25 to Life

Written by: Aaron Futrell

I was 13 in 1992 when the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) decided to descend on the neighborhood where I grew up. They chose to hold an event on MLK Day, which drew the national media to my neighborhood, way before James Holmes stepped into Century 16. I was 13 and had no clue how much of an impact that this one event would have on my life, as well as how it would shape my interactions with other people. I grew up being mesmerized by the stories of Harriet Tubman, Langston Hughes, W.E.B  Dubois, Emmitt Till, and for the most part, I celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. as my hero.

Twenty-five years later on Aug 12, 2017, eight years after the United States elected the first African American President, we have now come to a crossroads with much divisive rhetoric still dominating the media. The KKK also still exists, even though their branding and recruitment efforts have changed to mask their identity, calling themselves White Nationalists or the Alt-Right. These groups claim discrimination. Caucasians will soon be a minority in the U.S. since America has become a melting pot of diverse cultures, and they would like to see a return to the origins of our country.

I remember the first time I heard someone call a friend “a nigger”; this surprised me, as the person who spewed this hateful and painful word was a member of my Scout Troop, and though I did not always get along with this person, it stung. I still had to have interactions afterwards with that person as we shared many classes together.

Another time, two years ago, I was in a small farming town in Colorado. My family and I were walking back to the bed and breakfast, after the fireworks show ended; a young child said, “Nigger, go back home – you monkey.” I left shocked and disgusted by the hate and vile things that came from this young person.

The recent events on the campus in Charlottesville, VA was not about keeping statues that celebrated the heritage of the university. It actually was a racist organization trying to stoke the fires of hate and fear and recruit new members in the name of Southern heritage and preservation of their history. This provided a platform for the world to see the new faces of the KKK, who have taken the hoods off in an attempt to reclaim their identity.

As an adult, I see people standing up against hate and prejudice and want to join in uniting the world instead of dividing it. The names I mentioned earlier all were African-American Civil rights icons in the same vein that Susan B. Anthony was. We can now add to the list of civil rights defenders the civilian protester who was killed when an Alt-Right sympathizer drove into the crowd, mowing her down, and ending her life.

We as students can learn a lot from the events in Virginia, on campuses that promote diversity through various ways; whether it be lectures, guest speakers, or student organizations.  Our colleges remain one of best places when it comes to unity.

Virginia showed us what a broken community looks like when evil creeps in and destroys what once was a beautiful city. We will reach a turning point as the monuments of America’s racist past are falling. America cannot turn back, and we will leave our racist past where it belongs, and look toward future.

Don’t Touch My Crown

Written By: Tristen Johnson

*This post was originally published on www.naspa.org on March 6, 2017*

Braids. My natural hair. Wigs. A sew-in. A head wrap. There are limitless ways I choose to style and wear my hair. Besides my clothing, my hair is one of the ways I enjoy expressing myself. My hair is a symbol of creativity and patience but also a symbol of love for myself.  Growing up, I did not have a sense of pride in my hair because of the ridicule I faced from the kids I went to school with. They laughed because my hair was too short. They laughed because I wore mini-braids. I could not catch a break. It was not until graduate school that I began loving who I was and every state that my hair was in.

Image of Tirsten Johnson, an african american woman, in three seperate with photos displaying the different ways she can wear her hair.I started experimenting with various styles during my first year of grad school and that is when colleagues started commenting on my hair. If I wore a wig I heard, “Oh! Your hair is so big, today!” If I decided to wear my natural hair, “Wow! Your hair is so short!” If I walked in with 18 inches of weave, “How did you get it in there? It’s so long!” It got to the point where some professionals at my graduate institution decided how I should wear my hair to interview for professional jobs.

I had a meeting with one of the white supervisors at my graduate institution and I mentioned that I was contemplating my hair style for my upcoming job interviews at The Placement Exchange:

Tristen: I’m not sure if I should wear my natural hair or a sew-in. I’m trying to decide if I have enough time to do my hair every day or not.

Supervisor: I think you should wear your sew-ins. It’s straight and it looks more professional.

Not feeling comfortable enough to tell her that her statement was microaggressive, I moved on with the conversation. I ultimately interviewed with a sew-in and every day before my interviews, I looked in the mirror and felt my hair was “more professional”.

Navigating my hair through the professional world is often challenging. I have students who do not recognize me when I wear a new style – or do not take me seriously. I have had colleagues in the past who have questioned my professionalism because I chose to wear long braids. There was a point in time where I began questioning my own meaning in the workplace because of how I wore my hair.

I recommend that professionals who supervise people of color try to gauge understanding about our hair and why certain styles are necessary.  Sometimes we change our hair because it makes us feel good. Sometimes we change it because the weather outside is too harsh on our real hair. Whatever the case, critiquing a person’s work ethic based on their hairstyle is not a productive way to encourage supervisees and professionals.

I recognize, now, that the way I style my hair has nothing to do with my performance as a professional or how I serve the students who depend on me daily.  My hair expression is just a small portion of who I am but it is something that I value as a professional in Student Affairs.


NASPA logo - NASPA - New Professionals and Graduate Students Knowledge CommunityTristen Johnson is currently a Residence Hall Director at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a second-year doctoral student Illinois State University.

Presence: Reflections on the Middle East

Written & Photographed by Kylie Henson

pictures framed on a wall of women in hijabs

Denver – Feb. 3, 2017 – The Center for Visual Arts exhibition, Presence: Reflections on the Middle East. Art by: Shadi Ghadirian

On the first Friday of February, the Center for Visual Arts held their opening reception for their new exhibit, Presence: Reflections on the Middle East. The exhibit showcases more than 60 Photo-Based works that reflect the tension deeply rooted in the presence, or absence of people in a place, whether it is close to home or abroad. The pieces in the exhibit have been theorized and argued about in many different ways, although it is agreeable that these pieces are powerfully influential with their relationship between past memories & present moments. Since the invention of photography, there has been an affiliation with trace; which is a presence that can be more accurately felt through absence. This has led to the idea that photography contains the trace of what came before. The exhibit dives into this idea and explores what that could mean and even how the artists achieve this to contribute to how the viewer feels.

Women looking at photography that is printed on aluminum, which is hanging on the wall

DENVER – Feb. 3, 2017 – Dr. Joan L. Foster observes the Art by: Cori Storb, which are digital photographs printed on aluminum.


Regarding the current climate in the US, whether your political ideals lean to one side or the other, it is more important than even to listen to the wise words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” In past, present, and the future, we must try not to rely on others, instead we all must act as the change we wish to see in the world. With that being said, we must accomplish empathy when interacting with others, because you never know what the people around you are dealing with currently. As well as being empathetic, we should be open-minded about other cultures, races, and religions. It is important to be a listener and to understand what people are saying and why it is important. Turn this time of confusion in the US into a time of reflection on yourself; how can you change in order to engage the world around you?

With all of this in mind, I want to challenge you. The first challenge is to get out to see this exhibit. The exhibition is open from February 3rd – April 8th. The CVA is open Tuesday-Friday: 11am-6pm & Saturday: 12pm-5pm. There is also no charge to get in, so it would be in your best interest to try to visit this exhibition. My last challenge for you is to open your mind to the perspective these artists have and what they are portraying. In the world we live in today, there is constantly something happening in different areas around the world, so it can be hard to understand and make sense of it all. Although, if we allow ourselves to be more empathetic of each other, we could see the change in our lives, cultures, societies, and even in the world.

Take on the challenge, not just to better yourself, but to create an improved environment.


The Year of the Fire Rooster

Written & Photographed by: Kylie Henson

Red festive Chinese dragon decorationOn Wednesday, February 1st, Metropolitan State University of Denver hosted the Chinese New Year Celebration for 2017. The event was held in the Student Success Building on the Auraria campus. Students, Faculty, & Staff came together to explore elements of the Chinese culture.

Each area of the venue covered a different aspect of the culture. In one area, participants could indulge in the traditional Chinese cuisine. The dishes ranged from delectable egg rolls to savory Beijing beef. Another area was designed to let students experiment with ink and Chinese calligraphy. This practice was led by a Community College of Denver visiting staff member, Gang Xi. Along with the calligraphy table, there was also a mask making table and a traditional Chinese painting practice table.Person practicing Chinese caligraphy

Collaboratively, each piece of the event created an experience that was unforgettable. Since we are staring the year of the fire rooster, it is important to understand what this symbolizes in Chinese culture.

The rooster is almost the epitome of fidelity and punctuality. For ancestors who had no alarm clocks, the crowing was significant, as it could awaken people to get up and start to work. In Chinese culture, another symbolic meaning of chicken carries is exorcising evil spirits. Along with the rooster, each Chinese New Year a new element is also selected as a pair to the animal. The cycle is similar to the way each animal is chosen; in other words an element and an animal are cycled through each year. With this in mind, the “Fire Rooster” is symbolic of holding a strong sense of time and being trustworthy, as well as it is said to be good at saving money. 

The Chinese New Year is a unique event that is celebrated in the Chinese culture. In fact, it is known as one of the most important holidays in China. The day is celebrated on the first day of the first month according to Chinese calendar and is also known as Lunar New Year. The day is rooted in centuries old customs and traditions and is one of the most popular public holidays in China.

Although we all have different cultures, celebrating our these cultures in solidarity with each other can help to build stronger communities.

Engaging White Professionals in Race Conversations

Written By: Amy Fitzjarrald

*This post was originally published on www.naspa.org on November 28, 2016*

I recently made a major life transition – I left behind everything I’ve ever known in the cornfields of Illinois at a Predominately White Institution (PWI) to work at a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) in Houston, Texas. I am still in my first few months of transition, which provides many lessons in itself, but I want to focus on the lessons I learned in Illinois during my first full-time position. I want to get uncomfortable and vulnerable, so I can share my lessons about being a white staff member connecting with the small community of students of color on campus. I have divided my lessons into four sections based on quotes from my students to me.

“I don’t know how to answer questions, because I don’t know everything.”

Being at a PWI, many students of color are put in a place where they have to be the token representative for their community. In conversations, I tell people I can’t even be a spokesperson for all white people – I’ve been asked why white people like to run outside in the cold. I respond, “I can’t answer that because I don’t even run.” If all white people do not have the same experiences, why should we expect all minority groups to have the same experiences? While I can understand that folks are genuinely curious and looking for answers, DO NOT ask students you don’t have a genuine connection with and DO NOT rely on these students to always give you the answers. Educate yourself if you’re curious.

“It’s not mandatory, so the people who want to talk about diversity want to come and those who need it, don’t show.”

Students of color put on many programs – I saw open mic nights, conversations about cultural appropriation, student union parties, etc. What I didn’t see was a mass of white folk at these events. During a service learning trip, I experienced students of color and white students dialoguing about diversity. White students indicated they felt minority group programs were only for minority groups, while the students of color kept telling white students they wanted them at these events. My lesson here? Just show up in these spaces. Feel uncomfortable being one of the few white people there? Think about how that might feel to live with that feeling daily on a PWI.

“You’re the most woke white person I’ve ever met.”

Just like students of color don’t have all of the answers; I don’t have all of the answers either. I’m still learning. I still participate in systemic racism that I know I am not aware of. But, I show that I understand underrepresented groups are going through experiences that I see and I attempt to raise awareness through conversations and social media posts.

“I’ve never heard a white person say they have privilege before.”

Many white folks seem to shut down in conversations about privilege. It’s hard for white folks to admit they have privilege, so when I talk to students of color about white privilege, it’s something new to them. I also attempt to talk about white privilege in ways that are not controversial or attacking, but rather in ways to bring awareness to ways that white folks have privilege. I have had good responses from the white students I have made this approach with so far, but I am always learning.

As a new professional, I am learning a lot of lessons. I chose to focus on issues of diversity and race, in particular, because there need to be more conversations about white privilege and white professionals engaging and supporting students of color.

Author: Amy Fitzjarrald – Amy Fitzjarrald is the Program Coordinator for Retention & Student Success at the University of Houston. She is involved in the Knowledge Community Online Publication Committee, SLPKC Awards Review Committee, and the 2016-2017 Excellence Awards Review Committee. Amy can be reached by phone at 713-743-8632, by email [email protected], or on Twitter at @afitzja2.