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.