I was scrolling through Twitter on my phone earlier and saw an article about workplace happiness titled “The Key To Happiness At Work That Has Nothing To Do With Your Actual Job.” I immediately said out loud, “No Kidding!” When I clicked the link, while still totally paying attention to the conference call in which I was participating, I nodded in agreement to the points made by Alena Hall in the article: “Nearly 40 percent of survey respondents named their co-workers as the top reason they love working for their company, with 66 percent saying those positive relationships increased their productivity and 55 percent saying they helped mitigate their on-the-job stress levels. And considering the average American worker spends 47.5 hours in the office each week, some employees may spend more time with their co-workers than with family members or friends outside of the office.”
From June 2013 until December 2014, I served as the Coordinator of LGBTQIA and Veteran Programs at Texas State University, where Iliana B. Melendez serves as the Student Conduct Officer in the Dean of Students Office.
Iliana served on the search committee for my position at Texas State, and my first interaction with her was during my phone interview. One of the members of the search committee asked, “What would be the hardest part of your transition to Texas State?” Laughingly, I replied, “Wearing maroon and posing with the Show ‘Em State hand sign in photographs. I’m a pretty devout Roadrunner.” Texas State and UTSA had shared the I-35 Rivalry when I was a student, and the first half of the interview consisted of me answering questions about relating to power, privilege and discrimination and systematic oppression, so I thought it was a good time to insert humor. I was, however, wrong, and the only person to laugh was Iliana and the student representative on the committee. We joked about the sympathetic laugh and my incredible amount of school spirit once I started. I knew from the first day, that she and I would be incredible colleagues, and I was certain that hat we would most develop a friendship.
As I became more involved within the Division of Student Affairs at Texas State, our paths became more connected. Iliana serves as a program coordinator for LeaderShape Texas State, and she encouraged me to apply for a Family Cluster Facilitator position for our campus session. Being able to see her passion for encouraging students to identify their visions and embrace “a healthy disregard for the impossible” outside of her advising and student conduct roles, helped me discover that we are not limited by our titles, our functional areas or our committee assignments. We have the ability to influence student success and foster a community of inclusion, discovery and growth by showing that we are invested in the lives of the students we educate and serve.
My relationship with Iliana began through co-advising a student organization, but the advice, support, encouragement and unconditional positive regard she provided helped me develop and evolve my ideas and beliefs about justice, integrity, due process and compassion and love. She became the person with whom I talked about what I was experiencing and learning in my first job. The conversations ranged from “Do you think ‘possession of drug paraphernalia emanates’ so brightly from ‘use, sell, manufacture, or passion of an illegal or controlled substance’ that we should permanently separate a student from the institution?” to “Wait, we have a slide about Ross Perot in Allies Training? Oh right, Ross and Paul… Yeah, we totally covered that in Multicultural Issues.” I have had the opportunity to share so many of my early professional experiences with her. We were elected to lead the Alliance of Faculty and Staff at Texas State, we serve on several committees for the Texas Association of College and University Student Personnel Administrators together, and even though she’s hours away, she still entertains questions like, “Suspension means the individual is a threat to one person or during a snapshot in time; expulsion means the individual will always be a threat to our community. Ready? Go.” and “Should I ask him on a date? What do you think?”
From campus safety, educational access and equity, professional development to breakups, salsa recipes and diagramming furniture placement in my new apartment, Iliana has been an incredible colleague, mentor, and, most importantly, friend.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Conor McLaughlin on SA Work-Life Balance