I’m on vacation… So… Like go read someone else’s bloge. Or, you know…. Get back to work.
I’m on vacation… So… Like go read someone else’s bloge. Or, you know…. Get back to work.
I’ve been blogging a lot based on current books I’m reading and how they relate back to the student affairs or college union experience, and if that isn’t your cup of tea… my bad, but…
I don’t know when I’ll get back to writing funny things or things completely unrelated to college unions, urbanism, and other such things as such… such.
I’m not even half done with The Great Good Place, and yet, I am compelled to blog about a couple of passages already because it has been overall a great read. Oldenburg explores the concept of the ‘third place’ in this book, the place that is not our home, and not our work, but another place, where we go to relax, gather with folks familiar and new, and essentially shoot the shit with. The third place, in history, is the basis of community and is a cornerstone of informed and well-debated views and opinions. Even though Oldenburg often oversimplifies societal problems, the third place and its decline in recent decades has increased the disconnection within our communities that we so often see today (want an example of overgeneralization – I just got done with some thirty pages of an ode to the 1950’s Leave it to Beaver soda fountain). Think- complaining about people only staring at their phones at dinner rather than talking with friends and having good conversation – ON STEROIDS! OH NOOOOES!
So, you are probably asking yourself… omg, Joel is advocating for a pub in every Union (ok, maybe I am), but what I really want to examine is how our unions can potentially serve as this third place for our campuses, our student, staff, faculty, and local communities.
I found the ‘third place’ concept through this article, written by Loren Rullman and Jan van den Kieboom, where they indicated a third place often has the following characteristics:
…they are typically free or inexpensive to use; food is commonly available; they are easily accessible and proximate to first and second places; one can expect to see regular users; the ambiance is welcoming, comfortable, and playful; rules are few and neutralizing to hierarchy and status; and conversation is the primary sustaining activity.
A couple of passages and thoughts popped out to me when considering the union’s role as campus and community third place, particularly this one in a chapter focused on Main Street USA:
By their definition, a core setting in a neighborhood or community is that place where one is more likely than anywhere else to encounter any given resident of the community… in the common vernacular, [it] is ‘where the action is’
This sounds awfully familiar to how we view our own campus centers and student unions, that they are a hub of activity, drawing students from all areas of campus and academia into a building for a variety of reasons and where they can be exposed to new opportunities and ideas. Art galleries, events, marketing, post offices, dining, student organization space, finance and ID card offices – they are all likely to find homes in our buildings and are all likely to lure campus community members only to offer them something new once their primary activity has been completed. It’s where the action is, it’s the hub, the living room, or the heartbeat of campus.
So, now that we have a basis for understanding unions as a third place for our campus community, what happens in those third places that benefit our students? In another area of overgeneralization from Oldenburg, he talks about the negative influence the 24 hour news cycle and television news media has had on the democratic and political participation process in our country. TV offers a wide breadth of information in an efficient manner, but it does not offer the opportunity that a neighborhood tavern or a union lounge does to immediately “question, protest, sound out, supplement, and form opinion locally and collectively” upon hearing news.
This is something that I think is key for the student union experience, especially in our heritage and founding as debate societies, and especially in the UK context of a student union, an advocating and policy-making body that directly influences the student experience. The union has to be a place where, with support, views and opinions can be challenged and folks can get out of their comfort zone in a productive way as local, national, and global events play out and become part of the current social landscape. I’m all for concerts and stuff (and don’t get me wrong, they have their place and I love planning me a good concert), but some of my favorite programming that I have ever done was serving as an emcee on panels talking about What’s Next for places like Libya, after the fall of Ghaddafi, and Fukushima, after the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, and giving tours of 3 Ohio-based panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt while at Wooster. I sincerely enjoyed the opportunity to continuously engage students who were at the top of their game in topics they cared about, wanted to know more about, and could spend hours talking about. I don’t really care if we consider ourselves co-curricular or extracurricular in our unions, but we need to challenge, we need to be mindful of current events, and we must help students realize their place and role in what is going on.
The 24 hour news cycle also does not give us the local flavor that a third place can, informing us more “about a school bus accident in a South American country than of the actions of a local city council, which will have a far greater impact upon our lives,” and which we can easily see in issues like local voting rights for college students.
This article popped up in my Twitter feed from another master of the overgeneralization, Jeff Selingo, decrying the fact that the new student union at Miami University features lamps that cost $1035, but offers an interesting perspective into how institutions are funding new construction in different ways. Granted, any chance most people can get to tack on another #adminbloat hashtag, they’ll take it.
What I found interesting from the article was further down, talking about why we are seeing new unions being constructed nowadays, in the recent financial barren landscape, with more modern, comfortable amenities and services that feature elements more conducive to the millennial student experience rather than the 1950’s malt shop student experience. Dan Hurley, a spokesman for the American Association of Colleges and Universities, said “With regards to students, those buildings have served as a nucleus of student activities, academic programming, activities, cultural and entertainment activities,” which is backed up by supporting statements from the Miami student body president about its usage and benefit to campus life and experience (granted, how much of the SBP’s statements are scripted… you should read for yourself to decide).
I am not one for unnecessarily raising the bill for students to attend college, and if a union can be renovated or reconstructed to be made a better third place for this generation and the following generations (there is a reason why the field has been screaming FLEXIBILITY these last few years) in a sustainable and cost-effective manner, I’m all for it. We need third places on campus, for all our constituents, and we in the student union biz are uniquely suited to serve as such. So, let’s do it then, huh?
One of the books I recently worked my way through was John Maeda’s “The Laws of Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life,” hoping that it would not only shed some light on how to make the work of higher education simpler and more effectively meaningful, but also inform some of my love for good design and technology. I love minimal design, and while Maeda does touch on this, he touches mostly on how to make processes simpler, make technology more responsive with less action, and more.
Later on in his book, Maeda touches on the aspect of “Trust” when it comes to simplicity in design. Invoking the fact that technology is making processes simpler by the day because we have put trust into our Gmail’s ability to suggest the correct additional contacts after we type in one name, or we put trust in our phone’s auto-correct system, because maybe our thumbs aren’t the most agile.
As I was puzzling this post out in my head, I told friends that I was about to compare higher ed to the amazing documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” I’m getting to that.
On page 76, Maeda invokes, as part of his chapter on Trust, the concept of omakase, which can roughly translate to “I leave it up to you,” where you are leaving your meal up to the sushi chef, who is a master of their craft. They are able to read your disposition, gauge your reactions to a certain piece, and alter their menu to deliver the best possible series of sushi to you for your meal.
This part of the chapter, and thinking on the documentary on Jiro, got me thinking about what simplicity, and particularly trust can bring to higher education and student affairs. Are we trusted to be masters of a craft, or do students trust us to give them the best possible information at all times? Are we good enough that students and other folks around the university can say “I leave it up to you?” Is that what we should be striving for?
Is there something to this in how we advise/connect/collaborate? Obviously, there is no one-size fits all philosophy to communication with each student or staff or faculty, and what works with your student government president certainly won’t work the same with your programming board president. Additionally, in my working with graduate students when it comes to alcohol at their events, once I get to know them, our conversation shifts, and the alcohol approval process is simpler, because trust is formed. Processes are made simpler by trust. And our field relies so much on trust.
Getting back to our boy Jiro, just as he preps his fish for weeks, getting them to the right texture and flavor, I’m expected to be prepared for upcoming meetings, and there is weeks and months of preparation for a program, because the experience should be just as enjoyable for the audience. In my job, I serve as a consultant to over 460 organizations on event policy, regulations, and other processes. Just like he reads his customers, sees how they pick up their sushi, how long they chew, and then adjusts the experience to best suit the individual tastes of each, I hope that I can achieve that ability to effectively read and serve the students I work for and with. It’s a lofty and pie-in-the-sky goal, but I think it’s a good one. I think nothing but good experience for all involved can come from it.
Hahahaha, you get it? Get it? Because Luis Suarez bites people during soccer, but when you read, you are figuratively biting into a book!! Hahahahahaha.
So, imagine my joy when a couple of cool things (soccer, brackets, and books) all got mashed up into one bigger, cooler thing yesterday when I stumbled upon it: The World Cup of Literature! Much like my fashion post a couple of weeks ago, this project, from Three Percent at the U of Rochester, pits top international fiction from each of the 32 World Cup countries against each other. Also like my fashion post, the results are quite different from what’s happening on the pitch.
I did not recognize like 90% of these books, but they are all pretty much now in my Amazon Wish List queue. Although, I have been planning to read Japan’s entry, 1Q84, by Haruki Murakami for some time, and will get to it during July vacays. Seriously, if you have not read Murakami, you are missing out.
What do ya’ll think? Like the list? Have ya’ll read any of these? Go USA!
The World Cup rolls around every four years, and it’s a glorious time. Soccer on the global stage is a thing to behold, but in the beauty of the game, we cannot let certain things get lost. There is a darker side to football, fed by greed, hatred, fear, and more. And as we celebrate John Brook’s 86th minute header against Ghana on Monday, we also need to be sure that we are reflecting on all the things that make up that moment, that some of us are privileged to view.
I got to watch this match with Mike Zakarian over at Champions in Kendall Square, where they not only had the windows open, but also had the AC on, they had about 8 large flat screen HD tvs behind the bar alone, and the place features a lot of lighting elements in its decor.
I enjoy this, while Ghana has to slow their economy and borrow from neighboring Ivory Coast just to ensure that the grid can handle the power demands of the country tuning into this match. A/C? Not even in the discussion.
So, this post is going to be more of a resource share, because I hope that while we all enjoy ourselves in watching each country’s best shoot for glory and recognition of their talent and hard work, we can also realize how footy represents the perilous state our international community finds itself in.
One of the first works on the global atmosphere of soccer which I read while at A&M after a good friend of mine had gotten me into English soccer and I was convinced I was going into International Affairs was How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer. This book’s tagline is “an unlikely theory of globalization” and it really is more history and sociology, but 100% a great read. There is a ton of sociology and psychology research out there about the group think that comes with crowds and sports, but it gets magnified in World Cup settings, or in rivalries that have very real historical conflict, both hidden and out in the open, that defines them. His chapter on Red Star Belgrade is eye-opening on the greed and power of group think in the sport, and is an incredibly important history to understand behind the game.
On the subject of the international, take a few minute to take this beautiful quiz from Slate and NASA and see if you can identify the countries playing in the cup this year.
Did you realize today that as we watched the definition of a perfect 0-0 draw between Mexico and Brazil that multiple people have been murdered and scores more injured in a terrorist bombing in Nigeria? I saw only 1 tweet about it, and that was from the BBC if I remember correctly. Why, in a moment of international triumph do we have to be cut down by hatred? The murder of a soccer fan anywhere is an affront to fans everywhere.
We also all know Sepp Blatter is basically the poster-dude for a lot of what is wrong with FIFA these days. If you need any sort of introduction to Sepp or FIFA, you should watch John Oliver’s AMAZING breakdown on his new show, Last Week Tonight. Even if you have seen this video already, you should watch it again.
That video pairs well with this Slate piece on a report that the US was contacted and asked to prepare an emergency committee should FIFA decide to drop Qatar as the host of the 2022 World Cup. Stahl’s proposal is a good one, a valid one, and may be the only way to end Blatter’s Putin-esque reign over FIFA.
Speaking of the Qatar World Cup in 2022, did you know that hundreds, with some reports saying near 1000, of migrant workers have died in connection with World Cup construction or in connection to poor working conditions in Qatar? Estimates are that we are on pace to let 4000 migrant workers die so that 32 international teams can play some footy. We have started wars for much much less.
This last article from Slate was one of the most fascinating I have read so far though, and may be far-fetched, but may not be. I don’t know if it is because I run in tight Twitter circles, but to me, the backlash against Boston even thinking about exploring a bid for the 2024 Olympics is overwhelming. Why should we go into debt for a month long celebration in order to get a new transit system? Why can’t we actually finance a transit system for the people without this extra mess that comes with it?
For a city that is also one of the worst in the United States when it comes to income inequality, and yet still is building many more luxury condos than affordable housing and public transportation infrastructure to just meet the needs of modern Boston, it is pretty presumptuous of city leadership and business leaders to move forward on this month-long party. Much like the 2022 Winter Olympics, I would be highly interested in Boston taking a special public referendum on this subject, sooner rather than later, so we can save as many pennies as possible to fix our ailing infrastructure and address our failure to serve the poor, rather than try and win the proven corrupt selection process.
Why does the Olympics and the World Cup need to travel around the world? Can we select an area, close to major transit centers, somewhere in Europe, and build permanent structures that are consistently used and cared for to host major global sporting events? Why inflict this decision and this financial burden and corruption on a new area every four years?
To make you all grumpy with me this week, I shall again visit The Architecture of Happiness, which I started going over last week. Written by Alain de Botton, this was the first book I read in my recent spree of architecture, urban design, and urban studies readings, all hopefully tying in with the greater picture of the urban union experience.
One of the concepts that stood out to me later in de Botton’s book was the concept of home, which he gets into on page 107. There, he states:
In turn, those places whose outlook matches and legitimates our own, we tend to honour with the term ‘home.’ Our homes do not have to offer us permanent occupancy or store our clothes to merit the name… We need a home in the psychological sense as much as we need one in the physical: to compensate for a vulnerability. We need a refuge to shore up our states of mind, because so much of the world is opposed to our allegiances.
Folks in ACUI I think will get why this page stood out to me, and how the talk of home and what it represents jumped off the page. In the student union business, we often say our buildings and all that they do and stand for represent the ‘living room’ of campus, a place away from the res halls, the labs, the classroom, for students to relax, learn, work, eat, learn, congregate, nap, meet, plan, learn, and learn.
While we do hope to challenge views and encourage exploration of ideals in our student organizations (especially being founded on the debate society ideals), we do so in ways that develop and create new opportunities for growth, and in a comfortable environment where hopefully mistakes can happen and be learned from.
What especially sticks out though, is why it is so key that multicultural and GLBTQ centers be a cornerstone and essential piece of the student union experience. For many GLBTQ students, including myself and many others at Texas A&M, the GLBTQ Resource Center on campus (which was not in the union) was that ‘home’ in the ‘psychological sense,’ because our other homes on campus, our rooms or our classrooms, were perhaps places of danger and discomfort. To have a ‘refuge’ like a GLBTQ Resource Center housed in a building that is created for that greater purpose says a lot, and is something I think ACUI needs to ensure its members remember and strive for in our work with campus partners and in our renovations.
I’m currently reading The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, another Adam Welker suggestion, and I found a parallel with something de Botton discussed in Happiness, relating to balance. Jacob’s discusses at length the concept of ‘urban diversity,’ which gets to an idea of balance that de Botton alludes to on page 195:
Beauty [of balance] is a likely outcome whenever architects skilfully mediate between any number of oppositions, including the old and the new, the natural and the man-made, the luxurious and the modest, and the masculine and the feminine.
Meshing Jacob’s ‘urban diversity’ with de Botton’s discussion of beauty through the balance of old and new comes something that urban unions and campuses must actively deal with in how they inform, alter, and add to (or detract from) their immediate urban community. If our campus border lies on a street with overwhelming amounts of older and classic architecture, does value lie in creating a new, more modernly designed union than staying with the homogeneous design of the area, offering some visual engagement and breaks in the look of the street? Granted, I do realize that this is only one aspect of what creates vibrant urban communities, but as we assess our facilities and our design, we should be striving for something that moves us forward rather than perhaps keeps up the usual.
Beyond the urban campus though, I think this concept of balance translates well into many union or campus center designs that attempt to balance the old and the new in their buildings. Coming to mind are UConn’s Student Union and the Mass College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Griffin Center, both of which add new, glass-heavy structures to older, brick-heavy buildings, to mesh and celebrate the old and new, the tradition and the future of what these buildings stand for on campus. Even simple nods to old structures, such as the Ohio Union using reclaimed wood and stone from the old union to build and furnish aspects and rooms of the new union, evokes balance. This balancing of the old and new adds a vitality to our environments that engages the user, and opens a book to tell us a story, which is what de Botton wants architecture to do.
So, let’s go to the next step, and one that seems counter to the points I made above about buildings being a refuge. Near the end of the book, de Botton introduces the Japanese concept of wabi, which identifies beauty with unpretentious, simple, unfinished, transient things. He illustrates wabi with stories of Japanese appreciation for the look of unfinished pottery or the look of a moss-covered walkway when Westerners only see a walkway that needs to be cleaned immediately.
Beyond this concept of wabi, which I experienced firsthand over in Japan, de Botton develops around this idea of embracing the peculiar, the out of the ordinary, which, if I’m reading it right, may inspire someone else, or may inform future communities much more potently than our current ones. “It is books, poems and paintings which often give us the confidence to take seriously feelings in ourselves that we might otherwise never have thought to acknowledge,” which leads me to ask: why can’t our unions do this?
How can unions, through architecture, art galleries, involvement experiences, offer up to students “the confidence to take seriously feelings” that they would “never have thought to acknowledge?” I said above that unions could and should be a refuge, but at the same time, they can and should be a point of challenging and developing students and communities.
Our mission is to help students delve deeper into their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and experiences, and unions can offer up that opportunity with both an environment that supports development but also has elements that challenge them into growth (yes, I’m pulling in challenge and support). I think even if our unions trend more towards the classical or the traditional, they must have peculiar elements: a room that is exclusively saved for art exhibits, a computer lab that is tucked into a uniquely built space that gives off a different feel than a standard lab with rows of computers, an amphitheater that can serve multiple purposes and as a background in many different ways. This is the power of architecture and design to give us the confidence to tell our own stories.
Ok, it’s not really a debate. It’s just my opinion. But, for your entertainment, I shall now determine who will win the World Cup of 2014 based on team kits.
So, to look at how the whole thing will go down, here is a handy graphic bracket showing how groups play each other once the Group Stage concludes.
Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon
Teams Advancing: 1. Croatia 2. Cameroon (which just BARELY beats out Brazil)
Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia
Teams Advancing: 1. Netherlands 2. Spain
Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
Teams Advancing: 1. Japan 2. Colombia
Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy
Teams Advancing: 1. Italy 2. Uruguay (they are being taken through solely on their home kit)
Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras
Teams Advancing: 1. France 2. Ecuador
Group F: Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria
Teams Advancing: 1. Argentina 2. Iran (yes, the Cheetah won me over)
Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, United States
Teams Advancing: 1. Germany 2. USA (beats Ghana by just a teensy weensy bit)
Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea
Teams Advancing: 1. Russia 2. Belgium
So, let’s recap and look at what we’ve got going on in the Round of 16:
Advancing to the QuarterFinals are:
Croatia, whose kits are just better on average than Spain.
Japan, which easily beats out the simplicity of Uruguay.
Netherlands, who blows Cameroon out of the water with immense design.
Colombia, the shocker of the Round of 16.
France, classic beats cheetah.
Germany, beating out Belgium who is undone by a selfish kit-maker and a third that is the same as their home, when thirds HAVE to be different and completely unique.
Argentina, the multi-stripe action they have going on is magical to me.
Russia, with their space designs are not garish but just right when it comes to designing for an international stage.
So, let’s get to the QuarterFinals.
Match ups are:
And my winners for this round are:
Japan, whose mix of classic and bold, traditional and modern, just makes me smile.
Netherlands, who end the dream run of Colombia.
France, in a very tough decision, that saw Germany’s red black hoop aways sink their progress.
Argentina, in the battle of classic but modern design v. Russia’s idealized and very pretty designs. Argentina’s design and how their striping interplays on their kit wins out.
So, our SemiFinals looks like this:
Moving into the Final Match in Rio de Janeiro on July 13th is:
Japan, whose bold design outdoes France’s classical looks at the final hour.
Netherlands, in the toughest decision I’ve made today, but overall, their classic orange is well done, and their away fascinates me. Argentina just barely falls short, just barely. This was easily the tightest matchup of of the entire World Cup of Kit Design so far.
So, our Finals pit
This is a tough decision, but looking at these two teams up against each other, in the end, I have to go with…
In the home kits, which both have classic colorations (Orange for the Netherlands, Blue for Japan), Netherlands’ classic wins out in my opinion there.
In the away kits, which are both unique, more modern designs (the geometric blue shadings for Netherlands, highlighter yellow for Japan), I again feel that Netherlands comes out on top there, with something a bit more unique, pleasing to the eye both close and from far range, that just beats out the Japanese highlighter away that have been a hallmark the past few years.
So, congratulations Netherlands! Even if you don’t win this year, you won my fashion bracket!