Now that I’m a bachelors-degree-owning, student-loan-paying 20-something, conversations are different. During the four years of college, conversations almost always had questions like:
“What’s your major?”
“What do you want to do with that?”
“What year are you?”
These were my “definitions”; the things I was known by. I was a Junior International Studies major who planned on saving the world, or something. Then I put on a funny hat, walked across a stage, and gained the rights to a whole different type of conversation:
“What do you do?”
It makes me feel so cool, so Hollywood. I now look like I belong somewhere in the world, like I do something substantial with my life. And while I feel like I am, indeed, doing something substantial with my life, I always hesitate to answer this question to anyone who isn’t familiar with the Higher Education world. When people ask what I do, I always feel awkward.
“I’m a hall director.”
“Oh and what does that mean?”
I sometimes wish I could say:
“I’m too busy for my own good, I spend hour after hour planning and working for the betterment of 750 snotty-nosed, ungrateful, naïve 18 year olds, who vandalize ping pong tables, disrespect my staff members, and smoke pot in their dorm rooms. I plan programs that cost a lot of money so that the students will have something fun to go to in order to gain friends and feel connected in this big world of a school. I attend back-to-back meetings that enlarge both my to-do list and the ulcer in my stomach. I then answer phone calls of angry parents who don’t understand why I don’t treat their son or daughter as the most important child in my dorm of 750.”
Since I can’t say that, I usually say:
“I oversee all of the resident assistants, manage the resident programs, direct the maintenance of the building, and oversee all of the administrative duties of discipline and student conduct for a dorm.”
Once I get a confused look, I usually go with:
“I’m kind of like a dorm mom. With attitude.
I’m not sure I like the sound of that, but it’s the best I can come up with. People don’t usually ask much more after I say it. They think they have me figured out.
You see, the building I work (and live!) in is home to 750 college freshmen. But they are not ordinary college freshmen; they are all a part of our lower socio-economic standing group of students. They have qualified for a certain level of financial aid that gets them an almost-free-ride to a four-year leading university. Their background gets them a chance at something that 80% of their parents didn’t get: a college degree.
They are poor kids. Not by choice; none of them picked their circumstance. They overcame a huge financial hardship to get here. But that’s not how I know them.
They are smart kids; the GPA requirement all throughout college ensures that. But that is not how I know them either.
They are rowdy kids; always pushing the limits and yelling loudly. But that’s not how I know them either.
The students in my building are some of the most resilient human beings alive. They are the creative adults, the children who survived unbelievable situations. It’s bone-chilling to hear their stories.
I have sat across the table from Michelle, who was sexually molested by her own father for the first 17 years of her life. When she finally found the courage to tell someone, her parents filed for a divorce. Her mother blames her for this divorce, and has told Michelle several times that the sexual activity was the result of Michele’s own seductive behavior. Michelle has scars up and down her arms of the times she placed blade to skin, in order to relieve the stress and release the pain.
I have held Aprilynn’s hand as she told me that her parents have been out of the picture since she was 4; her dad is in jail for drugs, and her mom wants nothing to do with her. Her adoptive parents have now turned on her, disowned her, and have taken everything material she has ever known. She is completely cut off from all the family she has known. She told me that she doesn’t cry, because no one else is crying for her. That night I sobbed into my pillow for this sweet girl.
I have had the unfortunate conversation with Courtnee, in which I informed her that since she had drugs in her room, she was being kicked out of housing. Since she was being kicked out of housing, she was also being kicked out of the financial aid program, which would in turn cause her to leave school, since she was unable to pay for it in the first place. Within the first month of college, she blew her chance at a degree. When she asked me what she was supposed to do about her 2-year-old son back home, I almost wept.
Every day, I hear a new story of unbelievable pain.
And every day, I bleed a little more for the students that surround me.
They inspire me to live my story, to tell my story, and to invest in my story.
They drive me to see the world in a new way; in a way that reminds me I am alive.
They make me better, every single day.
So yes, I sit through meetings, and I plunge toilets, and I buy chips and salsa for events. I talk to parents who hate me, sit with students who don’t see me as an authority figure, and spend far too many hours clocked in each week
But every day I listen to the stories of hurting people.
And I get to tell them about hope.
I’m not a hall director. I’m a hope director; I am just one person who strives to direct people to the place of hope.
And I kind of like the sound of that.