It’s not about you. It’s about them.

If you were on any social media site last night, you saw that stream blow up when it was announced that Penn State football coach, Joe Paterno, and Penn State president, Graham Spanier, were fired, after it came to light that many in administrative and power positions at Penn State did nothing to stop Jerry Sandusky from continuing his abuse of small boys.

A friend of mine, a new mother, emailed me yesterday, asking, “How do you not just fall down, paralyzed in fear for your girls when you hear news stories like what is coming out from Penn State?” Like me, many parents went home over the past few days and hugged their kids a little harder, and told them we love them a few more times than usual.

Because this story is not about a football legacy. It’s not about a scandal or a cover up. It’s not about misguided Penn State students who are overly proud of their school. It’s not about idiot celebrities.  It’s about eight boys, and possibly many more, who were hurt and petrified and stolen of their childhoods, and adults who did nothing to stop it. Adults, who should have protected those children and stopped it from happening again, did nothing.

I don’t know any of the victims names, and I truly hope they don’t come out. They do not need to be assaulted again by the media. But we have conveniently forgotten about them in most of the stories. So, let me help you think of them as the people who were victimized, the children who were victimized. Like I said, I don’t know their names, but imagine with me for a minute.

Michael didn’t do anything wrong. Marcus didn’t do anything wrong. Jeff didn’t do anything wrong. Zachary didn’t do anything wrong. Jacob didn’t do anything wrong. Ryan didn’t do anything wrong. Tony didn’t do anything wrong.

Eight boys, most likely wide-eyed with excitement about being mentored by a Penn State coach, were victimized.

And here is what I do know:

Sandusky did something wrong. McQueary did something wrong. Curley did something wrong. Schultz did something wrong. Spanier did something wrong. And Paterno did something wrong.

My heart goes out to the campus who is trying to rise above this, to the parents trying to help their children heal, and to those boys, who expected more from adults who should have protected them and who deserved to be treated like the amazing people I hope they become.

Obliquity of the Ecliptic

This morning, while I was transcribing, my five year old came into the front room and began looking through the bookshelves, asking me if we had an encyclopedia. With a quick flash memory of the blue volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica we had when I was a kid, I responded, “No, what do you need?” She responded, “I want to ask some tough questions.”

I should pause to say that I was quickly struck by the fact that she knew that encyclopedias can potentially hold answers for those tough questions, since we obviously don’t have any volumes in our house (go school!). Further, I am always floored when my children so readily display their willingness to learn.

So, I asked, “what tough question would you like to ask?” as I called up Google on my computer (I didn’t feel the need for a ERIC or ProQuest search for her query, at least not yet). She stated she wanted to know, “How do planets get on their axis?” With a nod to her tough question, I typed it in, and we discovered together that the Earth’s axis is called the obliquity of the ecliptic and it is currently 23.5 degrees (since after all, it does vary from 22.1° and 24.5° with a 42,000 year period). Now, we did not answer the “how” to her question, since she didn’t seem interested in astro-physics (thankfully) or further dissecting the big bang theory, but she was impressed about learning something new, a challenge we pose to her daily.

Armed with her newfound knowledge, she bounced away to play with her Groovy Girls, and I reflected on the incoming first year students with whom I am currently spending my days, acclimating them to campus and helping them enroll in courses. I just wrapped up the first two of six weeks of orientation by meeting with a group of prospective students who are heading into their senior year in high school. With both of those populations, I kiddingly referred to academic advisors as their GPS during their time here, to help plan the trips, to avoid construction, and possibly to get roadside assistance (yes, I know that’s more in the AAA realm, but go with me). I relieve them from the pressure of knowing the entire university in their short four years, and that all they need to know is that they can ask for help, from many different people, but always from us, as academic advisors.

There is a constant discussion about this next generation of college students: Are they more involved? Less empathic? Are they more choosy about schools and careers or less picky? And the ever present discussions of sense of entitlement. I am not a huge participant in much of this debate, simply because I believe that these students are different. They are not the same generation that went to school with me, pre-email and pre-cell phones (except for Zack Morris’ behemoth). However, there is one thing that is as true today as it ever was: they are new here. And if they take just one thing from me, from orientation until I hand them their name card at commencement, it is to ask the question, tough or otherwise.

For obvious reasons, I advise asking to make the soon-to-be college students’ lives easier and more satisfying while they are in school. Too often, we see students try to go it alone until the situation is almost past the point of salvageable (that’s fodder for a whole different post, best exemplified in my two year old’s “I do it” mentality). I meet with students who have been recessed from the institution and with students who stop by my office to ask where the nearest computer lab is. In both instances, the ask-for-help model is pivotal. In addition to their answers being found, often I have the opportunity to learn from their question, for which I am always grateful. Just as today I learned the definition of obliquity of the ecliptic, which as @KellyLux pointed out, will make me quite impressive in casual conversation.

Mom's Council

It started when I was pregnant with my second child. Two other advisors from my office were pregnant with their firsts. Additionally, three other advisors across the campus (two of whom were in my Ph.D. program) were also pregnant. And after careful chemical studies, no, there wasn’t anything in the water.

In sharing advice and baby product reviews with the two new moms-to-be, I realized it would be great to connect the first time moms with those of us returning for a second, and in one case, fourth trip to the land of Lamaze. So, we began to go to lunch together once a month. Imagine the waitress’ fright upon seeing the table of five of us on one such monthly gathering, ranging from 5-9 months pregnant. I believe that other tables questioned if they should eat the same food as we were.

The group has evolved. At times, lunch includes a baby in a carrier. Sometimes we are 7 strong; other times, it’s just a trio. We have a private Facebook group. We’ve gained friends of friends. We’ve had additional pregnancies, including a fifth for one. We talk about our kids. We talk about our jobs. We talk about our Ph.D. research. We talk about house refinancing. It doesn’t matter really. We just talk.

Having four brothers, I was very slow to recognize any need I might have for a group of female friends. I had mixed groups of close friends all through high school and college, despite my affiliation with a sorority. However, I was now able to connect people: women who didn’t have sisters or moms nearby, who are trying to juggle similar demands, who didn’t have time for girls’ night, but mom’s lunch worked perfectly. And here is what I have gained from our Mom’s Council:

1. Yes, we talk about diapers and teething. I know that non-parents can tire quickly of conversations about developmental stages and potty training. Frankly, so can parents. However, having a safe environment to question who you are as a mom and brainstorm what is and is not working, is just as valuable as being a student affairs professional and having a peer group or supervisor who allows you a safe space to make mistakes.

2. No obligations is the best support group. We get together once a month, second Monday of the month, to be exact. If you can make it, great. If you cannot make it, we will see you next month. Because the attendance is different every month, it means that cliques haven’t formed, and we just enjoy the company of whomever is present.

3. Sometimes an hour is all you need. Many of us in student affairs, kids or not, don’t have enough hours in the day to catch up with all of our friends, or network like we want to. Sometimes, even planning lunch turns into a major calendar upheaval. Using an hour at lunch with friends, rather than sitting at your desk and answering yet more email, can be the most therapeutic and productive time of your week.

4. It takes all kinds. We probably represent every stereotype of mothers, and every stereotype of student affairs professionals. But we also represent different economic backgrounds, different religious affiliations, and different political views (ok, so this last one isn’t completely true, but we at least represent a spectrum, albeit short, of political views). But when you need someone to balance you, there is nothing like having a person across the table provide, “Well, when that happened to me, I just…”

5. Laugh. A lot. On any monthly gathering, someone is having a rough time. Although we have come close, there has never been a lunch where all of us are at our wit’s end. We laugh at ourselves and at our kids’ antics. We laugh at the desire to have lunch at Grand Traverse Pie Co more often than not because we want to have a reason to eat pie.

You may connect with a group because you are all planning for your weddings, or studying for comps, or really like to golf. Whatever the connection, keep them. Most of us in Mom’s Council, we have a short history together (although one was my RA from 10 years ago). We don’t have the long list of memories from which to pull out a myriad of inside jokes. We have been doing this for a little over two years, and we love it. We look forward to it. We appreciate the comfortable place each month to sit down with no agenda and enjoy some time together.

When you give of yourself to your students on a regular basis, a simple lunch group can be just the sanctuary you need.