September 17th, 2013
It happened, that one call you never hope to receive. It was approximately 3am, though the details are foggy as I approach the 1 year mark. It was my RA asking me to come to his hall immediately with not many other details provided.
That feeling, yes, I had felt it before. You see I used to be a student development counselor. I went to graduate school for Clinical Mental Health Counseling and School Counseling. After graduation I got what I thought was my dream job as a counselor at a small private college, it was great, for the first week. As the months wore on it steadily lost its luster. I went home nightly with a feeling in my gut and irrational thoughts in my mind. My supervisor, her supervisor, nothing could remedy that feeling as I performed suicide assessment after assessment throughout my time there. I would go home wondering constantly if I would see my client the next day. None of my usual coping skills seemed to work and at about the 6 month mark I decided that amongst a myriad of other reasons as well, that this job was not for me. So I resigned at the end of my contract and returned to what I knew until I could figure out my next step, Residential Life.
I arrived to be greeted by a somber crowd including my RA, a police officer, and a handful of residents, some in tears others looking confused. The officer quickly took me aside and explained the details of what had occurred. We had a missing student is what was public but the details did not look hopeful from the start.
September 29th, 2013
Two weeks passed, a national search was performed, and eventually a body was recovered and identified as my student. It happened so fast, school had only just began and my worst fear, in a line of work that moved me away from directly being a decision maker on students safety, an intentional decision, that I experienced the loss of one of my students.
It wasn’t until it all settled out, when the official reports were made, when the vigils happened that the true reflection occurred.
“I am glad it happened to you and not me, I do not think I could have handled it as well as you had.”
“It was great that we had someone with your background in that community to provide support.”
SERIOUSLY!?! I could not begin to count the amount of comments made to me because people were uncomfortable with the situation and did not know what to say, my recommendation: silence is golden at times, learning to be comfortable with silence is a skill, and I recommend working on it!
My rant is over, this is about reflection.
September 17th 2014
This date has sat in my calendar since last fall. It has come and passed. Ironically it was a Wednesday, just like last year. Further we had staff meeting, just like last year. No one asked about it or made a mention of it, frankly I was not expecting anyone too. So I am sitting in wait for the 29th.
I have often reflected with colleagues about the “feeling” nature of our field. The sensitivity we have to each other that at times I wonder if it in fact is holding us back as a department and a profession. We can get so caught up in making sure we do not offend someone that we resist saying what needs to be said or doing what needs to be done. Yet it seems in times of turmoil or conflict we tend to operate from places of ignorance when we lack the skills to know what to say or do. I do not fault folks for that, but I am faulted at times for being blunt and direct. For seeming cold and managerial. My form of processing I feel, is not widely accepted in my current departmental culture or the entry level position I hold in the field. When an event or crisis occurs my first instinct is to answer the following question: “What do I need to do now to keep myself or my community moving forward in this moment.” This can come across as cold, disconnected, and objective. It leaves no time to process my feelings or those who are marginally involved in the event (if it did not directly impact you and I know that, I have little time to deal with how you feel), so I responded and have continued to respond in the way I know how, to simple continue operating.
Yet as September 29th approaches I cannot hide the fact that my mind is running with thoughts about what I could have done differently or how with current situations in my community I could also respond differently. The thoughts of how the campus has moved beyond this incident, how my student feels lost and forgotten to all but those who shared a direct hall community with him. I look at this and wonder about the gap, the gap that exists when my colleagues can get so caught up in issues and how people feel to the point of a stalemate and yet our campus can seemingly so readily moved beyond the impact that a student death leaves on a community, the meaning of which is unimaginable. I have sat here in wonder, loss, and reflection. I have sat here and finally realized that I operate like our campus’s across the country, that sometimes when we lack meaning and support that act of simply continuing to operate is what can get us through and what needs to be done until we can find meaning. So I continued to operate, searching for an existential peace…
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Podcast With Kristen Abell on #SACommits