Monday, December 12, 2016

AFA Annual Meeting & Shaffer Award

In the most surreal kind of way, I was honored and celebrated last week in Boston. I was selected as the recipient of the Robert H. Shaffer Award by the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors and attended the Annual Meeting to accept. It was so strange to be celebrating in the midst of what arguably could be considered the most sad, real and dark year of my nearly 44 year existence. Nonetheless, there I was - in Boston with my mom and many friends and colleagues - being celebrated. I am forever grateful to those that nominated me. I am indebted to my Fraternity, Kappa Alpha Theta, for celebrating and loving me well. I am thankful for an institution, University of San Diego, that has provided a career and vocation to me while also being patient with my faults. Some have asked for a copy of my remarks. As you read on, please understand that this was unlike any other speech I have given. The words came to me in two short 5 minute bursts over the course of two months. They were there, right on the surface, needing to be said. God bless.

Thank you. I am humbled to be standing here before you tonite. There are not words sufficient to express my appreciation to those of you that contributed to my selection for this honor. I will begin with thank you. It is meaningful to me that many in this grouping are former students that have gone on to become outstanding professionals. I pray that each of you, at some point in your career, are able to experience the joy and fulfillment that I do when I consider you. I am thankful for the sacrifice of Cynthia Avery, the Assistant Vice President at USD, and my mother  - the fantastic Patty – for travelling across the country to be here tonite.

For my 40th birthday (Older than AFA), a friend of mine gave me two books. The first was Tattoos On The Heart by Father Gregory Boyle. It is a narrative of Father Boyle’s experience of living among and serving in inner-city Los Angeles. Beginning Homeboy Industries – a gang intervention ministry is told weaving in moments of faith alongside real life experience. He models a love for the people and his investment in his community. I was struck by his honesty in relaying both the systems that contribute to the gang-ridden environment, but also the choices made by many that do not believe that they are worthy of love. Such a different context than the community I serve at a private, Catholic, predominately white and affluent institution that is less than 200 miles away. It resonated with the on-going work I have to do as a professional.

The second book was Dear Sugar, a collection of Cheryl Strayed’s online advice column where she served as the anonymous wisdom dispenser known as Sugar. Each account drew on what Strayed titles “Radical Empathy”. As I turned each page, I was drawn in to what I wanted to be. What I wanted to teach. As I, well we, meet with students, can we approach from a place of radical empathy? I considered back on how I had spent the last 15 years of my career – the care and concern I had for individuals and their development and the investment in a community. To be honest, I spent the first 5 years really worrying about things like the colors of recruitment shirts and Greek Week themes. I like to think that I have made my undergraduate Advisor, Doug Case, proud with where I am now and that he would forgive my start that majored in the things that didn’t really matter. Dear Sugar inspires me to live with Radical Empathy and also lead from a place of vulnerability and authenticity.

I hope that this place is an entry point for what I think we really need to be talking about. The same month that Lindsay Sell called me to tell me that I had been selected for this honor, a man was killed in the neighboring city to San Diego called El Cajon. Three miles from my church, an unarmed black man was shot by the police. Alfred Olango’s shooting, and subsequent death, moved Black Lives Matter into my every day conversation. It moved it to a new place in my soul. I could no longer be the person upset, but not acting on it. Black Lives Matter. It felt impossible to celebrate this honor with the reality of what has been unfolding across our country for years and now unfolding in my back yard. I regularly have moments to appreciate and reflect on my privilege: as a white person, as cisgender, as educated, as affluent… In many areas. I have sat with that reality through the season of horrific injustices against people I love and care for deeply. As the election season ramped up, I found myself struggling with how to celebrate this acknowledgement while many in my circle have had their basic human rights questioned. Can I celebrate our professional work without issuing a call to action for all of us? Each of us needs to be for the other. We have the opportunity to be safe havens for those that are struggling or feel marginalized. We have the opportunity to teach the revolution to our students: to encourage them to be engaged; to build activists that speak up and speak out when they see injustice.

When we talk about the work we do, it is built on a premise of belonging, being a part of something greater than just you. Can we get to that place without developing an inherent sense of safety and security among our members? The fraternity and sorority experience – and us as professionals and volunteers in this experience – should be the starting point for radical empathy and understanding. Fraternity and Sorority Life must set the standard for people mattering in this world.

For years, I have heard colleagues talking about how a fraternity house should be the safest place for a woman to be. We have used that picture of safety in relation to sexual violence and rape. But, my friends, it must be more that that. Our time is now. My friends of privilege, we must use our voices. We must stand and be a champion for what is right. We must support all of our students in changing a culture all around us. This isn’t about Making America Great Again or acknowledging who was With Her. This is about the day to day experience of some in this room. And, some in our communities. The fear of a mother for what her child may face as a multi-racial student. The fear of a partner for them running out to the store and encountering what could be deadly prejudice. It is about those that tolerate statements like All Lives Matter when we know that Kappernich kneeling isn’t really the problem. It is fear of being told that your marriage is no longer recognized. It is your religion and belief system being enough for others to consider you being locked up.

Leadershape’s Daily Inspiration this week included a quotation from Mahatma Gandhi. “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.” I want us to be a courageous profession. I want those shaping the experience of this next generation to be modeling bringing change to our communities. With acknowledgement that I, too, am on this path of learning and understanding, I challenge you to take up this moment. Have transformational conversations and allow yourself to be transformed in the process. Stay in the mess and discomfort. That space is where growth is born.

Again, thank you for this honor. May your year be filled with the joy that comes from working in a vocation that is rich in need and the conversations that are so essential.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wanted: Encouragers

I saw this posted online today and it gave me a little chuckle. For, you see, I am not a natural Encourager. When I hire people, this is one of the subtle things that draws me to finalists - the ability to encourage others as a way of life. Don't get me wrong, I value Encouragement and Encouragers. A lot. It is just intentional work for ME to do it, and to do it well.

I prefer to live a life of optimism and joy. When I think of Critics, I think of those that never can have a "what if" thought. I think of those that always find the problem in a new idea. I also pause and consider more... I think of the realists that keep us grounded. I think of those that monitor budgets and risk management. More than I prefer, I think of me in my professional role. It is an easy default if I am not careful.

We are currently in the process of a comprehensive review of the Student Leadership and Involvement Center. We, along with several other areas, are looking at how we spend our time, our budget, our energy. In considering all of these factors, we are charged with coming up with new ways to do our work. In the midst of this process, I have had more than one person say to me, "Are you worried that at this time next year we will have 3 more Greek letter organizations on campus?" (I think the unspoken commentary is the assumption that it will be without additional staffing.) Well, yes. That makes me concerned, but it also makes me wonder... What could we do differently with 3 more organizations? How many more students could we get engaged on campus? What if we try it and see what happens!

When I think about the ideal role I play in our community, it is as an Encourager. Fraternity and Sorority Life already has plenty of Critics. Some of them are in our organizations. The ability to be an Encourager is an important role for me to play as I cheer you on and support the good work that you are each doing in your organizations. Sometimes when things go sideways and people get a little out of control, my role has to shift. But, at the heart, it really doesn't ever step away from being an Encourager. The role is grounded in Love, Care, Support, Authentic Behavior, Honesty - and those things all lead to positivity and progress.

So, what about you? Are you the member that is the Encourager? As your peers think of you, does support and kindness pop into their minds? Or, are you a part of the group that grouses about little decisions. Are you the Critic that (subtly) celebrates when things don't work? There are defaults that we each fall into. But, you can choose to fight that default and be something else. When you are tired, when you are discouraged, when you find yourself leaning toward the role of the Critic, just remind yourself that the world wants Encouragers. This is your charge. This is your calling. Encourage one another. Besides, we have a surplus of critics already.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Why Me?

In my role at the University, I have had many opportunities to meet with, advise, mentor, and know students. Each of these descriptors is different. I would almost say that they build upon one another as relationships emerge between students and staff. To me, the most rewarding are the ones that make it to the end of the line. Those are the students that I keep up with beyond graduation. The ones that I enjoy watching experience life via Facebook and, often, in person for visits during Homecoming. There are many students that I can remember snapshot moments with - moments that were important and meaningful. Moments of meeting with outstanding people, advising them on powerful programs, and mentoring them toward leading change. I would not trade those moments away, as they define my vocation. Sometimes those moments are stand alone experiences, but sometimes they are a part of being known.

I was having coffee with an alum recently and this topic came up. The question that they posed was, "why me?" Meaning, why did I choose to "know" them? Why did I choose to go beyond meeting, advising, and mentoring? The question completely caught me off guard. I stumbled my way through the answer in the moment, but have given it serious thought since that time. Why does a deeper connection happen in some relationships and not in others? You know what I mean, right? This is somewhat of a universal truth. Some people you just like more than others. This explains why people don't all have the same best friend. There are preferences and personalities at play. But, to me, this is different. This is about investment in someone, this is about caring for others intentionally. What I realized was that the question was framed incorrectly. This wasn't about me choosing someone. My answer is this - "Why you?" Because you let me.

When I sat with you in my office, at that retreat, on the couches inside TĂș Mercado, you let me see a part of you that is sometimes hidden. You cracked open the door to your depths and invited me in. Sometimes it was just a peek inside. Sometimes it was an invitation to see it all. In each of those
moments, you made a choice. You let me see the real you. The highest of joys, the angst of frustration, the disappointment in circumstances. It was remarkable. It was an honor. It was a privilege to be able to know you.

That is hard to walk away from. So, I feel an affinity for you and a care for your future. An investment to see you become the best partner, employee, parent, friend, supervisor that you can be. This continues after you leave, because when you crack open that door, you have changed me, too. It is my earnest hope that you, too, will experience the gift of knowing others.

One year I had someone that I met with weekly, who was trying to decide if they wanted to be known, ask me, "How do you get people to tell you things?" I laughed a little and shared that it was pretty easy. Most of the time, people are desperate to tell someone about their experience. Being willing to slow down enough to ask the question and genuinely want to know the answer is usually all that it takes.

When my partner and I had our daughter, we made a commitment to do everything in our power to raise her to be aware of others. To see those around here and be engaged with them. From little things, like holding the door for someone, all the way to the largest social issues. Unknowingly, this has moved into my work, too. I hope the same for you. This is community. This is fraternity and sorority. This is brotherhood and sisterhood. This is us.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Starting 2014 With Reflection

I'm Back!

It has been a while, friends. I didn't intend to take such a long break from writing. I knew it was time to begin again when everywhere I looked was something that promoted the thought, "I should write a piece about that for my blog."

January 6th was my anniversary of working at USD as a full time staff member. As I start what will be my 19th year, I have spent some time thinking about those that I have had the privilege of working with over all of these years. Some of these memories are of staff, some of students. All of people who have impacted me and made me a better professional, a better person. There is a beauty in being somewhere so long. A beauty in having lived the history of this fraternity and sorority community. A humbling time of realizing how much I didn't know when Carol hired me all those years ago, and knowing how much more there is to learn in 2014.

As we begin the New Year, I offer to you a few snapshots of my 18 years, and the lessons I have learned and re-learned.

A fraternity president who fought me every day of his tenure. Lied, yelled, deceived. And, then, called me about 5 years after his graduation to tell me that he was sorry. It's never too late to do the right thing.

A graduate assistant who jumped in with both feet with only her USD undergraduate experience. She and I together attended fraternity recruitment events so we could "understand". She stood by my side when the manager of a venue met us at the door of an event and asked if we were the strippers. My first 2 years would have been my last without her resilience, laughter, and perspective. Work is always better with a partner.

An IFC President that returned from UIFI and told me that he understood and was going to change his chapter. And, that he wanted my help. "It takes a village." is the only approach that will develop students into the best version of themselves.

A powerhouse president sitting on my couch and unexpectedly crying because she missed her mom. Knowing that all she needed to hear was, "me, too" and have me sit with her in her grief. Even a powerhouse needs support.

Multiple former presidents, IFC/Panhellenic Exec, and student leaders coming back to USD
to advise. We give back to what we love.

Watching college sweethearts get married. Sitting in the lasting joy that started as giggles and notes at UGA. You never know when something amazing will happen.

A Council officer that struggled with who they really were. The realization and gentle nudges to explore why they were over-involved, "having" to succeed, over-drinking. Watching them wholly realize who they were and embrace themselves, find a partner, find contentment. There is often more at play than we ever get to see in the moment.

Two colleagues who knew I was I at capacity stepping in to support our community and attend the Greek Retreat when they knew I couldn't. Blind service with no preparation, but done with selflessness. We all need help. None of us are alone.

A Panhellenic President who advocated and networked for USD to add a culturally based sorority. Seeing persistence and work for the simple reason that it was the right thing to do. Change often comes with great struggle and challenge.

Several that have been a part of my life going to to create and serve communities of their own. Watching them develop and find their style as they realize that few places are like USD. There's no place like home.

A small group of alumni gathered at the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors Annual Meeting this past December. As I sat and listened to them reminisce and re-tell stories, I was reminded of the greatest lesson of all: It is an honor to walk through life with people as they learn and grow.

Cheers to 2014!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Voice of an Alumna

This week's post comes from an alumna that always makes me smile and filled my days with laughter during her tenure at USD. Parisa is a small woman with a powerful voice that she continues to use to make the world a better place. What a gift that she was willing to share her thoughts on "What did being a sorority member teach you?" I hope you enjoy her story as much as I did - both in living it and reading it now. Cheers!

            Ever since watching Legally Blonde as a young girl I knew I wanted to follow Elle’s footsteps and become President of my sorority then go on to law school. I actually did accomplish both goals. During formal recruitment freshman year at USD I fell in love with Alpha Phi; the members, the philanthropy and of course their fabulous room decorations and songs. Funny thing looking back now that I am attending law school in New Orleans, one of the days of recruitment the Alpha Phis were dressed in Mardi Gras colors. Even my Alpha Phi days were foreshadowing my eventual move to Louisiana.
            From the beginning I became involved in everything I could. Fall of my junior year I went abroad to Florence, Italy. As much as I enjoyed the food, the culture, the travelling around and the fact that I was living in Europe for four months, I missed the sense of belonging and community that Alpha Phi had provided for me. It was then that my decision to run for President became definite.
            Being President of a sorority is a challenging yet rewarding job. Actually it’s a cross between a job and being a mother type figure (kind of like Dorota in Gossip Girl-I really hope I’m not too old that making Gossip Girl references has become irrelevant). Not only are you managing the Executive board, overseeing the other officers, and looking out for the well-being and morale of the general chapter, you also are on call at all hours of the day and night in case someone needs you. If a chapter member gets sick during an event you are the one responsible to pick her up from detox. If a member needs someone to confide in with an issue that they aren’t ready to open up to their friends about yet, you are the one there for her. If a member needs a place to crash at the beach for the night, you are there for her. The list is ongoing and no matter how much you want to go back to bed when you get that 3 AM phone call from a chapter member, you are the first to be there for her.  In addition not only are you responsible to your own chapter, but you also need to check in with the chapter advisors, the USD Greek advisor (the wonderful Mandy Womack who served as my personal therapist during my year as President), and the Alpha Phi International office. It was a year of growing up. I as a 21-year-old individual was responsible for the lives of all of these young women. If I did not fully execute my responsibilities I would personally be held liable as well as the sorority itself.
            I met so many people and made so many friends who are still important in my life within the chapter and outside the chapter. One of the most proud moments of my life was the day at the Alpha Phi International Conference where I was handed the Eta Rho flag and lined up to walk into the room where the International President, board members, and the incredible woman who had memorized the ENTIRE initiation ritual were waiting. I couldn’t believe that I was there representing my chapter among all these other women who had accomplished so much. Sisterhood is not just within your own chapter; sisterhood expands to every woman who knows that secret handshake and that secret password. It also extends to other Greeks. It is a special and unique bond that you simply cannot describe to a non-Greek member. Just last weekend I was at a sorority sister’s wedding and could not stop talking to Jenna, who is a new chapter advisor about what is going on in the chapter and who is planning on running for which position in the upcoming election. Her saint like non-Greek fiancĂ© stood there and gave his input as well, showing that Alpha Phi becomes a lifestyle for all of those close to you in your life.
            Joining Alpha Phi was the absolute best decision of my life I have ever made. Being an Alpha Phi was not just my four years of undergrad, it is now and forever a part of me. I know that today I am a better, stronger, well rounded, and more responsible woman because of the lessons Alpha Phi taught me from being a better listener to giving back to the community. I will always cherish each and every memory I made during those four magical years and continue to live out the ideals Alpha Phi instilled in me.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Voice of an Alumnus

This weekend, we welcome back alumni and alumnae from USD to Homecoming. As I look back on my 18 years of serving this community, there are many alums that come to mind as I consider the work of making men and women "better" through the fraternity/sorority experience. I have invited a few of them to share about their experience. The first is an alumnus that I met during my first few years as a Greek Advisor. I have since had the pleasure of watching him circle back to USD as an advisor. Geno brought a sense of kindness and laughter to every group he led as an undergraduate... His reflection certainly matches my memory of his tenure at USD. Delt was, for him, a place to belong and grow as a leader. For that, I am proud.

Without a doubt, my decision to go Greek shaped who I am today.  As a freshman at USD, I encountered a lot of new experiences, both good and bad.  Like most people my age, I was looking for something to enhance my college experience (parties, a sense of brotherhood, and opportunities to socialize with the fairer sex).  At the same time, I also wanted to join something where I could be myself and have a sense of belonging.  Obviously, I got much more than what I was initially looking for.  

I joined Delta Tau Delta as a sophomore and right away, I felt empowered to contribute something right away.  I held a variety of positions within the chapter and on IFC, as I really enjoyed ALL aspects of Greek life.  Looking at my overall experience as a Delt, I met people I probably wouldn’t have ever met anywhere else or even be friends with had we not shared the bond of being brothers.  However, the uniqueness of my chapter allowed me to be associated with men from all walks of life (different social backgrounds, military experience, ethnicities, and even sexual orientation).  Being part of a Greek organization is not always a rose garden, as there are hurdles to overcome when working with a group of 30 odd college age males.  Dealing with different personalities, working with people from different organizations, and compromising for the greater good, were all obstacles I encountered.  

Greek life is truly a "get out what you put in" type of experience, and my involvement in my chapter gave me an invaluable lesson in organizational leadership.  It allowed me to work for my chapter’s national headquarters after graduation and also assist me with my job search.  Networking is key to all aspects of your professional life and my Greek experience gave me a head start in networking.  Years later, I continue to apply all these lessons to my current job.  

My Greek experience continues to have a lasting impact on my life.  Some of my best friends today are Delts.  I married of my fraternity brothers’ sister (an ADPi from USC).  Living in San Diego, we both volunteered as advisors to our respective chapters at USD.  And joyfully, my wife and I have two Delt legacies.  When it comes time to talk to my sons about college and Greek life, I will of course tell them to check out the Delts.  But most importantly, I will stress to them that should they decide to go Greek, they need to find a group of men that they are most comfortable with and will offer them the best experience not only during their time in college but afterwards.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Natural Consequences

July 2013 brought a sad lesson to the Womack home. The teen Womack, while visiting her Grandmother, lost her 2 week old retainer. Newly freed teeth from the confines of braces were suddenly without the orthodontist's only "rule" - wear this retainer unless you are eating. She sent me a panicky text, knowing it was a big deal. I then called the orthodontist and found out that there was
nothing to be done on a Thursday afternoon when the patient was in Orange County. Further, they were closed on Friday and would not be able to see her until Monday. I explained that Meg was scheduled to be out of town for a week serving as a camp counselor. After conferral with the doctor, the decision was made - Monday appointment it was!

Unfortunately, going to camp late was not an option. Meg had to cancel her plans and miss the week of serving as a counselor. She was disappointed. But, in fairness, she wasn't angry. With the newly freed teeth, she had to have the retainer. Not going to camp was a natural consequence of her leaving it on a napkin in a restaurant. The nicest part, from a parent perspective, was that there was no need to talk it through or punish the behavior - she got it. Her actions had a direct consequence.

The last two weekends have brought a similar fate to some of our community. Some of our organizations have found the buses that are picking up and dropping off in Mission from registered
social events are being greeted by SDPD. The overnight parking lot has been filled with more than a few citations for Minor in Consumption/Minor in Possession as our members are travelled to and fro in a variety of costumes. These citations require an appearance in court and some significant financial cost. The response from our community has been interesting to watch.

This week alone, three different staff or student leaders have told me that they heard that I was calling SDPD to alert them to the bus locations and times. (Side note: Not true for anyone working at USD.) Several student leaders have been indignant that the police department were infringing upon their rights and demanded something be done about it. One idea has included having an attorney present. The chapter advisors group gathered this week and we discussed the citations issued over the past two weekends. After hearing it all, the response was that this was a natural consequence. If students choose to drink underage, it is a risk. It is illegal to consume alcohol under the age of 21, and while we focus a lot of our energy on educating our members on responsible drinking, it is breaking the law. So, another lesson of natural consequences - if you chose to drink underage, you also have to find yourself in a place where if you get a citation you are disappointed, but not angry.

As you read and think through this, I would like to leave you with another Womack home truth... "Don't blame other people for your problems." Works for the teen, works for our community.