#NASPA4WE: My First Professional Conference Experience.

As you all know from my previous posts, I recently spent a few days in St. Louis, Missouri for the NASPA4WE conference.  This was my first professional conference and let me just start by saying…I’m hooked.  I know that I am meant to be in Student Affairs.  I know I say this a lot, but it just keeps getting reaffirmed.  This conference was definitely an opportunity for reaffirmation.  I fell in love with Student Affairs all over again.

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Attending this conference with fellow graduate and undergraduate students from USD was so great!  I love getting to know my peers outside of work and class.  Seeing them in action in settings such as this is the perfect way to get to know them better.  Being in attendance with my boss, Dean of Students, and Associate Dean of Student Services was also awesome.  I got to meet their colleagues and friends and see them in a different professional setting than what I am used to.  And…let’s be real here, who doesn’t like to have a glass of wine with university administrators?

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Connecting with other inspiring, creative, adventurous, and driven individuals in the field is something that I truly cherish.  The Woo in me obviously gets a little carried away.  It is in times when I am in the company of other passionate educators and leaders that I find myself digging deeper into my love for working with students.

While I love connecting and networking with other professionals-both new and seasoned-what I absolutely cannot get enough of is time spent connecting with students.  This is one thing that I love about NASPA.  They allow for undergraduate and graduate students to be widely involved in their conferences and their organization at large.  While I was not involved with NASPA as an undergraduate student, I am so happy and encouraged to see student leaders from across the nation getting so involved with this organization.

I was privileged to meet an amazing group of undergraduate students and I spent an evening getting to know them and their pursuits.  It was this night that I felt the most invested, uplifted, and fulfilled.  This is what I strive for.

Yes, meeting students and professionals and having the time to network and socialize is fun, but we also know that Student Affairs is not all fun and games.  We are educators, leaders, professionals, first-responders, counselors, and peers.  Why we attend conferences and network with others in the field is to build off of the foundations that others have established.  We connect and bounce ideas off of each other.  We seek innovation and creativity in our everyday jobs and we are always on the look out for upcoming trends and issues within our field.

I attended some great presentations and sessions on topics ranging from peer assessment to social justice.  And from forgiveness as an aspect of health and wellness on our campuses to generational trauma for the American Indian student population.  I wanted to attend sessions that I both found interesting as well as applicable to my future or my current job.  Some sessions were obviously more interesting and impactful than others, but all relevant and worthwhile to our field.  I look forward to attending my next conference and seeing what other topics are presented upon.

I was also inspired to look into ways to further my involvement with NASPA and to grow and develop professionally.  I am tossing around the idea of presenting at a conference next year or joining the conference committee.  We will see!

In addition to networking and attending presentations, conferences also allow for the opportunity to adventure and experience a new city…you all know my passion for adventure and experiencing new things, so I am sure you can imagine how in my element I was in St. Louis.  I hopped on a walking tour of the city, went out to a few restaurants and bars, and obviously went up into the Arch…because, well duh!  Oh, the conference also hosted a 5k fun run…so I was able to connect with members of the running community that are also part of the Student Affairs community.  Dabbling in two of the most important spheres of my life makes my heart happy!

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Going back home to Vermillion, and encountering snow after 75 degree highs was definitely the low of my week.  But, all good things come in moderation, and then it’s back to reality.  Luckily I only had three days of rest and work and it was back on the road.

Thanksgiving break is upon us, and I am spending my week in Minneapolis visiting some relatives and one of my closest friends from NMU.


Since it’s Thanksgiving day, I couldn’t end this post without suggesting to take some time to reflect on what you’re most thankful for this year.  I’ll start.

Just a few things that I am most thankful for this year are:

  • Friends; new and old.  Moving far away from home is tough.  Leaving the place I love and the people I love is painful.  But, I am so so so blessed to have found a great group of people to fill that void.  South Dakota has treated me pretty well so far.  Shout out to those of you who’ve made my transition to Vermtown easier.  You know who you are!
  • Health and wellbeing.  Obviously, this has been a huge aspect of my life in the past few months.  I have a whole new perspective on what it means to be well, and I hope to continue living a healthier lifestyle.
  • New experiences.  This year has been full  of them.  I am so grateful to be expanding my mind, heart, and soul as I adventure on this path into my future.

 

Sending big love and positive vibes to all today!

-Joel

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We Are All Related.

Tonight I had the great opportunity to attend an event on campus that presented information about the Dakota Access Pipeline.  This presentation was comprised of a panel of speakers, all of which had some connection to or involvement with the protests at the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation.  Hearing the testimonials and spoken word of people who have been protesting at Standing Rock or have donated time, money, resources, energy, and language/communication to the Water Protectors, and to this cause was overwhelming and emotional.

If you haven’t seen my recent posts on Facebook and Twitter you probably don’t know how passionate I am about this particular issue.  I’ve never been much of an activist or a politically engaged and activated citizen, but recently I have felt that I must voice my concern and my support for the Water Protectors in Canon Ball, North Dakota.

The issue with the Dakota Access Pipeline hits really close to home for me.  Literally.  Geographically.  Physically.

No, I am serious, it hits home.

I recently moved to Vermillion, South Dakota.  Being from Northern Michigan, I didn’t know much about this side of the Midwest, but since coming to the Plains region I have found myself attempting to become part of this community.  I am trying to learn as much as I can about the area and become invested in it.  As “Michigan Proud” as I am, this is where I am living for the next two years.  Two years is a significant portion of my life, and I want this to be home while I am here.  In order for SoDak to feel like home, I must work hard to make it my home.  How am I doing this?  I am getting involved, exploring, learning about the state and about the Plains region of the United States.

Anywho, like I said, the Dakota Access Pipeline hits home.  The Dakota Access Pipeline is a 1,200 mile pipeline that will span across North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois, and will carry thousands of barrels of crude oil daily.  If constructed, it will travel beneath the Missouri River.  The Missouri River is the main source of water in the Plains region and is the main source of water for more than 10,ooo people living in this area.  I live in this area.  My friends live in this area.  My home is in this area.

Being from Michigan, the hardest part of moving to South Dakota is the fact that I have very little water near me.  I have never lived more than five minutes away from a body of clean water (a Great Lake) until I moved to Vermillion.  Here, the only water source near me is the Missouri River, and I am fortunate to live so close to it.

I love the water.  I have a deep and spiritual connection to water.  I feel most alive and awake and energized when I am in or around water.  I always have felt this way.  I have an amazing relationship with water.  I firmly believe “Water Is Life”.

If the Dakota Access Pipeline is constructed, and it is constructed beneath the Missouri River, my only clean water source runs the risk of contamination.  The main water source for over 10,000 people runs the risk of contamination.  The entire Plains region runs the risk of contamination, negative environmental impacts, and dangerous threats to our people.

I just moved to South Dakota and I am already this passionate about this issue.  I am already fueled with hatred toward this potential risk to the health of the life around me.  I feel this way, because I imagine this being constructed in Michigan, and running beneath one of the Great Lakes (cue Line 5).  I envision my precious and beloved Mother Superior and Lake Michigan being contaminated.  And then I think of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Missouri River.

No, I will never feel as strongly about the Missouri River as I do about a Great Lake.  I will never find it to be as clean, beautiful, or pristine as a Great Lake.  But for two years of life I will consider it to be home.  The main-only-water source near me.  Therefor, I find it so very important that I protect it and cherish it.  After all, “Water Is Life”.

I simply can’t imagine my life in South Dakota without the Missouri River.  I have already come to value it greatly.  I can only imagine how those who have spent their lives in the plains must feel about the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the risk that it poses to the Missouri River and the life that it provides in this region.

If constructed, the Dakota Access Pipeline will not only travel through four states, beneath the Missouri River, but also along the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.  This may in fact pose the greatest threat of all to these people in particular.

I stand with Standing Rock because like them I value nature.  I value water.  I value the Earth.  I value life.  I believe that every thing has a living spirit and that we are all connected.  I believe we are all brothers and sisters and humans and we are not so different from one another as society makes us out to be.

As I have grown, developed, and become educated, I have realized that many of my values and beliefs align very closely with that of the values and beliefs of the many American Indian tribes in our country.  Their spiritual practices and rituals intrigue me.  Their relationship with nature, practice of environmental reciprocity, and worship and protection of the land is something that I seek.  I desperately wish that more people viewed the resources that the land provides us as loans instead of gifts.  I desperately wish that we lived in a world that practiced peace as the American Indians do.  I desperately wish that we could view each other as relatives instead of strangers and enemies.

One of the things that I love about living in Vermillion and attending the University of South Dakota is the emphasis that everyone here places on community.  Given the size of our city and campus, we must value community, or we would be nonexistent.  Part of USD’s Diversity and Inclusion Statement quotes Lakota Proverb in saying “Mitakuye Oyasin” which translates to “We are all related” in English.  The first time I read this, I fell in love with it.

I seek to live out this ancient Lakota Proverb in my daily life.  This is why I stand with Standing Rock.  This is why we must shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline before it is too late.  This is why I stand with the Black Lives Matter movement.  This is why I stand with Mother Earth.  This is why I believe in all Human Rights.  We are all related.

Sending peace, love, and positive vibes to all my brothers and sisters.

-Joel

Fostering Multicultural Leaders.

This weekend I was invited to be a facilitator for a Multicultural Leadership Retreat hosted by the Center for Diversity and Community at the University of South Dakota, and I am so happy that I was given this incredible opportunity to work alongside colleagues and professionals in the field of Higher Education, as well as to learn from interactions with students.

In my experience, offsite retreats provide environments conducive to growth and learning in a way that is unlike any other learning environment.  This weekend was no exception.  Being a retreat dedicated to fostering multicultural leaders, the retreat center was designated as a brave space for all participants.  A brave space allows for all who enter to feel comfortable, able, and willing to have conversation, create dialogue, and take steps out of comfort zones and into stretch zones.  We wanted questions asked, statements made, and experiences and growth to occur without judgement or bias.  Creating a brave space allowed for such things to happen.

I believe removing ourselves from our home communities (in this case, the University of South Dakota) and the comforts and distractions of those places, allows for the creation of brave spaces to happen organically.  I’m not saying that we need to leave our communities to create brave spaces-we should create brave spaces everywhere we are-but it somehow feels easier to create brave spaces when in settings that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable, yet sought out, such as at a retreat like this.

Removing ourselves from the comforts and distractions of home also allows for genuinely deep, meaningful, emotional connections to be made and for experiential learning to occur.  These types of retreats act as catalysts for student development and allow for learning to occur in a different way than that which occurs in the classroom or on campus.  This was fascinating to watch and rewarding to be a part of.

During this retreat I learned about intent versus impact.  I learned about the difference between safe and brave spaces.  I listened to stories and experiences told by my peers.  We discussed topics such as race, ethnicity, social class, gender expression, sexual identity, privilege, oppression and so much more.  I engaged in conversations that were not easy to engage in.  We delved into topics that are often avoided and ignored.  I allowed myself to be vulnerable and to be real, raw, and genuine.  I watched as others allowed themselves to do the same.  I learned the importance of having these tough yet courageous conversations with my peers, students, and others.  Most importantly, I grew from this experience, and I know that each and every person in attendance grew as well.

Social Justice and Higher Education go hand in hand, and that is why it is so critical for there to be multicultural leaders on college campuses (and everywhere).  I am excited to keep learning how to be a multicultural leader on campus and in the world, and to continue on a path toward social justice.  I hope to work alongside the students that I met this weekend and to grow as a professional with the other facilitators (colleagues) as the year continues.

I gained a lot from this experience, but the one thing that sticks with me is a quote from Disney’s Zootopia (yes, we viewed this film as a group and analyzed it from a multicultural perspective!).  It is important for us to be having these conversations and to be attending retreats like this so that we may lead the world to change.  So as the wise and courageous Judy Hopps said at the end of the movie…

“Look inside yourself, and recognize that change starts with you.  It starts with me.  It starts with all of us”

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