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MSU Denver

“9/11 Re-Memories: A Tuesday Edition”

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:

  • An instinct to gather during crisis.
  • The knowledge that truth combats fear, and that communication is our greatest asset.
  • Working, and working hard, to ensure that crisis response does not create new crises of blame, prejudice, or nationalism.
  • Trauma is generational.  The trauma of 9/11 lives in our policies, our programs, our bodies.

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.

Will

 

“In Relationship”

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:

  • Faculty connections in the C2 led by Pamela Ansburg resulted in almost 100 faculty stepping forward to join a workshop to transform their courses.
  • Enrollment and Marketing have built a strong working relationship to ensure we are always thinking about supporting our student pipeline.
  • Our Admissions Recruiters maintain extensive community-based relationships that allow us to be the school of choice for so many students.
  • Our Student Care Center continues to be a much-sought resource for faculty and other community members dealing with tricky student situations.
  • And so, so, so many more.

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:

  • Trying to understand my coworker’s point of view.  I often assume that I see the world in the same way as everyone else.  But we don’t.  We never do.  I want to work on asking more questions, listening deeper to better connect.
  • I want to make time to reach out and initiate positive “micromoves” to build relationships.  Sometimes it just takes one person reaching out….
  • I try to be a vulnerable and authentic leader, but this article points out that this can damage relationships when one person supervises the other.  I am thinking about what kind of leader you need me to be.
  • Being direct and attentive and asking if something is wrong.  This is the hardest for me.  How can I heal a relationship if I’m not directly asking why the relationship has shifted?

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!

Happy Monday,
Will

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