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A Family-Friendly Environment

Seven months ago I welcomed a cute and cuddly little bundle of joy into my life. Her dad and I call her Charlotte. She’s our first child and has proved to provide more joy, but also more work, than I ever could have imagined. Some of you reading this know exactly what I’m talking about and many of you may be able to relate only partially, or not at all, but I’m guessing that each and every one of you know what it’s like to have to balance work with personal commitments. (If you don’t, please share your secret with me!)

Residence life at OSU has a history of being a family-friendly environment, which is something that I take for granted since that’s always been my experience. When I came back to work after eight weeks home with my baby, she came with me the entire summer. Even now I still pack her up and wheel her in twice a week. (In January her “come with mommy to work” days will be over) When people outside of our office, either friends, family or other professionals I work with, ask where she stays while I’m at work, I’m both delighted and embarrassed to share with them that she comes with me. I get so many people who say, “that’s great” or “I wish I could bring insert-their-child’s-name-here to work with me.” Personally, I love it and I hate it and I kind of can’t wait for it to be over. Judge me, as you will for being antsy for these days to end.

What do I enjoy about having Charlotte at work with me?

  1. I think she’s pretty cute and I love to show her off. I’d be lying if I claimed otherwise. (ed. note — keep reading for photographic proof)
  2. It’s a lot easier to pack stuff all together and drag her along with me. I have less to pack and get home earlier since I don’t have to pick up/drop her off anywhere.
  3. I don’t have to worry about food for her for that day. I could be more specific, but I’ll spare you the details here.
  4. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on her new “tricks.” Just before I started writing this, she was crawling to my feet screaming “ma-ma-meh-meh-MEH” to be picked up. I love that I don’t have to hear about things like that second-hand. I was there for it.
  5. She gets to interact with other people and they get to enjoy her. I love the combo of her developing social skills and others just getting to smile when they see her.
  6. She makes me smile. It’s nice to have that kind of motivation in your day.
  7. It was way easier to get back into the swing of things when I first came back with her. She helped me ease into things and I probably came back earlier than I would have if I wasn’t bringing her along with me. I was still able to be quite productive even with her here when she was younger. Things are a little different now that she’s crawling.

Why having my daughter here isn’t all sunshine and rainbows…

  1. I know that by choosing to have her here, I’m being judged by the people that I work with. The truth is, because of the precedent set ahead of me, I might even be judged MORE if I chose not to bring her with me. Either way, I know that someone out there is assuming I’m less competent, less committed to my work, or less considerate of others. (Or any combination of the above)
  2. I can’t always get things done as fast as I used to. She’s a joy, but also a distraction.
  3. Life is less predictable. Wardrobe malfunctions, illness, general crankiness (the kid, not me) and feeding habits make scheduling a bit harder and sometimes interrupt previously scheduled plans.
  4. Our campus, as a whole, is not always ADA friendly. I didn’t look at that too carefully until I was rolling around a stroller, but some buildings are great and others need a lot of work to really be accessible.
  5. I am hypersensitive about every whine, cry and peep that comes out of my daughter in an attempt to be considerate of others around me. I can’t tell you how many times I leave the room with Charlotte because she’s making noise and someone says to me “I couldn’t even hear her” or “she’s fine”.
  6. My office is a pig sty. My desk has always been cluttered, but the assorted children’s toys add a different level of mess and it’s hard to get your work done, take care of your child AND clean all at once. Read more

Flipping the Switch

I have been spending a lot of time thinking lately about how change is hard, but not in the ways that I expected it to be. I think it’s normal to be uncomfortable about change… you don’t know what to expect, you aren’t sure if you are going to like it, etc. For me, though, what has been hard, along with the usual things, is shifting my paradigm about how I think it “should” be to how it “could” be.

After eleven years of full-time housing work, I like to think that I know a thing or two about this work and that my experience means something. And although that might be true, I learned all of it in the context of my supervisors and my environment and, for me, that has always been in the same place and for the most part, the same people.  I have never had to figure out if there was a different way to do things because “it’s always been done that way” and there weren’t a whole lot of new people in positions of power to change it. But now, there is. Read more

One J’s Perspective on Change

I feel like lately I’ve been internally sensing and expressing confusion about what my job is and what my next tasks should be. It’s not that I’ve been sitting by idly or that I haven’t had work on my plate, but I don’t feel this overwhelming pressure. While it’s kind of a nice change, I think it sometimes makes me feel like I have less of a purpose than I should. I’ve been thinking about that A LOT and processing in meetings with my supervisor quite a bit and even listening as others express similar sentiments. Although I don’t yet have “the answer,” I feel that I’ve recently had a break-through that will help me move past this. Here it goes.

As I think back to my time starting here at OSU (as a full-time staff member), I remember how excited I was to return to my undergraduate institution. At the same time, my previous supervisors from my time as an RA were still here and I really felt I had a lot to live up to and felt really pressured to impress.

The hall director position had been advertised to me as one with a great level of autonomy. I actually found a lot of what I did to be pretty prescribed and the CYA mentality to be pretty pervasive almost from the moment I got here. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t be creative about some things or that I couldn’t go above and beyond in other areas and put my mark on my buildings and projects. It just meant that if I wanted to do something that had a larger implication, I had to ask my supervisor who asked her supervisor who, in turn, had to ask her supervisor. I loved my work, my students, my staff and my job and became really comfortable doing what I knew I was “supposed to do.”

Whether people buy it or not, things are different now. You don’t have to have 20 people’s permission before you make a decision.  You have the freedom to make a lot of different things happen. Sounds great, right? As a J, I can say it’s great in principle, but kind of tough to figure out how to make it happen. Read more

Stuck in the Middle With You (and you, and you…)

My parents just flew home to California after a two-week stay with my family. Having them here gave me a little extra time to let the mental dust settle and just think a bit. It also reminded me that my parents’ influence has snuck into arenas I do not often consider.

I was recently telling my supervisor that I was raised in a house that practiced a religion based on a blend of Eastern and Western philosophies. I was taught at an early age to meditate, as well as to use visualization. If you are sick, visualize your body well. Essentially, I was taught that you are what you think.

This concept of visualization was reinforced by coaches in gymnastics as well. If you want to perform a good routine, you must first see it being executed perfectly in your head. Really feel it mentally. This practice has served me well over the years. I am someone whose boots shake when they have to speak in public. Doing the mental run-through first helps.

But lately, the desire to visualize has been a bit of a roadblock for me at work as I try to plan for the year ahead. I feel that this is partly due to my place in the organization. Let me jump back in time for a moment. Read more

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings, has the ability to see the past and the future simultaneously. We mortals have a similar ability – vision, hope as well as fear are all residents of the future, while perspective, pride, and regret dwell in the past. As we look forward and as we look back the good and the bad weave together inseparably.

This series, Housing 360, is focused on documenting multiple perspective of a housing department in transition.  At Ohio State, the university as a whole is amid a cultural transformation so our transition within housing exists in a broader context of university transition.  We see the future: Our president sees an Ohio State that functions far less based on the bureaucratic ethic of fairness and operating with far more focus on common sense and the individual experience of the student. Our department is transitioning from a two-year period of being governed by numbers (i.e. counting the number of student programs) to a model of student engagement more akin to student affairs than accounting.

While we see the future, we also see the past:  The “CYA” behavior of assigning blame and distancing ourselves from our mistakes, have hindered us from learning from our errors – dooming us to repeat them.  If a shift in the culture has indeed taken place, the difficulty is in convincing people who have been formed by the culture of the past, that it is now safe to take chances and make mistakes.  While the future direction of the organization is largely a function of the vision of leadership, the cultural change brought about on the ground is largely a function of individual choice.  To commit to look forward and let go of past perceived transgressions of colleagues, who were operating in the context of a different organization.

My “default” settings, like most people, are set to avoid pain, but yielding to the fear of future pain is a prescription of paralysis.  The question for myself is to what degree am I willing to blindfold myself to the past and re-invest in fractured relationships and understand that individual behavior is largely a function of the organizational culture?  A shift in the direction of an organization’s culture is an opportunity to begin again, focus on the students we serve and our role in assisting them in defining and reaching their personal, academic and career goals.

As you think about your work setting, what cultural aspects of the past must be left behind in order to move forward?  What responsibilities does university leadership have to set the create and implement cultural change and where do our responsibilities lie?

My Summer in Neilwood

Greetings world! My name is Phil and I’m a hall director at Ohio State.  I’m excited to be a part of this blog and to “keep it real” from the hall director perspective, which is something that I’m known to do (for better or worse).

Back in May, I made the brilliantly crazy decision to move from my traditional first-year residence hall to become the first hall director for the Lane Avenue Residence Hall, a converted Holiday Inn hotel across the street from our main campus.  There’s much more to come on the challenges of the building, but what I didn’t realize when I accepted this new opportunity was that my office would provide me with just as much new knowledge as my new building.

Just like other departments in transition we are preaching the idea of transparency in our roles and processes in an effort to make them as efficient as possible.  For me, transparency became quite literal when I moved into my temporary summer office.

No you are not confused; I am in an open seating area without walls. My office was located in Neilwood Gables, the location of our central housing office and the director of Residence Life, Cheryl Lyons (who is also blogging with us).  In addition to moving and opening a new building I was also chairing the Housing Training Committee, which meant that I already spent a lot of time talking to Cheryl, so along with my excitement of being in the central office, I also had reservations about being within shouting distance of Cheryl for two and a half months. Read more

What’s My Job Again?

“Assistant Director for Academic Initiatives” or ADAI. This is my title and the position that I stepped into here at Ohio State last summer. I often get a lot of questions about what it is that I actually do, and until recently, I felt pretty well equipped to respond.However, amidst all of the changes at the university and in our department, including changes to my actual responsibilities, I find myself sometimes stumbling to give a coherent answer.

So, what would I have told people before? I would have told them about how I work with the Learning Communities in our buildings and am a part of the planning team to facilitate those programs and events. I would have mentioned that I went to one-on-one meetings to build relationships with our hall directors and find out how I can support their LCs and their staffs as well as discover what kinds of academic resources I could provide to them. I would also talk about a number of ways that I helped out with the fiscal side of LC spending. But now hall directors have been empowered to take control of their own LCs and their supervisors, the “other” assistant directors, have been charged with helping their staff be successful, including their work with LCs. (Please note I’m only using “other” to indicate that I have a very different job than the ADs who supervise our hall staff, not that I have any animosity there.)

Don’t get me wrong. I still keep myself busy and find my free time isn’t as wide open as it might sound. I work with some auxiliary assignments including our tutoring and community service initiatives. I still have a role in Learning Communities in an overarching way, and am still a part of a number of big picture conversations. I just don’t know how to encapsulate that when someone asks what I do.

Everyone else can talk about who they supervise and tangible things that they actually produce. Their place in a hierarchy is clear and mine is a bit muddled. I take comfort in knowing I’m not alone (there are two others who have the same title and just work with different buildings and communities), but I also recognize that my peers and I are constantly looking at each other and thinking: “Is that the way I’m supposed to be doing this?”

This doesn’t occur because we’re self-conscious, just because we really don’t know the answer. Our individual personalities, the people we work with, and programs that we support all shape how we are currently working and I can’t say we’re always on the same page, but we often don’t know which page we’re supposed to be on anyway.

Hierarchy is not everything and I have no issues doing things that aren’t in my job description or letting someone do something that is when they might be better equipped to do so. I am just struggling with how I can do my job and help support our mission without stepping on others’ toes. Because my role has changed so much (and after only being in it one year, I really hadn’t fully understood the complexities of it to begin with), I often find myself asking who else should be around the table. When academic partners contact me, I find myself wondering if it’s my job, the hall director’s job, the assistant director’s job, or everyone’s to respond. I know deep down the answer is that everyone has a responsibility, but that’s not really clear-cut. It’s not that I want to be the first one in line to say “Nope, not my job,” but I also find myself confused about where to draw the line and am still wading through to find the answer. I don’t want to leave anyone out of the conversations who should be there or shift the ownership in the wrong direction, but I also want to make sure we work smart, don’t duplicate efforts and at the same time all have the ability to meaningfully contribute.

As a professional, I find that I usually deal well with ambiguity, but every time someone asks me what my job is or what it actually means, I struggle to communicate it in a succinct and meaningful way and remember that I don’t actually know the whole answer. (Which probably leaves some people thinking that all I do is sit in my office and play sporcle games all day long.)  Amid all of the uncertainty, I know I’m not alone, that we’re all working to make our own meaning and should spend more time focusing on our shared goals instead of our individual roles. After all, with the changes that have already happened and the assumption that more changes are afoot, I’m trying to mentally prepare myself for the fact that my role and responsibilities might shift again before the dust has settled.

Reflections on Training and Opening

Since we just finished training our staff, opening our halls, and welcoming our students back to Ohio State, I thought I would take a minute to reflect on how training and opening have changed this year. Yes, folks, we just opened! We will only open in late September for two more years.  In the fall of 2012, we will be opening on the semester timeline.  The “semester conversion” process could be a different blog altogether so I won’t go there.  Let me focus on training and opening for now.

Although much of our training was very similar to years past, there was one very distinct difference.  We, as presenters and organizers, were challenged to do it differently. Like most institutions we approached training in the, “Okay, here we go again!” kind of way, rolling out our old schedules, calling up the previous presenters, and maybe doing a new icebreaker or renaming an activity. Since we are always training new people and for the most part our processes, policies, and campus services to students doesn’t change, it was easy to just keep doing the same old thing.

This year, though, with new leadership, came a new perspective on what we do. We asked new questions about why we do it that way and discussed new challenges to show current research that grounds our practice and did a little bit of groaning about having to sit and listen to the same thing for the nth year in a row (from our current staff, not our new leadership). Now, this is my 12th training at OSU and I can honestly say that I have learned something new every year or have had training spark something new, but I can also honestly say that there were times, when my thought was, “been there, done that.”  And, if I am being truly honest, I was a little annoyed that I actually had to think about what I was presenting  This is the true issue about change. It’s annoying and time-consuming to have to think and use your brain sometimes.

So, each of us presenting took time to think about what we had said in year’s past. Was it true anymore?  Why do we do it that way?  Is there a better way? Was it relevant to this group of students anymore? And, after having spent this energy reworking things, I have to say that I saw more energetic faces, received more compliments from returning staff, and in general felt that the staff seemed to get it!  Whodathunk?  I guess taking an old antique and refinishing and upholstering and making it modern, really does spice up a room. Good to know.

We also had one other change in this busy time: opening!  At OSU, we have assisted move-in, which you have probably already heard about, but just in case, here’s a synopsis.  Basically, students check-in and get their keys at a central location and are then guided through campus to their residence hall, where volunteer students unload their car, truck, rental van, and — in some cases — U-Haul trailer for them.  It’s a great way to welcome approximately 10,000 students back to campus. Normally, this event is organized and staffed by colleagues in student life, allowing all the residence life staff (in-hall and central staff) to be available to meet and greet students and parents and resolve problems.

This year, the central staff partnered with our student life colleagues to actually run a particular area of campus in their assisted move-in. At first, I was a bit bummed that I wasn’t going to be able to check-in on my staff, feel the pulse of campus, and in general be free to roam campus. But, I have to tell you that it was a great experience. I now understand how much work and energy goes into organizing this process and the best part is that I now have a much better working relationship with colleagues I have never met before. To me, this is critical. I can get a lot more done across our large, bureaucratic campus to benefit students when I know the other person on the phone or I understand the demands and priorities of their office.

Don’t get me wrong, amidst training, central responsibilities, H1N1/ILI planning, and getting prepped for the fall quarter, it sometimes felt like a lot more energy and work got added to our plate. But now that it’s over, I can see what we might do differently next year and I can see that there is more good to this than bad. And it’s great to be a member of the team instead of just watching the team.

The Year-Long Break-Up

I felt like a bit of a hypocrite during the move-in process this year. I vividly recall one mother catching my eye as she moved in her oldest son, and asking “Do you feel my pain? You look like you understand.” I smiled and nodded, deciding not to explain that my sons’ recent transitions were from the infant room to the toddler room, and from being the youngest in a cohort of many to being the oldest in his preschool class. They still come home to me at the end of the day and I still choose what they read and wear and consume.

As housing professionals, we speak of “helicopter parents” and hope that they will let go of their children. This is where I have to call myself out on neglecting to let go of a “baby” of my own.

I am breaking up with the student organization I have advised for the last seven years. Or at least that’s how I feel. But I’ve decided that I am going to take a full year to do it. Some would say this is dragging out the process, but for me it’s allowing me to savor each event and interaction one more time. I was in my first official committee meeting as a full-time hall director, in perhaps my second day at work at Ohio State, when a colleague asked me to co-advise the group with him because he had heard I loved musical theatre. Over the years, they have taken time and patience, as much of our work does, but they have also earned a significant space in my heart.

Read more

Can Change Be Fun?

Change is the buzz word of many institutions across the country.  Here at Ohio State, with a new (yet returning) president, a new vice president of student life, and a new assistant vice president and director of housing, change is more than a buzz word.  It is a reality, and flexibility is our new mantra.  The gauntlet has been thrown down that we must become nimble and quick and look at processes and procedures. Change for us is about more than staffing.  It is about the business of doing business.

In university housing, change has afforded us the opportunity to reaffirm that the directions provided by those leading us in the interim were taking us in the right direction.  In addition, having a new leader who has been able to come in, look around, provide objective observations, challenge the status quo, and encourage and support risk-taking has been welcomed and, in most cases, embraced by the “old guard.”  Perhaps even more important, however, than the new perspectives now forcing us to look more closely at who are and where we are going,  is the question: “Where’s the fun?”

We are re-thinking what defines us and how we approach the challenges ahead, reaffirming that we are more than bricks and mortar.  We are colleagues, educators, cheerleaders, mentors, friends, and yes, even adjudicators in some cases.  How we approach what we do has as great an impact on the students we serve and the facilities they live in.   To move from the business of business, (i.e. contracting, moving in, programming for programming’s sake and incident-follow-up — all admittedly important), helping students transition to college, building community, having meaningful, thought-provoking conversations, and yes, fun while doing this, has begun to change the focus of our work.

I will also add that it is hard to be positive and upbeat at 2 a.m. when an overflowing toilet floods a hallway (singing ”Row, row, row your boat…” is a little over the top).  The hard work of change has just begun but the harder work of changing attitudes, perspective, and bringing a sense of humor to the table has just begun.

All this change has me wondering, what does change mean to others? Is it something to fear? Is there such a thing as too much change? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

The Business End of Feelings

Hi all you fabulous readers out there!  My name is Susannah Turner and I am one of the associate directors of Residence Life here at Ohio State and I will be blogging this year about what it’s like to go through a time of transition in our department.

First of all, let me say that I NEVER thought that I would ever be blogging about anything, much less about things related to work. Let me give you some context. I didn’t use e-mail in grad school, much less undergrad.  When I arrived at Ohio State, as a hall director, in 1998, we still had e-mail that had green type and a black screen. I didn’t own a computer until my husband and I got married (in my mind they are still, technically, “his computers”). I am not what you would call technologically savvy, so needless to say, this blogging thing, makes me nervous.

Why nervous?  Well, I wonder if I have anything interesting to say. Other blogs I have read (which amounts to two) are written by people who are on adventures abroad, namely Semester at Sea.  They are interesting to me because it brings back memories from my own adventures. I also wonder what people will say about what I have to say. Yes, although a blog is my own experience about my work in transition, there will be people who will read this and judge me for better or for worse.  That makes me nervous.

I am a relatively private person in my everyday life, so putting myself out there on the World Wide Web, brings on a small case of the hives. But all my nerves aside, I am hoping that as I write and I read what others write about our same experiences, I will learn from their experiences. I also hope I will learn from what you, out there in what I consider outer space, have to say to me in response to this online journaling experiment. Yes, this is an experiment that we hope will bring our housing worlds together and help us find community in shared experiences.  So, I encourage you to continue reading, commenting, and being a part of this community.

So enough about my fears. Today, I really wanted to talk about feelings. As we have gained new leadership and begun what is an inevitable change when anything new comes around, one of the messages  we are beginning to implement is to leave how we “feel” about things out of business decisions. The phrase that we have thrown around is, “It’s just business.”

Now, I think that some folks have misapplied this phrase. To me, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a feeling about some decision or work-related thing, it just means that we aren’t going to shy away from doing the right thing or making the right decision, just because I don’t like it. And it means that I shouldn’t be afraid to talk to someone who isn’t doing okay or is affecting me negatively because of a fear of how it might make them feel. It holds us to a higher standard of professionalism, I think.

Now, for some folks that know me, they will wonder what alien came and invaded my body when they read this.  I am someone who can’t help but care about what other people are feeling, that’s how I show up in the world — Care first!  But, I also understand that it’s my responsibility to do what’s right and if I am upset or don’t like it, then it isn’t my department’s job to make it better for me.

But, I digress. When I say I want to talk about feeling, what I mean is the atmosphere, vibe, or energy in a room. Before we began planning for this academic year, as a department, there were times, when I thought that there was a large rain cloud hanging over us. People walked into the room and barely spoke to other colleagues. When someone presented a new idea, he or she was greeted by silence and blank stares. The feeling in the room was dark, dank, bored, lethargic, and even apathetic. It made me sad to be in that place. Now, with some new thoughts, new freedom, a new perspective on our work, the energy in the room is light, bright, energetic, and even enthusiastic.

When the people in the room want to be there, want to get to know each other, want to have a good time, everything changes. The feeling around me makes me smile. It makes me happy. I feel more willing to be risky and try new things. When a new idea is presented, instead of wondering what the point is, I wonder how it can be put into practice. I enjoy coming to work and thinking creatively.  As  paraprofessional training begins, it’s exciting to see the energy the hall staff have, which means that the RAs will be enthusiastic, which means that the students will be excited, and in the end it means that we will have begun in the best place possible, with possibility for the future (instead of fear of the unknown).

So, despite the fact that, yes, it’s a business, I hope that we continue to feel like a place where fun is good, where creativity and enthusiasm is the norm, and where we enjoy the work that we do because we know it makes a difference.

I’m curious… What do you think about how your department “feels?”  Should how a place “feels” even matter? Share with me in the comments section below. I promise you won’t hurt my feelings.

Housing 360º: A Look Inside a College Housing Office

Editor’s Note: Housing 360º is a new feature for the ACUHO-I News Blog. In it, a campus housing department opens its doors and windows to the ACUHO-I membership as its professional and student staff share their thoughts and insights through their posts. The goal is to get a complete view — 360ª — of the work done by professionals of varying experiences and areas of expertise and also allow feedback and comments from the readers. Again, 360º.

For the 2009-2010 school year, The Ohio State University housing office will record a year-in-the-life. If all goes well, we would hope to feature new campuses in future years. Today, we kick things off with an introduction by Ohio State Assistant Vice President for Student Life, Fred Fotis.

Ohio State and ACUHO-I have been linked in many ways and for a long time. When I arrived on campus this year, one of my goals was for the association and university  be good colleagues and neighbors, and amplify OSU’s involvement in ACUHO-I. One idea of the ideas discussed was “a year in the life of a housing office in transition.”

At first I assumed this would be a series of Talking Stick articles, but was pushed by ACUHO-I Executive Director Sallie Traxler and Director of Communications James Baumann to consider something more contemporary and interactive and would have the opportunity to be much more transparent.

James suggested we begin to blog our experiences and that there be regular and on-going participation from a variety of OSU staff who could comment on issues, ideas, and our progress (or lack thereof) on the same. Our story would unfold as the year does. Also the ACUHO-I membership could participate in a broad discussion around our transition through their comments.

Believe me when I say I never thought I would be a blogger. I think the word itself is stupid. The blogs I have read seem primarily to be web-based arguments, many mean-spirited, all affect and no fact. My staff, however, all much younger than I am, found the blog idea to be really exciting and interesting. So, for the next year, about 15 OSU staff, including yours truly, associate and assistant directors, hall directors and RAs, will be sharing their perspectives and ideas on our departmental transition. Our intent is to share the process and our issues from a variety of perspectives.

We do not offer ourselves as a model or benchmark. We are far from it. As all housing offices share many of the same issues, our goal will be to do the best we can here, but we know we do not have the market on the good ideas.

We hope to be transparent as a department and we are trying to foster a culture where it is okay to disagree. Our ground rules are to be honest and open, not to snipe or speak down on a colleague, to present ourselves professionally, and to read responses. We look forward to the (sort of) objective third-party view that will be provided by our fellow bloggers, and think we will learn from that.

I hope this is a good thing.