, respect, entrepreneurship) and practice giving grace to ourselves and each other as we come down from the wrong trail.
I look forward to seeing you all on our Town Hall today at 9:30am. Please come with your questions or comments – I’m here to listen and provide whatever information I can!
July 6, 2020
Dear Student Affairs Roadrunners –
Well, right now, I’m somewhere in a national park on a fun hike. Please send me good thoughts that I haven’t fallen off a cliff or recreated “127 Days” somewhere in Utah.
It is so important that all of us take vacation time, or even staycation time, this summer. We are all learning how our bodies and our minds are reacting to long-term working from home, and I hope you’ll take some time off to recharge, reflect, and respond to your own needs.
In the last month, our Roadrunner community has engaged in significant conversations about race, racism, and systems of oppression. These conversations are simply the start – or the continuation – of a broader engagement to create a plan of action. As you know, I’ve asked each department to engage in conversations on how they can transform through antiracist practice. To spur those conversations on, I’m writing to share three articles (attached) that I would like all Student Affairs staff members to read, and that each department engage in conversations on. Special thanks to Dr. Ally Garcia for sharing these articles:
Action Requested: Read all three articles. Deans and Directors, facilitate staff-wide conversations about their content.
Finally, I can’t say this enough: THANK YOU. I am so proud of the ways that you all have led through difficult times and engaged in significant work to support each other and our students. I’m proud to be a Roadrunner.
June 18, 2020
Dear Student Affairs Roadrunners:
For many of us, the weeks (months!) leading up to today’s Supreme Court decision have been nerve-wracking, filled with anxiety and concern for ourselves and our friends and families. On Monday, SCOTUS protected many of us from employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Today, SCOTUS has ensured that our DACA-mented students, colleagues, and friends continue to benefit from the status of this program. More information will be forthcoming on the DACA-decision. I want to thank Gregor Mieder and Dr. Ally Garcia and all of the staff and student leaders in the ISP who helped prepare for the worst-case decision, but can now help the University celebrate this moment. There is work still to be done to support ALL of undocumented members of our community; MSU Denver is unwavering in its backing and will continue to lead in this movement.
I want to take a moment to share some personal thoughts. As a gay man, I’ve spent the vast majority of my life trying to hide, modify, or otherwise shelter my identity from the judgement of others. Many of you know the pain and emotional fatigue of this existence, acknowledging that we live in a heterosexist, racist, sexist, ableist, and nationalist societies. It is difficult for me to explain the sense of relief, of being seen, of finally being included that came on Monday with the SCOTUS decision. When the national political discourse is your very right to exist, it is difficult not to internalize that debate. 12 years ago, I remember trying to pull together a NASPA panel of “all” of the out LGBTQ VPSA’s in the country. We counted 5. That I now inhabit this role is, in many ways, one of the greatest surprises of my life. That a member of the MSU Denver Board of Trustees has DACA-status is also a sign of how quickly communities can evolve, when we work to create that change in our communities.
So, there is work to be done. Tomorrow, Juneteenth, I will not only be reflecting on the work that it takes for wins like these SCOTUS decisions, but also on the personal, organizational, and civic work that I must engage in to ensure that all members of our community may thrive. In addition to the anti-racism training that the Board of Trustees and senior leadership will engage in tomorrow, I will be engaging in the self-work I need to do to participate in dismantling white supremacy.
In solidarity, and appreciation,
May 29, 2020
Dear Student Affairs Roadrunners:
Like many of you, I have gone to bed the last few days with a heavy heart and a full mind. I know many of you likely didn’t get much sleep, engaged in painful conversations with your children, and have been finding ways for to take action that is meaningful to you. I know you’re tired. I know you’re angry.
After the murders of Floyd George in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, our communities are once again reflecting, reacting, and taking action. I want to say thank you to the staff of CESA and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion who have created opportunities for our community to come together. Everyone should look out for more information on forthcoming opportunities in the coming weeks.
As the son of a retired police deputy, who spent 8 years working at John Jay College of Criminal Justice that serves 75% students of color, I have grappled with how to understand the plague of violence inflicted on communities of color by law enforcement, and my personal role in the solutions. I have come to the conclusion that it is up to me, and each of us personally, to unlearn the racism I was taught as a child. It is up to me as an individual to advocate for the policy and practical changes that will move our communities toward real justice. The violence inflicted on communities of color is systemic, it is a direct result of the racism embedded in our laws, and is unacceptable.
Part of our commitment to career success, student engagement, and diversity and inclusion is engaging in difficult conversations with each other, with our students, and with ourselves. I want to lift up the many Roadrunners who are already engaged in this work – from the equitable hiring practices initiative to the JEDI team coordinating the C2 and CESA approaches. A colleague told me this morning that it is impossible to “do less with less” in this space. And I agree. I am committing to all of you that I will do everything I can to stave off budgetary cuts that will negatively impact our ability to support students of color, and students from other marginalized identities and experiences. I will be conducting a review of the cuts we’ve already submitted to ensure that we are not jeopardizing this important work.
As each of you continue to make sense of the world in your own ways, please know that I’m here to support you. If there are ways that I can do that, please let me know.
May 26, 2020
Dear Student Affairs:
Rest is good. Rest is productive. That’s why I enjoy writing these Monday (errrr Tuesday) emails. After a weekend of pondering our work, I’m usually full of ideas and connections. So – if you want a window into my psyche, read on! If this is one of 200 emails that came in over the weekend, feel free to skip. There are no announcements contained below. 😊
I hope you all caught the article in Monday’s Denver Post featuring new graduate Estéfani Peña Figueroa. Estéfani is a familiar presence in student affairs, from her work in ISP to her leadership on the VPSA student advisory board, her testimony at the State Legislature, or introducing the Attorney General on campus last Fall. I cannot imagine that it is easy for Estéfani to tell her story, reliving hardships and anxiety, yet I think she would tell all of us how important it is to share our stories. For those of us who know her, we know Estéfani to be uncommonly kind, focused, and humble. Estéfani is the kind of leader that our communities need, because of who she is, not in spite of it. And if you don’t think this is an act of bravery, go to the Denver Post story online and read the comments.
I was thinking over the weekend about what makes good leaders. My personal belief is that good leaders balance critical analysis of situations with empathy for the human experience. This empathy is usually grounded in reflection of their own lived experiences. A book that helped me do just this is “The Velvet Rage” – a deep dive into the psychology of some gay men. This book helped me reflect on the idea of shame, and I tried to figure out the origin story of my own internalized shame and oppression. There’s no one moment, just a series of “being different in this world” experiences that collectively shaped me into the person I am today.
But one stands out, because I think it represents the work we should be doing with our students. In the 6th grade, I was a sad little guy. I didn’t have a lot of friends, and in true middle school fashion, I was the convenient butt of many jokes. I started seeing the school psychologist (after writing a VERY dramatic poem about suicide, in what I now know was likely a cry for help) who told me that maybe if I carried my books in a different way, I wouldn’t be bullied. You see, I carried a stack of 8-9 books in front of me all day because of the bullying. Every middle schooler knows that lockers are some of the most dangerous places on school grounds; this meant that I never needed to go to mine. This counselor tried to convince me to assimilate into, rather than addressing the true root of my experiences.
So, what does this mean for us? First, it underscores the ethical aspect of doing our work from an understanding of inclusion and oppression. Second, I believe that our job as student advocates is to help students make sense of and share their stories. Finally, our roles as student supporters has never been more important. We cannot shelter students from the storm, but we can join them on the journey to thrive through it.
And, three day weekends = long, “in my head” emails from Will. I promise not to send another longform note until at least July 5th. 😉
Have a wonderful week. Don’t forget – Maymester begins today!
April 27, 2020
Dear Student Affairs:
I cannot Believe that it took me this long to find out that Cher has a song with Monday in the title. I’m Strong Engouh to rise above this, but If I Could Turn Back Time, I would have used it sooner. Welcome to week 7 of remote working!
This morning, as I woke up with sunshine streaming through the windows and birds chirping outside, I was reminded that moments of reflective contemplation are important and necessary. I don’t know about you, but the last 7 weeks have gone by really fast for me; they are a revolving series of MS Teams calls, big deadlines in order to make the decisions we needed to make, and then a couple of hours on the couch at night, still clutching my phone responding to messages and emails. Finding “down time” is nearly impossible – and I don’t have children, a partner, or even a pet that I’m taking care of!
And here’s the thing – it isn’t healthy. For me, the exhaustion that had been setting in on Friday afternoons is now creeping in on Thursday mornings. My desire to hop on just one more video call in the evening is at rock bottom (sorry, Mom!). But, how do we recharge? How do we find peace? How do we make meaning of our experiences these days?
Here are the ways that I’ve tried to create time in my schedule for reflection and meaning-making:
I know many of these strategies simply won’t work for you – your lives are different than mine! But, how ARE you creating mindful spaces throughout your day?
Have a great week, Roadrunners. I look forward to seeing you at our Town Hall.
March 23, 2020
Dear Student Affairs Roadrunners:
Well, the parking meters may not be activated in Denver right now, but I’m asking each of us to “meter” our work and wellbeing during this time!
We are all working from a new rhythm, for the second week now. President Davidson and her senior staff understand that many staff members are balancing multiple roles, now simultaneously: parent, partner, caregiver, volunteer, and professional. None of us expect that you are continuing to work in the same ways that you did when you were on campus from 8am to 5pm. As we continue to adjust to almost 100% of our branch working remotely (Thanks for holding down the fort, Health Center @ Auraria!), my expectation is that our team will continue to flex into new patterns, supporting each other as we support students.
At 2PM, Mayor Hancock will be announcing a “Stay At Home” policy for the city. We will let you know how this might impact our current operations.
All the best,
March 12, 2020
Dear Student Affairs Branch –
I will endeavor over the next few days/weeks to send you as many updates as I can when there is information that you should know.
I am reminded that in times of crisis and chaos, we must work from “GRACE” and “FLEXIBILITY.” We must rely on each other to solve complex problems and enact institutional change quickly. We must afford each other the opportunity to make a mistake, to get something momentarily wrong because we couldn’t see the entire picture. We must adapt to the changing needs of our students and our communities. We must be attuned to the emotional and spiritual – as well as the physical – needs of each other. In short, we must continue to embody the values that make student affairs a special profession – empathy, support, equity, and learning.
I want to offer a special thanks to Steve Monaco and the Auraria Health Center team for their tireless efforts to support the AHEC community – over 40,000 students and thousands of faculty and staff. Both Steve and Dr. Zorilla are key advisors and leaders for three institutions simultaneously – not an easy thing to accomplish. Please join me in offering them your support and resources as they might require.
I will continue to keep you posted.
March 4, 2020
Dear SA Roadrunners,
Last week, the University launched the Roadrunners Who Soar awards in the Early Bird. The goal of Roadrunners Who Soar is to recognize those outstanding employees who embody our shared CADRE values – Community, Access, Diversity, Respect and Entrepreneurship.
Personally, I am very excited about this opportunity for our branch and teammates because it gives us a chance to highlight all the great people and fantastic work that is happening within our organization.
There are two recognition awards – the Soar award which recognizes individual employees and the Team Roadrunner award which recognizes team performance – both celebrate those who are going above and beyond, impacting student and employee engagement positively, and living and modeling CADRE. These awards are recognizing true University role models.
When I think about what we have accomplished this academic year already, I can’t help but be pleased. What you have shown as leaders has had a positive impact on those around you. Your projects and initiatives, like the cross-functional Strategic Enrollment Management team, the changes and impact of CESA, our auto admit process, movers and shakers in the C2Hub, all are critical to our success, and I couldn’t be prouder of each and every one of you.
I ask that you consider submitting nominations for both the Soar and the Team Roadrunner awards. We have lots to be proud of, so let’s not miss this opportunity to recognize our teams and teammates who are role models and embody CADRE.
Thank you for your consideration. Please reach out if you’d like to chat more about this opportunity.
March 2, 2020
Well, it is that time of year. Many of us are waking up with sore throats, coughs, sneezing, runny noses….and my advice is…. STAY HOME! I’m following my own advice this morning after 4 days of a sore throat. Let’s hope the hot tea, honey, or Mucinex does the trick today.
But that’s not the message I wanted to write today. This is national student affairs conference season, so I’ve been thinking about the ways that I have remained professionally connected and fed over 20 years of this work. I’ve worked at campuses where the student affairs ethos was missing, and campuses that were building student affairs cultures. Through it all, my connections with colleagues both on campus and on other campuses have sustained me. Here are a few tips that work for me – and maybe they’ll work for you:
I always look forward to attending the national NASPA Conference each year. We try to convene the Roadrunners at the conference for a family dinner while we’re in town.
Have a great week, everyone!
February 24, 2020
Dear SA Roadrunners:
Well, Monday is here again. This weekend, in addition to making a chocolate cake (which you can view on myInstagram!), I spent some time reading the stack of “New Yorker” magazines piling up on my coffee table. One article jumped out at me – a discussion of how the United States doubled down on democracy in the 1930’s in response to what was happening in Europe. It left me wondering – how are we, as educators, similarly engaged in bringing learners together to debate, process, and make meaning of the 21st century?
There are so many incredible initiatives taking place to connect our students to civic learning at MSU Denver. From the American Democracy Project to the service learning program, from the emerging Hart Center for Public Service to Puksta Scholars and Urban Leadership Program, MSU Denver staff and faculty are national leaders in civic engagement and education.
Our challenge, however, will be to resist the old norms of this work. When I first started building a civic engagement program in NYC back in 2004, the main concept that guided our work was that students who were familiar with the socio-political context of their college town were most likely to get involved in the civic fabric of that locality. It presupposes that most students are from out of town. That’s not us. At MSU Denver, our students ARE their communities – Denver, Arvada, Littleton, Aurora, Commerce City, Lakewood, the list goes on.
Our mission should be to engage students where they already are – rooted in communities and activated in them, to support them in making meaning of these experiences, and continuing to grow the tool kit of resources to be champions and leaders in their communities. This is how MSU Denver can continue to serve Colorado and Coloradans.
How are you engaging the community in your work? From K-12 districts to community-based organizations, faith organizations to activist clusters, MSU Denver can be a partner in building a sustainable, thriving Denver and Colorado.
Enjoy this Leap Year week!
February 17, 2020
Good morning, Student Affairs Roadrunners!
Last week, in a meeting, a colleague said, “You don’t accomplish change in higher education through litigation, you do it by bringing people along.” This quote struck me enough that I wrote it down in my little notebook and have continued to think about what it means for our work in supporting students. It also hit me personally; I often get frustrated when others can’t see the same patterns in the data that I see, and feel similarly pressed to create change. That’s me trying to litigate change, not help others see the same patterns and feel the same urgency by bringing them along.
So, here’s the question: “How are you bringing people along?”
What we’re really talking about is collaboration. And not the, “Can I put your name on this flyer so that ‘your people’ will come to this event” type of collaboration. But true, “You and I both care about this issue, can we get together and think about ways to resolve it” collaboration. When was the last time you had the latter conversation? What was the last time someone came to you with the former, and you were frustrated?
At the end of the day, we’re not going to get anywhere by simply being “right” – we have to engage in the process of change in order to truly transform MSU Denver to support our students. I hope you’ll hold me accountable to this, and each other. Let’s be known not only for our “culture of yes” but also for the spirit of collaboration with which we do our work.
Have a great Monday!
February 10, 2020
“Monday, Monday, so good to me
Monday mornin’, it was all I hoped it would be…”
The Mommas and the Poppas said it best….(although the end of that song isn’t so great!)
I spent the end of last week in meetings of the Board of Trustees, attended by 4 NEW board members. Our fifth new board member was named in the middle of the Academic & Student Affairs Committee meeting. I want to tell you that our Board of Trustees is singularly focused on the success of OUR students. We have been fortunate to work with last year’s new trustees Marissa Molina for the last year, a fearless advocate for undocumented Coloradans and our students, and Russell Noles, who sits on the C2 Development Group and helped connect us to an alumni community at TIAA. Of course, returning Trustees Jim Mulligan and new Board Chair Barb Grogan are incredible advocates for the University and our students. I wanted to tell you a bit about our new Trustees and what I learned about them on Thursday and Friday:
As you can tell, this group of Trustees is going to LOVE the work we’re doing. My goal is to make sure that they know about the amazing efforts Student Affairs is doing at MSU Denver; work that places us at the forefront of the national conversation on student success. As we move forward, I look forward to connecting our trustees to you, your students, and your programs.
Enjoy this week, friends!
February 3, 2020
Good morning, Roadrunners!
Anytime I say that, I always think of one of my favorite Dolly Parton songs, “Muleskinner Blues.” So, good morning captain!
As we begin week three of Spring 2020 classes, I’m reminded that not only is this a busy time for those of us who work to enroll and support students, but it is a crazy time for our faculty and academic colleagues as well. In fact, one of our faculty members is documenting her experiences by week on Twitter (week 1 – classroom equipment doesn’t work, week 2 – flu). Last week, I presented a “meta-level” Student Affairs update to Academic Affairs and Department Chairs. In many cases, they were very supportive of the work that we are doing. In others, they had sincere, critical questions about our approach or process. Which leads me to the response I gave to someone during my interviews in May 2018 who asked, “What is your response to faculty who don’t believe in the work we do?”
I don’t believe that any of our MSU Denver faculty colleagues fundamentally disagree with the tenets of Student Affairs work. I do, however, believe that many folks with advanced academic degrees are trained to be incisive, critical thinkers who tear ideas apart professionally. That’s their life’s work – to break things apart to better understand them, and then to share that knowledge through teaching. We work best with these colleagues when we can fully appreciate their perspectives on our work and allow it to change processes, programs, and procedures.
So, my advice is to ask questions carefully:
I’d love to hear your thoughts on building better relationships with our academic colleagues. What works for you? What sustains you?
I hope you all enjoyed our new BRAVO! Awards at the kickoff as I did! Check out the great website Amanda created to share the news about our fabulous Roadrunners. Reminder – I’ll be recognizing folks at each semester’s kickoff meeting – so get those nominations in!
Enjoy this week, friends! Let’s #GetRowdy!