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Running head: LEARNING JOURNEY NARRATIVE

Learning Journey Narrative


Alison L. Reimel
Loyola University Chicago

LEARNING JOURNEY NARRATIVE

The past two years feel like a time warp. Some of the days, even weeks, seemed to drag
on, but the months have flown by. All of the sudden, here I am at the end of my graduate school
career feeling a whirlwind of emotions. I am excited, anxious, unsure, confident, hopeful, and
downright scared all at the same time. Other times I only feel unsure and anxious or hopeful and
confident. There is one feeling however, that has yet to dissipate as this last semester comes
closer to a close. Accomplished. As I look back on the last two years, the personal,
professional, and intellectual growth is obvious to me. Class discussions, readings, and theories
have transformed the way I work with and for others. My role as a graduate assistant in the
Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (OSCCR) has helped me to develop my
professional skills, as well as determine what my future career looks like. Most importantly, my
graduate school experience significantly shaped the person I am today and the way in which I see
and interact with the world around me.
First, the content of my courses has served as a catalyst for my holistic development over
the past two years. As it should, it most directly informed the way I work with students in a
higher education setting, but it also shaped how I operate in my personal life. There are two
specific pieces of course content that have been transformative to my work and personal life.
First, Marsha Baxter Magoldas theory on self-authorship has consistently been a guiding light
for me professional and personally. Before reading about her theory, I likely could have told you
something that sounded vaguely familiar to it, because it makes sense. However, it was not until
after studying it that I began to see it everywhere. This theory was not just about the
development behind choosing a major or career path. It became much deeper for me. With a
personal and professional interest in sexual and domestic violence, I saw this in students talking
about what romantic relationship should look like. I utilized it in conduct hearings when

LEARNING JOURNEY NARRATIVE

students spoke to the peer pressures and expectations of drinking and drug culture. Most
importantly, I continue to reflect in it as it relates to my own life as well. At many points
throughout the program, especially lately as we engage the job search process, I find myself
reflecting on the formulas that exist for new higher education professionals. Attend The
Placement Exchange, commit to a national search, choose the role you feel called to, expect to be
in that role no more than three years, then you must move up or find another job. In this aspect
of my life, I sit at a crossroads with all the tension that comes along with knowing that a formula
and process does not fit your needs, but feeling less than if you do not engage it.
Another piece of course content that has significantly impacted me is that of Peggy
McIntoshs Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Though so much of our social justice course was
transformative for me, this article served as a jumping off point. A very clear outline of exactly
what privilege could look like helped me to then explore more deeply my privilege in a number
of different identities. Self-exploration and understanding is one of the most important things I
learned in reading McIntoshs work. Without understanding the self in context to the world
around us, how can we expect to understand and develop others. This self-understanding is at
the foundation of social justice work, and one of the most influential social justice concepts I will
take from my graduate school experience. Without it I do not believe one can truly be fully
engaged in working for a more just world.
Course work, reflection, and ongoing discussions about privilege have informed how I
worked with students in my role as graduate assistant and will continue to shape my work as a
professional is the future. Most specifically, there are three concepts that ground my approach to
working with students- assumptions, stories, and the ideas of with rather than for. First, I have
learned that it is critical to recognize my own assumptions about the world around me and the

LEARNING JOURNEY NARRATIVE

people who operate in it. Unrecognized assumptions allow for the cycle of oppression to
continue without challenge. When we assume things about our students, their identities, and
where they coming from, we do a disservice to their development and contribute to a system that
already operates from stereotypes. This leads to the second concept in my approach to working
with students, which is making space for students to tell their own stories. Stories break down
assumptions and even the act of telling them can feel liberating. Stories allow for ownership
over an experience and can be a simple but impactful way of advocating for ones self. Making
space for a student to tell you their story also gives them an opportunity to show you how they
want to be supported. In this way, I am able to work with students, rather than for students.
Again, if I see my role as a vehicle to develop students and challenge systems, working with
students puts them in the drivers seat as we both work to challenge systems and grow together.
As I move on from my role as the graduate assistant in OSCCR, these practices will continue to
drive the way I work with others, whether students, peers, or in personal relationships.
Not only has my graduate assistantship given me an opportunity to develop students and
challenge systems, but it also provided me further insight into my professional strengths and
passions. As I started in my second year in OSCCR, my now previous supervisor and I had a
conversation about what this year would mean for me as I left this role and started the next
professional chapter. She told me to take a hard look at the work I was doing within my role,
identify what I loved about my job, what I do not like about my job, and then when it comes time
to move on, look for opportunities to do more of what I love. As a result, over the past year, I
have been more intentional about taking time to really feel as I hear cases of alleged misconduct,
advise the Student Community Board, and create and implement a leadership development
curriculum. Allowing myself to be present with my feelings during work was not something I

LEARNING JOURNEY NARRATIVE

was used to doing. Doing different things within my role, I felt completely different ways. I felt
most energized when in a facilitation and training role and most challenged (in a positive sense)
when working one on one with students. This self-understanding shapes my job search and
future career path. Rather than looking for a certain title, I am looking for role that allows me to
do what energizes and challenges me.
As I reflect on my intellectual and professional growth, I realize that my personal growth
is so intimately entangled within these. In writing about course content and my role as a
graduate assistant in OSCCR, I also speak to personal growth as a result of these experiences.
The past two years have not just prepared me to be a higher education professional. This
experience has changed me to the core. Because of these experiences, I am more compassionate,
critical, engaged, and reflective in all aspects of my life. I am present with my palms facing up
to the sky, ready to feel. This mindset have deepened my personal relationships, allowed me to
feel more joy, but also more sit with my own discomfort. The days of going through the motions
are fewer and farther between. In looking back, I feel proud of what I accomplished as a student,
professional, and human being. I recognize my value and feel prepared to take that with me
confidently into my next chapter.