Mar 262015

March on ISU Quad

So I guess it’s time for me to start catching up on the blogging again. There’s been plenty to blog about of late but precious little time to do so.

What spurred me to get back to writing was a terrific event held by our students at Illinois State last night. Given all of the recent bad news that fraternities have been on the receiving end of lately, almost always at their own invitation, it was quite refreshing to see our Greek community stand up last night and say they don’t want to live in an environment where racism is acceptable. The conversation began when members of our Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) colony, the same group under fire at the University of Oklahoma, went to our Interfraternity Council and sought to lead a dialogue on creating a safe and inclusive campus environment. Our IFC includes organizations typically housed in a National Panhellenic Council (NPHC, for black Greek organizations), as our NPHC is currently offline as we work on chapter development. The conversation went on for an hour with IFC, and caused IFC to ask their Chapters to look at national policies on diversity and inclusion, and to explore the development of policies within IFC to improve the fraternity system.

But the group didn’t want to stop there. Wanting to have a public conversation among all groups, this past week IFC worked with our sororities, our Multicultural Greek Council, all of our cultural governance groups, and a number of others to lead a march on our Quad, which included two laps on the Quad and a signing of a pledge to create a safe and inclusive campus environment.

The best part of the evening however, was immediately following the march. As white students gathered in their councils on the bridge spanning College Avenue, a group of black students gathered on the Quad to ask questions and air concerns to our IFC leadership. Joe Laskey, our IFC president, did an excellent job of giving students room to speak, air their concerns, and talk about how  important it was to take the next steps together as a community. The two groups then merged on the bridge, and about a hundred students spent the next thirty-five minutes in a large circle sharing perspectives and having an honest dialogue about differences in the ISU experience based on race. It was a difficult conversation for many to have, but all of our students engaged passionately and respectfully, and listened to each other’s points of view. It is a first step of what I hope will be an ongoing dialogue, and it was entirely driven by our students. Our staffs in Fraternity & Sorority Life and Diversity Advocacy did a great job supporting our students, but as an educator it was heart-warming to see our students engage because they believed it was the right thing to do.

I am not affiliated with a fraternity, and my colleagues and friends find delightful irony in the fact that I supervise fraternities and sororities on our campus. And since I get to see all of the conduct side of our Greek system, it would be easy to become jaded about the value of Greek life on campus. But last night was a very welcome reminder that Greek communities on campus can serve as catalysts both for community and for change.

In sharp contrast to what took place on our Quad last night, I noted this week that fraternities have joined at the national level to create FratPAC, and the group is lobbying Congress to make it harder for colleges and universities to investigate sexual assaults in the collegiate environment. From my perspective, this is a rather obvious ploy, under the guise of deferring to the criminal process, to shield national organizations from blame and (more importantly) lawsuits. These “leaders” of fraternities know full well that the criminal burden of “beyond a reasonable doubt” will mean that most accusations will never make their way to a courtroom, so now they are seeking to insulate themselves from administrative legal proceedings without even the most basic understanding of the law. At a time when fraternities are under fire for racism, sexual harassment and assault, and alcohol and drug abuse, this is exactly the wrong response. It is time to CHANGE fraternity culture, not protect it. “Boys will be boys” is no longer an acceptable response for egregious behaviors that harm members of our academic communities and threaten many others. Maybe these “leaders” should be more concerned with the actions of individual Chapters and fraternity members as a whole, rather than with infringing on the legal rights of reporting parties. Apparently however, it’s easier to contest federal law than to make cultural change inside of fraternities from the perspective of the national organizations.

I wish these people could have seen what took place on the ISU Quad last night; I rather suspect our students know more about leadership than they do.

Note: For those interested, here is an article on the march from The Daily Vidette, our student newspaper.

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Aug 192014

First day of school, 2014We have survived opening and a new school year is underway! There was lots of activity this summer as the Dean of Students Office saw a change in leadership, with Dr. Art Munin coming in from DePaul University. This came amid a flurry of other changes in the Division of Student Affairs that have kept us all hopping over the past several months.

It is my intent to update this blog a little more frequently this year. There is still more to come in terms of Title IX commentary, as the issue continues to hold the national spotlight. I was recently interviewed on our local NPR station, and NPR itself is in the midst of an in depth review of this topic. Some of the legislation coming down the pike is going to make for some interesting conversation in the months ahead. I will also be tackling some other topics of interest as time permits this fall.

The fall promises to be a busy semester. In addition to making progress on my dissertation, I will be heading to ATIXA’s Title IX training in Phoenix in September, and then will be presenting at the joint ATIXA/SCOPE joint national conference in Orlando in October. Additionally, Brian Van Brunt and I will be repeating an NCHERM webinar on adjudicating “drunk sex” cases this October, and I will be off to The College of Wooster in November to provide conduct board training and professional development seminars.

And yes, this pic above is from the first day of school earlier this week. Not only was everyone up and ready to go this year… they were actually early! It was an unexpected but welcome surprise. I hope everyone else’s semesters are off to a good start, and I’ll see you soon in the virtual world.

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Mar 252014

517f11c48d9c7.preview-620This past Saturday I had the opportunity to attend a special meeting of the Illinois State University Board of Trustees, at which time the Board accepted the resignation of Dr. Timothy Flanagan as President of ISU, and unanimously approved of Dr. Larry Dietz as the 19th President of Illinois State University, with a contract through June of 2017.

Those of you familiar with the public controversy surrounding Dr. Flanagan will not be surprised to hear of his departure. The bigger take-away to me is that the Board of Trustees has made a solid decision in how to move forward. Board Chair Michael McCuskey  noted that, “The Board is impressed and fully confident in Dr. Dietz’s leadership, character and engagement with the University community. Those qualities were evidenced in the feedback we received from the campus community and search team during last year’s presidential search process and remain in evidence today through his outstanding level of performance at Illinois State.”

As someone who has worked for Dr. Dietz for the past three years, I think the Board got it right. Dr. Dietz is someone with a true passion for higher education, and is very well regarded by students, faculty, and staff. I have found him to be thoughtful, engaged, and caring, and consider him to be a leader with vision; he is definitely equipped to lead Illinois State towards a strong future. It’s a great time to be a Redbird!

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Aug 292013

Our Dean of Students Office at Illinois State University has two positions open in my reporting areas, with another on the way this fall. Here is the first position listing; for a Senior Specialist in Fraternity and Sorority Life. A summary of the position follows.

The Senior Specialist is responsible for:

  • Oversee the formal recruitment process for College Panhellenic Council
  • Assist in the supervision of the fraternity and sorority system
  • Maintain chapter data and records, including all fraternity and sorority grade report data
  • Oversee chapter training; officer roundtable; leadership development, recruitment, risk management, recognition, council retreats and support chapter advisement
  • Advise two of four governing councils: IFC, Panhellenic, NPHC, and MGC
  • Supervise a Graduate Assistant
  • Collaborate with Community Rights & Responsibilities for individual and chapter discipline
  • Serves on the Investigation Team for Community Rights & Responsibilities
  • Assist with curriculum development and instruction at leadership and values based workshops each year: Fraternity & Sorority101, Emerging Greek Leaders Retreat, Four Council Retreat, and Presidents and Council Officers Retreat
  • Develop, implement, and evaluate learning outcomes for all Fraternity & Sorority Life sponsored programs
  • Assist the Coordinator of Fraternity & Sorority Life with annual goal setting and evaluation
  • Assist in the budget proposal and budget hearing process
  • Assist the Coordinator with the strategic plan for the unit
  • Foster relationships with and engage chapter advisors

Continue reading »

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May 102013

We have made it to the end of another academic year, and I will take a few minutes to pause and reflect before diving into the projects that have been unattended to as the result of a very busy spring. We have commencement ceremonies tonight and tomorrow, and I am very happy for the students that I have worked with who will be graduating this weekend.

I have finished my final class towards my doctorate degree, and am now in the process of writing my dissertation proposal, with the hopes of conducting my research in the fall before writing and defending the final product. My study is focusing on the self-efficacy of practitioners to manage conflict in the student conduct setting, with student conduct including adjudicatory processes, mediation, restorative justice practices, conflict coaching, and other forums of resolution. I have identified a host institution and am really looking forward to getting underway, with the hopes of being able to participate in my own commencement ceremony next May. 🙂

This summer is focused on getting the doctoral proposal submitted, as well as moving forward on some NCHERM projects. One thing I am very excited about is the upcoming new mediation curriculum, which I am hoping will be done by the end of the summer. We have been using some of the new material in training programs, and the revised curriculum is definitely an upgrade over the older Mastering Mediation materials. More information will follow about the completion of these materials, as well as when and where they will be available for campuses to purchase.

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May 242012

I haven’t done much updating of late, as I have been busy with many different projects. More information will follow during the summer, but here’s a re-cap of what I’ve been up to.

Rick at Chamber of Commerce

Rick keynotes Chamber of Commerce educational conference

On May 17, I had the opportunity to keynote a McLean County Chamber of Conference EDUCate conference with the theme of “Who changed the game? The new rules of work.” I presented an hour long speech on conflict management in both the work place and at home to over 90 participants in attendance. I then facilitated an hour long follow-up breakout session on conflict management styles. Thanks to all thos who were in attendance for your participation and excellent questions. Many thanks to Brian Davis at the Chamber for his gracious invitation. Continue reading »

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Feb 142012

The week of February 1-7 proved to be quite an interesting one in my life, both personally and professionally. I started the week traveling to the annual conference of the Association for Student Conduct Administration (ASCA), my first trip back to ASCA since they moved their conference location from Clearwater Beach, FL to St, Pete Beach, FL. The new location at the Tradewinds is a great choice, and the staff there demonstrated exceptional customer service and attention to detail throughout my visit. I began the conference by proposing to my partner Sandra (she accepted), so the week could have ended right there and I would have been happy.

But the week did not end there; it was only beginning. The conference focused heavily on issues surrounding Title IX, threat assessment, and conflict resolution. Perhaps the best session came right away in the conference when Brett Sokolow, Bernice Sandler, Wendy Murphy, and Nancy Hogshead-Makar presented a powerful session on Title IX and the Dear Colleague Letter. Sandler in particular was a treat to hear, given her history and deep involvement in Title IX. The follow up question and answer session was equally entertaining and enlightening.

The conference also saw the public introduction of NCHERM-CR, a professional practice group out of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management (NCHERM). As the “CR” designation suggests, this group focuses on conflict resolution strategies beyond the adjudication of student conduct, focusing on mediation, conflict coaching, and restorative justice. I am honored that Brett Sokolow has asked me to chair this group, which at present includes such talented professionals as Chris Loschiavo (University of Florida), David Karp (Skidmore College), and Matt Gregory (LSU). We are currently developing our program menu and considering our initial projects as we launch what we hope will be a transformational effort in the area of student conduct and conflict resolution. I feel a debt of gratitude to Brett Sokolow, who sees this opportunity to benefit our profession and to give life to a network of professionals, several of us of whom were struggling to advance the former Campus Mediation Project. We will be adding more professionals over time, as well as working with consultants on a project by project basis. I am very excited about the work that we have to do. I am also now beginning the re-write of my original mediation training materials, which I expect to complete by summer in advance of the 2012-2013 training calendar.

Continue reading »

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Jan 182012

I know I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus from posting here, but it’s been very needed. The end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012 have been very eventful, both in my personal and professional life. There is lots to share as I move forward this year, so keep checking back for regular updates.

The big personal news to date is that I have completed my comprehensive examinations (pending approval) and am now moving forward full-speed with my dissertation proposal, which I plan to defend in late spring. I have refined my research questions in the process of preparing for comps, and am now looking at a qualitative review of the preparedness of student affairs practitioners (most notably in student conduct and/or conflict resolution) to manage conflicts and to assist others in managing conflicts. It is based off a small pilot study I did back in 2004, and I am pretty excited about having a sense of clarity on my topic.

Work continues to go along well, and our Student Government Association continues to have a very productive and successful year. They have had many achievements this year, and have launched a new website to better connect with students. I am looking forward to seeing what this group can accomplish before they are done in April and a new group takes over.

In terms of conflict resolution work, I have decided that the Campus Mediation Project has finally run its course. While there is much work to be done in terms of promoting the development and implementation of more comprehensive conflict resolution systems on college campuses, the CMP is simply no longer the vehicle to be able to accomplish this. The movement is much bigger than mediation now, and needs to provide for a full spectrum of conflict resolution services. Additionally, the structure of CMP simply was not allowing me the opportunity to do as much as I would like.

However, there is an announcement coming in the next couple of weeks about my next project, which I am very excited about. More news will be posted on this site in early February involving campus conflict resolution efforts, so please stay tuned!



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Nov 092011

Here is a very kind article written by Eric Jome that was written for “Identity,” which is Illinois State University’s online newsletter for diversity issues. The original article can be found here.

Dean of Students staff members receive cultural competence training

You can claim you have no pre-conceived notions about others, but that is simply not true. Somewhere, on some level, everyone has biases and prejudices. You may not always be conscious of them, but they certainly influence how you interact and communicate with others. It can be a sobering experience to realize this about yourself. It can also be a daunting, but ultimately liberating, experience to face those biases and move beyond them.

Facing up to personal bias and prejudice has been a cornerstone of cultural competence training programs for staff members in the Dean of Students Office. The ongoing training, organized by the unit’s 10-member Cultural Competence Committee, has helped A/P and Civil Service staff members and graduate assistants to confront and identify biases and find ways to move beyond them in order to better communicate with students and other campus constituencies. Associate Dean of Students Rick Olshak chairs the Cultural Competence Committee and feels that the overall mission of the Dean of Students Office has been greatly enhanced, and that staff members have benefitted from the training, both personally and professionally.

“A lot of us will say ‘I’m not prejudiced, I treat everyone equally,'” said Olshak. “The truth is we do have biases, and they cause us to treat some people differently. The ultimate purpose of the training is to move us beyond simply acknowledging and appreciating diversity and help us achieve a true level of understanding about others that allows us to be more open in our communications. The training sessions have been very empowering for staff members.”

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Apr 252011

Long before I arrived at his presentation tonight, I knew that an evening with Edward James Olmos was going to be rewarding. After all, here is my favorite actor from one of my favorite shows (Battlestar Galactica) who is a social activist coming to our campus to speak about one of my favorite topics (social justice). No matter what my expectations however, they were far surpassed by the man who took the stage tonight and shared his gifts and talent. In all it turned out to be two hours of my life that could not have been better spent anywhere else.

Leaving the house lights on so that he could see each of us, Olmos began by talking about his own identity, or more aptly identities. Thanks to my education I have long viewed race as an imperfect social construct that creates more problems than it settles, but it took Olmos to really bring this to life for me and help me appreciate the destructive power of racial identity. Olmos reflected on his identity as a Chicano; half-Mexican and half-Spanish, born in the United States. He talked about the power of an identity that was five hundred years old, commenting that he would not be who he was without this mixture of cultures, and the strength that he draws from both. But before he could be a Chicano, European or a Mexican, he had to be indigenous to the Americas, a history of forty thousand years. And even before that, he had to be Asian for many thousands of years before those people crossed the Bering Strait into North America. And of course before that, he had his roots in Africa, as do we all.

The point is an obvious but powerful one; all of humanity comes from Africa, and the reason we are “different” from one another now is because we took different migratory routes off of our original continent. What Olmos wanted us to remember was that we have more in common than we have separating us, a fact too often forgotten. He drew upon Battlestar Galactica to see how one amazing science fiction series dared to challenge us by making us think about what it means to be human, particularly when we might identify more with the machine-race Cylons than we do with humanity. And it was that show’s grappling with issues of human rights, suicide bombers, terrorism, reconciliation, and right to life versus right to choose that ultimately resulted in the cast and creators of Battlestar being invited to the United Nations to discuss those very same issues in detail. Continue reading »