Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Visitando La Frontera...Greetings from Aggies Reaching Out (ARO) South Texas

Salutations from McAllen! This past Sunday we made the trek from College Station (or as my Alle calls it, ECollege Estation) to the valley to work with three middle schools in the McAllen area. The ride down here was nonstop laughing, singing, and joking thanks to our awesome counselors, random walkie talkie talk,  and some albeit, inspiring scenery. After getting a slightly late start we arrived around 7pm and went straight to dinner because these college students needed a well deserved break and food in their tummies. Needless to say after I arrived to our hotel I unpacked and passed out.

My days have started around 6:30am and usually end around 9:30pm but every minute has been worth it. Our middle schools have been our second homes for the past three days and I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of such an incredible program. Counselors get to shadow 8th graders for the majority of the day, interacting with them in classes and at lunch as well as after school and both groups have loved every minute.

As an advisor, I have the opportunity to see firsthand the development of our counselors as leaders on this trip and I have no doubt that they will continue to go on to do great things after this program and past graduation. Our students greet each challenge with flexibility, openness, and selflessly work with their Directors to find creative alternatives. Each counselor is unique and have different attributes and talents that make working with them an incredible experience and I know that they are making an invaluable difference in the lives of these 8th graders. Although I may not be an Aggie, but in my opinion as an honorary Aggie, these counselors are a true reflection of what Aggies should stand for, how they should act, and  I know that these students parents and fellow Aggies would be so proud of these students if they were here. Until next time, Thanks and Gig em'!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Reflections of a Post Graduate School Graduate...


        Mahatma Gandhi once said that in order to change the world we must “be the change we want to see in the world.”  This quote is true and relevant to many of the issues we see today. In opening the newspaper and flipping through channels on TV, headlines about the continued downturn of the economy, fighting oversees, struggles in the streets of our neighborhoods and abroad, and other tragedies spill across the pages and screen. News of positive change, reform, and people standing up for what is right is few and far between. In order for the world to change for the better we must first change ourselves and the way we interact with others. By changing our behaviors and ourselves we can then take the first step in changing the world.  This task of change is not easy and not everyone is welcome or willing to make these changes in themselves. However, there are individuals such as Connie Rice who have inspired change in others and dramatically impacted their communities by bringing people together and finding new ways to communicate. In this paper I will focus on three communication choices outlined in the article; action in reform, maintaining status quo, and silence, describe the ethical implications and impact of these choices, and discuss how these choices can be applied to the current immigration debate.  In order to understand the impact of these choices we must first define them and their relevance to the topic of change and communication.
            In Rice’s article three main communication choices emerge; action in reform, maintaining the status quo, and silence, the first choice we will discuss is action in reform. Action in reform is in essence actively working to change or make a difference in a situation, organization, or cause. In the beginning of the article, we learn that Rice has been actively working to reform the civil rights world through litigation and her involvement through grass-roots organizations. In working with the legal system she has been able to make an impact on a smaller scale and believes that the only way to truly solve problems is through political will and action. Rice felt that she could make a bigger dent in the system by working directly with those groups involved and reforming the system little by little at the same time. Rice made the choice to go against the status quo and bring together groups that had not worked together in the past and make the change from “fighting to communicating” (Lefer 2008, 6). Throughout the interview Rice describes the difficulties and obstacles she faced in bringing a positive change to the community, LAPD, and the gang world. Rice went from suing the department for police brutality and being thrown out of the precinct to eventually helping to reform the way the police, gang-intervention workers, and gang members communicate with each other. For example, in the article she states that the majority of the problems and miscommunication between gangs and the police was based in ignorance of identity. By bringing those involved together and dialoguing about the issues, concerns, and possible solutions she was then able to help the LAPD reform their entire training system. By retraining these officers to communicate rather than use brute force when dealing with gangs and conflict could inspire more positive change and prevent future issues. One of the difficulties in communicating and accomplishing this task is seen in the second communication choice, maintaining the status quo.
            Rice has been able to inspire reform in the LAPD, however a large part of that is due to the willingness of those involved to be a part of the change. The idea of change and plans are simply not enough, one must have support from others to cause change.  In Rice’s case she was fortunate in that she had the backing of the police chief, especially in that in many cases in working against status quo this may not be the situation. In going against what is expected or the status quo can lead to push back from administration or those who wish to standby what has been done in the past, even if these changes are positive or have the potential to make organizational life easier or more efficient. Additionally, many individuals feel that by condoning change their success or position will suffer (Samuelson, 10). For example, Rice mentions in the interview that many of the officers did not want to be involved as they did not feel that, even if they were successful, their work would be rewarded when it came time for being promoted (Lefer 2008, 8).  Therefore, putting their needs and concerns over what was best for the organization. Additional push back may come from factors such as; the fear of the unknown, laziness in conforming to new ideas, or unwillingness to accept new perspectives or ways of thinking. In the end, change may lose its battle as its success relies entirely on those who support it, how much they fight for it, and who is willing to listen to their side. This aspect of listening and reflecting is powerful especially in regards the third communication style of silence.
            As they say at the movies, in the previews before the main attraction, silence is golden. In communicating with others often times more can be said by saying nothing at all. Silence can provide many functions and serve as helpful tool or weapon in times of conflict or discord. For example, being silent during a conversation can convey: 1) disagreement, 2) respect, 3) contemplation, 4) empathy, or 5) the creation of listening space (Stewart, 205). In the article Rice is able to use silence as a tool in bringing together the Bloods and Crips simply by listening and reflecting on their issues, values, and concerns. In doing so she was able to take a closer look at gang life and those involved by doing so she was able to understand the members and what values made up their identity. She found out how and why these youths joined the gangs and the situations that forced them to become involved, embracing as Lederach states, “the complexity of identity, “ realizing that the stories of the gang members were not just black and white (Stewart, 538). In speaking with them and better understanding where their identities were rooted she could help them better than before. Additionally, by building trust and credibility, Rice was able to become a resource in their world. At first they slammed the door in her face when two rival gangs were trying to come to a truce but welcomed her as “their research assistant, “ when they found that she had valuable information and resources to aid in communicating with each other (Lefer 2008, 7).  Rice took this information to the police to help as Rice states “rewrite the script” and change the perception of these groups so that the police and gang-intervention workers are more willing to work with them rather than against them. Rice continued to use silence as a similar tool in working with the LAPD. Just as she listened to the gang members and their stories, she met with the police officers to hear their perspectives and concerns. Rice also saw the importance in, as Lederach states, “trying to never ignore or talk away someone’s perception. Instead try to understand where it’s rooted” (Stewart, 538). Through these conversations Rice was able to better understand those involved, their concerns, and by embracing “the complexity” of the situation different perspectives that were ignored in the past were able to come to light, making it easier to find solutions. In working with all three-communication choices Rice was able to successfully build bridges between groups that has not worked together previously and bring about solutions that have had a lasting affect on the community. However, these choices did not come without challenges to Rice’s ethical values and integrity.
            As Lederach states, “conflict is normal in human relationships, and conflict is a motor of change” (Stewart, 533). By maintaining trust, honesty, compassion, and empathy throughout her interactions with these groups Rice was able to transform conflict into resolution and positive change. In incorporating both action in reform and silence into her strategy Rice also relied heavily on creating and maintaining credibility. By getting to know those in power, sitting down with them and talking about their leadership and opportunities to make a positive change in the community, a new sense of responsibility was created. Gang members no longer saw themselves as Crips and Bloods, they held themselves to a new ethical standard as community leaders. Police officers saw guns and brute force as the only solution to the violence. In Rice’s own words, she was “trying to clear a place where new ideas can be vetted and tested.  We have to create some safe zones for innovative people in both camps” (Lefer 2008, 10). In combating status quo Rice used her success with those in management and around her to prove to those on the fence that she was a credible source and was working in their best interest allowing the process to move more smoothly. Had Rice not built her credibility or had the buy in of those involved this obstacle would have been more difficult to get around. At anytime Rice could have given up or chose to work with one side more than the other however because of her strong communication skills Rice was able to cause a lasting positive change.  Rice proves that change is possible and political leaders can learn a lot from her and her experiences especially in regards to dealing with national issues such as immigration.
            Immigration has been a long debated topic in the U.S. and continues to be one of the hot buttons within legislation. Because immigration is not one sided and effects so many people there is not a common voice or perspective on the issue. Additionally, because of stereotypes, ignorance, and false perceptions no one wants to hear the voice of the immigrants or those who support their struggle in the debate. Decision makers and political leaders should learn from Rice’s approach. By incorporating more honest and open dialogue with those involved, actively listening to their concerns and values, and working together to find potential solutions some of the negativity surrounding the debate could be eliminated. This will not completely eliminate the issues within the debate however it is a step in the right direction and would be able to allow for some clarity and change of perspective. Rice challenges us to be open to communicating with others and take the time to really listen to them. If this can be accomplished we can together be the change we want to see in the world.

Griffin, E. (2006) A first look at communication theory New York NY; McGraw-Hill
Kouzes, J. M. & Posner, B. Z. (2003). Credibility: How leaders gain and lose it, Why people demand it. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.
Lefer, D. (2008) Both sides Connie Rice lays down the law to cops and gangs; The Sun April 2008 (issue 388), pp.4-11
Samuelson, W. & R. J. Zeckhauser. (1988). Status quo bias in decision making. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 1, pp. 7-59.
Stewart, J. (2006) Bridges not walls [9th Ed] New York, NY; McGraw-Hill

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hermanas Por Vida Hoy y Por Siempre: My letter of appreciation and love to Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority, Inc

Dearest Sigma Lambda Gamma,

As you know, on May 3, 2002 10:36:10 pm, I along with my amazing and incredible line sisters, A'sha and Cherie, joined a sisterhood that would forever change my life. Throughout my college career (and give or take a few years after) I endured difficulties with my grades, gained and lost friends, faced confusion in regards to my future and career, battled and survived depression and an abusive relationship, and took significant steps in journeying toward the road that would lead me to becoming the woman I am today. Without the love, support, and guidance of my hermanas I would not have been nearly as successful. This is why I dedicate these thoughts and memories to you. 
Since graduating from college, I have lived in Dallas, Tampa, and now College Station, and no matter where I have gone I have taken SLG with me. When living in Tampa, I met some incredible sisters whom made my life and transition as a Floridian so seamless. We had some incredible times and definitely heated up the dance floor on occasion. I'm so thankful for their love, support, and welcoming me into their lives. I miss them and think of them often. 

Now that I've returned to the lonestar state my love for my sisters has only grown stronger. Through our incredible listserv, I was introduced to the Legendary Lambda Alpha Chapter and am now proudly serving as their Alumni Advisor. Through them I have been introduced some pretty cool fellow alumni in Houston whom I'm proud to call my hermanas.  
And although my journey still has many stops along the way to come, I know that my hermanas and the invaluable lessons that I have learned from them with forever remain in my heart. Thank you Sigma Lambda Gamma for changing my life and allowing me to be a Gamma.
Hermanas Por Vida,
Melanie "Querida" Weiser
Ship La Voz
Spring 02
The Divine Delta Alpha Chapter
University of Kansas


About Mariam

Life is sweet

Life is sweet

And they lived happily ever after

And they lived happily ever after

One day a beautiful Jewish girl met a nice Jewish boy and made their mothers very, very, very happy

One day a beautiful Jewish girl met a nice Jewish boy and made their mothers very, very, very happy

About Me

For those of you who know me, writing has always been one of my passions, with the exception of my Masters or any ridiculously long testament within the wide world of Academia. I've only had the pleasure of blogging a couple of times, mostly for a few classes in graduate school, but figured it was time to organize my numerous thoughts and musings with all of you out there in cyber land. I created this page because my mind is always running and often times my thoughts get lost in the hubub. Plus, my friends have always said that I'm a great storyteller, so I'd love to share them now with you. In the meantime, I'll leave you with this... Throughout the past 33 years of my life I've seen, heard, and experienced so many different things as well as had many adventures and dream of so many possibilities. But in short, what it comes down to is this..I'm just a little Jubana trying to make a difference in the world. Everyday I live my life to the fullest and have fun doing it. Life can't always be about work or how much money you make. There's so much more to life than that.