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.
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.
Your daughter who’s gone to pieces
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.