Faculty and Staff Submissions 2015

“This We Believe”

From Dr. Juli Parker, Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the Center for Women, Gender, and Sexuality “I Believe in Justice”

I believe in justice. I believe in love. I believe that we are all called to do our part to end injustice in the world. This is often hard for people, to speak out. I believe I have been given a gift of speech, to communicate why injustice is wrong and to model how to speak out against it. I believe my love for people, animals and the world is my path to justice.

When I was a little girl, my parents taught me that all people deserved equal treatment in this world. I internalized this but did not realize how it would play out in my life until I was much older. When I was 20 and was living far away from home, I began to see racism in ways I had never witnessed it, in my sheltered Maine upbringing. I began to question why it existed, or still existed, as my father had taught me about MLK and Malcolm X and the civil rights movement through his lens as an American Baptist, and then a United Methodist minister.

When I took Women’s Studies my Junior year of college, my world opened up. I began to understand how privilege and oppression play out in our world. I understood how I had been privileged in my whiteness, in my lower-middle class upbringing, yet how I had been oppressed by my gender, how I had fallen victim to domestic violence and to suppressing my voice.

I went on to get a Master’s in Women’s Studies as a way to work for justice. In that program, I began to explore how sexuality plays out in my world. I began questioning the injustice of the women in my life whom I loved, women who identified as lesbians. I shed tears at stories I heard of injustice and oppression against gays and lesbians. I struggled with how I could speak to this injustice, how I could be an ally and eventually how I could come to terms with my own sexuality, that of a bisexual woman.

I believe that we are all meant to bring something to our world. I believe we can fight injustice with love. We can model calling out injustice in loving and caring ways. I believe we can be models for our students. I believe the next generation can bring love and hope into this Age of Aquarius. I believe we can heal our world with gentle kindness and light and hope and peace. I believe people can learn to have the courage to speak up. I believe in me. I believe in you.

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This essay, “I Believe in the Power of Being Wrong” comes to us from Jamie Jacquart, Assistant Director of Campus Sustainability and Residential Initiatives

When I was in high school, my oldest sister went off to college, the first in our family to do so. In three years she managed to change her major 8 times and then decided to leave college to become a cosmetologist. My parents were less than thrilled with her prospects to pay back her college debts on what was likely to be a minimum wage career path. There was a great rift as she chose to go her own way and my family was less then supportive of this.
I was determined that I was going to become a huge success as an airline pilot. While being a laudable plan, the problem was that once I finally got my pilot’s license, it turned out that it was miserable for me. I hated flight training, being cooped up in a small, hot space talking over a radio to people giving me vectors, landing strip numbers, and being required to pay attention to specific times on routes. Worse yet, I found out that other pilots were pretty competitive and not always nice or kind. I had reached a time of inner conflict where I was going to need to admit that I was wrong about what I wanted to do as a career.
For me, this decision came at a huge risk. Was my family going to look at me with the same derision they had shown my sister? Would they still love me if I started down a path of indecision? Although I had not shared my inner decision to not waver from my chosen profession, I was very fearful that others would view me as a failure for having been wrong in pursing a dream I had had from the time I was 8 years old.
Since that time I have come to realize that being wrong about something can yield wonderful results. My change in major forced me to look inward and discover that I had both a passion for and skills at working with college students. It motivated me to go on and complete my graduate degree and I’ve spent the last 25 years working in a career that both challenges and rewards me equally.
As for my sister, she spent a lot of years digging out of the hole that she had dug for herself. She also listened to an inner voice about 8 years ago, switched careers, and now makes double my salary, travels the world and has a financial freedom she could never have predicted at 20 years old.
I encourage all of you to give yourselves permission to be wrong. It will take you places you never thought and hopefully reveals a path to something wonderful. Life and growing up is a messy process that requires trial and error.  I hope that you can learn from being wrong and find what’s right for you.
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This essay “I Believe in Rubber Ducks” is from Stacy Ploskonka, Assistant Director for Student Activities, Involvement and Leadership

I believe in rubber ducks. I don’t remember having a rubber duck as a child. The memories of splashing in the tub while playing with my ducky friend bath toy elude me. When I was in college my parents decided to give me a rubber duck as a fun present and that is where the obsession started. As I gained more and more duckies I realized a few things about these adorable toys. Have a favorite celebrity, band, pastime, color, design? You can get a rubber duck representing that. You never have to worry about a rubber duck losing its shape or breaking because they’re rubber. Squeezing them and making them squeak is always fun (and can be a nice stress relief), and I’ve not met someone yet who hasn’t enjoyed the friendly and fun face of a rubber duck. Everyone relates to rubber ducks and the fond memories they have from their childhoods.

In the US today I believe our government is in a state of crisis. The congress is battling with the president over policy changes, the various political parties are fighting amongst themselves over what they stand for. Our country is facing many different issues like hate amongst its people, increases in gun violence, high unemployment rates (to name a few). I believe the leaders of today can learn something from the rubber duck. Like the rubber duck’s many personas or multiple color changes, our leaders today should be able to see different points of view, discuss various ideas, take on new opinions. Like the flexible rubber the ducks are made from, leaders should be flexible sometimes, willing to compromise so they do what’s best for those they represent instead of themselves. I don’t expect leaders to know or be able to do everything, but they should know when to ask (or quack) for help when the project is too much, a decision too big for one person, or a problem too complicated. It seems too often today our leadership is creating policy and change to benefit themselves or those that financially support them instead of those they decided to represent. We seem to have forgotten our government is for the people, not for themselves.

Leaders should be able to enjoy the experiences and opportunities they create for others, providing the same level of fun and enjoyment rubber ducks can provide to children during their bath time. In today’s world we need more rubber ducky leadership, leaders we can relate to, who are willing to stand up for change and do what’s right instead of what will benefit them the most.

I believe in rubber ducks.

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This next essay “100 Blessings a Day” comes to us from Rabbi Satlow, who directs the campus Center of Religious and Spiritual Life here at UMassD.

Judaism is full of blessings. Traditionally, Jews say blessings before we eat (a different blessing for each category of food). We say blessings after we eat.

There is a special blessing to say when one smells a flower. There is a blessing for hearing good news, and another for hearing bad news. There is a blessing for wearing new clothes. There is a blessing for lightning, thunder, and rainbows. There is a special blessing for seeing the ocean. There is one for seeing anything especially beautiful (including people). We have another blessing for ugly or strange looking people. (Perhaps they need it even more than the beautiful people?)

There is also a blessing for when one meets a scholar. One fundamental aspect of Judaism is for each of us to approach God’s world with a spirit of gratitude and appreciation. Saying a blessing is meant to remind us to approach the world with that spirit. The ideal is to try to say 100 blessings each day, each one for something separate and specific. Have you ever tried it? I have and it’s hard!

It turns out that Judaism and positive psychology have something in common. One of the suggestions that come out of positive psychology about how to live a happy life is to keep a gratitude journal. It is simple. Every day, write down the things for which you are grateful. You might be surprised to find out that writing down even 5 things every day might really make a difference in the way you feel. This works when things are going well in your life. It also helps tremendously when things are not going so well.

I was recently quite ill, now I’m better. (I’m grateful for that). It did not make me feel better to search out what I might have done wrong that could have made me ill. It did not make me feel better to pretend that it wasn’t really bad, it was. It did make me feel better to search for blessings. How can a person possibly find gratitude in a serious illness? How about the following:

I am grateful for the skill of my doctors.

I am grateful that we live in a culture affluent enough that some people can afford to spend 35 years training to become specialty surgeons rather than having to go out and plough the fields.

I am grateful that years of expensive medical research went into developing ways to make me better.

I am grateful for all the people who prayed that I would be healed.

I am grateful for all the people who cooked dinner for my family when I could not do it. (Friends cooked for us for 5 weeks!)

I am grateful for the people who organized all the community cooking.

I am grateful that I have a job with paid sick days.

I am grateful to the members of my union who donated sick days so that my family did not lose income when I ran out of sick days.

I am grateful for all of the people who sent cards or flowers or who called or visited to cheer me up.

I am most grateful that I have a family who loves me and who helped me through a long and difficult illness.

L ‘Shalom/In Peace,

Rabbi Jacqueline Romm Satlow

Director of the Center for Religion and Spiritual Life

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Our next sample “I Believe in the Power of Song” comes to us from Robin Robinson, professor in Sociology and Anthropology.

The resonance of music welling up through the throat, combining with words that speak from the heart, releases the joys and sorrows of the human spirit into the world for the singer to have her say, and for all who listen to bear witness, and if they so choose, to welcome the song as their own.

Hymns and psalms bring comfort through faith in a listening God. The strains of sweet love songs stir romance and passion.  Child ballads put tunes to history and legend, to stories of the culture and the land.

My roots are in England and Wales, where my ancestors joined in songs of the rural poor, and wayfaring bards traveled the countryside, linking far-flung stories of simple village folk.  Whether  lilting  tunes  or mournful dirges, the lyrics of many a verse transformed news, parables, epic tales, and personal triumphs and travails to a musical chronicle of vox populi. Miners’ songs echoed rhythms of iron striking rock in dark and dirty underground tunnels, dank with bad air and fear. The spinning songs of textile mill-working women and girls protested conditions of danger and drudgery, later demanding humane conditions: Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses, too! Songs have been salves for injuries of work and oppression. Political movements resound with anthems of peace, justice, and human rights. They serve as prayers of hope, and cries for justice and social change.  We Shall Overcome, some day.

I believe in the happiness songs bring to everyday life – Happy Birthday around a child’s frosted cake; a band of merry carolers Wish You a Merry Christmas to the lonely and the ill. I believe in the comfort of Amazing Grace in times of reverence and reflection. Spirituals bridge earthly suffering to faith in deliverance – Sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home… Soul and blues relieve those done wrong.

Nursery songs and chanting games around the world join children in play. Songs of teen age – what connects you more quickly to trials of adolescence: the exuberance, confusion, and pain? STOP! In the Name of Love, before you break my heart…think it over…brings gravity to the pain of adolescent love.

I sing in a community chorale of 140 whose joy of singing began, for some, with the simple happiness of singing in the shower, and who bring that pure pleasure of the unjudged and soaring voice to join with others. Some are trained professionals. For me, it is a lifelong, elemental joy, a family tradition, a connection of beliefs, values, art, and liberation.

My grandmother sang with a large urban, ecumenical chorus. Her vibrant soprano rang sweetly and sadly as I sat beside her on the piano bench as a child, and later helped me understand something of the challenges of her life, and our family’s stories. In a gentle and earnest tenor, my grandfather sang many a lullaby and song of parental love, and I knew he was singing right to me.

On Midsummer Day in Britain, I sometimes join a small group of singers who gather in a tiny ancient stone pilgrim chapel on a hilltop overlooking pastures of grazing sheep and the sea, to welcome the season in song. Standing in a circle on the earthen floor, we do what has been done for centuries, singing madrigals of love and beauty, and hymn-like praises of warmth and plenty.

I believe in the power of song to lift up the collective spirit of a people, to release the individual pain of the oppressed. I believe in song to comfort and soothe, to lull babies to sleep, to let lovers smile and sigh. I believe in the power of song to knit the ancient to the present, to express truths across a world of languages, to make us one in the liberation of the heart that flows in a stream of music from within.

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Lucinda Poudrier-Aaronson, Director of Housing and Residential Education

“Finding Leadership in Mothering”

I believe my most significant lessons in leadership have been developed from being a mom or being mothered.  I consider raising four sons a privilege, and quite possibly, the most important undertaking in my life. I have discovered basic leadership skills in mothering.

“You can’t say the ‘S’ word.” Several years ago, in the presence of one of my sons, I exclaimed to myself, “Well, that was a stupid idea!”  He immediately said, “Mommy, you can’t say the ‘S’ word. ‘Stupid’ is a bad word.”  He was right, and I was reminded of a very basic lesson. Words hurt and have the power to negatively impact others. We should not say certain words.

It is OK to color outside the lines.  When my sons were young, they colored on everything including paper, walls, and each other. Drawings were simple and uninhibited. Then we introduced the spoken and unspoken rules for color and lines.  Unknowingly, we diminish or limit creativity in favor of rules and established structure.  We should always ask, “Does the grass always have to be green? Does the sky always have to be blue?”

Time outs are necessary.  The “time out chair” was considered harsh treatment in my house.  No one wanted to sit there.  From a child’s perspective, time outs stink. However, what if time outs are actually good for us? Time outs provide an opportunity to slow down, a time to think and reflect, and creates a space for developing a new or different perspective.

“Circle, circle, dot, dot, now you’ve had your cootie shot!” Unfortunately, many of us were taught that we may “catch cooties” from someone who looks, sounds, or acts differently than us.  Guess what?  You can’t catch cooties!  We must place value on appreciation of difference, and convey cootie shots are not necessary.  Our individual and collective tolerance and acceptance to difference boosts our community health.

“Do you want some cheese with that whine?” This is one of my favorite sarcastic mother questions. I’ve also heard others say, “I’ll give you something to whine about.”  Both are very different takes on a similar topic, but both highlight the need for a child (or adult) to stop whining.  Whining will only annoy people and accomplish nothing.  Solve a problem by taking action.

“Wash your hands…brush your teeth…clean your room…wipe!” I often give orders to my sons. They become resistant to orders even when for their own good.  Admittedly, I’ve resorted to tactics other than giving direct orders.  Guilt and bribery work. “I’ve cleaned this entire house, the least you could do is….” or “if you help, we might go get you….”  Tasks must be delegated gently and fairly, and reaching common ground garners results better than barking orders.

“Can I kiss it better” I asked my young son after witnessing him fall and scrape his knee on the sidewalk. We cleaned the knee and applied the bandage, and still he whimpered. After shaking his head “yes” with one more sob, came my gentle kiss. He climbed down from the kitchen counter. He was off to play again. We must validate feelings in the moment, but also provide courage for a future attempt.

“Go outside to play,” I exclaim at least once a week. “Turn off the TV!” I want my sons to run and jump, to explore the world, to giggle out loud, and to make good decisions even when I’m not there.  To be our best, we must not take ourselves too seriously, and fiercely seek the delicate balance of hard work and healthy, joyful play.

Mothers have much to teach about leadership. These messages sound so familiar and resonate because most of us have already been introduced to these basic leadership principles at such an early age by our own mothers. It is no wonder, the words of my own mother, or the echo of her words in my voice, have provided me a solid foundation of leadership. “Never forget to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’!”