Thursday, March 27, 2014

Keep Snapping

Authentically Surviving a National Professional Conference

Beware. This is a massive post with a lot of feels.

*          *          *

My goal in attending the over 5,000-attendee national Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Educaiton (NASPA) conference in Baltimore, Maryland was to attend as an authentic student leader. My goal was not to get a job—like many of those attending for the Placement Exchange. My goal was not to gain a million Twitter followers. My goal was not to be anything I wasn’t. My goal was not to hide.

I wanted to be myself—that phrase we always tell our students to embrace.
And myself can be a bit much sometimes, and I recognize that.
Those who met me at NASPA quickly learned this.

So, I packed my bag—some flannel, some T-shirts, a vest, a cardigan, two dress shirts, a bow-tie, slacks, jeans and two pairs of shoes—I also packed food and some work out gear, but hardly had time for either.

And honestly, the dress shirts and bow-tie never saw the conference because I wasn’t feeling it. I brought them in case I felt the urge to have some fun with dress up time; yet, the time never came. I wanted to be comfortable throughout the conference experience and dressing up to fit in with the rest of the frame felt too forced to me. So I didn’t do it—

[Note: I’ll get to my reasoning later in a conclusion I originally wrote to be the intro to this piece, but felt it landed better as an ending. You can totally skip to it right now by going to the next section starting with a bold italic note and I wouldn’t even be offended or surprised. Sort of like a choose your own adventure! I write too much sometimes—this post being one of those times.]

Opening night of NASPA with Bethany and Jack!
(Picture stolen from Jack)
After the six-hour drive to Baltimore with my two cohort colleagues, Nadia and Ashrita, we found our hotel, unloaded our things—I took a quick nap—and then we made our way to the conference. Upon arrival, I sought out some Twitter folks, Bethany Tuller (@BethanyTuller) and Jack Korpob (@JackKorpob), because I knew they were there and I knew this conference was going to happen because of Twitter. It was great to finally meet them and discuss our lives as fellow #SAGrad.

This was the first national conference I’ve attended since what I’ve considered the mass influx of Twitter in Student Affairs over the past two years. So, to me, NASPA meant putting a lot of Twitter handles to faces! And that’s exactly what happened. I ran into so many incredible people that I’ve interacted with throughout the last two years or so and finally got to meet them face to face. It was truly inspiring to see how well Social Media functioned in making introductions easier for us at NASPA.

Josie and I posing with the #SAChat pillow!
We had #SAChat tweet ups, which were great to meet so many more folks that I’ve known virtually and could now know personally—mystical creatures like Lisa Endersby (@LMEndersby), Joe Sabado (@JoeSabado), James Frier (@JSFrier), Joe Ginese (@JoeGinese), Mairead KIernan (@Parade_withan_M), Amma Marfo (@AmmaMarfo), Matthew McGrath (@MMcGrath528) and the wonderful, Josie Ahlquist (@JosieAhlquist). Josie and I even got to offer folks the opportunity to take pictures with the #SAChat pillow! It was a wonderful opportunity to finally have human interactions with people who actually do exist and truly hold great insights and feelings toward this field. And the coolest part of the Twitter aspect of #NASPA14 is that we trended!! It was obvious once we started getting hackers…

Combatting those Twitter hackers/spammers by blocking and reporting spam became part of my role as I supported the Innovation Lab at NASPA for both Monday and Tuesday. The Innovation Lab was a great opportunity to teach and learn about how technology and social media play a massive role in our work at higher education and student affairs professionals. I helped people learn more about many aspects of social media and even signed a few folks up for their own very first Twitter accounts—including the chair of the NASPA conference, Frank Lamas (@LamasVPSA)!

Helping out at the Innovation Lab!
This opportunity allowed me to socialize and discuss with many student affairs folks and fellow #SAGrads about how we can integrate a more functioning and informed community through the advancements in technology and social media.

I was also able to represent the new NASPA Knowledge Community on Socioeconomic and Class Issues in Higher Education, which merely days old when NASPA began. So this was our first opportunity to reach out to institutions to share the vision we all have for bringing this KC into collaboration with all other KCs in hopes of truly demonstrating how many of the issues our students face are transferable through these issues of SES and class.

My attire on Day 02 of NASPA, when the tattoo article published.
Something unique about my stay at NASPA was that I contributed an article to the ACPA Men and Masculinities blog that published on the Monday of NASPA. The article focuses on tattoos in higher education. A day after the article published and was circulating around the interwebs, people were coming up to me at the conference to talk to me about the article and to talk about my tattoos—which were unhidden throughout the most of the conference. This was a great form of validation for my writing and for my pursuit to live and function as an authentic leader.

This was such a bizarre feeling because I came to NASPA with specific people that I wanted to make sure I either met for the first time, or got to connect with from my past. Getting to connect with my former mentors from Oregon State University, Mamta Accapadi (@MamtaAccapadi) and Larry Roper (@LarryRoper), was incredible—while both were in passing, they each imparted quick bits of knowledge upon me that made everything worth it.

Getting to meet up with Larry Roper (L) and
Chris Van Drimmelen (R) was much needed.
I also got to reconnect many times with my good friend, Chris Van Drimmelen (@CVanDrimmelen), who is finishing up his #SAGrad right now at Seattle University. He and I spent much time together during our undergrad at Oregon State and it was great to share ideas about higher education and reflect on how our lives have changed since running student government during our undergrad. We’re getting old.

Meeting up with the multi-talented jet-setting blogosphere champion, Eric Stoller (@EricStoller), was also quite the treat. Hearing him reflect on his perspectives of technology in higher education as well as how we must challenge the frame to make any true change in this field really resonated with me. He also spent much time at Oregon State, so it was great to discuss life in the Pacific Northwest with someone as perceptive as he—someone so perceptive that he pointed out the exclamation point at the end of my name on my nametag in the middle of his presentation session.

This exclamation point came up again during my opportunity to meet my future employers for the summer as I head back to the Baltimore area to work at Towson University. I met my future supervisors from Towson, one of which commented on my exclamation point—to which I said, “Well, I’m like a human exclamation point!” To which she responded, “That’s great—because you’ll be working with many human exclamation points!” It made me feel very comforted that I will have a welcoming community of professionals to work with for a few months.

Of course there were sessions that I attended! I learned a lot about how to challenge and approach best practices when supporting/creating an organization. I learned a lot about how to support college men through meaningful dialogue during a very lively discussion. I learned about how to support a campus that suffers from repeated sexual assault.

I attended Wes Moore’s opening keynote that started the conference off with a bang with his plea for us to engage our students in more than just their educational experience during college and to support them in extracurriculars. This sentiment also resonated with professional staff as Moore pontificated that, “when it’s time to leave here…make sure that it mattered that you were ever even here.”

Moore’s keynote was a breath of fresh air. And then I reached the closing ceremony and encountered Jon Lovett’s closing keynote speech. Lovett, President Obama’s formerspeech writer, is a hilarious man with a lot of knowledge. He spoke from a podium in a hoodie—I, too, was wearing a hoodie that day. In solidarity, of course. Lovett is a young man with a vision of authenticity that resonated with me unlike anything I’d ever heard. Among other brilliant words he spoke, Lovett called for a “renaissance of integrity” in which those of us in leadership/administrative roles can influence the pivotal college years of young people and inspire them to do great things by simply staying true to ourselves as role models.

Jon Lovett: Pretty chill role model if you ask me.
And I was tweeting and snapping my fingers along with Lovett every step of the way. For those unaware, snapping is generally done when agreeing with what someone is saying, to encourage them and hopefully motivate them to continue exploring the roll they're on. My fingers couldn't snap fast enough for Lovett's speech. It was a blast to be fueled with such invigoration for change in this field. I had to share my support on the Twittersphere. It felt great to feel validated yet again by this keynote that was supporting every claim I’ve made throughout my time in student leadership and into being a higher education paraprofessional.

And then Lovett said he had time for one question.
So I walked to the mic.

I thanked him for saying what we all needed to hear and said that I had only one question to ask.
It was a simple question—can I shake your hand?

And he said of course, and shook my hand in front of everyone.

I wanted to shake his hand because he was preaching exactly the words I wanted to preach. He was expressing every frustration I’ve ever felt and everyone in the room was listening to it. I wanted to shake his hand because for the lesson of authenticity he shared, I felt I had been living it throughout this conference. I wanted to shake his hand because it was incredible to see someone so well-respected—someone who essentially helped our president get elected—get such a great response to what I was living out.

During this massive Twitter explosion spurred by my tenacity for everything Jon Lovett had to say, the NASPA folks contacted me on Twitter and informed the public that I was to be acknowledge for my Twitter participation through the conference. When I strolled into their office, I was greeted with loud snaps and excited cheers and they informed me that I had won a Best Tweeter award for consistently engaging people throughout the conference on Twitter—especially for my contributions to the conversation around Lovett’s closing speech. They even put me in the closing blog post for the event!

I told the staff this felt like one of the oddest forms of validation in our field, but I’ll take it! Given the work I put in with the Innovation Lab and through engaging folks online, I felt it was a great token of support in moving forward with this career. Especially since I felt I was validated while functioning as my 100% authentic self. As I left, the group told me to "Keep Snapping," something that will always stick with me.

It meant everything to me.

Me on the final day posing with the NASPA
staff after winning Best Tweeter
[Note: This is where you could have/should have/would have jumped forward if you wanted to avoid all that self-indulgent talk of my NASPA explorations.]

Much of my decision to avoid professional attire was two-fold. Firstly, the decision came on the heels of having to finish a paper while attending the conference, so I had that lingering over me; so, for as much as I wanted to feel like a paraprofessional at this conference—I was certainly attending as a student.

Secondly, my word of the year for 2014 is Risk.

So I wanted to take a risk and take this tiny decision—seemingly simple to me—something vastly beyond what anyone else did for this conference, and try it out. It was wonderfully embraced by those I came into contact with. People were open to discuss the true functionality of how supporting authenticity can operate even within student affairs professionals and budding professionals like myself.

Because if student affairs professionals are to support authenticity in our students, we are hypocrites if we don’t live it out ourselves.

Dressing up during that conference, to me, would have felt like I was lying to myself. I am not a professional. Yet. Even when I become one, that doesn't mean I am going to give in to the suits every day! I am still very much a student functioning in a role that serves other students. Sure, I am graduate student, but I don't see how that slight disconnect changes anything for me. I want to be approachable for my students and I want them to be comfortable with me. Some attire choices may send the message that I am above them and I do not want that. And is that the message we should send our students?—some of which who literally cannot afford "interview clothes"/"business clothes." Therefore, I cannot present myself as someone above what I truly am—a student. With this, I chose the shirts, the jeans, the flannel—I chose comfort over conformity.

And this isn’t bashing professional attire whatsoever—if you are comfortable wearing suits and ties all day, by all means. Do it. Do you. I honestly feel I “clean up well” when I feel comfortable enough to rock some slacks and a bow-tie one day and flannel with a beanie the next day. I can do it. I just don’t choose to do so every day. And shouldn't feel forced to do so, either.

I think I clean up well. Check out the bowtie!
So please don’t expect conformity from those who would not operate authentically, for example, in a suit. The judgment of whether someone cares/respects about a specific job or conference or interaction based on how they dress does not make sense to me—and is also a function of class oppression. I paid my own money to attend this conference. I purposely drove six hours to this conference. I obviously care. I have dedicated myself to this field. I wouldn’t attend if I didn’t care. I wouldn’t keep myself up at night obsessing over how to support my students better if I didn’t respect this field. But I don’t need to do all of that while wearing a tie or a freshly pressed shirt.

Mandating or simply expecting "appropriate"/business attire isn’t a sign of ultimate respect. "Appropriate"/business attire is the sign of conformity that functions as the byproduct of privilege and oppression—the control of the ruling class to keep the oppressed class in check by expecting them to dress a certain way to function and be successful in society.

Believe me, I recognize this discussion enters a realm of white male privilege that functions MUCH differently for me than it does across race, class, and gender lines—because this is an essential facet to acknowledge. But that’s for a future post I plan to write using some of this material and actual scholarly work to support my outlandish/anarchist views.

Consider this a call to arms in which I truly feel there truly needs to be an insurgence in the way we consider professional attire/business attire/business casual. This rethinking will benefit of our students and their authenticity, it will benefit of ourselves and our own authenticity, and it will benefit our field—which already stands as a community filled with the most unique and inspiring people in the world.

I drove six-and-a-half hours south to Baltimore to hang out with a bunch of student affairs professionals and all I got was validation, incredible learning experiences, and an awesome hoodie. So, you know, all in all, it was a great trip.


[ACPA GUEST POST] Skin Deep: On Being a Tattooed Man in Higher Education

Hi all!

I know I was absent from posting on my own blog last week. This was due in part to attending the NASPA Conference in Baltimore over spring break, and due to me having a guest blog post on the ACPA (American College Personnel Association) Men and Masculinities Blog.

I wrote a post titled, "Skin Deep: On Being a Tattooed Man in Higher Education."
And it kinda took off, so that was cool.

In fact, I will post the link to their page here:

Make sure to also follow them on Twitter:

And to tease your intrigue, here are a few of my favorite quotes from the piece itself.

"Further, living in a society that already suppresses male emotions, tattoos can be an essential form of personal authenticity and expression. However, the long discourse has been that, in order to move up in the world, men must cover themselves in business attire to be taken seriously among other administrative men. This is unacceptable because forcing men—across race, class, and sexual orientation; including women—to dress a certain way to be accepted perpetuates systematic oppression of authenticity."

"Tattoos are therapy—representative of our past, our present, and future—and allow men to create tributes to our mothers, fathers, wives, children, struggles and/or successes in life, appreciation of music, art, and literature. If society and/or academia suppress men from expressing their emotions by literally wearing their heart on their sleeve, then where can men express ourselves fully authentically?"

"There is always a story.

Students engage in this story. Students are curious to learn the significance of each of my pieces. Students often ask how many tattoos I have—I truly have no idea anymore—so I respond with my hour/sit ratio. (Note: I’ve sat 20 times for 55 hours.) With these tattoos, I make connections with students. I am human to them. I am authentic to them because I am not hiding."

"I unapologetically identify with tattoo culture and I am proud to be a future student affairs professional. My only hope is that this will begin the conversation for institutions and supervisors to rethink how we think and view men with tattoos in higher education. There is already a great deal of change taking place in higher education and I see more acceptance of tattoos—which is great—but I will not feel tattoos are truly accepted until the day I no longer have to hear someone explain that they must strategically place a tattoo so it doesn't show at their work.

Get tattooed. Share your story."


And prepare for my next post on my NASPA experience!


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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

This Band is so Gay!

A Lesson in Homophobia and Performative Masculinity in the Metal Music Scene

[TRIGGER WARNING: Homophobic language.]

I had to sign a waiver before I entered the venue.
That’s how I could tell this was going to be a great metal show.

Amid the musk of body odor and PBR, through the swaying bodies of beard, flannel, gauges, and tattooed fists, I found my way to the pole in the middle of the floor—there’s always a pole.  It supports me through most metal shows, which often take their toll on my body after a few bands.

I was nodding along to the opening act, giving them some credit for playing what appeared to be a hard to please Clifton Park, NY crowd. And boy was I right.

Between the Buried and Me was the headlining act.
I love those guys. They prove vegans can kick ass.
The crowd was overwhelmingly a BTBAM crowd. It seemed there was little room to be impressed.

Which brings me to right before BTBAM when deafheaven performed, which is the band I truly came to see, seeing as I'd been to a number of BTBAM shows in the past. Deafheaven released what I considered the most important metal album last year, Sunbather, on what I consider to be the most important record label today, Deathwish Records. The band combines beautiful atmospheric elements of Explosions in the Sky with the power and shear brutality of black metal.

However, their sound hasn’t been completely accepted among metal purists because it is too atmospheric and uplifting at times while the lyrics are screamed completely incoherently to the untrained ear.

I was in love with their opening number, “Dream House,” the first track on the aforementioned, Sunbather. The track has so many elements of dynamic emotion and raw, heinous, unbridled metal. After the euphoria of the nine-minute epic, I was given a chance to breathe.

That’s when I heard it.

George Clarke of deafheaven consistently brings a dynamic performance.
“This band is so gay!”

The man who said it resembled a young Rutherford B. Hayes—with one full sleeve of tattoos, a Bud Light, and an unkempt beard. I turned my head immediately and responded, “Not cool, bro.” He smirked at me and said some other unsavory words. The next song, my favorite song, started, so I turned my attention back to the stage.

Ten minutes passed as I enjoyed the next song—however, I couldn’t enjoy it because of what that man said about deafheaven. I wasn’t okay with it.

I’ve heard disparaging statements like this many times at many shows. I often let it slide because it’s whatever. I know that music doesn’t have a sexual orientation. I know that people say things like this out of ignorance. But I couldn’t let this one slide.

When their set ended, I turned to the dude and asked him to explain why he said what he said. He didn’t give me a straight answer. Well, he did and he didn’t.

“They aren’t even metal—it’s hipster bullshit. They don't belong here.” he told me. I turned my head, confusingly, “and what does that even have to do with sexual orientation?”

“Don’t be so sensitive, dude,” he told me.

Sensitive? Obviously this dude didn’t know me or my history of allyship.

He said, "they don't belong here" and all that flashed in front of my face was the discrimination of the Civil Rights movement, the women's suffrage movement, and even today in places like Arizona and Kansas, where homosexuals have recently had legislature proposed to ban them from certain services. Situations like this are moments for learning and for growth. So that's what I wanted to do.

I kindly and coolly explained to him and his snickering friends the reality of his words, the reality of the persecution those, like me, in the LGBTQ+ community face every day because of people tactlessly throwing around abusive language like that. 

I obviously didn't want to cause a scene--the man was bigger than me--yet, I simply wanted to make a point that men shouldn't be afraid to call out other men when we hear offensive and abusive language that disenfranchises other men.

He sipped his beer, obviously annoyed to have been called out.

Album cover for deafheaven's album, Sunbather, released June 11, 2013.
“Well, they have this faggot-ass pink album cover,” he told me after a long drag on his Bud Light.
“Oh, and pink isn’t metal?” I respond.
“No. It’s fucking gay.” He said.

Classic gender roles on display right there. Pink isn’t masculine. Are we still at that point in history? Boys are blue and girls are pink? I’m tired of that form of gender role association.

Yes, deafheaven’s new album, Sunbather, has an all-pink cover. And no, it is in no way homosexual. In fact, I praise the high level of irony and beauty the cover brings to the metal scene. I have a sticker of the album cover on my water bottle. I see the album cover every day. Also, the vinyl release for this record is also all pink! It’s quite wonderful to hear such rawness emanating from a pink vinyl record.

The fact that deafheaven is willing to present themselves with such allure, such care for their sound and release their tunes behind a gender role-shattering album cover makes me so proud to be their fan. Sure, that probably wasn’t their point and they may never read this, but I felt the need to stand up to the man who made such a bigoted comment in regard to something he doesn’t understand.

Japan's Baby Metal is an example of brilliant intersectional
metal the crosses gender and musical stereotypes.
Dudes often use offensive and derogative language when confronted with anything they don’t understand. That is in no way excusable. Men who talk and act like this at shows give metal a bad name, give men a bad name, and make me ashamed to identify in either category. I’m tired of this gross lack of respect for art and sexual identity.

“I’d rather be water-boarded than listen to this band again.”

After the show, my friend told me he had heard another person in the crowd say that in reference to deafheaven as the flamboyant vocalist, George Clarke, kissed the crowd goodnight and walked offstage.

I was shocked beyond compare—almost more than the homophobic slur because this was purely an instance where absurd hyperbole is at play, and ignorant stupidity is at fault. While the metal scene is largely based around hyperbolic epic lyrics and language, so too is its fan’s reactions to acts they do not like.

Music is an artform of sound, harmony, beats that fall into varying genres, subgenres and postgenres—of which some styles don’t appeal to everyone. And that’s fine. Yet, what this deeper demonstrates is the power and gross misuse of language.

What it all comes down to is that whatever band it is, the band really doesn’t matter—this applies to any band in any genre at any show, anywhere. What matters is that we, as concertgoers, act as active bystanders when we hear potential harmful language, see harmful actions, and speak up!

I call for all concertgoers to intervene in any of these situations—like I did—stand up for the voiceless, be willing to confront ignorance and disrespect. Because if you won’t, who will?

I’m not sure this will resonate with all readers; yet, this is something that reaches far beyond music—it happens everywhere. That doesn’t mean we must tolerate this sort of behavior.

Speak up in the face of disrespect.

Lemme know your thoughts!

Be well, all.

- Craig.

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