If I met someone new while I was still working on campus, when they learned my title was either Dean of Students or VPSA, a response I often got was “Oh, you’re the one who’s in charge of the students.” My reply? “No, I’m not.” It often seemed to leave them feeling a bit perplexed. If I wasn’t in charge of the students then who was?
I am reminded of these interactions as I read the articles about the coming semester, and imagine all that each of you are facing on campus. University administrators used to ‘stand in the place of parents’ but even then we weren’t really ‘in charge’ of students and we certainly aren’t now. As the French say, Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose. The more things change, the more things stay the same.
And so this fall will be completely different from any fall I’ve ever seen. And it will be no different at all. Each of you are and will continue to do your best to find your way through the confusion, the politics, the changing circumstances to serve, mentor, support, and challenge the students you work with. That hasn’t changed.
We used to reach out to students by phone and mail, then email and Facebook, now text and social media, but we still reach out. Students will still need all that they needed last semester – plus a bit more. The details change, and the work changes too, but the reason for the work is the same. And it certainly is as important as it was last year.
In looking through TedTalks for something inspiring to share, I found two talks that inspired me. Links are below. The first is Love Letters to What We Hold Dear. Debbie Millman writes love letters to her garden, New York City, travel, and storytelling. She reminds us to take notice of all the good that surrounds us. In the second, Hanna Brencher explains how she began the program called The World Needs More Love Letters in her Talk, Love Letters to Strangers. Both are worth your time. The combination inspired me to write this as a love letter to you and all of the people you are working with.
I loved my campus career. Education has always, at its core, been work that I believe in. So, in case you’ve forgotten, through all the changes, frustration, unknown factors, politics, innumerable reasonable requests and so many outrageous demands, remember that your work matters. Can you keep everyone safe? Of course not. Can you stand in the place of their parents? Not really. And no matter how many people act as if it were otherwise, you aren’t in charge of the students. But your work matters. Person by person you make a difference. Moment by moment you build a community of care whether or not others understand how you do it.
But I for one do understand. I can’t do the work for you or take something off your to-do list. I can’t make people be reasonable and I can’t make the coronavirus leave us all alone. But I can stand in for all the families, students, faculty, staff, and community members who don’t really understand how complex and important your work is. Some will notice, even if they are human too, and wrapped up in their own challenges making it difficult to stop for a moment to mention it. Know they do notice and you and your work does matter in their lives.
On their behalf, thank you.