Break the Silence!

Good morning NASPA13 and #SAchat colleagues!

I work with students experiencing hunger, homelessness, food insecurity, and poverty. I love what I do because I enable low-income students in their ability to stay in school. You can check out my office at www.oregonstate.edu/hsrc

I wanted to share briefly my own story of situational poverty. I took a break from Student Affairs after completing my MA in Educational Leadership at Washington State University (Go Cougs!). I went to work at a wilderness therapy program for troubled teens. I enjoyed the work, and did it for several years, and even was promoted to the Field Director Team.

We were encouraged to take leaves of absence in the winter time because numbers went down. I took 3 months off to go to New Zealand, and while I was gone our corporate owner asked the question "if this person is taking this much time off, is she needed at all?" My position was eliminated just before I returned stateside. The program did not have any other positions for me until the summer, and because I had been on vacation I had used a lot of my savings.

I never imagined I would be unemployed.

I had been thinking about going back to Student Affairs for a couple of years, so I decided to start a job search. While I was doing that, I worked at a couple of nonprofit organizations in Moab, UT. I made very little money, and rent was hard to make every month. I was losing money before I even bought groceries.

I decided that the best move I could make financially was to move out of my place. I was in a relationship at the time, and we borrowed his parents' RV. A month or so later we broke up, and I moved into my car full time. I couch surfed, camped, and freelanced at the area wilderness programs. Eventually I went home to NY to stay a while with family.

All the while I was applying for jobs in Higher Ed. I interviewed over and over and over, but the market was tough, and I had been out of the field for a while. My friend sent me the PD for the position at Oregon State - Human Services Resource Center Coordinator - the position I now hold. I never imagined that having applied for food stamps or living in a car would be helpful to me in an interview! I started working at OSU in January 2011 - about one year from the time I lost my job.

I feel like I was the luckiest homeless person in the world. I might have been in situational poverty, but I had a nice car to live in, good credit, and a Masters degree. I KNEW I would be OK - just not when. I had the privilege of looking like someone who "belonged," and who could do things like network and interview within the dominant culture. I had a resume that would get my foot in the door, and I could write a mean cover letter. I had a family who could take me in. I had a best friend in my dog, who lived with me in the car.

We need to remember that anyone can be homeless, anyone can experience poverty, anyone can have a life shock. We also need to remember that our students can be experiencing poverty, hunger, and homelessness. Class and SES are not often talked about in our diversity and social justice dialogues. That needs to change. Poverty is cross-cutting, critical, and pervasive.

If you have interest, please email me at clare.cady@oregonstate.edu to learn more, and to join a mailing list for a new NASPA KC I want to start.

In service to students...


Looking for a 360 View on Tuition Increases

I imagine that mine is not the only campus in the country where students and administrators are embroiled in a battle over tuition. Our student government did what I would say is a beautiful job of organizing this year to make it clear that they wanted a tuition freeze, including websites, public demonstrations, and letters to the President. I felt proud of their efforts...and I knew that they would not get what they wanted.

Really they should not (they would kill me if they read this - if that is your knee-jerk reaction please bear with me). In an eloquent letter to our community the Provost and Executive Vice President explained the tuition increase, discussing it in a near-360 manner (I will share what I mean by that in a moment). The letter talked about the political climate, the economic climate, the decrease in state funding, and the monies raised for scholarships to help students attend. The most salient part of the letter for me was the concept that the revenue gleaned from a tuition increase can be linked to helping students graduate faster.

If that is true (and I can't know if it is standing here in this moment), then I can understand it fully. If the increase is, for instance $150 per term, and a student has one more year, then the most they will pay extra would be $600. This is WAY below the cost of another year - IF the money from the tuition is used to increase course offerings, hiring more instructors, improving infrastructure, and the myriad of other factors that can lead to a student graduating more quickly. Students graduating faster? Hey, if we can pull that off, I am OK with the increase.

Some of the students in my office did not really see this logic. For them spending more money now = BAD, and the idea of spending less over time did not cross their minds. Of course, my office serves the approximate 10% of our campus population who are experiencing poverty, hunger, homelessness, food insecurity...and several of my staff members are right there in the boat with the students we serve. When we talked about it further I reminded them that there were a great number of students on our campus who would not bat an eye at the increase in tuition, or for whom this would be an annoyance, but could easily shoulder the cost. The reality is that on all college campuses there are people who can cover these costs - they just end up falling through the cracks in these conversations because they are not the focal point of economic hardship. On some campuses this is a high percentage, on others - public schools, land-grant institutions, community colleges - it is much lower.

My students were initially upset to hear me talk about tuition increases in this way. Why was I not with them!?!?!?! Why was I talking about the students who could afford this injustice?!?! Where was their social justice minded supervisor who championed the cause of the truly poor college student?!?!

Here is where my statement about the Provost's message not being fully 360 comes into play. The thing is, the Provost is right, AND the students are right. The trouble, in my opinion, is that neither is giving it a full look (and, I imagine I have my own blind spot in this as well). What was missing from the equation is that the students who use the services in my office may not benefit from the measures put forward by increasing course offerings, hiring more instructors, and improving infrastructure. That is because these are tactics well in line with mainstream approaches to higher education. The students I serve - mostly first-generation, coming from working or generational poverty, are not as equipped to benefit from the current way of doing business. They are more likely to take longer to graduate BECAUSE the system is not set up for them. Increases in the status quo may not provide them the same outcome as other students.

So what to do? Here is where I drive home the importance of three things:
  • Support programs focused on low-income, first generation, and other underrepresented populations. These programs need to grow in direct proportion to the increase in classes, instructors, and infrastructure - and if that means an increase that is higher in proportion to the number of students who need these services...all the better. Take the additional resources and put them toward training your new instructors and staff on ways to serve these students, and infuse an understanding of class, SES, and social capital into the curriculum.
  • Increased need-based aid. I don't just mean financial aid. I mean scholarships, grants, subsidies, stipends, free or subsidized housing, and other ways to lower the cost for students who are most affected by tuition increases.
  • Safety-net services for students. Either find a way to effectively link your students into services in your community, create a services office on your campus (call me if you want to learn about the one I run), or do some kind of hybrid between the two.
That is what was missing from the Provost's view of the situation - and the rest of his view was what was missing from the eyes of my students. There needs to be an understanding that tuition increases CAN be beneficial, when paired with supports to the students whom will be hurt the most.

Does this mean that I don't advocate for decreasing the cost of college? No. I am also putting my mind to that complex issue. But, in the meantime, I think that working on these things could continue to create access for students I see every day who are literally starving for knowledge.


Convergent Student Needs

It's been a while since I posted. I wanted to share this Venn diagram we created to demonstrate the overlapping needs of student-parents, student veterans, and students experiencing poverty. My colleagues, Gus, Amy, and I are presenting on our work to address both the unique and overlapping needs at the 2013 NASPA National Conference.

If this diagram piques your interest shoot me an email! clare.cady@oregonstate.edu


online boundaries: "friends," "followers," and "connections"

what did i do for christmas? well, besides the present-opening and time with friends and family, i took some time to do something that seems almost counter to the spirit of the holidays...

i eliminated over 150 people from my facebook "friends."

i have written a few times about the fact that there are not enough words to describe the "friend" relationship. we use the same word to describe someone we met last week as we do with someone we have known 15 years, someone we work with as we do with someone with whom we live. we have to modify the word with things like "best" or "girl" in order to get closer to what the friendship really is.

the use of the word "friend" as a marker for people we are connected to on facebook confounds the word even further. it makes the relationship seem like more than it is. even when people don't know one another they can be "friends." this makes it harder for people to remove others from their facebook account. in order to do that they need to "unfriend" them, thus placing an overly significant amount of value on the click of a mouse button.

i am not saying that the people i have connected with on facebook are people i do not care about. especially now that i have removed some of the people from my list, i have a much stronger relationship to them overall. the people in my news feed are people i know. i want to see their lives and know what they are up to. i like having that window they open into their lives, and i am willing to share my open window with them as well.

with the increase of social media sites and interfaces i am able to keep up on others with whom i prefer to have a greater level of social distance. twitter and linkedin are sites where i can share with others a more professional side. on these sites i am more limited in what i show to the world. even the language and action of these sites is less personal. on twitter you have "followers," and on linkedin you have "connections." on twitter you do not share full albums of your photos, but one at a time. on linkedin you rarely engage in "status updates" of any kind. for me these 3 sites in concert make it possible for me to have some kind of online connection with people in a way that keeps my boundaries appropriate and comfortable. there are circles emanating outward from my digital core that get progressively larger and more impersonal the farther away they get. my facebook "friends" are the smallest in number, and get the most personal information. twitter is next, getting some personal thoughts as well as my professional musings, and linkedin is on the outside. here i keep colleagues, former students, and others who i want to be able to contact, but don't really care to connect with regularly. there are people in all 3, and others in just 1 or 2.

this practice is not at all separate from how we live our lives in the virtual world. we have those who we share with intimately, others we share with professionally, and those who know who we are, but do not know us well. it makes sense to me. it helps me to feel safer in my online identity. it sets things up cleanly with well-defined boundaries.

interestingly i imagine that there might be someone who reads this that is offended by being set into one of these categories. if they are only part of my twitter "followers," rather than my facebook "friends," they might see this as a slight. because social media developed from the inside out, it is a norm to have facebook "friends" we would never be intimate with in real life. "unfriending" someone is seen as an affront - rude. i even saw that in myself when i was doing it - i almost felt guilty. in the end i was able to think about it from this multi-layered perspective, which helped me to know who should fall where.

i think boundaries are helpful - even online.


grateful for nothing...

today i am grateful for nothing.

no, that does not mean i am ungrateful. it means that i am looking at the world and seeing the things that could be in my life, but are not in my life, and for that, i am grateful.

still confused? think about this.

i remember when i was in middle school we were asked to do drawings of negative space. we set up still life arrangements to draw, but instead of drawing the fruit in the bowl, we drew the space around it. these ended up being some of the prettiest drawings i ever did - once i got the point of the assignment - that the lack of something is not to be ignored, but celebrated.

so what am i celebrating the lack of? well for one thing, i just had my annual physical and i am disease-free, lacking in high cholesterol, lacking in high blood pressure, and did not have to hear my doctor tell me to lose weight or change my diet. though i had fun last night when our power went out, i am grateful it is on again, and tonight i will be lacking in darkness until i choose to welcome it into my life. over break i am grateful for the lack of students experiencing homelessness, and for the lack of crises coming through my door. this leads to a lack of stress, which i am also happy about.

it is funny. i think about this way of seeing things only when something bad happens, and then subsides. the end of my relationship and the death of my dog brought emotional pain into my life. i am grateful that this has subsided. right now i get reminders to be grateful for that because i still have twinges of grief that come in waves. i feel grateful for the calm that comes after that. i feel grateful for the absence of negative thoughts about my personal adequacy, or the question of whether or not i will fall in love again. i feel grateful for the lack of pain when i walk in the door of my house and am not greeted by wagging tail and wiggly kisses. i am not grateful that those are missing from my life, but i am grateful that the dread of going home to those not being there has subsided.

this week, i am grateful to go home at the end of a work day with the absence of terror, shooting, and death.

it seems i should be thinking about these things even if nothing bad has happened - that is hard to do. that said, as i sit here i am grateful that my head does not hurt as it did when i got up this morning. i am grateful i am not hungry, and i am happy for the lack of tiredness which usually hits me near the end of the day. i could go on, and on, and on, with these things that are not there. i think it is important to think about the absence of things.

the negative space around us that could be filled with negative things.

so, again, i am grateful for nothing.


i can relate to that

i don't post my relationship status on facebook anymore. i used to, but the older i got the more i felt that i wanted my relationships to be deeper personally, and shallower publicly. i know that one can see through my photos that i am seeing someone, but i don't think the little pink heart will ever again grace my news feed - at least not with my name attached.

i recently ended a relationship with a man i met nearly a year ago. we were together very seriously for a while, and i thought there was potential for future growth. what i ended up learning is that the level of intentionality i bring to the things in my life is rare and unique, and that many people don't understand it, let alone share it. now, i did not come to this conclusion solely as a a result of this failed relationship - it was just the capstone to something that i had been thinking about for a while.

ten years ago i jumped into relationships without doing any kind of thinking. who cared really? it was fun, i was young, and if i stumbled sideways into something really long term then i got to be really really lucky. some painful experiences while i was in utah led me to start thinking about how i choose the people i devote myself to. i began to compile a list of things that are important to me, and when i met someone who was outside of these, i focused on friendship rather than cultivating a romantic relationship. of course, you don't know what you don't know, and i ended up finding involvement with some people who fit current criterion, but who taught me other things that i value. absence is such a powerful teacher - cruel, but powerful.

how does anyone find someone? i don't ask that in a pathetic or hopeless way. i just wonder with all of the people in this world, and all of the possibilities for matches, how do folks settle in on one person? i know it is not at all a science, and, because we are biologically meant not to be monogamous, we will be attracted to many. i also know that beyond physical attraction, our environment, emotions, and intentions play a large role. these days i think we have to add the internet in there too, which is just as strange as all the other factors.

i think about it because i'd very much like to meet someone. i think about it not too often, but it does exist there in my conscious mind as a frame on my interactions and my decisions. i used to feel like that was a silly and unnecessary (i dare say, unfeminist) goal. perhaps my 32 year old hormones are kicking in, or i can see the value-added of a partner, or i just want that kind of adventure...no matter the reason i have let go of my biases. when i meet people i am interested in i start thinking about whether or not this person would be someone i could at least fathom being with long term. if the answer is no, as i said before, i shift tack and cultivate a platonic relationship. if the answer is yes, i proceed with intention.

when it comes to things that are really outside my circle of control, like the actions and emotions of others, it seems ridiculous to imagine that intentionality is possible. despite my doubts i know that at least anecdotally it rings true. i have seen friends make decisions about what they want in potential mates, and it informs their choices. one of my friends decided that because she did not want to have children of her own, she would look for men who already had had that experience. she could be involved in children's lives without having to do the things she did not want to do. it worked out for her quite well. when i start to apply those things to my life i can see a string of needs and wants that create a frame for the person i want in my life.

then i start to think...what about the x factor? if i come up with so many ideals and stick to them will i ever find someone? what things are negotiable, and what are deal breakers? how do i decide when my body is awash with oxytocin and dopamine, and i am high off the feeling of having someone new with me? i have no answers to this. i really don't know how to manage it. i think that the intentional part has its own limitations - hence the level of confusion and uncertainty with which i enter into this in the first place.

in the end i suppose it takes measures of intention, luck, biology, time, pain, joy, and risk to get there. i am sure there are still things i don't know i don't know as well. sitting with a partially broken heart the whole thing seems scary right now, but i know it will eventually become neutral, and then interesting, and then exciting once more.

can you relate to that?

Help a Bear Out

This tickled me...