Tag Archives: higher education

Resilient in Adversity

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I realize there are a few people who still think COVID-19 is a hoax because I have a diverse set of acquaintances and a Facebook account, but it is safe to say that the reality of the global pandemic has hit almost everyone. And hit hard. No one needs me to list the unpredictable disappointments and challenges that have combined to produce predictable emotions like anger, frustration, grief, and fear. Nevertheless, here we are.

And as we sit in this universal timeout, we find ourselves considering our individual purposes on this planet. For many, like grocery store workers, housekeeping staff, truck drivers, and healthcare providers, there is no longer a question whether what they do is important or appreciated. But as the rest of us reconsider how we work, we are forced to drill down to remember what our work is. I have surely been thinking about mine.

The student affairs profession in higher education exists to complement the academic work of faculty in educating the leaders of tomorrow. We complement by teaching outside the classroom and focusing on “life” competencies. In my new role and with my new team, we identified nine things we are trying to teach—our “mission”—and it is not difficult to understand how each is valuable during this time of crisis. We want every student to be:

* Spiritually disciplined
* Professionally prepared
* Resilient in adversity
* Intellectually curious
* Socially skilled
* Culturally competent
* Physically fit
* Financially literate
* Environmentally aware

Every single one of those matters now more than ever. But today, I am particularly interested in the one that says—resilient in adversity.

Adversity: A state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or misfortune.

Resilience: An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.

Well, here we are. Practice is over, and it is game time for RESILIENCE. Even if ESPN is busy showing reruns.

But if any of us needs a little in-game coaching, I offer once again the famed quote from neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, who said: “Everything can be taken from a [human being] but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Resilience begins with the choice of attitude—the one freedom that, regardless of any virus, cannot be taken away.

Student Life

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The plan worked. Starting the new job on spring break week was the right call. New house, new office, new computer, new work phone, new cell phone, new business cards, new driver’s license—even a new car with new a Tennessee license plate—all taken care of last week. But today is the day that I targeted all along: The first day on the job—with students.

I am a university vice president whose area of responsibility is listed as “student life.” I love those two words so much — independently, but especially, together. For those unfamiliar with the lingo of higher education, student life, also called student affairs or student development, refers to the large number of student experiences outside of the formal academic setting. From dorm room to intramural field, from student organization to fraternity/sorority, from career counseling to intercultural experience, from campus ministry to veterans’ services, from student government to campus safety, from disciplinary action to behavioral intervention—all this and more is our world. Student “life.”

We are educators. At times we stand in front of a group of students in some formal way (for instance, I speak to approximately 1400 students in Allen Arena tomorrow!), but our teaching posture is far more often one-on-one, or small group, or even side by side. And the lessons we teach are often the kind that, to risk sounding overly dramatic, the world needs and that you never forget. “Life” lessons.

I am raring to go this morning, and I hope you can catch a glimpse of how I can be so energized about this new work so quickly after leaving such an amazing community two thousand miles away. To put it simply, there are over four thousand students here, and I get to lead a fantastic team doing important work in an exciting place at a crucial time in history. That is why I am ready to go.

Jesus once said about his intent for humanity: “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” (John 10:10, MSG)

Today, on my first day here with students, I aim for that, too. Student “life”—that authentic, permanent, full, and better life that defies imagination.

The Hard Work of Reconciliation

I live in a perpetual dilemma because reconciliation is possibly my most cherished value and it seems the whole world prefers to choose sides. And in the good news department, a recent study revealed that “unconscious biases are now at least as strong across political parties as they are across races.”¹ Oh goody. And just in time for a presidential race.

There is some comfort at my place of employment where we are emphasizing the celebration and engagement of diversity. Our entering class is the most racially diverse in school history, and we have great plans for the year ahead, including a celebration of the twenty-plus nationalities represented in the school, increased interfaith dialogue, and regular engagement of the most controversial national headlines.

It seems that some place should begin the difficult work of societal reconciliation, and the legal profession is as good a place as any. We have surely played a significant role in the fractures.

Before you unleash your lawyer jokes, consider the friendship of two lawyers-turned-Supreme-Court justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. Read this L.A. Times article and tell me why the rest of us cannot get along if these two can be fast friends. There is even an opera that celebrates this unlikely friendship, and a recent review closed with the following line: “Could we please make it a constitutional requirement that no one can be sworn into office in the White House or Congress without having first seen ‘Scalia/Ginsburg’ [the opera]?”

There is a provocative article in the current issue of The Atlantic on the role of higher education in preparing students for life in this world. Form your own conclusions, but there is a passage near the end of the article that I love: “Teaching students to avoid giving unintentional offense is a worthy goal, especially when the students come from many different cultural backgrounds. But students should also be taught how to live in a world full of potential offenses.”

That should keep us busy for a little while.

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¹ Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind, THE ATLANTIC, Sept. 2015, at 45.