“Right now, life is like a thousand TV screens, each with different things on it. Where you were just at, each screen was flashing RED, and that meant danger. Now, you’ve got to work on not seeing every screen as RED, and know that one screen might be RED, one might be YELLOW, and the others might be a beautiful blue sky.”
My last post talked about the difficult change I was going through, moving from Oakland back into a nice higher ed environment. With this change comes a certain level of anxiety. This is a fairly new environment, with completely new individuals, new expectations, new culture to navigatge. My position is brand new, and there is no precedent for what is expected. Everything is new. Being back in higher ed is nice, but I have to learn not to be hyper vigilant at every situation.
In my work, I had to be on “high alert”. I was working at a elementary school in a rough part of Oakland, and we had a variety of characters coming through the door. We had families who had lost their homes and were living in cars, divorced parents who were fighting for custody, aggressive parents who didn’t care what anybody said about their child (despite the fact that the students had significant issues), parents involved in drug dealing, and the unknown family member that just showed up to say hello. If a child told us that they were afraid to go home because the dealers across the street were going to steal their textbooks, I would walk them home at night to make sure they got their safe. If a mother wanted to stay in the school because her husband was beating her and the kids and wanted us to call the cops, our school was the only sanctuary they had. We had a saying amongst the administration: “it’s all for the kids, so let’s keep the babies safe”. So, when a random person walked in demanding to see a student, or if a student said they were being abused, we had a rigid safety protocol to follow. If that family member didn’t like it (which happened often), they had two choices: do what we say or we’ll get the Sheriff. You never really knew who was coming through the door, and what they were bringing.
Now that I’m in a different world, I struggle with such a drastic change. I’ll get students coming in who have experienced traumatic situations, but I’m more than capable in handling those moments. Once a 12 year old student tells you he wants to sell drugs and go after the cop that killed his father, nothing really shocks you after that. What is difficult is living in the nice, tranquil environment I’m in. I’m not used to quiet. I’m not used to the scenic walk across campus, the lush green grass, the cool breeze that hits my face. It’s weird to see people laying on the lawn reading books, playing frisbee, taking pictures. I know it’s real, but it doesn’t FEEL real.
I went to an Associate Dean about my experiences, and she related to me. We both worked with at-risk youth in urban environments, and both made a switch to student affairs. Her comment, related above, really resonated with my current experiences. She also mentioned “talk to your colleagues. You understand what they go through as professionals, but they need to know where you’re coming from.” That process is already happening with some good results.
My circular path to this work took me through places and experiences that many of us will never endure in our lifetimes. Does that make me a better professional? Probably not. Does that make me a unique professional? Definitely so. What I’ve been through has enriched my professional tools and techniques, and has made me more understanding and sympathetic to what people go through in life. We all as professionals believe in the redemptive value of our students; we are trained to hope and wish students will learn from their experiences and become more productive members of their communities. In my new realities, I’m striving to find the redemptive value in myself.