I recently completed a project series that had to do with helping university faculty tell their personal stories. We were endeavoring to inspire them to be better mentors to students both in classroom and in office/coaching situations so that they will be approachable and available. When students are struggling, feeling isolated, in doubt about their academic or personal journeys, we want faculty members to be one of the groups they can turn to. Yet that’s sometimes hard because faculty appear as these tough, hard-as-nails, uber-successful types. They seem to have it all together.
The folks who brought me in knew that, if faculty could learn how to incorporate their own previous struggles and even learning moments from failures into the classroom, it will humanize them.
At no less than three times along the way of this project, once early on, and then twice on the final day, faculty members who had also been students at this university decades ago told the same story about different people.
“I’ll never forget, on my first day of Dr. So-and-So’s class, he said look to your left, now look to your right. Someone you just looked at will be gone by the end of this semester or year. If it wasn’t one of them, it’ll be you. That’s how hard this place is. Now, let’s dig in.”
This urban legend about how dog-eat-dog the place had once been is still being passed around, I must say, with a little bit of ironic pride. “We don’t do that anymore, but…” was the implication. Obviously, given the work the administoration brought me in for, there’s a culture shift afoot. Folks are trying to figure out how to do it differently.
Still, as we were evaluating and reflecting on our work, I challenged the organizers to embrace and reframe that notion of “Look to your left, look to your right.”
What would it be like if we all did that everyday, told our story with a loving embrace, rather one that’s fear-based.
…Look to your left…How can I support you?
…Look to your right…What are you struggling with and what do you need to stay in this space?
…Now look at your own hands…What are my own needs to remain present?
I support you and that story today.