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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Eighth Annual: The Year in Review - 2015-2016

Another academic year is in the books, and as is tradition, I take a look back at the year that was. I try to think broadly, beyond the Student Life perspective. I have certainly missed some things and invite readers to post on those things in the comment section.

I want to also note that I review the Trinitonian and my own posts to prepare this piece. The Trinitonian does a fantastic job of reporting a LOT all year long. They deserve more credit than they receive. Sources tell me the weekly paper will come out earlier this year, which should help Friday morning readership!

Top Stories
I rank these mostly by impact and long-term/present-day scope and affect on others.

1. The Anderson Presidency 
Danny Anderson began as the 19th Trinity President on May 29, 2015. He is already well-liked and marked his first year by listening a lot and developing deep connections with others. His inauguration was a celebration of learning at Trinity University through the Great Trinity Experiment. He began building his own cabinet, hiring Mike Bacon and Sheryl Tynes to important posts. Additionally, he hired Deneese Jones, a nationally prominent academic administrator and educator. She is also the first black Vice President in Trinity's history, who is also the first female to serve as Vice President for Academic Affairs.

2. We are the champions!
It is really hard to win a championship at the collegiate level. In a field of over 400 schools, consider the odds. Tiger baseball delivered big-time this summer sweeping through the DIII College World Series. We should savor this with #TigerPride All. Year. Long!

3. Pathways
Well, not as sexy as a championship, but in terms of reach and impact, launching a new curriculum is huge. The Class of 2019 was the first to undertake the new six credit First Year Experience class. For many, it was a daunting way to start college. Overall, the faculty worked extremely hard to kick-off this important and well-considered new curriculum. It will be assessed and evolve to create a meaningful blueprint for 21st century learning.

4. Social Justice and Related Issues
Whether the issues were Islamaphobia, race, political correctness, women's rights, gender equity, terrorism, open carry, the election, the environment, or sexual assault, there was no shortage of topics for students to digest and process. Since graduation, Orlando, terror overseas, police brutality, and brutality of police have occurred. The world needs change, leadership, and education...

5.Campus Dialogue
Those issues (above), created a tremendous amount of discussion and dialogue on campus. Whether through speakers, programs, multiple forums, editorials, counter-editorials, counter-counter-counter editorials, the campus was a fertile environment for deep and meaningful discussions. Students from the right pushed those on the left, leading to multi-faceted conversations with a subtext of free speech and the role of a college campus in delivering and fostering that.

6. Campus Master Plan
A comprehensive year-long review between campus leaders and a consulting firm through a campus-wide committee lead to a number of recommendations for the future. Chiefly, conversations about Chapman, Halsell, the library, and a way to link these areas was of top priority. The evolution of housing, including more single rooms and the addition of apartments was discussed as well.

7. Greeks
The Triniteers were suspended and the barred Pi Kappa Alpha had some residual issues. Nevertheless, this was an outstanding year for Greek Life. Coordinator Jeremy Allen took the helm at a time when there was a decrease in conduct issues. He worked with a really productive Greek Council. Revamped standards resonated with clubs. The staff relied heavily on fraternity and sorority leadership to again address vexing issues related to off campus parties at private residences. What followed was a new approach and that hopefully takes hold this year. Students are the culture here and they can keep one another safe...

8. Sexual Assault
...which was the approach of the Coalition for Respect and Student Government Association. A spring student-only forum put students at the center of this issue, where they were challenged to proactively address campus culture related to alcohol and sexual assault. The University's role is to educate and manage complaints. We all must strive to eliminate that need altogether. Our one-of-a-kind (second annual) report shows a campus community engaged in addressing this important issue.

9.North and Pets
A renovated North Hall introduced designed single rooms on campus for the first time. The reception was incredible as assessments showed that residents were thrilled with privacy in their third and fourth years on campus. The master planning committee took note. This fall we will pilot a pet-friendly hall with cats and dogs in South Hall. There are critics but with the three-year requirement it is important to offer students dynamic living options. Ruff.

10. Trinity Market
The Market incorporates all of our vales: discovery, excellence, impact, the individual, and the community. It is a wonderful venture, is well-managed, and marketed (no pun intended) extremely well. The question is, will it take? It competes with the Pearl Market on Saturdays and there is not an easy and direct entrance. Let's hope it gains traction as the heat lessens this fall.

- #TigerPride... It is growing!
- Admissions hits the mark with a big crew for the Class of 2020!
- Active shooter drill: As we learned from UCLA, people need to know what to do, unfortunately.
- B'Low Optimal and Optimal Buzz programs taught students to drink like grown-ups. Well, some grown-ups.
- Student Government (SGA) had a terrific year.
- Tiger Network allowed off-site access to lectures, events, and athletics. It was huge in allowing Trinitonians to follow Tiger baseball to the championship. And, you can still find the tremendous 2016 commencement speeches in the archives.
- Jane Goodall was great, though again, could have been anywhere...
- New chef at Mabee and new offerings, including smoothies were well-received.
- HBO Go!
- Trinitonian headline: "T-Pain was better than Tyga" Duh. And he wore a TU shirt!
- Mousetrap - What a fun play!
- Standing item: Acabellas and Trinitones

- From last year: B-Cycle was set to launch in September, then January, then May, and now, hopefully September. Spokes still turning. Update: SGA met with B-Cycle, did extensive survey, and still awaits a response from B-Cycle. Prediction: Great idea, but students are reluctant to pay and the program leadership and city may want to put resources elsewhere.
- Zip Car: It was successful enough, but vandals broke out the windows of one vehicle and another was stolen. Oops.
- The Rock 'n' Roll Marathon and city announced a route change to eliminate the hills near campus (yay!) but now the route will bypass Trinity (hiss...).
- Milo
- Student complaints about Mabee and parking...

Under the Radar
- Academic Success Center with Stacy Davidson: What an important addition to Student Success!
- Game of Life from Residential Life received a national award (NASPA).
- KRTU turned 40, and all that jazz!
- Conduct changes: after a year-long review student hearings will be very different next year.

Big Hurts

- Professor Dan Spiegel passed away during finals.
- Staff members Carolyn Bonilla and Randy Creech died, leaving colleagues broken-hearted.
- Our obituary page reflects the losses of former faculty members Ted Sparling, Mary Ann Tetreault, and Jean Chittenden.
- Some real heavy hitters retired from the faculty. They will be missed.
- Hate to see colleagues leave, though we sure attract great people. Among those who left this year were Edwin Blanton, Soi Smith, Lisa Petrakis, Lyndsey Aguilar, Ana Windham, Jerry Ferguson, and Ann Knoebel.

On the Horizon
- Bell Center renovations are underway.
- Year two of Danny Anderson presidency
- Master planning decisions
- Off campus parties and new conduct procedures
- We will be smoke-free one day, the question is when...
- Don't look now, but 150th anniversary is just around the corner

Year 7
Year 6
Year 5
Year 4
Year 3
Year 2
Year 1

Bonus tracks
In case you missed it, here are some of the topics I got to write about this year. Trinity is rich with material:

Stolen Endings
Alcohol speaker
Faculty sandwiches
A Christmas Story
Work fun
Alumni on Campus

Monday, July 11, 2016

Taking good care of each other

We have recently been reconsidering our approach to accountability related to off-campus parties. This was prompted, in part, by an incident in which a student was hospitalized for serious alcohol poisoning last winter. He was driven from an off-campus residence to Trinity where the students called the Trinity University Police Department to invoke the responsible friend policy. That extra step of purposefully returning the student to campus was caused by fear, primarily, because the hosts had previously been in trouble organizationally for hosting off-campus events. They didn't want the call for help to be connected to the residence, and thus, their group. Moments mattered and our students, who ultimately did the right thing, had to pause. Scary.

For years the staff has tried to hold groups accountable for off-campus behavior. Off-campus parties at private residences often have consequences back on campus: alcohol poisoning, assault, vandalism, tomfoolery/shenanigans/hijinx, to name a few.  In addition, this behavior affects the reputation of the institution with neighbors in the community, who call me, saying they expected better from Trinity students.. I have often asked students: "How would your parents or grandparents feel about having you as a neighbor?"

Ultimately, we have worked hard to teach students to care about other students because they should. This sense of care and community is a hallmark of our student culture. But sometimes alcohol clouds judgment. On campus, we have worked hard to stress the responsible friend policy and the Optimal Buzz and B'Low Optimal programs. Telling students not to drink is wholly ineffective, impractical, and hypocritical. The drinking age is designed with high schools in mind, but not colleges, where half the population has privileges not shared by the other half. Students mostly come together at private residences off-campus to share those privileges - away from Res Life staff and TUPD on campus and bouncers at most bars. Our philosophy is unambiguous: we acknowledge students will drink; enforce policies as dictated by law; and most importantly, care deeply about student health and safety.

A long time ago, ago when I lived on south campus, it was unsettling hearing party-goers streaming past my home en route to off-campus parties a block away. The unsettling part was just letting it happen (not to mention being kept awake and kinda wishing I could go too). A changing legal and risk management climate led to changes that would have us reverse course, and try to monitor such parties. That ended up being worse, as it turns out.

After all, we don't have fraternity and sorority houses for a reason. We don't want that responsibility and accountability, and the local fraternity/sorority structure doesn't lend itself to it. So these groups created their own informal party spots. But parsing out whether the party where something bad happened was a private party, a fraternity party, or a team party has proven to be challenging. The informal house monikers: the rugby house, the Alpha Psi house (names changed to protect the innocent) muddied the campus affiliation/accountability equation. House parties are ostensibly connected to University-affiliated groups, which draws us in, unwillingly. While some organizations have been effectively held accountable, it has been messy. An athlete may be in a fraternity and live with a person from another group. Determining a specific hosting group can be challenging. 

Against this back-drop, then, students have often claimed that parties weren't group-affiliated. Ironically, this year a student insisted to the Conduct Board that it actually was his group that hosted the party, so he should bear no individual responsibility. That doesn't jibe with personal responsibility but one can see how the argument challenges our notions of group and individual responsibilities.Quantifying what constitutes a party, or not, is an additional challenge.

With frustrations building from the alcohol poisoning incident and a couple of difficult-to-label parties, the staff met with members of the fraternity and sorority community this spring. It became clear, quickly, that groups were either registering parties, as required, and ignoring risk management guidelines, or were taking their chances with unregistered events. While not surprising, it was a bit of a breakthrough to be able to discuss this candidly.

We were able to acknowledge that between certain fraternities and other groups (extra-curricular), maybe a half-dozen residences were hosting the majority of parties every year. If we can get the students in these homes to work toward more responsible hosting, maybe we can accomplish our goals outside of what now seem to be ineffective policies. Indeed, we agreed that the issues we hoped to address were drunk driving; sexual assault; alcohol poisoning; and disruption to neighbors.

As a result, the University has developed a policy that shifts accountability to individual students and hosts. Essentially, under the new proposed guidelines, students off-campus can find themselves in violation of policy if they don't care for others at their events. If a student is placed in a dangerous situation and the hosts don't do the right thing, then they will be held accountable as an individual. The shift is away from groups and parties themselves toward harm reduction.

The Greek Council-led efforts to develop specific guidelines have been fantastic, as the students, with consultation from advisor Jeremy Allen, set out to draft tips for safer parties and new training for student hosts. For example, they told us that party punch was more economical than other ways to serve alcohol and in their houses that wasn't going to change. But what they would do is ensure that trained students are stationed at the punch, monitoring consumption, and even listing ingredients. The Student Athletic Advisory Council was invited in as well. The students from both groups have seemingly embraced this emphasis on student safety if the threat of action against organizations is reduced. This fall, we will pilot this new approach, once finalized, and continue to work collaboratively with our students to care for each other at off-campus parties.

On campus, we clean up the messes from students who are over-served off-campus. We have to react, investigate, and decide what to do with groups. Fraternities feel unfairly singled out compared to other groups lacking the same level of oversight. As it stands, the parties keep happening, and the Dean and his staff work to control the uncontrollable, alienating students in the process. So maybe this will work better. Maybe not. But we all agree that student health and safety is our number one priority. We can do nothing. Or we can take better care of each other. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Black Friday

The day after law enforcement officers were gunned down in Dallas is a sad one. This followed unbelievable incidents involving shooting deaths of young black men by police the previous day. We have a lot to process.

I am so impressed with the reaction of celebrities, political leaders, friends, and colleagues to the horrific and ongoing horrors perpetrated against the black community. The depth, sensitivity and honesty in reactions warms my heart. I am humbled by others and feel I simply can't add to the commentary in a meaningful way. These are not new incidents (never miss a chance to invoke Bruce Springsteen). They are just on video. Like photos of black lynchings, with smiling KKK members posing with pride, the imagery of brutality is unfathomable and jarring.

But we have a choice: Don't react and be complicit, or react and risk being misunderstood for offering up empty platitudes and not understanding. I will choose the latter.

From an emotional standpoint, as an ally, I can't say it any better than white Trinity alumna Kaela Dickens from her Facebook post yesterday: 

"To my friends of color, I am so sorry. I am so sorry that you may fear for your life in what should be completely safe situations. I am so sorry you have to worry about being perceived as dangerous, simply because of the way you look. I do not know what it is like to live in that reality. I recognize my exceptionalism. I wish I could give it up to keep you safe.

I will not tire from loving you, from working to spread understandi
ng and peace, from demanding justice, from inciting real change, and from standing WITH you, my precious, strong friends."  

The number of posts from my black friends on Facebook have overwhelmed me as they speak out in fear, anger, sadness, shock, hurt, confusion, frustration, fatigue, hopelessness, and wisdom. I know, this sounds dangerously close to saying "I have a black friend..." But my work has brought me close to our students of color and my profession is very diverse. I have evolved and learned much from them and the issues they face. I'm not done.

My young black female friend and colleague, Amma Marfo posted this

"I've been touched and floored by the number of friends, White and non, who have reached out to check in on me. Many have asked what they can do to help, or have expressed an interest in knowing what they can do. I didn't have an answer for a long time, but I have one now.
Use your voice in places where it counts. If you truly feel that police brutality against Black and Brown bodies is wrong, say so. Loudly, often, and in places where it counts. Vote against politicians that turn a blind eye to it. Vote against politicians who have stances that would make this state-sanctioned violence. And challenge friends and family members who believe this isn't a problem, or that the people perpetrating these acts are justified in doing so. They aren't. They aren't, they aren't, they aren't. Speak up. Loudly, often, and where it counts."

Professionally, I need to work to help our students feel that they are physically and emotionally safe here. I need them, my family, friends, and colleagues to know I won't be silent. I have been reading their posts and I think I can offer up some of the things I have read, interpreted, and felt. For those wondering what we can do, here are some thoughts:

1. Political views aside, listen to our President and allow him to lead. We are blessed to have an intelligent and compassionate leader who communicates with grace, candor, and integrity. Support him.

2. We have to educate ourselves, all the time. Books aside, there are terrific voices out there in the media. I particularly like two people who spoke at Trinity in the past. If you are on Twitter, follow Marc Lamont Hill (@marclamonthill) and Tim Wise (@timjacobwise). On CNN, Van Jones is emerging as a tremendous commentator and spokesperson (@vanjones68). And follow the aforementioned young Amma Marfo (@ammamarfo).

3. Listen a lot and avoid the urge to say "yeah, but..." Just listen. Sure, there are anecdotes everywhere about good and bad white and black people. The issue is bigger than that and individual stories illustrate the problems but are symptomatic of bigger issues.

4. Check on your friends of color and ask them how they feel and tell them you care.

5. Ask questions, raise issues, challenge... Don't swallow thoughts and feelings. Take risks by talking about hard and difficult topics.

6. Don't counter "Black Lives Matter" with "All Lives Matter." Others have said this better than I. All lives do matter, of course. But not all lives are lived with the same risk of having violence perpetrated against them at any time based on the color of their skin.

7. We have no problem celebrating the greatness of our forefathers on Independence Day. So let's acknowledge the shame they brought our nation through slaving. We have to accept both and acknowledge our heritage brought people here against their will. We are suffering the evolving consequences of a real legacy. 

8. Acknowledge that systemically we have a society that honors privilege; that there is not equal access to quality education; that poor education can lead to poverty which can lead to crime; and acknowledge the unfairness of the criminal justice system. Blaming people for the circumstances they were born into is unfair.

9. Vote for those who have agendas to fight these systems that are not in any way equitable. Don't worry about getting what's yours, worry about everyone getting theirs. The American dream should be for everyone.

10. Empathize. I used to lead a program called Archie Bunker's Neighborhood. Essentially, random groups were assigned to occupy unequal parcels of space and have unequal access to supplies and resources to build a community. Inevitably those in the privileged, larger space were oblivious to the other communities, and constructed lavish parks and residences. Those in the poorer community with less space always ended up chanting, singing, and knocking down cardboard structures in the other areas. If people can feel this level of frustration in an EXERCISE in an hour, imagine a lifetime of it. Then do something to help shift the social and political systems that reinforce and perpetuate these environments.

To summarize, I felt like an impostor at last week's Pride parade and feel the same now. I can go home and still be straight, and white. I have little credibility. When we see our black students or communities gather together it's not because they are racist, it's because they can't ever shed their color and their heritage. They live in their own skin all the time. So, I hope none of my words are offensive, tone deaf, self-serving, or preachy. If so, I apologize. Push back. Educate me. Like most, I just have nothing else to offer.