I have a new Instagram handle!
Check me out at joympedersen or https://www.instagram.com/joympedersen/
I have a new Instagram handle!
Check me out at joympedersen or https://www.instagram.com/joympedersen/
I have been carrying this story in my heart for the past six years, and I decided last night to put it on paper.
House on Fire
by Joy Pedersen
My baby girl was born in a burning house.
The flames were small at first. It was burning slowly – behind the walls, under the ground, in the attic.
But eventually, the walls began to crumbled, the windows cracked, and the panes blew out.
The fire engines came, and I turned them away. “You must leave,” they said.
“We’re fine, “ I replied while the shingles fell from the roof around me.
My friends shouted from outside, “Get out! Save yourself!” But I continued to live there.
I continued to live in the windowless, roofless house with cracked windows and crumbling walls.
The floorboards glowed with fiery embers. But I learned to tiptoe to avoid being burned.
Smoke filled the air. But I learned to take shallow breaths.
“It’s not that hot,” I told myself.
The flames became unpredictable. I came home to find rooms burned, furniture ruined, another part of the house damaged.
The heat was unbearable at night. As the sun set, the temperature rose. By dark the house was steaming.
On one of these hot nights, when she was four years old, my daughter woke me up. She touched me in my sleep, and said, “Mommy, the house is on fire.” I opened my eyes and looked around. The fire was everywhere. The flames were white hot. The smoke was thick. My skin was burning. My eyes were stinging.
I looked down at my beautiful little girl. She was so calm, so brave, so full of life. And I said, “You’re right. It’s time to leave.”
I picked her up. I walked out the door. And I never looked back.
That night, everything burned. The house was destroyed. But we were saved.
Dear World is a team that travels the world to amplify the voices of individual stories through portraits. They have captured over 70,000 stories and been featured in USA Today, CNN, NBC, and Buzzfeed. Our stories are powerful because they connect us to each other. Learning about each other is vital to our success, as a community, a species, and a planet.
Here is my story:
I have faith.
Marriages end for many reasons. It’s difficult to say exactly what happened, but I chose to leave. I felt my life depended on it. The year my marriage ended was full of new beginnings, uncertainty, and transitions. For the first time in my life I felt I couldn’t be certain of anything, but through the changes I felt a calmness that I can only describe as faith. I had no idea what was ahead, but these words kept coming back to me – have faith.
I share my story because new beginnings are possible, sometimes we are stronger than we think we are, and there are always better days ahead. We are all one choice away from a completely different life.
“Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Every year I meet with students who are exhausted, frustrated, angry, and suffering because they are taking care of another student. While we encourage students to engage in up-stander behavior, students should not feel they are responsible for the ongoing health and well-being of another student. Of course, we want students to look out for each other and help each other avoid dangerous situations; but taking 24/7 shifts to be with another student indefinitely, feeling the need to use their cell phone to track another student’s location, frequently leaving class to respond to another student’s emergency, regularly staying up all night or missing study time to care for another student, and regularly checking in with another student via text or other means to be sure the other student is ok, are unhealthy behaviors.
As educators, many of us also have caretaking tendencies. There is so much need in the world, it is tempting to give our time, energy, and expertise to the point of exhaustion. I often draw on my own experiences when helping students learn to establish boundaries. For some caretaking students, this is their first exposure to creating boundaries.
These are some tips I share with students who are struggling to care for their friends and have healthy boundaries.
These conversations can be difficult. Sometimes students get angry with me or express that they simply cannot establish boundaries. But many times, students come back and thank me for helping them. Being a caretaker is often unsustainable, and inevitably a student either establishes boundaries or has to give up being a caretaker due to exhaustion or frustration.
I recently presented the workshop “Serving students who are experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, and financial crisis” at the California College Personnel Association’s Annual Institute. There were many participants (standing room only), which reflects the increased interest in these topics among student affairs professionals. Many of us are looking for models, methods, and best practices to serve our most vulnerable students.
The research supports that college students face major financial challenges. Food insecurity is common among college students, and food insecure students are often housing insecure. Food and housing insecurity negatively affects students’ education. Students who are struggling to meet basic needs experience more stress, frequently work more which results in greater part-time enrollment, experience lower GPAs, and often extend their expected date of graduation.
According to the UC Global Food Initiative survey, 19 percent of UC students indicated they had “very low” food security, which the USDA defines as experiencing reduced food intake at times due to limited resources. An additional 23 percent were characterized as having “low” food security, defined by the USDA as reduced quality, variety or desirability of diet, with little or no indication of reduced food intake.
College and University Food Bank Alliance report states drew on a survey of almost 3,800 students at 34 community and 4-year colleges across 12 states – the broadest sample to date – the authors found that 22 percent of respondents have the very lowest levels of food insecurity, and 13 percent of students at community colleges are homeless.
An increasing number of campuses have the following types of services:
Every institution has unique needs, strengths, and weaknesses. One of the challenges of implementing these programs is determining which best meet the needs of the students in your institution AND align with the resources available. Here are some best practices that can be applied to any institution:
I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic and a few interesting things happened to me. First, many passages resonated with me and I kept coming back to the book. Next, I found myself sharing her message with other people. And then, I started creating. Since reading the book, I have tapped into my creativity in multiple ways. I have written blog posts, created comedy scripts, produced projects at work, painted my house, and it goes on. So I thought I would share her message with a few more people that I love in Student Affairs, and I offered a workshop on “Creating Big Magic in Student Affairs” at our division-wide staff development day.
What is Big Magic? Think of a time when you created or finished something…and thought, “That is gooooooooood.” It may have been an assignment you completed in school or a picture you drew. Maybe it was something you built or a food you cooked. Another way to describe Big Magic is that while you were doing something you felt it flow easily from you. Gilbert describes it like being on a conveyer belt in an airport…you are being propelled. The time passes quickly. Or you are in the zone.
Big Magic is about tapping into our creativity. EVERYONE IS CREATIVE. Creativity is important because it’s the way we show our unique selves to the world. We need it to be our true and authentic selves. YOUR CREATIVITY DOES NOT HAVE TO BE REVOLUTIONARY OR SERVE A PURPOSE. According to Gilbert, there are no “creative” and “non-creative” people. There are just people who use their creativity and those who don’t.
Some people think creativity is self-indulgent. For some of us it was shut down when we were children. But, if we don’t express our creativity, it can result in resentment, grief and heartbreak. Brene Brown’s research shows 85% of people remembered an event in school that was so shaming that it changed how they thought about themselves for the rest of their lives, and 50% of those shaming events were around creativity, i.e. told they can’t sing, you’re a bad artist, your writing is terrible.
Here are the six principles I took away from Gilbert’s book:
In conclusion, these are the major themes of her book:
Try this activity to tap into your creativity:
Fold a piece of paper into four squares.
In the first square, answer the following questions: What do you love to create? What are you curious about? How do you express yourself? What kind of maker are you? What’s worth doing even if you fail?
In the second square, name any fears or barriers (or guilt) that may keep you from pursuing this interest. Acknowledge them. Thank them and invite them along for the ride but tell them they will not be driving.
In the third square, answer the following questions: What does curiosity want you to do? What would it say to you?
In the fourth square, name one small idea you have for creating what you want to create. Give yourself a deadline.
Diversity is a representation of racial and ethnic identity, age, cultural identity, religious and spiritual identity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, physical and mental ability, nationality, social and economic status, and political and ideological perspectives.* Diversity in higher education is important in order for our institutions to reflect our changing demographics, to increase access to higher education for greater numbers of students, and to prepare all students to contribute to a global society. However, the highest purpose of diversity in our institutions is related to our civic mission.
The civic mission of higher education speaks to the content in the curricular and co-curricular experience that challenges students to think about their role and responsibilities in society. Historically, education was seen as the key to creating the informed citizenry required for active democracy. Institutions were founded in part with a civic focus to cultivate future leaders to be civically engaged citizens. Presently, diversity, namely interactions among different groups, is essential to fostering the academic and social growth necessary to promote civic engagement.
Research supports that diversity creates the best possible learning conditions for all students – majority and minority students. Diversity creates conditions critical to identity construction and cognitive growth which are essential to achieving educational and civic outcomes. The success of our communities and country depends on citizens who can engage in civic innovation, address issues of public concern, and promote the quality of life in our communities through political and nonpolitical processes.
The link between diversity and learning outcomes is well-established. Research shows that students who experienced the most racial and ethnic diversity in classroom settings and in informal interactions with peers showed the greatest engagement in active thinking processes, growth in intellectual engagement and motivation, and growth in intellectual and academic skills. Research also supports that students educated in diverse classrooms learn to think in deeper and more complex ways, and are better prepared to become active participants in a pluralistic, democratic society (Gurin, Day, Hurtado, and Gurin, 2001).
Diversity improves the learning experience and contributes to the central goals of the university. However, students must have meaningful intergroup interactions. An increase in diversity may improve the probability that these interactions will occur, but this is not enough to create a significant difference in a student’s learning experience. In order to see significant benefits from diversity, there must be an increased quality and quantity of intergroup interactions.
College is a time and place for students to explore their identities as well as their relationship to the sociopolitical world. When students enter into diverse environments, they can either attempt to retreat to the familiar or seek new information. By seeking new information, they enter a state of disequilibrium – a temporary state where one must either develop a new schema or modify an existing schema. Developmental theorists explain that creating disequilibrium is key to promoting cognitive growth. Situations that create disequilibrium can include encounters with people who are unfamiliar to them or people who challenge them to act or think in new ways. Navigating these situations increases one’s sense of identity and their understanding of the social world.
As an educator, I have witnessed the cognitive changes that occur when students experience interactions with people who have had different life experiences and when students are confronted with the limitation of their point of view. In these interactions, they must do difficult cognitive and emotional work to understand how other people think and feel. These experiences encouraged critical thinking, helped students learn to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds, and prepared students to become good citizens in an increasingly complex, pluralistic society.
In 2006, I founded the Alternative Breaks program at Cal Poly, which has taken students to New Orleans, New York, Jamaica, and United Arab Emirates. I witnessed these students transformed by their experiences doing service in communities different from their own. The differences in culture, language, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and more, created opportunities for reflection and cognitive growth that changed these students in short periods.
Now, more than ever, universities must prepare students to contribute to society. Students need an understanding of diversity and social responsibility to be knowledgeable and ethical leaders. For these reasons and more, it is important to cultivate a campus community that represents and celebrates diversity. We need reflective spaces, intentional interactions, and formal and informal opportunities for students to engage in frequent, high-quality intergroup interactions.
* adapted from Standards of Professional Practice for Chief Diversity Officers.
Gurin, P., Dey, E., Hurtado, S., & Gurin, G. (2002) Diversity and Higher Education: Theory and Impact on Educational Outcomes, Harvard Educational Review, 72 (3), 330-366.
It’s tempting to feel disappointment when things don’t go our way. It could be work, a relationship, or financial, but when we experience bad luck or unfair treatment it can feel debilitating. However, our perception of these situations is largely shaped by our circumstances and expectations.
There are two great stories that demonstrate how a situation can be perceived as both good or bad.
This is a Jewish folktale.
A poor man lived with his wife and six children in a very small one-room house. They were always getting in each other’s way and there was so little space they could hardly breathe!
Finally the man could stand it no more. He talked to his wife and asked her what to do. “Go see the rabbi,” she told him, and after arguing a while, he went.
The rabbi greeted him and said, “I see something is troubling you. Whatever it is, you can tell me.”
And so the poor man told the rabbi how miserable things were at home with him, his wife, and the six children all eating and living and sleeping in one room. The poor man told the rabbi, “We’re even starting to yell and fight with each other. Life couldn’t be worse.”
The rabbi thought very deeply about the poor man’s problem. Then he said, “Do exactly as I tell you and things will get better. Do you promise?”
“I promise,” the poor man said.
The rabbi then asked the poor man a strange question. “Do you own any animals?”
“Yes,” he said. “I have one cow, one goat, and some chickens.”
“Good,” the rabbi said. “When you get home, take all the animals into your house to live with you.”
The poor man was astonished to hear this advice from the rabbi, but he had promised to do exactly what the rabbi said. So he went home and took all the farm animals into the tiny one-room house.
The next day the poor man ran back to see the rabbi. “What have you done to me, Rabbi?” he cried. “It’s awful. I did what you told me and the animals are all over the house! Rabbi, help me!”
The rabbi listened and said calmly, “Now go home and take the chickens back outside.”
The poor man did as the rabbi said, but hurried back again the next day. “The chickens are gone, but Rabbi, the goat!” he moaned. “The goat is smashing up all the furniture and eating everything in sight!”
Soon after, neighbors from the nearby village visited, offering their condolences and said, “What a shame. Now your only horse is gone. How unfortunate you are!. You must be very sad. How will you live, work the land, and prosper?” The farmer replied: “Who knows? We shall see”.
Two days later the old horse came back now rejuvenated after meandering in the mountainsides while eating the wild grasses. He came back with twelve new younger and healthy horses which followed the old horse into the corral.
Word got out in the village of the old farmer’s good fortune and it wasn’t long before people stopped by to congratulate the farmer on his good luck. “How fortunate you are!” they exclaimed. You must be very happy!” Again, the farmer softly said, “Who knows? We shall see.”
At daybreak on the next morning, the farmer’s only son set off to attempt to train the new wild horses, but the farmer’s son was thrown to the ground and broke his leg. One by one villagers arrived during the day to bemoan the farmer’s latest misfortune. “Oh, what a tragedy! Your son won’t be able to help you farm with a broken leg. You’ll have to do all the work yourself, How will you survive? You must be very sad”. they said. Calmly going about his usual business the farmer answered, “Who knows? We shall see”
Several days later a war broke out. The Emperor’s men arrived in the village demanding that young men come with them to be conscripted into the Emperor’s army. As it happened the farmer’s son was deemed unfit because of his broken leg. “What very good fortune you have!!” the villagers exclaimed as their own young sons were marched away. “You must be very happy.” “Who knows? We shall see!”, replied the old farmer as he headed off to work his field alone.
As time went on the broken leg healed but the son was left with a slight limp. Again the neighbors came to pay their condolences. “Oh what bad luck. Too bad for you”! But the old farmer simply replied; “Who knows? We shall see.”
As it turned out the other young village boys had died in the war and the old farmer and his son were the only able bodied men capable of working the village lands. The old farmer became wealthy and was very generous to the villagers. They said: “Oh how fortunate we are, you must be very happy”, to which the old farmer replied, “Who knows? We shall see!”
Last night, I read the story of The Farmer’s Luck with my daughter. I asked her to think of bad things that have happened which turned out to be good. It took her a while to think of something, but after a few minutes she was able to quickly think of several examples. When she split her chin open and got stitches, she learned how to stay calm and that stitches weren’t so scary. When she was stung by wasps, she felt she secured her status as a real cowgirl (don’t ask me what that means). When a boy at school made fun of her and her girlfriends, they stuck together and formed a cheerleading club. Often our bad luck can lead us to something better.
I can think of my own examples as well. When I was scheduled to return from my maternity leave and broke my foot, I suddenly had six more months to spend at home with my daughter. When I was furloughed due to state budget cuts, I was able to use the much needed time to work on my dissertation. When I was overwhelmed with a sexual assault investigation and then fell sick with pneumonia, I returned to work feeling grateful to have my health and be able to finish the investigation.
Growing up, my mom used to tell me, “Que sera, sera.” It was a way of saying “accept it.” There are things beyond our control (other people’s actions, budget cuts, the weather, the shape of our bodies), which can cause us frustration and anger. But, refusing to accept what is keeps us stuck in the past and prevents us from experiencing happiness in the present.
Often our interpretation of the situation is the cause of our pain and suffering. The problem we assign to the situation is the story we create – “I have lost all my independence because I’m injured,” “I will not be able to pay my bills,” “I can’t get all my work done.” These were the worries and fears which caused me disappointment, frustration, and anger. One way to eliminate suffering is to reframe the problem by asking if the story could possibly be the opposite. Is it possible that I could remain independent even though I’m injured? Is it possible that I could pay all my bills? Is it possible that I could get it all done? Often, the answer is yes!
Therefore, we can reduce our pain and experience more happiness by:
Yesterday I presented with my colleagues from the API Faculty & Staff Association on the topic “Why #BLM Matters to APIs.” The presentation was part of an annual conference called Change the Status Quo. The audience was predominantly API, and we shared the messages we heard growing up about activism. Common themes were, “Don’t get involved,” “Mind your own business,” “Stay safe,” “Don’t cause conflict,” “Do not argue with authorities,” “Do not embarrass or shame the family.”
Students shared the challenges they experience when talking to their families about social justice issues. Challenges include generational differences, language barriers, the model minority myth, and the messages mentioned above. The model minority myth has a significant impact because some APIs who have immigrated and successfully overcome barriers may feel that other immigrants should be able to do the same. This myth is largely based on the success of a small group of APIs and does not represent the diversity of the API population. The model minority myth also does not account for the different types of discrimination faced by various immigrant or underrepresented groups. There are historical factors that have impacted how various racial groups are perceived and the unique barriers faced by different groups.
Among my colleagues, there were differences in our own comfort levels and experiences with activism. Some of us hold leadership positions in highly visible organizations while others feel more comfortable supporting a cause from behind the scenes. Activism can take many forms. Whether we protest, share our views on lawn signs and bumper stickers, post on social media, boycott businesses that go against causes we believe in, or create foundations to benefit causes we support, we can all be involved in social change.
For me, activism is private and personal. While I have engaged in more visible forms of activism, including protests, I prefer to enact social change in other ways. Three forms of activism that I frequently engage in are donating, calling or writing, and volunteering.
Donating. In the past three months, I have increased my donations to local, national, and international causes, including my church, service organizations, and other causes I feel strongly about supporting. These are organizations that are doing work in the trenches and at the policy level. Money is not the answer to every problem. But without money, these organizations cannot secure resources, hire staff, offer services, and create the change we need locally and around the world.
Calling or Writing. Social media and technology make communication through writing easier than ever. Through social media we can blog, tweet, share or comment. I recently called my senator, and you can too. Find your senator’s contact information here: http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/. Find your representative’s contact information here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/.
Volunteering. Whether it’s serving food or serving on a board of directors, there is a role for everyone who has a desire to serve. I have done both, and both are important. The key is to find a cause you feel passionate about supporting, and to identify a volunteer role that utilizes your strengths and matches your ability to commit.
For APIs who are looking for ways to talk to friends and family about activism, and specifically Black Lives Matter, here is a great video: Dear Mom, Dad, Uncle, Auntie: Black Lives Matter to Us, Too
In my last post, I wrote about building confidence through big challenges. But we don’t always have big challenges in our lives, nor would we want to. Another way to build confidence is by creating smaller challenges that increase our competence – skills and knowledge.
Competence is one of five leadership qualities identified by Kouzes and Posner in the book The Leadership Challenge. In order to be viewed as credible, a leader must demonstrate they have the knowledge of what needs to be done and the ability to get the job done successfully.
Our confidence can sometimes be undermined by fear, uncertainty, and lack of familiarity. The first time I served as a hearing officer, I was nervous. I was afraid of losing control of the hearing. I didn’t know what to expect from either party. Even though I had been trained, I didn’t feel confident. Now that I have served as a hearing officer several times, I no longer feel anxious or nervous. I am familiar with the process and have confidence that I can execute my role without difficulty.
What area of your life do you feel least competent? public speaking? writing? time management? Research shows that if you successfully complete small challenges in these areas, you will build your confidence. Other ways to create small challenges include taking on new projects, building partnerships, and even finding a new hobby. Anything you practice, you will improve. And improving means you’re on your way to being more confident.