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Letter to My White Friends – Part II

I posted Part I of this letter in July of 2016, following the shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Now that the city of St. Anthony has reached a settlement with the Castile family, yet the officer who murdered Philando was acquitted, I’ve felt compelled to withdraw from it all. I want nothing to do with current events, news stories, social media, you name it, I want out…all the while knowing that I will never be truly able to retreat from the real issue – racism. See, I could not (and still cannot) imagine living in a country where a person who looks like me, can be murdered, simply because they look like me, and no one is held responsible…but here is nearly three million dollars to avoid “a federal civil rights lawsuit” as one article suggests.

So here is Part II of this letter, now that I’ve had a chance to reel in my thoughts from running on hyper drive.

Dear (if you’re my friend, and you’re White, insert your name here),

Because the answer to dismantling the racial tension we’re experiencing as a country is not to retreat to our individual racial and ethnic sides of the fence, and point fingers at the Others – on the opposite side of the fence, as if to say, you’re what’s wrong with this country – I am writing to continue the conversation.

Has it gotten any realer?

By that I mean the racial tension in this country that feels as thick and overbearing as the humidity on a scorching summer’s day. By that I mean the discomfort one ought feel at seeing a person get shot, the final moments of their life caught on a cell phone video. By that I mean hearing people proclaim, “go back to your country”.

See, social justice warriors would avow that during times like these, we shouldn’t worry ourselves with the feelings of the majority, but instead, with the rights of the minority. And while I believe in this idea on many levels, on one particular level – from my experience in helping bring under-represented groups to the figurative table (as a member of the dominant group you aren’t particularly under-represented, but just go with it) – these are the times when we should be engaging in dialogue with the dominant group. So again I ask, has it gotten any realer?

I’m hoping it has. If you’re my friend, that is, it probably has. It has to be tough knowing you are part of the larger group that has historically inflicted harm and marginalized other groups. And even though you do not participate in those inflictions, you still benefit from them, and the subsequent marginalizations. It’s similar to the bouts I face with my own privilege as a male. No matter how hard you try, you just cannot undo all of the atrocities committed by the group of which you’re a part. So, if you are my friend, you undoubtedly have inner conflict over the racial tension sweeping across our nation with flu-like quickness. I’m sure you’ve been scapegoated, and stared at, and had insulting remarks yelled in your direction because of the actions of some of the people who are in the dominant group to which you belong. So I’m writing because I’m wondering if it has gotten any releaser. See, those scapegoats, stars, and insulting remarks are what many of us face daily. But I realize they may be new for you, and unbeknownst to you, you’ve worked so hard at becoming, and remaining, an ally to people of color (as we’ll see below), that I’d hate for you to retreat because of the inner conflict you’re experiencing. I’m also writing because although I can’t tell you with any certainly that the inner conflict will subside, I can offer this: I’m glad you’re my friend.

In looking back on our friendship, I’m glad you laughed with me (and not at me) when I told stories of growing up Black, and poor, and fatherless. I stole a line from the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” when I used to say, “I’m just a poor Black man trying to make it at Quinnipiac”. And even though you may not have fully understood what I meant, I appreciate that you were willing to try. Like listening listening to Tupac on full blast with me (remember those days?!) or engaging me in dialogue when I told you the reason I couldn’t swim – we don’t got pools in the hood. I’m glad we had those conversations and shared that laughter. Most times, the laughter was really was a cover for the pain. On the flip side, thanks for introducing me to Alanis Morrisette, drinking games (flip cup, anyone!), and how to take pictures without giving the finger.

It’s no surprise I still remember those deep talks we had – how your father left your mother for another woman, how there was only one Black kid in your high school graduating class, and how he got picked on to no end, how you always wanted to date another girl but couldn’t find the courage. How you had cancer in high school and how your brother was an unsupportive schmuck. Those talks helped me see the world through your eyes, and how you culture works. Those talks helped me connect with you in ways that could never be duplicated in a classroom or some diversity training. More than anything, those talks helped me see you as my friend first, and your racial and ethnic group second.

For me, those talks helped things get real – my connection to you, my connection to your world, my connection to everything I was not.

By having those talks, I now see that we were able to correctly conclude that there’d been historical and institutional injustices committed against damn near every racial and ethnic groups. So when I spoke of injustices members of my family had faced, I could see in your eyes that you felt I wasn’t making it up. That validation has been important to our friendship. To be my friend, I’ve needed to know that you get it, that being Black brings about a certain level of burden. But it wasn’t just Black and White – yesterday it was the Irish, before them, Native Americans and African slaves. Now, it’s African Americans, the entire LGBT community, and our Latin brothers and sisters. Injustices have also afflicted Asians and Italians, Jews and Muslims. As Pastor Martin Niemöller famously wrote, “Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.” I think it’s safe to say they came for me, just as they came for you. And we’ve remained friends because we spoke up for each other.

I’m asking you now to speak up because it’s real.

I’m asking this of you because there is a certain level of emotional and psychological safety I feel in your midst. You have, and continue to allow me space to share my organic thoughts when it comes to issues of race. Like the soliloquy I crafted about whether I am truly an American, after the officer who killed Michael Brown was not indicted. Or like all of those times I quoted jokes from Chappelle Show. They weren’t White jokes any more than they were Black jokes. Instead, they were humorous analyses of our cultural differences, because sometimes using humor helps lessen the pain.

See, sometimes you just need a vent session, like when women get together for a Ladies Night. Nothing against men, sometimes women need a forum to share their thoughts and experiences with other women, without judgment, and without fear of offending anyone. Similarly, sometimes I wanted to admit that I didn’t understand how some White people could do (fill in the blank – whether it was kill a lion for sport or not season their vegetables), knowing that I love you and White people, too. I appreciate that you joined me in that space. Never one did I hear I was mentally weak or that my response is just a part of my narrative or rhetoric. Your response to my response told me that I was free to have my perspective in your midst, and that I could be my authentic self.

Along those same lines, I’m better off that you challenged me when I needed it. Whether it was calling me out for being am ableist, exhibiting male privilege, or reminding me that not all White people do (fill in the blank). Even though those were tough conversations, we were able to have them – and I was willing to listen – because you are my friend. We had those conversations because we got real with each other. Through I may have given you the finger a couple of times during those talks, I can honestly say I’m a better person because you’ve challenged me.

Thank you, as well, for celebrating my culture, focusing more on our similarities than our differences, and for not trying to define my Blackness for me (as you’ve seen, you can be Black and listen to Alanis Morrisette!). Most of all, thank you for learning with me. Calling me you brother from another mother was funny. But referring to me as your nigger wasn’t cool. I know I called you that word several times, and I referred to our mutual friend who’s also Black, as my nigga. And sure, we listened and dances to music, where the lyrics seemed to be nigga this and nigga that. Through all of that, I love that you understood my boundaries and respected them.

Within our friendship, we have been able to expose each other to new ideas, and push each other to extend our comfort zones. As I sit here empathizing with you during these times where racial injustices seem like they’re at an all-time high, I have to imagine you feel as if you’re part of the problem, simply because you’re White. While I can never give you a She’s Down card for other Black folks to see, I can let you know that you are an ally and that I value your friendship. When shit goes down, I know I can count on to help stand against the injustice, and for that, I’m proud that you’re my friend. For those, and countless other reason, thanks for being someone I can count on.

So this is your ally card. And with it, I am entrusting you to bear it responsibly. I’m also asking of you to speak up because it’s real. It’s real that a family member (though marriage) commented that if I don’t like the country and he and his brothers fight for, that I should leave. It’s real that I have to teach my children to embrace their dark skin because everything on TV tells them light (that is, White) skin is the best skin (try having that conversation with a five-year-old!). It’s real that Black and Brown people are being murdered by the same groups that’s supposed to protect and serve.

In order for your ally card to remain valid, I’m asking you to take another step — let it get real. And when it gets tough, and need someone to help you process the inner conflict, you know where to find me.

Stay Black!

Abdul

Writing Deep

Effective writing means going deep.

Effective writing means going deep.

I attended an informal writing workshop, and found this nugget of wisdom. Imagine you’re on a beach (or some other land mass) and two people are looking for treasure. One person is looking using a metal detector, maneuvering it back and forth, covering great distances. That person is most likely to stumble across small nuggets of treasures (such as coins), only. Another person, takes an archeological approach, and digs deep. Instead of covering a wide surface, this person expends their energy digging further down into the land. This person is more likely to come across large, impactful treasures (such as fossils).

The one treasure hunter, using the metal detector, would use moments or stories to tell a tale. The other, using the archeological approach, would use ideas, concepts, or issues to tale their tale.

I’m not sure who authored this metaphor but it spoke to me! As a writer, the idea is to go deep — explore an idea, concept, or issue further than you ever have. Give it the full complement of your time, attention, and energies. That is what makes for impactful writing. Write like an archeologist. Write deep.

Letter to Adults

Every day, I hear of adults failing the young people and teenagers in their lives. This is my letter to those adults:

Dear parents who told their daughter that she simply could not go away to college:

At this impressionable age, your daughter is bubbling over with ideas and ambitions, hope and dreams. One dream that she had was to go away to college. To be on her own, for the first time, and prove to herself, that she can make it. On her own. She wanted to go away to college, not as some sort of slight against you. But to better herself. Your decision to rid her of that college dream did more than just temporarily remove her desire to go to college. It also told her that she should not even dare to dream. She did not tell you, but you left her a broken mess. She no longer believes that she has the ability to pursue something greater than herself. You shattered that vision by insinuating it was okay to have low expectations and reach for mediocrity. Unbeknownst to you, you instilled in your daughter all sorts of self-doubt. You may as well have told her that she could not accomplish her goals, or that she did not have the capability to achieve all those aspirations she had been dreaming of since she was a little girl, or that she should not even dare to dream. Your message of mediocrity will not only affect your academic aspirations, it will also affect the relationships she makes, the people she choose to date, the career that she pursues. It will impact her life in all of these ways, and so much more. Please consider a change of heart. More than, please consider letting your little girl dream again.

Signed,

The counselor who had to pick up the pieces.

If that girl were to write a letter to her parents, this is how I imagine it would read:

Dear mom and dad:

Growing up, your parental voices were seldom nurturing, and were more time authoritative screams – leaving your ears deaf to my cries. Your verbal scorchings have scarred my soul, and left me devoid of spirit, hope, or ambition. You turned your back and blockaded my every attempt at capturing your attention, when I only wanted your approval. My hopes began whole and were crushed into cubes, and then used to cool your ever distracting glass of lemonade. You became my adversarial force, incessantly ordering me to and fro, stop and go. And by ignoring me, you became parentally ignorant.

I grew lonely, and then became fed up with feeling all alone.

Your ignorance again reared its ugly head when you ignored me, taking little interest in my days at school, the teachers who belittled me in front of my classmates, and the sugary candy that made my teeth rot and my tummy ache. You sat me in front of the TV, VCR, video games, and other new technological advances, and wondered why I fell sullen and melancholic. And when I didn’t respond, I was assaulted with further tongue lashings and then, the back of your hand or your thick leather strap.

I used to fight with my brothers and sisters: the mythical standards you’ve set for us had caused me to grow ashamed, and in the process of masking my imperfections, I had in turn shamed others; both your biases and prejudices singed my soul, and left me afraid to love. But, I no longer feel alone. In my peers I now confide – though we are both as green as budding stems. I would have rather learn from their experiences than sip from your tainted glass. My soul was on the verge of dying, just as yours has already. Yet the passion and zeal of my youth just will not let me go gentle into that good night. That’s from a poem I read in English class. You know, the class I told you I loved so much and wanted to study in college. Only to hear you laugh in my face at how I would never become a writer or be able to support myself by majoring in English. Thanks for the encouragement.

This latest fiasco dealt me a major blow. By telling me that I could not go to college, you may as well have told me that I shouldn’t even dare to dream.

Sincerely,

Your daughter who’s gone to pieces

An exercise on writing

Dug into my writing jar this morning, and found the word Expansion. Here’s a brief interpretation of Expansion, and what it could mean to one person.

Expansion, as in expanding one’s mind, one’s perspective, or one’s value system.

Theresa took stock of her current state. She could feel her hands and fingers intact. She could breathe – at least she felt as though she were breathing. She could open her eyes, and when she did, he was no longer there.

There in her apartment, in Hoboken, New Jersey. A floor above the guy she saw everyday on her morning run. An apartment shared with her college roommate, her best friend in the entire world. There in her apartment, she hoped she was alone; it was the first time she remembered ever feeling this way – wanting to be alone. Before he came along, she had always associated wanting to be alone with, well, loners – kids at her school she and her friends joked were socially awkward, or weirdos, what the hell is his problem.

It was a tough way for Theresa to learn about expansion. But now, underneath the covers in her bed, all alone in her apartment, wishing to God he had left, she had become one of those kids. Someone she knew someone else would say what the hell is her problem when she was in their midst.

After what he did to her, Theresa felt herself expand.

Working in this Field

A raw excerpt, from a longer piece I’ve started on what I have learned from working in the field of preventing sexual violence and violence against women. Enjoy!

What have I learned by working in this field?

The easy answer is a lot. I’ve learned a lot. A lot about myself, specifically my upbringing, and those lessons that were passed down to me, reinforcing the idea that women are objects – not subjects, but rather, things in the form of sexual commodities.

How many girls you got, Ab, I was asked countless times by older guys on the block, encouraging me to have not just one girl, but several. Years later, those comments would turn into You hit that yet, which was code for, did you have sex with her. Not, Did you two have sex, which commands equality. Rather, Did you have sex with her. Meaning, did you do whatever it is you wanted to do to her sexually. She has no sexual needs, no emotions. She doesn’t even have to have a name. She only needed to have a fat ass that I was supposed to tap, hit, or smash.

After being in this field, however, I have been told that I should simply refute and reject these teaching, as if it were that simple. As misguided as these teachings are, it is not a matter as simple as flicking on a light switch – Click. I will no longer treat women like sex objects.

As in, after attending some training or hearing a speaker, my world is supposed to open up so much so that I change everything about the way in which I see the world, in particularly, my view of women. And if, for instance, an attractive woman is in my vicinity (whether it be Jennifer Lopez on the TV screen or someone at the gym), I am not supposed to gawk at them (rightfully so!); more than that, I am not even supposed to notice them, because even noticing that Jennifer Lopez has a voluptuous physique is objectifying.

Herein lies the complexity of it all. If we are able to freely admit that men’s sexual objectification of women takes years to formulate (and if cannot admit this, we are not critically assessing the situation), we must – in turn – acknowledge that it will take a significant amount of teaching and instruction for guys to unlearn their objectifying values and adopt new ways of behaving. If I’ve learned nothing else, it is that we should be patient when working with men.

Now, this isn’t to say that we should not continue to hold men accountable for fawning over the Jennifer Lopez doppelganger, for instance. Because we should. Accountability is one avenue for behavior change. But how we hold men account needs to come in different forms. Smacking men (figuratively) with verbal insults creates a divide, pitting men on one side, and everyone else looking to change men’s behavior on another side. Telling men that they need to change without acknowledging the complexities of it all (for instance, how media uses men’s values and caters by giving sexual images of female entertainers) is shortsighted. We must approach this as a critical issue, not one with a simple solution. Further, demanding that men change their behaviors towards women (in this case, sexual objectification) without giving healthy alternates is limiting. If we want men to behave better, we should provide examples, namely: how do we show men they can express an attraction to someone, while not treating that person as if they are only a fat ass or pair of perky boobs? How do we teach men they can give a compliment, while not harboring feelings being entitled to attention? How do we teach men they can express themselves sexually, while not treating the person as though their only role is sexual?

Too many times, we present men with what we think is a powerful message – in the form of a one-time speaker, which really just becomes a great optic. But as with many speakers, as time passes and luster of the words fade, behaviors return to the status quo. If we are to help men move along the continuum of seeing, and treating women more respectfully, empathically, equally, we should exhibit patience. If you have a guy in your life, it may take several conversations for that guy to see the issue with gawking at women at the gym. (They may never see the harm.) If you work with young men, it may take numerous programs and events before those guys have a true understanding of how they sexually objectify women without even knowing it. Just like exercising, getting men to change their objectifying behaviors will take repetitions, exposure to new ways of thinking (akin to muscle confusion), and further repetitions. This is not a process that will come about instantaneously like jello pudding, and we must remain cognizant of that. Through it all, we must be patient. Holding men accountable while exhibiting patience.

Oh, and just in case there is any confusion – the message is intended for men, not women. I am not asking women to exhibit patience with men’s behaviors, just like I would never ask our LGBT brothers and sisters to be patient (that is, content) with homophobic acts by the heterosexual majority. So I am speaking to me (primarily), and professionals who work with men (secondarily), to exude patience in getting men to change. In the end, we will not see results overnight. But the lessons we teach now, have the potential to last a lifetime.

Admitting the Un-Admittible

Now that the dust has settled and everyone’s had a chance to offer a knee-jerk reaction to the Oscars, it feels like a good time to assess, critically, the one line from Chris Rock’s opening monologue that seemed to anger many of us feminists.

The moment the joke left his mouth, I knew there would be criticism. If we can get into heated exchanges over topics with far less depth – like the Starbucks Christmas, no wait Holiday, cups – certainly, there would have to be uproar over the comment, “everything’s not sexism”.

I debated the hilarity of the joke, too. I remember saying to myself, Hell yeah, the moment those words left his mouth. The next moment I thought to myself, Fuuuck.

The internal back-and-forth reminded me of a conversation I’d had with one of my friends (whom I affectionately call my feminist sister), where we both lamented feeling like you can’t say anything without offending someone, and then another conversation I’d had with a former colleague, who chastised me for exhibiting male privilege because I did not agree with her assertions of the rape-prevention nail polish. It was as back-and-forth as a tennis match.

Yes…no. Great point…what are you smoking? Hell yeah…fuuuck!

On the one hand, I get it, Chris Rock even suggesting everything’s not sexism trivializes all that is rooted in sexism – the gender wage gap, the glass ceiling, violence against women, the list goes on. The accomplishments and sacrifices of the women who have fought before us, the plight of those whom we now fight alongside of, are belittled if we accept, broadly, that everything’s not about sexism. Or if we fail to recognize that certain institutions, policies, and practices give women less control, less of a voice, less agency, less room at the figurative table, compared to that which men have. Or if we allow such comments to go unchecked, giving fodder to those who think men’s rights are evaporating like puddles on a sunny day. As progressive and insightful as Chris Rock is, my fuuuck response was fitting. Some things are sexism.

But I used his joke to assess how those outside of the feminist movement see sexism, and how they perceive our view of sexism – what we’re fighting to uproot. This is where some valuable points can be extrapolated.

Although it was not stated directly, Chris Rick was making a clear reference to #AskHerMore, with that particular joke. As in, ask female celebrities more than who she’s wearing. Or why she chose to wear that necklace. Those soft, appearance-obsessed questions that are slow-pitched to female celebrities may not rise to the level of sexism the way our foremothers faced. But they make us feel some kinda way. It may not be sexism from 1960, but it still feels wrong, nonetheless.

From where I stand – as someone who catches a glimpse of the awards’ pre-shows via my wife’s consumption – the interviews are not the actual problem. The true culprits are the awards’ pre-show because they focus on fashion and attire, rate the best and worst dressed celebs, and highlight appearance over talent, like some adult version of mean girls. These shows set the table and provide the environment for those soft and superficial interviews. So it’s no wonder actresses are asked about their gowns and not their crafts, when they’re on the red carpet.

Still, with the #AskHerMore campaign, we are asked to get upset about soft and superficial interviews, but not the entire awards’ pre-show festivities, which allow the superficial interviews to exist. Said another way, we are asked to target the symptoms, but we are not asked to go after the root cause. If we raise our collective voices and ask for a shift in how the awards’ pre-shows are covered – celebrating artistic accomplishments and highlighting challenging roles actresses and actors play, for instance – the interviews can follow suit. Then, perhaps Ryan Seacrest will ask questions that have some level of complexity. As such, one assessment we can glean from Chris Rock’s inflammatory joke is that we should ask more of not only #AskHerMore, but also more of ourselves when we demand #AskHerMore.

When we dig deeper, though, we can extrapolate another valuable point – that is, our collective sexist treatment of female celebrities. Let’s go back to 2015, when everyone was outraged over the 10 hours of sexual harassment one woman faced while walking in New York City. With good reason, most of us were not okay with an everyday woman (that is, someone who is not a celebrity) being catcalled, gawked at, and fawned over, and subjected to sexual comments, which made her feel uncomfortable. Women do not owe you their time, was one of our collective battle cries. Yet, when it comes to actress, singers, and other female celebrities, we seem to be okay with a certain level of sexual harassment and objectification. Of course the complexities here are endless, as some celebrities pose, purposefully, so the camera (and those of us consuming the images from the camera) can get a better glimpse of their bodies. But this is not true for all female celebrities. As P!NK sang in one of her fiery hits, “I’m not here for your entertainment”. Not all female celebrities choose to pose on men’s magazine covers, for instance. But, all female celebrities are subjected to sexual objectification. In this regard, it feels like we have selective outrage. When it happens to the young lady who documented her trials, we labelled it sexual harassment. When it happens to actresses, though, we dub it entertainment. So if we can glean another lesson from Chris Rock’s remark, it is just treatment – that is, let us humanize our female celebrities and not reduce them to a collection of sexual parts. Their crafts should be enjoyed as entertainment, not their bodies.

When I dig deeper still,

I see a field that is so besieged by patriarchy, sexism, and misogyny that damn near everything feels as though it is reinforcing those archaic ideals. And rightfully so. Women in leadership positions aren’t given the same respect as men in those same roles. Some politicians are determined to politicize contraception, taking control from women over their bodies. And even though we denounce sexual violence, we still ask women to take ownership for preventing assaults committed against them. Those atrocities are surely worthy of our attention and outrage.

Yet, while many issues are rooted in sexism, not every issue is. Not every issue reinforces male privilege and not every issue furthers patriarchy. Take manspreading, for instance. You know, where a man is seated on a train, bus, or other public venue, and spreads his legs such that he covers two seats. Taking away seats that other passengers could occupy. Limiting seating options for women. When we delve into this issue, however, we will find that manspreading affects women as well as men. It affects anyone who’s looking to occupy an empty seat, really.  Additionally, a man spreading his legs across two seats is just as restrictive as a person (perhaps a woman) sitting in one chair, while placing their bag in another chair, effectively taking up two seats. So while manspreading may be an annoyance – and an irritation and leave some too intimidated to speak up – it is not a privilege given unto men that women cannot have. Nor does it confine women as second-class citizens. Suffice it to say, I am not part of the feminist movement that believes manspreading is worthy of our outrage. In and of itself, manspreading may not be trivial. But when compared to the gender wage gap, for instance, it is trivial.

So when we voice outrage about issues such as manspreading, and we give it the same level of contempt as we do the gender wage gap, for instance, it comes off as both disingenuous and disrespectful to the latter. If we can glean another lesson from Chris Rock’s joke, it is that our collective outrage can use some perspective.

During his opening monologue, Chris Rock made me laugh and then he made me cringe. But, his jokes forced me to do some self-inventory – Is it the red-carpet interviews or the awards’ pre-shows? Are we okay with sexual harassment or sexual objectification? Do we apply sexism to everything or those specific issues that are truly, unjust? This isn’t giving him a pass – as mentioned above, his comment trivializes many sacrifices and accomplishments. So I didn’t laugh at Chris Rock’s joke because it had strong comedic value. But because it challenged me to consider how can we reach people outside of the movement, and bring them in. If it means admitting “everything’s not sexism”, let’s assess it and have a dialogue. If we hope to engage the masses, we have to meet them where they are, in order to eventually bring them into our mix. More than that, we have to remain open to self-analysis – whether the criticism is coming from someone inside, or outside, of our field. It’s complicated. Not everything is about sexism. But we have to admit some things are still about sexism. Moreover, we cannot let the perception that everything’s not sexism prevent us from addressing that which is about sexism. For so many of us, it is sexism – and its many manifestations – that drive us to do this work. If we’re going to be driving the bus, we have to keep our focus on the final destination, while also remaining open to different routes (in this case, critical assessment) that’ll help get us to that destination.

October Evenings

Our campus was so charming that it was intoxicating – just one visit to the Q was enough for any high school student to fall in love. The phrase the grass is always greener didn’t apply to our campus; for, no matter where you stood, the patch of grass right by your feet seemed to be the greenest anywhere on earth, and each blade appeared as if it had been individually groomed, much like a beautiful girl who spends hours in front of the mirror, making sure each strand of her hair falls perfectly in place. The trees were tall enough that they provided ample shade when we walked to class, but weren’t so monstrous that they belonged in a forest. Each time I inhaled, I couldn’t help but notice the air was fresher and purer than any I had ever tasted, like a tall glass of sweet, ice-cold lemonade on a scorching hot summer’s day. The sun was warmer, brighter, and yellower than I had ever seen, and it painted our skies a breathtaking brilliant blue. When night fell, the moon glowed, and the stars twinkled so luminously that the usually pitch-black skies appeared just a few shades darker than the afternoon skies. During those four years, it felt like San Diego had visited Connecticut, especially in October when the foliage of Sleeping Giant Mountain (which sat, rather slept, across the road from our campus) would turn the same brilliant shades of canary yellow, pumpkin orange, forest green, and scarlet red that I only remember seeing in Bob Ross’s paintings, or, as we were, nestled in the mountains of New England. Even when the weather was inclement, it was still, somehow perfect: when it rained, it would only pour for an hour (or so), and afterward, rainbows stretched across our bright blue skies; and when it snowed, classes were canceled and we spent the day sledding down hills, having snowball fights, and making snowmen, and afterwards, we sipped beer or hot chocolate (or, perhaps, both) to warm up.

By October, the New England air was beginning to kick – it bit like Jack Daniel’s, which my friends and I drank together on one October evening during our freshmen year.

(The rest is a creative recreation one of the memorable nights, my freshman year.)

“What the fuck,” the groggy voice called out from the other end of the hall, sounding like a small animal crying for help. We couldn’t help but chuckle when we heard his heavy footsteps come rumbling.

“So you like the Beastie Boys,” I said to Chris as Little Sean burst into the room.

“The Beastie Boys are dope,” Rick added, almost as if it was planned; the word dope sounded oddly out of place coming from his baritone voice, and we all snickered.

“You guys are dead,” Little Sean screamed.

We all burst into laughter. Little Sean knew he was the butt of the perfect prank, but the frustrated look on his face told us he didn’t know why were picking on him this time…and to such an extreme measure.

“Watch out! Little Sean is gonna puke,” Adam yelled, as he rolled over on his bed (nearly crushing Rick), and slipped underneath his blanket. For a big guy, Adam moved pretty fast, but his blanket only covered his chest, and he looked like pigs in a blanket with his legs and feet dangling off his bed.

Little Sean looked like a deer in headlights. It was almost as if he’d forgotten that he puked all over Chris’ rug the night before. You could see the faded memories coming back to him as the color left his face. He was shocked and stunned, and for the first time since I met him, Little Sean was speechless – no retort, no sarcasm, no using someone else’s words, nothing.

He walked away sheepishly, and we couldn’t help but laugh, and a few minutes later we all ran down the hall, (Adam had grabbed his camera) and watched Little Sean struggle to turn everything right-side-up.

It took Little Sean the rest of the day to return his stuff back to the way it was, and clean up the shampoo, conditioner, soap, and shaving cream that had spilled on the floor. From down the hall, we could hear the loud clank of furniture hitting the floor, and we laughed with every bang. We finished watching Austin Powers a couple of hours later, and Tim and I went to help Little Sean flip his bed right-side-up.

It wasn’t until ten o’clock when Little Sean joined the rest of us across the hall. We pretended to hide our drinks as he walked in, but he wanted no part of alcohol that night. Instead, he slipped Chris a $75 Target gift card, with the words My Bad written on the envelope, and we did a socials; this time, with Kamikaze shots.

Think Things Through

Did you hear the story about the college student who called in a bomb scare to thwart graduation ceremonies at her school, because she was NOT graduating and couldn’t tell her parents? This actually happened…and at my alma mater – Quinnipiac, the University – no less.

It was 5:30 on a Monday morning when I first saw the headline roll across the TV screen. I pressed pause on the Stairmaster, squinting just to make sure I had saw what I think I had just seen – Quinnipiac University Bomb Threat Spoils Graduation Ceremony.

My heart sank as I began to think, was another school-related massacre actually happening??? My thoughts and emotions immediately went to all of the graduating seniors, who had worked so hard to earn their degrees. Who had already accomplished so much during their time at the Q. Who (I’m sure) were both eager and anxious over the opportunities that awaited them beyond Quinnipiac.

It wasn’t until I learned the bomb scare was a hoax that my mind stopped racing. That’s when I turned my attention to the culprit, and filed her actions in my You’ve got to be kidding me category. As I read the reports, I found that the student was not participating in graduation ceremonies because she was not eligible for graduation. Of course she wasn’t! She didn’t have the critical thinking skills (and several other life lessons, apparently) that most students learn via the college experience. Suffice it to say, she was not equipped to graduate.

But, let’s put ourselves in her shoes, for a moment – Graduation is here. You’re NOT graduating, and have not been enrolled in your college for two years. (That in-and-of-itself would prompt most of us to come forward with the truth, but let’s say you just cannot tell your parents.) Over the past couple of years, mom has given you thousands of dollars to pay tuition, housing, books, and other necessary expenses. You’ve essentially been living a lie. But there mom is, wearing a smile as big as you can remember. Ready to cheer you on as you walk across that stage and receive your diploma. You can’t face her, or anyone else in your family, for that matter. The lies you’ve told. The money you’ve wasted. The time you cannot get back. Your world feels like it’s beginning to crumble and you panic!

How many of us have not been there? In a predicament that is waaaaay beyond our control, with everything getting worse and nothing you can do to make it better. What’s the recourse? One idea (that you learn from the college experience, and going through bouts with hardships and adversity, and developing a work ethic) is to think things through – Do you continue on with the charade? Come up with even more lies, just to cover your original ones? If so, how big of a lie would you be willing to tell? Call in a bomb scare, really? Let’s just say your plan works, and graduation never happens. What would cancelling the graduating actually accomplish? Perhaps you wouldn’t have to explain to your family why you didn’t participate in graduation ceremonies, on that day…but then what? What about tomorrow? Or the week after? Or the month after that? (Not to mention all of your classmates your hoax affected, who would not participate in graduation and the families that came to see their accomplishments!) You would, at some point, have to face your family, and the lies you’ve told, money you’ve wasted, and time you’ve spent. You would still have to account for your actions. It’s not as if stopping graduation would absolve you from your transgressions. Those don’t go away with telling even bigger lies.

I bet she never imagined herself getting arrested. I bet she never imagined that her mom would have to post her bail. I bet she never imagined having to explain why she decided to call in a bomb scare, just because she wasn’t going to graduate. But, let’s not stop there – fast forward several years. Could this mishap affect her chances of ever getting a degree from Quinnipiac, or getting a job, or how she’ll be viewed – not as someone who took longer than expected to finish college; but rather, as someone who called in a bomb scare to thwart her college graduation. Yes, yes, and yes.

All because she was in a predicament that felt way beyond her control, and didn’t know how to handle it. But that’s exactly what the college experience was supposed to prepare her for. I guess it’s too late to say, Welcome to college life.

Don’t Force Students to Choose a Major

The college major is important. For the college graduate, it says this is what I studied…this is where my competencies lie…this is why I am employable. But, is the college major really a testament of all those things? Or is it just another box we push students into, telling them to check here, sign here, go here, shepherding them around, as if they are merely cattle.

As with most things, the actuality falls somewhere in the middle. The academic major is important, but it’s not all-encompassing.

While presenting a teacher’s convention recently, a handful of high school educators seemed shocked to find out that the academic major is also, just a matter of semantics.

Consider this body of research done by The Chronicle of Higher Education, where we find that 93% of the employers surveyed said that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate’s] undergraduate major. They were not saying that a student’s major does not matter, but that, overwhelmingly, the thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills a job candidate has acquired in college are more important than the specific field in which the applicant earned a degree.”

Students who want to become lawyers will study law. Students who want to become nurses will study nursing. But, the student who studies law can go on to become a nurse, just as the student who studies English can go on to become a lawyer. Choosing an academic major, in many respects, has just as much to do with students’ occupational aspirations as it has to do with students’ passions. Yes, their passions. If a student loves to write, perhaps they should major in English or creative writing. Similarly, if a student absolutely loves math, perhaps they should major in math or accounting. It doesn’t mean these students will only be suited to be English teachers or accountants, respectively. They can also be doctors, legal advocates, or entrepreneurs.

In that same article, 95% employers surveyed said it was important that job candidates “demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity; intercultural skills; and the capacity for continued new learning.”

Those traits aren’t germane to specific majors or academic programs. So instead of forcing, steering, or nudging students to declare majors, instead, we should be helping them explore their passions and then challenge students to utilize their passions to develop integrity, cultural sensitivity, interpersonal communication skills, and a host of other traits employers seek in new employees. If students can successfully acquire those skills, the name of their academic major will become just a matter of semantics.

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