Posted in Community, Professional Experiences

Thank You, ResLife

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To my staff, community, residents, and others,

If you are reading this, I thank you for taking the time. I wanted to take this time to sum up my three tremendous years so far as a Resident Assistant. In all honesty, I have learned and gained so much in my experiences so far and have never taken much time to track this transformation. I wanted to share my story and how it affects my future as well.

Many people think of an RA as someone who is a “police officer,” someone who busts people in situations, and even as a babysitter in certain cases. However, I can definitely attest to none of these being true for a plethora of reasons. Many people have different focuses as a staff member, but I want to share with you my mission statement in life that drives my definition of how I perceive a RA:

Michael’s Mission Statement:

“I want my life to be about family, friends, talents, education and innovation. By serving others, leading diverse groups, and providing happiness to the world around me, I strive to live a life of meaning…”

Based off of what I value in life and what I have seen in this position, I can honestly say the definition of a Resident Assistant is as follows:

A Resident Assistant Is…

“Someone who not only looks out for the safety of their residents, but someone who challenges societal standards, looks to create diverse dialogues and experiences for all, someone who educates socially and at times academically, someone who strives for an inclusive and safe environment, and most importantly, someone who will be there for you at any time to make sure you are achieving pure happiness in life.”

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be blessed with such amazing opportunities and people in my life. But as I look back, I am thankful for applying and taking this chance to be in such a transformational position.

It all started my freshman year during my second semester when I decided to apply to be an RA because of my Resident Assistant, Blake Ryan, and my Multicultural Advisor, Alisha Harper. Seeing how they modeled the way and truly cared about all of us really made me see how passionate I was about helping others. Even though I submitted the application two hours late on the day it was due (still to this day think it was sure-dumb luck), it proved to be the best decision I made.

After I went through the interview process, I was free agented, which meant I was not hired, but I was not out of the running as all positions had been filled. At first, I was pretty bummed out, but I made sure to listen to my mentors who told me to wait and my time would come. Luckily, a few weeks later, it did! Luanne Goffnett, my current advisor, gave me an opportunity to work in Robinson and Barnes halls, the place I have been blessed to call home for the past three years. Little did I know how much this would awaken my soul and bring true meaning to my life.

I do have to admit, the transitions were not easy. There was a lot to learn not only about the new community, but about ways I could be the best RA possible. Over my course as an RA, I have encountered many different emergency situations where residents were either in danger or where immediate action had to be taken, especially during my first semester as a staff member (fall 2014). Not only did I just go through a nasty break-up, but my first semester as an RA was filled with alcohol violations, marijuana situations, a transport, and many more situations. However, one of the most difficult events I dealt with was the most tragic I have seen and still have a hard time talking about: when someone committed suicide on my duty round just outside of the hall. My partner and I were first responders to the scene, which definitely was hard to process. However, I was very proud of myself and my partner for how we handled everything and how we had faith in each other. As sad as this was and as scarring it has been to me up until this day, I knew not only did I want to still be an RA, but I knew that I wanted to be in the student affairs realm to help students through anything and everything they go through as college students.

Student affairs deals with mainly working with college students or at a university of some sort. Professionals can work in anything such as housing, advising, admissions, and even all the way up to a university’s administration. All I knew from that night on is that I wanted to help college students out in any way possible by educating socially, and by being a voice of reason in the field to help students develop positively and ethically. This lead me on the journey of a lifetime for the past three years.

These past three years, I truly have learned the importance of difference. I learned what identity does for a person’s upbringing in regards to creating opportunity, oppression, and confusion for some. I learned this not only through my own learning experiences, but from my residents as well. Every year, my floor is entwined with a plethora of different people: some in-state, some out of state, some raised in the city where everyone on every avenue was different, and some raised in a town with less than one hundred in their graduating class. Everyone came in thinking something completely different from conservative to liberal views, from thinking about themselves versus needing to think more about their own well-being. I realized from the first semester I became part of this experience, it was not going to be as easy as they make it sound. There were going to be challenges, and I was going to have to help people see eye-to-eye. Let me tell you: I quickly became a master of roommate situations and arguments. The “Talking Stick” mentality always came into play to make sure every voice was being heard and everyone could speak. This majorly helped people see differences in one another, and brought me to realize how important it is that we try and see the good in people when possible.

These past three years, I have learned about myself and who I truly am. When I came into college, I strongly felt like I identified moderate to conservative in my views, that I was going solely into teaching, and that I loved to sing. While the last one is completely true still, I have realized I have changed. After hearing about other people’s views, perspectives, and really thinking about what I value in life, I realize that I actually am pretty liberal. With teaching, I still want to be an educator, but more of a social educator (hence why I want to go into higher education). And of course, the singing is still true to this day. Without being part of Residence Life, I would not have realized who I truly am and would not be the current person I am today.

These past three years, I have learned about the beauty behind true relationships. Many of my residents had a significant impact on my life. I remember during the first week of being a staff member, there were two residents from the floor above me who were sitting on the sidewalk outside while everyone was doing a sporty activity. I went up to them and talked to one of them. The first thing she told me was how much she missed her boyfriend. Her roommate was also pretty quiet as well. I could tell they were both nervous as they hid it behind the smiles on their faces. I got the chance to form a relationship of laughter, humility, and of learning with those two residents. The next year, they became my own residents on my floor and they continued to grow. One of these residents was completely undecided where she was going with her life in regards to her major and minor. She loved sports, loved talking with people, and knew she wanted to help others. Seeing her grow truly blew me away as within time, she began to challenge herself more and find out that she wanted to be a social worker with a minor in American sign language. Now, I see her almost every day working the front desk of the hall smiling and knowing that she can do anything she sets her mind to. The other resident became the Desk Manager of the hall during my second year as an RA. I remember telling her during her freshman year “You should apply to be an RA.” She told me “Good luck with that” and did not apply because she was nervous. But then, the next year came around (year two) and I sat down in her room until she applied. But this time, something was different. She had more confidence, poise, and drive to really challenge herself and do the things that made her happy even if she felt like she would get it or not. I also saw her perspective on diversity and justice change as she started to look more out than in. I remember one day, she was on the phone crying. Nervous, I sat by my door and noticed someone ask her if she was okay. And then, she said it: “I got the RA position.” I couldn’t contain myself as I ran out the room. I was so proud that she took a chance and really believed in herself. This was one of my favorite full-circle moments. Remembering these two as “quiet” and “missing home” makes me laugh now as they have truly changed. However, even as they grew, I watched others struggle with growth. Even to this day, whether people are my residents or not, I still watch and help out others because I will “always be their RA.” Last but not least, I have to mention another resident who made an impact on me during my second year as an RA. During the first few weeks, she sat with her door open in her room, but did not say one word. I could tell she was quiet and nervous about being at school. One day, I did her roommate agreement with her and her roommate. We all of a sudden heard people in the courtyard playing volleyball. I immediately saw the look on her face as I could tell it sounded like fun to her. I told her “after the roommate agreement, we are going outside to play volleyball!” And even though she was hesitant at first, we did it. Now, that group of people are best friends with her to this day, and I see her everyday in the community working at the desk, going to class, and being involved in hall council. I am truly proud of how much she has grown, what she has taught me, and how she trusts me with advice and help for anything. She has made a huge impact on my life as well.

These past three years, I have truly learned what it is like to have supportive network. My staff these past three years have been truly amazing. Everyone being different, coming from different areas of campus, and coming in with different strengths truly made our team diverse, committed, and compassionate towards one another. With my staff, I have laughed more than I think I ever have in my life. But with my staff, I have cried more than in my life as we have all gone through a lot. This job takes out a piece of you and really challenges you on a daily basis. However, whether I have been broken or my staff has been broken, we all help each other pick up the pieces and put it all back together. And all of this was guided with great care and poise from Luanne, my Residence Hall Director. She gave me the chance to really be a part of this wonderful family. Without her, I definitely wouldn’t be the person I am today. She challenged me to learn as much as I could from others, to not overwork myself, to learn how to take time for myself when I need it, and she also taught me how I can be a transformational mentor for others coming into the position. But most importantly, she taught me that it is okay to say I need help with something. Whether it involves a task on the job or me personally, help is not a bad thing. Luanne has truly helped me gain more self worth in my life, and has truly helped me find out what I want to do with my life. I am forever grateful to her for picking me up as a free agent and giving me the chance to be part of one of the most unique life experiences a person can be on.

All of these things lead to me learning about community. Community is described as “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” By sharing a community with my staff and residents, and by coming together through programs, meetings, random activities, and simple conversations, I truly feel like an environment of support, compassion, and difference has been created and has impacted my life among every one else’s.

But now, after three years, I wind down on my time in Residence Life thinking how bittersweet it is that this is about to come to an end for me. When the halls close in May, I will turn in my keys, sign the staff forms, and officially leave my Residence Life position and go onto a new adventure. I wanted to come back with all of my being, but I realized with having to student teach next year and get ready for graduate school applications, it was going to be hard. I wanted to leave on a high note, knowing that I have done the best in this position. I also want to give a chance for someone else to realize the difference they can make in someone else’s life through this transformational position.

For anyone considering to apply for a position in Residence Life, or even a position that challenges them overall, DO IT. Take the chance. You never know when your life will be impacted in such a way unless you try to go for something new. Growth is something that is not measured with what you see in front of you, but how you look back on your life and see the impact your experiences have made. I look back, and I am thankful that Residence Life had this impact on me.

I truly wanted to take the time to thank Residence Life at Central Michigan University. To mentors like Luanne, Kathleen Gardner, Joan Schmidt, Jamie Herrygers, Sybil Jacobs, Crystal Sattleberg, Bridgette Wynn, and even more, I thank you all for guiding me throughout this experience whether it was advice on life situations, going to conferences together, or sharing ideas, you all have truly inspired me to push myself and the people around me. A lot of you convinced me to go to Chicago for an ACUHO-I Internship, which was life changing. And for those I have not mentioned, I thank you as well. Every person I came in contact with who is part of Residence Life, whether paraprofessional or higher, has made an impact on my life in regards to sharing ideas, and learning how I can continue to be a better person in the process.

Along with all of this, I do have to thank my family and my girlfriend for being with me all on this journey. It has been hard as sometimes, my schedule can be really full and it can get really busy. But through all of this, they did whatever they could to support me, love me unconditionally, and help me at the times where I felt defeated or unconfident about something. I truly and grateful for their support.

Most importantly, I have to say thank you to my residents, current and in the past. You all are the reason why I have loved my years here at CMU, and why I want to continue to support students in the future. The late nights, the dinner conversations, the runs or walks we went on, and those nights we blasted the guitar in the hallway and sang for every floor to hear, all of it has been worth it to me. You all are the reason, along with my staff, why I truly love this job. No matter what challenges we threw or continue to throw at each other, I am always going to be here for you all. And to my current residents, I look forward to continue making this semester the best one possible in this positions. R & B (Robinson and Barnes Halls), let’s end this year on a high note and go out with a bang.

Fire Up Chips, and Thank You, Res Life!

-Michael Greco



Posted in New Perspectives

Student Affairs Spotlight: An Interview With Brooke Oliver-Hempenstall, Director of SAPA


Information about Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates from their homepage. For more information, visit SAPA.CMICH.EDU


As Domestic Violence Awareness Month passes (October 2016), I take the time to reflect on an influential interview about a transformational department that has not only been an innovation on students in the Central Michigan University community, but has also made a difference around the world. Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates, or SAPA for short, is a confidential source that helps survivors through any form of sexual aggression including but not limited to stalking, sexual harassment, domestic violence, intimate partner violence, and sexual assault. SAPA is available to students through a confidential support line (989-774-CALL), online chat, and direct in-person services which are available 24/7 to help survivors. One of the most amazing aspects of this organization not only includes the extensive, over 40+ hours of training each member of SAPA receives, but also how the University grants this organization confidentiality to do their work effectively and for the betterment of survivors.

As I look into the student affairs profession, I look to make sure I see all sides of student development that makes the campus experience safe, meaningful, and influential on students. For one of my courses, I began to look more into SAPA to not only find out more, but to hear more about the amazing impact this organization has had on the community. I was given the opportunity to interview Brooke Oliver-Hempenstall, the Director of SAPA at Central Michigan University. Originally before publishing this article, I wanted to take parts of the interview and write it like an editorial with parts of the interview. However, the interview between Brooke and myself was so passionate and natural, I feel it is best to leave it in the question and answer format below to show all pure aspects of the conversation.

Please feel free to read about SAPA below through Brooke’s eyes followed by my learning outcomes from this conversation.


Michael: Thank you very much for meeting with me Brooke. Please tell me about yourself and your experiences that brought you here.

Brooke: “Well, I never intended to come here. I originally was planning on going to Arizona State University. However, I changed my mind at the last minute. School started on a Monday, I called CMU on a Tuesday, and decide to go to CMU that day. It was close to my hometown, which definitely was a benefit. I moved into Robinson on a Saturday, and suddenly Central became it for me.

During my first year, I got involved with SAPA (second class overall, 1998). Honestly, I didn’t know what I wanted to do and was here for five years. I tried accounting, but I fucking hated it. Eventually, I decided to go with a major with psych in family studies, and a minor in substance abuse.

During my time, SAPA changed my life. No matter how difficult or overwhelming I might be attached to this work, I loved it! Finally, I graduated in May of 2001. I was scared, and didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I was good at SAPA, but did not want to do the ResLife route in Higher Education.

Right before 9/11, I applied for jobs and worked at a domestic abuse shelter. I went to Law School (Cooley Law School) and went to school on the weekends and summers for two years. My last year during my internship for Law School, I realized I fucking hated it. I quit because I only wanted to do prosecution, not the other stuff that came with it.

I dropped out on Friday, January 6th of 2006, felt good, and called the counseling center program at CMU for the Counseling Master’s program. I came back to CMU in August 2006 after taking a short break and graduated in December 2008 while still being an advocate in Gaylord.

SAPA used to be funded through a grant, and I slid into the SAPA Dedicated Counselor position for SAPA until April 2011 when the grant was not going to be renewed for the position. The program has always been funded through the school, but the SAPA Dedicated Counselor was not at the time. I left CMU and began to work at Child Protective Services for nine weeks because I was not a fan of the work there.

After that gig, I became a Director of a Women’s Safe Home and Shelter in Grayling called River House until September 2013. Eventually, I came back to CMU and eventually stepped into Director role for SAPA (Interim currently). I want to make SAPA a permanent Director position, but I have to say I am truly amazed with how the experience has gone up to this point.”

Michael: From your point of view, what is one of the biggest problems facing college students today?

Brooke: “Well, that is a great question. For the broad scope: You still have students with issues of depression, anxiety, and adjustment. But I think more folks nationally are becoming more aware with mental health, are happening to be diagnosed already, and trauma especially with SAPA with the work I do. They are at a place where they deal, process, and go through trauma currently. They all can coexist.

For the safety and the well being, you always have to be mindful of self-care and self-harm. I like to tell the SAPA’s , ‘Confidentiality is like a mini-Las Vegas in the way that what happens here stays here, meaning if someone is telling you something, it remains confidential. However, it cannot if it comes to harm to others or if little ones are being abused or neglected.’ It is becoming more recognized in regards to sexual assault trauma and DV (Domestic Violence) with how pervasive this is.”

Michael: It sounds like there has been a lot of aspects that go into the history and development of SAPA overall. How has the University supported you and others alike in your position to succeed?

Brooke:I cannot say enough about how the University for nineteen years has been qualifying SAPA as a confidential resource. For us to do our job in regards to working with SAPA and the services they provide, for the University since 1997 to give that privilege to these students, is remarkable. A while back, Title IX issues were not under the scrutiny they are now since the 2011 Dear Colleague letter came out and issues pertaining to sexual aggression have become heavily focused upon nationally within the university environment. It was a different world, and for the school to value the importance of what advocacy is and means to folks and to offer that, and even if we had to piece or way through it, providing the confidentiality has been the best gift especially since this topic has become a hot issue for folks.

The relationships in the University between ResLife especially with confidentiality, and to be able to work together, has been amazing because these are not easy issues to work around. There has always been that amazing consistency.”

Michael: Looking into the world of higher education, one can see how safe spaces is changing the environment of diverse students. Some universities have released statements openly telling the world that they will not be providing safe spaces for students anymore for any real life situation or social issues. What are your thoughts on this?

Brooke: “It’s not about coddling students; it’s about knowing that triggers can put someone back into the time when the first events occurred. When you are triggered, your body has the same action that has happened during that event.

Essentially, whenever we talk about violence in these regards, we need to remember, we all have a common goal just to start with. That is why we provide safe spaces for people. We did this for SAPA because there was a need, and this was the right thing to do. The starting of this was so genuine and came from a place of needing. Our services have developed, adjusted, and tweaked because our student advocates are hearing what students’ need, and start adjusting.”

Michael: In your field, there definitely is a lot of give and take that goes into your work as you work with students, survivors, and work to change life on a daily basis. What would you define as proper self-care in your line of work?

Brooke: “With life and this line of work, it used to be running. It all depends personally with the different stages that I have been with my personal life. I have to take healthy self-care moments. They look a little different. But my first year, I did not practice self-care. I dove into the work world full time and over seventy hours a week, and I was not healthy. I was burning out. In the field I work in, folks do burn out. And their ability to have passion and empathy can fade away. This is not the type of work where that works to not be passionate and supportive. It is about letting folks know they have options, rights, and control to do anything besides what they are told.

Healthy self-care is paramount to do this work long term. Since I have been volunteering with SAPA since I was twenty, whether it is with running or driving, take your vacations. I never get sick, but you need to take your own fucking health days. This cannot be your life, and I am glad that people can be passionate. But if you are not in a good place, you cannot be in a good space to help others. That is why I do not mind the commute from Gaylord to Central everyday because that is even my time for self-care. And I don’t feel bummed to go to work. This work I find very uplifting because I get to work with folks and even though it might be the worst time of their lives, I have seen the light when they get to that place of their healthy balance and it is very incredible.

There is always a need for help. There are forty plus shelters in this state that need help, volunteers, pillows (because people will take them when they leave shelters), and people to volunteer to help with crisis lines. Even as simple as CMU and SAPA partnering with Women’s Aid and the Tribe to collaboratively work together, it shows that we all have a common goal.”

Michael: In regards to the University, What are your favorite things about CMU as a whole?

Brooke: “What I love about SAPA and CMU is that the training could not happened if we did not have our alum coming back. Last year, we had over one hundred alum come back for those training weekends. We need extra folks, but people who are well versed in these areas. Our alumni have been truly amazing. That is something that CMU cannot fix for me; the alumni are something that we need. Even if we had a ton of money for this, I need alumni. We still have folks coming back from the first year in 1997 and they come back with all different skill sets. They all come back from different fields, or even for certain time periods.

And my favorite moment is last year, it was Steven’s first year not being a Director. The rookies go through a clapping tunnel created by the alumni, and they did the same thing for Steven. This common goal with SAPA is still carried on through our alumni and for people at CMU.

Currently, we are trying to create a SAPA alumni survey. We want to see the results of SAPA on people’s lives years after they leave CMU.  We also want to see how SAPAs network with alumni.

With Central, it’s never been about “don’t report” like it can be with other college campuses. What’s reportable for Cleary is very specific. But in all the years I have been here, I have never felt that we needed to be hushed because the school does not want that stuff coming out. If anything, since the 1990’s, it has been about creating an atmosphere that makes people feel comfortable with reporting and speaking, but it is their choice and there’s resources for whatever choice they want to make. Or pick none: That’s a choice, too. It’s always been about doing what’s right at CMU, especially with the SAPA program.”

When talking about higher education, the one thing that keeps people remaining in and excited about the field is passion. Brooke absolutely displays this through her commitment and willingness to help members of the community. From this interview, I learned the following outcomes that can be remembered for future development:

  • The importance of self care and commitment to the work no matter what field you are a part of
  • The impact confidentiality and University support can have on a person’s work
  • The importance to make sure students know their resources on campus
  • The essential impact SAPA has created on the community, and even the world and CMU abroad
  • The power of connecting with others to learn, create, and empower student development

SAPA continues to make the community aware through programming, meeting with organizations, and with the guidance of Brooke along with other SAPA staff members. Thank you for the work you all do to make CMU a better place!