Category Archives: Book Review

Movie Review: The Great Gatsby

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of “The Great Gatsby” ever since they announced that Baz Luhrmann would be directing the movie. He’s the same guy that directed two of my absolute favorite movies – Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge. It’s a book I had a minor obsession with in high school. What could possibly go wrong? Well…a lot.

Total disclaimer – I didn’t see it in 3D. I can’t stand 3D movies. Baz Luhrmann movies tend to be rather…visually interesting, so I can only imagine that the idea of filming a movie in 3D is like a dream come true for him. However, there was enough swooping around that I’m sure if I did see it in 3D, I would have screamed like I did on all those simulation rides at Universal Studios.

My biggest complaint was the amount of times that Gatsby (played by Leonardo DiCaprio*) uses the phrase “old sport”. Normally, I don’t pick up on these sort of things unless someone else points them out, but I noticed this one myself. When this comes out on DVD, I might gather my friends and make a Great Gatsby drinking game…the first rule would be to drink any time he says “old sport”.

Another issue I had with the movie was that there were WAY too many times a scene looked like it could have been right out of Moulin Rouge. Christian, what are you doing in a mental institution in the 1920s?

This is one of those movies that you NEED to read the book first. My mom and I both read the book in high school and we had a pretty good grasp of what was going on, but I remember certain parts MUCH differently.

Did you see “The Great Gatsby”? What did you think?

* = Leonardo DiCaprio REALLY needs to stop playing characters that go after girls they can’t get and then DIE. Particularly in bodies of water.

See also: Romeo + Juliet.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , ,

Girls in White Dresses

When I was younger, I thought grown ups had their shit together. I thought that I too would have my shit together as a grown up. I planned my future out as if life was like a math equation. If we do x and y, z is the result. If I go to college, I’ll get a good job and a nice apartment. If I meet a nice guy, I’ll get married and have kids. Except it doesn’t work like that. Life is not my eighth grade algebra class.

At first, I thought that I was the only one who felt like their life was in a thousand pieces. All my friends seemed to be doing the growing up thing right…getting married, having babies, and moving into gorgeous apartments with great jobs. Lately I’vee been chatting with some of my friends and there are more people out there like me. We’re poor and confused and possibly borderline alcoholics.

Since one of my goals this year involved reading more, I have been looking for books to read – but not the classics. I’ve been looking for books that were written recently. Why? Ten years ago, people could not comprehend the anxiety caused by the 800 forms of social media we use today to communicate. “He didn’t answer my text but he liked my Facebook status…WHAT DOES IT MEAN?”

Even this is outdated.

One of my favorite books I have found is “Girls in White Dresses” by Jennifer Close. The book follows a group of interconnected women in the ten years after graduating college. The book reads more like a collection of short stories rather than a traditional, linear novel. Some people on the internet complained about this. I thought it fit better…it’s honestly how my life feels sometimes. I also enjoyed that there were so many types of people represented…those that have “real” jobs, those that don’t, those that are engaged, those that are even married and having kids. From afar, a good portion of these characters seem to have their shit together and then they admit that they don’t.

Maybe that’s what being a grown up is all about. Looking like you have your shit together when you really don’t.

If you’re anywhere between the ages of 25 – 35, this book will speak to you. So many of the short stories seemed so familiar…baby showers, bridal showers. I actually laughed out loud at the description of the first wedding that a group of friends has. It was as if someone had attended a wedding I went to a few months back and then wrote about it.

I have recommended this book to so many of my friends and I honestly plan on buying copies of it for any females that I know are graduating college. Pick this one up, whether it’s from a book store, from the library, or online! (And seriously, I’m not paid to write this stuff!)

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Fred Factor

Recently, a friend and mentor recommended that I read the book “The Fred Factor” by Mark Sanborn. The author talks about Fred, his mailman. Who writes about their mailman? I’d write about my mailman if he was as awesome as Fred. Basically, Fred goes above and beyond in his job. Mark Sanborn then tells us about how everybody can go above and beyond in their jobs. It’s a nice, short read.

Think about all the jobs you’ve had in life. I’m sure there are some you’ve hated. I was the cashier at a snack bar when I was a teenager. It wasn’t pleasant, particularly when all my male friends would come by with the sole intention of overwhelming me. What’s that, you want three peach shakes, chili cheese fries, a chili dog, a regular dog, oh and he has a nut allergy? Anyway. Everybody in their life has had a job that they did not like. AND. Even if you say you’re working your dream job, there is still some aspect of it you do not like. Now think about the job of a mailman. That sounds almost as terrible as my job at the Snack Shack. What Fred teaches us is that even if your job is the most mundane, repetitive, boring job in the world, you should still take it upon yourself to be AWESOME at it because it will make those around you happier and it will make you happier.

The four sections on “Becoming a Fred” are very easy to relate to student affairs. I love my job, but there are aspects of it that I’d be happy to eliminate. Those middle of the night fire alarms? The way my students throw the h word (hazing) around so easily? The way my students apparently don’t know how to read an email? Yeah. My job is amazing, but some days are more tedious than others. I’m sure all you other student affairs professionals know the feeling. I know the creator of “What Should We Call Student Affairs?” does.

Everybody Makes a Difference

There was this commercial awhile back that started with one person doing something nice for somebody who in turn did something nice for somebody else and so on. While you might not be able to change the whole world, you can change somebody’s world. The way you interact with a student can impact their whole day which could in turn affect their whole college career. I know it sounds crazy, but I know I’ve had bad days where I just didn’t want to do any of the things I was supposed to do. What if that day I was supposed to take a major exam? On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had some days where I am so motivated that I get everything done and want to do more! I know so many people graduate with the idea that they will change the world and that’s great, you dreamers keep on dreaming, but at some point you might need to refocus that dream. You will get depressed if you don’t solve world hunger or the oppression of women in certain nations if you go into the world wanting to change it. The world’s a big place. Try focusing on somewhere or something or someone closer to home. You can make a difference.

Success is Built on Relationships

Like many entry level student affairs professionals, I work in residence life. I supervise a staff of RAs. One of the first things we tell the RAs is that it is incredibly important to build a relationship with their residents early in the year. As professionals, our relationship with students is still important. There are times when I have meetings back to back and I just want to get them over. There are other days where I ask what major a student is in and what they plan on doing after graduation and I see a whole different side of students. Even if those conversations start off as something not-so-pleasant, at the end we both leave feeling like it was a positive meeting.

Continually Create Value for Others

Creating value doesn’t have to cost money which is good since I’m pretty sure all of our offices are low on funds. Sanborn talks about looking at the processes that already exist in your job and “adding good stuff” and “subtracting bad stuff” from them. Is there a way you can make something easier or quicker? Do it! Something we can do as the bridge between the “higher ups” and the students is to simplify things for our students. College applications, financial aid, housing applications, and the student conduct system can seem daunting to the unknowing. Walk students through the process. Tell them straight up – don’t use words specific to your school or acronyms.

Reinvent Yourself Regularly

One of my favorite classes during grad school was a small discussion-style class in which we traded stories about our experiences in our internships. I liked it because while I wasn’t getting these experiences, I was still  hearing about them. We frequently talked about news articles that were related to higher ed. I learned how these studies and laws impacted departments on campus other than my own. I really don’t get to do that as a professional but I have to find a way to because I need to constantly grow in my position. If I go looking for a new job three years from now with the same skill set I had last year when I graduated, nobody is going to want to hire me. Just like I said you should see how you can change processes in your office, see if you can change things about yourself.

If it’s ever your turn to pick a professional development book for your department or division, I recommend this one! It’s a quick read and it’s applicable to many jobs, meaning if you invite the support staff or even the custodial staff for your building, they will still get something out of it. I know I have taken a few steps to be viewed as a “Fred” here at PDFM U, what are some steps you will take?

Tagged , , , , , ,

The Carrie Diaries

One of my goals for the year was to read more and thanks to some recent late night baby sitting gigs, I have finally gotten a chance to sit down and read once the kids are asleep. The first book I chose for the year was The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell. Gee, her name sounds familiar…where have I heard it before? Oh, that’s right! Sex and the City. And Carrie? The same one.

Now, I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest Sex and the City fan. I have not seen every episode and memorized every detail. But I’ve seen enough episodes and since Gossip Girl has ended, the TV version of The Carrie Diaries has caught my attention. And clearly I’m not the only one making this connection. Manhattan? Well-dressed high schoolers? Sounds about right.

The first thing I noticed in the book was that it seemed inconsistent from the Carrie I remember from SATC. Thanks to Wikipedia, I was able to verify this. While I don’t remember much mention of her family on SATC, her father and sister were apparently mentioned. The book seems to have added an extra sister. Also, Wikipedia tells me that Carrie lost her virginity in eleventh grade but in the book, which takes place during Carrie’s senior year of high school, she is not happy with being the only virgin in her group of friends. I know those seem like minor things, but I feel like SATC fanatics would be mad. I know that if JK Rowling were to write a prequel to Harry Potter and suddenly his parents are alive and he has little siblings, I would try to form some sort of angry mob. Or at least join one.

Something that also bothered me is that there were literally no tied to SATC until the VERY END. I think I would have been okay with that, except for the part where they introduce somebody very important in like. The last sentence. Apparently there’s a second book, so I guess I should read that to see where it goes but really??

One thing that is the same as SATC is Carrie’s terrible life decisions regarding men. I know I said I didn’t watch too many SATC episodes, but I do remember lots of men, desperation, and whining (unless you were Samantha…I swear her mother was Blanche from the Golden Girls).

Can't you just see the resemblance?

Can’t you just see the resemblance?

Back to my original point. So this Carrie…she’s the same. Luckily in the book there are only two men she needs to choose between – the mysterious and rebellious new kid or the parent-approved Ivy League student. I don’t want to spoil anybody’s reading experience, but you can probably guess who she chooses. The frustrating thing is that she feels she needs the approval of both of these guys. SHE IS NOT A GOOD ROLE MODEL FOR YOUNG WOMEN. Sorry. Just my opinion. If I had read these books in high school, I probably would have been more whiny and desperate than I already was.

Speaking of this taking place during high school, I don’t know how these CHILDREN got away with the stuff they did. It’s not like Gossip Girl where the parents have interests other than their children (like their money). This is Connecticut in the 1980s, a mere few years before I graced that lovely state with my appearance. It just seems that Carrie and her friends got away with a little too much.

So what about the TV show? I’ve only seen the first episode, but they’ve already changed/eliminated some characters from the book. That extra sister? Gone. Carrie’s best friend that causes so much trouble? Gone. Mouse? Asian. Her super nice boyfriend? Douche bag. Carrie and her friends? They’re juniors in high school this time around, presumably to give the show a chance to have a second season (and to give Carrie the chance to do the dirty!). We get to see more of Carrie’s interaction with her family and learn more about what they are going through and I really liked that. A complete change is that Carrie is already going into the city for work…in the book she hadn’t gone yet.

Honestly, the only reason I even own this book is because it was in the Walmart bargain bin. This might be the first time I say this…but I recommend the show over the book. What do you think? Also, check out the Carrie Diaries tonight on the CW!

Tagged , , , , ,

Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities

Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities by Alexandra Robbins advertises that it exposes what exactly happens inside America’s sorority houses. I’ve always been interested in reading about things I’m involved in, as if it was some National Geographic show narrated by a host with an accent…”An’ hee-uh, in their nat’ral habit, the wiiiiillddd sorority gulls…” But really, it’s interesting to see an outsider’s perspective, which is why I picked up this book.

There have been many emotional reactions to this book by sorority women across the country. An updated introduction by Robbins says that some readers have written to her than their sororities have “forbidden” them to read the book. I clearly didn’t throw this book into a fire, but I wouldn’t put it in my top ten anytime soon.

One thing I appreciated was that Robbins acknowledged that many American college students partake in activities like drinking, drugs, and promiscuous sex. There are too many instances of people assuming these behaviors only happen in fraternity and sorority houses. The truth is, at some schools, certain fraternity and sorority chapters have the reputation of being the “party house”. People who are already looking for those things will want to join those chapters.

I also appreciated that while Robbins didn’t focus her book on NPHC sororities, she does take time to mention some of their differences and benefits. From what I have seen, these organizations are incredibly close knit and these bonds last well after a sister graduates from college.

Of course there’s the flip side of things I was not too happy about. While Robbins took the time to point out that plenty of other students drink and hook up, she did not mention other campus organizations that haze. Hazing is NOT just something that happens among GLOs. Sports teams haze. Marching bands haze. Up until the middle of the last century, freshmen were hazed and some of that hazing was tolerated by school administrators. When I was a freshman in high school, I refused to go to my cheerleading team’s sleepover because I thought I’d be hazed for being new. I didn’t tell my mom why I didn’t want to go, but I made her come up with a reason for me not to go. I really thought that I was going to be forced to drink alcohol and do stupid things.

Many people are upset that Robbins wrote information about sorority rituals and secrets in the book. I saw certain things that were supposedly about my sorority, but she had gotten them wrong. That made me feel a bit better. Overall, I don’t think it was necessary. I’m glad Robbins proved that sorority women aren’t running around in hooded cloaks sacrificing baby animals, but I didn’t need to read an entire paragraph about secret words and phrases. Also, side-note, my friend made a good point about sorority rituals/passwords/handshakes. How many of you made up “secret clubs” when you were a kid that included one or more of these aspects?

Robbins never reveals the university she was at or the chapters she followed. Many readers have tried to pick through the book and put clues together to figure it out. On greekchat.com, there are women claiming it had to be their school for one reason or another. There are many clues that limit the school it could be at – the weather in November at this school was in the 70’s, the chapter houses could sleep 50+ women, etc – however, Robbins stated that she changed “some” details. She clearly made up the names, colors, and mascots of the sororities. How are we to know that she didn’t change some of the details about the school itself? While it would be interesting to find out, I don’t think it’s something that can be figured out just by sleuthing alone.

How do I feel about this personally? It was hard to see something that meant so much to me get blasted for bad things. I think the reason it hit hard was because some of these things are true. SOME. One thing that I noticed from my time in undergrad was that I wasn’t too concerned about my body image until I joined my sorority. Do I think that’s 100% due to joining a sorority? No, it was a combination of things. Right before I joined, I was put on a new medication that made me gain some weight. Also, before joining a sorority, the majority of my friends were male. They didn’t sit around talking about dieting and exercise and how much they weighed. Being in a house with a ton of girls, that topic came up at least once a day. Robbins also mentions catty girls in the house. I experienced that in my house. There was never any day where every sister got along with every other sister. In any sorority house. Ever. BUT. I hate to say it, there are catty girls EVERYWHERE. On cheerleading teams, in clubs, in classes. It’s not just a sorority thing.

How do I feel about this professionally? I don’t want incoming students and their parents to arrive on campus with negative views of Greek Life. A lot of what the media puts out there is negative. The top story is more likely to be about a new member dying than an organization donating hundreds or thousands of dollars to a charity. That’s just the way our society is. I wish there was a “Happy News” station. My job would be a lot easier if more students came to college wanting to join a Greek organization for the right reasons. At the end of the book, Robbins puts some recommendations out there. One thing she mentions is changing how recruitment works. I don’t think she realizes that it’s not just something a chapter or campus can do on their own. How recruitment is run is set by NPC. The recommendations section (as well as some research placed in each chapter) is what makes this a book that I was able to read as a grad student and a professional for information rather than just a novel.

In the end, I do think professionals should read this book. It’s out there, people are reading it thinking that it’s some sort of tell-all. Parents or students might come to you with questions because of this book. If you’re a new professional with little Greek experience, don’t rely on this book! Greek life varies from campus to campus. It’s better to get out there and meet your students than assume what they are like based off a book. You’re not going to be able to attend rituals and meetings, but you can certainly get to know your Greek leaders and ask what recruitment is like, what education is like, and so on.

Tagged , , , , , ,

I Am Charlotte Simmons

“I Am Charlotte Simmons” by Tom Wolfe is the story of Charlotte Simmon’s freshman year at an elite college. Charlotte was the top of her class and chose to attend the fictional Dupont College because of its academic reputation and the scholarship she was awarded. Charlotte came from a very poor town and was not fully prepared for what college was going to be like. Charlotte’s time at school puts her in contact with many “types” of people – her spoiled princess roommate, a star athlete, a writer for the newspaper, and a fraternity man (although this might be a case where I accept the use of “frat boy”).  From the beginning of her time at Dupont, Charlotte’s values are constantly mismatched with those around her. Charlotte has a rocky start in college but eventually finds her footing.

I first read “I Am Charlotte Simmons” when I was a senior in high school. I was so excited for college and was reading everything I could get my hands on that related to “college life”. I remember thinking how unlucky Charlotte was and how unfortunate it was that she did not like college and had a terrible year. But I also remember thinking that the book was merely a work of fiction. I enjoyed reading it, and quickly set aside to devour another story about college and to dream of my future college life.

The second time I read “I am Charlotte Simmons” was the summer after my first year of grad school. I had completely forgotten about it, but when I saw it on a shelf at a secondhand bookstore, I remembered it from many years ago. As I read it again, I wanted to cry. This story was practically a combination of mine and my best friend’s freshman years. I hadn’t known it at the time, but high-school-me was very much like Charlotte. I avoided many social activities in high school because I didn’t want to be around people drinking. I was the first in my family to go to college and while I was not from a rural area like Charlotte, there were ways in which I was unprepared for “the college experience”. All my reading in high school did not make me ready to go off to school and be surrounded by people with much different values than me. My best friend’s experience was not much better. While I debated whether or not to try a sip of alcohol at a party that I had basically been dragged to, my friend was dealing with issues very similar to Charlotte’s romantic encounters, including dating a star athlete at her small elite college (but with an ending more similar to Charlotte’s trip to DC).

After getting over the fact that the book could have been very well named “I Am The Author” or “I Am The Author’s BFF”, I started thinking about the story in terms of the classes I had just taken and the training I had been through as a Hall Director. A lot of my classes forced me to reflect on my time as an undergrad. One of my professors even asked us to write about our first year at college and apply student development theories to ourselves. While I didn’t go as far as applying student development theories to the book, I thought about how important fit is when entering college. I had seen so many students at my graduate school that did not fit in with the school’s dominant culture and would have thrived at one of the other institutions I went to or was familiar with.

Now I am reading “I Am Charlotte Simmons” for a third time and thinking about the upcoming school year as a new professional. One of the things I was told very early on at my new job is that we have a lot of first generation students coming from impoverished homes that might not be prepared for college. Charlotte was definitely ready academically but not emotionally. In the novel, her best friend goes to an in-state school and “goes with the flow”. While I’m sure the culture was different at that school, I don’t think it was THAT drastic a change that Charlotte experienced.

The students that I am dealing with are from a very different background than Charlotte. I might almost be more prepared to deal with a Charlotte than some of the students I am told I will encounter – students who have lived in inner cities, seen their friends shot, and possibly have children of their own at home. Not too sure what to say to that…

Have any of you read this book either for fun or as part of your job? What did you think?

Tagged , , , ,

Drive

I apologize for basically having two book review entries in a row, but I wanted to somewhat keep up with the #SAchat Book Club.

The book for the month of July was “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink. The book talks about how motivation has changed along with the type of work being done in modern day and age, but many companies and employers are still treating employees like it’s the industrial revolution. I’ll be honest and say that I was not the biggest fan of the book. Last month’s selection had some sort of plot and was much more an “easy read” than this months. I’ve mentioned earlier (or at least in my page about the books I’ve read) that I’ve just come off what seems like a lifetime of assigned readings. This book read like something from grad school – lots of theories being mentioned. I wound up skimming many sections. Luckily, I found the video below that summarizes the main points of the book nicely and even includes some of the anecdotes that were enjoyable to read.

Some things that stuck out…

Near the beginning of Chapter 2, there is an excerpt from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer about how Tom basically tricks his friends into painting a fence for him by making them think the work is fun. Basically, Tom HAD to paint the fence, so to him it was work, but his friends didn’t HAVE to, so they thought it was fun. This makes me wonder if I can “trick” my RAs into thinking some of the more mundane tasks of their job are fun. I don’t think there is any one person on this earth that likes every single aspect of their job and my past RAs are no exception. Some love planning and hosting programs and meetings. Others enjoyed making floor decorations. I can only think of one RA off the top of my head who enjoyed being on duty. Maybe two. Ironically, both are pursuing careers in law enforcement, but that’s a different story. Anywho. There are many tasks that RAs HAVE to do, but how can I make it feel more like play and make it something they WANT to do?

Another section mentions using fines to make daycare parents come get their kids on time. In theory this should work. But it didn’t…once the parents knew that there was a fine in place, they knew what would happen. Before the fine was in place, the parents did not know the consequence of not picking up their child on time. Now that they know, they aren’t “afraid” of the consequences. I have worked at schools where students were fined for a variety of infractions. At one school, students were charged if the common spaces on their residence hall floors were excessively dirty. In some halls, students were made aware of these charges at the beginning of the year whereas some just knew that they would be fined without knowing the amount. The halls in which the students knew how much they were being fined (or had already been fined once and therefore knew the amount) tended to be dirtier because they knew the amount was not much and that, heck, if they were already paying the school $10,000 for the semester, what’s another $10 charge? One of the things I am nervous for in my new job is that the RAs are fined if they do not have the required number of programs, post the required number of bulletin boards, etc. While many of the RAs are RAs because they like the job or need the money, I am worried about that small percentage who might think, “pay $$ or post a bulletin board?” and then opt to just pay the fine. If I see that this is a problem during the academic year, I am going to have to show this part of the book to my supervisor to encourage her to come up with alternate sanctions for RAs not meeting administrative requirements.

One part I made sure to make note of was three practices for getting your employees to do simple, routine tasks. This is something I’m going to use with my RAs, especially on some of those tasks mentioned above. Here are the three very important practices… 1. Offer a rationale for why the task is necessary. 2. Acknowledge that the task is boring. 3. Allow people to complete the task on their own.

Another idea I am very much in favor of is ROWE – Results-Only Work Environment. Basically the idea is that you can work whenever as long as you get your work done. This does not apply to all lines of work, but could definitely apply to some degree in student affairs. There’s not really a comp time policy at my current institution, so it is understood that you are here all day in the office and then attend whatever events you need to in the evening and for X days per month, be the on call person. I knew coming into the profession that I’d be working more than forty hours a week, but there will be certain times of the year where I’m going to be overwhelmed and I believe as long as I’m doing the things I need to be, I shouldn’t need to be just sitting at my desk during traditional working hours. There have been times where I am not doing much at this desk, hence how this blog was born.

At Google, employees get 20% of their working time just to create something new. So many projects we use today have come out of that 20 percent…GMail, Google News, Google Talk (which we all call GChat). I’m sure Google+ came out of that, but I still don’t believe people really use it. While I can’t think of much of a use for it in my office, I just thought this was interesting because of  how many of the services my friends and I use.

I really enjoyed the “Take a Sagmeister” section.  Every seven years this guy closes his graphic design shop and takes a year off. His reasoning is that he’s just taking the time from his retirement and enjoying it when he is physically able to. As of 2008, the average person stayed with an employer for just over four years. While I don’t think I can be taking any full years off any time soon, once I get loans paid off and my life in order, maybe taking a full year off in between jobs wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world? I’m glad I’m hearing about this idea now when I am starting my career and can possibly plan for it, rather than finding it out when I’m forty.

One thing I appreciate is the amount of freedom that I have now compared to when I was working in retail where every minute had to be accounted for. I also thought back to my days as a student employee in admissions. The secretaries that supervised us when we helped with data entry, filing, and mailings probably hadn’t heard the three practices for routine tasks. I knew why we had to be doing many of the tasks and I certainly knew they were boring, but I never heard any of them acknowledge it. Also, we were definitely not allowed to complete the tasks on our own. They implemented a headphone ban sometime during my first year. For the life of me, I could never understand why I couldn’t listen to my iPod while stuffing tons of envelopes.

I definitely can see how the concepts in this book can apply to individuals that are higher on the food chain than myself. I think that’s maybe another reason I did not like the book as much as last month’s. It’s less applicable to my own life. I can see some improvements I can make in the areas where I supervise and advise, but I do not have the authority to make institutional changes…yet.

So while this wasn’t my favorite book, I have been reading many more books and I will continue to post book reviews and I’ll even make sure to space them out. Maybe I need to start updating more often…

Any readers out there read “Drive” for either higher ed reasons or in another profession? How did you apply what you learned from the book into your workplace?

Tagged , , , , ,

The Unlikely Disciple

The first book I read as part of the #SAChat Book Club was “The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University” by Kevin Roose. I definitely enjoyed reading this book, as it was interesting to see Kevin’s transition, as well as read about the events happening to him, at his university, and in the larger world and how all of that affected “Brown Kevin” and “Liberty Kevin” and later, how those two identities merged.

I was excited to read this book from the moment I read that it was going to be a part of the book club. I am always interested in learning about experiences that drastically differ from the experiences that I had as a student. I had a few friends from high school that wound up going to religious colleges and since I was at a school with very few rules, I was always shocked to hear about the rules they had to follow – only certain hours they could have guests, what they were and were not allowed to do in their free time…very different than the free-for-all I had! Overall, I enjoyed this book. It read like a story, which was a nice change of pace from all those theoretical texts I spent the past two years reading.

This book really made me think about the similarities and differences between schools. We always hear that each institution has it’s own culture, and yes, the four I have worked at have all differed to some degree, but the culture at Liberty University is completely different than anything I’ve seen before. Like Kevin, I had an image in my mind of what Liberty was like and what the students who went there were like. I imagined the students to be like none I had encountered before. To some extent, I was correct. Many of the students said they liked the rules because they prevented the students from sinning. The students pray a lot. When one student was about to face disciplinary trouble, his friends prayed for him. I don’t think that is something I have witnessed, either as a student or an administrator. While I have heard of students doing missionary work during spring break, I usually thought of those trips being to impoverished countries. Not places like Miami Beach where “sinful” students are partaking in “sinful” activities. But that’s where they went…not to join them but to try to get students (and locals) to “know” Christ.

At the same time, outside of the modest dress and church services, these students are very much like “typical” students. They goof off in their dorm rooms, they talk about things going on in the outside world, they tease each other. The boys want to date the pretty girls on campus but what they do on those dates is what sets them apart. Basically, they’re still students, they still have fun, and I would be a very happy person if more of my students understood that fun exists in other ways and shapes than drinking and partying. Students who don’t like the strict rules in place at Liberty University (or a similar religious institution) aren’t likely to apply or attend this type of school.

Kevin’s visit unfortunately coincided with two major events in Virginia. The first was the Virginia Tech shooting. This was an event that affected everybody involved in higher education and plenty of people outside of it. Students at Liberty quickly gathered to pray for those affected by this senseless act of violence. At first, Kevin was upset because while prayer was helping his friends and classmates, he was still questioning why this had happened. Later, Kevin was “fuming” because a student compares the deaths from the shooting to abortion. This is one instance of many where Kevin knows that his classmates are good people, but they their strict interpretation of the Bible before everything else and say things that Kevin completely disagrees with.

The second event happens at the end of the semester. After Kevin returns to his room from a final, he finds out the news that Jerry Falwell has been taken to the hospital where he later died. Many students on other campus do not regard their campus leaders the same way Liberty students did Jerry Falwell. I don’t think Kevin would have felt it as much as he did, had he not interviewed Dr. Falwell just days prior to his death, which had made Falwell seem much more human to Kevin. Ironically, the whole situation reminded me of the end of “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” in which Hogwart’s Headmaster, Professor Dumbledore, dies at the end of the term. I say ironic because Jerry Falwell was probably one of those Christians against the Harry Potter series.

Eventually, I had to step back and stop looking this as a series of journal entries and start looking at it from my new position as a professional in the student affairs world. This isn’t one of those books where I can say “Now how can I make my RAs…”. That’s fine. I’m pretty sure I have a few of those on my reading list. This book gave me a better understanding of a religion I am not very familiar with. Waiting until marriage until your first kiss? I thought that was something only a select group of people (the Duggars) did, but reading this book I found out that there is a much larger population that follows the Bible a little more closely than most of the Christians I know. I also wondered what it would be like to work at such an institution. I remember during some of my graduate courses hearing about interview questions about your faith in God and Jesus and I couldn’t imagine being asked something like that! Then again, I remember interviewing at some Catholic colleges for assistantships and they were very clear in the interview that I would need to follow some of the same rules as my residents – my boyfriend would NOT be able to stay over. I guess working at an institution like this is similar to what I said about being a student – if you don’t like what’s going on, you’re not going to apply.

In the end, I think it’s a good read. I’m not mad that I spent my time or money on it. It gave me a good look at a different type of institution and I think this might also help if I have extremely conservative students as residents or if a student one day transfers from Liberty to my institution to be closer to home or for some other reason. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, I missed BOTH of the discussions for this book. My supervisor had said she was going to read it, but I don’t think she got around to it. If anybody out there read it, leave some comments about what you thought!

Tagged , , , , , ,