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This is a post about Joy. The year was long and hard, but as I look back on it, there were many moments of joy. In my reflections since the semester's end, I realized that many of my most joyous moments involved my students. So, this post is my post of Joy.

The picture that sparked this post was this one below: a student sent me a picture in front of a painting we studied over the past semester. And he sent it while he is still in Paris (below, Ben Igo in front of Raft of the Medusa by the French Romantic artists Géricault).

Another current moment of Joy was seeing a text from student with whom you are currently working over the summer. It's joyous to see his excitement - and maybe even joy? - for the opportunity:

Then there is the Joy of graduation, which is the culmination of changing students' lives and helping them to achieve their dreams. It is always my most cherished day of the year. This year it was especially full of Joy. It was the first group of students graduating who I was privileged enough to help as the mentor to the football team.

John Chamberlin (with me, Left) finally mastered human physiology and his hatred of tests to get his degree. And Trevon Haynes (below, with me Right) finally beat FRENCH to earn his degree and go on to graduate school in graphic design. Félicitations, Trevon!

Then here is TUCC!!! Former center, Mike Martucci will be missed. He struggled having changed majors and yet he made it! He took my class in 2017, too, which was a joy. And seeing his senior Sociology poster was also an honor, and that picture is here, too (below Left).

And then there is the Joy of Angelo Payne. I am proud of all of them, but Angelo is super special to me. I saw his mother when I entered the gym where we hold the graduation exercises. She grabbed my hands and joyously cried, "He made it!" And I know I helped, and that is a huge joy. He presented undergraduate research at a conference this semester also, which is just amazing. He has big dreams and I know he can achieve them.There are frustrations as a professor. Students often don't read. They do not come to class prepared. They take your classes "only" for the requirement. But you know what? It's true that they might take your class "just" for the requirement, but they also might end up in the Louvre, snapping a picture to send to you. They might become better writers and end up presenting at a conference, even if it's not your field. They might go on to coach other players, or they'll go on to learn more.

But my truest hope for them is that they will go on to a life full of Joy. They brought Joy to my life and my sincerest hope is they experience Joy many times over in theirs.

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When you don't give up on a student, he or she can do great things. A student on the football team I met in 2016 was struggling in many ways, and I was fortunate that he trusted me enough to tell me about his issues. I refused to give up on him, despite what sometimes seemed even to me really big odds stacked against him ranging from the financial to the academic.

My advocacy helped him benefit from an anonymous donor who paid his outstanding bill so that he could register for classes the next term and stay on track to graduate, which he will this May. I do not know who did that, but I will always be grateful. Because this young man got another chance.

And a few weeks ago, he presented a paper at the The Mid-Atlantic Region of the American Academy of Religion and The Mid-Atlantic Region of Society of Biblical Literature. It was an undergraduate research panel and his paper dealt with evangelical views and how they led to mass incarceration policies.

I asked him, on the eve of traveling to New Jersey where the conference was held, if he ever thought he would be doing this. He laughingly replied something like "no way, Dr. McKay."

Yet this is what happens when you do not give up on a student. This is what happens when they love what they study. Doors open for them. When they believe that you believe in them, they try things they never would have done. I can't take all the credit for this, as my dedicated colleague in his major of Religious Studies is the one who truly inspired this student to go farther, do more, and write a paper worthy of a research panel at a conference in the field.

How do we put value on that? At a time when the humanities are bashed and programs cut because they do not have enough majors to justify their existences, one may ask: what's the value? Yes, numbers matter, and colleges with finite resources can't teach it all.

I sure would like those who make these financial decisions to talk to this student about the value of his experience. Because I am willing to bet that it is something he will never forget, and it's something that will lead to more opportunities. In fact, I would say this experience has further changed his life.

And isn't that what the humanities in their best iteration are meant to do?

This has been a week of reflection. As one of my colleagues put it, working in higher education creates a constant cycle of whiplash: the semesters begin and then are over. You run with your hair on fire, especially in the last couple of weeks, only to turn around to nothing. Well, your own projects, of course, that you pick up where you left off, usually when it was another season altogether. But the sudden end always takes me by surprise, even having been through this cycle so many times.

Why do we do what we do?

This question followed me over the past two weeks, which were frenetic in both intensity and pace. For several reasons. First, there are major changes coming to our institution, one that I love and one that I try to make better every single day I am on campus, and even when I am off. It's an uncertain time, but I've been thinking a lot about why I do what I do, personally. But I am also thinking: why does our college do what it does as we consider changing programs.

To me, my answer to the question is the students. And learning. And more recently, mentoring. Helping. My focus has changed a lot in the time that I have been teaching, which is nearly 20 years. I like to think that I was always focused on students, but I do so now in a different way. I focus more on engaging them with active learning (which I have written about often here; see list of topics at right). More often now, I listen to them. In doing so I sometimes find their questions difficult. And often, I can't answer them.

Take my visit with a student last week. I still can't stop thinking about it. His question stopped me in my tracks, because I had no answer for him. I could not help him. Not anymore.

Because his question was, "What will make me happy, Doc?" He explained that he always thought it would be business and making money; those would be the keys to his happiness. But now, he was not so sure. All I could say to him was what I know for sure: he will figure it out, because he's bright, reflective, and perceptive. He's turning some of that perception on to himself, which means, that he will figure it out. He will figure out why he does what he does.

So, yes, I know why I do what I do. Yet, the bittersweetness of it hit me like that end of semester tsunami always does: three students that I helped out of several pickles over the past two years or so are successfully done. They'll gradate in May. They are off to find their way in the world. I know my college has given them the foundation to do great things and be successful.

And my wish for them is that they figure out why they do what they do.

There has been a lot written lately about "emotional labor," an idea that is discussed in this article in The Atlantic, which explores the term and how it has creeped into areas that were not intended by the originator of the term, Dr. Arlie Hochschild, a sociologist who taught at UC Berkeley. In this article from The Atlantic, she notes that teachers are among those who "[while] doing physical labor and mental labor, ...are crucially being hired and monitored for [the] capacity to manage and produce a feeling."

I'm thinking about that because I have come off a week that was very emotional for me. This past week students came to me for all sorts of reasons: serious illnesses (or tests needed to determine them), deaths in the family (in one case a shooting), and I even learned of the sad fate of a former student. It was exhausting. I am still exhausted.

So what is the solution? I know I am not monetarily paid for this emotional work, so what should I do about this? I suppose everyone, especially professors, must decide for themselves how  to respond to this reality. On the one hand, a professor could say, students have (for the most part) families, and that they should be supported by those families. That's true, but in reality, some are not. And it's also true that we have a counseling center, and I often walk students there to get counseling if they are in crisis. I am not trained to do counseling.

But there is a trust that I have built up with my students. That trust means that sometimes they come to me with personal issues if for no other reason than they are not sure where else to go for help. I help when I can, and direct when I can't.

I realize that this explanation is not exactly the definition of "emotional labor" in its original context as penned by Dr. Hochschild. But I am not willing to hold some kind of line in the sand to not be there for students in these ways to avoid the "cost" of this kind of work. If I'm going to have my students trust me, then they trust me. If they trust me enough to share personal stories, how can I turn them away?

This is the time of year when my Twitter feed is full of tweets from professors scoffing at the number of dead grandparents and generally not believing - or caring? - about these students and their stress. I dislike the tones of those tweets and comments. Our students are our students, with all of their problems, issues, and stresses.

My college is listed in the book Colleges That Change Lives by Loren Pope. In the chapter about McDaniel it opens with these lines: "If you’re looking for a college free from pretense and full of genuine care, put McDaniel at the top of your list." Rather than "emotional labor," I think I am practicing genuine care. I do genuinely care about each of my students. While I may not be paid directly for that, I think it's worth any sense of cost if I can make these students feel supported, encouraged, and yes, even cared for. It is my hope that they can then do their best in the classroom, which is, ultimately, our collective goal at the college. We want graduates who will make a difference in the world. If I can make a difference in their lives, my hope is that each of them will pay it forward.

What is your view, if you teach, of the role you play in the lives of students beyond your classroom?

Another season is in the record books for the McDaniel College Green Terror Football Team. It was not the record that we were all hoping for, and I was not able to travel to the last game, which was away. But I watched it on the livestream, and once again I marveled at the grit, resilience, and indefatigable spirit of the players, the coaches, and the fans - parents - who I knew were in the stands. I've come to love all aspects of the culture of this game, but it's the people who make it the best.

First, appreciation must go to the coaches, chief among them Head Coach Michael Dailey, who said yes from the start when approached to have a female art history professor as the first faculty mentor to the team. We reminisce now often about how we were going to "figure it out," and we have. I'm grateful for his patience, his answering of my thousands of questions (I am an academic!), and his embrace of just about every one of my ideas. I have made it a point to get to know the other coaches a bit better this year, though I could have done more on that score. Yet, I know how busy they are.

Second, the parents have been fun to get to know, too. What a hardy bunch! And these people know how to party! I can't name names, but I have been gifted with more sausage, sweets, and alcoholic shots than I have ever in my life. At first, it was overwhelming and I did not know what to say or do, which makes professors as a rule uncomfortable. But as I try to tell my students: lean into what makes you uneasy and take a risk. I am glad that I did so because interacting with the parents has been a joy I did not anticipate when I took on this role.

And finally, but certainly not last, is my appreciation for the students. Among the graduating bunch this year are some of the first players who sought me out when I did not know what I was doing. I don't know why they trusted me, as I hardly think I gave off an attitude of confidence about my role. All I can think is that my desire to help and to support somehow came through. And I listened. By listening I learned so much. Because many people read this blog and because it's public, I will not name their names. However, they will always be among the most important students in my twenty-year teaching career in higher ed. They (hopefully) know who they are. They made me a better professor, by helping me see how they came alive in debates, games, and other active learning in the classroom. Several of them taught me about what it is like to be a black young man navigating today's society and some first-generation students shared with me the angst at the costs they were incurring. They taught me about grit and resilience, which I have blogged about here before. They taught me collectively about teamwork and why that is important.

In the end they have offered me a new way to express my creativity as a professor, a (sometimes) administrator, and a speaker on student athletes and teaching and learning. I've been given a new outlet for the next few years to help guide and shape higher education, specifically on how institutions can better support student athletes holistically at the (NCAA) Division III level. I've spoken at a few institutions, have a book proposal in about my experiences, and will be speaking at the NCAA's Annual Convention in January.

To the entire McDaniel College Football Team: a huge thank you from the faculty mentor. Thanks for making me a member of the team. And when is Spring Ball?!?!

The 2018 Team (photo: Katie Ogorzalek)

I have been thinking about the issue of helping students with issues and problems that are not always academic in nature. Students might come to faculty with issues about their personal lives regarding relationships, finances, identity; the list can go on. This type of listening is often referred to as "emotional labor" and is sometimes required to be done at colleges and universities. Often it is noted that this work is  disproportionately performed by women, and it is often not compensated financially. While harassment and other forms of discrimination also happen in the academic world that disproportionately hinder women, I am referring specifically to "the invisible labor of mentoring students [that] isn’t rewarded in the tenure-and-promotion process" that is discussed in this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education. I would argue that this invisible work is not academic advising. This work goes well beyond the role of academic advisor.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, for my work as the mentor to the football team has me often wading in waters for which my Ph.D. did not give me much training. And it is work for which I am not specifically financially compensated by my institution. It could, of course, be lumped into that catch-all of "service to the institution," which can mean anything from committee work, to participating in faculty or administrative searches, to advising, and to participating in any number of "ad hoc" groups.

For me, this diagram offers a different way of thinking about my mentor work:

Related image

While I still believe that it should be compensated financially in some way, I am finding that there is a reward - an intrinsic reward - in doing this work. The gratitude that is expressed to me by my students when I listen to them and help them form a plan to fix whatever problem they are having reminds me why I teach at a small school that says we genuinely care about students. We are part of the Colleges That Change Lives book and the website for CTCL has this quotation for our entry:

“This [McDaniel College] is a community of nice, earnest, unassuming, quietly self-assured teenagers who realize they are getting a first-rate education and who regard their teachers as their friends and mentors.
Colleges That Change Lives

I am proud to be a part of that. While I work to make sure that the mentoring work that I am doing will one day be financially compensated, I will continue to realize that I'm in the sweet spot with my role as faculty mentor to the football team. I am good at it, it's what the world needs right now (at least on my campus), I can be paid for it (though my pay is for my teaching primarily), and possibly most importantly, I love what I am doing. As the diagram above shows, it's my profession and vocation, but it's also my mission and passion. They all align to that sweet green star that reflects my purpose.

May we all find a way to the green star of our purpose. And be paid for doing it. While this post doesn't advocate that this work should not be paid for, I would also say that it has its own rewards. If you're good at this work, and you're at a place that values it, I hope you'll continue to do it. And if you are a tenured faculty member, I hope you'll think about doing it. There are so many faculty on the tenure track - and many more off it - that expectations for this sort of work would be nearly abusing their roles. However, if you, like me, find yourself in the privileged position of tenured full or associate professor, think about this type of mentoring work. Because this world, and the young people trying to make their way in it, need people to guide them, friend them, and mentor them.

* After I published this post, this related article popped up on Twitter:, and my college, McDaniel is mentioned: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/showing-that-they-care-college-faculty-called-on-to-aid-floundering-students/2018/10/07/6b67d098-c6a4-11e8-b1ed-1d2d65b86d0c_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.b2771064700a

I have been teaching for over twenty years and higher education is under tremendous pressure and my college is experiencing this as well. I just started reading Jeffrey Selingo's book There is Life After College. I am doing this to try to understand the role of higher education in America now. It's very different than it was even a decade ago, and Selingo offers some context for that.

I have done a lot of reading because I want to provide the best education and experience for any student who comes across my doorway, either the doorway of my office or my classroom. Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed at the different issues I must focus on. When I have a student  in my office, or when they come to my class, I am thinking of any number of things, like:

  • "It is my responsibility to teach this student and to be sure my course helps her on her way to graduation."
  • "I need to make sure this student understands and can communicate the skills he has learned in my class in any interview situation so that he can get the job."
  • "I need to retain this student because her continued attendance at my institution is important."
  • "I want to be sure that I engage these students so that they continue to want to learn and finish their degree."
  • "I want to be sure that this student doesn't end up a statistic of the millions who have some college, but no degree and student debt."

At times all of these thoughts can overwhelm and paralyze. And nearly all of those sentences should have an exclamation point after them, because each one seems pressing and necessary and URGENT. Sometimes I think I should just teach and NOT think about all of this. But is that really the extent of my job? Just teaching art history? I don't think so. I do think that my role at a small, liberal arts college is not just to teach. It's to help guide.

And yet, the more I read about our changing economy the more stressed I become for our students. The stakes are high. More and more it seems that the value that we place on individuals is really all about money. We do not hear about movies over the weekend that were good in a creative sense, just which ones made the most money at the box office. Everything is a value exchange.

I teach art history. How do I translate that so that my students can benefit from the skills that my discipline offers, while still helping them be successful in their eventual careers? How do I do that when art history is usually the degree that is maligned, as in a 2014 speech by then-President Obama (which you can read here). Or when it's mentioned in a podcast as a major that even students police among themselves: "Why are you majoring in Art History?!" according to William Deresiewicz in a recent episode of the Unmistakable Creative podcast (you can read about/listen to it here).

My institution is wrestling with the big question of the role of our college in society, what we teach and our mission. We are a private, liberal arts college and I know we help students. I know we're important. Yet, so much is changing around us. I believe strongly in the core of the liberal arts and want my students to be successful. Ultimately that is why I am mentoring students that happen to be on the football team, because I see such potential in them, and yet also a reticence among some of them to be disciplined enough in academics to have it help them launch a career.

I'd love to hear from my former students about how their experiences launched them - or did not. What would you do differently? What do you wish your alma mater did differently?

And today, I'll decide how best to teach tomorrow, and I'll also be planning mentoring meetings this week with students. That work must carry on.

This Saturday the McDaniel College Green Terror Football Team had their home opener. In the rain. In the pouring rain. As in I don't think it stopped raining for one play. I admit that I took shelter, thanks to my colleagues, in our Skybox. One of my colleagues was kind enough to give me a guest pass; I think she felt sorry for me, seeing me shivering in my wet clothes.

It was also the first loss of the season. As the mentor to the team, I talk with the students, get to know them, help them craft dreams and goals, teach them in classes. I love doing all of that. But it also makes it much harder when they lose. And even worse to see them get hurt. There were at least three injuries that I saw this past Saturday and each was like a gut punch. I don't know how parents do it.

But once again I was reminded as I sat in the luxury of the dry warmth of the box seat (I feel like such a wuss) and watched them: they love the game so much. They play with SUCH heart. They simply never give up. Even in the relentless rain and a sputtering offense, the defense came up big, again and again. One of the players I have gotten to know very well over two years in my role on the team had a huge sack and made the highlight real of "Play of the Day," which you can see in a link here.  Look at that speed!

They make me a bigger fan every time I watch them. And not that I want them to do it, but I think it is when they lose that I gain even more respect for them. One of my thoughts as I watch them all standing on the sidelines is that they are so devoted to each other. When I think about the strife and conflict in our society right now, a lot of it over race, and then see a team that is very diverse link arms together at the start of every game, work together to achieve a goal, and not give up on each other ever, well, it just makes me think that maybe there is hope for the world after all.

I'll be back at out there next Saturday, win or lose, sun or rain. They've got one fan in their corner always.

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It has been a roller coaster ride this past week, which was also my last week before the start of classes. It started with a fantastic gathering of former football players of McDaniel College. Nearly 30 alumni football players returned to The Hill to meet with current players and to talk to them about planning for their futures. Nearly every member of the current squad was there and I did not see a phone come out of a pocket or bag for the two hour event. Some stayed afterwards for another half an hour. Here are some scenes from the event:

        

The next day we had the first faculty meeting of the academic year, in which I was awarded a book award for the publication of Modernism vs. Traditionalism: Art in Paris, 1888-89, my Reacting to the Past game that came out in March. But we also heard from our college president that this year we will collectively need to make some hard choices when it comes to programs to continue to support - and not. That makes everyone a bit on edge, but it's a necessary step for the institution to keep thriving.

At the end of the week I traveled to Schreiner Universityto address their Convocation for new students. I had a great time there in the Texas Hill Country. Having read the first year book, The Which Way Tree, by Elizabeth Crook, I got a feel for the ways in which the landscape affected the founding of the towns in that area. The convocation itself was fun, with a championship ring given to the Basketball shooting team for their first place win at their conference - I got to hear their fight song and see their mascot: the mountain lion.

I talked a lot in my address about being curious, and today my week starts with a phone call with an official from the NCAA about possibly participating on a panel at their annual conference in January. If you had told me a few years ago that I would be doing this, I would have scoffed. But my curiosity has led me here, mentoring a football team and learning lots from it. I'm sure that this journey will continue to have many ups and downs, but I'm excited to see where all of this leads me.

Good luck to all who have started, or are starting, their academic year!

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One of my favorite movies is The King's Speech. I am pretty sure I went to see it at least two times when it was out in the theaters. It's out on Netflix now, and I was watching it the other night and a scene popped out at me. It was about helping the king, who has a stammer, find his voice. I thought about it, and think I am helping the football team have a voice.

For those that have not seen it, The King's Speech is about King George VI, who had a very bad stammer. He never thought he would be the king of England, being that he was the second son of King George V. But his brother, who became King Edward VIII, abdicated the throne in 1936 (the same year he became king). Complicated laws and morality regarding the king of England also being the head of the Church of England required Edward to abdicate when he took up with a twice-divorced American woman. And this puts George VI, also known in his family as "Bertie," on the throne.

In the movie, the reluctant "king-to-be" seeks help for his stammer from a speech therapist, Lionel Logue, who is a wanna-be actor from Australia. They work together on the physical problems of George/Bertie's stammer, but it is the work they do about his family, the pains and hurts he endured as a child, that helps him step up and assume the role of King.

In my opinion, the best scene, and the one that inspired this post, is when the speech therapist is with the soon-to-be-crowned King George in Westminster Abbey. George is complaining that the speech therapist does not have credentials to be treating him, even though none was ever claimed. And then the speech therapist sits in the throne of King Edward, the throne upon which every monarch is crowned in England. George/Bertie goes nuts, yelling and telling the speech therapist him to get up! The  therapist then goads George/Bertie by saying, "What right do you tell me that I can't sit on this throne?" (paraphrased) George/Bertie then says that the therapist must listen to him, the king, because he has a right; he has a voice.

He has a voice.

The therapist responds, "Yes you do." And he gets up from the famous seat of King Edward and says to King George, about to crowned, "You have such perseverance, Bertie. You're the bravest man I know."

This scene (you can watch it here) resonated with me. Earlier this month I helped several students, a number of whom are on the football team, with letters of appeal for their academic dismissal to the college. Most of them had their appeals granted and are coming back. They will return to college. They are very brave students. They are facing issues and problems that have been dogging them in their pursuit of an education. They were brave enough to face these problems and issues, to "man up" to their failed situations and make a vow to do better.

I feel like the speech therapist, in the movie because I have helped give voice to these students, these brave young men, who have had to restate with assurance that some of them may not feel, that they have a voice and a right to return to the college.

Indeed, they all do. And I'll be there to help them develop and use their voices for as long as I'm able.

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