Archive for October 2011

Addressing the 99% and the 1%

October 23, 2011

With all of the media coverage about the recent Occupy Wall Street Movement, which has grown and spread to cities throughout the United States, I find myself reflecting on issues of privilege and power in our society as a whole.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement, without a clear set of leaders, has become a multi-issue movement, which, like the Tea Party, has meant that the media has latched onto certain aspects of it, ignored other aspects, and blown minor grievances into headlines.

One of the main arguments of the Occupy Wall Street Movement is that the top 1% of wage earners in our country control an unfair percentage of the wealth, power, and influence in our country, in particular in the economy and the political system of our country.  A few of the issues that the media has been discussing as concerns/demands of the Occupy Wall Street Movement are highlighted below.  Please note, I am not addressing all of the concerns reported, as I am far from an expert, and want to keep this post relatively short.

1.)    Campaign Finance Reform: This is actually an area where I feel the Occupy Movement does raise legitimate concerns.  However, one claim is that corporate donations unfairly hinder the political process.  This simply isn’t true.  Corporations can’t vote.  The CEO of a major corporation has only one vote when he goes into the voting booth, same as every other American citizen of voting age.  It’s our CANDIDATES that are the problem, making promises to the people, and then altering those promises if a campaign contribution is at play.  Why do we vote for these people?  Politics should not be a profession, as it is for a large chunk of our elected officials, it should be a call to service, and a desire to serve our country and improve life for all Americans.  If we don’t like how a person is performing, vote for someone else!  I recognize a two-party system doesn’t always made this idealistic statement possible, but still feel that it’s our duty to vote for people who we feel will address the issues we are passionate about, and when they don’t, it’s time to send them packing.

2.)    Corporate Power: I was watching an episode of the television program “Freedom Watch” where the guest was my senior seminar professor, Dr. Steve Horwitz, an Economics professor at St. Lawrence University.  While in conversation on the OWS movement, Steve put it best when he said “in the marketplace, it is the 99% of us who have the power.”  He’s absolutely right.  It is the 99% that have allowed things to get to this point.  We’ve supported the “evil corporations” by buying their products, consuming their services, and for allowing our politicians to enact laws, policies, and loopholes that benefit the 1% which is the source of the outrage currently being seen daily as the OWS movement continues to grow and gain support.  We have a choice as consumers.  By choosing to support these large corporations, we are signing off and saying that we’re ok with what they’re doing.  I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but we have implicitly sanctioned it through a majority of our actions as consumers.  Case in point, why do we sign up for the Bank of America account when we have local banks and credit unions that will provide the same service (and now, at a cheaper rate given Bank of America’s proposed charge of $5 a month for using their card).  Are you kidding me?  Why should WE be paying the bank money to hold onto OUR money?  I’ll be curious to see if people actually switch banks, or if we’ll keep marching along in step with the corporations and paying them in an effort like this.

3.)    Education Loans: In an era of skyrocketing tuition costs, the OWS movement has mentioned student loan forgiveness as a potential outcome where a heavy burden could be removed from the lives of hundreds of thousands of college graduates.  While I agree that tuition, room, board, and fees have increased at many institutions greater than the rate of inflation each year, students still continue to enroll in colleges.  This is in large part due to the high percentage of students at private institutions on financial aid, and due to less expensive tuition, room, board and fees at public institutions.  This is another simple issue of using our power as consumers, since colleges are increasingly recognizing the need to be consumer-minded for students and families.  It is up to us as consumers to choose an institution that will provide us with an education that we are able to afford.  Part of that affordability will include loans.  Most college graduates leave college with some amount of loan debt.  As consumers, the choices we make before starting college can significantly impact the amount of debt we graduate with when we leave college.

So, how do we exert our power as the 99%.  We take our voices and the “movement” to Washington, DC where the real decisions regarding corporate power are enacted and codified daily.  Until our political leaders feel the pressure exerted on them, as the supposed “representatives of the people” not much will change, since the corporations on Wall Street have little ability (or desire) to enact changes that would hurt their business (and to their credit, they’re correct, why would anyone want to hurt their business and livelihood.  Simply put, you wouldn’t want to do this)!  Putting pressure on politicians to close tax loopholes, remove lobbyist influence, and begin to focus on the needs of the 99% is the only solution that will bring around the end of our current economic and political problems.  The current two-party system truly does not allow for a great discussion and debate on this issue, as the parties are increasingly polarized, and when one party is in power, they are hesitant to propose any changes that might hurt them if they ever lose that power.  A coalition system of multiple political parties is an alternative that might allow new forums for discussion to occur, especially around the key concerns being raised by the OWS movement.  At the very least, new parties would break the division between the two parties and force consensus-building on issues in order to receive the required votes to enact laws and policies.

I said earlier that this movement has made me think about power and privilege, and indeed it has.  Seeing these protestors has made me wonder why aren’t their movements like this in our country advocating for those in other nations who are oppressed, struggling, and having a more difficult time than we are.  The harsh truth is that in this case, we, as citizens of the United States, are the global 1%.  I examined my own life.  I grew up in a middle class household, had the opportunity to attend college at a private institution, earned a Master’s degree, and currently am working in a job a love, making a decent wage, have access to benefits, and in general, have a very good life.  We take for granted that as a global citizen, we are the exact type of people that the OWS movement is protesting against here at home.  It’s easy for us to be outraged when we view ourselves as the disenfranchised part of society, much more difficult for us to put aside what, in a global context, are relatively minor concerns compared to the issues facing millions of people elsewhere, and focus on those issues.  This movement has been my reminder to both recognize that I am indeed a privileged individual and that I have the power to bring about change, not only here at home, but in the broader world, where there are people who don’t have the freedoms that I do to be an advocate for them.

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Me, a Mentor?

October 7, 2011

This week was a great week for me; in fact, it was probably one of the best of my career.  On the personal front, I had a visit from my parents, which always manages to brighten my spirits and remind me of the importance of family as a central role in my life.  Even though it was just a quick stop-over for lunch and spending some time hanging out in my apartment, I continue to realize how lucky I am to have two wonderful parents who have supported me through every major event and milestone in my life, and continue to push me to work hard and continue to learn (they’ve been the most vocal proponents of Operation #sadoc).

At work, I had my annual performance planning meeting with my supervisor, and was pleased to see many new projects and tasks added to my role, which continues to evolve and keep me interested.  I never expected to be at Siena for 4 years, but the opportunity to advance and receive new projects as well as work with a top notch student affairs team has kept me here and passionate about my work.

More importantly, I was meeting with a student who is exploring student affairs as a career field.  This student hasn’t been able to attend any of Siena’s “Future Leaders in Student Affairs” workshops this year, so meets with me one on one to start planning his graduate school application process.  We went out to Buffalo Wild Wings (something I do for all of our students who are exploring student affairs….affectionately called the “Life Planning Lunch/Dinner”), and as we were discussing geographic location, graduate assistantships, personal statements, deadlines, and the adjustment to life after college, he dropped the “m” word on me.  He said, “Thanks for being a friend and mentor.”  I was taken aback by this statement.  Me, a mentor?  Surely not.  I don’t have anything of serious value to offer people.  Sure, I like to think I’m quick with a snarky comment to make my staff and colleagues laugh, but serious stuff like mentoring?  Nahhhhhh.  Can’t be.

Then I started thinking about the qualities of a good mentor, and how extremely fortunate I am to have had some amazing mentors in my life to this day.  To me, all mentors must have the following qualities:

  • Ongoing Presence: Mentors must be a continued presence in the lives of the people who look up to them.  It doesn’t mean close proximity, but it does mean a willingness to keep in touch and be an ongoing support system.
  • Challenger: An effective mentor is going to challenge people to think critically about the decisions that they have to make.  Mentors should be sounding boards who are willing to push people to have high expectations and goals, work hard to make a difference in the lives of others, to be a servant leader, and most importantly, to be that reality check for someone and say “No, that’s not going to work.”
  •  Dedicated to Development: Student development is the core of our work.  Making sure that a mentor promotes their mentees continuing development as a young adult and young professional is critical.  Providing opportunities for a mentee to see “behind the curtain” of our work can be beneficial to our students who are looking to enter our field, as it takes a bit of the mystery out of our work and adds a touch of realism.
  • Positive Role Model: Mentors should “walk the walk.”  This includes being willing to admit our own mistakes and share our own personal and professional stories with our mentees.  We ask our students and fellow professionals to “be here, now” with us, we should do the same.
  • Commitment to Reflection & Processing: Things don’t always go according to plan.  Mentors need to be the person that will help reflect and process when things go awry.  This process needs to be ongoing, as active reflection on goals and values is also essential.

The mentors in my life have been outstanding in all of these aspects.  They have been there for me through the good AND the bad.  They’ve made me think about work, life, ambitions, fears, and to take a critical look at myself as a young professional.  I can’t imagine where I would be today if it wasn’t for these people, some of whom have been in my life for years, others for a relatively short period of time.  All have made a profound difference in my life.  For those of you in Higher Education and/or Student Affairs, be sure to find mentors early in your undergraduate, graduate, and professional life, as this will form the basis of a network that will support and challenge you daily.

Lastly, remember to thank your mentors regularly.  This is an area where I don’t often succeed.  So, in closing, let me thank a few people who have served as mentors in my life.  Some of these folks are SA professionals, and I’ve included their twitter names, as you should definitely follow them!

  •  Cissy Petty (@cissypetty): for giving me a second chance, opening my eyes to student affairs as a career field, and for teaching me to be proud of who I am.
  • Dan Nilsson (@DanielDNilsson): for teaching me how to be a young professional, mentor, and friend all at once.
  • Elizabeth Thompson (@feministorbust): for continuing to inspire me to make social justice a priority in my work.
  • Maggie Evans: for continued friendship and support starting in graduate school and continuing today.
  • Hugh Brown: for always being willing to sit and chat about work, life, and everything in between.
  • Stephanie Carr: for being a resource and sharing new innovations and ideas regarding training and selection that have helped me immensely in my role here at Siena.
  • JMU ORL: for saying “yes” and bringing me down to Virginia for an amazing two years of graduate work.
  • Mel Beach: for hiring me and having faith in my abilities and allowing me to take ownership of my work and career.
  • Kathy Brannock: for allowing me the opportunity to take chances at work, try new initiatives, and have the opportunity to advance in my career.
  • Maryellen Gilroy: for pushing me to continue on operation #sadoc and making the resources available for me to do this.
  • Craig Beebe (@craigbeebe): for being a sounding board and a “cheerleader” for my successes.
  • Teri Bump (@tbump): for helping to make connections and serving as an inspirational leaders not just for women (a primary interest for her), but for men as well!
  • Steve Malvaso (@stevemalvaso): for teaching me that being authentic and honest is always a two-way street.

Thanks for reading!  Have a great weekend.