Inclusiveness Retreat Brings Faculty and Student Affairs Staff Together

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“Some of my best friends are student affairs professionals,” says tenured professor.

by AJ Marshfield
Freelance Writer

With another academic year quickly approaching, Sisyphus University Faculty Provost Taché Inutile and VP of Student Affairs Elle Echec formulated a plan to bring two ostensibly opposed sides of campus together: faculty and student affairs professionals.

“We’ve noticed that, despite having a philosophy focused on teamwork and community, it is very common for there to be a rift between these two groups of professionals on our – and on many, campuses,” said Inutile in an interview during the “Human Knot” portion of the retreat.

Student affairs staff led an activity called "Embracing our Diverse Strengths" in the afternoon before faculty facilitated "Contextual Theories of Counter-interpretive Modalities."

“Basically we want these groups to understand that, whether they are teaching the students about academics or teaching them about development and community, the ultimate goal is to work together with the students,” said Echec as she assisted in handing out boxed lunches during a break in the 8-hour day.

Academic department heads and tenured professors were on hand for the retreat, representing the faculty side of S.U. From the student affairs side, live-on hall coordinators made up the majority of the group with representation from the departments of the Dean of Students, Counseling and Admissions as well.

The day-long retreat included teambuilders, brainstorming sessions and a 1:1 talk time session titled “How I’m Like You: Commonalities on Campus,” which encouraged the professionals to list ways in which they were similar.

“I found out that the RLC—is that what you call them? The dorm moms, you know – the one I was paired with – likes to take walks during lunch. I do, too, but my lunches aren’t free so I have to walk off campus to eat, anyway,” said Professor Odioso, Biology Department Head. “It was good to talk to her, though. I’ve seen her on campus but I thought she was just a student who was on the six-year plan.”

“I found out that professors are just as boring now as they were when I was a student,” said Admissions officer Kayleigh Onvalwassen. “Because, guess what? No one cares about Calculus once they pass their math requirement! I care even less about it over boxed lunches in the Union.”

There was also a problem-solving exercise before lunch, where the groups were randomly assigned to teams and challenged with a case study based on real student issues. The student affairs staff related war stories and their personal StrengthsQuest types with each example while professors frantically searched teacher editions of student development textbooks.

Despite tempers running high during the first part of the day, the group seemed to calm down and interact more as the afternoon progressed.

“I actually ate off the same plate as a student affairs professional when we shared dessert,” said a professor who preferred to remain anonymous. “I’ve never done that before.”

“It’s hard, when you haven’t grown up around professors, to understand where they are coming from,” said keynote speaker Coince LaSalle. “I was raised in a residence hall by coordinator parents, lived on campus until I went to college, and then came back to be an RLC, so I was never really socialized to know anything outside of student affairs. It’s a beautiful thing to understand these people’s rich history and culture of eight hour days, office hours that students actually have to respect, and only checking e-mails when they feel like it.”

The two groups seemed most cohesive when taking part in an hour-long stress reduction exercise titled “Work/Life Balance, My Ass.” The activity focused on how frequently the number of hours assigned to any particular job just don’t add up.

“It was gratifying to hear the prolonged, hysterical laughter when someone suggested that student affairs professionals are 40-hour-a-week professionals. Hearing about how many hours go into helping a student find a schedule that includes no 8 a.m. courses, or listening to them weep over breaking up with their high school boyfriend…well…to be honest, I’m probably going to have nightmares.” said Odioso, still visibly shaken by a description of how much documentation is produced simply because a residence hall student appears to have dropped a few pounds.

“I always thought professors just taught their classes and then zoomed out the door—I couldn’t believe how many of them spend hours proofreading dissertation proposals from people who still can’t differentiate between ‘their,’ ‘they’re’ and ‘there,’” said Onvalwassen, while patting a sobbing professor on the back. “I think I’d lose my shit if I knew someone who didn’t have a basic grasp of grammar was going to be called ‘Doctor’ in a few short months.”

It is SU’s hope that, by including this day-long retreat as part of their five-year plan to build relationships between faculty and staff, the students will be more successful in the long run.

“Oh, I’d absolutely feel comfortable referring a student who exhibited signs of distress in my class to the Counseling Center. That Gary guy [Gary Miekki, Director for Counseling Services] seems like he knows what he’s doing. And he has a real degree—none of this ‘educational leadership’ crap.” said Odioso.

“It is what I tell people all the time—some of my best friends are in student affairs. Who? Oh, you know…that one girl I called when we had to reserve the dorm rec room in Ridan Hall for our scholarship committee meeting. You know who I mean…Stacy? Susie? Something with an ‘S’,” said the chair of the English department, while sitting directly across from Samantha Cupple, RLC for Ridan Hall.

Although it remains to be seen how successful the day will prove to be, the Provost Inutile and VP Echec expressed high hopes for their respective groups.

“I thought it went rather well, although faculty all busted out of there at 5 p.m. But, I guess they’re used to that,” said Echec.

When told this, Inutile had a brief but telling response: “Oh, did she say that? Self-important bitch.”