What I Didn’t Expect to Learn in My First Weeks as a Resident Director

It’s been too long since my last post and even though tons of stuff has happened over the past few weeks, I’ve struggled to pinpoint a new topic to write about. I began working as a Resident Director (RD) in the middle of last month and just finished up my first week training RAs. I’ve learned an incredible amount – both things I expected and things I did not – since starting this new job.

Below are some of the lessons and realizations I encountered unexpectedly these first few weeks.

1. Being older doesn’t necessarily make transition easier.
My transition from high school to college was rough. Even with the rowing team as a source of instant friendship, it took until my second semester of freshman year before I felt 100% comfortable. Going into this new chapter of my life in Indianapolis, I thought the transition would be easier; I was used to living away from home and had already started to familiarize myself with the area and with the people here. However, about three days after moving in, I became shockingly homesick.

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Morning in Oxford, Ohio

I didn’t long for my childhood house in the same way that I did at the start of undergrad; instead I desperately wanted to be back in Oxford, which had become synonymous with “home” over the previous four years. At first, I felt embarrassed for being homesick at 22, but I’ve come to reason that there are huge changes happening and I have every right to miss what I left behind.

2. Human connection is critical.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have Nora, my friend and former roommate from Miami, living in the area. I can’t fathom moving to a place without knowing anyone and it’s been great to spend time with someone with whom I already have an established friendship. I was also lucky that my first and second weeks brought visits from my friends, Ingrid and Katie, who provided some familiarity amidst the change.

Still, it’s been tough not having a large group of friends…..or even people who I can spend a couple hours with for coffee…around. I know I’ll find my people once classes begin later this month, but in the meantime, I’m dealing with a severe hug shortage.

3. Support systems are vital.
This relates closely to the previous point on human connection, but is worth its own subheading because it entails a step further than simply connecting. Know who you can rely on to be there for you when you need it most. Include people you work with (it’s nice to be able to talk to someone without having to re-explain your job), but branch beyond that. Friends from work can be great, but sometimes it’s nice to have outside perspectives.

I’m beyond thankful for the support I’ve received from college friends, mentors, student affairs professionals, former supervisors/professors/colleagues, people I met during grad school interviews, and family as I work to orient myself, find connection, and understand my new role.

4. Mistakes are not tattoos.
The mindset that mistakes are permanent marks against us is something I’ve struggled with for a very long time. I rarely believe another person’s mistakes tarnish them permanently, but I often tell myself that my mistakes are there to stay. I once explained this to my therapist, saying I imagined my mistakes and wrongdoings like little black tally marks that appeared on my skin and could not be removed.

But mistakes are not black marks on the skin; they’re not the first things people see when they look at one another. And they’re not permanent. I’ve made hella mistakes during my first three weeks here and there are many more to come, but I’m blown away by the power of forgiveness. People are okay with (and actually prefer) me being a human. The biggest slip-up I had was trying to be anything but.

5. It’s okay to say what’s on your mind.
This is another big one for me because I was raised in a family that doesn’t spend much time talking about feelings. The correct answer to “How are you?” is almost always “Good” or some variation thereof. It’s taken a lot of conscious thought to get into a headspace where I share exactly what I’m thinking and feeling with colleagues and other supportive people who are genuinely interested in knowing those things, but I’m getting better at it.

6. God is there and He listens.
This is not unsolicited religious advice; it’s simply relevant to my journey and my experience. Some parts of these past few weeks have been amazing and some parts have been rocky, but God has been there through all of it. He has provided love, guidance, and patience beyond measure. He’s been with me at my loneliest and has forgiven me when I’ve messed up. Despite all of the changes happening within me and around me, God remains constant.

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Will I Come Out to My RAs?

I’m going to begin working as a Resident Director (RD) at a Catholic university in Indiana this summer; my start date is 15 days from now. As I prepare for the move and for the many weeks of training and adjustment to follow, I keep wondering if – and how – I’ll tell my RAs about my queer/trans identities.

Some RAs have already asked about my pronouns and have speculated that I might be queer, but I haven’t confirmed those suspicions. I don’t know if I want to.

At the start of my grad school journey, I decided to enter the next two years as my authentic self. That meant wearing neckties to interviews, asking that interviewers use they/them pronouns, and explaining how my identities influenced my background and my desire to go into student affairs.

My co-grads and other students in the program know I’m queer, but sharing that information among colleagues is different from disclosing to my supervisees. Telling my RAs comes with the risk of compromising our staff dynamic and respect for me as a supervisor. These same risks exist with regards to classmates and co-workers, but maturity and professionalism are expected among us at a caliber that some RAs may not be able to achieve, simply because of where they stand in their development as humans.

However, I also know how important it could be to RAs – and other students – to know of an openly queer staff member on campus. Much of my identity development stemmed from conversations I had as an RA with one of my supervisors, who was also queer. Aside from teaching me about queer culture, encouraging me to think about intersectionality, and helping me explore my own experiences and identities, this supervisor provided one of the first opportunities I had to interact with another queer person in a professional setting. Most importantly, I knew they had my back.

I so badly want to be all of the things that my supervisor was for my own students, but I need to be careful in this new environment, among new people. At the moment, I really don’t know much about what the university climate is like for queer students and employees – that’s something I’ll have to experience for myself – but I plan on approaching it in the same way I do most new situations: cautiously.

While I don’t plan to tell my RAs upfront that I’m gay and non-binary, I won’t compromise living my truth among them. I’ll continue to sport menswear on the daily and I have my “I’m An Ally!” button and my miniature rainbow flag packed and ready to display in my office. That way, when somebody needs to talk, I’ll be ready for that conversation and prepared to say, “Me too.”

Flash Post: Courtesy of Depression

I didn’t anticipate writing this post and I’ve only put in about two minutes of forethought before opening my computer and pounding it out on the keyboard. I’m thinking as I write.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how I briefly faded out of the mental health advocacy scene for about a month and a half. The distance from a cause I care deeply about wasn’t intentional, but after graduating and no longer being a part of any of my university’s mental health orgs that had kept me so busy, I felt like I had less of a platform to speak about mental health issues.

Additionally, the task of constantly learning about, defending, and advocating for things so closely connected to my own personal struggle was exhausting. The work that I did was gratifying in a lot of ways, but also triggering and defeating at times, and on a very personal level.

But tonight, I have things to say. Tonight, I am depressed.

Major Depressive Disorder – one of my diagnoses – is chronic, meaning it never truly goes away, even when I’m happy. Still, there are days when it barely affects me and I all but forget I have it. Then there are times, like now, when it practically takes over.

I felt okay throughout the day, but I attribute that feeling namely to how busy I was at work; jam-packing my schedule makes it easy for me to overlook changes in my own mental health because I spend my time so focused on other things. However, when I have a moment to myself, the net struggle of the day catches up and spills down on me like an avalanche. That’s what happened when I got off work today.

First, I felt anxious and hyperactive; my mind was going a mile a minute and I couldn’t focus on anything more more than a few minutes at a time. My day post-work was sporadic and disjointed. My impulses were clear and quick, but my thoughts were scrambled and slow.

The driving force behind the irregularities in behavior appeared in the form of anxiety. It wasn’t until I took note of my out-of-character thoughts and actions and consciously told myself to slow down and stay in control that I noticed the anxiety welling up from my core. With it came depression.

I crashed rapidly. My mind continued racing, but my body no longer had the capacity to move and work as it should. I lacked energy, but I wasn’t tired; I simply couldn’t command my body to do the simple things I needed it to do: eat something healthy, take a shower.

I finally willed myself out of bed and managed to slice and eat a peach. The sweet yellow fruit awakened my body enough for me to throw on a pair of flip-flops and hop in the shower. Initially, the warm water felt good on my back and neck, but my energy depleted halfway through. I walked back to my room, damp and worn out.

Yet, after many years of fighting this familiar battle, I forced myself to do what I knew would be “good” for me. I peeled a clementine and returned a missed call to my mom. I grabbed a water bottle and climbed in bed.

Sometimes, I don’t have the energy to do any of the above, so I was proud of myself for recognizing the need for self-care and administering it with patience and realistic expectations of what I could and couldn’t handle. Tonight’s self-care did not come in the form of yoga or coloring books or bath bombs – it was simple and unglamorous and not Instagram-perfect – but it was everything I needed in the moment.

Is There Room? Being AFAB Non-Binary in Women’s Spaces

Today, I browsed GC2B’s site for a new binder (they’re having a Pride Month sale) while wearing a hot pink T-shirt that read “Women’s March on Washington, DC” across the front. Women’s March participants varied in gender, but I couldn’t help notice the irony as I looked at products tailored toward men and non-binary folks while in a shirt that so strongly aligned with womanhood and femininity. The scenario brought me back to an ongoing inner debate about where I, as a non-binary trans person, fit within feminism and women’s movements.

Earlier this year, I struggled to decide whether I should participate in International Women’s Day/Day Without A Woman. Unlike the Women’s March, DWAW sought only female participants who agreed to take a one-day hiatus from the world and encourage people to notice how important women are in our lives.

On one hand, the answer seemed clear: I do not identify as a woman, so International Women’s Day is not about me.

On the other hand, because of my body, voice, and over-all expression, the world reads me as a woman. This includes everything from using she/her pronouns (which is okay; I use both she/her and they/them) to devaluing my body and my mind in the same ways that those of people who identify as women are devalued. In my everyday life, I experience the same difficulties and privileges as most white women. Or, at the very least, most white women who are assumed to be queer.

Even when I don a necktie or sit with a masculine posture, people assume – at most – that I am a masculine woman.

The contradiction emerges when I try to make sense of where I belong as an AFAB non-binary human. Being read as a woman erases and invalidates my gender identity, but being assigned female and not having pursued any means of medical or legal gender re-assignment still makes me fair game for sexism in all its forms (wage gap, restrictions to reproductive rights, etc.). The way that my body moves through the world is as a woman…

…but also not. There are the extra aspects of binding my chest, finding men’s clothes that fit, coming out, telling people about my pronouns, deciding which spaces are okay for me to be openly non-binary and which are not.

A certain level of cis privilege accompanies my presentation. I can easily pass as cis-female when needed and am not above putting on a dress and pretending to be straight and cis when it feels necessary to my safety. I typically use women’s restrooms for the sake of convenience. A lot of trans people don’t have that ability.

But I still feel like an imposter when I enter all-female spaces, concrete or virtual. Adding an International Women’s Day frame to my Facebook profile photo felt somehow wrong, as if I was overstepping into a movement that wasn’t my own. Yet International Women’s Day stood for me in a lot of ways.

It’s complicated and nuanced and I don’t have a solid conclusion about where I fit within these conversations and spaces. While I may never arrive at a fully fleshed-out answer, I know I remain closely connected with the essence – and many experiences – of womanhood, even if “woman” doesn’t entirely describe who I am.

On Forgiveness

I have a tendency to hold onto things for longer than necessary. It’s something I’ve struggled with always, but now that I’m about to embark on a slew of new adventures, I’m being intentional about letting go of stuff I don’t need to carry around anymore.

Forgiveness can be challenging for anyone, especially as it relates to people who really hurt us, but it’s absolutely essential to the process of letting go and moving forward. Recently, in a moment of honest self-reflection, I realized that so much of my current outlook is attached to negative things that happened in the past.

While we are the aggregate of our past experiences, clinging to things that prevent us from taking in new experiences only stunts our growth as humans and prevents our hearts from flourishing to the extent we deserve. Thus, I’ve been working on forgiveness and it’s been incredible.

For years, I’ve carried around loads of animosity toward my parents and others who reacted negatively toward things like my queer identities and my battle with mental illness. While there’s still work to do and there will be tension around those topics with my parents for the foreseeable future, there’s no reason to carry around the things they said to me two, three, and four years ago.

I certainly hope my parents don’t let mistakes I made years ago continue to influence their views of who I am, and they deserve the same from me.

This realization alone helped things improve ten-fold with my parents this week. In my last post, I wrote about an ongoing disagreement between my parents and I over grad school finances. I was terrified to visit home this past weekend because I knew the issue would come up again. When it presented itself, I chose to leave behind all the other things that had made me mad at my parents and devote 100% of my focus to the situation at hand.

I not only felt less angry overall, but also became suddenly more in touch with how I felt in that moment – rather than bringing forth how I felt at various points in the past – and I realized I shared many of the same anxieties and hesitations as my parents. Instead of yelling at each other in opposition, we were able to have an honest and productive conversation about my future.

Since then, I’ve been on a major forgiving-and-letting-go spree. Forgiving and letting go is different from forgiving and forgetting in that you aren’t required to push things aside and pretend that they never happened – you’re still allowed to acknowledge the experiences and the impact they had on you – but you let yourself set them down and put them away on an imaginary shelf so you don’t have to lug them around all the time.

I’ve also begun to reach outside the realm of family and forgive those who caused pain in other areas of my life.

I do not do this in a self-pitying manner or in an attempt to blame others for things gone wrong. It’s the opposite; I’m freeing myself from the memories and experiences that have me feeling defeated so I can move forward with resilience and strengthen my relationships with the people I care about.

The forgiveness is also directed toward myself. Like many people, I am my own worst critic and I frequently beat myself up over mistakes, whether it’s been four minutes or four years since I made them. I imagine that people always see me in light of my mistakes and wrong-doings and that even long stretches of time won’t change their perspective. This happens largely because I often view myself in light of those same mistakes with the mindset that doing something bad makes me a bad person.

But I’m letting go of all of it once and for all. I’m finally facing life with a heart ablaze with love for those around me and for the soul inside my skin. Life’s short and the ugly stuff is too heavy to haul around everywhere, so I’m placing it on a shelf and running free with buoyant shoulders.

Trusting My Heart

I called off work today because I’m sick. Not being able to do much aside from lie in bed and drink tea provides the perfect opportunity for me to craft the first blog post I’ve written in weeks. Today’s topic: grad school.

The past several months have been a whirlwind of mostly incredible things. I was admitted to my first choice graduate program and secured the assistantship I wanted most. I graduated from Miami roughly a week and a half ago with a B.A. in Professional Writing and a minor in Marketing. Over-all, things were on the up-and-up.

Graduate assistantships are tremendously valued among Student Affairs programs; they’re how students gain a lot of practical experience in the field. My program at IU requires students to hold assistantships in order to remain in the program. While these types of positions benefit the institution by providing reduced-cost labor, students often receive things like tuition remission, stipends, housing, etc. as compensation for their work.

Finding my happiness during Outreach (interview days) at IU

The assistantship I accepted – a Resident Director position  – covers all of the above and more. I’m tremendously lucky to have so many expenses taken care of. The tuition remission takes care of the in-state portion of my tuition and I am responsible for the out-of-state part. I interviewed for and accepted the position knowing this, understanding that I would have to rely on loans and/or scholarships for some of the cost.

Despite telling my parents about the partial tuition waiver, I didn’t make clear enough that I would still need to cover the rest of IU’s tuition. It came up in conversation with my mom early last week and she was livid. My dad felt similarly and insisted I hadn’t told him about the tuition situation (even though I am certain I had).

The past week and a half have been rather tumultuous. I’ve become the verbal punching bag for my parents’ anxieties about my future. They’ve made it clear that they are no longer proud of me, that my decision was selfish and poorly-calculated. My mom keeps referring to it as my “big mess-up.”

I’m entirely responsible for my grad school expenses, but they’re afraid I’ll never be able to pay off any student loans or afford a comfortable lifestyle. Prior to this fiasco, I had faith that things would work out just fine, but now I share the same fears as my parents. I do not regret my decision in my program or assistantship, but I’m anxious at the uncertainty of what lies ahead.

My dad is the Dean of the College of Business at a public university in Ohio and (as my parents have reminded me several times this past week) I could have gone there for free. Or I could have chosen a different assistantship. Or I could have gotten a job instead of pursuing more school. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel guilty about not choosing these paths.

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Looking at the city I’ll soon call ‘home’

The nerves have taken a toll on me physically and emotionally and I’ve been incredibly stressed about money (my budget is so tight that I couldn’t purchase toilet paper when I ran out last week…luckily I had Kleenex on hand). I’m afraid of failing financially in a way that messes up my life forever.

But the reality is, I followed my heart. I went with the route I knew I wanted to go from the beginning and I don’t regret it. Throughout the course of this year, I realized that attending the institution where my dad works – and potentially living at home for two more years – was impossible because of my parents’ views on my sexuality and other things; it’s time to let myself thrive with the people and places I once only dreamed of getting to know. I couldn’t be more happy to start at Indiana this August and I’m excitedly counting down the days to my assistantship start date in July.

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My first visit to Marian where I’ll work as an RD starting this July

I got into my top choice program and landed a position that will surely bring amazing experiences and opportunities my way; I had to work really hard to get there. Despite my parents’ anger, disappointment, and nervousness, I’m proud of myself and looking forward to what’s to come.

Of course, words of assurance, financial success stories, personal tips, and anything that reaffirms that I’m headed in the right direction are welcome! However, I’m happy with my decisions and can’t wait to start anew in just 53 days.

 

Full Circle

At the end of my freshman year of college, I hit a rough patch with depression. I didn’t recognize the depression because I felt about as depressed as I normally did, but more tired, more anxious, more on-edge. As a newly hired RA for the upcoming academic year, I had one responsibility: to pick up a book that was assigned for reading over the summer.

Instead of retrieving the book from the pick-up location, as I was instructed to do in at least three reminder emails, I dealt with depression and finals and went home for the summer with no book in hand. Halfway through the summer, I emailed the Director of Residence Life at Miami (my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss), asking to have the book sent to me. The director replied promptly, and instead of offering to send the book my way, told me I would have to meet with him in order to pick up the book. Shortly after our email exchange, I made the trek to Oxford to meet in person. I shook with terrified anticipation as I waited in the lobby of the Office of Res Life, knowing my first impression as an RA was not representative of who I was as a person or who I would be in that position. About 30 seconds into my conversation with the director, I was in tears. Not just tears…heaving sobs.

Despite the director’s efforts to calm me down, my guilt won out and I cried through the entire 30-minute meeting. With a kind (albeit pitying) smile, the director assured me that he only wanted to meet to make sure I would be a good RA, that my mistake wouldn’t be habitual. I left feeling determined to do the absolute best that I could and then some.

Roughly three years later, I recounted this narrative with another Director of Residence Life (minus the bit about the sobbing) in response to an interview prompt asking me to talk about a past mistake. With my hair up, blazer on, necktie in place, and portfolio open on the table before me, I gave a brief summary of the incident and the lessons I took from it. About a month later, the same director shook my hand after offering me a position as a Resident Director to begin this July.

Walking to my car this afternoon, I crossed paths with Miami’s Director of Res Life. He asked me about finals and I told him I only had one more and then I’d be done. We talked briefly about how the time had flown by and then the conversation took a different turn. “You’ve done great,” he said, “I hope you enjoy seeing all the ways you’ve made an impact here.”

We parted ways for maybe the last time and it was all I could do to not burst into tears for another 30 minutes.