2014 books on the wall…

So this year saw quite a bit of new-ish things for me: 1- a desire to learn more about the urban condition, and to translate urban studies and urban architecture into how student unions on urban campuses influence the student experience, and 2- lots of reading at home and on the T (I count 2014 as the start of that, because the latter half of 2013 was marked by reading all 5 books of the Game of Thrones… which I mean… I guess it counts).

When the T suddenly stops and you rip a page…

The end of the year is a fun time, because all the great book lists come out, and my Amazon Wish Lists grow longer and longer.  Much like the World Cup of Literature that I blogged about earlier this year, finding new books is a fun fun thing.  So, I wanted to recap some of my reads this year, and then throw out some of the lists that I have found useful thus far.

Me at the Harvard Bookstore Warehouse Sale this year…

I’m going to pull this info from my Goodreads, so you can check out my lists over there for more info.

Books that I rated 5 out of 5 stars this year:

Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection – Ethan Zuckerman

A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki

1Q84 – Haruki Murakami – This book is over 1100 pages long, but it made my favorites list, which hasn’t been added to in awhile, because it felt like only a couple hundred pages.  Murakami’s style and themes aren’t for everyone, but for some reason, his books suck me in, and 1Q84 is one of the best examples of that power thus far.

How to Be Black – Baratunde Thurston

Bossypants – Tina Fey

The Architecture of Happiness – Alain De Botton

Theodore Rex – Edmund Morris

The I’s Have It: Reflections on Introversion in Student Affairs – Amma Marfo – It reads like Amma is whispering sweet, intelligent somethings in your ear… but in a non-creepy, and respectful of your personal bubble, way.

Yay for 5 stars!

Those were my top books this year, that I read, not necessarily written/published this year, so check them out if you want.

Or not…

Here are some cool lists out there for other best books to read:

Via NPR Books

Via Slate Staff

Via Electric Lit

Apparently, Kid President also has a book thing happening, I dunno.

So, let’s set up a reading date sometime?

get out of their way…

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of hosting ACUI Region VIII’s annual Drive-In Conference, which focused on Veteran Services and Campus Community this year, and took place up at the very beautiful new University Crossing building at UMass Lowell.  This was a topic that was not in the usual wheelhouse of ACUI programs, but I was able to rely on the knowledge and experience of awesome presenters, colleagues, and the UMass Lowell Veteran Services Office to make learning happen.

Unlike these puppies, no one was confused and the learning was real.

It was an interesting day, with a lot of good knowledge dropped, especially by student panelists throughout a couple of our sessions.  I think it was a mix of we needed to hear some of these direct observations of student veteran life and experiences, and there was a certain amount of frustration that the student panelists were also looking to vent.

A couple observations…

Don’t recreate the wheel

Throughout the day, a lot of the themes I kept hearing were similar to issues we faced in other areas… first-year student services and experience, orientation, medical affairs and mental health and wellness, and correlations with the GLBTQ student experience on many college campuses.

Orientation to the campus, to services, to the surrounding area, to work-study jobs, are all essential services we provide to our first-year and transfer students, orienting them to these basics of life at a particular institution.  I think what we heard from our panelists was that because our student veterans are considered adults, rather than students, they get lost in these introductions.

One of the things they all agreed upon that was extremely helpful was early registration, at the same time as seniors on some campuses, for a variety of reasons: ability to get classes essential to moving through an academic plan as quickly as possible (which many may want to do), gives them other time to schedule work, appointments, etc once they have their academic scheduled and figured out.

This also goes to staffing.  A lot of frustration was vented by panelists that veteran services at some schools is just a bullet point on one person’s job description, and that forms, processes, and policies interact more with our student veterans than our people do.  You don’t have to add a full fledged staff for a Veteran’s Center if your budget doesn’t allow it, but creating a solid network of staff and faculty knowledgeable about the laws and resources that govern the student veteran experience, so that while they have to fill out all those forms, their experience is guided by people rather than a step-by-step list and policy.

Avoid negative networking

While it seems that a Veterans Lounge is a well-appreciated and very beneficial space need for the student veteran community, giving them a space to be themselves and communicate without a wall up, it can have its downfalls.

One issue to watch is that this safe space saps too much of their time and attention, keeping them from extending themselves beyond that space.  While identity as a veteran should be embraced, talked about, and reflected upon, and transferable skills should be the focus for their development while at your institution, it should not be the sole area of identity development for these students during their time on our campus.  Just like we don’t expect one dimensional development to be the norm for our traditional students, we shouldn’t be ok with allowing student veterans only the opportunity to flex their veteran identity muscles.

Modern 3D movies suck… but development along multiple dimensions of identity does not.

While they may be older than our traditional students, I heard multiple times students talk about how their involvement in student organizations was beneficial to their own experience as students, and many of those organizations were co-curricular (for example, Student Finance Society for one of the business majors).  There is also the opportunity for student employment to capitalize on the skills of management, budgeting, supervision, and more that they honed during their years of service.

While veteran lounges and organizations are an ESSENTIAL support mechanism, they are not the only support mechanism and they are not the only outlet for student veteran activities and involvement.  Diversify the audience that uses these services (dependents, community, faculty mentors, etc.), and diversify the experience of our student veterans, so their understanding of resources and opportunities is broader and more well-balanced.

Get out of their way

No, I’m not comparing student veterans to busses… and the gif I actually want to use is linked to this image… but it has a language in it… so, it’s hidden… but by all means, click through, and get my real bus-drift.

So, take the above bolded statement with a grain of salt.

Overall, one of the best ways to ensure a thriving student veteran community is to stay out of their way – once you have a solid and professional group of student veterans making the lounge feel like home, providing advice and mentorship to each other, and advocating for their own community to campus leadership, you just need to step back and let them do work.  This group of students developed and matured in what could be argued one of the tightest knit communities in any workplace, and their commitment to each other is stronger than my commitment to a bold roast coffee every morning.

None of my gifs are actually veteran related…

Granted, we need to step in every so often to help right the ship or get the train back on the tracks.  For one instance, see Bolded Statement #2.  Some of the lighter issues where we may need to help out include reminding our student veterans that their dress uniform is not appropriate interview attire, as well as reminding them that colors outside of green and grey do exist and would look good on them (this is an actual suggestion from one panel on transition issues – they’ve been wearing a uniform for the past few years and that can wreak havoc on your closet’s color spectrum).

Some of the heavier issues are mental health, family life and personal life issues, and a higher ration of suicide amongst returning veterans.  We are not mental health professionals, but its darn good professional practice that your division embraces training tools like QPR, Mental Health Response Teams, etc. beyond just the folks who hold the Dean on Call phone.  These are issues that the entire staff should be educated and trained on (can we ever be truly prepared?), and not singularly for our student veteran community, but for every student, staff, faculty, and community member we engage with.

 

So, take some time, assess where your campus and division stands in addressing our student veteran populations – which will continue to grow and continue to bring new resources, successes, and challenges as we draw down from certain engagements – and come up with a P-A-L-N like Sgt. Bilko to support and engage this community in the campus experience.

this dystopian american life…

It’s been busy. I also went through a spell of books, some of which were good, and some of which were Academically Adrift, which left my soul and my interest and my creativity adrift.

However, recently, I’ve gone through a series of books, been reading some articles, and been playing some video games that finally got me back on track with the creative kick.

Fallout 3 on PS3

Slate articles related to Project Hieroglyph, a project to use Sci-Fi to create a better tomorrow.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

whoa.

I’ve been immersing myself in a dystopian extravaganza, a rather exciting desert of post-human existence.  The World Without Us helps to inform some of the aspect that appear in Fallout and A Canticle, particularly how nature responds or is unable to respond, and just how bad the nuclear situation could get post-human.  While Weisman does tend to drag and teased my urban design sensibilities way hard in the initial chapter, his look at the response of the natural world to the sudden extinction of humanity (but the very material and hazardous waste future we leave behind) is an interesting non-fiction take on the dystopian story.

A Canticle spends the first third of it’s length getting me all worked up about the discovery of a fallout shelter post-deluge, which is so Fallout, and which I would read all the books about.

I was sort of upset that it wasn’t the focus of the book, and to be honest, it lost me until the last few chapters, which made the book well-worthwhile, and highly recommended.  So dystopian, so anti-“Project Hieroglyph,” and I love it.

I didn’t plan it out this way at all, I’ve just been grabbing books off my to-read shelf based on my mood after finishing the book before it.  I lucked out that these two came together in this order, that I’ve been playing Fallout again, and Slate had been running this really interesting series of articles on sci-fi’s influence.  I do look forward to picking up a copy of Project Hieroglyph to check out how the future of sci-fi can improve humanity, but until then…

grumpday humpday…

Hello.  You have probably been directed to this blog post by an automatic posting on Facebook or Twitter.  However, this is not a real blog post, as I am currently at Jury Duty.

If you would like an analysis of my experience, might I highly recommend My Cousin Vinny.  This blog is suspended until I am no longer doing my civic duty of dutiful civility.

Kthxbai.

They said no shorts or tank tops… sooooo… I’m going with this number tomorrow.

Jury Room Reading: Theodore Rex – Edmund Morris

what where place space…

So, I’m returning to the Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg again this week, because I’m currently reading Academically Adrift, and I can’t even wrap my head around a blog post for that, because it’s not like I’m…

but more like…

…so you’re welcome for that (I don’t do statistics vs I do story time!).

Where were we?

Oh yeah, back to The Great Good Place, looking at a particular passage that I found interesting which is also from the “Hostile Habitat” chapter that I spoke of in my last post on this book.  In a section labelled A Tradeoff, Oldenburg speaks to a shift in American culture and the concept of the ideal space, quoting architect Dolores Hayden:

The dream house replaced the ideal city as the spatial representation of American hopes for the good life.

Oldenburg also writes that the model city was to be a cure for social ills, but the dream house has emerged since then as an escape from them.  So, we gave up?

This chapter reminded me of the Truman Show a lot.

These ideas and claims of a reversal from ideal city to ideal home is echoed in Jane Jacobs’ “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” which I have blogged on previously and which is a must read on these subjects.

I would love to see and figure out how this change in culture, the push to suburbia, and the ideal of a personal home over the ideal of a communal city, has influenced the urban college campus and the urban union, and will have to pocket that question until I get the time to actually get into that research later on in life.

Later on in this section, it gets even more interesting as Oldenburg delves into the changing definition of adequate space was for Americans, stating that since 1950, our houses have gotten bigger and bigger, so that at the time of publishing, on average, the typical American home has 2 rooms for every person, compared to 1 room for every 1.5 people in an Israeli household.

Hey Luigi, maybe if you didn’t have a whole mansion to yourself, it wouldn’t be so creepy.

So, this concept of the larger American space has always kind of fascinated me, and this article from Apartment Therapy caught my attention years ago, and spurred one of my first blog posts on space (and really, one of my first blog posts ever).

There is, of course, a lot that goes into why Americans have so much space or want so much space, including Manifest Destiny, the push to suburbia, a very material culture (think the export of Hollywood and McDonaldization of the world), that is its own sociological endeavor.  One of my all-time favorite books on this subject is Material World by Peter Menzel, which goes around the world to explore what it looks like when families from various countries move all their possessions in front of their home.  Americans are likely to have more XBoxes than other families are likely to have pots and pans.  For a visual learner like myself, this really reinforces the concept of space, idealized spaces, and the importance of stuff for me.

I think this is an area rich for research in exploring how unions came to be built in their current form, and why renovations or rebuilds are needed on 1950s and 60s era unions (think GI Bill).  As cities push the envelope and explore the idea of micro units, what does this mean for urban residence halls and urban unions?  Does our multifunctional ballroom have a lot in common with the newest 256sq ft micro apartment, while our 250 fixed seat theater has more in common with Kobe Bryant’s mansion?  Hmmm.

This…

vs

This?

*Sidenote* I highly recommend the episode of Gadget Man featured below, with my favsies Richard Ayoade, but which looks at the concept of a 12m squared house at about 15mins in.  Very interesting concept and ideal of space.

 

the third union place…

I previously wrote about some of my thoughts on Ray Oldenburg’s “The Great Good Place” in July here, and wanted to develop some more thoughts on how the student union can serve as a community third place based on some of Oldenburg’s later chapters.

So, as Great Good continues, the author moves into exploring specific famous third places of the past, like the English Pub, French Cafe, American Tavern, and coffeehouses of various sizes, shapes, and nationalities.  In a section on the English coffeehouse, we explore the concept that the English gained knowledge of and explore through conversation the news of the community and the world, and that the coffeehouse was the end all be all of this service.  Up until the mid-19th century, the coffeehouse was a daily stop for English men to gather, hear the news, discuss, and argue.

Give me the news!

Oldenburg credits the development of home mail delivery, the daily newspaper, coffeehouse owners going for bad business policy, and other factors as the downfall of the coffeehouse.  A quote stood out to me from this section, included from a foreign visitor observing English coffeehouse culture and life, stating “…workmen habitually begin the day [we are talking everyday] by going to coffee rooms in order to read the daily news.”

In a sense, this is sort of what we hope for in thinking about how our unions can function for our campus and our student community.  It’s why we have services that draw students to our buildings (food, post office boxes, printing services) and its why we have unique and pleasurable spaces to relax, connect, and study.  We want to draw the student community in in order to introduce them to new opportunities and the greater involvement picture of campus life, and in the perfect union world, they are exposed to new ideas and perspectives that provide them more context on their academic work and help to craft a more open and understanding student.

Look at all the things you can look at, experience, taste, enjoy! *Neither I or ACUI endorse installing a candy room in your Union. This would cause both gastrointestinal bloat and administrative bloat.*

This transitions well into a later chapter, titled A Hostile Habitat, which explores why modern urban environments and designs are so hostile to these third places, where the community should be able to gather together at their local.

Oldenburg contends that “the modern urban environment accommodates people as players of unifunctional roles… it reduces people… allowing them little opportunity to be human beings.”  Wow, that is harsh.  Borrowing from architectural critic Wolf Von Eckardt, who you know you can get behind 100% because his first name is WOLF (*Does not apply to Wolf Blitzer), Oldenburg explains “what ails us… is not that we are incapable of living a satisfactory and creative life in harmony with ourselves, but that our habitat does not offer sufficient opportunities.  It hems us in.  It isolates us.”

West Wing Walk and Talks are bifunctional, so they are not allowed.  Be sad about that.

But, that’s supposed to be the beauty of the college union – the fact that there are a lot of functionalities crammed into one building, so that students, even if they aren’t that over-involved student leader, are in the building often, and hopefully in a vibrant and active atmosphere that we have fostered, are exposed to new learning opportunities and experiences.  The union fails if it is unifunctional, but multifunctional will take on a different look on each campus (a rural campus union will serve a very different role than an urban campus union), each era of student culture (game rooms and smoking lounges may not be the highest priority anymore), and will need the commitment of the community to ensure it stays updated and functioning to the highest degrees for our multifaceted campuses.

When it comes to our buildings, we have to ask each and every constituent to consider “Does this place offer sufficient opportunities to explore, grow, and live?” and if the answer is no, we may need to go back to the drawing board to better understand what our spaces need beyond just the basic architectural and engineering requirements.  I’m not advocating for over the top everything to please every constituency, but we really have to understand how the environment influences the user, because if our whole mission is based around exploration, we need spaces that encourage that, rather than hemming us in.  That’s what works.  That’s a lot more important than mosaics of your mascot or Starbucks on every floor.

But, uh, your SGA does not need this in their office.

I think I’ve got one more blog post that can come from this book, so stay tuned for that.  It’s about space.  Not Neil DeGrasse Tyson space, but like, TLC’s Trading Spaces space.