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Forever blue and white: a Wildcat’s journey

Marked by alcoholism, homophobia and expulsion from both the school and my initial major, my time at UNH has been unpredictable. With my undergraduate career set to end with the conclusion of the spring semester, TNH has been kind enough to allow me to write about my experiences at UNH. Given the odd road taken to get to my degree, I hope this piece – at best – proves helpful to other students who may be struggling to find their footing on campus and – at worst – is an entertaining piece of voyeuristic schadenfreude. To note, due to the changing nature of undergraduate organizations I have elected not to name those that I had negative experiences with as I do not want the actions of past students to affect current perceptions of groups who are now vastly different. 

My connections to UNH began in the summer of 2012 when I took a course through the Continuing Education program while living in a halfway house in Dover. Having received my GED years prior, I took the course to prove to myself that I could handle college-level work. Juggling the class with two jobs proved difficult, but I managed to claw my way out of it with a “B” and convinced myself to apply to UNH for a major in social work. I was accepted and started school in the fall of 2014. 

My decision to attend UNH ultimately came down to the kindness shown to my unique situation by both the Department of Housing and Carola Organschi of Admissions. Due to being 21, Housing did everything they could to ensure I lived in Babcock Hall with other nontraditional students while Carola proved – and still does prove – to be a master at connecting me with necessary contacts.

During the fall 2014 semester, I became close to a coworker of mine and attempted to rush his fraternity. I also got involved with an organization on campus where I became program coordinator when the position opened. I even joined Student Senate upon learning of the vacancy of the Babcock seat. After a successful but rather bland first semester, the rose-colored glasses I had on began to lose their tint. 

In spring, tensions started to rise between my coworker and I as well as the organization for which I was program coordinator. I attempted to rush my friend’s fraternity again but was turned down and told that it was due to my sexuality; for the other organization, my wariness of what specific events signaled to the UNH community lead its members to say to me that I was “not gay enough” to serve as a member. I brought my concerns to MaryAnne Lustgraaf who, though she could not do much due to a lack of physical evidence, gave me reassurance in the fact that she believed the discriminatory events did occur. 

On top of this, my grandmother passed away that spring and, compounded with the stress of failing relationships, I turned to Student Senate, Phi Mu Delta – who had given me a bid – and alcohol for relief. For reference, my drinking became so constant that I only sobered up for work. On one particularly bad night, I had an entire bottle of absinthe and – were it not for my fraternity brothers checking in on me – I am not sure if I would be here to recount what I went through as my BAC was well above a .4. 

Following that incident, UNH administration asked that I leave school, deal with my issues and return at a later date. The impersonality of the Counseling Center’s “help” – as well as the overwhelming amount of bureaucratic red tape they put up as I attempted to return to school – has made me wary of going to the Center since coming back to UNH. Drs. Joan Glutting and Shari Robinson, however, deserve commendation for their work in changing what was an extremely toxic culture at the Center. As I have told Dr. Glutting personally, both of them have succeeded “in raising the Titanic.” 

Returning to UNH in the spring of 2016, I chose to focus on my academics. One class, in particular, stands out. I took the second part of a required social work class, called Human Behavior & the Social Environment, and still bemoan the ineptitude of the professor who taught it. Instead of learning about how people act within their environment and how to help those who may find themselves struggling, the professor would spend entire classes going on worthless tangents – such as the time he walked the Florida Keys or on how much he hates the dentist – rather than teaching the required material. We received so few grades throughout the class that students were completely unaware of how they were doing. The only thing that appeared to matter was attendance. I even once had a friend sit in on the class, and she could not believe that this was the education that social work students pay for. I attempted to bring my concerns to the department, but – apart from one professor – my concerns were dismissed. For the sake of the students, Prof. Miller, I hope that you have gotten better at your job, though from what students tell me I still have reason to believe otherwise. 

Other parts of that semester, however, were incredibly positive as my Human Biology and Intro to Anthropology courses would lead to teaching assistant opportunities. Opportunities I have remained in for the past three years. The former has helped me learn how to teach across scientific disciplines while the latter showed me how to conduct the type of research I hope to focus on in my post-undergraduate education. These two experiences have helped provide the much-needed growth required for me to succeed at UNH. So, Drs. Anderson and Golomski, thank you for all you have done. 

In the fall of 2016, I rejoined Student Senate, eventually became historian, and began working to help the organization reclaim its history due to the misplacement of files in previous sessions. Learning about the history of the University allowed me even greater opportunities as I pieced back together Senate’s past. I am especially grateful to the help I received from the Speical Collections & Archives, TNH, and those I interviewed as I would not have succeeded without their support. That project, however, was the high point of that year as I would soon face my expulsion from social work. 

The official reason for my removal from the social work department in the spring of 2017 is due to – in the shortest of terms – insubordination. To an extent, this action is understandable, as I was severely antagonistic to many of the professors in the department. My behavior, however, was not without good reason; being told many times by various professors that I “could not be both a Republican and a social worker,” this flagrant display of personal bias is incredibly inappropriate for those working at a state university, and those professors deservedly earned my lack of respect for their constant unprofessionalism. The interim department chair even told me that I needed to “stop questioning authority” when I stated that students have a right to bring concerns they have to the attention of the department. I was also told by another vocal Republican student that – though they specifically requested that their internship not involve a specific environment – the department put them into that exact type of location while all other students’ requests were respected. Even today, I am still waiting on a response from the chair of the department for me to look over my student records. I made the request back in October, and it is now well beyond the 45-day limit allowed by federal law. Dr. Shannon, let this serve as yet another reminder.  

In many ways, I am better off without a department that refuses to examine themselves critically in a meaningful manner, and I know I am not the only person who feels this way. In my experience, and in talking to others, the social work department is incredibly entrenched in the proverbial ivory tower due to internal concerns that academics outside the field do not take the profession seriously. Thus – from both a personal and historical analysis of the department – the department must ensure that only a specific type of person becomes a social worker; ones who only examine societal faults in ways that do not include turning the introspective magnifying glass on the profession itself. Through it all, I am glad that I had the sociology department to fall back on as I find the environment far more understanding of what I feel is one of the most important tenants of higher education – learning how to critically examine the world around you even if the discoveries made may conflict with personal beliefs. 

In blending the spring semester of 2018 with the entirety of this year, I have had an uneventful final push. Given the negativity of previous years, I have spent time with those that I care about and have even met with many of the new administrative faces around campus. One event worth noting is my dinner with President Dean before the start of the year. 

I had emailed President Dean when he sent out a communication introducing himself to the UNH community. In less than half an hour, I had received an email back where he suggested that we sit down to discuss my experiences as a student. The fact that he proved so willing to reach out proved a nice change of pace, so I agreed. We talked about the culture of UNH and how it differs from UNC and some of the issues UNH has had over the years. Many of his areas of expertise seemed primed towards many of the concerns people commonly bring up at UNH, and I left the meeting with a sense of hope for UNH’s future and felt the Board of Trustees had chosen the correct person for the job. I still think this, but have noticed many parallels between President Dean’s way of doing things and former President Nitschke’s and am interested to see how his tenure proceeds. 

Other than that meeting, the year has been uneventful as I left many of my positions due to concerns over my mother’s health. I have spent the year watching from the sidelines and preparing for graduate school while attempting to juggle everything else. Even so, my connections have allowed me to see things from an administrative point of view. Dean Kirkpatrick currently oversees my thesis and commonly talks with me about UNH’s evolution throughout the years, Dr. Anderson has given me pointers on how to teach at a collegiate level, and the entire Archives staff have given me an in-depth rundown on what to expect in what I hope is my future career. Given my goals in life, I am especially appreciative of these people – and many more – for helping me learn how to navigate my future. Were it not for them; I doubt I would have ever reached a point in my life where pursuing a master’s degree is a genuine reality. 

My time at UNH has been difficult, but I found my footing thanks to those who believed in me. For others who may be having a difficult time, I hope this piece has proven somewhat useful in showing how even those who face difficulties can find some form of solace on campus. Not only have I grown, but UNH has as well. State colleges offer a unique opportunity to educate those who may not believe they have the abilities or resources needed to succeed. I am indebted to UNH – for reasons beyond my incurred loans – and hope that I can eventually return to give back to the institution that has provided me with so much. 

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