When Staff Development Works

by Grant Batchelder

During most of my RA staff meetings, I end with a video, usually a TED Talk, which has something to do with identity or personal development. I follow up with discussion questions that I believe will get my students talking to one another about different issues and topics. Since the first time I did this with my summer graduate assistantship at UC Santa Cruz, I have had some success with this program, but nowhere near as well as that first time… until this week. This week, I had one of the best student discussions ever with my RA staff. It had been a hard week for them filled with lots of stressors and a strict talking to from me about their attitude during our monthly First Year program called Project F.L.O.O.R. After our discussion about my disappointment with their attitude, we watched the video that I had planned for this week. The video was a talk by Bryan Stevenson called “We Need to Talk About an Injustice.” The video discusses many topics about race, personal identity, and group identity.

My students shared how much they enjoyed it and what it meant to them, except one. One student sat there with a look of confusion. Finally, I knew we would have a good discussion. In my opinion, it is when students disagree and talk in civil discourse that they learn the most. I stopped the discussion and asked her what she thought. She paused and then bravely told the group that she didn’t get what they were so excited by. She said that she enjoyed it and thought there were some good points, but it didn’t speak to her like it did the others. I was about to interject and tell her that it was okay to disagree or not feel the same way as the other RA’s, when another RA spoke up. This RA said what I have wanted to hear for a long time: “I know what you mean, I didn’t really get what people where seeing in the first few videos, but I would listen and try to do what they told me. But then later in the week, something would happen with my residents and I would suddenly understand what the video was talking about. So it’s okay to not get it or to agree, but keep an open mind and your residents will show you what it meant because we live these challenges everyday with our residents; we just need to pay attention and be there to support them just like the videos tell us to.”

I want to leave you all with that thought right there. Sometimes we will read something or be told something that we disagree with or don’t understand, but our students are going through these challenges and if we pay attention, they will show us what they mean. It reminds me just how much they teach me every day. I look forward to what they will teach me tomorrow and every day to come.

Student Affairs - the First Years

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