Posted in Community, New Perspectives

Remembering History: Visiting the Holocaust Memorial Center

holocaust-memorial-center

As a secondary social studies education major, history has always been a topic of fascination to me. History gives us all a chance to learn from what went right in society, what went wrong, and how we can continue to learn from one another. Today, if there is one thing I learned, it’s how we each have a chance to turn a world of hate into love.

With Central Michigan University’s Residence Life program, Resident Assistants, Multicultural Advisors, and residents got the chance to visit the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan. This excursion is meant to help us all learn something new about the world, about social justice issues in society and the past, and the experience helps us relate what happened to how it affects the world today.

The day started off by being broken up into touring groups as Central Michigan University had a really big group there overall. Our tour guide sat us down in front of the memorial pictured above her and explained the meaning behind it. All of the countries affected by the Holocaust are named up on the memorial. However, these are the countries that had people die in the Holocaust whether they were Jewish, had a disability, LGBTQ+, and more. The numbers of people that died were reflected under the country names.

In addition to this, there were a list of the concentration camps next to the countries overall. A lot of the names, I have heard of before from visiting other museums. But what caught my eye in the middle of this area was an eternal flame: a flame that never goes out to keep the memory of the affected alive. The tour guide explained that many people believe for a soul to die, it dies twice. The first time is when a person actually dies. The second time is when the last person to have memories with the person dies. This is why the flame is kept lit because it is important for history’s sake and because of this event that we do not forget the people who went through such tragedies. So, we make sure we keep their souls alive and in our memory.

From here, the tour guide walked us through the historical exhibit where we learned about the history of Judaism. We learned how this religion was one of the first ones to have a monotheistic God, which means one god. What this did was create anti-semitism for years as people saw the Jewish religion as a disgrace, or as the “different” religion. Eventually, this inspired the events of the Holocaust.

After this, we learned about the history of Adolf Hitler along with the uprising of the Nazi Party in Germany. We learned of the Nazi agenda, which consisted of three things: To create a superior race of Germans with blonde hair and blue eyes, to exterminate all of the Jewish people, and to expand as much as possible to be the dominant society. However, what we saw is that Hitler along with other officials changed policies one step at a time, making subtle changes in the ways that people thought, and changes in the way that people viewed the Jewish people. Hitler even said once that by using the press as an enemy, it could be easy to lie to big groups of people and make change. We learned how even though Hitler had an agenda, it took a group of people to make it happen. This is where things started to get emotional.

At this point, we learned about how the Jewish people were treated in these camps. From being worked to death, to marching to death, and even being sent to death camps to die right away, over six million people were exterminated from the Holocaust. What put this into more perspective is when we walked into this room with a very narrow path, and six video screens. The tour guide told us that if the images were too disturbing, we could come down to the end of the hallway with her. You see, General Eisenhower went into Europe to these concentration camps. He decided if you were not there, you could not understand it. That is why he and his crew decided to record what they saw with videos: and these videos came up on the screens.

The dead bodies of Jewish people who died in the Holocaust kept playing on one screen to another. Bodies piled on top of one another, bodies so skinny that their bones were easy to see, bodies that had eyes out of the socket holes. The only thing I could do along with everyone else is look in shock and disbelief. Eventually, after moments of silence and shock, we continued on. This was one of the most scarring things I have ever seen and I still have the images in my head.

From here, we learned about the end of the war. The Nuremberg trials occurred with only a dozen people being sentenced to death. There were a total of twenty two people tried at this time as well, but not too much more from there. But one of the most surprising things I found out is that after the war, Holocaust survivors were helped out to be rehabilitated back into society. At this point, there was a huge increase in babies born. The reason why is because at this point, love had gotten so many people through the tragedies they faced. This was something I did not hear much about, but it made me happy to know that love was a catalyst to helping so many people to survive by giving them something to live for as they endured horrible conditions.

Finally, we looked over to our left to see a video screen along with a clock. The number on this clock was over 100 million or so. Every nineteen seconds, this huge number went up by one as every nineteen seconds, someone dies from genocide around the world. This huge number was a number of all the genocides committed since the end of the Holocaust. The fact that this number is such a high rate overall shocked me along with everyone else. Even after such a tragic event, hatred still occurs in the world today.

At the end of all of this, we got to hear about the Holocaust from a different perspective: The perspective of a survivor. She stood at the front of an auditorium as we all walked in. Her name was Rae and she kept on asking us what our majors were, intrigued to hear more about each one and to see the diversity in the room. After we all sat down, she began to share her story. When the war began in 1939, the Germans evacuated her family from Poland and moved them over to the U.S.S.R, which made them refugees. At one point, the Russians essentially imprisoned her family and others to an area in northern Russia where the family everyday had to complete different labor tasks. Eventually, they returned to Poland when the war ended, but they realized all of their family from Poland was practically dead and did not have much to offer. The family made the decision to try and flee over to the United States in 1946. However, tensions were still high, making it hard for the family to escape. They had to sneak over boarders illegally to attempt this. However, during one of the trips, her parents were killed, leaving her and her siblings (four others) to be orphans as they escaped to America. Finally, they made it to Detroit in 1948. She then told us about her family today and how many of them graduated college including herself, she showed us her siblings later on in life, and she talked about her late husband who was also a Holocaust survivor. She told us so much about her life, we all could not help but stand and clap for her at the end thanking her for her time and the opportunity to hear from here.

One big thing that she told us at the end is that America provided her the opportunity to work hard in life and essentially gave her a chance to be successful. She also mentioned that in some ways, America has gotten better about things, but has gotten worse about things. The biggest pieces of advice she gave us were the following: 1. Do not be afraid to work hard. And 2. Choose to spread love over hate in this world.

This leads me to reflect on the bigger piece of things: what could I walk away and say I learned overall? What stuck with me most? From this, I would have to say the meaning of empathy, as well as the difference between privilege and oppression in society.

In regards to empathy, it was amazing to hear about the history of the Holocaust from more of an emotional view with some facts incorporated. None of us knew what it was like to go through such horrific experiences in life. However, the stories shared, the imagery, and the intentionality with everything in this museum made us feel empathy for all of the people who were affected by tragedy in life.

If there is one idea I want you all to take away from this, it is the following right here: the difference between privilege and oppression. Privilege is a special right or advantage available to a group of people in society. An example of this could be a privilege of being part of a majority religion, being part of a wealthier class, etc. Now compare this with oppression. Oppression is the prolonged cruel or unjust treatment towards other people based off of traits or privileges. Essentially, there is a bridge between privilege and oppression. When people notice their privilege in society, they can oppress others and hurt other people because not all people have the same advantages, or privileges, in life. This brings up a huge moral to all of this: We all need to take a look at who we are, what we believe, how we operate, and need to choose to spread love over hate.

Events like this one in life are tragic to even think about. I still cannot even fathom some of things I saw or heard about. However, instead of being a bystander in life and not do anything when others are being oppressed, go up to the oppressed individual and show them empathy. Let them know you are there for them to help them, love them, and be with them even when the world is not. This is something I hope you all can take away from reading this today: Choose to love other hate.

This is how we can stop these events from happening again…

 

-Michael Greco

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 Community

Standing United: My Dance United Experience

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“Alone we can do so little; Together, we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

When I first got the email asking if I wanted to be a part of Dance United, I felt a mixture of nerves and worry. I looked at the detail again and again, contemplating if I should participate or not. Dance United involved the opportunity to fundraise for United Way of Isabella and Gratiot County by promotion on social media, through the actual Dance United event that took place on Thursday, November 10th, and by performing a dance number. Imagine that… me…. DANCING! The last time I remembered dancing was when I was in high school musical theatre four years ago. Even then, I remember being the person who was barely coordinated with two left feet. My dancing skills could be compared to the first episode of this season’s Walking Dead: Shocking to the point where people wanted to quickly forget. I did not think I could do it, nor have the time for it.

And now, time for a dance joke about myself:

-How many dance teachers does it take for me to perform one move right?

Answer: Five…Six…Seven…Eight!

But then, I sat down and really thought to myself: “What do I have to lose? I dance for a few minutes, and I can help out the community that has given back so much to me. I cannot pass this up.” So quickly, before I changed my mind, I replied back to the student coordinator and told them I would accept and dance for Dance United. Luckily enough, my partner, Shelby Harris, a staff member in Wheeler Hall on campus, accepted as well. That made the process easier as her and I knew each other already, which definitely takes off the pressure. Now that I look back at that moment, I can definitely say I do not know what I got myself into: and I mean that in the most positive way!

Dance United was an absolute blast! Over the summer, I went on about my regular life working in Chicago and taking a break from school. The moment I got back to school, I realized that I would soon have to start learning my dance with Shelby. Within a few weeks, Shelby and I were blessed with the amazing opportunity of meeting our choreographer, Anna Wager. Not only is she currently a student, but she works with the dance team and was also a part of Dance United a year before us. From the first practice, Anna, Shelby and I truly began to bond. We kept on telling each other so many inside jokes, we could probably write a thesaurus of jokes so you all could understand what we meant by each one. Although we would get off task, joke around, and goof off, all three of us stayed focus. The first practice, we started to test our skills and talk about what kind of music we wanted for the performance. One of the first songs Anna put on to warm us up with was Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars, which is a contagious song. As Shelby and I started dancing, Anna’s mind created a vision of extraordinary measures. She immediately asked us how we felt about the song, and we were on board to use that as our song to dance to.

Next practice, we started to get to work. Anna found an amazing remixed version of the song while Shelby and I began to show off our dancing skills. The funny part was even when Shelby and I were joking around about dance moves, Anna would look at us and say “Wait, that works well! Include that in the dance!” Well, that’s the reason why ultimately, I ended up shaking my butt in front of thousands of people. However, I do not regret it. The way we all worked together was unforgettable and indescribable. Not only did we have time to talk about real life and really get deep with each other, but we really got to learn so much from one another. Honestly, without Anna, Shelby and I would not have been able to pull off such amazing stunts and moves. I have never in my life tutted or knew what tutting was until Anna and Shelby told me about it. Because of them, I feel like my two left feet have left and now I stand more confident in myself.

But through all of this self learning and relationship building, the greatest thing we have done through all of this is create a major impact on the community. Shelby, Anna, and myself were able to be one of the highest fundraising teams for the students with over $800 raised. Hours before the performance, Shelby, Anna, and I were able to get over $200 fundraised within a few hours, helping make a huge difference in Isabella and Gratiot county. For those of you who do not know, around 23% of children in this county we fundraised for live in poverty. It only takes $26 per person to help these people in poverty have food and the resources they need. With everyone’s help and with the collaboration of other teams, we are all about to raise $47,846 for the community! What a tremendous way to help make a difference.

I really have to thank Shelby and Anna for being such amazing people I have been able to get close with and truly call friends. Thank you, as well, for putting up with all my “Uptown Funk” puns and jokes (I know they are old now, but I will still squeeze out as many jokes as possible). Also, I want to thank Lucie Sertich and Tom Olver for the opportunity to let us put ourselves out there, and for the major opportunity to help benefit our community. It is truly great to know and see the difference makes. Finally, thanks to everyone who helped donate and fundraise for our teams, for other teams, and who came to support ours and others teams at the Dance United event. Words cannot describe how happy it made us to know you helped us support the community.

Overall, this experience helped me learn so much. Not only can I feel confident dancing and performing more in front of people, but I also continued to realize how great it is to help out others. This service may not have been as hands on with helping the people of impact as my past experiences have been, but it was great to know that what I did will help and go back into the community. That is why in the end, I challenge you.

I challenge you to go and find a way in your area to help someone. I challenge you to step outside the box and take risks if it means you will help out others. I challenge you to stand in front of people and show them your heart if it means you can help benefit people who need help. And last but not least, I challenge you to live United. No matter what happens, I know I am ready to put on my dance shoes and start practicing for next year. I hope to see you on the stage with me.