Black Text = Revision 1
Burnt Orange Text = Revision 2

A while back my (then) supervisor attended a student affairs conference. She brought back a list of quotes that we discussed in the Residential Life department meeting. Many of these really piqued my interest and I decided that I would write about these when I returned to the blogosphere. This is the first in a series of rants based on these quotes.

You need to believe in the power of reflection.

Reflection. A word that I befriended in my graduate work at Bucknell University. Initially I was somewhat skeptical of my reflective writings. My exercises in reflections seemed to focus not on what I thought about often but on what I thought would be interesting to an outsider. As I worked on autobiographical pieces to document my identity development I often revisited collections of memories that I had left unattended for years. Why these memories became the highlights of my reflection papers, I cannot say. They were memorable for some reason.

As I journeyed on, I shared my thoughts and writings with my advisor. She helped me a great deal in understanding the need for a documentation of the thought process. While the idea made sense, I had never really used it to inform my writings before. While I had brainstormed ideas to get started on writing assignments, I had almost always used a word processor right from the beginning. This meant that even though I was aware of the thought process as I was writing, I often lost track of it by the time I finished. 

I enjoyed the autobiographical assignments immensely. I enjoyed the conversations they triggered. In 1:1 meetings between myself and my advisor and in group discussion in classes. But the my focus soon shifted. I began my research work for my thesis and I started reflecting focusing on the lives of others. I collected their stories, compared and contrasted them, and tried to understand the evolution of their perceptions. I defended my thesis in April, 2011 and moved on to and in to the real world.

Now, if you are reading this post on my blog, you will notice that it is the first “serious” post after nearly two years of silence. What you may not be able to tell by looking at it is that I starting drafting it two years ago. 

When I started my first job, as a Residence Hall Director at the University of New Hampshire, one of the residents in my building approached me with an idea – he wanted me to host philosophical conversations in my apartment that he would help facilitate. He called the series “Socratic Discussions”. It did not take us long to realize that the name was anything but an invitation! Socrates did not have many friends in the hall. My resident, inspired by FDR’s radio addresses in the ’30s and ’40s, renamed the series to ‘Fireside Chat’. This started what has now become a weekly tradition for me. I have since moved to a different job, as the Assistant Director of Residential Education, at my Alma mater. Two things have changed about the Fireside Chats. First, I am now the facilitator. I am no longer a mere host, a non-participatory spectator. Second, I use a hybridized format for the Chats. After the first two hours of each conversation, I take my facilitator hat off. (For those of you who have observed such an exchange of proverbial hats before and find it to be problematic, I wish to clarify one thing: I do not take my facilitator hat off to put it back on in the same conversation. If it comes off, it has to stay off!) In other words, I have stopped being the outsider.

For me reflection is an erratic process. I cannot, I must not, try to restrict the flow of ideas. This post is very different from my autobiographical reflections from 4 years ago. When I reflected then, I tried very hard to reach a point where my writings made complete sense and appeared coherent. I make no such effort here. 

Two weeks ago as we wrapped up the facilitated part of our Fireside Chat (“For whom are we responsible?”), one of my students turned to me and asked, “So what is your answer?” At that point, as I took calculated risks in answering her question, I thought about this unfinished post. I thought about why it was that students walked across campus on a cold night to participate in a discussion that they were not going to get any credit for. I thought about why it was that I spent hours in these conversation and never thought about canceling a discussion (I am nearing the 50-topics mark). I reflected on my answer to her question. I reflected on the answers to the questions I ask here, and, unlike my reflections in graduate school, I answered these questions very frankly. Complete with the sometimes bumpy transitions between arguments.

Articulating my thoughts that night made me think further about the value of the Chats to me. [My train of thought is interrupted by some very happy students outside my apartment… they are singing. Very loudly. I leave my desk to have a conversation with them. Now, they are reflecting. Rather quietly. The clock tells me it is 2:21 am] I felt a connection to the outsider in my reflection pieces. I was the outsider. However, in the articulation of my answers two weeks ago I did not feel disconnected from the reflection. I was forced by my student to do something that I had not wanted to do before. To bridge the gap between my two identities. The me that has all the memories that demanded reflection in graduate school and the me that has been doing the reflection.

So, why do you need to believe in the power of reflection, you ask? Because some of my students have gained hope because of reflection, some have learned to cope because of reflection, and some have learned to persevere because of reflection. And some of my students are forcing me to continue the the reflection. And I am loving it!

I have another draft on my blog dashboard. It’s about liminal spaces. It’s about More specifically, the liminality of my identity. It is, I now realize, about the relationship between myself and the outsider. The date stamp on that draft… 2011/06/23. I am sure my advisor would be glad I am taking to her her advice about putting my writings away for a while. I am not sure how she’d feel about the length of time it has taken for me to return. I thank my supervisor for sharing these musings with us. Now if I can find the list of them all, I might share some more thoughts here…