If you’ve ever thoroughly read tour job description or job contract (which you should), the likelihood is that you’ve come across a phrase on the list of responsibilities you have – “Other Duties Assigned.” Now, I’ve never seen that aspect of a job description more present and in action as in Housing/Residential Life. After all, how can we actually fully description, detail, and explain these list of duties we come to have in a concise and concrete matter? We can’t. That’s why it ends up being a vague “Other duties assigned.”
Half-way into October, I’ve found myself in quite a confusion as to when September ended. It was almost like I was woken up right after September ended. (Yes, I made a reference to Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”) At this point, I actually think I may have blended the occurrences of August, September, and the first two weeks of October into one big mesh. Thankfully, I have my calendar enough for me to be able to go back and see what’s been going on. That and the archive of Instagram Stories.
August to mid-way October is the busiest time for Housing/ResLife and Student Affairs, in general (in the quarter system). Prime time is definitely all of September but nothing really slows down and goes back to the regular routine until about mid-way into October, so if you have friends who work in Student Affairs – their answer to hanging out with you probably sounds like “How about we plan for something in November?” – because that’s when we finally have actual time.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time with a fellow ARD constructing a training for new student staff members. It got me thinking back to Student Staff Training because I had a repeat of last year where I did way more presentations than I actually needed to do. So let me dive into that.
J-Mi, the Presenter… 8 times.
Student Staff Training isn’t possible without all the presenters and speakers. That in mind, I thought it would be a brilliant idea to sign up for every possible thing I could sign up to present for. I mean, I had one more session this year than last. If we’re going to count it by how many times I actually presented sessions, it totals up to the same – I presented a total of 8 times. After counting all of that, I officially think I’m crazy – but that’s fine.
What you’re here for is not to read about the count of how many times I present at Student Staff Training. This post is as much a post about what each of my presentations this year were as it is a reflection piece on where I stand as a presenter. As I was preparing for my last presentation, I had a big wave of Imposter Syndrome hit me and I really had to remind myself that I was stronger than whatever my brain was telling me about myself. Where I am today is not where I was last year, and that’s what made these presentations so important to me.
First, I want to bring back one of the most important presentations I have ever done – to date. Last year, I was one of the keynote speakers for Social Justice Day and I spoke about what Undergrad was like for a struggling First Generation college student and what it took to survive in an environment that wasn’t made for people like me – First Gens – to succeed. I also spoke about what Residential Life meant to me; what it did for me in keeping me in school to how I used what I had to continue passing on that help to my residents who were also struggling.
It took a lot out of me to be as vulnerable as I was and at that time, it felt so much so that the words I spoke in 7 minutes were surface level vulnerability. I knew that deep down, I could share so much more but I didn’t feel ready to expose more of myself just yet – especially not to 500+ students. At that time, it was the best I could give. The 7 minutes I spoke took 7 days of constant preparation, rehearsing in my room over and over, for hours on end. I was nervous because I was about to speak in front of 500+ people I didn’t know, and there was a vulnerability I challenged myself to share.
Just like last year, the first session I had was much easier than the rest would be. This year, my first session was a recharge session on Fauxligraphy 101. For me, nothing is easier than doing a session on something you love to do already – because it’s plain and simple. You’re just doing something that you already love to do on a regular basis and showing it to others. I did this session in honor of my buddy from last year (Becky La, follow her lettering IG on @blalettering) and because I felt like I made so much progress in my lettering from where I was at a year ago. This was also a really great session for me to use a pink color scheme on, and we know how much I love me some pink.
While my Social Justice presentations this year was not as hard as what I talked about in my keynote, it didn’t change the fact that I had to put myself in a situation (once again) where I was vulnerable. I knew I wanted to present for Social Justice Day again this year, but I was struggling to pick a topic. One of the Resident Directors (RDs) gave me a suggestion based on feedback to talk about what it’s like being born outside of the country and how that affected me growing up. I reached out to another RD that I knew was born in another country to brainstorm what we could do and this is where her suggestion of doing a non-traditional presentation came into play – we opted to do a panel where four of us shared our stories of what it was like to be born out of the country and how that’s impacted us. Each of us shared the commonality of being immigrants, but more importantly, we shared that this was a part of our lives that we weren’t always open to sharing, and especially not to group of people or in a presentation. The value we wanted our student staff to take away from what we talked about is the importance of reaching out and supporting those who are going through a difficult time in this challenging political climate.
The second Social Justice presentation I had was digging deeper into immigration in the United States. In this presentation, there was more factual-based information being given rather than sharing stories. I focused on some of the more popular immigration statuses that people in the US currently hold. Before I spoke about this, I shared the background for why I opted to do this presentation and that involved vulnerability – again. I was sharing the same story I shared from my first presentation, but to 40 new people. We talked about each of these statuses, shared a video featuring children who grew up in the US Undocumented, and gave them an activity where they tried to become US Citizens. I recognize the privilege I have in being a US Citizen. I knew this when I became a citizen on April 22, 2015 and I recognized this even more when the country’s political climate drastically changed in November 2016. There are many people who now fear their safety, who fear what is to happen in their future, and the true colors and claws are coming out. Because of the status I hold, I am more protected but it doesn’t change the fact that I am still brown and I am not going to be “American” in many eyes.
There was a big gap between the Social Justice Days and the next time I had presentations – which was Engagement Day. I always jump at the opportunity to present during Engagement Day because it’s the part of my job that I feel most confident and most successful in. There are many other things I tend to doubt myself in, but the aspects of engagement is not one of them. I got to present the same presentation I did last year called “Intentional Programming” to new RAs with a Lead RA (returner). In this presentation, we feature 3 videos of hypothetical situations that an RA engages with their residents; in this case, programming (events). They are given time to discuss with their peers what the RA failed to do and what could be improved for the next time. The worst part of this presentation is that I show up in 2 of the 3 videos. I’m not so much a fan of seeing myself on a big screen, especially when I’m presenting it.
Final presentation was on Mental Health Day and it was “Intersectionality in Mental Health,” which was a presentation for Lead RAs. This was probably the most challenging presentation for me because it was all new content-wise. In the different identities that our students have, we often focus on certain demographic aspects and this was intended to help the RAs come up with the challenges of each identity, how to go about approaching the situations, and seeing how each of these identities intersect when we begin talking about the challenges people face in mental health. I particularly enjoyed this presentation because I got to work with a Faculty-in-Residence (FIR) and a professor in the Higher Education graduate program, Dr. Jessica Harris. I’m almost certain I told her this when I first met her, but learning that I was presenting with a professor… I WAS INTIMIDATED AS HECK. I was going to present on a topic I didn’t have as much knowledge about next to someone who has a lot of experience discussing areas of identity. The intimidation lasted, until now. Not because she’s actually an intimidating person, but because of how incredible she is and just how accomplished she is. Seriously, I want to basically be her one day. Maybe or maybe not a professor (who knows), but she is one heck of a role model.
Why’d are you presenting so much?
When my colleagues were learning how often I was going to present during training, this question came up as one of the first things they asked – along with their eyes widening in shock. Honest answer – I don’t know. I think I’m just crazy.
What I do know is that this is something that I genuinely enjoy and it’s an experience I create for myself every year. The whole two weeks before training, I was most definitely freaking out every other hour trying to get all my presentations together and prepared. I was working late and on weekends to get things together and make sure they were ready. There was so much going on. The reality was that if I chose not to do as many presentations as I did, I would have probably reduced the level of stress I was on.
However, it’s bigger than that. Being stressed, overwhelmed, tired, and however else I felt wasn’t the most present thing in my head when I was presenting these presentations or when I was speaking to the students after the presentations. It was the way I felt, feeling accomplished and feeling like I succeeded in something that was more beneficial to the students than it was for me. The job I have is not easy, but these students – I wouldn’t trade a day in my job for something that would make me more money if it meant I would go about my day being happy. The students, my staff… they’re the best part of my job and they constantly remind me why I love being a part of this experience.
I did the same amount of presentations last year for Student Staff Training, but something was different this year. I could feel that there was something different but I couldn’t pinpoint it. During one moment that I got to myself right after training was over and while I was up at 1am with my RAs trying to help them with their passive boards, door decs, and fixing the laminator, it came to me: I am a returning ARD. At the same time last year, I was still new and I was still confused. This time around, I felt more confidence in what I was doing because I actually knew what I was doing. There was less of me depending on my supervisor to guide me and hold my hand because I could fully support knowing that I understood my role and could better serve my team. I felt stronger than I fit before.
Do I still think I’m crazy for doing as much as I did? Yes, yes I do. But I share these stories to teach myself the value of vulnerability and stepping outside of what I’m comfortable with. It’s easier for my to hide my experiences in my memory box and leave it there. I’m like an onion; I have so many layers and you’ll probably cry a bit before you’re able to reach my core. I make it nearly impossible for many people to reach a depth about me and my stories, because it’s not something I am comfortable with. However, this teaches me a little more about breaking out of my shell sometimes and allowing myself to dig deeper and share that with students who may find themselves connecting.
The First Two Weeks of October
I don’t know what it was about these first two weeks of October, but they were PACKED with so many things. Actually, I lied. I know most of what was going on, I think I’m just failing to acknowledge that there was really that much going on given True Bruin Welcome was over. The biggest focus of the first two weeks was hiring the last four people on our team: an OCHC Representative and three Programming Assistants.
Another ARD and I are part of the Student Government Development Committee and in this committee, we focus on the Resident Government Councils and Programming Assistants (PA) on The Hill. We were given the task of training the Programming Assistants on Friday, October 12th. We spent about two weeks putting together a presentation and a PA Manual for them to be able to utilize as we were still trying to figure out what this (technically) new position entailed. In some ways, I almost felt like we were thrown into a pit and kind of just had to figure things out on our own, but we somehow managed it. Plus, the PAs got to plan their first big program of the quarter. Productivity for the win!
J-Mi, a Returner ARD
Despite having all the successes I had these last two and a half months and being constantly told that “I work too much,” there’s one thing that’s still consistently in my mind: my Imposter Syndrome.
I work hard, and really I overwork, because I’m afraid of disappointing those around me who have constantly been impressed by the work I do. Sometimes, I’m able to recognize that my accomplishments in my role deserve the credit they receive. Most times, I’m already criticizing myself before I’ve even completed the work. Imagine how critical I am of myself after everything’s been done. I’m much quicker at making a list of the things I screwed up in – everything from how I said something to what else I could have done to make something more successful – than I am just taking a minute to appreciate that I did something that benefits a greater group.
What I am thankful for is the people who constantly remind me that I’m much more than the harsh criticism I place on myself, that I am exactly right where I need to be, and I do what I do because there are people who need me so they can also succeed in their roles.
During a 1:1 with an RA this past week, we talked about him being the eldest and how he’s seen his parents’ parenting. The eldest child often has the most “mistakes” and a lot more trial and error, but by the second, third, or even 8th child, parents got it. They’ve gotten the hang of it and have developed a routine on how to “troubleshoot” the little things. We compared it to being an RA and how a new RA is more inclined to ask more questions, mess up things here and there, and spend a significant amount of time trying to figure out their way in their role. When they become a returning RA, they’ve got the hang of things. They are the ones guiding the new RAs on how to handle certain situations, scenarios, and everything in between better. Learning from the mistake of others just as much as we learn from our own mistakes.
Similarly, as a new ARD last year, I felt a lot of confusion. I was not only new to the job, I was new to UCLA, period. Last year, I was one of the two full-time ARDs who did not graduate from UCLA; this year it’s just me. I put a lot of pressure on myself to understand the UCLA culture, environment, and more. I wanted to be 100% before the students were back for Student Staff Training because I felt like I had to know everything or I would hinder the success of my RAs. Thinking back to it, I don’t think I said “I understand my job” until the near end of February this year – which, at that point, was nearly 6 months after I started working in UCLA ResLife. 6 months to just understand and feel comfortable about my job. Then there’s now. While I’m still confused about a lot of things, I’ve got the basics down. There are so many things changing in the department constantly that it’s hard to keep up, but it’s about being comfortable with just being challenged by the new things. My Imposter Syndrome is present almost always, but what’s present even more is that I have people that remind me the importance of what I do for them.
My staff members and the residents I get to know in passing or at programs are the people I consistently look to when I struggle to get myself feeling “100” in situations. The focus is never about me; no matter what it is I’m struggling with because the people I’m doing it for will be there to pass on what I’ve given them.
Until next time,
ARD Jamrensze “J-Mi” De Leon