Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Residence Life staff DOES make a difference.......

Last Saturday was just too nice a day to stay inside so even though it has snowed the day before I decided to go kayaking Saturday afternoon after being on campus grading papers. Indian Brook continues to be a great place to relax, exercise and enjoy the benefit of living in Vermont.Last night I presented two workshops on campus. The first one was in Lyons Hall for a group of first year men whose RA, Nick Hogan had invited me to join his "faculty visitor" program with Dr. Herb Kessel (Economics) and Mark Litchfield (Director of Special Events) for their floor meeting. The topic last night (just one of a series of meetings we provide for all first-year students) was on personal safety and they asked me to speak about sexual assault and not only how to keep yourself safe, but also to better understand the laws of the State of Vermont so you don't "harm" anyone else. It was a good group and I hope that they learned something. Siobhan Lavery from the E-Board of the Student Association also spoke to the group about this coming weekend's Halloween Dance - always one of the most popular activities of the year, she just wanted to send a message about personal and public safety - collaboration between students, faculty and staff is a hallmark of our out-of-class educational programs.

The second workshop was for all of the members of our Residence Life staff - there were 60 RA's (residence assistants) who are students but who also serve as mentors, advisors, friends, educators for all of the students living on campus. The Resident Directors, Assistant Directors and Lou DiMasi, Director of Residence Life all gathered for this workshop in Cashman Hall, one of our residence halls. The topic was creating a safe environment for ALL students {specifically LGBTQ} and after the recent rash of suicides across the nation connected to bullying, we wanted to educate all of our RA's, RD's, and AD's on how THEY can make a difference in continuing to make St. Mike's an accepting and safe space. These young men and women were selected through a vigorous process and have been receiving training ever since as they are the "eyes and ears" for the rest of us - they ARE our students and they LIVE with our students so are in the ideal position to provide that "safety net" that we hope all colleges and universities provide their students. I began the workshop by thanking all of them and letting them know that, in spite of how busy everyone is these days and in spite of how much we seem to "take them for granted" - they ARE very much appreciated. They were an attentive group and when I gave them an exercise to do (put themselves in the shoes of someone else) they eagerly responded, despite the Monday night at 8:00 time slot.

So, thanks to Nick, Mark (Litchfield) and Lou for the invitations to speak to both groups and to all of the participants in the workshops - we pride ourselves on the education we give our students IN the classroom and I think that the education we give them outside of the classroom is also extremely valuable -

Pre-registration for second semester ends today and while I have met with all but two of my advisees there is still time until this afternoon for those two to meet with me. Registration begins tomorrow and that also means that we are more than half way through this first semester - it just doesn't seem possible. Classes are fantastic and I have enjoyed each one of them so far this semester - my students are GREAT. I head to Indianapolis, Indiana on Friday for an NCAA - FAR (faculty athletics representative) leadership institute - I will be meeting with FAR's from across the country and look forward to sharing what we do at St. Mike's with my NCAA colleagues. I spoke at our Faculty Assembly last Friday and shared some of the great things that OUR athletic department is doing - from our current overall student-athlete grade point average of 3.045 to the new initiative of providing a first-year student-athlete Orientation Program for our new students, our Athletic Department continues to be committed to helping all of our student-athletes balance their academics with their athletics.

Take care, be well and PLEASE be good to each other and remember all of the members of our military, both active duty and veterans AND their families in your thoughts and prayers.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Our alums continue to give back..............

Dr. Joseph Benamati graduated from St. Mike's many years ago and his daughter Mikel graduated from here in 2002. Joe currently serves as a member of the faculty at the Sanctuary Institute for the Andrus Children's Center in Yonkers, NY. Mikel is a clinical psychologist at her old high school in Saratoga, NY. Joe had offered to come to the College to speak with our students about issues of TRAUMA which is something we are only now coming to better understand IS an issue with so many more people than we have ever realized. I suspect that the current issue of PTSD in our military may be pushing this new surge in interest in the role that trauma plays in everyone's life. I took my Practicum class and Sue Kuntz took her Educational Psychology class over to the Pomerleau Alumni Center on Monday for a 2.5 hour presentation by Joe. Joe's presentation was excellent and the students asked some great questions - Joe didn't have time to answer all of their questions so he took them (they had written out their questions) with him and he will respond via email to me and I will get his answers to both classes. It was nice to see one of our alumni giving back to the College and I warned Joe that this will mean that we will ask him back again and again and he was fine with that. VP for Institutional Advancement Patrick Gallivan, Director of Alumni and Parent Relations Angie Armour and Assistant Director Allison Sherman joined us for a few minutes at the beginning of the presentation and expressed the College's appreciation to Joe for his visit.

On Saturday I was on campus grading papers and constructing my first Theories of Counseling exam - I am giving the exam on Thursday and I always try to get it constructed early enough that I can also prepare a review sheet for my students which I then post on eCollege. I don't see any reason to "surprise" them with questions - I tell them what they have to know and then ask questions geared towards that information - a simple formula which seems to work. I have a reputation for giving very difficult exams but students also always say that they are very fair and they appreciate that. On my way to the office Saturday I stopped off in the lobby of St. Ed's and visited with several of our alums who were on campus for the Career Symposium. Pat Lynch ('95), Kate Whitman ('99), Steve O'Neil ('09), David Hiltz ('10) Matt Haydun (?) and a couple other alums were all gracious enough to return to campus to provide support, information and networking for our current juniors and seniors. Given the state of our economy these days and how difficult it is for new graduates to find employment, this was an excellent opportunity for our students to gain valuable help and assistance. The Office of Career Services, the Office of the VP for Academic Affairs and the Office of Alumni and Parent Relations did a great job coordinating this event. It was dedicated to the memory of Joe Maher who was on the Alumni Board of Directors until his death this summer after a brief battle with cancer. Joe's son Joe and his daughter Anne (both graduated from SMC) and his wife, Judge Rosemary Minnehan (Rosemary came to campus to speak to our Psychology Club) were the loves of his life and his dedication to St. Mike's was amazing. This career symposium is something Joe would have been very proud of........
Tonight (Tuesday) we are holding a candlelight vigil in the chapel - this vigil is to heighten awareness of the issues confronting so many young people in our society. A joint effort by Edmundite Campus Ministry and Common Ground, this vigil is in memory of the young people across this country who have taken their own lives over the past few weeks - they were bullied and felt that they had no other options - we want to make sure that OUR students know - KNOW that they have a supportive, loving and caring community here and that "it gets better" even when/if there is pain in the moment. I am very proud of our community for coming together for dialogue, support and education around issues of loving acceptance, respect for ALL persons and a SAFER place for all. I am going to South Burlington High School tomorrow to speak with all of their seniors on the issue of bullying. I have been asked to do this by Andrew Samara ('08) who currently teaches there. Addressing bullying and expecting our schools to take these issues seriously and to confront racist, homo-ignorant, sexist and ethnocentrist language/behavior IS a priority and we all have to do something to create SAFER environments for our students - everywhere.

Take care, be well and as always, please keep the members of our military and their families in your thoughts and prayers.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

a guest speaker and the New England Psychological Association is at SMC

A shot taken from my kayak this morning at Indian Brook Reservoir about 5 miles from SMC.

This past Monday afternoon my friend, former student and colleague Kim Quinn-Smith ('88) visited my Practicum class. Kim graduated from SMC with a degree in biology and stayed for an additional year to pick up her Psychology credits. She married Tom Smith ('89) and they have five children. After receiving her Master's degree from Boston College she began her therapy work in Washington, DC working with chronically mentally ill homeless people - she then moved with her family to New York and practiced there for a while before she and Tommy returned to Vermont where she was a wife, mother, counselor and then author (three books, three DVD's, two CD's) and now is a consultant and soon to be college professor. Kim came to my Practicum class last year and was such a hit that I asked her back for another visit. She basically talked with the students about how anyone can "reinvent" themselves and that initial career paths can and often do change. Kim is a gifted therapist and author and a very humorous presenter. My students, once again, loved her honesty, the hope that she presents that one CAN reinvent themselves and the stories she told of her experiences and how she got from being a bio major at SMC to doing all of the things she does today. She is truly a great role model.

This morning I was on campus (students left yesterday for their first LONG weekend of the semester as we have no classes Monday and Tuesday so lots of them went home) working in my office and I was able to attend one of the many presentations which were part of the NEPA (New England Psychological Association)'s 50th Annual Meeting. Dr. David Boynton of our Psychology Department and a wonderful colleague and friend was the Chair of the conference which brought over 250 participants from all over New England to our campus for a series of meetings, workshops, presentation and posters. It was great that so many of our students did stay in town just for this and they volunteered to assist Dr. B in making sure that everything went along smoothly. Dr. Ron Miller, also from our department here at SMC did his presentation this morning and I heard that this was excellent, as usual. Dr. B commented that many of the participants had commented to him that OUR students were "freakishly friendly" which both David and I found hilarious as WE are just so used to OUR students being friendly that we found it quite interesting that others found that friendliness unusual - I am glad that I am on this campus and not somewhere else.......

A beautiful day so before heading to campus and the NEPA workshop I managed to head out for some early morning kayaking - foliage isn't peak here yet but it still was pretty nice out there.

Take care, be well, and as always, please keep all of the members of our military in your thoughts and prayers.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

difficult times....

The end of this past week has been difficult for every college and university in this country as we all became aware of the deaths of two young men (Tyler Clementi at Rutgers and Raymond Chase at Johnson and Wales) who at the ages of 18 and 19 decided to take their own lives - suicide is always tragic, no matter what the circumstances. To lose two college students (and three other teenagers within the past two weeks) partly due to their being gay and being harasses/bullied is simply unacceptable and so disturbing to all of us. As the news of Tyler's death became known, I was contacted by our local NECN news reporter Anya Huneke who came to campus and interviewed me on my perspective on all of this. I was able to get her into contact with the President of our campus support group named Common Ground and Michael agreed to also be interviewed by her. I didn't see the coverage locally but it didn't take long before I was hearing from friends and former students in Boston and some areas of CT who had seen it on television. You can check the circumstances out online yourselves, but basically Tyler's roommate and his girlfriend posted a live video feed from their room (where Tyler thought he had privacy) out on the internet for everyone to see and what they saw was Tyler kissing another male student. Not long after that, and after some chat room dialogue on the internet, Tyler made the decision to end his own life, thus taking a young man with great promise and someone who was a gifted violinist, someone's son, perhaps brother and certainly friend away from us forever. That news was devastating to LGBTQ students all over the country. This is 2010 and bullying/harassment continues for young people who are "still trying to figure out who we are" as Michael so accurately put it in his part of the tv interview. I met the Dean of Students from Rutgers at the NCAA National Convention this past January - he is a good man - someone who must be personally and professionally devastated by the behaviors of some of his students which contributed to the death of another student. The SAD REALITY is that we (college/university professors, administrators, staff, etc. can do all the right things - we can provide our students with workshops dealing with diversity issues - we can provide support and resources for our students and yet the REALITY is that in spite of all of OUR good intentions, students still have free will and the right to make their own decisions. Hopefully a bad decision may only result in a missed class or a failed exam or a horrific hangover BUT sometimes the consequences can turn tragic even when the intention was never there to "hurt" someone else. Parents have to deal with the same reality - they can say and do all the right things but then their "kids" go off and do or say something "stupid" and that leaves parents shaking their heads, wondering "where did we go wrong?" Again, our young people have the right and freedom to make their own decisions.

OUR RESPONSIBILITY is to make sure that OUR rhetoric is NOT racist, nor homo-ignorant, nor sexist nor ethnocentric and it is OUR RESPONSIBILITY to not tolerate such rhetoric around us AND our sons and daughters. WE do have a responsibility to challenge hurtful rhetoric and/or behaviors when we encounter them in our own lives - that way WE set a tone and WE become the positive role models that gives OUR sons and daughters the courage to confront racist, homo-ignorant, sexist and ethnocentric language/behavior when they see it. I have been challenging all of my students, friends and colleagues over this issue for a long time - it is something that while not easy, is EASIER for me to do and I recognize that it is not always easy for young people to confront their peers, their family members or even, themselves. However, the tragic results of the past few weeks, with two college students dead and three other even younger kids (13, 15 and 15) dead at their own hands because they were bullied/harassed because of something that they have no choice over (sexual orientation is NOT a choice) demand that all of us become part of the solution for otherwise we are the problem..........

Please take care and help us to make our campuses SAFER by confronting bigotry and prejudices. Also, please keep all of the members of our military and their families in your thoughts and prayers. This morning there was a funeral held for a 20 year old Vermonter who was killed last week in Afghanistan - no parent should have to lose a child.................