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Let’s Talk About Music

Each person has several immutable truths which provide definition and direction to their lives, and embracing/capitalizing on those truths very often lead to creative explosions, greater understanding of the world around them, and experiencing deep emotional/physical/spiritual connections.  These truths can be personality traits, tastes and preferences, passions, or as Mike Brown, founder of The Brainzooming™ Group, details, “distinctive talents.”

Chances are that if you’ve ever had a 5-10 minute conversation with me, you may have discovered that one of my truths revolves around music, specifically that it exists and communicates to the very core of my being.  This is also evident to those who have seen my iTunes library or slightly excessive record collection.  Getting back to the point, this truth is not only a passion of mine, but a distinctive talent as well.  Now, I can’t play a coherent note on any instrument and I’m not going to be winning a reality show singing contest any time soon, but ask me to put together a playlist that has a specific theme, communicates a certain emotion, or that supplements a conference experience, and I become a hyper-focused musical producer.  This is all well and good for me, but how does this relate to why you’re here (I’m assuming), which is higher education?

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently posted a wonderfully well-written article by Mark Edmundson entitled, “Can Music Save Your Life?” which, among other things, speculated about the impact that music has on our students’ behaviors and discussed how impressively inarticulate most of us are when it comes to how/why music affects us.  Obviously this article stood out to me, but it did so on a much larger scale, especially when it comes my work with students.  It’s not a stretch to say that nearly all of our college students listen to and enjoy music on a daily basis, but how often have we related their experiences with and connections to the music they surround themselves with in our conversations with them?  I’d venture to say rarely, if ever.

Consider for a moment the idea I discussed in my previous blog post about speaking the language of our students.  In it, I provided numerous statistics and examples of why it is so important to use social media to connect with our students in ways which they connect and communicate.  However, if we stick with the theme of speaking their language, social media — for all of its popularity and usage — pales in comparison to the universal access and usage of music, and yet this is almost never focused on when discussing student development and understanding student behavior.  Why is that?  Surely even we spend a good deal of time connecting in our own ways to music, if for no other reason but it passes the time and provides us with a modicum of enjoyment, but we don’t even consider relating this common bond we share with students in our work with them.  Again, why is that?

Mark Edmundson shared in his article that the perspective students have that the music they listen to doesn’t affect their behavior/attitudes/beliefs is roughly the same as saying the food you eat doesn’t affect how you physically feel.  This is a wonderful insight he provides, because it perfectly illustrates the connection music has to the inner workings of our students.  Learning about and understanding the music college students listen to gives us a glimpse into who they are and potentially what they believe, which is invaluable to us as higher education professionals.  To compound on this further, Mark discusses the struggle he had growing up understanding why/how music resonated with him and how most of our students are no different, falling silent when approached about what music means to them.  We might even feel the same in this regard, and that’s important to note.  If we can understand the gravity music plays in our own lives, we become much more tuned in to the effect it can have in our student’s lives, as well as being able to facilitate discussions delving into the student-music relationship.

Combining the connection to music and the dialogue of understanding with our work with students can improve our working relationships with them, give us another tool to connect with and help them develop, and do so in a fun, outside-the-box method that heel-turns away from the canned “tell me a little about yourself” approach that tends to fall a little short in working with our current generation.  Henry Ward Beecher once said that “music cleanses the understanding; inspires it, and lifts it into a realm which it would not reach if left to itself.”  I believe this statement only further serves to reinforce the importance this medium has in our world, especially with our young people.  Therefore, it is up to us to start speaking this language with them and become trailblazers to the hearts and minds of our college students.

Do you have any stories/experiences that combine Higher Education and music?  What about your own personal connections to music?  Please take the time and share your insights below!


Transforming Conferences — Transforming Ourselves?

A phrase those of us who work in the field of Higher Education regularly use with our students is to “think outside of the box.”  It’s a common enough idea — don’t stay with the ordinary, think of how you can do something newer/better, etc. — yet for the most part, the more you move up within an industry, the less this advice is preached to you.  Our work lives become more focused on administration and higher level tasks, so that the mundane invariably zaps us of our youthful creativity that brought us here in the first place.  Creating flashy bulletin boards becomes damage billing, devoting oodles of time to our students becomes putting out the daily mini-fires within our buildings/department, and so on.  It doesn’t have to be this way; we can transform our environment to be one that resembles the lighthearted, wholly worthwhile experiences we had as RAs/grads if we only break away from the insipidity that comes with having increasingly less time with students and more time devoted to managing.

I recently had the privilege of attending the inaugural Big Ideas Conference, put together by The Jersey Alliance.  One of the innumerable things that was refreshing about this conference was how it was so unlike any other conference I’ve attended.  Think about the unifying characteristics of all of the conferences you’ve attended.  Now create a conference with the guideline that you aren’t allowed to do those things.  Welcome to the Big Ideas experience.  I understood the basic premise of what this conference was going to entail, but what I didn’t know (and am starting to see after the fact) was the impact that two days would have on my overall frame of mind when it comes to Student Affairs.

I could continue on for paragraphs about how amazing an experience it was to attend this groundbreaking conference, but for space sake, take my word for it (and follow #bigideas12 on Twitter).  The brain trust that is the planners/organizers of the Big Ideas Conference understand that we hold within us the ability to transform our structured, traditional approaches into something much more dynamic and meaningful, not just for our own benefit, but for that of our students as well.  I don’t have to tell you that we are working with students who were born into the technology age (see: “Internet Generation”) and know much more about fast-paced lifestyles and communication than 98% of administrators out there.

Yet in spite of that, we — for the most part — continue to go with our normal approaches in our work with students, when deep down, our students are longing for something that speaks their language, something that they can understand and identify with.  Bulletin boards and brochures are archaic for our generation.  Anything over two paragraphs (or 140 characters) goes unread.  Emails go unchecked.  These are widely-used methods in our industry that just aren’t working for our current students.  What we as Student Affairs professionals need to do is to take a page from our Big Ideas colleagues and take part in what Higher Ed blogger and social media pro Eric Stoller calls “status quo deconstruction.”  Find ways to incorporate what our students use on a daily basis (texting, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) into our approaches with them.  If you noticed, all of what was listed has to do with technology — think about it.  Come up with innovative ways to handle judicial sanctions, programming ideas, advertising, etc.  You have to step outside the box to think outside the box, so quit thinking like an college student administrator and start thinking like a college student.  What would you want to see from your residential/university experience?  How would you feel connected?  These and other questions are the building blocks to becoming a field that is truly student-centered.

What are some things that you and/or your department do to meet our college students where they are?  Are there any Big Ideas that you have developed that have resonated with your students?  Please share them below, and remember:

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets credit.” – President Harry S. Truman

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