Monthly Archives: December 2013

‘Tis the Season

‘Tis the Season.

‘Tis the Season – To be on your best behavior, for the jolly old man with the white beard is watching. To decorate your house with ornaments that are full of colors, and lights that twinkle, and trees that smell like Christmas. To give of yourself – to children, to charities, or those who are not as fortunate as you. Ah yes, the ideals of the Christmahanakwanzika season rings in the air, much like carolers going door to door, spreading Christmas cheer.

Yet, as with most things in life, I tend to take a different approach. All throughout the year, I have asked my family to sacrifice spending time with me so I could grade papers for the classes I taught, and so I could spend just a little more time polishing A Matter of Semantics, and so I could respond to one more email from someone who is interested in having me come in to speak to their students. Not to mention the yard work, grocery shopping, car maintenance, and other life responsibilities that comes with the territory of being an adult, which, ultimately, ate away at my time. Looking back on 2013, it was almost as if I was saying to my family, do you mind if we spend less time together so that I can spend time on work, so that we can be in a better financial position some years from now and so I can accomplish my career-related goals. My wife understood this, although she wished I was around more. But try explaining that same concept to a 2-year-old. All he knew was, daddy’s working. That’s what my wife told me he would say upon waking up and realizing I was gone for the day, again. In a way, it was refreshing to hear him say those words. It made the exchange between us, when I walked in the door, special. But rarely was that the end of my work day. After a quick hello, it was back to my computer to grade papers, polish A Matter of Semantics, and respond to one more email.

So I have decided that those sacrifices – which I’ve asked my family to make throughout the year – are finally going to bear fruit. During this holiday season (and all those going forward), I am choosing to give to my family first, before I give to everyone else. Buying my wife that pair of boots she’s been dreaming about because she hasn’t gone clothes shopping for herself in over two years. Making sure my son has tons of toys to open on Christmas morning (and all of the nights of Hanukkah, too), so that he feels the magical feeling that this day is about him. Seeing to it that even though my daughter cannot open any gifts yet (she’s only 3 months old), that she still has everything she might need, so that she doesn’t need for anything.

Growing up, one of my memories from Christmas was my family giving to our fellow parishioners. Yet, I had a winter coat that barely fit; and I would keep my hands in my pockets when I walked to school because I didn’t have gloves; and the only hat I had, I’d lost at the Boys and Girls Club. Back then, that was just how life was. We didn’t have much, but we managed to get by. And every Christmas season, we gave what little we had to somehow continue promoting the holiday spirit of giving, for sake of giving gifts. It was almost as if we were trying to keep up with the Joneses. Seeing how much more we could give, compared to the next family. It was a commercial type of giving, not one that we did because it made us feel good; but one that we did just to say you gave of yourself for the holidays, too.

Looking back on it, those memories didn’t teach me to give to those who were less fortunate. Instead, they taught me how could I rationalize donating money or canned goods, if my own children don’t have clothes that fit, or my wife goes to a job interview wearing shoes with holes in them, or my family has to decide between heat or electricity this month. The truth is, I can’t.

So I’m going to give to my family during the holiday season because every day, I give of myself to everyone but my family. The full allotment of my time, energies, and focus goes in preventing sexual violence, educating college students, and working with teenagers in different ways to recognize their potential. You know, doing some good in the world. By the end of the day, I’m exhausted. I walk in the door drained and fatigued, and this is the version of me that my family gets. They deserve better, and this is another reason to give to my family first.

Let me answer the question I am sure you are undoubtedly asking. By no means am I equating or confusing or misrepresenting buying my family material possessions for the holidays with making up for the time I was not able to spend with them throughout the year. Those two things aren’t even in the same breath. Not even in the same league; they’re not even the same sport (to borrow a line from Pulp Fiction). But I recognize that this holiday season is about giving, and since I’ve asked my family to sacrifice so much this year (and give me more time away from them), it’s only right that I give to them (plentiful) first, before I give to anyone else.

Of course, when the new year hits, I know I will vow to spend more time with my family, and by February, I will have already broken that promise. I know I have, and will continue to ask my family to sacrifice time with me throughout the year, so that I can work on work, and side projects, and the board of trustees upon which I sit. I will write checks to charitable organizations. I will volunteer my time. I will work long hours on certain days, and I will work without getting paid on other days. I will ask my family to sacrifice even more time with me, so that I can give even more of myself to survivors, students, teenagers, parents, families, and everyone else I serve. I give all throughout the year, I will give during the holidays, too. (Last year we adopted a local family, and bought the children Christmas gifts. This year, we donated a charitable organization through our local hospital.)

But that won’t be the extent of my giving. I will give to my family, first and most. I don’t want to be remembered by strangers as being generous, and by my family as frugal and withdrawn. So I’ve decided to give unto my family. ‘Tis the Season.

One of the Others – Pt. I

I don’t just believe in diversity, I’ve folded into my life’s mission. I read books about the feminist movement just for fun. I celebrate multiple religions. I challenge my friends when they say things like dude, that’s so gay. I joined an organization that works to eliminate sexual violence against all people. I am in an inter-racial marriage, and have a biracial son. In fact, every aspect of my life is dedicated to fostering all things diversity –acceptance, inclusivity, social justice, the usual suspects.

So it pains me to admit, that I have prejudices. Yes, those wart-like ideals that colors even the purest souls the most putrid shade of gray, who vies to distinguish between themselves and everyone else: She’s not like us, she’s one of them. There is us ______ people, and there is everyone else. Those people. Their kind. The Others.

I admit, I have prejudices (and I intentionally use a present tense knowing no one is ever truly free from the actions of their prejudiced past) because doing so has not only helped me become less judgmental and more self-aware, but it has also helped me evolve. More than that, admitting my prejudices has liberated me. Though one Monday morning, it didn’t feel so freeing.

I stood in front of the classroom quivering, like a puppy sitting on its owner’s doorsteps, shivering in the rain. I could feel their eyes on me, as they awaited instructions. I scanned the students’ names in the attendance book for the fifth time, and checked my cell phone – 7:56 am. Class did not officially begin until eight o’clock, but it was time to start. So I put a smile on my face, looked up, and greeted my students.

“Good morning…Hi Professor Staten…How was your weekend,” the students responded all at once. Brian had already downed a can of Monster. Kayla was already copying the day’s outline (which I wrote on board before each class). And, Colleen and Lauren were their usually perky selves. My students were ready to go. Now all I had to do was teach.

I always spent those few minutes before class officially began making small talk with my students – our chats ranged from who studied all weekend to who worked all weekend, from which professors they liked most to which movies they’d recently seen. It was my way of investing in my students and taking an interest in their lives. It was also my way of facilitating an informal ice-breaker and getting them warmed up.

“Where do prejudices come from,” I asked, unsure if the weight of the question would squash the laughter and exuberance that’d filled the room only moments ago. But I knew it was time to make the transformation – I had to turn off the chitchat as their BFF, and turn on my role as a take-no-nonsense professor, so we could begin the day’s lesson. Exploring prejudices wouldn’t be an easy feat, and hurt feelings were merely collateral damage.

“Racist people,” Brian called out. He was always the first to respond, and I wondered if he’d have the stamina to keep up with me today.

“Ignorance,” Colleen added. She was the type of student every instructor wishes they had more of – punctual, engaged, hard working, intelligent, a world of potential, and a sweet disposition underneath a tough exterior. Of all my students, she was probably my favorite.

When I noticed there were no other hands in the air, I asked the question again: “Where do prejudices come from?”

I could tell my students were thinking – Devon was twirling her hair between her fingers. Mike had taken a break from doodling, and was spinning his pen between his fingers. Jade was biting her lip, focused, as if she was repeating the question to herself – Where do prejudices come? Where do prejudices come from?

“Fear,” Lauren finally said. Her response had sounded more like a question than an affirmation, and that drove me nuts. But at least she had contributed, and that’s all I could ask for.

(Intrigued by what you’ve read thus far? If so, drop me a line!)

Is College Worth It?

Everyone knows about the rising costs of college – I mean, the skyrocketing costs of college. College is damn expensive, and the costs just seem to keep rising. Well above the average inflation rates, in fact. In a ten year span – from 2003-2013 – one small, private, New England university increased its tuition by roughly $16,000. From roughly $20,000 in 2003, to over $36,000 2013. Ouch! Those figures are just for tuition and do not include costs for housing (which would add another $12,000 – on average, during those years), fees, books, and so on.

Another way of analyzing this trend is to compare it to another high-priced ticket – cars. This rise would be akin to the sticker price of a car being set at $20,000 in 2003, and that same car being sold at $36,000 in 2013. Updates and redesigns would not add $16,000 to a car’s value. A $16,000 increase, instead, would take you to a different car altogether – from an entry-level car to a mid-sized or luxury car. It sounds ludicrous (even, laughable) that a dealer would sell a car for $20,000 in one year, and then sell that same car for $36,000 ten years later. That’s not inflation, that’s beyond comprehension. But, colleges do it all the time.

With the skyrocketing costs of education, parents and students are beginning to wonder, is college worth the cost. With good reason, too! Is it worth paying over $50,000 for a degree – from a liberal arts institution, let’s say – when the economy is disastrous and college graduates are finding it exceedingly difficult to find employment? When, and even IF, students do find jobs in the fields they studied all those years, they may have a difficult time repaying the loans that paid for their education. So, why not just go into the workforce fresh out of high school, or even attempt a trade school? Why not choose the cheapest route to education? What is the draw of a college education when students are becoming increasingly fearful they will not find employment and will spend the rest of their lives paying off the years they spent in college?

The question is complex, but the answer is certainly not! Just because a person cannot afford to buy a luxury car doesn’t mean they should be without transportation. Similarly, just because students can’t afford one school’s hefty price tag doesn’t mean they should forgo their education.

Just like cars come in a plethora of makes, models, sizes, and features to meet the needs of different customers, colleges and universities also have a plethora of features that add to its costs: size of the school, how many degrees it offers; whether it offers residential living; private versus public funding; geographic location; setting and environment; social scene/climate; entrance requirements; and on, and on. These features all add to the school’s costs and, thus, should be taken into account when today’s financial-conscious students explore their needs. So just as consumers shop around for cars in their price ranges, students will also want to shop around for schools in their price range.

Not the advertised, or the sticker price, however. This isn’t the $50,000 tuition you see in small print on the college’s website. The price I’m referring to – the price that most students pay – is the price you get after taking into account financial aid and other such resources. This price will be different for each student, as every student will have a different set of financial circumstances, resources, and contributions. So, while that liberal arts school may show a $50,000 price tag, student A may pay $25,000 out-of-pocket, student B may pay $10,000 out-of-pocket, and student C may pay $45,000 out-of-pocket, all because of their unique financial circumstances. And you won’t know the actual price tag for the school until you have applied, been accepted, and applied for financial aid, scholarships, etc.

So, is college worth it? I would not only say yes, but hell yes! When students take a look into the cost of college, they’ll find the actual price students pay to attend college is oftentimes lower (much lower, for some students) than the price that is advertised, and that actual price can be a lot more manageable for students and families to cover. So even when a school costs $50,000 to attend, students don’t usually pay that $50,000 price. In this CNN article, the president of Arizona State University agrees.

What’s more, students have options. If finances are a real concern, students can choose which schools to which they’ll apply. Students can spend two years at a community college, before enrolling in a four-year institution. Or, students can apply to state schools, which (on average) have lower costs than private schools. For, not every student will, or needs to, apply to that liberal arts school, costing $50,000.

Also, on average, the annual salary for those with a college degree can be up to $20,000 greater than the annual salary for those without a college degree. So going to college greatly increases students’ ability to make more money, over their lifetimes.

Finally, my experience and expertise tells me that college IS also worth it because of the totality of the college experience, which we’ll discuss later. Meaning, whatever that end value is, the college experience (if done right) can equip students with the skills companies look for in new employees (e.g. thinking critical, communicating effectively, displaying cultural sensitivities), which makes students more marketable job candidates, stronger workers, and more enriched, personally.

So is college worth it, may be the wrong question. Instead, the better question to ask may be: Given all of the benefits of the college experience, how can we make college more affordable? Not just for students from affluent backgrounds. But for everyone. Not just for students from certain heritages, lineages, or legacies. But for everyone. How can we ensure that every student who wants to go to college can afford it?

Now that’s a question really worth the debate.

Today I Cried (poem)

People often ask me, what made or motivated or inspired me to write “A Matter of Semantics”. For me, the answer is easy – the experience I had at Quinnipiac College (although now it is Quinnipiac University). But that simple answer doesn’t do justice to what I actually feel. So to give a better sense, here is a poem I wrote after graduating from the Q! This is truly how “A Matter of Semantics” started. I hope you enjoy!

Today I cried.

But yesterday,

I was blissfully escaping in a sanctified imaginary world;

And as it commenced,

The blur and overabundance of joy took away my breath,

And I had neither time nor energy to shed a tear.

So today,

I cried.

And the already widened smiles of my comrades expanded as the day wore on.

While some expressions reflected the joy and relief of the coursework’s completion,

Others echoed emotional and psychological maturation.

So for my classmate,

I cried.

The recurrences are picturesque; too vivid, in fact:

Each day so beautiful that heavenly sprites envied our dominion;

Whether basking in the sun or gaily strolling to classes;

Surrounded by companions, who multiplied every day;

Feeding off of each other’s overabundance of exuberance;

Talking with friends ‘til sunrise;

And the fortune of finding a lover, the unrest brought along by her departure, and the elation as she re-surged as my soul mate.

So today, I cried.

The initial trepidations, as butterflies danced wildly in my belly;

The hesitation to emerge truly from within;

Steering into the sophomoric stone, where, oft times, stumbling over my own stupidity;

The acquaintances I granted permission to enter into my realm;

The continual churning through hardships which followed;

The perseverance and resiliency attained;

And those acquaintances that grew into friends;

Then, the understanding of my surrounding’s great nuances;

As well as the progressions made which allowed me to conceptualize the external world’s affairs –

I knew I could effectively affect such substantial subject matters;

Relishing the time which would imminently end;

And finally, last minute indulgences and future preparations

Took away my breath and swept away time.

So today, for myself,

I cried.

Encountering the fantastic winds of joy, frustration, anger, sadness, triumph and later, for celebratory occasions, inebriation – blissful indeed!

And for having experienced irresponsibility accountable,

Immortality within surrealism,

Today I’ve already cried.

And though, alas, it has been eons since the last hour has passed,

Still I long for my comforting fortress

To shield me from the acidic downpour of realism;

Alas, I am but a fantasist cemented in this melancholic world,

So today, I cried.

And because I already have taken my trip into that supernatural world,

And will not have another like it,

Tomorrow, I’ll cry.

And I too once was a dark despondent entity, but I’ve since grown into a majestic man.

And Quinnipiac will be forever tattooed upon my heart.

And for that experience alone,


I cried.

Welcome to the Semantics blog!

This blog began several years ago, it just didn’t exist in the physical form. It was alive, although only in my mind – living, breathing, and existing, even before it had core elements of life, breath, or existence. It was inspiring me at a time when I wanted to shout from the rooftops about education and all of its benefits. But, what I had to say wasn’t just about the educational system. At a time when I wanted to brag and boast about the beauty and surreal nature of the college experience, and all of the ways it transforms students – turning teens with no sense of self into adults with purpose, poise, and a plan. But, what I wanted to say wasn’t just about the college experience. At a time when I wanted to communicate about young adulthood – adult angst and even the quarter-life crisis. But, what I wanted to say wasn’t just about being a young adult. So, there it sat, in my mind – living, breathing, and existing, even though it did not have life, breath, or existence.

Today though, I find myself in more of a different place. One where I am not struggling to define and differentiate my thoughts and values, my attitude and outlook. Putting how I feel or what I think into boxes where they’ll stay until I decide to move them. Sometimes, they move me! They merge and oftentimes, they intertwine. Sometimes, they go places I had never thought they would go, and sometimes they stay right where I put them.

So, how does this all translate into our journey together? (Yes, I’m asking you to be a part of this journey with me) This blog represents an extension of me – more specifically, that part of me that has acquired experiences, abilities, and knowledge about education and the college environment, students (whether they are 8th graders or college seniors) and student development, writing and self-reflection, fighting for equality and social justice (feminism, anyone?!), and adulthood and other such transformational entities. These are the entities that have some of the most profound impact on young people, and that is who this blog is dedicated to – young people, and everyone who wants to see young people succeed.

Even though every Sunday I root for my favorite football team, and every summer I root for my favorite baseball team, you won’t find any blogs or messages about such things, unless, of course, there is some connection or correlation to young people or education, the college experience, or social justice.

Instead, our topics will have one thing in common — how certain experiences transform us, and make us into better people, and allow us to make the world a better place, for my children and your children, my brothers and your sisters, today’s students, tomorrow’s leaders, and young people everywhere. That’s part of my purpose here — is to initiate a dialogue and an idea exchange about transformational entities that are germane to young people; entities that have some sort of connection to the college experience.

There it is. That’s what I’m about (at this moment in life, anyway). This is what has been living, breathing, and existing in mind, over all these years! I look forward to chatting with you! But, don’t keep it just between us. Share this with the friends and family members in your lives, the social circles in which you participate, and the young people you love to influence. Together, our journey will be more diverse and more enriched, just like the college experience. I look forward to the journey, and I look forward to the journey with you!



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