#higheredWed: 21st Century Industrial Education

I want to address a trending news story concerning a policy banning men from wearing their hair in cornrows and locs in a leadership program in the 5yr MBA at Hampton University, an HBCU in Virginia. Although recent attention has been brought to it, the policy has been around since 2001. It doesn’t affect all students, just men in this particular group being groomed for the world of executive business elites. (I shudder to imagine the gender-specific rules for women.)

Some have looked at this and praised Hampton for taking a realistic and practical approach to preparing Black men for the harsh reality of racism and prejudice that they will already have to overcome. This view says that we need not give people reasons to assign negative stereotypes to us before we ever have the chance to open our mouths.

Others have praised the policy because it teaches proper business etiquette. One must look the part to play the part, according to this view. This perspective also tacitly accepts the dominance of one definition of professionalism that has been culturally informed by one group – middle and upper class White men.

On the other side, some (many in my networks) folks are decrying Hampton’s policy for caving in to cultural imperialism and racial assimilation. By restricting how Black men can wear their hair, these detractors insist that Hampton is teaching Black men to reject their cultural heritage in favor of someone else’s. Such assimilationist policies reinforce the social conservatism that scholars Shaun Harper and Marybeth Gasman found in their report on the character of HBCUs.

I can see justification for each of these perspectives. However, they cannot co-exist in the current framework that positions current Black men MBA students as future White corporation’s employees. The only way to redress racism, look the part you want to play, and retain one’s self-defined cultural authenticity is to reposition current Black men – and women – MBA students as future owners/entreprenuers.

Let me step back. In order to understand how Hampton even instituted such a policy, we must revisit Black higher education after the Civil War and the two philosophies about the purpose of Black education that competed for prominence at that time. I love the way James Anderson discusses this topic in his book on Black education in the South; his framing of this tension has heavily influenced what I’m about to say here.

Industrial education proponents, including Booker T. Washington, advocated for an education that would equip newly freed Blacks for the jobs that were open to them at that time in the US due to acknowledged racial discrimination. These jobs required skilled labor to work in the burgeoning mechanical industries for men and as office workers and domestics primarily for women. This was often the only kind of education that White philanthropists would support. The institutions that arose from this philosophy included Tuskegee and Hampton among others who told their funders that they supported that educational mission but actually followed a different course. We see this play out at what are now Spelman and Bethune-Cookman colleges.

That different course, led by proponents like W.E.B. DuBois, demanded that Blacks have the opportunity to receive a “classic liberal education,” the same as White students would receive in college. Their vision was to train up a “talented tenth” (DuBois) that could fulfill leadership roles to promote community uplift. Colleges that strove to provide this kind of education included Fisk and Morehouse.

Either we are going to educate for accommodation with the status quo or we are going to educate for leadership. I find it ironic that a “leadership” program is implicitly using what I see as an industrial education paradigm. Why not educate its MBA students in the strategies and tools of entreprenuers, instead of grooming them to be worker drones (I’m suddenly reminded of Jerry Seinfeld’s movie “A Bee’s Life”)? A critical pedagogy does not train for discipline, but rather primes the pump for innovation.

I surmise that an institution cannot both aspire to a liberal education that develops leaders who can challenge the status quo AND tow the line on a social conservatism that reinforces White racial dominance. Hampton needs to make a choice and students need to decide whether that is an educational vision they want to fulfill.

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Home is Where

*EXTRA, EXTRA* This is what I intended to write about for Monday. I didn’t want to put it off until Friday, so here’s a special Tuesday edition of my What Remains blog for your reading pleasure.

Complete this sentence, “Home is where…” Umm, “the heart is?” I know, I thought the same thing initially on Sunday when our rector, the Reverend Liddy Hoster at Trinity Toledo opened her sermon with that not-at-all rhetorical question, and so did she, so she made us dig a little deeper and really consider how we would complete that sentence.

I volunteered with “Home is where you are loved.” Another responded with responses like “where if you go there, they have to let you in,” quoting Robert Frost. Others responded with “where you have secrets,” “where you have no secrets,” “where there is peaceful chaos” from a mom with four children under 5, and someone who has experienced living on the streets said, “Home is where you don’t go because you can’t.” It was getting deep fast and then another response came from one of our teens, who said “Home is where I can be me.” Okay, that hit me right in the chest. I am not really sure I heard most of the rest of Liddy’s sermon (sorry, Liddy) until the very end when she told us that God’s message to us was that we were his beloved ones and that we could come home.

I had been totally absorbed by this idea of home being where you can be yourself as you really are. Home is where you can be authentic, where you can be real, where you can be flawed, where you can be doubtful, where you can be anxious, where you can come with all your issues and your dreams and your funny clothes and funky hairstyle, and be accepted, and loved, and wanted.

What if we carried that idea of home further and considered what it means to not have that kind of home. It caused me to think about homelessness in a different way – not to undermine or trivialize the experiences of people who don’t have a physical roof over their heads – but actually to deepen my understanding of it.

Consider how many of our youth who live on the streets are there because “home” wasn’t a place where they could be themselves. According to some agencies who track these numbers, a high percentage of youth living on the streets are LGBT. They ran away or were put out by parents who couldn’t accept them as they were. They were not free to be themselves. “Home is where I can be me.” In other words, they are now un-housed because they were first made homeless.

LGBT folk and others who have been deemed to be “too much,” to be beyond the confines of normalcy, respectability, and our own provincial familiarity are also suffering from the homelessness of non-acceptance in their families, on college campuses, in their local communities – and in their churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship and fellowship.

Having a place where you can be you is so vitally important to our self-esteem and to healthy growth and development. It’s mandatory for our children. Young people need space to just be whoever they happen to understand themselves to be in that season. I’m not talking about letting children run free without discipline. I am talking about nurturing children’s passions, finding creative outlets for their interests, and supporting their experiments with how they want others to see them (dress and hairstyles), so long as they are not putting themselves or others in danger. This is how we figure out how to create the adults we want to grow up into. Restricting authenticity doesn’t protect our young people, it shuts them down and turns them dangerously inward like a turtle pulling its head into its shell. Growth doesn’t happen in the confines of restrictions.

Are you homeless today? Are you without a space (physically and psychically) where you can be yourself?

Are you creating homelessness for someone else by not accepting them for who they are, inclusive of all their strengths and limitations? Are we creating institutionalized homelessness in our colleges (see this story about Hampton’s business school’s 2001 policy banning male students in their leadership MBA program from wearing their hair in cornrows and locs)?

Are you someone’s home-space, that place where they can be authentic?

Are you seeking to create a home and to push that sense of home into all the nooks and crannies of your life? Are you eliminating from your life those places you call “home” but really are not because you cannot go there, because there is no one who will let you in?

I think these are questions we all need to consider for ourselves and those around us, especially for the young people whose lives we parent, mentor, and educate.

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Read more about my thoughts on Hampton’s policy and other institutional policies in this week’s #higheredWed post.

I Wish

This post was triggered by my Facebook newsfeed. It’s Facebook’s fault that I’m writing this because without Facebook I wouldn’t even know this idiocy existed. Really, I wouldn’t, especially not today because I’m writing this from a room with no TV. Unfortunately the room has free wifi, so I blame my Facebook newsfeed. You can blame Facebook too if you want. Too bad we’d all be wrong for blaming Facebook, when the reality is that people really don’t think very long before they talk – or maybe the problem is that they really did think about what they were going to say and didn’t realize how problematic it was.

What I’m talking about is Paul Slansky’s blog post in the Huffington Post that publicized (because he said no one had yet) a recent interview that Paul Ryan gave in which he describes rape as a “method of conception.” Here’s the post and it includes the video so you can hear it for yourself.

I posted a comment about it on my Facebook page and a friend commented “he did NOT say that.” A couple of other friends, including me, also responded with various versions of “Oh yes he did!” I went out for dinner and thought about it some (again because I was in a place with no TV) and came back to my TV-less room, listened to the clip again, and responded to my post with two really LONG comments that were just too long for Facebook. I liked what I said (hey, if I don’t like it why on earth would you and why would I bother sharing it??), so I decided to make it my blog post for today. It’s not what I was going to blog about today, but that’s okay. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

I listened to Paul Ryan again because my friend who contended that he hadn’t said that really actually is a friend and I like her, so I wanted to try to connect with where she was coming from (I’m what Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger,  Tarule call a “connected knower” in their book Women’s Ways of Knowing). So, I listened again and tried to hear Paul Ryan through my friend’s ears (a friend who identifies herself as “NOT pro-choice” but she’s not necessarily a Paul Ryan fan I don’t think but she doesn’t like people’s words to be twisted – I get that; I don’t like that either).

Here’s what I posted after listening to it again:

“Just listened to it again. In response to a question specifically asking about his stance on whether abortions should be legal in cases of rape, he said, “I’m very proud of my pro-life record and I agree that [no matter what or maybe it was regardless of] the method of conception, the [definition of life] is the same.” So, yes, his comment was directed explicitly to explain that he believes, as a pro-lifer, that life begins at conception regardless of how the fetus was conceived. However, the statement also makes rape pregnancy morally or ethically equivalent to consensual sex pregnancy by focusing on the ends and not distinguishing the means. In Ryan’s world, the ends (a life is created) justify the means (“regardless of method of conception”). This is what I and others find so odious about his comments and the stance of this segment of the pro-life movement (I recognize that not all “pro-lifers” have such extreme views).”

The quote isn’t exact because my memory misses stuff and I refused to put myself through listening to it yet again. I can only tolerate so much foolishness and my mom told me that foolishness is contagious. Anyway, I let my comment get posted and then thought of something else to say. I’ve got that below with some additions for clarity in brackets:

“In other words, no, Ryan didn’t actually say that rape was an acceptable method of conception [he wasn’t talking about rape as much as he was talking about how he defined when life begins]. But by refusing to condemn rape AND ALL ITS [POTENTIONAL] OUTCOMES, his comment can be read in that way. And I don’t think that reading is unfair either to him or to what he said. Maybe I’m wrong for that, but that’s where I am with this right now. [I am pro-choice but] I wish abortion didn’t exist. [But far more than I wish abortion didn’t have to exist, I wish] that women’s access to birth control was not eroded, esp for poor women. I wish far more that our protections and safety net for babies put up for adoption and placed in foster care were as strong and deep as some want them to be for fetuses who have just been conceived. I wish far more that the quality of women’s lives mattered enough to allow women the room to make decisions for their own bodies. I wish far more that ppl who call themselves pro-life fought as hard for lives already here who are hungry, unhoused, terrorized by poverty, unemployment, gun violence, police brutality, and the prison-industrial complex as they do for the lives they want to bring here [and some do]. I wish far more for a world where rape and all of its consequences were recognized as the horrific breaches of human dignity, worth, and self-determination that they are. I wish far more for the world my mother’s generation thought they had already [given] to us and now I see slowly being destroyed.”

This is what I wish for today.

I appreciate my friend’s challenge because it made me go back and think more deeply about why I was so angry by what Paul Ryan, Todd Akins, and others have said over the past week. I think some deeper thinking is necessary all around this issue, quite frankly. I guess that’s another wish.

#higheredWed (on Friday): Starting Grad School

From the looks of my Facebook notification feed this Monday, apparently a lot of universities resumed classes for fall semester this week or are in the throes of beginning in the next week or so. This means that all over the country (and increasingly across the globe), bright-eyed and eager folks are beginning graduate preparation programs in student affairs as master’s students or returning for doctoral study in the field. Usually I’m caught up with everyone else, faculty and new students, in the controlled chaos that is the first week of classes. Since I’m not this year, I’ve been thinking about what I would say if I had a class of first-year master’s or doctoral students in front of me. It’s pretty simple, just 3 things:

  1. When you start panicking and wondering if you are cut out for grad school, remember that you were admitted for a reason. And that reason has everything to do with both your demonstrated abilities and potential for continued growth. It’s not an accident, nor is it a mistake. You will likely experience some pangs of doubt, get your first B (or C) ever in life from that faculty member who seems to be out to get you (not likely), and wonder how you’re ever going to get enough sleep and stay sane. Regardless, you’ll get through this transition with strong support, positive self-concept, a realistic view of the situation, and adaptive strategies for success (you’ll smile when you learn Schlossberg’s Transition theory). It’ll be tough at times and that’s when you have to be real clear about why you’re here at this time in your life and what you intend to do with this degree when you finish. Write it out on a piece of paper and post it some place – several places – to remind you of why you’re here and keep you motivated to persist when you want to give up.
  2. Everybody else in your program is there for a reason also, so “use [them] as resources not benchmarks,” as my former student Caitlin Keelor once advised a group of her peers at Bowling Green State University. I’ll add to that sage advice that you should also make yourself available to be used as a resource by your peers. Share what you know, the success strategies that you’ve figured out, and the best place to study in town or the choicest spot in the library. This isn’t a competition and it’s not undergrad anymore so your class rank doesn’t matter. Nobody is doling out jobs when you finish based on where you fall in the GPA distribution of your cohort, nor is being granted interviews at placement a factor of whether you beat the grading curve. Whether you got a better grade than somebody else in your class should not be your focus. Rather, I would hope you would be more concerned with whether you did better on this paper than you did on the last one (because you actually took the time to carefully review the feedback and apply it) and what you’re learning about how to be an effective student affairs professional.
  3. Stop looking for someone else to give you the answers. Student affairs is an applied field. Although theories about how students learn, develop, and grow; college environments and their uses; and student outcomes will constitute a part of your coursework, they are of little use if you do not learn to recognize and apply them in actual practice. Learning how to do this does not come in a FAQ that you’ll get from your faculty member in class. So don’t ask them, “Well, how do I actually apply this in practice?” The answer for that is for YOU to figure out because using theory isn’t a math problem with a clear, logical right answer. Using theory is messy and complex and idiosyncratic (and absolutely necessary). You can’t be lazy about it and expect somebody else to tell you what to do. You must take the time to learn the theory, what it’s good for, how to recognize when a situation may call for its application and work it out in practice.

Bonus: This is for those of you who are starting a master’s degree after already working in student affairs (that was my path) or who are returning to school to earn your doctorate after several years of professional practice. It is hard, very hard, to be put in the seat of the student again; to lose the autonomy and authority that you earned in your full-time position. It can be especially hard to be placed in a graduate assistantship where you feel you know as much, if not more, than the people supervising you. However, I encourage you to allow yourself to be a learner again, fully. Embrace this opportunity to not have all the answers, to ask more questions than you answer, and to learn new ways of doing things. I’m not suggesting that you hide your expertise or that you allow someone to treat you like you’re a complete novice when you’re not. I am suggesting that you give yourself permission to be a student. There are some benefits to not having the buck stop with you.

It will be tough, especially this first semester, but you can do this. Use your resources at your institution (faculty, peers, supervisors, academic support centers) and get connected (or stay connected) to professional networks. Student affairs is the best profession in the world and higher education is the most compelling field to study (okay, so I’m a little biased), because what we do matters and can affect people’s lives in meaningful ways every single day we show up to do what we do. Dig in deep and hold on for the ride!

Rape, Pregnancy, and Non Sequitors

*WARNING: You’ll likely be ticked off by the end of reading this by something I’ve said. If you are deeply wedded to life-begins-at-conception beliefs, you really won’t like this. So, if you don’t like having your beliefs and the ways you’ve always read your Bible challenged, then you should probably stop reading now. And if you are going to be annoyed because they are not a bunch of links to allow you to verify what I’m saying, then you might want to stop reading now also. I figure it’s late, I’m tired, and you are fully capable of Googling all this if you doubt its veracity. I don’t mean to sound mean or hostile, I just want you to be prepared. Smile.*

Rep. Todd Akin, who is running for a Senate seat in Minnesota Missouri and sits on the House Science committee, went on record last week saying that in cases of “legitimate rape” the female body has ways of shutting down to prevent pregnancy – ergo there’s no need for a rape or incest exemption from more restrictive abortion laws. While the Republican Party is fighting like hell to get Akin to drop out of his Senate race and is distancing the party from Akin faster than Usain Bolt from his competition on the track, the reality is that Akin’s ideas are not that different than the Republican Party platform. Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick, co-sponsored a bill with Todd Akin that would drastically redefine rape to be limited only to “forcible rape.” Moreover, the Republican Party platform will announce abortion policy that would make abortion much more difficult to access while NOT exempting rape and incest.

My outrage over this has been building since Akin’s comments went viral over the weekend, but what provoked me to write this post was Mike Huckabee’s, former candidate for president, response to Akin. He has claimed that since there are people who’ve done great things that were the product of a rape, there shouldn’t be a rape/incest exemption because we don’t know what “God” might do with that life to redeem the horrible circumstances under which they were created. Sigh. I’ve got 4 issues with this that I’ll run down right quick. These four issues are in addition to the idiocy and ignorance that led to Akin’s comment in the first place. Basically, I find these comments to be about as ludicrous as the DirecTV commercials but not nearly as comical.

Issue 1: I take issue with the ideology that every conception is a blessing because God is present at every conception. Okay, I know I just lost about half of you. Hear me out, please. In the Bible, it is written that when 2 or 3 are gathered together in my Name [God’s], there am I [God] in the midst. Well, I simply do not believe that rape –any kind of rape, stranger, date, forcible, deception, manipulation, incest, incapable of consenting – sets up the conditions that meet the criteria for God’s abiding presence. Just saying. Therefore, every conception isn’t necessarily a blessing. Besides, blessings don’t just exist inherently. To name an experience, event, circumstance, or situation is a blessing or not is to engage in constructive meaning-making of that experience, event, circumstance, or situation. Basically, what may be a blessing in my eyes, may not be a blessing in yours and I can’t push my interpretation on to you.

Issue 2: I take issue with the ideology that says that the ends justify the means. To make it sound religious, I’ll use a phrase I grew up hearing: “God writes straight with crooked lines.” Now, I just lost about a quarter of the rest of you still reading this. If you’ll bear with me, I think you’ll see what I’m saying. I do believe that good can come out of evil, however, that is not a justification for abetting the evil. You do not use what *might* happen that could be positive as justification for continuing to victimize the woman who’s been raped. She did not consent to the sexual act, she therefore did not consent to the pregnancy, and therefore she should not be forced to consent to give birth. Period.

Issue 3: Now for the other half of what’s wrong with this idea that if you abort the fetus that is the result of rape, you might be depriving the world of its next great thinker, scientist, freedom fighter, etc. I have three words for you: Get. Over. Yourself. Let me expound. As much as I have grown to love the movie, I blame “It’s a Wonderful Life” for this narcissistic belief that the world would be irreparably damaged if you (or anybody else) weren’t born. One thing I do know is that God will find someone else to fulfill your role in His divine plan (if there is such a thing – personally I just think that the grand plan is to get us to treat each other with justice and equity and we experience things that we can choose to allow us to push toward greater equity and justice or push us away from it). Besides, in the movie “The Butterfly Effect,” it’s eliminating someone from Ashton Kutcher’s character’s life that finally sets everything right.

Issue 4: I take issue with this ideology that a woman shouldn’t have the right to choose what happens with her own body and more so that she should not elevate her needs over that of the fetus inside her. In the words of moral development theorist Carol Gilligan, higher levels of moral development centered around an ethic of care, involve women seeing themselves as morally equivalent to others instead of continually sacrificing themselves for others when doing so results in self-harm. What I see in the Republican Party’s anti-choice platform (because let’s be real, they’re not pro-life), is a denial of women’s moral equivalency. And that is just oppressive.

P.S. – I know I’m missing a #higheredWed post, but that will have to come tomorrow. I’m still trying to get the hang of keeping to my writing schedule while I’m doing my archival research. :/

#higheredWed: Advice for New Student Affairs Professionals

I’m devoting this week’s #higheredWed post to those folks who are starting their first full-time positions in student affairs. As a qualifier, I’m directing this primarily to new student affairs professionals who are coming directly from full-time graduate preparation programs and began those programs straight out of undergrad. This is, admittedly, a declining proportion of new student affairs professionals, but they still account for a significant number of new professionals in the field. These tips come from my 11 years of teaching master’s students in student affairs graduate programs and listening to the insights of dozens of those students over the years.

1. You will make new friends. For many of you, you’ve had a friendship group handed to you via your classmate peers since you went to kindergarten. This may be the first time in your life that you’re starting a new experience without anybody else being in the same boat. You may be the only new hire in your unit or in your division (less likely for those of you in residence life) and making friends will take initiative and assertiveness on your part that you’ve not had to exert before. All this notwithstanding, you will make new friends. You might just need to push yourself out of your comfort zone and strike up a conversation. I know, I know, that’s hard, but it’s worth it. Use professional networks to connect to other new professionals in the field (e.g., ACPA’s Standing Committee for Graduate Students and New Professionals), as well.

2. Make friends and socialize both on campus and off. Please don’t allow your work comrades to be the sum total of your socializing. Get to know a wide variety of people beyond your office and people who don’t work on your campus. You’ll appreciate this for a number of reasons down the line, not the least of which will be for the opportunity to NOT talk about your work all the time. Related to #1, if you take this time to explore new hobbies (or hobbies that were lost to your graduate studies!), you’ll make new friends and practice some life balance. Get off campus!

3. Don’t give up on your supervisor or your job. It really takes a least 3 years to really get settled in a new place and position. The first year you don’t know what the heck is going on. The second year, you’re starting to feel competent and get your bearings. In year three, you’ve got a rhythm and you have learned how things work a little better. If you throw in the towel after the first six months (unless things are really severe), you cheat yourself of the opportunity to rise to the challenge and grow in some unexpected and uncomfortable ways and you cheat the institution as well. Your supervisor may not be ideal and the job may not live up to your dreams, but you can benefit substantively from experiences that are less than ideal. Actually you might learn more. You might also want to check your assumptions and expectations that you had before you came in the door. Were they fair and realistic? Were they appropriate to the institutional environment? Did you take into account a full and complete understanding of your supervisor’s work load, personality, supervisory style?

4. Ask questions first, give ideas later. This is not the time for you to say, “Well at my grad/undergrad institution did it this way….” That’s the quickest way for your ideas to get dismissed and for you to be written off as the typically arrogant, know-it-all master’s graduate. Take the time to learn how things are done at your new position and WHY they are done in that way. What may have worked successfully at Institution A may not work as successfully at Institution B because of differences in culture, organization, resources, students, and staff dynamics. Ask questions that reflect a desire to learn and a humility about what you need to learn, not questions that passively imply rebuke.

5. Be confident about your skills and knowledge. Although you still have a lot to learn, you have already learned quite a bit and have some skills and knowledge to share and to work from. After all, that’s why they hired you in the first place. Know what you know and work with a spirit of excellence and improvement. This will confirm your supervisor’s decision to bring you on board. As you continue to gain competence, also plan to share your expertise with others through presentations at regional and national conferences and publication of effective practices.

6. Be a team player, not a competitor. A recent CSP grad, Caitlin Keelor, gave some advice to some first-year peers at the end of last fall that I think applies excellently beyond graduate school. She exhorted them to “use each other as resources, not as benchmarks.” In your new position, even though you may be the sole staff member responsible for X, you are likely working as a member of a larger unit, whether that me your department, or at smaller institutions, the student affairs division. Each individual is contributing to the success of the larger unit. Competing with others for recognition, resources, or prestige does not contribute to the whole. If you are doing good work, it will be recognized over time. More importantly, if you are doing good work, you are likely helping others do good work as well and benefitting the experiences and learning of the students at your institution. That’s what really matters.

7. Take seriously and invest in your own professional development. Although you’re happy to be done with classes and papers and grades, your learning isn’t finished. Keep up your professional organization memberships, both umbrella associations like ACPA & NASPA and functional-area specific associations if they exist in your area. Take some of that “extra” time you used to have to spend reading for classes and writing papers and read newly published research in the field (those association memberships typically come with a journal subscription included remember) , attend a webinar or workshop, and intentionally use national and regional conferences as opportunities to attend workshops and sessions that will help build knowledge and skills in areas that need to be developed. Find ways to join with others at your institution to do professional development in more cost-effective ways. For example, register for a webinar as a group and share the registration fee instead of doing it as an individual.

Your first year will be an amazing period of growth and learning for you and some times challenges will come along the way. However, you’re in this field for a reason; use those reasons to motivate you when the going gets tough. Finally, if you haven’t read Whitt’s 1997 article “Don’t  Drink the Water,” I highly recommend that you dig it out of your grad school readings or download it again from online. Her suggestions remain timely and helpful for both graduate students and new professionals. You are a welcome addition to our profession. We’re glad to have you and hope you’ll stick around for a couple of decades. 🙂

Happy New (Academic) Year!

Sorry for not posting on Monday (I did post to my research blog though); I’ll be taking this Friday off to decompress and enjoy some down time but I’ll be back on Monday, August 20!