A Hearing without Truth

Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters. – Albert Einstein

I was able to watch part of the Kavanaugh hearing today. It was all I could do not to cry for our country. We have lost the ability to have a civil discussion partially because those we elected to represent us care more about themselves than the truth and the victims of sexual assault.

Sexual assault is not about sex. Let me repeat this. Sexual assault is not about sex. It is about violence, power, and control of the other person. Today, the 21 people who hold this nomination in their hands were exhibiting verbal violence, abusive power, and control over the other person. The only thing missing was the attempt at sex to disguise it.

I believed Dr. Ford and at times felt sorry for Judge Kavanaugh though I did not believe him. No rational person would believe his statement about his drinking and his yearbook even if one believed the rest of what he said. The Senate could take some lessons from nursing. Even if you think a patient is a horrible human being, a murder, a rapist, or name your evil, treat the person with respect and dignity. Provide compassionate care and the best possible treatment. If you cannot treat the other person with respect and compassion then request to be replaced in the provision of their care. It is a simple rule. Do the best you can do it all the time. Treat all patients as you would want your mother or father treated.

The next thing we teach is that to provide the best care we must work together as a team. High functioning teams build on the strengths of each team member and show respect to all. If we start yelling at each other or treating each other with disrespect then the patient will be the one that suffers the most.  More importantly, when we are focused on ourselves we forget the patient.

I was embarrassed for our country. This does not represent the best in our country. How hard is it to focus on finding the truth and for each American to care more about the truth than political affiliation? The only person that seemed to handle themselves with dignity was Dr. Ford. Everyone else needs to be sent back to kindergarten to learn how to behave. The truth matters and if we cease to care about the truth we are lost.

Man tends by nature toward the truth. He is obliged to honor and bear witness to it: “It is in accordance with their dignity that all men, because they are persons . . . are both impelled by their nature and bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth once they come to know it and direct their whole lives in accordance with the demands of truth. CCC 2467


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.

Castle_Romeo_Atmospheric_Testing_Cropped

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.


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.

Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 8.35.19 PM

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.


When Feminism Meets Southern Lady

It has been a month since I returned home to Tennessee and I quickly remembered what it means to be a Tennessean and why I loved being a Volunteer. People say good morning and actually, mean it. I still remember the psychology professor from New York that told us how it freaked her out when she first came here. In Tennessee, people make eye contact just because it is considered polite to make eye contact when you say hello and to acknowledge even a stranger when you pass them. And, it isn’t uncommon to have a 10-minute conversation in the grocery store with a total stranger. Men still hold the door and will hold it while you climb the steps as if they have all the time in the world. Plumbers, electricians, and all the workers that have been so helpful with the old home I bought quickly treat me with greater caution when I give them the “my daddy taught me…” when it comes to home repairs. The look on their faces say, she may have lost part of the accent, but she didn’t forget how to fix things.

I love being a powerful woman, but I also love wielding the Southern lady.

I learned how much the South has changed. There was a time when a new woman in a university or corporate gym may have been considered a spouse. Yesterday, an older gentleman in the gym assumed I was in a leadership position. I’m sure part of it was the dress I was wearing that clearly gave me away, but still, I remember a time when people would see me in uniform and ask me if I was a stewardess instead of recognizing me as an officer.

I was dressed for success, but a Southern man didn’t assume whose wife I might be and that is progress.

It is nice to see that the Southern ladies have made great progress in the advocacy of women’s rights and equality. After all, a true Southern lady does not stay long in the company of those that cannot respect her. I am grateful to all the female academics, graduate students, and professional women that have worked so hard for equality. I have seen these women every day and they are doing the things that impressed me as a student so many years ago. They take their mission seriously and they take it to the streets. Almost everyone I happen to have met at the university has told me about their work with the homeless, or in an underserved clinic, or with children who were born into poverty, or their mission trips to serve the poor and spread the Word. Yes, it means something to be a Volunteer and that calling to step up lives here.

This leads me to my thought of the day. We can be polite to others and accept the intention of good manners with graciousness. The woman behind the counter that calls me dear is not being disrespectful nor is the plumber that does the same if their intent is to be polite. Communication is not only the words we choose to use, but the tone with which we use them, and the body language when we are talking. Holding a door doesn’t say I am less than a man. In fact, it is meant to show respect even if in doing so it acknowledges a role that is often linked to gender or age.

I’m glad to be home and happy that I am being reminded on a daily basis that there is much to love about the South. It is nice to slow down and remember that I should never be too busy to greet a stranger with kindness and get to know them. I am a feminist, a Christian, and a Southern lady and I love it that in Tennessee I can be all of those things!