Here’s something no one tells you about college: once you’ve decided to go, there’s a lot of changes you’ll need to adapt to. This summer I was a communications intern at a research institute about five miles from my university. During my lunch breaks, I frequently drove through the main campus en route to my desired eatery, and often saw groups of prospective freshmen touring the campus.

Each time I saw these groups, I would think back to all the advice I was given before starting college, some of which was really helpful.

However, the majority of the tips I received came from either my parents’ friends who went to college in the ‘70s and ‘80s, or from Internet listicles that told me to make college “the best four years of my life,” but didn’t explain how.

In an effort to create a better list of what college freshmen should know before move-in day, I cast a net out on social media and asked my friends and followers to tell me about the best college tips they received.

Here is what I found:

1. Decide what is and isn’t important

One thing college will do to you is make you realize there aren’t enough hours in the day. And while everyone is going to tell you to “get involved with as many things as possible,” the truth is that it’s just not feasible.

When it comes to your course load, extracurricular activities, work, new friends you’re meeting, and old friends you want to keep, you’re going to have to decide where each falls on your priority list.

“The best advice someone ever gave me as a freshman was … that is was okay to be selfish and to make decisions that are going to make me the best version of myself, so that I can then be there for other people.” – Hannah Currens, junior geography major at Macalester College.

2. Make your own decisions, and live by them

Aside from a few meetings with your academic advisor, there isn’t anyone in college telling you what decisions to make. That means nobody from your high school will be pressuring you to take the same classes as them and definitely no parents to answer to about each and every grade you receive (though, if Mom and Dad are paying for your college, it’s probably a bad idea to anger them by getting Ds in your GenEds). That said, it’s up to you to decide if it’s a good idea to go to the frat party instead of study, or to skip your weekend readings and risk being unprepared for class. Again, mistakes are going to happen, but they’re forgivable as long as you can learn from them.

“It’s important to have fun in college, if you don’t you’ll go insane, but I’ve seen way too many people fail classes simply because they never go.” – Karie Langowski, junior biology and philosophy double major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

3. Lose yourself

Mahatma Gandhi once said “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” And, in classic college fashion, I’m going to ignore part of this quote to emphasize the point I’m trying to make. College is one of most useful, if not the most useful experience in determining who you are. In college you discover what you enjoy learning, what people you want to surround yourself with, what values and morals you have, what world views you believe in, and what you stand for.

Do things you never thought you would and lose yourself in things that make you happy.

“Before coming to college I never saw myself joining Greek life. But after seeing how close-knit, involved and welcoming the Greek community was, I joined and would never go back on my decision.” – Greg Donitzen, sophomore pre-middle school education major at Towson University.

4. You’re going to fail

Remember in high school how, if you didn’t do so hot on a test, it wasn’t the end of the world because there were always more exams, projects and assignments to rebound your grade? Well, spoiler alert: college isn’t like that. There isn’t much, if any, classwork, the homework is five times harder and longer than it ever was in high school, and, honestly, neither projects nor homework assignments really matter when tests count for 70 percent of your final grade (and there’s only three throughout the semester).

So whether it’s organic chemistry, calculus or the token freshman writing class, there’s going to be a time when you’re not doing well and your grades reflect that. Such a setback doesn’t mean you’re stupid or that the professor’s a jerk (though the latter might be true). Take from this one of the truest things you can learn in college: you’re going to fail, but you’re going to be okay. Pick yourself up, ask for help, and kick the crap out of the next assignment.

“I’m still learning how to fail gracefully, but I have realized failure is one thing for which high school never prepared me.” – Litty Cutchin, junior aerospace engineering major at University of Maryland.

5. You are unique, but you’re not alone

Have you ever been talking to a close friend and divulged a world view or experience that you think is completely out of the ordinary or totally unique to you and your life, only to find that your friend shares the exact same view or experience? That’s how being a college freshman is. Do you really think you’re the only one apprehensive to use the communal showers? You’re not. Do you think you’re the only one who doesn’t like the mean girls at the end of the hall? Nope, they’re rude to everyone.

The bottom line is this: while you are new, so is everyone else, and you and your fellow newbies have much more in common than you think. Don’t be afraid to talk to people about your interests and secret hobbies or how much you hate icebreakers—you may be surprised at the results.

“… Even though you may feel alone, just know everyone else is facing the same struggles whether it’s apparent or not.” – Dani Skinner, sophomore communication studies major at Grove City College.

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It’s been an exciting two years at Student Voice. Our team has been hard at work at creating a global conversation about empowering students, involving them in the decisions that affect their lives, and helping them take control of their education.

Earlier this year, we decided it was time to begin creating tangible resources for students and teachers to use. The conversation about student voices is stronger than it has ever been; now it needs some support from tangible resources that folks can use in their daily lives and share with each other. Student Voice in a Box is our first step in this direction.

Student Voice in a Box is a toolkit for teachers to use in their classrooms. Our team has been hard at work collecting stories from students and educators about their student voice experiences in the classroom. Their stories paired with the classroom resources, online tools, and project ideas.

Student Voice in a Box will be released in six bite-size installations over the course of six weeks. Each installation will include two teacher interviews, one student interview, one long-form classroom project, and an assortment of short-form tips and tricks. The first installation will be released on the Student Voice website next Monday, August 4th.

You can sign up to receive Student Voice in a Box in your email here: http://eepurl.com/ZUlof

You can learn more about Student Voice in a Box here: http://stuvoice.org/student-voice-live/for-teachers/box/

We look forward to sharing this with you and seeing what you think.

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In late May and early June, instructors at Seattle University casted ballots on whether they wanted to unionize. Since then, not a single ballot has been counted. Instead, administrative efforts have impounded the vote and put the faculty’s unionization status in limbo.

Seattle University employs nearly 350 adjunct faculty members. Adjuncts, along with graduate student and full-time, non-tenured instructors, are referred to as contingent faculty, and make up more than 75 percent of instructors at U.S. higher education institutions, according to a 2014 report by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats

The same report states that adjuncts earn an estimated annual median salary of $22,041, meaning many of them “often live on the edge of poverty,” and make less than half the amount of full-time faculty members.

“[O]n most campuses … the majority of the teaching is now done by adjunct and contingent faculty, rather than tenured-track or tenured faculty,” adjunct communications instructor Dr. Louisa Edgerly said.

Contingent faculty also lack many of the benefits offered to tenured instructors, such as job security, career growth and smaller, less varied course loads.

When Seattle University faculty attempted to address these issues with university administrators, the response was less than proactive, according to Edgerly.

The faculty then turned to unionization as a way for contingent instructors to get the same benefits and securities as tenured instructors, and filed a petition for an official vote among campus instructors on the matter to the National Labor Relations Board, a governing body for all things related to unions.

Though the NLRB approved the faculty’s initiative, university administrators appealed the decision. The administrators reasoned that the university did not fall under the state’s, and by extension the board’s, jurisdiction because of its religious affiliation. Due to the appeal, the ballots from the vote will remain impounded until a final decision is made.

“As a student, my big concern about this is that it really makes sense to support the faculty because a union would create far more longevity for faculty on this campus,” junior public affairs major Izzy Gardon said. “Odds are good that probably none of the [adjuncts] will be at this institution come the decision for this case. It’s probably gonna be 4 to 5 years away, millions of dollars in lawyer fees, and many of them won’t be here to see that.”

Gardon is the social media director for the university’s Student Coalition for Faculty Rights, an organization devoted to students supporting their faculty. In the last year, the coalition held a rally, took photos, wrote newspaper editorials and hosted “project engage,” an event where students wrote letters to the university’s president, in an effort to educate students about the pertinent issues their instructors are facing.

Gardon is also the external chief of staff for the Student Government of Seattle University, which has lent its support to the faculty and requested the withdrawal of the administration’s appeal of the NLRB decision.

“We hold forums, we publish polls, and so if you ask your average student here, we really do reflect the climate here on campus and really try to act as a barometer of student voice,” Gardon said.

According to a recent SGSU poll, 74 percent of university students support their faculty having the choice to unionize.

While their opinions may differ from those of students and faculty, Gardon added that administrators have been flexible and supportive of the coalition’s initiatives.

Seattle University has taken steps in recent years to try to improve faculty wages and benefits, including securing $5.6 million that will go towards keeping faculty and staff salaries competitive, increasing the minimum full-time annual salary from $24,600 to $42,000, and offering modified full-time faculty appointments to part-time instructors teaching more than four classes per year.

Many people at the university are looking to these measures as a starting point for more benefits and increased negotiations between faculty and administrators. Moreover, countless students are using issues like faculty unionization as a platform to improve dialogue between them and the administration and solve many of the ingrained problems in higher education.

“Student Voice isn’t just passive; it isn’t just voice; it’s action,” Gardon said. “Student voice is action, and we really need to create an environment where students can voice their opinion.”

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The word ‘queer’ can mean many things. It can be a noun or an adjective, derogatory or empowering, a reference to gender and sexual identity or a departure from normalcy. It can also be a verb. “To queer something,” according to Dr. Charlie Glickman, a sexuality educator of nearly 25 years, “is to take a look at its foundations and question them.”

For Alex Borsa, a junior molecular biophysics and women’s, gender and sexuality studies double major at Yale University, it is the verb form of queer which matters most. As the president of the university’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Student Cooperative, which serves as the umbrella organization for all of Yale’s LGBTQ groups, Borsa works to increase visibility of queer and marginalized students and make the campus a safer, more inclusive environment.

“I think student voice means not being afraid to challenge large institutions, even the administ-ration itself, on how we think Yale should be bettered.”

Borsa achieves these goals, in part, through his participation with IvyQ, an annual, inter-Ivy League LGBTQ conference that attracts 300 to 500 attendees. The conference advocates social organization, political activism and community building among LGBTQ students and groups.

“It is the only time that students are in such a large space comprised of almost only LGBTQ people,” Borsa said. “Being at a social event with 500 queer people is something most people don’t get to experience, [and] does a lot to change people. It was probably the single most transformative process I’ve been to in my college experience.”

Yale hosted the 2013 installment of the IvyQ conference, which has made its way to a different Ivy League school each year since its inception in 2010. Borsa served as a volunteer coordinator for the event, and assisted former Yale conference chair Hilary O’Connell with event production. In spite of a blizzard that struck New Haven, Connecticut, the same weekend as the conference, the Yale IvyQ team was able to deliver an event true to the mission of IvyQ, according to Borsa.

The 2013 conference offered light entertainment, such as dances, lunches and group breakout sessions, as well as 30 to 40 formal colloquiums and workshops from a series of students and guest speakers about topics including gender activism, asexuality, and the meaning of the LGBTQ community now versus in previous decades.

“These are always going to be issues,” Rebby Kern, the media communications and programs manager for Campus Pride, the leading nonprofit organization dedicated to making higher education more LGBT-friendly, said. “But if we can come to a place where we can talk about these issues … in a safe environment, I feel we’ve done our job as far as a movement.”

“Student voice is the opportunity to offer insights to improve the community or build new relationships that have never been explored before,” Huang said.

The conference also prompts discussion on issues, such as class, privilege, mental health, race and racism, that are present across many colleges and universities and affect marginalized groups related to or outside of the LGBT spectrum.

These discussions play a large role in IvyQ’s ability to “queer the campus,” or “challenge, question and deconstruct the status quo,” of the host school, Borsa said.
And as the number and diversity of the voices contributing to the conversation increases, so does the pressure on higher education to improve existing systems.

“I think student voice means not being afraid to challenge large institutions, even the administration itself, on how we think Yale should be bettered.”

In April, Yale held a weekend-long mental health and wellness event to address complaints from students and groups like IvyQ regarding the slow response times and lack of information coming from its Mental Health and Counseling Department, which 22 percent of the student body visits at least once per year, according to a 2011 report.

In the same month, Yale also held Take Back the Night, an event where students shared sexual experiences through speeches, poetry and song to raise awareness about sexual violence and community respect.

“For me personally, the idea of institutional commitment is the big thing,” D. Andrew Porter, a summer fellow at Campus Pride, said. “ [As a movement], we’re not just talking about LGBTQ students, and that’s causing campuses to look at all students who fall under that big umbrella word, ‘diversity.’”

The next IvyQ conference will be held in the fall of 2014 at Dartmouth College, which has received news coverage and student criticism in the past year concerning the school’s handling of homophobia, racism and sexism both on campus and in Dartmouth Greek life. In February, students presented the Freedom Budget, a sweeping reform that enumerated more than 70 actions the college could take that would help confront and diminish discrimination.

The school’s president, Philip J. Hanlon, and then interim provost, Martin Wybourne, released a statement in the wake of the Freedom Budget outlining steps the administration planned to take to address the students’ suggestions, such as allocating millions of dollars to hire and attract a more diverse campus faculty, and expanding a university program that supports minority groups in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

By April, however, student dissatisfaction was not quelled and resulted in protests outside the president’s office and the administration building.

For Nathen Huang, a senior psychology major at Columbia University and leader of Columbia’s IvyQ organization, Dartmouth’s hosting of the conference comes at an opportune time, one in which the school’s administration is primed to listen to the voices of campus students.

“Student voice is the opportunity to offer insights to improve the community or build new relationships that have never been explored before,” Huang said. “Even if not every one who goes to IvyQ comes from the activist community, there are also people who [are involved in other ways], and they’re able to express their own ideas and opinions.”

Going forward, Borsa, Huang and fellow IvyQ members want to increase access to the conference through additional funding so more people can contribute to the discussion. They also hope the organization continues to spark conversation between university officials and students about how to better educational environments.

“It’s important for everyone to think of these things,” Borsa said. “That doesn’t mean you have to be on the front lines of everything, but it does mean that it’s important to think about how social factors shape your everyday life. IvyQ challenges people to see things in a different way.”

(Dartmouth’s Office of Pluralism and Leadership did not respond to Student Voice’s request for comment before this story’s publication).

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The student protest lives, federal student loan interest rates are set to rise, and there’s good news for the nation’s high school graduation rate.

Tune in to Student Voice’s Google+ Hangout on Monday, June 2, 8:30 – 8:50 PM EST to join a conversation about the student perspective on this month’s education news. Kyle Scott (@kylescott01) will host a panel discussion with three students and an expert on each topic. The discussion will be integrated on Twitter with #stuvoice.

Student Panelists

  • Eileen Chen (@leenzbean), rising senior at Oakton High School in Northern Virginia.
  • Jack Rudy (@rudabegga1859), 2014 Education graduate from the University of Maryland College Park.
  • Jon Sweitzer-Lamme, 2014 History graduate from Haverford College.

Experts

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At the beginning of our existence, we grew quickly through the stages of maturity until we became the people we are today. During early development we acquire understanding of the freedoms, choices, and rules that structure how our society functions, through hands-on exploration, curiosity and questioning, and a desire to model behaviors of those around us. However, to the child, equity is determined on a peer-to-peer basis on who is given “extra playtime” or another refill of juice. Children conceptualize the world in terms of “what I have” verses “what you have” and distinguish those differences that comprise these inequities. Through time, we may begin to learn and struggle with how equity is applicable to other aspects of life. One of these inequities is the lack of awareness, value and need for the Student Voice.

One may be thinking, “What do you mean by ‘the Student Voice?'” Students are, after all, attending schools, participating in sports, and choosing to undertake extra-curricular activities outside the classroom. Students may have long breaks from school (in contrast to the typical 9-5 work week) or even have snow days! The lives of students seem to be that of freedom; but I challenge one to deepen his or her understanding of the designated role students have today.

In the early 1900s during the Industrial Revolution, the need for workers with relative equal set skills entailed schooling to provide standardized training to be successful in this field of work. Long rows of seats facing the front of the room, chalk to write directions on the board, and a bell to signal the dismissal for the end of the day were symbols typically connected with this time. Students were expected to listen and learn, as empty jars that needed to be filled. While each of us has the capacity for lifelong learning, we must recognize that despite a number that describes our age, we all have unique experiences, creativity and insights to share.

Students sadly are still expected and even considered incapable of being creative or valuable in the Education Policy and Reform efforts so commonly taking place today. Students are going to school, living by the deliberations and consequences that have been made by people who may not fully understand what it means to be a student in the 21st century. Students see this inequity in perspective and aspire to be engaged in these education discussions, implementations and assessments rather than be passive in the communities’ efforts.

Student Voice is uniting students who feel stifled and suppressed, but yet at the same time are yearning to express their voice and be perceived as assets. Students are networking through participating in Twitter Meetings, authoring blog posts and connecting with like-minded individuals who have a passion for creating change. While teachers form their Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), students too are creating their own Student Learning Networks (SLNs) to support, encourage and celebrate youth leadership. We are not just talkers, but we are activators who seek out ways to incite meaningful change in our communities and conduct educational awareness on challenges facing students and teachers today.

Students are talking, but is anyone listening? Many express they want change and say they are supporting students, but do we value only what correlates with our ideas? I encourage us to remove the ‘headphones of our self-fulfilling prophecy’ and truly invest in students’ contributions, proposals and leadership. If we commit for change, I challenge all to re-examine our perceptions of how students are the leaders of change for today and tomorrow.

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