Dear Professor

Dear Professor,

If it’s possible to be a completely different person from one month to the next, I can say with confidence that I am not who I was last semester. The reason I know I am a different person is because of those two small words, “with confidence”.

But first, I want to apologize. I’m sorry for letting you and myself down. I’m sorry for not being able to finish my assignments on time and not performing to the highest standard. I’m sorry I had to work during the semester. I’m sorry I was homeless. I’m sorry I wasn’t reliable and doubted myself. I’m sorry things turned out the way they did.

I’m also not sorry. I’m not sorry for the things I couldn’t control. I couldn’t help that I needed to work to afford to stay in school. I couldn’t help that I lost my job and didn’t have a place to stay. I couldn’t help that I was spending two hours every day commuting instead of doing work. I couldn’t help that I found a place to live too late in the semester to give me time to catch up. I also couldn’t help that my course of study required me to take five classes, two of which were capstone courses, complete a practicum, and study for a huge standardized test.

I’m tired of being sorry. I’m tired of regretting my actions and feeling bad about my failures. Because I learned from them. Who I am is not what I have done. I am not a failure. I am an intelligent, capable, responsible student. I have fears, but I don’t let them stop me from trying my hardest to achieve my goals. I have confidence in my ability to be not only a good student, but a successful professional. Failure is giving up when things get hard. I do not give up, no matter what. That is who I am.

You once told me that teachers make poor students, but I think teachers must be good students in order to learn from past mistakes and grow as individuals and professionals. I may or may not teach in a high school classroom, but whatever I do, I will be a teacher, because that is who I am. I don’t need a license to invest in those around me and help them grow. As you said, I have a lot to offer the world. I may do one thing or many things in life, but what I won’t do is limit myself because one person told me I couldn’t do it.

Sincerely,
Beck

Intersect Diversity and Leadership Conference, Part 2

The Intersect Diversity and Leadership Conference always raises more questions than it answers, but for me, it asks the only questions worth answering.  It leaves me wanting more; more information, more opportunities to gain skills, more community, and more stories to listen to.

Microaggression
I started the second day of this short conference in a session called “Death by a Thousand Cuts: Recognizing and Responding to Microaggression”.  I first had an interest in microaggression when I read Claude Steele’s book, Whistling Vivaldi, which presented research about how stereotype threat, conveyed through microaggression, can prevent students from succeeding academically in college. This session not only expanded my vocabulary about microaggression, but also gave me a better way to respond to these verbal or behavioral indignities.

One of the comments we talked a lot about in the discussion was, “Everyone can succeed if they try hard enough.” This comment makes me angry. It makes me angry because when you say this, you are invalidating someone’s struggles to achieve success. You are limiting their definition of success to the American Dream and negating the set of circumstances that may prevent them from reaching that dream. You are assuming that if they are not succeeding in your definition, it must be because they are lazy and are not trying hard enough. Because America is the land of opportunity, right? Because we all have the same chance to get a good education, job and pursue happiness, right? I believe that’s a lie that we tell ourselves so we can sleep well at night. How can you pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you do not have bootstraps? The truth is that you can work hard all your life and never make it over the poverty line. Not because you’re not intelligent and capable, but because you started at a disadvantage in a system that is designed to uplift some and leave the rest behind.

I want to learn more about microagression because it’s something I encounter on a daily basis on my college campus. Every time someone asks me where I’m from, I don’t know whether I should say “Charlotte” or “My Mom is from India”, because I don’t know if they are asking me where I was raised or why I’m brown, as if being brown was something I needed to provide an excuse for. Every time someone comes up to me and speaks Spanish and they assume I’m Hispanic, because I’m biracial and don’t fit into the neat categories of race that America has constructed. Every time someone’s face turns up at me when I tell them I went to a public high school instead of a private high school. It’s frustrating and I want to understand it more so I can educate others about it as well.

Resources:
35 Dumb Things Well-Intentioned People Say, a book
A Place at the Table, a documentary
Resilience: A Lesson from Sochi, an article
The Microaggressions Project, a collection of stories

Leading through Relationships
I enjoyed all the sessions I attended, but the other I will mention here was called, “Does the Shoe Fit? Understanding Equity and Equality with the Relational Leadership Model.” I am a leader. I’m not sure when I came to this realization, but I am confident in my identity as a leader now, and it’s a skill that I seek to refine through experience. I am a relationship builder. I lead best by creating positive relationships with and among those I lead, and between my organization and other organizations. This is why the Relational Leadership Model really appeals to me. It combines purpose and process with ethics, inclusiveness, and empowerment of followers. This model illustrates to me that the best leaders are also the best listeners. They are willing to listen to all ideas and suggestions, able to hear needs that are not expressed, and provide encouragement and resources to meet those needs effectively. These leaders create other leaders by helping their followers achieve their potential. That’s the kind of leader I would like to be. This session helped me realize that.

At the end, we were shown this spoken word video that I am obsessed with already. : )

Resources:
Spark, a book
Exploring Leadership, a book

mandela

Define American
The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way a person looks at reality, then you can change it. – James Baldwin

Our key note speaker today was Jose Vargas, an extremely talented writer and speaker who documented his undocumented life in the US. His goal is to change the culture surrounding immigration and undocumented Americans. He believes that politics is culture, and if you can change the culture, you can change policy. I agree with this, and believe he is creating change through speaking authentically about his experience and revealing the stories of those who are advocating and fighting for their right to be here. He certainly opened my eyes to the struggles of undocumented Americans. His presentation made me care about them as if they were my own family. You may call me a sucker, but like Jose said, “You don’t have to be undocumented to care about undocumented Americans”; just like you don’t have to be Black or LGBTQIA to care about their rights and issues.

We live in an “age of intersectionality” and “positive disruption”. Fear of the other is what we are sold in this country, but we have the potential to “push past our fear” and perhaps even more importantly, our apathy, to create cultural change that leads to policy change. But you “can’t solve a problem if you don’t face it” and I think we’re doing a good job of distracting ourselves from the real issues to cover a gaping wound with a bandage.

I’m so grateful that my Mom didn’t have trouble emigrating here from India because she married my Dad, but I know that we are the exception and not the rule. I remember the night my friend told me she and her family were undocumented Americans. She told us about how she walked across the desert with her mom at the age of nine into a new country and home. She cried and begged us not to tell anyone because she was afraid her family would be deported. At the time, I didn’t quite understand the gravity of her situation, but I think I have a better idea now. She later moved to Mexico for college because she was unable to go to school in the US. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been for her to leave her family.

Immigration is stories. There is no one in this country that I would not take the time to listen to, because we are all deserving of dignity. As I come down off this conference “high” (and off my soap box), there are some things I will take away into future conversations and circumstances:

First, listen. Shhh. Be quiet. Listen. What is being said? What is really being said? What is left unsaid and what does that tell you about someone’s story?

Second, learn. Read, research, repeat. Read, research, repeat. Come to the table with a humble attitude and as you listen and ask questions, you will grow into a better leader and follower.

Third, reflect. Critically reflect. About yourself, your identities, your biases, your assumptions and how they impact those around you.

Last, advocate. Turn your knowledge into action. Don’t die with your greatness buried inside you. Pursue your passion. Make your passion the well-being of your neighbor. Turn off your apathy and turn on your voice, because with knowledge comes power and with power, responsibility, social responsibility. What we said and what we did during this conference is just the beginning of an exponentially expanding web of influence and awareness that has the potential to positively disrupt the status quo of our community and country.

#4all
Beck

Other Resources:
Courageous Follower, a book
Followership, a book
How the Irish Became White, a book
My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant, an article by Jose Vargas
Time Magazine
Documented, a film by Jose Vargas

Intersect Diversity and Leadership Conference

My college hosts an annual conference called the Intersect Diversity and Leadership Conference. This conference combines all my favorite things, diversity, leadership, and plastic name tags. Okay, I’m not that excited about the name tags, but I am excited about what this conference does. It brings people together from colleges around the region and creates a space for dialogue about diversity and social justice issues. I know what some of you are thinking; “That’s just an opportunity for minorities to vent their frustration about their supposed oppression.” To which I would reply, “It’s so much more than that.” The pillars of this year’s conference are Social Change, Oppression, Power and Privilege, and Organization Change. Yes, we talk about the minority experience in the US, after all, that’s what got many of us interested in this subject. However, we also talk about diversity of religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, language, geographic location, experience, and much more. We do critical self-reflection to better understand our identities and how they shape our lives and interactions with others. We talk about what brings about successful and sustainable social and organizational change. We discuss issues such as minority education, same sex marriage, and immigration.

One of the main concerns of this conference, and one of the reasons I love it so much, is because we talk about talking. Communicating, really communicating, about important things and not being ashamed of our unique perspectives and ideas. Our speaker tonight was a professor in the Communications school. His speech, which was very interactive, was about how to communicate effectively so that we can talk about these tough issues. It was about paying attention to the small details in order to become better listeners, about the tone and attitude with which you say something, and how that can inspire someone to action or turn someone away from your message. It was about humbling yourself and valuing everyone, no matter how insignificant they may seem in the grand scheme of things.

At the end of the speech, he had everyone write down a word or phrase that represents what they stand for, what inspires them to action, or what they strive for. I wrote, “Let all voices be heard.” I told you, I’m passionate about stories, especially those stories that are usually silenced or ignored, because I believe that everyone deserves to be heard. That’s how we as humans are vulnerable with each other, that’s how we make connections and recognize ourselves in others. Stories carry all our pain and joy. They are both a lament and a celebration. Stories make the world go around. (Go ahead, ask me which story I think is the most important.)

All those words were just day one.

Beck

The One with the Sex Toys

This weekend was certainly interesting and a little scary.

On Saturday, a friend invited me to joint birthday party for her and another friend of mine. On the invitations it described the event as a “home novelties” party. I thought it was going to be party showcasing and selling tupperware or jewelry. Oh boy, was I wrong. I walked in and immediately noticed two things, all the guests were girls, and they all looked uncomfortable. A quick glance around told me why. Penises. There were penises on the coffee table. My friend threw a sex toy party for her birthday.

sd

Our first task after we were seated was to introduce ourselves and describe how we “like our sex” by using an adjective that matches the first letter of our name. My name starts with a ‘B’ so…I said “beastly”, and that’s what they called me for two hours during the demonstration. For a virgin, of which there were maybe two or three in attendance, it was an awkward experience. I cannot unsee those images. Did I mention they passed all the “products” around? I didn’t know where to look half the time. I know I sound like a prude, but I don’t judge people who use those products, I just would never think to broadcast my use or throw a party about it, especially for my birthday.

My friend hosted this party so she could purchase, um…a new friend…at a discounted price. Most girls were buying products, and I just sat there, a poor virgin who can’t even afford some of the cool spa products they sell. I’m not sure if the party generated enough credit for her to buy herself a birthday present, but I’m pretty sure the coffee mug I got her was not what she was looking for.

After the party, we went to dinner and then to a bar called Arizona Pete in Greensboro, NC. The bar was as country as it gets, complete with a mechanical bull and barrels for tables. I’m not a country girl at all, so when I walked in I was a bit disappointed. But it turned out to be fun. The DJ wasn’t anything to shake a stick at (or shake your anything at) but once you get tipsy enough, the music doesn’t matter so much. I say all this to tell you that I didn’t leave for home until 3:30am.

I knew I was taking a risk by driving home so late, but I felt sober and alert so I started home anyway. Big mistake. Not long into my drive, I zoned out for a minute and ran off the road, or really the road ran out. I didn’t realize the road was ending in a T intersection and ended up in a man’s front yard, which was still covered in snow and ice. I remember thinking, “Don’t hit the tree.” and “You’re not going to stop in time.” Thankfully, I did stop before hitting the front of the brick house. I waited for a minute for someone to come out of the house and yell at me for being in their yard, but no one did. I got out of the car and checked for damage, but since I didn’t hit anything, there wasn’t any that I could see. I did worry that my brakes wouldn’t work, but they do, although I’m sure I need to get them checked now. After a few minutes of hyperventilating and praying, I backed up onto the road again.

I made it home safely, but I could have very easily died that night. This experience scared me straight; I definitely won’t be driving that late anymore.

Beck

How to be Homeless in College

helpmeimpoor

I was stranded at my friends apartment last week while NC was in the middle of a snow storm. This reminded me of last semester when I was staying there almost every week because I had no other place to go. I learned a lot about how to go without last semester. Becoming homeless is a process that makes you realize exactly what you do and do not need to live. It’s a painful process.

I started the semester in a small apartment attached to a house nearby campus. The rent wasn’t bad and I had just gotten a job as a barista at the local B&N cafe. After about a month, I moved out because my landlady didn’t want me to keep my cat in her house, and I wanted to live with my cat (don’t judge me).

At the beginning of October, I moved into a house with a student couple, their evil cat, smelly dog, and loud chicken. (Yes, I did say chicken.) I settled in and then…I lost my job. Apparently, my availability was not working for them, even though I told them I could work anytime I wasn’t in class. With no job to pay rent and a new landlord asking for a deposit, I found myself, at the end of the month, moving for the third time that semester…home.

My Mom lives in Raleigh, about an hour from campus, and I had a full schedule with seven classes. I was so scared and I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had no choice but to keep going. For weeks, I woke up at 5:30am so I could drive the hour commute and be on time for my 8am class (and I’m not a morning person in the least). To save gas, I asked my friends if I could alternate sleeping on their couch, but I didn’t want to be a burden, so most of the time I slept in the library or took naps in my car.

I had a system. I would go home every Tuesday and Thursday night to get more clothes and food. I would shower in the gym locker room and do laundry on the weekends when I could stay home. I would work in the library and then drive home to sleep in my room with no bed. And I would student teach and try to finish my projects on time. Part of me knew this meant I wouldn’t be passing all my classes, but I’m nothing if not stubborn, and I thought I was strong enough to do it all.

Okay, so technically I wasn’t homeless, but I was constantly moving between my car, my friends’ apartments and public spaces like the library and gym. I felt homeless, and that anxiety really affected me and my ability to work. I learned how to get through the day by getting “free” coffee from faculty lounges and attending school events with free food. I ate a lot of pizza that semester.

Having no where to go makes one anxious and alone, and I very quickly fell apart. Every single one of my professors emailed me or “had the talk” with me about my low performance (some more than once). What could I say? “Sorry I didn’t finish the paper, Professor, I was busy trying to find somewhere to sleep last night.” I felt tired all the time and it wasn’t from the mountains of work I stayed up doing. I knew I needed to do something about my living situation and fast.

That’s when I remembered that I had been adopted recently. My church has a program that allows families in the church to “adopt” college students so they can get a home-cooked meal, and have a place to stay if they can’t go home for breaks. I emailed my “family” and asked if they knew of anyone that had an extra room to be rented out until May. I received a quick response offering a room in their own house for the year. It felt weird accepting help from people who were essentially strangers, but I wasn’t in a position to say no, and a 30 minute commute is better than an hour commute, so I said yes. I’ve been living here ever since. I won’t say it wasn’t awkward, really awkward, at first, but God has put me in a good home and I’m so grateful that He has provided a place for me to live during my senior year. I hope I can do the same for someone else one day.

What my adopted family did by taking me in reminds me of this passage in Matthew 25.35-40 (NIV)

‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

I was a stranger and they invited me in, and that’s pretty awesome.

Beck

The Flower Man

What kind of a name is Soul Gastrolounge? It’s a bit weird, I’ll admit, but it is a really cool place for eats and drinks in Charlotte, and is where my friends and I started our Saturday night last weekend. It was really dark, but the bar was impressive and we all know that’s the most important part of the restaurant. The place was really busy, so we didn’t end up staying to eat or drink, but it’s definitely somewhere we want to come back. Once they told us the wait time was an hour and forty minutes we decided to leave.

Beneath the lounge there is a neat art gallery called Twenty Two (Check out this great review!). As we passed by, a man accosted us and asked us to come in and check out the show. He turned out to be the artist on display. We got drinks and walked about. The space is small but the atmosphere was really laid back and fun. I really liked the paintings of the artist, John Hairston Jr. I couldn’t find any pictures of the paintings we saw that night, but below is one of his that I found online. I’m no art critic, but I really like his style and use of color.

CapturePicture Source

Our next stop of the night was Dharma Lounge, another place we didn’t stay because the cover was $13 dollars. I’m sorry, but if the cover is that much, the floor better be made of gold and the drinks free all night. We ended up at Nan and Byron’s which by day is a super cute restaurant, and by night a classy lounge and bar. The drinks were overpriced and there was hardly enough room for dancing, but you can’t beat the price (zero dollars). Also, those “train wreck fries” were delicious. We had a good time. There was a guy that was really fun to watch drunk dancing. A weirdo even hit on my friend with the line, “Are you a bar tender?” Haha.

On the way home, my friend had a sudden undeniable urge to eat a donut at 2am. We found NOVA’s Bakery and while they didn’t have donuts, they satisfied our appetite for baked goods and sweets. I got a muffin and some bread. As we were eating, a man came up to us and handed my friends and I a white tulip each. He introduced himself as The Flower Man and then said he was homeless and would appreciate some help (aka money). We didn’t have much, but I gave him some cash. He seemed really nice and I wished I could have done something more for him. He didn’t leave the shop immediately and later I went up and offered him my extra loaf of bread. He looked surprised when I asked his name and shook his hand. If it wasn’t two in the morning and I was slightly more sober, I would have liked to talk with him more. I’ve always wanted to be friends with a homeless person. Not because I feel like it’s my job to help them or make them un-homeless, but just because I think they would have interesting stories and experiences to share. People who are homeless are often ignored by everyone and I can imagine they feel invisible a lot of the time. I like making people feel visible and heard. If I can’t give him a job and a home, at least I can do that.

This seemed an interesting way to end the night. The intersection of my lifestyle and that of The Flower Man made me realize that while I call myself poor, I’m actually richer than many in the US. At my school, I’m surrounded by students from the upper middle/ high socio-economic class and I feel poorer than I really am. I’m really just lucky to be in college at all, even if I did have to take out thousands of dollars in loans to make it through. I really hope I meet The Flower Man again.

Much more to come
Beck