Tradition as an Excuse: Beyond Meetings

I must admit: this book was not what I expected it to be. For some reason I cannot explain, the title, Beyond Meetings, gave me the impression I would be learning how to navigate deep, intimate conversations with students outside of a formal meeting. While there are bits of this interspersed within the book, I was surprised to find the majority of it was related to advising for programmatic success (I suppose reading subtitles is important). Moreover on my mistakes: on page 8, before the book actually starts, there is a disclaimer that “reading this book from beginning to end is probably not going to be as valuable as looking at the Table of Contents and skipping ahead to the chapters that are most relevant to your current situation.” I did not read page 8 until I had done exactly what I was (supposed to be) warned about.

Regardless of my titular misconceptions and eagerness to get into the bulk of the book, I found this collection of stories to be supportive and reassuring, yet of little practical help. I truthfully have difficulty recalling any specific story or experience any of the contributors describe in the book, but I do recall how reading the stories made me feel inspired to maintain resilience in challenging and trying times. It was comforting to read about the honest difficulties other professionals struggle with and to recognize how commonplace they must be in our field in order to be published in a book. However, the vast majority of this book felt inapplicable to me—challenges might be similar between institutions, but no two sets of student organizations, advisor dynamics, or institutional parameters are exactly like.

However, I did find one story to be eye-opening; it begins on page 112. Annalise Sinclair began her role as a Greek Life programs advisor, a role I feel is similar to mine. She talks about how her first team of students was small, had limited institutional knowledge, and was too familiar with the phrase “that is the way it has always been done” when it came to planning events.  Her experience was that tradition, while valuable, was being used as an excuse to “keep to doing what is safe and what is comfortable.” I relate strongly.

Annalise’s solution was to encourage her students to think about programs differently in all respects. She began to see the successes, products, and even failures of innovation and creativity on her campus unfold in regards to campus programs and activities. She acknowledges the fear of risk and failure associated with deviating from tradition, but ultimately reflects on her experiences with gratitude and confidence.

In my current role, I struggle a lot with breaking away from the familiar and comfortable. It could be a number of factors: my limited time here, a team stuck in its ways, the culture of our town/institution, or programmatic learned helplessness. However, I am encouraged by this section in the book to continue working towards programs and solutions that are innovative and carry the ability to leave an impact on this campus. While I doubt Annalise’s experience can be directly applied to my situation, I am nonetheless inspired and reassured by her victories.