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  • Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Every So Often...
October 21, 2010 - 3:55am

I’m reminded of what makes working at a college such a privilege.

This week I was able to squeeze out a little time between meetings to catch part of a student concert, and then to drop by the club that was doing a table to support the LGBT community in the wake of the recent suicides and sign their banner of support.

In administration, I usually see students only when they’re bouncing off the ceiling -- the highest achievers doing amazing things -- or when they’re in some kind of trouble. I don’t get the day-to-day interaction with most students that faculty get. My exposure to average students is remarkably small, other than passing in the hallways and hearing snippets of conversation. And since it seems that every student was issued a smartphone, many of those snippets have been replaced by inaudible typing, so even that is partly lost.

The concert was fun. Students were dressed as they are, with skill levels ranging from impressive to earnest. But they were so supportive of each other, and the joy in the room was so palpable, that I couldn’t help but get caught up in it. It felt like sitting in on a rehearsal, and I mean that as a compliment. Even watching their faculty advisors in something like their natural habitat was a refreshing change; I’m so accustomed to seeing faculty in their “I’m Talking to The Administration” mode that I’d forgotten how charming and dedicated some of them are when they’re working with their own students.

But the support group really warmed my heart.

Without undue bragging, I can honestly report that my cc is more gay-friendly than most. The LGBT community here is visible, including within the administration itself. But even within a comparatively welcoming setting, there can still be tension and real fear. The rash of hate-driven suicides nationally obviously struck a chord here.

It did this fortysomething heart good to see some students who looked like they would have been comfortable in a frat mingling comfortably with other students who looked like they stepped out of a Judith Butler seminar, and the entire group catching zero flak from passersby. I don’t recall that happening in my undergrad days. They were all happy to be there, obviously having a good time, supporting each other. The goal they shared was nothing more, or less, than making the college a safe place for everybody.

In a time of economic decline and political absurdity -- Christine O’Donnell? Really? -- there’s something restorative about seeing students being gentle and generous with each other. Between all those meetings, with their dry-as-toast discussions of “metrics” and “benchmarks” and policy quagmires, it’s worthwhile to slip out for a bit and be reminded that there’s a point to it all.


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