“My door is always open,” writes sociologist Anthony Abraham Jack ’07 in his new book “The Privileged Poor.” That familiar refrain is an invitation for students to connect with faculty and staff to receive assistance and support. Indeed, as Jack and other researchers have emphasized, connection is important not only between students, but also between students, faculty and staff as well.
During my first year at Amherst, I made it a top priority to connect with as many students as possible. As I enter my second year, the importance of connecting with students has not diminished whatsoever; in fact, it has increased.
Connection is not only about being available for appointments and meetings. To me, connection is about being available in other ways. Let me explain. But before I explain, let me share.
One thing you should know about me is that I love what I do. I love working with students, my fellow staff members and faculty. I love working in higher education and have done so since graduating from college. I feel blessed to work here at Amherst. The many opportunities to get to know people, to celebrate together and to work with them on various challenges are moments that I treasure and value.
One common challenge we all face is the pressure to do well (however each of us defines that) and the pressure to not falter. I was never a straight-A student; in fact, I was proudly consistent in high school and college, receiving mostly B+ grades. However, I placed on myself (and others placed on me) a tremendous amount of pressure to do well. From eighth grade on, I had a goal of becoming a physician. My grandparents on my mother’s side were both doctors. They passed away when my mother was still in college in Japan, so I never knew them, but their influence on my life was still immense.
Throughout high school, I knew that I would be a pre-med student in college, although I also knew that I would major in English. I believed that to be an effective doctor, I needed to learn about people, and one way to learn about people was through literature and stories.
In college, I took all the required pre-med courses, took the MCATs and applied to medical school the year after I graduated. Although my grades were decent and my MCAT score was fine, my application profile was not good enough to be accepted. I share this not because I am an only child and jokingly point out that I seem to love talking about myself, but also because I hope I can create some level of connection through vulnerability.
Everyone has struggles. I know this may be an obvious statement, but it is not an obvious realization — or at least it is one that, for many of us, is not easy to communicate openly and meaningfully. Even though I have been at Amherst for more than a year, I am still adjusting to a new life: I am struggling to manage changing friendships, since I have moved away from one community and joined another. I am struggling to give my family the attention and energy that I give to my job, which, because of the nature of my work, can be all-consuming. I am struggling to remain centered when I become frustrated that I am not meeting my own expectations, and then the frustration cascades into further disappointment that I let myself become frustrated in the first place. I can find myself spiraling in those moments.
What has helped me through these struggles has been the gift and opportunity to learn who I am and how to be comfortable with myself. Many people have supported me in this ongoing process. I feel comfortable enough to share aspects of my life and who I am in this piece, even though, culturally, I was taught not to share any part of my life (or my family’s life) that could bring doubt or shame. Even though I have lived on my own for more than two decades, I think if my mother knew that I had written this published piece, she would find it problematic and let me know. Despite the cultural pull of not sharing, I feel compelled to do so because sharing can result in strength and support, rather than shame.
During a recent informational session with families, a parent asked me to name my most important goal at Amherst. My answer: we need to create the conditions and environment for each student to love who they are and who they become as they grow. I know this can take time, but there are many people here at Amherst to walk step by step with you on this journey.
The journey is yours, but you are not alone. From the faculty and staff working in the resource centers and student life departments, to those providing food and maintaining the facilities, we are here to support you. While you are on this journey, you may be curious, so feel free to ask. Or I may just tell you because I like to share. It’s the “only child” syndrome at work.