Student-Athletes are Students

Yesterday I went to see my Volunteers play football. It began with a tailgate with alumni and hearing about the growth in enrollment and research funding at the university. As the players ran through the T I was proud to be part of the Volunteer tradition. Screen Shot 2018-09-23 at 12.50.40 PM

I left after half-time because I thought it was only going to get worse. No, not the level of play of my team, but the behavior of the fans. The stadium staff had to be called to get a young man out of the seat of a woman which was rude, but a minor issue of poor manors. I decided to leave because the young man sitting across the aisle from my husband had an anger control issue and as did the man behind me that was screaming at the top of his lungs using enough profanities that a sailor would have been embarrassed. It didn’t help that he spewed his spit all over me as he frothed at the mouth.

I bought season tickets because I love football and I love and support my school. What the hate-filled men forget is that those young men on the field are students first and athletes second. They are there to play a team sport and the reason team sports are important is that they teach young people how to work together. They learn we are stronger together and by recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of our teammates we can compensate for them. They learn we perform better when we stay focused and don’t get rattled by mistakes. When we work through tough times, help our teammates, and underwrite their mistakes we grow as human beings. It is the job of the coach to make sure that the players learn these lessons. It doesn’t help when even the coach gets a technical foul. That is the wrong lesson. If football makes you so angry you aren’t having fun then maybe you should watch golf or synchronized swimming.

When we go to the game to cheer on our team and our school we should remember the motto of the torchbearer “One that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light to others.” As the alumni, we need to do a little more to live that motto. Let’s give the players a little light as they learn to play together so that they play better in life after graduation.IMG_2591

 


Labor Day

Labor Day honors the American labor movement which focused on a just society including social equality and good citizenship. We celebrate the contributions workers have made to the well-being of our country. Is there any better way to do that than to support the labor unions that helped create our prosperity? Among other things, we can thank unions for weekends, the end of child labor, and fairer and more equal wages.

I have never belonged to a union nor do I generally think they are necessary for professionals. However, there are times when we require assistance to use our skill for the benefit of others. For example, staffing minimums have a significant impact on the quality of care provided to patients. If nurses could negotiate evidence-based staffing ratios, they would. Progress has required the work of labor unions and professional organizations to push legislation making it a reality in sixteen states.

I am grateful for all labor unions have done in my life. My mother was a teamster, and my father was a member of the Atomic Trades Labor Council. I remember strikes and picket lines, but I also remember being firmly middle class, having good health insurance, and parents that worked 40 hour weeks. I support all those that belong to unions and look forward to a just society where they are no longer necessary for equality and a living wage.

If you hire a union worker, there is no doubt the works are paid a living wage. If you don’t then it is a good practice to ask what the workers are paid. If it isn’t a living wage keep looking.


Academic Pet Peeve: What’s yours?

Pet peeve of the day: careerism.

My career has been a great pleasure. I loved being a U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) officer and I now love being an academic. The worlds have commonalities that drew me to them. They are filled with people that are dedicated to service and to making the world more beautiful. At their worst, there are too many careerists that never consider how their secrecy robs the public of knowledge.

I became a USPHS officer because I wanted to work with the poor and the underserved, but was too fearful of being poor to be a missionary or join the Peace Corps. I became an academic because I wanted to create new knowledge and share it to improve health care and quality of life.

Throughout my career, I have grown increasingly intolerant of those that take a taxpayer-paid salary or taxpayer-funded research grants and then refuse to openly share their work. Over and over I have seen people recreate the wheel because others didn’t know it existed or didn’t respect the person that created it and thus felt it necessary to recreate the work and again at taxpayer expense.

Today I heard an expert on nuclear preparedness communication hold forth on the need to, “make research accessible”. He went on to say that research cannot just be in the peer-reviewed literature. This would have had more integrity if he and most of his panelist had not prefaced their presentations by insisting that there be no photography or recording of their presentations as some of their work is copyrighted.

Hypocrisy: the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.

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Nuclear preparedness research on how to best communicate with the public is critical to preparedness, but for it to be truly effective it must be put into practice not just at the higher levels of government, but it must get down to the workers, to the mom at home with children, or to the average nurse. As the speakers stated the average teacher or clinician doesn’t read the peer-reviewed literature. How will research get down to the bedside if researchers don’t freely and openly share their work? How will we be prepared for a nuclear event if those doing the research and government officials will not share?

If you really care about improving healthcare, making us more prepared, or creating new knowledge consider the impact on lives when careerism rules public good. We can’t let advancing a career trump the public good.

End of rant.

 


Moving In

This morning as I was going to Mass I passed a mom hugging her son and crying as the father stood by stoically. The son kept reassuring her he would see her soon. It was clearly a struggle to let him go. She had done her job and now she was sending this young adult off to find his way in the world. He will face new challenges and if he embraces the challenges he will grow into a productive member of society that can give others what his parents have given to him.

I love move-in days because it is a hopeful time of the year for students, parents, and faculty. Parents are sending us their greatest accomplishments in life and trusting us to help them transition into adulthood. We will help them build on the foundation their parents gave them. It is our responsibility to help students seek the truth, but not to define that truth for them.

As an instructor of nurses, both novice and experts, it is my responsibility to introduce students to the art and the science of nursing at multiple levels. It is also my responsibility to foster in nurses a sense of duty to those we care for that must sometimes outweigh self-interest. As with any art, nursing requires a passion for the vocation because without passion the skills and knowledge alone will not sustain one when there are too many patients, too few nurses, or not enough resources. Likewise, with students, it is the passion for nursing that will sustain them when there are too many pages to read, too many papers to write, and not enough time to memorize every possible medication.

As a teacher, I strive to recognize students that are having difficulties and help them to find a path to success. I have found in my career that it is those that came to me with the greatest difficulties, that when nurtured, became the most loyal and productive. I know from my own experience that early failures are not always a predictor of future success and thus it is important to look past grades alone and assess work habits, drive, and determination. The student is responsible for embracing his or her vocation, striving to learn, exploring personal motivations, and seeking guidance and assistance when needed.

We began Mass in the presence of new students and their parents singing “All Are Welcome“. It is never more meaningful than the beginning of the academic year.

Built of hopes and dreams and visions… All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

The students enter with hopes and dreams for the future. Some will cling to what their parents taught them and some will choose another path. I hope that in all I do I encourage students to seek the truth through academic endeavors. I always remind myself that students see me in all I do and all I say. Let us all embrace our status as role models and know that parents are looking at us to be the role models in their absence.

It is time once again to help students fill their intellectual toolboxes, but it isn’t our job to ask them to throw out the gifts their parents gave them.


Cooperating with Evil

I woke up this morning and I was still Catholic. I had to ask myself why? Would I belong to a Sorority if a significant number of the leaders had raped children? Would I join a country club if I knew that they raped the children of the members, knew it was happening and covered it up guaranteeing that even more children were raped? Would I give money to a charity that I knew had been abusing and raping children for most of my lifetime?

I bet almost everyone is saying of course not. You and I would stay far away from such organizations. Yet, I find all manner of justifications for staying.

  • I enjoy the sense of community which I share with others who have similar beliefs about social justice. It doesn’t even seem right to use those words in association with the Church today.
  • I find the churches, the art, the music, and the liturgy beautiful. But the beauty on the outside hides an ugly truth.
  • I go for the Eucharist which the Priest brings to life for us, but did God intend it to have such a high price. Would God have created such evil and hold us hostage so that to have access we must go through rapist and those that cover for them?

The truth is I don’t believe in running from evil or abandoning a person that commits an act of evil.

It is true that we are told the number of pedophiles and rapist is small but is 300 small? It isn’t to me. Because of all the secrecy, how do we know it is only 300 hundred in 6 dioceses? After each scandal, there is a promise of transparency that only turns out to be another lie by the Priests, Bishops, and Cardinals. They knew they hadn’t told the whole truth and they knew transparency was one more lie told to the hostages of their faith.

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.
Maring Luther King, Jr.

I believe faith is a beautiful thing, but I don’t believe it should be a justification for being cooperating in supporting evil. If there were 300 priests in 6 dioceses that were rapists that is about 50 in each. Considering the number it is impossible for me to believe that every Priest, or the vast majority, in those dioceses didn’t know along with all of the United State Council of Catholic Bishops. It is too many for that to have been kept secret.

Some priests are displaying their anger and indignation and telling the people of the Church to do something. I’m curious what they would have us do. Do we get a vote in how the parish is run? Do we get to select our own Priest? Is there any hope that we, especially women, can have a leadership role? Can we vote them all out? Can we fire all of the Bishops?

It seems the only thing we can really do is withhold our money which only hurts the people served by the Church, vote with our feet which leaves those that will turn a blind eye to evil, or stage a protest demanding that the evil is removed. Could we all meet outside the churches and not come in until every last person that raped, covered up rape, or remained silent is no longer a member of the clergy? Could our protest be in the form of prayer vigils outside the parishes across the country? What would happen if a million Catholics marched to the USCCB building and refused to leave until everyone that knew stepped down and voluntarily committed themselves to a life of penance? Would we have the power to end the cycle?

I have no idea who is a good priest and who is raping children or abusing seminarians, but I know who does know – Priest, Bishops, and Cardinals.

If we all walk into Mass this weekend and do nothing we are cooperating with evil. What are we going to do? I for one am not willing to do nothing and I’m not willing to let them steal my faith or my Church from me. I hope one of you has a brilliant idea of what to do because I’m feeling like any good idea must make a strong statement while being compassionate and respectful and that is a tall order.


Rural and First Generation Students

There are many government definitions that are used to describe rural vs. urban areas. Tennessee, for example, has five clear urban centers (red), but in 70 of Tennessee’s 95 counties over 50% of the population is in a rural area. An easier way to see it is to look at a color-coded map with green being the most rural and red being urban. It is clear that much of the state is rural. That means many of the state’s college students come from rural areas.

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In addition to students from rural areas, 25% of students come from low-income and are first-generation college students. What does it mean to be a first-generation college student that is also from a rural area? As I sat in a session on teaching and learning, I could not help but identify with what I was hearing. It wasn’t until I was in graduate school that I had someone that could routinely answer questions about college issues including study habits, hints on writing, the importance of office hours, and even scholarships. It was also the first time I wasn’t working full-time and going to school so it was probably the combination of the two that made graduate school exciting.

First generation students frequently do not have parents that can explain to them what it is like in a classroom. They may not understand that the money the student must borrow to attend college is worth it if they have a better life growing forward. The data is clear that career options are better, they start off better, and they make more money across their lifespan. If you borrow the price of an expensive car to pay for an education it doesn’t start depreciating the day you drive it off the lot.

The day is gone when the goal of the English and science departments is to weed out students and reduce the numbers. Most faculty now consider it their responsibility to help all students to succeed and recognize their role in lifting students out of poverty through education. Most universities now have early alert programs in place for faculty to notify advisors when students start missing classes or don’t do well on assignments. It is these programs that help with student success.

Yet, what surprised me the most was that those students who get involved early in clubs, Greek life, athletics, or other extracurricular activities are the ones least likely to drop out. It left me with this question, what about the students that must spend much of their free time working? How do they engage with the campus community? What can we do to keep them in school?

What I don’t know sometimes surprises me and every once and a while my own biases shock me. Maybe I had to work so many hours as an undergraduate that I’ve held on to that envy all of these years, but kudos to the fraternities, sororities, athletics, intramural sports, cultural centers, and faith-based groups on campus that reach out and get students involved. Kudos to all of those who made sure a friend graduated. Kudos to every professor that offered a little extra help.

“Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse. As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together. The entanglements I experience in the classroom are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner life. Viewed from this angle, teaching holds a mirror to the soul.” – Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach


Finding Clarke in All Places

When I went to Clarke University to teach nursing I felt I found my soul. I was able to let go and be the person I imagined I was born to be and not the one forged by 20 years of federal rules and regulations. As I taught nursing I learned how to be a better nurse. When I left the spiritual safety of a Catholic university I feared I would regress or in some way have my faith diminished by not being constantly in the presence of those dedicated to freedom, education, charity, and justice. What I didn’t know is that everywhere I go they are present.

Today I went to the Catholic Worker House to help prepare food. It wasn’t the organized preparation we had in St. Louis for the St. Patrick’s meals, but rather the Zen method of taking whatever has been donated and turning it into a tasty and nutritious meal to take downtown to distribute in the park.

One of my tasks was to find the scissors and in the process found Sr. Mary Dennis. She quickly introduced herself and told me she was from Iowa. As soon as I said I had taught at Clarke she beamed and announced she was a Clarke graduate and a Presentation Sister from Dubuque. We talked about our love for the place and what it means to us and promised to talk more over coffee.

I came home to Knoxville, but Clarke and especially the Sisters that helped me with the transition to higher education continue to touch my life and faith. In every city I’ve lived in since I left Clarke I have run into a Clarke graduate and without exception, the one thing they have in common is their love for the place and the life-changing impact.

catholic-worker-logo-1I feel blessed that God sent a Clarkie to Knoxville to live in the Catholic Worker house, care for those that live there, and provide hope to those that are homeless in Knoxville.
Sr. Mary Dennis and the people of the Catholic Worker reminded me that it is my job to carry with me everything I learned from the BVMs. There will always be reminders along the way that we are a community of love and part of sharing that love is recognizing the dignity of every human being. It is the education we have and share with others that helps us develop our gifts and share them. I learned to be free. I will always be free.