June Newsletter: Humor
- President's Post
- JASPA Innovation Grant Recipients
- 2020 Summer Institute: Social Media Takeover
- Network News
- June Blog: Tim Love, Loyola University Chicago
As we begin the summer season, it’s time to reflect on the role of humor once again – in our work and in our lives. For those of you who remember last June, I am not going to torment you with bad one-liners again. I’m showing off a couple of my buttons instead.
For many years, I have given a speech to students with some advice for prospering as leaders and learners – using my collection of buttons. While some of those buttons are “serious” and have profound messages, a few others are humorous and light-hearted. My speech usually involves the audience, as I ask students to come forward and help show each button around to those gathered.
Two of my buttons tend to bring out some laughter, and I think both of them have something to teach us about our perspectives and our work in Jesuit higher education.
First, from the 1990s, I have a button showing a young man hunched over a sheet of paper, with his left hand contorted and holding a pen. It reads “Hire the left-handed – it’s fun to watch them write”. As a leftie myself, this message struck me in a powerful way. First, there is a certain kind of gymnastics involved (especially with spiral-bound notebooks) in writing with my left hand. Second, there is a clear reminder that we need to be able to laugh at ourselves – at our weaknesses and foibles and missteps – if we hope to stay healthy.
Second, from the 1980s, I have a simple black and white button which reads “I am not wearing a button”. This message has always reminded me about youth and rebellion (and Erik Erikson’s adolescent psychology), and reassured me that much of the resistance and “attitude” I encounter in my work is not about me as a person or a professional. It is often about the developmental stage and perspective of the young person I’m conversing with. While it’s true that folks over the age or 40 (or 60 or 80) can be resistant and adversarial as well, these traits are most visible in students and young adults. If each of us as professionals can begin our workdays with the realization that we’ll encounter some of these attitudes, it might help us to keep that resistance in perspective. We are helping our students grow, and they are helping us to stay fresh and thoughtful (or just testing our patience!). So, maybe the adversarial button is not only OK but actually beneficial in our work.
While it may be a stretch, I see my button presentation as distinctly Ignatian, because the buttons and their messages call on us to use our imagination and to reflect in new ways. I know each of you has your own buttons, or posters, or memes – small phrases that remind you of your values and your challenges and your gifts. My hope is that your buttons, whatever form they take, can guide you in finding humor (and meaning) in your busy days.
With gratitude (and humor),
Todd Olson, Phd
JASPA Innovation Grants
The Innovation Grants committee was incredibly impressed with all of the grant applications we received. Committee members carefully reviewed and evaluated each submission based on criteria that were articulated in the application. We submitted recommendations, which were then approved by the JASPA Executive Board. The committee is pleased to announce the 3 recipients of Innovation Grants:
- Paige Gardner (Loyola University Chicago), Research Study and Retreat for Women of Color Student Affairs Administrators
- Ophelie Rowe-Allen (Fairfield University), Radical Hospitality: Critical Conversations on Diversity and Inclusive Excellence in Jesuit Catholic Higher Education)
- Ashley Williams, Joe Saucedo, & Betsi Burns (Loyola University Chicago), Sophomore Cura Experience Program
Congratulations to the recipients, and thanks to all applicants and committee members.
JASPA 2020 Programming Committee: Social Media Takeover!
The countdown to the JASPA 2020 Summer Institute at Loyola University Chicago is on! The Programming Committee is headed to Chicago July 9-12 to meet with our amazing Host Committee and get to work! Be sure to follow along on JASPA social media accounts as we explore the campus and begin to iron out details for what will undoubtedly be a critically engaging and developmental week. Stay tuned for further details!
June Blog: Embracing Absurdity in Higher Education
You know the scenario: there you are, moseying through another day, maybe sitting in a meeting or perusing your email, when it smacks you in the face out of nowhere:
…the incident report you never could have imagined in your wildest dreams (“He was found sleeping inside the toilet itself?”);
…the off-hand directive from a well-meaning supervisor (“By the way, beginning next week, we can only wear khakis every other Thursday”); or
…the recent court decision or proposed government regulation (“We’ve got the solution, and it is cross-examinations for EVERYONE!”).
“Wait a second,” you think to yourself (or perhaps blurt out loud before you can help it), “that is simply… [insert colorful expletive of choice] RIDICULOUS!!!”
How can it possibly be that they [the media, your boss, our government, my uncle Bob] have it so wrong!? Did I hear that right? Is there something I’m not seeing? Are they high? HAS EVERYONE LOST THEIR MIND?????”
The answers, of course, are: yes, maybe, probably not, and absolutely – respectively – but the fact remains that regardless of the source or cause, you have just been confronted with an instance of higher education absurdity.
If absurdity as defined by the all-knowing internet is “the quality or state of being ridiculous or wildly unreasonable”, then it would follow that higher education absurdity is “the utter ridiculousness and wild unreasonableness that abounds in higher education.”
The reality we must accept is that despite all the lofty ideals of academe – the pursuit of truth and justice, transformative holistic development, bringing light to darkness – there are a whole lot of decisions, dynamics, situations, and tensions in the world of higher education that are simply, utterly farcical.
But then again, isn’t our whole enterprise kind of absurd when we think about it?
For starters, we take thousands of 18-year-olds out of their homes and communities every August, move them all into giant holding facilities called residence halls (never dormitories!), and expect them to bond immediately, navigate conflict successfully, and abstain from bad decision-making, all while diligently focusing on their academic pursuits.
We constantly articulate values of inclusion and diversity, but more often than not we lack the resources or energy to push ourselves beyond our own instinctual, expedient responses – which usually means we address projects or challenges with the solutions or responses that we would want for ourselves, not even asking the folks who would be most impacted by our decisions.
We relentlessly set ourselves to the work of changing the world for the better through education, yet hold fast at times to outdated or antiquated assumptions about what education should/must look and feel like, or how it should be delivered.
Whether they are external or of our own making, however, it is clear that at their worst the absurdities of higher education have the potential to defeat our spirits, undermine our sanity, and get us so worked up that our entire purpose seems hopeless or futile.
But we can flip the script. We can expect absurdity – even embrace it at times.
After all, it makes sense that the public or our students may misunderstand our intentions given the steady stream of misinformation and algorithm-curated “news” that floods their inboxes daily. Maybe we should seize the moment to listen and build rapport with our students so we can more precisely identify and defuse the tension.
It is understandable that our bosses may fall out of touch with the experience of being ‘on the ground’, as their attentions have turned to ensuring the institutional ship stays afloat financially, relationally, and politically. Why not help them see what we see, through holding up student experiences that illustrate the challenges more vividly?
On our best days, we may even accept that misguided changes in federal regulations or screwball court decisions can challenge us to critically reflect on our practices and innovate more boldly to improve them. So let’s stay humble and get to work on a new, even better, solution.
Once we stop being shocked and outraged by absurdity and instead embrace it as part of the natural untamed wilderness of evolving higher education practice, politics, law, and policy, perhaps we can overcome the paralyzing impact absurdity can have – at least enough to remember that in the end, each zany problem or misperception we must confront is an opportunity for learning (sometimes others’, sometimes our own).
And after all, isn’t that learning why we got into this business in the first place – absurd as that may be?
By Tim Love
Tim Love, J.D., is Executive Director & Title IX Coordinator at Loyola University Chicago. When not dealing all the “yucky stuff” that no one else wants to do on his campus, Tim enjoys playing in the dirt with his kids, reflecting on the meaning of life, writing silly newsletter articles, and remembering not to take life too seriously.