Archive for May 2006

The Dangers of Exposure of Identity

After my little sharing session today I had quite an interesting (notice the euphemism) revelation.

The system is probing me quite directly to open up my kimono and do my jumping jacks (to quote Adams) by placing me in this emotionally charged situation where everyone is implicitly expected to have their own story and issue. By playing on emotions, and by supercharging the context, the repressive system that I was subjected to and the repressive system (and/or institution) I find myself part of pushes me to allow access to whatever emotional spots I might or might not have. But by allowing this system access to this information, you are suddenly ticked off and fitted into your stereotype. It is a method of elucidating your view on the repressive system so that the system can force you into a following.

In other words – never show your hot buttons to the system, because the system will push it, and push you into the position it wants by using these hot buttons.

It’s not easy to be able to express, with dignity and strength, from your own judgement, the righteous anger that can only be captured with the simple phrase “Fuck It”

The exploitation by the system happens in ways we do not expect it to work. Here is a new way that I am armed against.

Diversity Training (First of MAAANNYYY)!

The much anticipated and much feared section finally arrived… DIVERSITY TRAINING!
I say much anticipated because it looked out to be a great section that is different from the rest, very much applicable, in a fellow counselor’s words “Giving us the tools to use all the information that’s been given to us.” At this point, as through most of the day, I’m in a state where the idea of “Suspension of Judgment” seems to really take effect. (Although i’m wondering whether it might not be a mind for of apathy, but possibly more on that later). Presenter – Frances E. Kendall – Ph.D. (Notice the degree… There was some deliberation about that in the halls afterwards)

Our day started with an introduction and a “Setting of the Ground Rules”. Francie highlighted how groups might look homogeneous across a group, yet be very diverse within the group itself, which linked with some of my reasoning about identity. Its interesting to note how, to use myself as an example, I might be placed into a “white male” stereotype, which I probably am, yet by background is very much different from many other persons placed in this category, and how this shapes my viewpoint.

Francie One
Originally uploaded by njoubert.

Goals of this section

Francie identified that a major goal of this section of training, and what is asked of us throughout the section, is “identifying when hot buttons gets pushed, and being able to sit back and work out your position on the subject first, before initiating a response immediately”. In relation to our work during CalSO, especially the Bear Territory section, and throughout life, situations might arise where we as counselors are put on the spot in a situation where we might feel extremely uncomfortable. As representatives of the university and employees working as counselors to assist new students, it is often necessary to be able to do this to effectively handle these situations – at least, that is what I believe Francie implied and what I tend to agree with.

I believe Communication Skills is another goal of this section, and this idea is echoed by several other counselors. Especially our work that involves situations where we work with out Co-facilitator might depend on us being able to communicate our needs, emotions, opinions or knowledge.

Example: During bear territory, a queer counselor starts the session by opening for observations, and a counselee responds with “There seems to be a lot of Gay people living here… I don’t want to live with Gay people! I don’t associate with Gays, and I don’t like them”. What do you do? How do you respond? How do you work the situation that your co-fac is possibly not able to handle this conversation? Do you know the co-fac well enough that you do know this, or is it an assumption? What do you do if there is consent in the rest of the group? What if the rest of the group harshly puts down this student?

Another Example: During bear territory in an Engineering CalSO, the group is talking about gender struggles, and a counselee talks about the lack of girls in Engineering. What if a male student responds that they don’t really belong in Engineering. Or a female student talks about how she believes she needs to flaunt her body to the faculty to get somewhere? How do we handle these situations, and how do we work with out co-fac if this comes up?

Ground Rules (and Tools) (and Definitions…)

What environment and tools do we need to facilitate successful conversation about the “hot topics” in our society, especially in the context of Privilege. Right here I need to stop dead in my tracks and consider the construct of privilege. In this context (which took me a while to process and understand), privilege refers to White Privilege in almost all the cases. As was given to us in our handout:

White Privilege is a system that grants unearned benefits, power, access to resources and influence, to white people based purely on the color of skin. The Random House Dictionary (1993) defines privilege as “a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only be a person beyond the advantages of most.”

Interesting, isn’t it? It was quite a different meaning than my personal definition of privilege, but none-the-less, I can adopt and apply it as necessary.

Now that we’re back on track, we can look at some of the tools and rules we need to discuss these issues. We had a little “scream out an answer” session (as I like to call it) to get some ideas floating about, which I nicely condense here:

  • Talk TO a person, not ABOUT a person (Confidentiality inside and out)
    • We discussed triangulation – the appearance of a indirect route of information if personal (or professional) issues between two bodies is communicated to a third party instead of communicated between the two bodies involved.
  • Suspension of Judgment
    • Slowing down the whole communication process, and listening before judging.
  • Respect
    • You might not agree with statements, but being willing and able to (at least) listen to them.
  • Flexibility with new knowledge and experience
    • Dropping all assumptions!
  • Not presuming an understanding
    • See the differences between your experiences and the communicated situation or viewpoint. Knowing that you might not understand this person’s issue even if it sounds similar to your own situation.

There ground rules were laid down partially in response to the interesting little chain of events that I call the “Intent-Impact dialectic” (because dialectic is such a cool word!)

Our Intent dictates our Behavior, which affects out Impact on other people.

We are responsible for all three parts of this chain of events, but we might have an Impact not dictated by our Intent because of various differences. It is even quite possible that someone else does not even need a response from me at all. This leads us directly to what is probably my most insightful section of the day…

Platinum Rule of Diversity

Do unto others as they want to be done unto.

How do we know what they want to have done unto? Ask them!

“What would you want me to do with this?”

“How can I help you” (ideal!)

“I am here if you need me” (following up)

Social Constructs

Francie talked about race and ethnicity as social constructs – completely made-up and, upon probing – also seen as a negative part of society. Specifically, she mentioned race as “a social construct to keep those in power in power”. We first discussed culture, ethnicity and race, and Francie led us to the conclusion that Culture is something a person associated with, and ethnicity and race is a given, born-with characteristic. Many of her ideas pointed to the constructs our society uses, but I was unsure how exactly she labels the majority of ideas in our culture as these negative social constructs. I believe that culture gives us the context in which communication can happen. That, because we mutually abstract out our [mutual] experiences, we achieve a context within which communication is possible, especially on a comfortable level.


I’m wondering…

Is alcohol misuse a character defect? An almost universally accepted character defect?

How does fighting for female rights and dancing to songs about girls with big butts relate to one another?

What are principles and where do you cross the line?

What is an act of growing as a person and what is an act that breaks down your persona?


Another day of lectures and activities, i’m once again back in the room, its once again bedtime, and once again i’m writing here for my own entertainment. Its a good thing i have no readers!
The best today was the focus on parent program today. Tonight, when I took the fixed-up bike out for a faaan-tastic ride, i took a break in front of Doe and called up my mom, and had a wonderful conversation about going to college and how she handled it. Again, I can simply marvel at her strength, her uniqueness, her truly out-of-this-world rooted-in-this-world viewpoint that so so so few people ever achieve and that she so amazingly exhibit. Her love trancends that second-hand definition of love that is called up in conversations, but contain – defines – the very idea that the word love attempts to but so greatly fail to define. Wow.

And this in the middle of discussions about which counselors will “hook up with who”. What a disgusting, derogatory term, breaking down (or at least attempting to break down) the sincerity I stand for in life. Hmpff.. sincerity, hadly the word. At least I got to know a bit more about some fellow counselors tonight.

Does every soul on this forsaken continent drink till alcohol flows from their veins? And… i’m supposed to accept this as part of a diverse culture or something? I don’t believe that fits the category.

Time to get real, yes?

This is the hour that you wonder why you kept watching “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” way after your bedtime… After a full day of fun (and not so fun) lectures and activities. Life is tough, ain’t it?

What did yesterday bring across to me? An interesting and not-covered-in-lecture ‘revelation’, actually. Respect is the term I use for it. I’ve been drilled by that term through high school so much that I might know the essence of it quite well, yet often simply ignore it subconsiously. Therefore… Respect your peers, respect your audience, respect your presenter. Francie brought that up too, now that I think about it – “Listen as if the person is really wise”.

I’ve never been in class for so long…

Tadaa! Welcome to Camp CalSO!
cut to the chase
here’s the schedule
start at 8:30

Breakfast, Home Group Meetings, L&S part 1, break, boldfacing, Research, lunch, Engineering, College Writing, Break, Facilitation, Break, Dinner, General Program Overview

hit home at 21:30

yes, that was indeed one day of 13 hours of activites, with by far the majority involving lectures in Barrows… I’ve never been in class for that long! Not that i’m outright complaining, please don’t think that! but it was long. and this is day one of many to come.

Today, day one, mostly involved lots and lots of information. We had an intense session with the College of Letters and Sciences that covered all the unit requirements, major requirements, different types of majors (double, simultaneous, minors, etc etc) breadth requirements, university requirements and campus requirements. yes indeed!

I had to run over to the north side during lunch to get some housing issues sorted out, which is really distracting my full attention from CalSO. This brick wall that just gets in the way, and i’m mostly lost on how t handle it because I’m not sure what I want. Jeez, a big boy like me should make my mind up and get it over with! … did i just call myself a “big boy”? if that was true… hahaha. Yeah, since we’re on a slight tangent from the CalSO schedule, i’ll keep going. I again managed to jump in at the wrong time and make the wrong comment to get me in on the deep end (and i think they’re holding my head down at the moment). Some unnecessary things were said at the wrong moment in time, which obviously left a much-adored fellow CalSO counselor in tears and me shouldering the blame for it. I’m not sure whether I should say its because i don’t try or its because i’m just a hopeless case no matter how I try to not affront people. It’s a good thing they included a sexual harassment section.

OK, let’s get out of the tangles of dorm issues and my lack of (or superior status hehehe) in social skills, and get back to CalSO! I believe we just had lunch in my little retelling.

College of Engineering sent Mr Bob Giomi over, and boy did he give us a good picture of COE advising. slighty funny, slightly boring, slightly weird, slightly unorganized, mostly well-meaning, COE sent the right man to get the feel of the bureocracy in the college. i think i spelt that wrong. it’s late…

We had a quick little session with the College Writing Program, and after a short break, we were back for another intense little presentation… Facilitation with Roseanne! This was by far the hardest part of the day – I volunteered to be a “cofact” for one of the sections, and being put up there with another counselor facing a bunch of your fellow counselors (suddenly transformed into a viscious bunch of crazy parents out to make your life as hard as the possibly possibly possibly can) and trying to fend or at least answer their questions was not easy at all. I was once again very much amused by the kicking in of emotions around the end when it transferred from a role-play to a personal-level experience near the end of the session. I think it points out the sheer arrogance with which I go through a lot of life (notice that I don’t say its necessarily a bad thing). But when the critisizm, constructive or not, comes up later, BOOM, emotions start kicking in, disbelief, anger, resentment, a nice little mix of everything. Funny, when a fellow counselor apologized to me for giving us a hard time up there it really kicked into the emotional part of “come on, dude, this is TRAINING, get real” even though the reason was screaming that out at the top of its itte lungs. Can a person even claim they live by reason above all if they have such bad control over their emotions? It gets harder and harder to separate things out from each other.

Respect, dammit, it was so hit into me that I have no form or concept of it anymore, just this nasty black tar somewhere between my heart and my lungs.

Well, we finally finished the day after dinner with a kickass little (Read big) section on how a general CalSO program works, and a major section of the important parts of each program. Sometimes (especially now) I wonder why I’m doing this again. I read my essay on why, and i understand the ideas of giving back to my community and helping out new students, somewhere I still believe that that does not involve dealing with overbearing parents and resentful kids, but with people that are as pumped to come to Cal as I was. It seems like a series of smal steps down into mediocrity from the mountains of superficial success.

OK, face it, i’m just down right now because this night sure took a nasty turn.

The day before… Summer has started, yet we’re all still in Berkeley

With the screams of joy and/or pain that Finals cause on campus still fresh in my mind, I sit back to hit the keyboard again! Funny, its the first day of summer! We all survived finals (some better than other of course) but, for 48 students, the work is just starting! Yes indeed, it’s Camp CalSO move-in tomorrow at 3:00 sharp, Unit 3 Cleary Hall. I’m sure there are times in every counselor’s life when he wonders why he didn’t just sign up for the sleeping team instead of this CalSO thing *wink wink*.

Let’s look back over last semester from a CalSO viewpoint.
Everything started, really started, with the weekend retreat. I believe the motivation behind the retreat was to get the group comfortable with each other, start those CalSO ties that keeps the summer together. Definitely we all started learning new names at lightning speed. The highlights of the weekend were many. Theodore (ahem… T-Ko) gave his Identity Circle talk, which deeply touched me. I got to know a whole bunch of people – Dustin, Elmar, Seema, Mike, Tyler, Lyell, Eva, Crazy Russian Nadya, etc etc the list goes on. I sat down opposite the girl who was going on about Cunts during lunch (that’s how I met seema) and I met Sam after I gushed about Red Hot Chili Peppers. We had a fantastic little hike, and we made the cool web at the end of the program. I’m sure we all left with the beginnings of close ties and friendships forming. This is, after all, what a team needs, right?

The semester itself flew past in CalSO terms. Classes and presentations for about 2 months in everything about the university – housing, dining, health services, financial aid, extention program, admissions, DSP program – and all the basics of being a good counselor – public speaking, taking and giving critisizm, good customer service, HOSERR.
We all had our Field Yield ‘training’ assignments where we went out and did the whole CalSO thing – talk to new students, put up Q&A Panels, give directions, get people excited about Cal, and so forth. Then, BOOM! Camp CalSO coming up!

The question is, of course, did all these assignments and activities prepare us for the next two weeks of intensive training and the summer’s programs to come? In most cases, I believe the answer is a resounding YES! The manner in which training was done, and the organization of the classes, prepared us mentally for situations where you work as a professional individual as representative of the university. The presentations and information distribution that followed gave us 80% of the information we need that students wants to know. There is only one category in which I would like to add some training – giving students the questions they don’t know they should be asking. Sounds weird, sure, but you can only ask a question if you know about something. I know my CalSO experience last summer when I came to Cal answered all my questions through and through, but I learnt the most from other people’s questions that I never thought to ask, or had to do some guessing as to what they were talking about. I would add a class in answering questions the students are NOT asking, yet needs to know. There is, of course, a very very big problem with this approach – you don’t know these new admits at all, and to know what they ‘should’ be asking is an impossible task. Still, I feel that there is a certain set of questions that never comes up, and that students does not think of, yet is great if answered.

Coming to University, especially Cal, is an overwhelming experience, and often because students worry about the wrong things. Housing is a major concern, yet the University streamlines the whole process so well, and all the roommate issue worries are unfounded 95% of the time. I remember I had this constant worry of where to get food when I came to Cal – c’mon there’s more eateries in and around Cal than I have fingers and toes. The mental change to come to College is not nearly as well addressed, though. The atmosphere at Cal has so ment dimensions that it often seems as if mutually exclusive ideas are jammed together into this big crazy ball of confusion for new students.

Of course, to make this a ‘successful’ post, I now need to share my ideas for righting this situation and converying the moral and emotional pressures and changes that Cal brings about. Yet, sadly, I hardly have a solution or even a suggestion at this moment. It’s a very difficult idea to bring accross, and it is very much specific to each student. And, in the socialist spirit of Cal… well, if its just you, just deal with it!
I believe it is addressed to an extend with all the emphasis put on creating your own support group as soon as possible. I believe Camp CalSO will also focus on the more slippery issues of handing new admits.

I will try to keep posting regular updates during Camp CalSO and the programs to see how my perception of these ideas change.