Reflections from #LeadOnCA

by Rachel Luna

This week, I had the privilege of attending the inaugural Lead On: Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women with 5,000 mostly female folks who gathered at the intersection of technology, leadership, and gender.  I attended this event as a volunteer resume reviewer and was also able to participate in the general sessions.  I’ll admit it was odd for me to be in a space so focused on gender as this is an aspect of my identity I don’t often have the opportunity to explore with as much depth and concentration.  Here are some of my takeaways:

Conversations I appreciated

Leadership as a ‘lady thing’

“We’re going to talk about lady things, like leadership and taking over the world in 2016,” said Kara Swisher as she kicked off the opening session.  The conference theme was “Lead On” and this sentiment was palpable in everything from the hashtag (#LeadOnCA), to the background music (“I’m every woman” and “You’re gonna hear me roar”).  Of course, the main draw for the conference was the keynote lineup, which included Hillary Clinton, Jill Abramson, Dr. Brene Brown, Candy Chang, Kara Swisher, and Diane von Furstenberg.  Their stories are remarkable not just because they are women but also because they are leaders.

Opportunities and encouragement to be change agents

Top: My colleague Kathryn Ward writes on the "Before I Die" wall.  Bottom: I contribute my goals to the community art installation at #LeadOnCA.
Top: My colleague Kathryn Ward writes on the “Before I Die” wall. Bottom: I contribute my goals to the community art installation at #LeadOnCA.

It wasn’t all talk at this event; leadership was in action in a variety of ways.  For example, conference participants shared goals and contributed to their own “Before I Die” wall, inspired by Candy Chang’s work.  The exhibit hall, which at most conferences is all about commercialism, featured a couple community engagement efforts, namely partnerships with Family Giving Tree (where attendees stuffed 500 backpacks with school supplies and encouraging notes for children in need) and Dress for Success San Jose (which collected donations of handbags and jewelry).  “What you do doesn’t have to be big and dramatic,” said Hillary Clinton, encouraging participants to make change.  “You don’t have to run for office,” she said with a figurative wink and nod but no official announcement about her intentions.

Conversations I wanted more of

I’ll admit I spent most of the day fulfilling my volunteer duties in the Career Pavilion, meaning I only saw the keynote addresses and attended one workshop.  So conversations like these could have happened in other spaces, but I found them glaringly lacking from the general conference dialogue and social media backchannel.

Breaking out of the gender binary

Everywhere I turned, there were examples of dualistic gender thinking.  In general sessions, female attendees were celebrated while male allies were thanked for their presence.  Every statistic was presented with just two options (ex: 70% of Google’s workforce is men and 30% women).  An announcement that some of the men’s restrooms had been converted to women’s facilities elicited a big cheer from the audience, and I couldn’t help but think why some couldn’t have been converted to all-gender spaces.  The result of these binary practices: our nonconforming community members were unacknowledged and rendered invisible.

Gender + any other aspect of diversity

I know this was a “conference for women” so it is expected we’d talk a lot about gender, but could we please acknowledge some other aspects of our identities?  While listening to the main stage speakers, I noted less than a handful of comments that directly addressed aspects of diversity other than gender.  And of those comments, most came from women of color.  By not addressing intersectionality, the female experience was painted with the same (white, middle class, well-educated) brush.  “Leaning in” and trying hard were touted as the keys to happiness and success while dynamics of privilege and power were unexamined.

Random things that got me thinking


  • The items in my participant swag bag included two office supplies and four body/cosmetic products, including one item for children (sunscreen). I wonder how these giveaways were determined and what conversations happened around those decisions.
  • A Nursing Mother’s Room was available for attendees.  Although I did not utilize this space, I tracked it as one of the event’s inclusion efforts and was glad to share its location with the woman who was balancing her pumping equipment and bottles on the edge of the bathroom sink.
  • An emphasis on making connections was built into conference process and content.  Intentional spaces for informal conversations were available in the exhibit hall and general session area, Twitter handles for all speakers were included in all conference materials, and almost every major speaker described women supporting women as essential to success.  In these ways, networking was framed with a relational perspective as opposed to a transactional one.
  • All the resume reviewers were volunteers from local colleges and universities.  It was nice to see higher education professionals recognized and sought out for their expertise in career support and guidance, especially in the business-driven environment of Silicon Valley.  I even consulted with someone who currently works in corporate HR and said she brought her resume because she valued the advice of career services professionals.
  • One last thing: shoutout to Kathryn Ward who also represented Samuel Merritt University as a resume reviewer and drove us both around the Bay Area that day!

Have you attended a conference like this?  What were your takeaways?  What would you like to see at a “conference for women”?

Reflections from #LeadOnCA

Social Justice Discussions in #SAchat

by Niki Messmore

Social justice (the process and goal of dismantling systemic inequities) is performed and discussed in a variety of methods within the professional field of higher education and student affairs. An emerging avenue of social justice education is social media, including Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. Erica Thompson of the ACPA Digital Task Force approached me to ask about proven practices in social justice with digital technology and I’ve been reflecting on the overall status of student affairs and SJ education online. This reflection will include a case study: my observations related to the posting of a blog post titled “Why I Feel White Folks Shouldn’t Run Multicultural Affairs” by Jerad Green.

If we were all on Larry Wilmore’s The Nightly Report segment “Keep It 100” and the question was “Is student affairs fully committed to social justice?” I’d throw bags of weak tea at anyone who said “Yes”.

Although social justice is an espoused value of student affairs and can be found within the ACPA & NASPA Professional Competencies, we are still working towards bettering our policies, curriculum for graduate students, professional development, and more towards fully embracing social justice. There’s a lot that can be done.

One way we can further our progress? Social media.


On January 21, 2015 Jerad Green posted the above-mentioned blog post on the Student Affairs Collective, a website that originated the #sachat weekly chats and backchannel for folks within the field to post thoughts, articles, questions and to connect with one another. Green’s blog post led to a flurry of activity on Twitter that demonstrates how SA professionals connect on social justice topics in a public forum.


  • White Fragility: “White fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves”, a term coined by Robin DiAngelo. White fragility was very real following Green’s blog post. There were a number of white student affairs professionals from various backgrounds and time in the field who reacted defensively. Some comments included: believing it was unfair that someone could deny them a job based upon the color of their skin and bringing in their other marginalized identities to demonstrate personal expertise on understanding racism.
  • Coded Racism: There were comments from white professionals that stated Green’s post was “reckless”, someone should have helped him write a “more appropriate” article, and they were worried for Green’s professional future for writing the piece. These tweets are examples of a (subconscious?) maintenance of institutionalized racism and a push for respectability politics. They do not acknowledge that Green had the right to engage in storytelling of his own experiences and perspectives…even though it is critical to hear the perspectives of people of color on issues related to multicultural offices in higher education.
  • Dissonance and Personal Growth: There were individuals who displayed resistance to this idea that race matters in selecting multicultural directors and engaged in a colorblindness approach. However, after interacting on Twitter with the author and others, the were resistant individuals who demonstrated growth in better understanding where the blog post was coming from.
  • A Continued Conversation: It can be difficult to have follow-up on social media conversations. As we have began to see the national cry for justice in the wake of the events in Ferguson dissipate, folks are often looking for the next shiny thing to discuss. However, writing response blogs is a good way to keep the conversation going. Dr. Dafina-Lazarus Stewart, Associate Professor of higher education and student affairs at BGSU, wrote an excellent response blog post that captured multiple sides of the topic.

In many ways, engaging in social justice discussions on social media is similar to other methods of communication. There are risks, certainly. It is very easy for message tone to be misinterpreted and the format (especially Twitter) is incredibly limited. One concern is that SJ topics often require nuance and it is difficult to pack everything one needs to have an educated exchange of ideas in 140-character tweets. Additionally, folks are sometimes worried about their professional reputation since social media is a public forum and there may be repercussions for their statements.

On the benefits of SJ discussions on social media, it does allow for professional development with colleagues around the world and help to break folks from the bubble of their own office/institution. Overall, I believe it creates a forum for a topic that is often ignored in higher education and provides easier access to educational opportunities.

What do you think? Is it beneficial to engage in social justice discussions on Twitter hashtags like #sachat? Or is it more harm than good?

Tweet me at @NikiMessmore with your thoughts!



Social Justice Discussions in #SAchat

Book Review – Social Media for Educators: Strategies and Best Practices by Tanya Joosten

By Jennifer Keegin

I was drawn to this book based on the title and was interested to see what strategies and best practices would be listed.

The author, Tanya Joosten, studies communication technology and has held numerous editorial and advisory council positions. She has taught online courses and as well as “blended” courses while managing campus emerging technology projects.

The first chapters are “Why Social Media?” and “Preparing to Use Social Media?” and are pretty much what you imagine they would be about – trying to convince educators that connecting via social media is important with some stats to back up the concept.

“Social Media can have a positive impact on education professionals through the development of a network of colleagues, building of community, and engagement of its membership.”

It explains Twitter and hashtags, and the need for authenticity.

Pedagogical Needs:
1. Increasing communication and contact
2. Engaging students through rich, current media
3. Gathering and providing feedback
4. Creating cooperative and collaborative learning opportunities
5. Providing experiential learning opportunities

Part Two is called “Social Media: What Do We Do With It?” and the answers are Increased communication and contact with students, developing a richer learning environment, and building cooperation and feedback.

I myself did not gain much from this book because it was basically preaching to the choir, but it was a handy reference for anyone who is trying to justify just how important social media is in order to communicate better with students – meeting them where there are if you will – and how it takes time and money to do it properly.

Book Review – Social Media for Educators: Strategies and Best Practices by Tanya Joosten

5 steps to avoid design malpractice

by @jessmsamuels

PowerPoint presentations can be extremely boring.We have all sat through incredibly dry, mind-numbing, and visually unappealing presentations.
Common mistakes include:
  • Presenters jam pack slides with text and then read from the slides.
  • If there are images at all, they are usually pixelated.
  • The font size and colors make it hard to read.
A graphic designer friend of mine, Robbii Wessen, would call these types of presentations “design malpractice.”
Presentations are suppose to convey ideas, and what many people fail to realize is that design is incredibly important to making sure your audience absorbs your message.  With the right design you can direct them where to look and you can help them remember the most important facts.
Recently I had the privilege of listening to and viewing a class presentation about the CEO of Amazon that took all the right steps.  As a graphic design buff, I can honestly say it was one of the best PowerPoints I have ever seen.  I want to share with you the top 5 reasons it won my heart.


1. Theme
The designer of this PowerPoint, Lydia Hardy, clearly took her design inspiration from the Amazon logo.  Using black, white, and yellow exclusively throughout the entire presentation created a visually appealing theme.  The text, images and blocks of color repeated over and over in each slide, and made it easy to know what to read and what to focus on.
Presentation 1


2. Design consistency
This happened to be a group presentation. Every other group in class did what you would expect –  created a PowerPoint that was inconsistent in style and the amount of content per slide.  Having been in one of these groups myself, what I don’t know yet is how Lydia’s group created a process that resulted in such a consistent design. From my experience group members often differ in how much content they think should be on each page, so this result required great leadership skills.
Presentation 2


3. Simplicity
Selecting simple black silhouettes for the images on each slide gave the audience a specific image to focus on while the group was speaking.  Similarly, she made a few words on each slide pop in a bold yellow font.   This made their group presentation much more memorable.
Presentation 3


4. Focus
Lydia worked with her group to select 3 bullet points or a single quote for each slide.  Each group member had more to say than what was illustrated on the slide, but the images and words focused on the major themes. This worked really well. When there is too much text the audience wonders whether they should read or listen. When it’s too little text they wonder if the presenter has forgotten to forward to the next slide.
Presentation 4
Presentation 5


5. Integration of Infographics
In addition to bold images, Lydia used infographics to relate information that the group was presenting.  This is a visually interesting way to illustrate numbers and percentages.
Presentation 6


Immediately after the class ended I went directly up to Lydia to ask her for a copy of the presentation in order to share it with this blog.  I hope you were as inspired as I was by seeing her presentation – if so, there will be a lot less design malpractice in the world.
5 steps to avoid design malpractice

How we listen determines who gets heard

By Rachel Luna

Despite living only about 15 miles from my office, I usually spend about 90 minutes in the car each day thanks to SF Bay Area traffic.  Radio stations with the same few songs do not hold my interest very long, so I’ve turned to podcasts and audiobooks for education and entertainment during my commute.  Some of my favorites include This American Life (and its breakout hit Serial), The Moth, Radiolab, and TED Talks (audio version).

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on my consumption of these media.  From where I sit –  listening to public radio on my smartphone as I drive to my full time job – I represent many privileges, such as education level and socioeconomic class.  Add on lenses from the hosts and reporters I choose to download, and even more aspects of power and privilege influence my media.  All this leads me to ask: What stories am I choosing to listen to?  Who is telling these stories?  How and why are they being told?  What am I doing with the knowledge and insights gained by listening to these stories?  What role am I playing in perpetuating media and power dynamics?

Amidst the popularity of Serial, there was quite a backlash and back-and-forth response about the show’s treatment of racial and cultural dynamics.  Last week Chenjerai Kumanyika published this piece about race and voice in public radio.  Subsequent conversations from NPR’s Code Switch with the #PubRadioVoice hashtag further explored the intersections of race, culture, and media content.  One commenter on the #PubRadioVoice hashtag said that people of color are seen as “interesting subject matter” as opposed to potential audience members.  When the same types of people control the storytelling, certain stories might be left out, told inaccurately, or have harmful impacts.  Homogeneity in the media is problematic for both process and content.

So how can this be changed?  Part of the solution is in empowering diverse voices and promoting multiple platforms for storytelling to create more multicultural content.   But new content is not itself sufficient for change.  As a listener, I need to check myself and look beyond popularity on iTunes to find these multiple perspectives.  I have to intentionally seek out voices that represent perspectives outside of the mainstream.  So far I’ve had more luck finding diverse content in the audiobook arena than with podcasts.  Most recently, I’ve listened to a few texts written and read by the authors, including Maya Angelou narrating I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Khaled Hosseini narrating The Kite Runner.  The synergy of the authors’ words combined with their own voices results in an authentic listening experience like no other.

A popular quote about stories says, “Those who tell the stories rule the world” (attributed to either Hopi Native American proverbs or Plato, depending on the source).  I believe a more complete perspective includes, “Those who listen to the stories choose the rulers.”

For those interested in the tech aspects, I use iTunes and BeyondPod to manage my podcasts, depending on the device.  For audiobooks, I turn to local libraries in the cities where I live and work.  Although I sometimes borrow the actual CDs, I am lucky that both of my local systems have OverDrive, an app that lets me download audiobooks directly to my mobile devices, so most often I don’t even have to leave my car to check out new titles.

How do you hear stories from people of a variety identities and cultures?  What audiobooks or podcasts do you recommend?  Comment below or tweet with me @RachelHLuna.

How we listen determines who gets heard

Getting rid of cable.

By Jennifer Keegin

As of December, my husband and I pulled the plug on our cable. We decided to take the plunge, save some money and figure out if we could handle living without a DVR.

We’ve been Amazon Prime and Netflix streaming members for awhile, and having a small kid at home – we usually catch most movies via Redbox or Amazon rentals anyway. So we tacked on Hulu Plus and watched to see what happened.

For one, our bills from Time Warner are now a more manageable $57 and the only new addition is the $7.99 a month for Hulu Plus. Here some thoughts about each:

– Amazon Prime. We bought the Amazon Fire TV box and it allows us to access Netflix, YouTube and some other apps that we’ve discovered like Pluto.TV that have channels you can view with like all Katy Perry videos, all Fail videos, or all puppies all the time. It’s actually pretty cool and you can view it online here.

– Hulu Plus. This is where I miss the DVR like crazy. Yes, I can watch my shows on Hulu. But its the day after. AND some of my favorite shows aren’t on there. Downton Abbey – NO. Mad Men – NO. So that’s the downside.

– Speaking of PBS…We did buy an antenna that allows us to get like 7 channels and PBS is one of them. So I still get my Downton Abbey…but I have to watch it live. 😦

– For kids. My little girl goes through phases. First we found shows she would watch in the morning via Hulu. Netflix is always her app of choice in the evenings. But now, she’s back to watching PBS shows in the morning. Hulu is not as used as much for her. AND her new favorite thing is watching “blind box” toy openings on YouTube. So YouTube is the new hotness in our house.

So far we have been ok with the change, but it would be nice to still have the DVR. Oh well. I can deal.

Getting rid of cable.