An Open Letter to My Supervisor

Annie Forrest, Theta Zeta, University of Virginia
Annie Forrest, Theta Zeta, University of Virginia

Working at a national sorority’s headquarters is unlike any other experience in the world. Where else could I say that my teammates and supervisors are bound by the same promises to serve the organization as I am? They are bound by these promises because most of them are also initiated members of Sigma Kappa. It’s a commitment deeper than just signing a contract binding us to the same regulations and requirements. It’s a commitment to not only the organization, but also to to each other as sisters.

My supervisor does not get the credit she deserves. Her job does not end at 5:00 PM each day, nor do her weekends consist of radio silence from the office. Her office is not in one place; it is all over the country with each of the women she oversees. Her inbox is always full and her phone goes off literally 24/7. Her job is as much paperwork and reports as it is comforting my teammates and me when we’re upset. There is no limit to the number of hats she wears incredibly well or the roles between which she transitions flawlessly.

Although she is not physically present in Mobile, Alabama or Hickory, North Carolina with me, she gives me peace of mind knowing she is only a phone call or text away. Because of constant travel, late nights and an ever-changing schedule, I sometimes forget to tell her how much I appreciate what she does for me. I forget that she needs her cup to be filled, as well, as she so often does for me when I am in need of it. So, I hope this does the trick!

Elizabeth, there are so many things I didn’t know I didn’t know before I started this job, but you didn’t make me feel inadequate. There were difficulties I encountered that I didn’t foresee, but you didn’t make me feel weak for struggling. You understood me and my thought processes before I even understood them sometimes, but you let me try to figure things out for myself. There were personal impossibilities I couldn’t overcome, but you made me feel proud for even trying. There were personal impossibilities I did overcome (like living by myself) and you shared my successes with as much enthusiasm as I did. There were silly, little things that I needed (like extra locks on my front door), but you didn’t make me feel silly for needing them. There were times of frustration and hurt, but you always built me up instead of letting me give into those feelings.

Thank you for all those things. Thank you for answering emails I sent at 1:00 AM and then letting me call you early on a Sunday morning. Thank you for asking about my personal life each week. I knew you weren’t just asking to ask, but asking because you genuinely cared. Thank you for connecting me to extra resources, volunteers who could help me in my job search, and for supporting me in expressing my thoughts and opinions. Thank you for learning alongside me and for being interested in my passions. Thank you for the countless hours of advice, recommendations, and comfort. I felt comfortable sharing so much more than I thought I would with you. Thank you for being not only my supervisor, but also my sister and my friend.

Most of all, though, thank you for taking a chance on me. I am forever grateful for that.

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Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Hey y’all – it’s your resident anti-sexual violence LC here!

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so I thought I’d compile a list of resources for your perusal.

  • Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) is one of the best places to start any query into the realm of sexual violence information. With up-to-date statistics and many links to extend any search, RAINN is an umbrella organization that helps with any need concerning this topic.
  • The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) is another great place to start to get a basic understanding of the many facets of sexual violence and the best ways to prevent it, heal from it or help someone in need.
  • There are several different ways to find resources in each state, so here are a few. The links follow directly to the list of state resources.
  • When it comes to university resources, it’s best to start by searching for your individual institution of higher learning.
    • Start with campus resources like a women’s center or dean, then community resources.
    • Oftentimes, the services are free or on a sliding scale, so college students can afford to be seen by professionals.
    • The National Sexual Violence Resource Center does have a list of campus resources, to which the above text is linked.
  • If you’re interested in becoming an advocate or activist yourself, then here are some great links and organizations to check out!
    • Know Your IX – an organization of college students across the country committed to ending sexual violence. I subscribe to their newsletter, which lets me know what’s going on the world of Title IX and sexual violence prevention efforts!
    • Not Alone is another campus organization dedicated to ending sexual violence.
    • Take Back the Night events are held on college campuses across the country. If your school has an event/week for it, then get involved. If it doesn’t, then think about starting it yourself!
    • See if there is local, state or national legislation centered on sexual violence and contact the legislators about it. This was one of my most fulfilling experiences in college!

While the above list is not nearly exhaustive and really the mere tip of the iceberg, I hope that it can help you find resources for yourself, your loved ones, your sorority sisters or your university.

To end, here’s my favorite quote: “Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light. I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” -Sarah Williams

Social Media Cleanse

Annie Forrest, Theta Zeta, University of Virginia
Annie Forrest, Theta Zeta, University of Virginia

Mardi Gras is the best season of the year in my opinion. It’s a time when life is celebrated to its fullest with parades, free things upon free things, and truth behind the words “laissez les bon temps rouler” (or “let the good times roll”). After Mardi Gras ends and the last king cake is eaten on Fat Tuesday, the season of Lent begins. Regardless of your religious convictions, it can be good to either add something positive to your daily routine or take something away that’s causing a distraction. Reflecting on where you spend your time can be beneficial whether it’s during the time of Lent or any other time of the year.

Here are my personal reflections from giving up social media (in almost all forms) for the past 40+ days:

If you know me, then you know I love posting pictures and sending shout-outs to my friends on the ‘gram, the ‘book and all the rest. It was a spur of the moment decision to delete all the apps from my phone and ex out of all the tabs online (sans Snapchat and Tumblr), basically going cold turkey on one of my favorite things to do. I chose to keep Snapchat because it wasn’t an outlet that typically distracted me (plus, I love collecting geofilters on my journeys) and Tumblr because I use it as a source of news.

The first few days were weird. Waiting for people at my daily meetings, sitting on my couch at the end of the day, and waking up in the morning without automatically grabbing my phone was odd. It felt like an automatic reflex that I was fighting to stop, like my muscle memory could pick up my phone and open Instagram on autopilot.

I resisted, though, and it became easier. Each day I felt the urge to immediately check my phone in my moments of free time less and less. By now, I don’t think about opening the apps almost at all.

That’s only half of what happened to me after giving up social media, though. The other half revolves around the way I communicate with people — both virtually and in person.

Virtually:

  • I miss people. I miss seeing what they’re doing and them seeing what I’m doing in return. Social media is a community of people at its most basic state, and as someone with strong extroverted characteristics, I miss that community.
  • Despite studies that say it’s easier to fall asleep without your phone as a distraction and without all the light that a screen emits, I found the opposite to be true for myself. I actually have a harder time falling asleep now for whatever reason.
  • Because this job as a leadership consultant dictates so much time by myself all over the country, I feel less connected than I would like. I can still text and call people, but the times when I am by myself in my apartment or traveling to and from another chapter are lonelier than they were before.

In person:

  • I almost never get my phone out when I’m around other people. Whether it’s at a meal, riding in the car with someone, or hanging out wherever I may be, I keep my phone tucked away. This allows me to focus on the people I’m surrounded by in the present.
  • I became much more efficient in work-related matters. Writing emails, reports and job applications became much less time-consuming because I didn’t take breaks every so often to check social media. Once I sat down to do a task, I not only finished it in one sitting, but also in much less time than normal.
  • I noticed how much everyone else around me uses their phones much, much more than I did before. I wind up wishing they would put their phone down and focus on the experience and situation at hand. I also wish I had done the same for years before now.

Overall, I’m happy with my experience, but I don’t think social media is something I want to give up again. I became much more efficient and lived more in the moment, but I also missed people a lot more in the end. I think I can keep the lessons I’ve learned going forward about in person interactions and still browse through social media apps when I’m by myself.

After all, I have the coolest job ever and people deserve to see how great it is online!

Til it happens to you…

Annie Forrest, Theta Zeta, University of Virginia
Annie Forrest, Theta Zeta, University of Virginia

TW: sexual violence; suicide; mental health

Based on the title of the post, I’m sure you know where I’m going with this — straight to Lady Gaga’s earth-shattering performance of “Til it Happens to You” at the Oscar’s this past weekend. If you missed it, here’s the video of one of the most powerful acts of solidarity for survivors of sexual violence.

Let me give you (and myself) a moment to get a Kleenex and dry our eyes before this post continues.

Lady Gaga wrote the song for the documentary “The Hunting Ground,” which showcases stories of survivors on college campuses across the country. I first saw the film almost a year ago at my own university, which is used as an example of an institution that expels students for cheating, lying and stealing but never once for sexual violence.

It’s a reminder to all of us that there are unimaginable difficulties for students during their collegiate years and that we also have an opportunity to step out of comfort zones, commit to uniting in solidarity and work to make college campuses safer for those around us.

Especially as sorority women, the reality is that there are multiple survivors of sexual violence, suicide, battles with mental health, etc. in our own chapters–many of whom will feel unable to expose their fights because of stereotype and stigma. If it hasn’t happened to you, Lady Gaga is right to say that you don’t know how it feels, but you can know how to fight alongside your sisters and fellow sorority and fraternity members.

Here are a few examples of how to do just that:

  • Look up campus resources with the person in need of them instead of just suggesting they do it themselves
  • Offer to escort a sister to her first meeting with a dean, mental health specialist, Title IX investigator, police officer, women’s center professional, etc.
  • Watch “The Hunting Ground” and do research as to how your own university handles sexual misconduct
  • Use an informal chapter to have a guest speaker come in and show everyone what resources are available on campus and in the community
  • Volunteer at a crisis center/hotline
  • Sponsor or co-sponsor a “Take Back the Night,” Suicide Awareness Week or mental health event as a way to break down stereotypes
  • Listen when someone discloses to you – always say “I believe you” and “It’s not your fault”

Most importantly, be kind. College is a hard enough time without dealing with added trauma or mental health issues, but if you’re fortunate enough to have sisters like the ones I had during my collegiate years, you will be able to share how it feels when it happens to you and be surrounded by support.

 

What I Didn’t Learn in College

Annie Forrest, Theta Zeta, University of Virginia
Annie Forrest, Theta Zeta, University of Virginia

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t necessarily graduate college with all the tools I needed to join the workforce, especially when it came to filling out job applications. Who do I choose for references? How do I format a cover letter? What’s a writing sample? No, seriously, what is a writing sample?! Maybe you had an awesome college class that prepped you to answer questions like these, and to be honest, I’m a little jealous. Unfortunately, I didn’t. So if you’re like me–completely unsure about where to begin when it comes to job applications, then let a sista help ya out by sharing what I’ve learned over the past post-grad year!

In order to keep this blog post somewhat concise, I’ll focus on the most important written piece of the job application process–the resume.

First things first: what is a resume?

A quick Google search tells us that a resume is “a brief account of a person’s education, qualifications and previous experience, typically sent with a job application.”

This being said, a resume is your chance to show potential employees just how well you could fit into their company based on your experiences.

Just like your college professors might have cared a little too much about how you formatted your term papers in APA or Chicago style or whatever else, the way you format your resume is of the utmost importance. Make sure it is no longer than one page. I’ve heard of employers who discounted applicants solely for the fact that their resume was greater than one page in length and that some employers simply refuse to read past the first page. I can tell that you’re an incredible person with many accomplishments, but I promise that you can keep it to one page.

As you begin formatting your resume, make sure each section of it is consistent with the other sections. If you use Times New Roman font for your header, then use it all the way through. If you use complete sentences, then only use complete sentences. If you space the dates at which you worked somewhere else to the right margin, then keep that up til the end. Just another small detail that will take your resume to the next level!

Once again, I know you’re a wonderful person with so many past experiences that you can barely fit them on one page, but make sure you’re catering the experiences you choose to showcase to the specific company to which you’re submitting an application. For me, it doesn’t make sense to showcase every experience I’ve had with sexual assault prevention and education if I’m applying for a job that has nothing to do with prevention work. Highlight the parts that are most relevant to the job in question.

Another seemingly obvious, but often overlooked, piece of the resume puzzle is to check for spelling and grammar mistakes again and again. Your resume is the one chance you have to impress a potential employer, so make sure they don’t get distracted by a simple spelling mistake. I know I caught an accidental misspelling of Sigma Kappa in my resume last week. Thankfully, I found it before submitting it anywhere. Such a simple mistake that checking and rechecking easily rectified!

When writing descriptions of your experiences, use the present tense and action verbs. This way, the people reading your resume know that you actively did the tasks about which you’re speaking and more quickly understand why those tasks are relevant to their company. Conciseness is also encouraged since you have limited space and the employer has limited time. Remember that you’ll have a chance to explain your resume in greater depth during an in-person or phone/Skype interview, so get to the point by stating exactly what you did in your previous experiences.

Now that you’ve written everything down clearly and concisely, and catered to the employer, make sure that it’s written clearly and concisely for anyone else to understand. Your best friend and her CEO father should come away from reading your resume with the same level of understanding of your past experiences. What might seem clear to you may seem like Greek (pun intended since I work for Sigma Kappa) to someone else. Have several people check over your resume before submitting it.

I hope this post helps you rock your next resume revamp session (or makes it easier to start one if you haven’t gotten around to it yet).

Stay tuned for more helpful hints for entering the professional world!

Not Your Typical Relationship Advice

Annie Forrest, Theta Zeta, University of Virginia
Annie Forrest, Theta Zeta, University of Virginia

I’m a pretty live-in-the-moment kinda gal. Instant gratification tends to bite me in the backside more often than not because I’m so consumed in the “now” that I don’t think about the future. There are many aspects of adult life at which I am far from good–saving money, not eating the last donut, watching the next episode of Netflix even though I’ll be exhausted the next morning. Needless to say, when I took this position as a leadership consultant who lives far away from home and travels a good deal of the time, I worried how it would affect my relationships. Since I’m so in the moment and tend to only cultivate the relationships around me at time being, I was worried my other relationships would suffer. I was surprised to find that traveling so much caused my relationships to grow, not diminish. My interactions with those I love became more intentional and I’d like to share some tips from this past semester on how that happened and how it can happen for you world-travelers out there, too!

 

  1. Use the minutes “in between.” Those annoying moments waiting for your order to be called at a restaurant or doctor’s office, quick minutes driving in the car and few spans of time before a meeting starts can all be valuable time to talk to loved ones. Even if you only have a couple minutes to spare, the person on the receiving end of the text/call/snap/whatever will be thrilled you thought of them.
  2. Never underestimate the power of a handwritten note. Seriously, y’all, handwritten notes are the bomb, and in case you were wondering, the post office does still exist. When you have five extra minutes, write your best friend a note or grab a $1 postcard and send it away. Drop it in the closest mailbox and make someone’s day!
  3. Communicate in your most effective way. During the past few months, I realized that I loathe written communication. I would much rather pick up the phone and hear someone’s voice. It’s easier for me to communicate with the people I love now because I don’t dread having a drawn-out text conversation. I just pick up the phone, chat for a few minutes and say I’ll do the same next week. Find your communication style and try using it more.
  4. Don’t worry about bothering someone. Sometimes the reason someone doesn’t text or call someone else is because she or he don’t want to “bother” him or her. But honestly, the vast majority of people won’t be upset that you took the time to think about them and then act on that thought with a nice note/text/call/email (and if they are, think about getting some new friends!).
  5. Keep realistic expectations. I also realized that sometimes I would only get to see some of my best friends for a few minutes or long enough to grab coffee or dinner. Keeping realistic expectations about time spent together is important, especially with friends or family you’re used to seeing for extended periods of time.

It’s all about the quality of time spent together or talking and not the quantity. So, pick up your phone next time you’re walking to your car, you communication guru, and make someone’s day!

(Thanks)Giving Back

Annie Forrest, Theta Zeta, University of Virginia
Annie Forrest, Theta Zeta, University of Virginia

As Thanksgiving approaches, it is important for us to remember the true meaning of the holiday. For many of us, it is traditionally a time to eat turkey, ham, stuffing, and mashed potatoes with gravy, all while citing the blessings for which we are most thankful; however, our duty as American citizens lies far beyond just verbalizing our thankfulness for friends and family and gathering around the television to watch football during this time of year.

We must recognize that the first Thanksgiving was a time when the Native Americans and British colonists came together to celebrate a plentiful harvest–of food and friendship. Because these two groups came from such different backgrounds and worshiped such different deities, Thanksgiving was also a time to observe these differences in culture and heritage. We must acknowledge the meaning behind this celebration and commit to continuing its legacy in the way those at the first Thanksgiving would want. To do this, we must also lift high the beauty of diversity in our nation–the common thread that weaves us all together as Americans today.

Diversity can be a scary topic to discuss, especially among National Panhellenic Conference sororities with a reputation for not being open to women of all races. We have a long history of segregation (racial, sexual orientation, financial, cultural) within our own groups, but there are certainly ways for us to help promote sororities as places of diversity. After all, it is 2015!

Here is list of ways I came up with (with help from my boyfriend, Rob) to interact with diversity–of all kinds–as sorority women this Thanksgiving on more than just a verbal or theoretical level:

  • Serving food at a homeless shelter before, on, or after Thanksgiving with your immediate or sorority family and friends.
  • Hosting a canned food drive to benefit a local soup kitchen or shelter. (This also directly correlates to Sigma Kappa’s value of service.)
  • Inviting neighbors or friends over to your house on Thanksgiving to celebrate different Thanksgiving traditions. Some families don’t cook traditional Thanksgiving meals, so combining your dishes is a great way to come together.
  • Hosting an event at your chapter house with a Panhellenic council or  Multicultural Greek council to do the same thing. You can all go around and talk about the ways your families or friends celebrate Thanksgiving while chowing down on a potluck dinner!
  • Saving some of the money from your Black Friday shopping fund and donate it to an organization in your community to which you have never donated. This could be an LGBTQ youth organization, a predominantly black community church or anything else.
  • And of course, Instagramming, tweeting or posting about your experiences on Thanksgiving–whether they are traditional or not. Our diversity should be celebrated and not hidden!

Thanks-giving back comes in all shapes and sizes!