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The Stigma of the Online Student

This year I graduated with my Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Washington. I’ve been participating in the program for three years and while overall it’s been a great experience, there is one thing that still rankles me to this day.

I’ll start by telling you about orientation. The event was required. It did not matter if you were an online student living across the country or residential student local to the Seattle area; if you were in the program you had to attend orientation in person in Seattle. And so we flocked to campus brought together by our love of books, libraries and all things of the like nature. When we arrived we were given a name tag to wear. It had our name, program, and whether we were an online student or a residential student. I suppose by adding the type of student we were was a way of helping us find and connect with those we’d likely be in classes with, but it also made things a bit more…segregated.

You see, even in today’s internet savvy culture, there is still a huge stigma attached to being an online student. Being an online student (sort of like participating in online dating) carries certain connotations with it, and they are not positive. Many of the residential students viewed us online students as lesser.

Before you jump down my throat, I know that not everyone thinks this. If you didn’t or don’t good for you! But simply because you don’t think that way doesn’t mean that no one does. I’ll share a couple of examples.

One situation happened at the aforementioned orientation. I was standing around at an event trying desperately to not be super awkward. No one I knew had arrived yet, so I was trying to look approachable and friendly. A couple of women approached me and struck up a conversation. We chatted for a little bit before they asked my name and what program I was in. I glanced down at my name tag and saw it had spun around so my name and information was hidden. Chuckling, I flipped it around and introduced myself. The two women read my name and their eyebrows went up, one smirked.

“Oh, you’re an online student,” the smirker said. I nodded and began babbling about being a single mother, not having the money for childcare while I was doing classes at all hours and the convenience of being able to tackle the weekly work on my own timeline. They nodded, then excused themselves and walked a few feet away from me and chatted between the two of them. For the rest of the event I noticed how the residential students and the online students congregated separately.

I have a second situation as well. During my last year I was able to take one residential class. I was excited because the professor was one I’d been wanting to take a class from since the start of my program and it looked like it was going to be a really interesting course. Another of my online classmates was able to take the class as well.  We were about 4 weeks into the quarter when the discussion somehow turned to online classes. One of our fellow classmates, a residential student, questioned the validity of online programs, including UW’s! The professor did defend the program and talk about how comparatively UW has one of the best online programs out there. My friend also defended the online program, and even posited that it might be considered more difficult since you really only have yourself to be accountable to. The class was one of those 4 hour jobs, so at the break my fellow online student and myself ranted in the hallway about this stigma surrounding online education. The woman who said insulting things about the online program sent an email to my friend that evening apologizing, which was considerate.

Now you may be thinking I’m being overly sensitive. But I don’t think so. There is no reason for the scoffing, smirking reaction I received at orientation and the student in our class was talking about a program she didn’t know anything about. What is most ridiculous about these specific situations is the fact that no matter what program you’re in you have to take the same classes, which contain the same material and sometimes are even taught by the same professors. The only difference between the classes is the medium in which it’s delivered. At the end of the day we’ll both have a degree that says Master of Library and Information Science from UW. So why the snobbery? Why this stigma attached to being an online student?

I think this mostly stems from the years when “scammy” correspondence courses were prevalent and online “universities” were just getting started. These things were not exactly reputable institutions. Indeed when I was looking at library school programs I originally shied away from online programs thinking of them as not as good as a “real” university. If I’m being honest even when I got accepted at UW, for a split second I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get accepted to the residential program. And I have seen my online classmates toss around the words “correspondence course” as an insult to the classes they dislike the most.

But let’s think about a few things. Firstly, back in the day (and maybe even now, I don’t actually know) correspondence courses were probably the only way some groups of people could become educated. I’m thinking especially about women here. Let’s be real and recognize that since the dawn of humans scams have existed. I’m sure there was some first human out there tricking another first human out of their hard earned food, or clothing, or shelter. Scams are a part of life as a human person so we need to get used to it and not think of it as some sort of new invention. There will always be scams, but that should not discredit an entire way of learning. Some correspondence courses were garbage, designed to trick the student out of their money with nothing or very little to show. But that doesn’t mean they’re all the same.

Likewise, there are some online courses out there that are scams as well. You won’t learn anything and you’ll waste your precious time and money if you participate in them. But UW isn’t a scam university. Neither are the other top five universities that offer ALA accredited educations, so assuming their online programs are less than or a scam is simply ignorant. A residential student is not inherently better or worse than an online student and visa versa. We’re all in the same boat here. Instead of trying to push each other out without life vests why not ignore stereotypical stigmas that are patently untrue and support each other?

 

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Election Reflection 2016

Last night, when I turned off my bedside lamp, Trump was ahead of Clinton. I couldn’t watch anymore. I went to bed hoping for the best but expecting the worst. When I woke up this morning I discovered that what I dreaded had come to be.

I was devastated. I was sad, angry, shocked and frustrated. What will America become under this president? What has America been all these years without my noticing? What will happen?

Somehow I managed to roll out of bed and get the day started. Jack and I had breakfast and talked about the election. I told him not to be scared, that this was merely a shadow going over us for a time, it would end, I loved him and would protect him with my life. He told me not to be sad, because at least there’s still bananas (7-year-old logic). I told him I didn’t know what we were going to do. He mentioned Canada. I shrugged, “Maybe.”

If we’re friends you’ve probably heard me say on occasion that I would move to Canada if Trump won the election. So now Trump has won and the words of The Clash have been running through my head all day; “Should I stay or should I go now?”

I was leaning heavily towards go. As a middle class, white woman currently living in America I recognize that that statement comes from a place of privilege. Those most affected by a Trump presidency, as a friend pointed out to me, aren’t able to leave. A Trump presidency frightens me. So my statement of intent to leave not only comes from a place a privilege, it comes from a place of fear.

Leaving seemed the best thing for me to do. “Get out while you still can!” my panicking, shocked brain yelled at me. But then I went on Facebook. Facebook has not been a comfort lately (or ever really). So, I can’t pinpoint exactly why I thought checking it would be a good idea. In fact, I made a vow to myself not to check it for weeks. But my will power check failed and on I went.

The notifications were high so I clicked there first and saw one of my cohorts had posted an article on our UW page, so I clicked on it and read. I felt a little fire start to glimmer somewhere inside me. There was still plenty of bus ride left after I finished the article so the Newsfeed was next. Person after person were posting their reactions to the results. There was so much talk of fighting for good, standing up for what’s right and not leaving anyone behind. The fire in me started to spark a bit more.

As soon as I came home I watched Hillary Clinton’s concession speech. It was beautiful and eloquent. It made me realize, I have been silent. I have not fought for what I believe in, I have not stood up and I am ashamed.

So as cool as “Reflections of a Sopping Wet Expat” sounds for a blog name, I am not leaving. What’s more, I won’t be silent anymore. I will fight for what I believe is right. When people tell me to sit down, shut up and don’t rock the boat, I’m gonna tip the fucking thing over. Because equality matters, women matter, immigrants and refugees matter, families and children matter and furthermore I matter. It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be awkward. Mostly because I have been silent for so long, letting others do the hard work. That’s not enough anymore.

The next four years could be a brutal, awful, hellish experience. But I’ll be shouting the whole way. It’s time for me to stand up and fight. So, that’s what I’ll do.

A Letter to my Kindergartner

9/17/2015

Dear Jack,

I didn’t expect that I would write you a letter on your first day of Kindergarten. I also did not expect to be so emotional on your first day. I did not burst into tears, but I did feel a welling up in my heart as I watched you walk with guarded confidence away from me and into your school. You did not freak out, you did not cry, you did not cling to me. I did not want you to do those things and I’m glad you didn’t, but I suddenly felt so…un-needed is not the right word, but the closest thing I could think of.

I walked in after your class and watched quietly as you took off your backpack, sweatshirt and hung them in your locker. I couldn’t help myself, I hopped forward and said “Let me help you.” I got out the markers, box of tissues and Ziploc bags we were asked to bring. I piled them carefully in your arms and told you to give them to the teacher. I stood back and watched as the precarious pile fell to the floor. I held back the urge to leap forward and help you again. You leaned down and piled the fallen items again. No frustration, no tears, no need for my help. You handed the items to your teacher and gave her your name, loud enough for her to hear, not shy. I felt my eyes sting and my heart clench and I was astounded.

You are a little boy. A little boy who can walk into your school and find your locker without my help. You are growing so fast.

You were a baby yesterday.

From the moment you were born you’ve been growing so fast. The newborn months gone in a flash. The toddler in you is gone, when? When did it slip away? You are growing up and away from me. And this is the first step. The first step away from me, and again my eyes are stinging and my heart is clenching.

I love you little bug.

Love,

Mama

Book Review: Tear Soup

Disclaimer: Every person is different in what they find to be helpful, spiritual, humorous and comforting, which is why I include a section for general thoughts to clarify exactly what I liked and disliked about the book. This is simply meant to be a guide in helping you find the book that best suits your individual needs as a newly widowed person. I wish you peace on this difficult journey.

Title: Tear Soup

Author(s): Pat Schwiebert & Chuck DeKlyen

Publishing Info: Grief Watch, Portland Oregon 1999

Helpful Meter 1-5 (1 being not at all helpful, 5 being very helpful) 4

Spiritual Meter 1-5 (1 being not spiritual, 5 being very spiritual) 3

Humor Meter 1-5 (1 being not humorous at all, 5 being very humorous) 1

Comfort Meter 1-5 (1 being not comforting, 5 being very comforting) 5

Staci’s Recommendation (1 being pass on this, 5 being read this today) 4

General thoughts and feelings on the book: I received a couple copies of this book when my husband died. This along with one other book (which is due for review next) helped me the most. Tear Soup is great for someone who doesn’t have a lot of time or doesn’t like to read. It is short and in picture book format. Don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s just for kids. It’s great for kids, but also covers a lot of general grief and healing for adults too. There’s a lot of emphasis on each person’s grief being different, and what you might encounter along that journey. There’s also great resources listed in the back and bullet point advice for dealing with different situations. This would be a great book to gift to someone who’s just experienced a loss (after giving it a read yourself). It scored a 3 on the spiritual meter because there was a couple pages on dealing with your faith, which I’m finding most grief books include. It’s not preachy or pushing towards faith either way. The metaphor of making “tear soup” as the grief journey is great and easy to understand. I highly recommend this book.

Quietly Creeping

So I managed to make my deadline. My goal was to have this little book of short creepy stories published by September 30th. September 30th is when school starts for me and I knew if I didn’t have it published by then it would fall by the wayside and not get done until I had completed my Master’s program.

I’m proud say it’s done. It’s published. It’s ready and waiting to creep you out! You can buy it here.

Right now it’s just an ebook but I’m looking into making physical copies available as well.

The whole reason this book came about was because of my late husband Jordan. He was a writing enthusiast, but as far as I know, was never able to finish a story. While going through his things I found a metric ton of his writing, which included but was not limited to, poems, songs and the beginning of intricate, winding novels. I think if he’d had the discipline to sit down and write one it would have been picked up quickly and sold like gangbusters. This is not to say he wasn’t a disciplined person. He wanted to write a novel, it just wasn’t a huge priority. He was a talented man and he spread that talent over many mediums. He sometimes referred to himself as a Jack of all trades but a master of none.

One day I was reading through his many written words and I came across three stories that were similar in nature. They were dark, creepy and examined the differences between reality and fantasy. I remembered him talking about these stories. While I remembered the general gist of the stories I, of course, could not remember all their intricate details. I re-read the writing he had. I pulled them out and put them all together in a binder. I got out a notebook, highlighter and post-its and took on the task of combining and adding to the stories.

I anticipated writing a long mystery novel. What I came up with was another short story. At first I was annoyed. I already had a number of short stories I didn’t know what to do with. As I glanced over my folder of short stories I decided to re-read some of them. I realized they all shared a common theme, fear.

But not in the way you would expect. It was something more subtle. The White Room was written as I struggled with my beliefs. The Child and his Beast explores growing up and loosing something in the process. Oliver Waits for Olivia examines relationships and what might happen if what you thought was real was not. The Roommate delves into being alone and going crazy. Wake Up, 
Travis, which is the story that was born of Jordan’s writing is sort of the odd ball out. Although it does examine some fears, like not having control of your life and not being able to tell the difference between reality and fantasy, it does not directly reflect a fear I’ve had to face. But I still put it in because I realized something else as I re-read these stories. All of these stories were written right before or after Jordan entered my life. I decided right then to edit and compile them into a book of short stories.

I knew I could not in good conscience publish this book under my own name. Jordan’s influence was in the very souls of these stories, so I figured a nom de plum was in order. The nom de plume would be a combination of my name and Jordan’s to honor his role in  each of the stories. I know Jordan would love these stories because he had read all but two of them and had told me he loved them.

I hope he’s proud of what I’ve put together and thrilled that one of his stories has been published, even if it’s in a slightly different form than he expected.

Book Review: I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping & Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One

Disclaimer: Every person is different in what they find to be helpful, spiritual, humorous and comforting, which is why I include a section for general thoughts to clarify exactly what I liked and disliked about the book. This is simply meant to be a guide in helping you find the book that best suits your individual needs as a newly widowed person. I wish you peace on this difficult journey.

Title: I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping & Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One

Author(s): Brook Noel & Pamela D. Blair, PhD

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks, Inc., Naperville IL 2000

Helpful Meter 1-5 (1 being not at all helpful, 5 being very helpful) 5

Spiritual Meter 1-5 (1 being not spiritual, 5 being very spiritual) 4

Humor Meter 1-5 (1 being not humorous at all, 5 being very humorous) 1

Comfort Meter 1-5 (1 being not comforting, 5 being very comforting) 4

Staci’s Recommendation (1 being pass on this, 5 being read this today) 4

General thoughts and feelings on the book: I was intimidated by this book at first because it’s quite thick. But I soon discovered it’s extremely well organized into parts and chapters. It’s also very easy to read. The thing I really liked about this book is that it’s not just a book for widows. It covers grief in losing a parent, sibling, friend, spouse among others. It also offers advice on what children may go through and how to help them. It includes insight on dealing with different types of sudden death from car accidents to suicide. It’s really nice to have all that information in one place. You can not only use this book to help you through your own grief, but also to understand the grief of others.

There’s a general feeling of “spirituality” in the book that doesn’t really focus on any one religion or set of beliefs. It does contain a chapter dedicated to faith which gave it the high spiritual score. So while it does speak a bit about God, faith and personal beliefs it is not preachy or churchy.

It has an extensive list of resources in the back pages from support groups to book recommendations. It also has exercises to help you work through your grief and contains worksheets for preparing a memorial service and eulogy for loved ones.

Even though the book is written by two women it does contain a chapter on how men cope with grief, understanding the differences between men and women’s grief journey and ways to reach out to men.

The great thing about this book is its versatility. Since it contains so much information a lot of it is mostly a jumping off point to explore your own grief. I think it would be overwhelming to attempt to read the whole thing while in the throes of grief, however it’s so well organized that it would be very easy to go to the table of contents or index and find exactly what you need. It can be a little repetitive at times (which may have come from my reading it through), but I think overall it’s a great book to have that would be very helpful on any grief journey one may encounter.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

When I was newly widowed, people had all kinds of advice for me. Some of it was welcome and some of it, not so much. Once piece of advice that I wish I had actually listened to, years and years ago, was to get some therapy. I resisted this piece of advice adamantly for a long time. Finally, just a little less than a year ago, I started seeing a therapist.

It was a big step for me and one that was much overdue. I had lots of excuses for not going sooner. Now that I’ve been going I can’t imagine what I did before. I had good support from friends and family. I had a handful of close friends I felt I could bear my soul to. But what they lacked was perspective. They wanted me to be happy. And even if they felt I was being unreasonable in a situation they were more likely to hear me out and do what they could to soothe me. What I really needed was an unbiased opinion. Someone who could challenge me to really look at myself and my motivations. Deep down I knew this was what I needed so why didn’t I go get it sooner?

For starters I think there is a stigma that exists in our culture. A stigma towards mental health, counseling and therapy. I think we’re conditioned from a young age to think that we need to “move on” or “get through stuff” or even “let it go.” (Am I right Elsa?) If we can’t do that there must be something wrong with us. If there’s something wrong with us we’re going to be singled out, scrutinized and judged. What’s worse people might view us as weak. This can be especially hard for stubborn, strong individuals (cough,myself,cough).

When I started therapy, one of my first thoughts was about the ease in finding the actual office. I didn’t want to have to ask anyone where the Seattle Therapy Alliance office was because I didn’t want anyone to know I was going to therapy. When friends would attempt to schedule things on Mondays, when my weekly appointment is, I always said I was busy but never mentioned what with. I’ve since gotten over that. I think almost everyone knows I’m in therapy. And you know what? I don’t care. I feel so much better now and I attribute a lot of that to being in therapy. It gives me excellent perspective on myself. I can vent about things that are driving me batty and not dump it all on my friends. What’s more is I don’t feel weak or broken at all. I feel empowered. I feel as if I’m getting better at understanding and loving myself for exactly who I am, which has not been the case in the past.

Another excuse I used was my past experiences with therapy, which were not good. Way back when I was 16 one my best friends died. Needless to say many of my friends and I sort of went a little crazy with grief. My mother was worried and sent me to a psychiatrist. I know she meant well and was at a loss as to how to help me, as I rebelled all over the place. But this guy was awful. Simply terrible. He violated my trust and didn’t really listen to what I was saying. I could tell he was sort of an ass from the very beginning and never really took it seriously, which I’m sure didn’t help. He didn’t seem bothered by the fact that I was basically just reciting what I thought were the “right answers” during our sessions. He prescribed me some medicine that made me feel nothing. I was walking around totally numb. I mentioned this to my mom and we didn’t go back and I stopped taking the pills.

My second experience with therapy was very shortly after Jordan died. People kept pushing me to find a therapist, or at least talk to someone. I was still going to church at this point, desperately clinging to the shredded remains of my faith. I went to a counselor associated with my church. Which, I think was my first mistake. I was already questioning my faith so much, that any time he spoke about God or trusting God or prayer I inwardly cringed and ignored that bit of advice. He was also someone who worked with Jordan and knew him well, and in turn knew me somewhat.

The main reason I was being pushed to counseling was this issue I spoke about in a previous post involving another man who had worked with Jordan. We had some sort of relationship going on that was confusing and weird and made worse by the involvement of too many people. The counselor I went to see also knew the man I was having issues with. It all felt too close and too personal. Jordan’s death was still so close and I didn’t feel like I could be real with this person. So again I said what I supposed to be the “right answers” and wasn’t honest.

In both of these bad experiences I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t feel even a modicum of trust. It’s not even really that these two men were bad at their jobs. I was just not letting them through my walls. I think what made me so upset about these experiences is it seemed to me they didn’t even try.

Here’s the main thing to remember about therapy, not all therapists are created equal. There are a variety of methods and theories out there. You might have to look around a bit before finding a therapist that works for you. Is that annoying and frustrating? Sure, but I tell you, it’s worth it. Once you find a person you can really open up to, who you can trust, it’s amazing how much you learn and grow. Of course letting down your walls has to be something you are willing to do and work towards.

That was the biggest missing piece for me. Therapy was never great for me in the past not only because I didn’t find a therapist that worked for me, but also because I was never open to the idea. I went in with the walls up and armored. No one was going to get to see the real Staci. To be honest I really didn’t want anyone to see the real Staci for a long time after Jordan died. Part of that was because I wasn’t sure who I was without him. Another part of it was because I didn’t want anyone to relate to my pain and grief. I didn’t want to talk to women who had experienced similar situations. My grief was unique, it was mine and at that time I felt it was all I had. I didn’t want it to be lessened by being “normal.” I didn’t want the pain in me to be diluted by someone else relating to me. It was mine and I wanted to keep it for awhile.

That was all part of my own grief journey. Holding on to that grief was what made it real for me. I said earlier that I wish I had started therapy earlier, because of how wonderful I feel now. But I’m not convinced that if I had started earlier I would feel the same way. Because like I said, I wasn’t ready to let go of the grief. If I had forced therapy on myself too early I don’t think I would have let myself be as open.

I’m not an expert, I just have my own experiences to draw from. If there’s anything to take away from this post it’s that there is hope and if you’re open to therapy, it can be helpful in finding that hope. But don’t force yourself to go down a path you’re not ready for. If you need to hang on to the grief for awhile, do that. Go ahead and be sad, it’s your right and it’s not bad, weak or broken. It’s part of the process. But when you are ready, don’t be afraid to pursue therapy because of what others might think. Or because you think it’s been too long. I was widowed five years ago and didn’t start therapy until almost a year ago. It’s never too late.

Don’t pursue therapy because it’s what everyone else is saying you should do. While I think therapy can help every person in some way it’s a very personal choice to make. You should make that choice for you, not for anyone else.