Category Archives: Winter 2022 Issue 1

How We’re Responding to the Increase in COVID-19 Cases

by Clare Creighton

On January 6th, the ASC & Writing Center team held our first staff meeting of the term. While we remain open for in-person services, we also anticipate spending time assisting student staff in navigating decisions and changes to their work in response to the surge of COVID-19 cases. We spent some time identifying strategies as we looked ahead at the next few weeks, and here are a dozen ideas we came up with. While they may not be applicable to all scenarios, we share them in case they might be of some use to others, and we invite you to add to our list in the comments.

Things we can do as a team over next few weeks:

  1. Increase the availability of remote/online service delivery as we may see greater utilization rates of online modalities—out of necessity or out of caution—during the next few weeks.
  2. Provide a refresher on how to use Zoom and Teams, and how to offer services via Zoom as some staff might be out of practice. Doing this proactively can prepare us for shifts to Zoom and Teams that might happen as student staff isolate or quarantine when needed.
  3. Prepare email templates for responding to affected employees, contacts and other related needs. The university templates are a great starting point, and we’ll add the nuances of our programs and spaces (including who to notify) to have them ready to use. We’ll also share examples of different emails amongst our team to lighten the drafting load.
  4. Order additional KN95 masks to offer to student staff who are working in front line positions. [Note: masks with higher filtration are now available across OSU campuses at multiple sites and through OSU Surplus Property]
  5. Ensure cross-training where possible and prepare to work with lower staffing levels when needed; document protocols and logistics allowing folks to cover when others need to be out.
  6. Prepare signage that communicates any disruption to services or availability.
  7. Use staff meeting time or email to clarify the new isolation and quarantine guidance and encourage students to reach out for help navigating confusion or uncertainty.
  8. Check-in with folks and create time for being in conversation. Share how we’re doing and normalize time for talking about how we’re feeling about what what’s going on, and what we’re experiencing.
  9. Acknowledge that comfort levels are individual. Provide flexibility where we can, allowing folks to err on the side of caution if that helps reduce anxiety and stress.
  10. Adjust our schedules to increase capacity for in-the-moment responsiveness: being mindful of new things we’re committing to, saying “no” or deferring deadlines if needed.
  11. Distribute work that has emotional weight to it: notifying about exposures, asking folks to wear masks, etc. These tasks can be exhausting.
  12. Encourage intentional planning for evening and weekend activities to lower stress, recuperate from decision-making, and prevent burnout.

Supporting Yourself in a Support Role

by Carl Conner & Sarah Norek

Burnout is real, and many people are really feeling it right now, among other things. We’re experiencing a global pandemic, large-scale political unrest, the increased visibility of racialized violence and injustice, and other factors that impact our mental and physical well-being. Many are navigating decision fatigue, screen fatigue, fatigue in general. While we don’t want to discount anyone’s positive experiences over the past several years, we do want to acknowledge that it has been a challenging time, and continues to be so. With this in mind, it’s important to give space to the process of challenge and how we proceed through it. Talking about and connecting through difficult times can help us better support others and find new ways to support ourselves.

At the end of 2021, we (Carl & Sarah) connected remotely with campus colleagues to discuss the question of how folks in support roles support themselves, while also providing support to all who rely on them. We met with Abbey Martin (Program Coordinator, Coast to Forest), Bonnie Hemrick (Assistant Director of Mental Health Promotion & Interim Director of Prevention & Wellness) and Tessie Webster-Henry (Mental Health Promotion Coordinator). Following, we want to share themes that rose to the surface of the discussion.

It can be helpful and self-supportive to adjust (and readjust) our expectations.

Many of us have a long list of tasks and we find our plates heaped full. Abbey spoke about intentionally making her life smaller and appreciating the small wins, like getting up and out of bed, getting to work, taking care of the people in her life who need taking care of, etc.  Tessie resonated with expectation adjustment and mentioned being realistic about what we can do in the moment, as well as not comparing ourselves to our pre-pandemic selves. Abbey shared that part of what she needs in her support system is someone who can tell her that she doesn’t need to accomplish everything all at once; some tasks can happen on a different day.

We’re human, we make mistakes, and we can give ourselves grace.

As we discussed adjusting expectations, Abbey reminded us to have grace for ourselves and others as we make these changes. Bonnie shared the observation that it’s hard to let go of that impulse to make everyone happy, which brought up the topic of perfectionism and failure. As Abbey pointed out, we live in a culture of comparison, bombarded by stories of exceptional people, which can cause us to feel like we’re not doing or being enough. Tessie reflected on the fact that we can’t be great at everything every day, so she likes to ask herself (as inspired by a friend), “What am I going to fail at today?” We can give ourselves the permission to fail and even welcome failure as a way to take care of ourselves too.

Finding and making connection with others matters. A lot.

Tessie spoke to the need for balance. On a college campus, part of our job is to create, innovate, and support. At the same time, building relationships, taking care of each other, and sharing space and time together are such important parts of our work as well. As Tessie said: “Student Affairs is about being present too.” Bonnie talked about how important her support network is; it helps her process what she’s experiencing, how she’s providing support to folks, what’s impacting her, and what she’s carrying. Tessie brought up the concept of always choosing and acting with kindness.  We don’t know what the people in front of us may have been through or what they’re arriving to a meeting having just experienced, so we must center kindness and care as we connect with others.

During closing remarks, Bonnie spoke to how communities are disproportionately impacted throughout all of this. All people – even members of privileged communities – are experiencing hardship. When we factor in identification with one or more marginalized identities on top of that hardship, we see a compounded impact on physical and mental well-being.

The value of connecting, normalizing, and validating each other’s experiences

One of the things that we heard reflected by Abbey, Bonnie and Tessie, and that we both felt too, even as largely silent facilitators, was just how healing and empowering the conversation was. Our three “interviewees” were connecting, normalizing, and validating each other’s experiences.  We were all hearing each other and recognizing similar experiences, while also taking away insights and perspectives from our colleagues. As facilitators, we came away feeling newly grounded and like we’d encountered a breath of fresh air.

A few strategies we wanted to be sure to share:

  • Tessie offered the practice of getting an index card, noting appointments, and then identifying 2 to 3 things that can be accomplished that day, as a way to help with expectations and make manageable workloads for ourselves.
  • Abbey offered the strategy of washing hands between work and home, or work and whatever else, as a way to cue ourselves that we’re leaving this potentially difficult space and entering a new one.
  • Asking ourselves at the start of the day, what can I fail at today?

How do you take care of yourself while in a support role? How are you taking care of yourself so you can continue to support others? We’d love to hear from you!

Grappling with the Complexities of Supporting Students

by Clare Creighton

Last term, over four thousand Corvallis-based students responded to the Fall 2021 survey designed to help us better understand their experience and needs during this transition back to primarily in-person modalities. The results are available for OSU faculty and staff through a Box folder, and can be requested by emailing Clare Creighton, Maureen Cochran, or Erin Bird.

While I hope folks explore the rich data students have provided, I’d like to use this space to share insights I gained from reading student responses. I had the honor of reviewing open-ended survey comments from a few of the survey questions—over one hundred thousand words from students.

Student responses helped me understand that if it feels like a complicated and challenging time, it’s because it is. Throughout the pandemic, anticipating and making decisions has felt difficult. Part of that is because students have a range of needs and desires:

  • Some students feel more comfortable accessing resources in person, some prefer remote.
  • Students want more information but feel overwhelmed by the emails.
  • Students want courses offered in a range of modalities but have varied perspectives about which courses are a good fit for each modality.
  • Some students want to see more enforcement of masking requirements and COVID-19 protocols, others want masking requirements to be reduced or eliminated.

I don’t paint this picture with the intention of implying that the student body as a whole are a fickle group – quite the opposite. We have students who are clear on their needs and comfortable sharing them. The challenges come when those opinions and needs diverge. The puzzle we have is how best to meet those needs. Here are a few ways the Academic Success Center & Writing Center is working to support students:

  • Offering multiple modalities of services not just because of COVID, but because offering choice to students better meets student needs and preferences. For example, students can access writing support through drop-in in-person consultations in the Studio, they can schedule Zoom consultations, and they can submit writing for written feedback via email.
  • Creating some transparency for students about the resources, expectations, and guidelines. It can be confusing and discouraging to not understand why things are being done the way they are. Winter term may bring some irregularities in our staffing and services, and greater transparency will help students understand what is available and what they’re experiencing.
  • Encouraging compliance with COVID guidelines and holding compassion for those are struggling because they’re anxious about getting ill or fatigued with the rules and want things to be “back to normal.” There are students visiting our spaces who are not wearing masks – while we can acknowledge the frustration many feel in the need to wear masks, encouraging compliance will help other students feel comfortable to stay, learn, and ask questions.
  • Acknowledging student perspectives. Students have great ideas – we’ve learned a lot about their needs through these surveys. Similar efforts are happening across the US as higher ed seeks to understand the perspectives of students during this unusual time. We can highlight for students in small and big groups that we count on their ideas and perspectives to shape our work.

The students who completed the survey this fall gave us some great insights into their needs. I am inspired to do what I can to make full use of that gift. And it’s helpful to keep in mind that even the observations above are generalizations. We are best able to meet student needs when we engage with them as individuals wherever possible.

Staff Picks: Readings & Resources That Have Shaped Our Views on Equity

by Anna Bentley

As we shared in a fall 2021 article, our team is committed to finding ways to engage with the Division of Student Affairs Strategic Priority. Over the past year, we have explored how equity intersects with a variety of topics: neurodiversity; leadership practices; decision-making; the concept of merit; recruitment and hiring; and research, literature, and theory. Below, you’ll find a collection of readings and resources that particularly resonated with Academic Success Center & Writing Center staff.

Anika Lautenbach

I was struck by “How to be an Antiracist Supervisor: Start with Changing What you Call Yourself” by Kim-Monique Johnson and how much is wrapped up in the language we use. While I haven’t identified a new title for myself yet, this reading helped me intentionally reflect on some of my leadership practices and think about how I could work toward a healthier work culture. This article is a good introduction for anyone who wants to learn more about the history of our workforce, rethink power structures, and move toward centering the well-being of employees.

Kelley Calvert

For our Strategic Priority conversations on neurodiversity, I particularly enjoyed the reading “Just a Unicorn” from The Journal Committed to Social Change on Race and Ethnicity (Valley Library; OU Libraries Open Access). Featuring poems written by neurodiverse individuals, the reading enabled me to better understand their experiences through the use of simile and metaphor. I also appreciated how the poems dealt with the intersectionality of neurodiversity and other aspects of identity like race, gender, and immigration status. I would recommend this short, easy-to-read, open-access poetry collection to anyone interested in immersing themselves in the sensory and emotional world of neurodiverse individuals, if only for a few brief moments.

Anna Bentley

Before reading The Equity-Centered Community Design Field Guide by Creative Reaction Lab, I didn’t see myself as someone with the power to enact change, so I had never taken responsibility for how I unwittingly upheld systems. Having worked in a variety of administrative support roles, I saw my supervisors and higher ups as the ones with all the power making all the decisions, not me. This field guide taught me that we are all designers because we are constantly making decisions, big and small, that impact others. I especially appreciate the example scenarios and sample activities that illustrate how we can work together to create more equitable systems.

Marjorie Coffey

A reading that resonated for me was the Equity-Minded Decision-Making Guide from Achieving the Dream. We engaged with the guide during exploration of work culture and decision-making. This guide was a helpful starting point for considering context within a decision, as well as how equity relates to that context. The guide also offers questions for evaluating options when making a decision and strategies for engaging others in the decision-making. As I worked to intentionally develop my approach to decision-making, the guide helped me plan for how I could prioritize equity both in the decision itself and in the process of arriving at the decision.

Carl Conner

One of the most meaningful readings I was able to engage with this past term was “The Future of Healing: Shifting from Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement” by Shawn Ginwright, Ph.D. I really appreciated that Ginwright was able to address the nuanced nature of collective trauma and marginalized identity, while also suggesting many concrete strategies for how to empower people at the individual and community levels. Engaging with imaginative, empathetic, and community-based practices were all helpful reminders as we work to address collective trauma.

Chris Gasser

A reading that stands out for me is “Dis/ability Critical Race Studies (Discrit): Theorizing at the Intersections of Race and Dis/ability” by Subini Ancy Annamma, David Connor, and Beth Ferri (Valley Library; Research Gate).  As we have spent the last few years thinking about the ways that we can better support students, I find myself often thinking about the way the term “normal” has been defined, for me, by my body and the privileges I have.  The tenets of DisCrit, as laid out in the article, have been invaluable in conversations on merit, supporting underrepresented students, designing spaces to be inclusive, and many other places.

Clare Creighton

I enjoyed exploring Critical Supervision for the Human Services (Noble, Gray, Johnston), in particular, Chapter 8: Practice Fundamentals (Valley Library; Publisher). There is a lot of emphasis in this text on the relationship between a supervisor and the person they supervise – the structure in which they interact, the dynamic of their interactions, and the degree to which those elements are discussed intentionally. I found it helpful to see some of the recommended conversations and topics for discussion, and appreciated the invitation to manage my own schedule in a way that creates more time for relationship development.

Sarah Norek

Much of my supervision/leadership experience has been informed by my experience of being supervised/led. And there’s much to take away from those experiences! At the same time, it’s been so helpful these last months to draw strategies and approaches from readings and conversations to practice in my work and learning around supporting others. Ultimately, it was the many different readings and how they talked to each other and to me that has felt most helpful, but two that stand out are chapter 5 of Mutual Aid by Dean Spade (Valley Library; Publisher) and The Future of Healing, by Dr. Shawn Ginwright. These have emphasized for me the value of relationship building, its continual process and how much it can benefit from intentionality.

Chris Ervin

One of our Strategic Priority projects focused on how we recruit and hire student staff, a process highly influenced by OSU’s Search Advocate program. During our Strategic Priority work, we engaged in learning activities around equity in recruitment and hiring of student staff, then examined our own practices to determine where we are enacting our values around equity and inclusion and where we could do a better job. For me personally, this learning process encouraged me to think carefully about students’ entry points to our Writing Center’s consultant positions, about who sees themselves as potential writing consultants, who we’re inviting to apply, how we’re engaging in the interview process, who we’re selecting for next stages of the hiring process, and so on. The learning process tested twenty years’ worth of assumptions I held about how best to recruit and hire peer writing consultants.

Centering Team Members’ Ideas & Perspectives

This past year, our Academic Success Center & Writing Center team has engaged in ongoing work on the Division of Student Affairs Strategic Priority. Anna shared about our team’s process for exploring equity topics in her post from Fall 2021. The past two terms, our teams have explored equity and leadership practices. Each team member explored a range of practices specific to their roles, and one that resonated for me was inviting team members’ ideas as a starting point in conversations. Across many contexts, I try to create an environment that invites collaboration. We each bring a unique history, perspective, and approach to our conversations and decision-making. This is part of what makes working in teams and collaborating so valuable. The practice I highlight here is, for me, about how we can help people feel there is space for and value in what they contribute. Across our many interactions, we can create a space that centers team members’ perspectives and ideas. In turn, this also means de-centering supervisor or leader perspective so that is not the focal point of discussion. Given the complexity of our interactions and decisions, it can take intentionality and planning to be mindful of the spaces we create in conversations.

Values of This Practice

I appreciate this strategy as it has the potential to encourage people to bring their knowledge, experience, and perspectives to bear more fully on their work. It contributes to equity by emphasizing the inherent value of each person and the importance of our relationships with each other. I also find value in pushing back on that idea that there is one “right” way to do things. Like many people, at times I come up with an idea or path forward and need to take a step back to consider the full range of possibilities. I’m personally working to attend more to how I can create the type of space that acknowledge and values each person and allows for many pathways and options to be considered. We have the potential to lose these benefits when we lose sight of the relationships we have with others and instead focus primarily on deadlines, products, or a single perspective.

As I reflected on this practice, a reading that added nuance for me was White Supremacy Culture: Still Here by Tema Okun. Okun offers that “we are at our best when we are ‘with’ others (and ourselves)” and encourages prioritizing relationships and acknowledging that we are all worthy and invaluable. In doing so, we can push back on that idea of one “right way” and instead benefit from what we experience and create when we are “with” each other. Another reading that contributed to my thinking on this practice was Critical Supervision by Gray, Johnston, and Noble (Valley Library; Publisher). They emphasize the importance of early, transparent conversations about supervisory relationships and the impact of relationships on work and growth. They advocate for “safe, shared and dialogical relationships that consider individual differences and histories” and where leaders are mindful of how ideas are presented, when and what questions are asked, and opportunities for co-creation of knowledge (159).

Strategies for Interaction

Over the past few months, I’ve considered a number of ways I can better enact this practice in my own work. Some of the strategies shared here lend themselves more to one-on-one conversations, while others might work better with a small group or larger team.

Intentional Plans for Conversations and Meetings

It can help to think in advance of conversations or meetings. Planning for conversation flow and questions can be an important part of creating intentional spaces. Here are a few prompting questions that can encourage individual or team sharing and reflection:

  • What ideas do you have?
  • What possible options have you identified?
  • Want to brainstorm some ideas together?
  • Based on your experience, what are you thinking/leaning toward?
  • What are the range of ways this [action, project, task, etc.] could be accomplished?

Mindfulness around Responding to Ideas

When people share, it can be helpful to consider a wide range of ways to respond, especially ways that keep thinking open. This can help to avoid immediately jumping to questions, offering advice, or noting additional factors to consider which might limit vs. opening the conversation. Here are a few potential responses that can support more open-ended thinking:

  • Affirming what is shared
  • Sharing areas of agreement
  • Asking open-ended, neutral questions to develop understanding
  • Paraphrasing to confirm understanding
  • Generating many ideas simultaneously

These are just a few strategies that resonated for me as I reflected on intentional conversation and decision-making spaces. And there are so many more beyond this short list! I’m still exploring strategies and would love to hear ways that you invite team members to bring their ideas, experiences, and perspectives to their work. Feel free to reply to this post or send an me email if you’d like to share.