What Is My Next Next?

Hello Readers!

Lately I have been involved in a mentoring program at WKU where I have been asked the following questions:

“What is your next next?” “What are you doing to prepare yourself for more than just now?”

For about two weeks now, I have really been thinking about this and to be honest, I’m not really sure which direction or path I want for my student affairs journey right now.

After being involved in housing for so many years, I know that I am hungry to learn about and get involved other areas that I have passion such as Greek Life, and Student Government.

When thinking about my “next next”, I often look at current job postings for mid-level and senior-level student affairs positions to get an idea of what qualifications I will need to attain the role.

At first I thought to myself “Why am I doing this now, I won’t be job searching for at least another two years?” But then I was thinking about my time in undergrad and high school and how things went a bit smoother because I took the extra time to think about those “next next” steps. I took the time to be a dreamer and think about the future rather than just worrying about the present.

Although I have thought about my next next several times, what has me puzzled is this question: How am I going to get there?

It’s easy for me to say that I want to be an Vice President of Student Affairs at a four-year institution, but when I think about HOW I’m going to get there, my mind is pretty blank. To be honest, I am kind of scared. Being the perfectionist that I am, the thought of not really knowing my next next steps really scares me. Looking at where I am right now, I know I have so much more to learn before I am ready for my “next next”.

I want to feel confident that I am working toward my goal and that my goal is actually attainable for me. I really want to make a difference in the lives of not just students that are from the same demographics myself but also other students that need support. I’m sure whatever my next next is, Coordinator, Assistant Director, Director. In Housing, Greek Life, Student Activities or even Study Abroad, I know I will go in the right direction to succeed in my goal.

Thanks for reading.

 

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Being A POC in IFC

Hello Readers,

During my collegiate experience, I knew I wanted to be part of something that was much more than myself. As a college student, one of the best ways to do this is to join a Greek affiliated organization. As a black student, I was expected to join an organization within the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), which houses 5 historically African-American fraternities known as Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., or Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. Many and almost all of the members in these organizations are people of color (POC) and were made for us, by us.

However, my undergraduate institution only housed two NPHC fraternities, one of which was removed from campus at the start of my freshman year. The other fraternity just wasn’t the right fit even though I was a legacy (Someone who’s sibling, parent, aunt or uncle were in a sorority or fraternity) and I wanted the entire Greek life in college experience.

I soon found my brotherhood, Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) which is an organization within the North-American Interfraternity Conference also known as the Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC). Although I was one of about three black men in the chapter, my brothers welcomed me with open arms. They didn’t judge me because of the color of my skin or because of what I looked like. What mattered was the values that we all shared. That we all desired to be leaders and to be part of something that is more than ourselves as individuals.

Being a POC in an IFC fraternity, sometimes made me feel like an outsider as well. There are many times when I am confronted by a member of an NPHC fraternity and I am told one of the following: “Is that an academic fraternity?” or “So you too good to be in a black fraternity huh?” or “So you chose them cause you didn’t want to have to put in real work to wear letters”. Or I am confronted by a non-Greek or a member of another organization and they automatically assume that I am a member of an NPHC organization because I am black and then seeing their look of disappointment when I tell them that I’m not.

When this happens, I often ask myself if joining ATO was the right thing. Should I maybe have waited to join an alumni chapter of a NPHC organization? Should I had still tried to make myself fit in to the organization that I was a legacy?

The answer to both of these questions is No. Why? Because no other organizations have helped me become the leader I am like ATO. I love and respect all of my brothers and everyday my days in ATO push me to continue to grow as a leader and a individual.

I understand why an individual would want me to be part of an NPHC organization, however, it just wasn’t in the cards for me. It is 2017 now. Things are different. Not all POCs are in divine 9 organizations and not all non-POCs are in IFC or NPC (National Pan-Hellenic Conference) organizations.

ATO helped mold me into the man and leader that I am today. I will continue to live by our values each day and wear my letters with pride.

-Mike

Conquering Mental Health As A SAPro

Hello Readers,

A friend of mine is doing a podcast talking about mental health and so I wanted to take the time to give my two cents about mental health and working in student affairs. As a young professional today, I look back at my past and think about everything that I have had to overcome to get to where I am today. Not very many people know about my life aside from my success and my career goals and of course they most likely know that I am fabulous.

To get to where I am today, I have had to conquer self-doubt, depression and anxiety and to this day, it is still something I continue to struggle with. However, I know that each day, I am getting stronger. Although people have told me things like “You’re too crazy to work in this field.” or things like “You can’t handle this kind of job.” I never let that stop me from pushing through and achieving my goals.

As a black male, I was often judged for expressing my emotions, particularly by other black males. If you cried you were weak, if you showed emotion you were gay, if you didn’t keep all of your feelings to yourself, you weren’t a man. These are the things that are ingrained into us during our childhood.

It wasn’t until I was able to comfortably talk about these problems (either with a therapist or a counselor) that I started to understand that it is ok.

It IS normal to have these problems and it IS ok to get help for your problems despite what others may think because they are not you. Don’t be afraid to get the help that you need, especially if there are services provided to get that help. It will only help you grow closer to accomplishing your goals and reaching success.

Be on the lookout for my episode of the podcast which will be out soon. Check out his podcast here.

-Mike

The Transition Begins

Hello Readers,

Today completes my first week as a full-time professional. This week has been full of excitement as well as nervousness and challenges. Living in a new state, in a new city, on a new campus and working with new people can all feel pretty overwhelming especially when you’re jumping right into professional staff training. WKU is much more than I ever imagined and it’s photo’s online doesn’t do the campus any justice. WKU is twice as big as my undergrad and the student demographics are just as different.

However, it was comforting to know that I wasn’t the only person feeling this way and that there are many others that I am working with that felt the same way when they began in my position. They keep telling me “Don’t stress out yet”, but because of the person I am, learning to deal with my stress and nervousness is just another learning experience.

When you’re a new professional it can be kind of scary sometimes. In my mind, I know that they hired me over so many other applicants, so I want to give my 110% in my role, however, because I am new, it’s expected that I don’t know everything right away, especially when you’re transitioning from a school that’s completely different from yours.

My supervisor has been the best in reminding me of that and making me feel comfortable in my role, even when she challenged me. I was pretty nervous transitioning from being an interviewee to being an interviewer. Although I was nervous, I think I did well as an interviewer which has really boosted my confidence in this position.

I’m so excited to see what else I will learn through this role and though I am also a little nervous and scared, I know I have my awesome supervisor and co-workers to learn on.

Thanks for reading

-Mike Harris

Dealing With Difficult People In Customer Service

Hello Readers!

For the past few months, I have been working a customer service job as a front desk associate. Having worked in customer service most of my life, I feel that I have learned how to handle working with a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds and have had a variety of supervisors, both good, and bad as well as been a supervisor myself.

I have also encountered many types of people that have tried to test me and my ability to perform in a customer service role.

I grew up always being told things like “The customer is always right”. In some cases, I believe this is untrue. In my current role as a front desk associate, I am trained to uphold the policies and guidelines of the company that I work for. As a former supervisor, I understand the reasons why we have these policies in place and I have never been afraid to uphold them despite the fact that it may make a customer upset.

For example, we have tanning booths available for our premium members to use. We tell them when they sign up for their membership that if they would like to tan, they will have to present eye-wear before being allowed to tan for their protection. As a result of upholding these policies, I have been called out of my name, I’ve been yelled at both in person and over the phone been told I was rude when I was just doing my job, a little bit of everything. If this desk job had been my first job, I most likely would have quit by now with all what I have had to put up with from some of these customers.

However, after being both at the bottom and being a supervisor, I have learned to stand up for myself. Although I was always taught “The customer is always right”, there are many cases where the customer is definitely wrong. If I am doing my job and upholding the policy by not letting you tan when you don’t have eye-wear, that is me simply doing my job, not me being a rude employee and that definitely doesn’t give anyone the right to yell at me like they own me.
I don’t care what position I’m in, one thing I will NOT tolerate is a customer yelling at me and calling me out of my name. I will be quick to shut it down and ask them to lower their tone. If doing this means that I will lose my job, so be it. Believe me, I understand frustrating situations. I understand that when you go somewhere for a service, you expect to get the service you paid for. When you order something, you want it to be what you ordered and you want it to be in good condition. But there are better ways to handle these situations other than calling someone out of their name or getting loud or getting an attitude with them.

And if telling someone to lower their tone or telling them to not get an attitude with me (and I tell them this in a calm manor) gets me fired, I don’t want to work there.

Everyone, both customers and employees deserve equal respect. Sometimes, employees make mistakes and sometimes, when an employee tells you “No” or “I can’t do this” they are just doing their job. This has really helped me to be more patient when I am on the other side of the table and being a customer. I always remember my experiences as an employee and dealing with a rude customer and that helps me to be a better customer in the long run.

Thanks for reading.

-Mike Harris

Your Support System

Greetings Readers!

(Note: This is based on my opinion and personal experiences.)

Today, I wanted to discuss (write) a little bit about the importance of a support system in life. This support system could be your family, your academic advisor, your coach if you play a sport, fraternity brothers, sorority sisters, friends, professors, God and even your peers.

During my undergraduate experience, I found my support system to be the cornerstone of my success. There were many times when I fell flat on my face and I knew I could count on them to pick me back up.

However, some of my peers do not have a support system. Many of my peers that I graduated with in high school, I gave them a hard time for not starting or finishing college. Many of them chose other pathways. Some decided that education was not for them and chose to enter the workforce. Some of them chose to start a family or go to the military rather than continue their education.

I later came to accept that everyone’s support system and home life is different. This really came to my attention during my summer internship. When I co-facilitated a workshop for first-generation college students, many of the students shared with us that their support systems believed that starting a family or going directly into the workforce with a high school diploma was more of a priority then going to college.

For some of them it was because of financial challenges and for others it was because of pressure from their support system.

This really puzzled me because although I have had financial challenges in my household, my support system has always supported me and my goals toward continuing my education. Even when I switched from a computing major to journalism and decided that I wanted to pursue a career in student affairs, (which has a significant pay cut), my support system still supported me.

Sometimes an individual may have goals and aspirations and there will be people in your support system that do not agree with you. I bet you’re wondering by now “Mike, that doesn’t make since, how can we rely on our support system if they don’t actually support us?” Sometimes, you have to change your support system based on what your goals are.

When I decided to go Greek, my family did not exactly support me. They felt that it was a waste of my time and money, but I found value in being a member of a Greek organization and I wanted to be part of one. Although my parents didn’t support me at first, the person that was part of my support system was my Resident Director who encouraged me to get involved.

When I decided to attend Arkansas Tech University, there were many people that didn’t think I could handle being at a four-year institution but with God as my support system and with the financial support of the Bass Family Charitable Foundation, I made it through. Although God and the people of the Bass Family Foundation weren’t physically there, I knew they were supporting me in anyway they could.

There are times when you may feel alone. When you might feel like there is nobody that supports you. However, remember that there is always somebody who cares, even if they are not physically there.

Thanks for reading.

-Mike Harris

 

 

 

 

It’s More Than Just A Letter, It’s My Identity

Hello Readers!

(Note: The following is based solely on my opinion)

Because it is pride month, I wanted to talk a bit about the importance of identities, specifically within the LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, plus. ) community. Many that I have spoken to who are closed minded or whom don’t understand our community have said things like “Why are there so many letters?, they all mean the same thing.” or have said “Why do you gotta have a whole alphabet of acronyms?”.

Being a member of this community is not as black and white as being either straight or gay. Sometimes I look at our community as if it was cities and states. For example, just because I am from the state of Arkansas does not mean that I have lived in every city within the state.

If a person in our community identifies as a male and says they are attracted to other men, that doesn’t automatically make them gay. If a male is attracted to other men but also is attracted to women then they are bisexual, not just gay.

Because I identify within this community, I know that I don’t “fit in” as heterosexual or straight which is the identity that is considered to be “normal”. When I finally accepted myself and my identity, it felt as if a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I accepted that it was OK to NOT be “normal”, that I had the right to my identity.

Although myself and many others that identify within this community continue to face criticism from those outside of us, with these identities, we can at least find a group of people that can relate to us in some way.

Choosing to identify ourselves as a member of the community is about more than just choosing a label or a letter to go by. To me, the importance of having these multiple identities is to have a sense of belonging, to feel like we belong to something. And for most of us, that is what we desire the most,  to belong.

Thank you for reading.

-Mike Harris