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Reflections on August in Student Affairs and the “August Challenge”

September 4, 2013

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve had a post that has made it live.  There were a few I thought about posting, but on second thought realized that I probably shouldn’t post.  It was a good “thought-check” process for me to ensure that I was 100% OK with what I post on this blog. 

This post started out in July when I began to think about the craziness that is August in Student Affairs.  Those of us in the field fully understand what I mean when I use the phrase “Organized(ish) Chaos” as our campuses begin to come alive with RAs, Orientation Staff, Athletes, and other early arrival groups, training programs, orientation, and then move-in, only to be followed by a “hit the ground running” mentality as we resume normal operations and services. 

Disclaimer: I have never been one who hides my emotions well.  People know when I’m in a good mood and when I’m in a bad mood.  For the most part, I’m OK with this, as I view it as being real.  No one can (and no one SHOULD) be forced to completely hide their emotions and feelings.  With that said, there are certainly times, places, and ways to properly express emotions.  For me, my colleagues, friends, and students know that when I stop talking or “seem quiet” that it means chances are more than good that something is bothering me and/or I’m having an “off day.”  I fully own this and try to put the disclaimer out there so people are aware of this.  To some it might be off-putting, but I feel being honest is a good thing, even when it comes to saying “Today’s not a good day for me.” 

Starting in July, I began to get nervous about August.  It’s a busy time, and I have some perfectionist tendencies that exhibit themselves as stress when things don’t go according to plan in August, as this is my busiest time of year in my role at Siena.  I decided that I was going to make an “August Challenge” in which I challenged myself not to freak-out, complain, or become overtly negative if/when things didn’t go according to plan.  My reasons for this were multiple and briefly outlined below:

  • The work needs to be done regardless of things going according to plan – Why complain?  What purpose does it serve to advance the plan/project?  Letting go of my need for a flawless August was a huge first step for me.  I learned to roll with the punches and take changes as they came.  Sure, some were not at all fun, but I tried to maintain an even keel, especially in front of my colleagues and students (even though I know some of my colleagues knew I was irked on the inside, I tried not to let it show or negatively impact our attitudes).
  • Having (more) faith in my colleagues – I work with amazing people.  I’ve always had a tendency to do tasks myself, in turn adding a layer of stress over projects that I knew my colleagues could handle, but was afraid to let go of.  This year, I let go of several key pieces of RA training, and not only did I feel better, but my colleagues developed new and original ideas for several initiatives, including our service trips, behind closed doors, Mentor RA training, and Round Robin presentations.  Everyone wins, as I was able to delegate a few things and give my colleagues new experiences and they were able to demonstrate a level of creativity and innovation that impressed not only me, but our RAs and other staff as well.
  • Keeping a Positive Attitude – Although at times hard to do with the stress of August, it is amazing how much better I felt by maintaining the mantra “Today is going to be a good day” and “We’ve got this” to get me through.  Did I, at times, lose this attitude?  Yes, but it was controlled and far less frequent than in the past.  I hate “inspirational” quotes, but the old quote that “Attitude is contagious” appears to be true, as my colleagues and staff seemed much more energized and less negative than previous years. 

And finally, the most important thing that I recognized is that August has a tendency to become a game of one-upmanship for Student Affairs Professionals.  Some of my friends in the field, including me in previous years, use Social Media to vent, which is fine when done appropriately.  August has a tendency to induce a different phenomena where we all try to one-up each other with stories of craziness, debauchery, and horror stories that we have encountered.  Part of this includes talking about how “busy” we are.  This manifests itself as the innocuous tweet such as “Going to bed after a 14 hour day” or the more blatant “Damn, it’s only August 15th? #15daysstraightwork.”   I’m baffled as to why this happens, mainly because in student affairs, we are ALL busy in August, and should be supporting each other, rather than trying to one-up each other with stories of how “busy” we are.

 There is an article making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter in the Harvard Business Review titled “Please Stop Complaining About How Busy You Are” and I recommend everyone take a look at it.  I won’t attempt to paraphrase it here, but will say that it has some great points for all of us to consider as we head into another academic year!

 As always, comments and/or discussion are encouraged on the blog or through Twitter @adamcasler .  Thanks for reading!


24 Things I’ve Learned in my 20s

July 3, 2012

I’m not (quite) out of my 20s yet, but when I saw this list via Ryan O’Connell at Thought Catalog I felt I had to repost.  The list originally had 25 items, and I’ve omitted one as it didn’t apply to me at all, and wasn’t something I believe.  However, the other 24 items on this list are incredibly true.  Some are funny, some are serious, and I think all provide a set of reminders about life and the need to not only look back and reflect, but look forward and not be too caught up in the moment.

Numbers 3, 11, 14, 15, 20, and 23 are expecially poignant for me!

What about you?  What on this list strikes you (either as right or wrong).

  1. You can’t date a jerk and expect to turn them into a good person. Jerks are fully committed to being unpleasant. Those brief moments of tenderness they give you are designed to trip you up and give you false hope. It’s best to stay away altogether.
  2. The rumors are true: your metabolism does slow down as you get older! That means if you’re still eating whatever you want, there’s a good chance you’ll start to gain an awkward amount of weight. It won’t be too drastic but your clothes will start to hang differently on your body and you’ll feel an overall feeling of unattractiveness. Start to be conscious of what you eat and strive to live a healthier lifestyle if you want to get your teen body back. (Let’s be real though, that might not ever come back.)
  3. You’re going to lose touch with a lot of your friends. With some people, it will be expected but with others it will feel like a punch to the stomach. No friendship is truly safe in your twenties. You’re undergoing so many personal and professional changes that there’s bound to be some casualties along the way. Don’t worry though. You’ll end up with the ones that matter. If someone’s no longer in your life, it’s for a reason.
  4. You’ll be jealous of everyone who’s more successful than you. That’s okay. Just transfer that jealousy into something productive, like working really hard so you can one day eclipse them and make them feel jealous of YOU.
  5. You’ll question every decision you make and never feel completely certain that you made the right choice. It’s pointless to wonder though. You’re here now so you might as well make it be the right decision.
  6. You’re going to give your heart to a few people who don’t deserve it. Then, one day you’ll come to your senses and ask them to give it back.
  7. You’ll see your parents get older. You’ll come home during Christmas break and see new lines developing on their faces. One day it’ll just hit you that your parents are old and going to die. There’s nothing you can do about it, besides treat them with kindness and visit as much as your budget permits.
  8. You’ll have a boss who makes you feel like you’re nothing. It doesn’t have to be in a Devil Wears Prada way. The cruelty can be much more subtle. Don’t let them get to you though. They have no idea who the hell you really are and you’re probably going to have their job someday so…
  9. You’re going to puke in public. It’s fine. No one cares. Just puke.
  10. You’ll know how to make twenty dollars last an entire week because you spent almost all of your paycheck on groceries at Whole Foods and drunk cab rides. This lesson in frugality will serve you well.
  11. You’re going to betray your convictions. You’re going to feel shame. You’re going to continue to put yourself in situations that aren’t good for you. And then, slowly but surely, it will become less frequent. It might not ever go away completely but it won’t be as bad. In the meantime, stop shame spiraling about it. It gets you nowhere.
  12. Loving yourself is hard. Hating yourself is harder.
  13. You’re going to hook up with someone who you would never touch in the daylight sober. Just don’t freak out too much about it. Consider it to be your good deed for the day.
  14. You’re going to have people in your life who are toxic. They may say that they love you, they may say that they have your back, but they don’t. Get rid of them.
  15. You’ll have moments with someone that are so intense, it’ll feel like you’ve been electrocuted back to life. You’ll hold on to these moments for a long time. They’ll give you hope when you’re going through the motions.
  16. You’ll always care about your first love. That doesn’t make you crazy, it just makes you human. When relationships end, it’s not so cut and dry. You carry everyone you’ve ever loved into every relationship thereafter.
  17. You’ll enter your twenties as a fashion disaster and (hopefully) leave them looking fantastic. If you don’t know how to put yourself together by then, I really don’t know what to tell you.
  18. You’ll realize that the Internet can be a cruel son of a bitch but, you know,
  19. So much of what you think matters doesn’t actually matter at all. It’s kind of rude. Like, thanks for making me believe in things that are ultimately so inconsequential, you jerk.
  20.  You’ll treat someone terribly. Whether it to be a lover or your friend, there’ll be someone whose feelings you take for granted. We focus too much on whether or not someone is hurting us. The reality is that we might actually be the one who’s hurting someone.
  21. Doing “grown-up things” doesn’t make you a grown up. Shopping for housewares, buying a plant, embracing domesticity — these things don’t create maturity. If you’re still a baby who hasn’t figured things out, you’ll remain a baby, no matter how many times you pay your rent on time.
  22. Don’t force yourself into loving anyone. If it’s not working in the beginning, it’s probably not going to work ever.
  23. You are so lucky to have everything that you have. Stop crying about an unreturned text message and get some perspective.
  24. Don’t go too long without having sex. Ever.


Actions over Images

March 28, 2012

I really debated posting this one.  I’m not sure if I’m the best voice to bring this topic up, but I have seen so many SA pros take controversial stances (aka James Frier’s post on the #SAchat community among others) that I feel I can’t sit this one out.

I want to start by saying that I am aware that the topic I am about to dive into is highly sensitive and is something that continues to evolve as we learn more information.  I do not want anyone to think that these remarks are coming from an insensitive place, as that is not my intention at all.  It is my hope that we use the topic below as a starting point to better inform our ongoing work and development as a profession charged with educating students (and ourselves).

On Monday, I saw my Twitter feed start to talk about tweet-ups and a couple of them encouraged attendees to wear hoodies in support of Trayvon Martin.  For those unfamiliar with this case, I would suggest reading up on it, as I don’t want to try to encapsulate the case here, for fear of missing an important detail and then having my main point be missed.

While I think that the visual image of solidarity through wearing hoodies is a fine expression regarding a tragic situation involving the unnecessary loss of a young life, I also have to stop and think “What other ways can our profession address underlying issues in our society related to race, class, violence, and a myriad of other social issues that continue to plague our society and world?”  I think that the wearing of hoodies can be a powerful initial showing of solidarity and can be a powerful demonstration that this is an issue that we recognize as a potential defining moment in how we talk about race, class, gender, violence, and other problems.  My hope is that this is only a first step, and that we use this moment to increase awareness, and then transform that awareness into other actions and educational opportunities.

Disclaimer – I am not an expert in social justice work or theory.  I am privileged as a white,  middle class man who lives in a low-crime area.  With that said, I feel that if our sole focus becomes presenting “images” of solidarity, such as wearing hoodies in this case, then we are failing to properly do our work as educators.  The concept behind social justice (in my self-acknowledged narrow understanding) is rooted in the ability to educate our students about societal inequalities and spur students, as well as ourselves, to action.  While I admit that for many of our students, the image of solidarity through an action such as wearing a hoodie is probably at the level of development where our students are at the present time in their own personal development.  However, if ever there was a time to challenge them (challenge and support!?), I would argue the time is now!  We should be working to address injustices that prevent equal and full participation in a society where each of us has the ability to make our own choices in a safe environment.

I am currently not at ACPA.  Perhaps these conversations are happening, and fellow student affairs professionals are engaged in these conversations about privilege, injustice, and our role in educating students.  If they are, please be sure to use the backchannel and social media to share what you are discussing!  It is my hope that we use this opportunity to create workshops, webinars, and “unconference” sessions on these topics, as with all of the attention that this case has garnered thus far, now is a great time for us to share our ideas and approaches to educating students on these important topics.  Bringing ideas back to our campuses and working with our own diversity/multicultural/social justice offices will hopefully lead to a better understanding of issues that challenge our society.

I would welcome ideas on how we as a community can be moved to action as a group of people who are clearly committed to creating positive change in our world through our work with students.

#OneWord2012 – Focus

January 3, 2012

Over the past few days, I’ve seen a lot of people from the #sachat community posting their #oneword2012 choices. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to participate, because I didn’t know what my word would be, as so many of the words that were coming across my feed that I didn’t feel I could make a decision that would encompass everything.

Words like progress, share, intentional, cultivate, congruency, connect, confidence, and so many other great choices all made me think about what I could do that could someone combine all of these factors. For me, the word that met this criterion was focus. A fitting word, given that it is one of my five Strengths and something that I recognize I need to improve in 2012. Several areas of “focus” will be important for this upcoming year.

Focus on Friendships: I have let my work be a never-ending excuse for failing to keep in touch with people. I realize that this must end soon, as I know that this excuse has been wearing thin with many people, including my oldest friends. In truth, there is no excuse for failing to focus on friendships other than I have been a bad friend. I’ve always prided myself on having friends that I know would do anything for me (and vice versa), and I do not want to risk losing or further damaging these friendships because of an excuse. Everyone works, we all have outside lives, and the time to reengage with these people is paramount.

Focus on Students: This is an area where I feel I have consistently done well, although, recently I’ve been forced to question whether or not the saying “The higher you rise in student affairs, the less direct contact you have with students” is true or not. Given that my position is still live-on, I’m fortunate that I do get to have some great connections with students, however, these are more frequently occurring on nights and weekends, as during the day, I’m finding myself being pulled into more administrative and planning meetings. That’s not to say I’m not enjoying these new aspects of my role at Siena, I’m actually loving it, I just need to remember to continue to focus on the students that I serve, even if that means “scheduling” time in my calendar to be present and visible for them.

Focus on Social Media: The #sachat community has opened up many new doors for sharing information, ideas, and forging new friendships that I probably would never had the opportunity to cultivate otherwise. At times, my engagement in this group has been lackluster, and a renewed commitment to engaging with professional colleagues and others through these venues is an essential part of my evolving “best practices” as a professional in student affairs.

Focus on Education: Now that the reality of being more than ½ way done with my Ph.D. coursework has hit me, it’s really time to buckle down and plan for the final stages of my final (thank God) degree. The comprehensive examination, and dissertation proposal are the two big obstacles at the moment. Fortunately, I have a very good advisor, so am looking forward to this semester being a time for us to plot out the next three years to ensure everything is completed and I can apply for candidacy in May 2014.

Focus on Health: After almost 5 years of living in Albany, I finally bit the bullet and set up a physical and established a primary care physician. I must admit, I didn’t do this because it was the normal thing to do, I had hurt my knee and wanted to make sure I didn’t do something really wrong to it. Fortunately, I found a great doctor through my friend Jen who didn’t pull any punches with me. My doctor said that while I was in pretty good health in terms of eyesight, hearing, cholesterol, and most other factors, she was very concerned about my weight. This wasn’t a shock, as I’ve been overweight for a number of years. What was shocking was to hear her flat out tell me “You’re going to lose at least 20 pounds by March 22.” I was a bit taken aback by how forceful she was, but I also know myself well enough to know that maybe this was the kick in the butt I needed to get moving. Fingers crossed!

Focus on Family: This one has never been a problem, but it warrants mentioning. Spending the holidays with my parents, while stressful at times, always re-centers me and helps me remember that there are things more important than my career. Seeing my parents still in love after 30 years is reaffirming that anything is possible with the love, devotion, and loyalty that I see them exhibit daily and has made me realize that this is what I hope to have someday when I “settle down” and start my own family.

Overall, I’m confident that 2012 will be a great year. I hope that a year of “focus” will allow me to be happy, healthy, and committed to all that I do.

What is YOUR #oneword2012? Tweet it to me (@adamcasler) or share in the comments below!

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.

Welfare of the Community

September 29, 2011

I have a soft-spot as a hearing officer for students who come into my office with alcohol-related violations.  Once upon a time, I was given a second chance after a pretty serious alcohol violation during my first year at St. Lawrence, and it was the conversation that I had with my VP & Dean of Students, and now mentor and friend, Cissy Petty, that set me on a course to this point in my life.  Everyone has defining moments in their lives that shape them in innumerable ways.  This was one of those moments for me, so I always try to make an effort to have similar conversations with students when they come and see me for alcohol violations ranging from being in the presence of alcohol (for under 21 year old students) to alcohol transports.

We recently implemented a new policy at Siena called “Welfare of the Community” which, in essence, states that if a student contacts Public Safety or a Residential Life staff member to request assistance for him/herself or for a friend, the student that called will not be subject to disciplinary action through our code of conduct, regardless of their own actions (i.e. consumption of alcohol).

I could not be happier that this policy was put into effect.  We’d been doing this in practice since I arrived at Siena, but to see it made into an official policy in our student handbook was a positive step forward in my mind.  Referring students through the code of conduct system for doing the right thing and calling Public Safety or Res. Life if there is a student in danger not only isn’t fair, it continues the age-old image of Public Safety and Res. Life as “bad guys” who are out to “bust people.”  In addition, Siena is the type of institution that, rightly so, prides itself on being a close-knit community.  We want our students to be comfortable asking for help, regardless of the issue.  This policy helps to demystify the role of Public Safety and Res. Life while also allowing us to ensure student safety.

This policy is NOT a “free pass” for our students, as all students involved with the incident will be required to meet with a hearing officer, but the policy means that they simply won’t be formally charged.  This has the added benefit of allowing hearing officers to engage and have intentional conversations without the student being preoccupied worrying about charges, sanctions, and other disciplinary action.  After having done almost 50 hearings already this year, I have made sure to highlight this new policy when talking with students.  So far, the reactions have been extremely positive from our students, ranging from “Wow, so Public Safety won’t arrest me?” (note: our public safety department doesn’t have the ability to arrest people….more work to be done on clarifying roles it seems) to “My friend was in rough shape once and we were afraid to tell our RA since we had all been drinking.”

Critics of “amnesty” type policies often say that these policies only encourage continued underage drinking.  There are a few things that are problematic with this statement.  First, students are drinking well before entering college.  The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism published the results of a 16 year study (1991-2007) in January 2009 noting that the median age of initiation of drinking is 14.06, with 23.8% of high school students having reported consuming their first drink before the age of 13.[1]  With students starting to drink well before the traditional age of first year college students, the role of student affairs professionals should focus on education about alcohol, rather than severe sanctions that may not have any impact on students, some of whom have already had experiences with alcohol for 4-5 years.  Second, if students wants to drink, they are going to drink; the threat of a sanction be damned.  Anyone who doubts this should go on a tour with their institutions Public Safety or Residential Life staff on a weekend.  Underage consumption is occurring despite students knowing what sanctions await them if documented.  At Siena, RAs and Residence Directors share information related to our policies in floor meetings, at programs, and when meeting with students for conduct hearings.  Taking it a step further, the staff in our Dean of Students office meet with every single student athlete on campus to go over policies, and meet with many student organizations to share similar information.  I am reasonably confident in stating that students know underage drinking is illegal and that there are consequences associated with it, and yet, the number of situations being documented reflects that underage drinking is still happening.

I would be interested to know how many of you out there have policies similar to our “Welfare of the Community.”  Are you a supporter or opponent of such policies?  Dialogue is welcome, as I know this is a hot button issue for many of our institutions, and we all have different takes on this topic.

[1] United States. Department of Health & Human Services. National Institute of Health. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2009). Trends in underage drinking in the united states, 1991-2007 (NIAAA Surveillance Report #86). Retrieved from