I am writing to you from vacation. When you read this, I will have just returned from 2+ weeks away... It was just what I needed. For you see, just like in my car, I have a Service Engine Soon light that comes on when something isn't quite working the way it is supposed to.
This Spring began with a different indicator light. I saw it coming, so it was no surprise that I was running low on gas. In January, I made the difficult decision to recommend the policy change that (among other things) ended out of town fraternity formals. (Policy decision blog post.) I knew that this decision would have a price. And, the cost was great. Fraternity men that I had met with weekly and had established relationships with stopped speaking to me and under-lying tension filled many interactions I had with students. I filled up my tank and was careful with how I used my fuel, but I finished nearly every day with the light on, warning me that I was almost out of gas.
And then it happened... In April my Service Engine Soon light came on. In the most dreadful of ways, it became clear that things were not working. I received a message from my supervisor letting me know that a petition was being circulated by a fraternity man and was expected to be delivered to the University President and Vice President. The petition, among other things, called for me to be removed from my job. As the situation played itself out, the Division of Student Affairs (that I report to) and Human Resources launched an investigation. Soon, it was not just the light that was on- the engine started making noises. While I knew I had done nothing wrong, there were a few hundred students that felt that I had "limited their growth" and, worse, had turned a student led decision around and blamed me for a culture of fear. (Operating from Fear blog post.) Every interaction I had with a student that was a fraternity or sorority member included some mention of this petition, the process, how they were feeling about it. It seemed that the Check Engine Soon light had become twice as bright.
As most things do, the situation resolved itself. The University found no merit to the petitions accusations, but I was depleted. Commencement was difficult... As each and every fraternity and sorority student walked by me as a Commencement Marshall, there was a moment where they had to decide if they wanted to acknowledge me. Some who had been silent and distant since January did, but it left me unfulfilled. Summer break came at the perfect time. I have begun to think through what fall may include, and have started the work to repair what caused my Check Engine Soon light to come on. As I consider it all from my vantage point of being on holiday, three things come to mind.
1. Calling a mentor or someone who has travelled your road is essential. We all need experts. When you car has a problem, you don't just hope it works out, you go to someone with expertise. I had lunch with my Greek Advisor in May. I told him what had happened, he listened and nodded. Then, he said exactly what I needed to hear. I confessed 6 very difficult words, "I don't know what to do." He helped. When your light comes on, find someone who can assist.
2. Being open to dialogue is how we solve the problems of this world. Think bigger than Greek Life at USD. To live at peace with one another, we must be willing to sit and reason together. Not responding to emails, avoiding my office, un-friending me on Facebook- these are not ways to seek understanding. Even if we disagree in the end, isn't it better to have spent time listening to one another and respecting the difference? I met a student at the end of May who shared with me that he had signed the petition, but had never met me. After our conversation we still disagreed about his concerns, but we respected where each other came from.
3. Be active. This one pains me the most. Truly. This petition called into question my vocation and my professionalism. It also called into question my employment. Each of these things were hurtful, frightening, and filled me with many emotions. While I do not appreciate the tactics used, I do appreciate the activism that this petition brought about. We often talk in the Student Leadership and Involvement Center about how to teach students to start a revolution, to be activists. While I wish many things to have happened differently, I am proud that people acted when they felt that they needed to. Be active... It is how change comes about.
I hope that summer is providing each of you the opportunity to find rest.