Take a Look. It’s in a book.*

I earned two degrees of higher education, and when I say earned, y’all I sweated for six years for those coupons that hang on the wall of my office. I would ball up into a study cocoon with ridiculously large headphones in the study room of D2C, the basement of SWEM Library, classrooms in Morton and in my grad school home at #2 Fraternity Row where I did a surprising amount of writing papers and reading stacks on stacks of articles and books.

books 1

I take for granted all of the material that I was strongly encouraged to read during those years. I chose to be a Sociology major so I spent a great deal of time, in community with others, looking at the world through the lens of various social identities. I then went to a grad program that greatly valued diversity & inclusion which means I spent time digging even deeper into the Big 8. I had amazing professors and though I didn’t always enjoy those pages and pages of syllabi, I am now grateful for the depth and the challenge of my classroom education.

As I scroll through social media, watch the news,  and experience the viewpoints of others, I am constantly amazed at the level of ignorance people have when it comes to race and ethnicity in America. There’s so much well-intentioned, “I didn’t know.” “I wasn’t exposed to that.” “I’m colorblind.”  “We didn’t talk about this in my home or school.” “I didn’t grow up with people who are different from me.” “My parents/family members instilled these beliefs in me.”  I don’t want to harp on that because there’s a whole lot of things I don’t know about many identities. We’ve all got our bubble of truth. However, what I think we all need in this world is the gumption to go beyond our often over forgiven excuses of truth.

If you truly care and you want to know more and be an active part of creating a better environment for all people, then it would be helpful if you used your Google finger to lead you to material that will aid you in ways that will create internal growth and change.  Texts that can serve as a medium that will help you stock your toolkit with answers to the questions that are marinating in your head. This foundation will also help you start a conversation with someone in your life who’s open to chatting about the hard stuff — you know, the stuff you were probably told not to talk about at the dinner table.

Oftentime, we cite fear as being the reason that we don’t move towards learning and engagement. “What if I say the wrong thing?” “I don’t want to be called a racist.” The question becomes, do you care enough to face your fear? Ignorance isn’t bad, it just means that you don’t know and we all need to support each other in the fight to alleviate ignorance. This should be a collective goal, which is probably why I am passionate about my role as an educator.

If you do your homework, then I, as a person of color,  will feel as if you have an investment in our dialogue and therefore I’m more than willing to chat it up until we have somewhere else to be, but when people come to me at ground zero, after they just finished Googling how to catch a Pokemon, who JoJo sent home on the Bachelorette,  the latest on the Kim K, T.Swift, Kanye drama, or how to change the oil in their Toyota, then I really can’t be bothered. Because, in this day and age, when you want to know something, you look it up with a quickness. Be mindful that you have the same ability when it comes to race and ethnicity. Your “I don’t know.” has become a choice. Now you must deal with the consequences.

I didn’t have everything figured out about my racial identity when I entered the College of William & Mary in 2001. I had a lot of hang ups about my Blackness, my skintone, my not so great relationships with many of my African-American peers in high school, the constant state of being called an “Oreo” or being told that I “act like a white girl”. I was done with trying to fit into some mold of blackness that didn’t feel natural to me. I read “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison repeatedly. My Sociology classes and all of those unicorn professors helped me figure it out and not only did we have the best class conversations, but they gave me SO MUCH STUFF TO READ. I don’t think we could Google back in those days.

Your teachers never just told you the answers, you had a role to play in obtaining your education. Why would this be any different?

If you are wondering what you can do in these precarious times, if you have questions, if you’re just curious, then feed your mind. I don’t mind a good conversation but, I am not every black person–I can only tell you my truth.  Ahem! Newsflash! This stuff is tiring and emotional. It’s exhausting to be the Encyclopedia of Blackness.  To help me, help you, you’re going to have to help yourself.

In order to assist you on your journey, I made a list of some of those key texts that I read in college and graduate school. I also included a group of links below to curated book lists. I’m not going to lie, this stuff is heavy,  and I remember having my mind blown while reading some of these texts as an 18-22 year old.

History is taught differently depending on where you live. I grew up in Virginia, a southern former member of the Confederacy state,  45 minutes from Colonial Williamsburg, with Jamestown and Yorktown in close proximity, and a huge military presence, so there was a great deal of emphasis on the origin story of our country.  I had to learn, not until college,  that history books glossed over and lied about many things.

Q: Whose truth gets told?

A: The truth of those in power. “Until the lion learns to write, every story will always glorify the hunter.”

It’s difficult to live from a place of awareness and knowledge when the institutions you’ve trusted with your education aren’t providing you with various versions of the truth or lying by omission.

books 2

Gain some new perspective. Evaluate new truths. Refine your truth. Read for you and read for those you care about in this world. You owe it to your potential. Reflect on the versions of truth that have guided your life and be open to disruption. Be open to the dissonance that occurs when you dig deep into a new space. THEN, ask the questions festering in your mind. Those questions are simply waiting…waiting for you to gather the courage to ask.

Happy Reading!


Vanderbilt’s Office of Inclusion Initiatives and Cultural Competence created an entire diversity toolkit here: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/iicc/resources/diversity/

*Reading Rainbow was just EVERYTHING!

The Freshman Project



A couple of years ago I did a five post series called, College, Ready or Not?, that focused on finances, making friends, going Greek, stress management, and the importance of listening to your instincts in the collegiate environment. This was great foreshadowing for the opportunity I had to contribute to The Freshman Project: A Collection of Practical and Clever Advice About The College Experience. This book is for college students diving into their first-year of college AND for those people in their life who serve as their advocates, allies, mentors, friends, teachers, guidance counselors, mentors, and champions.

After serving as a Student Affairs staff member on the campuses of Duke University and Vanderbilt University for the past 9 years, I know that parents/guardians always want to know, “How do I prepare my student for college?” This book can help you answer that question with pages of expert knowledge that help you have the conversations that matter most with your student.

Gift this book to a student and they can spend some time preparing for their next incredible chapter.

Topics include:

  • Survive Failure
  • Build Healthy Love Relationships
  • Pick a Major
  • Be a Beginner
  • Navigate Depression and Anxiety
  • Discover Leadership Opportunities
  • Honor the Differences
  • Sleep Smart
  • Consider Fraternity/Sorority Life

All of these topics are critical for an incoming college student to discuss with a caring individual in their life AND there are still many more topics in the book. Providing them with this information will provide a strong foundation that will help support them as they navigate their first-year of college.

I’m honored to have a chapter in the book “Discover Leadership Opportunities”. Erin Fischer of The Leadership and Training Studio put together an all-star roster of expert contributors who give you top notch nuggets of wisdom.

If you’re a student or a supporter of a student and you want  deeper insight into the collegiate experience while adding some tools to your toolbox to help you both be successful, then this book is for you.

Want a copy? I’d love to send you some purchase information.

Want to develop a program around the first-year college experience?

Email me at krystalnclark@gmail.com so that I can send you purchase information and we can begin planning something positive for you community.


Want to read my series, College, Ready or Not?

Part 1

Come Back to Calm

Inconvenient Friends

Go With Your Gut

Money, Too Much and Never Enough

The Greek Thing


Thanks for reading.



6 Things You Need to Have in Your Toolkit to Thrive as a YP

Moving to Nashville in 2011 was the beginning of a whole new life for me. The YP Community in this city is strong and the city takes an interest in engaging and developing the 23-40 year old population that eagerly roams around this thriving metropolis. Check out YPNashville .

B Cards

I quickly had to learn the ropes of navigating Music City to accomplish my ever present goal of being a “mover and shaker” as well as the specific goal I set upon my departure from Durham, NC to “attack the city in which I live”. I’m a firm believer in giving back to the place in which you live and work and have fully embraced the life of being a “residential tourist”. Nashville is blessed to be changing everyday and I haven’t gotten bored even once during almost 4 years. I’m a total tourist, like, I go to the Tennessee State Museum to check out the new exhibits type of tourist.

During this adventure, I’ve discovered 6 things that will give you a better chance of thriving in a city like Nashville. A place that networks, has junior boards, numerous fancy dress pay parties, over 20 organizations solely for YP, and a city you think is big until you find that you run into the same people all the time.

1. Resume. I know this sounds obvious but you’d be surprised the number of people who don’t have an updated resume. I update my resume on a weekly basis. For many things that you apply to be a part of in the city whether it’s a leadership development program, an awards program, a member of a board or committee, oh, and if you’re applying for a new job, you will need to submit a resume. People want to know your skillset, where you work, what you do, and how you spend your time. If you have a great conversation with a person at a networking event and they ask you to “send me your resume”, it’ll make life a lot easier if you’ve already got that taken care of on your desktop. Check out the link above to get some tips from Levo League about how to make your resume pop.

2. Business Cards. If you’ve been issued a standard office B-Card that’s totally acceptable and you should applaud yourself for achieving that professional milestone. There’s something sweet about receiving a box of 500 fresh business cards that confirm you’re a part of the team. However, for my life outside of my office, I decided to invest in cards that showed off a bit more personal style. The cards contain my personal contact information and details about my Nashville involvement and official side hustles of speaker/facilitator/presenter/blogger. These don’t have to be expensive. Check out MOO.com or VistaPrint. People react well and always smile when I offer a warmer and more personal version of the stale and often tossed white and sharp edged business card. More tips at the link above.

3. Social Media. Have a presence. Keep it clean. You don’t have to engage on all outlets but pick one or two that you can commit to keeping fresh and representative of who you are or what you aspire to become. People will check. LinkedIn is great for professional networking, Twitter, because I enjoy live tweeting events and it is an efficient way to get speedy personal and professional development nuggets as you move throughout your day. 140 character sound bites always add fodder to a conversation. Facebook is my place to affirm my brand through daily motivational posts and it allows me to keep up with the largest extended network from college until the present. Instagram is the preferred medium of most these days. Love the visuals. You’ll never find me on SnapChat. 

4. Bio. Yes, you’ve got a resume but you’ll often be asked to submit a bio to be used in an event program, to use as a method to introduce you to an audience, or just as a concise way to get to know you. Here’s my bio:

Krystal Clark, M.Ed. is a native of Portsmouth, VA. Her undergraduate degree in Sociology/Psychology was earned at The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA and her M.Ed. in College Student Personnel was obtained in 2007 from The University of Maryland, College Park. Upon graduation, she moved to Durham, NC and worked in Fraternity & Sorority Life at Duke University. Krystal came to Nashville, TN in May of 2011 to work as the Associate Director of Greek at Vanderbilt University. In May 2013, she began her adventure as the Associate Director of the newly created Office of Student Leadership Development at Vanderbilt. Krystal is the Vice President of Membership for the Junior League of Nashville, Reader for Book ‘Em/Reading is Fundamental, a member of the Junior Board of Women in Numbers, a volunteer for the YWCA, a former Big Sister for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee, a past member of the Board of Directors for Girls on the Run Nashville, a member of ACPA (College Student Educators International) and currently volunteering for her 10th year College reunion. Clark was a finalist for the Nashville Emerging Leader Award in the field of Education in 2012 and is the 2015 YP Nominee for the Nashville ATHENA Award. When she’s not working at Vanderbilt she serves as a speaker/facilitator at college campuses across the country. In her spare time, Krystal enjoys partaking in the music scene, blogging at peculiarpearl.com, is a Barre3 enthusiast, and strives to be a residential tourist taking in all that Nashville has to offer.

5. A smile. Seriously, when you’re floating around a big-small town you want to be someone that people are happy to see. I moved here without knowing a soul and a smile coupled with a hello got me through a lot of situations and made me some fast friends. A smile and a handshake moved me through my first networking event. A smile and a hug (this is the south) connected me quickly to a cause. A smile and a willingness to help is everything. A smile and a hand raised to ask a good question. A smile and a head nod to signal authentic engagement in a conversation. Smile. It makes you approachable. It makes you interesting. It makes people feel like they already know you. Smile.

6. Headshot. No better way to show off that smile than in a headshot. No more photos with the hand of a cropped out buddy lingering in the background. Most of our senior pictures at this age already look dated. Some companies offer headshots to employees and with the quality of cameras and camera phones these days a skilled friend could make this extremely economical for you. I’ve had three professional headshots taken and they have made all the difference. I feel confident about my appearance, the lighting is great, and a professional photographer knows how to pull the best out of you. Model or not, you can have a beautiful headshot. It just makes your social media and documents look polished. Try not to wear anything that will quickly date the photos. I’m in the market for a new shot due to my ever changing hair. Stay tuned.


There you go. 6 items that can beef up your journey through the city as a YP. All of these can be done economically or you can certainly splurge if you have the coins. I promise you that all of these items are worthwhile to add to your life toolkit as you’ll come back to them repeatedly.

What did I miss? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading.


Happy New Achoo Year!

sickI’m sick.

What I know about my body is that she has a propensity to get sick around the holidays. I’d push myself so hard during the school year that my body would have no other choice but to give up on my by Christmas. My mom would be ready for me when I walked into the house after a brutal finals schedule in college. When I was younger, I’d bless the whole family with the gift of sick but now that I’m on my own, I luckily only infect myself.

Sickness is often the only way I rest. It is the Lord forcing me to sit down. I’ve got a lot on my plate already for 2015 and I’m not going to be sitting down much at all according to my planner. God already sees destruction ahead and he’s created this hiatus  for me over the next few days as I medicate myself,  drink warm beverages, sleep, watch shows, wrap myself in comfy blankets, and catch up on reading for pleasure. I have no choice but to say “no” to any invitation that might come my way.

I’ve gotten better about saying no and took that leap often during fall 2014. I declined invitations, stepped away from a board commitment, and passed opportunities off to others who I knew could do a great job in my absence.  I had to let go of the fear of the consequences of saying no. This involuntary respite is a reminder that I need to create time to rest and be still in 2015.

God does his best work with us when we’re quiet. When we surrender and let Him do His work. When I’m resting, I can take time to reflect and make meaning out of my life which is how I learn and grow. When I’m well rested, I can deal better with whatever stress may come my way. When I’m rested, I can work on things that matter and give my best effort to make them happen. In Barre3, they tell us to “take a break and come back stronger”. This philosophy needs to be adhered to in our everyday life.

Life is a marathon and not a sprint. Just like a marathon, life needs rest stops and cheer stations to keep up moving towards accomplishing our goals.

I’m thinking that by Monday morning, I’ll be back up and running. Running forward with clear rest stops marked in my planner.

To be honest, as I’ve crossed over into 30, I have found that the thought of going out on Friday nights is unbearable. This has become a time for me to relax from the week and take some Krystal time with my favorite food, book, and/or movie. It works for me.

Don’t fool yourself. You do have time to rest. Make time for it.

How are you making sure to rest in 2015? Vacation? One free day a week? Do you mark off a couple of hours during each day? Maybe 10 minutes of mediation in the morning? A devotional? I challenge you to make room for “Be Still” moments. Schedule your rest stops and enjoy rejuvenation as you make your way to the finish line.

Thanks for reading.

College…Ready or Not? –The Greek Thing.

I only worked at schools that have had deferred recruitment so I might be a little late in getting to those of you who attend schools that have already disseminated bids aka invitations to join.  To those of you that have chosen to become a part of Greek Life, CONGRATULATIONS! To those of you have decided not to pursue Greek Life, CONGRATULATIONS! To those of you who had a less than desirable recruitment/rush experience…CONGRATULATIONS! I’m a firm believer that it all works out for the best. Trust the process. To those of you who are just confused…CONGRATULATIONS! Keep reading and perhaps I can offer some insight.

Let’s get clear…

1. I didn’t join my sorority as an undergraduate student. I was honored to be invited to join as an alumnae initiate. My decision not to join as an undergraduate had nothing to do with being anti-greek or an inability to acquire a bid. It had to do with money, racial identity matters, lack of understanding as to how joining a sorority could add to my already full collegiate experience, and a bit of skepticism of the whole pledging process. This one was not signing up to be hazed. Nope, no ma’am. My future was too bright for foolishness.

2. I worked in Greek Life for 8 years of my life as a graduate student and as a professional. I lived in a fraternity house (no lie), ran Greek Week and Greek Homecoming, and served as a Panhellenic Advisor for six years. If I can plan recruitment, then I can plan the world! [insert evil laughter]

3. I have loved my non-traditional sorority experience. I’ve been involved in my alumnae chapters in The Triangle and Nashville. I also had the opportunity to visit my EO this summer in Arlington, TX. Until I was 26, I wasn’t a member of a sorority therefore I do a pretty great job of staying objective on this topic.


This is an extremely personal decision. Don’t join because it seems like everyone else is joining. Don’t join because everyone in your family joined. Don’t join because of cliché statements such as, “Don’t you want to be a part of something bigger than yourself?” Answer: you already are –that feeling doesn’t require another membership.  Do your research by going to open events, chatting with current members, and setting up a meeting with the staff on your campus who advise these organizations.


I can’t blame you for taking into account everything you see in the media when making this decision. Unfortunately, most things you see about fraternity and sorority life in the media is pretty dang bad, in fact, it’s pretty dang awful. What’s even worse is that a lot of it is true. What I will say is that not every chapter, member, or community has the makings of a Lifetime movie,scathing Huffington Post blog, or sickening TFM/TSM post. There are people doing Greek right. There is a whole other heartwarming and worthwhile side of fraternity and sorority membership. Friendship–brotherhood/sisterhood–service–philanthropy–leadership–scholarship–and all the yummy values-based stuff you can think of actually do exist. You can find your bridesmaids and groomsmen. You can find people who will stick by you through thick and thin. People who will help you when you’re ill and celebrate all your successes. You can raise an incredible amount of money for fantastic causes and you can serve entire communities through hands-on service. The possibilities are limitless. However, you often won’t be made aware of the full picture unless you give the Greek community a chance by attending an information session, tabling event, rush meeting, and other opportunities designed solely to create a space for people like you to become informed. Great chapters are working to recruit the best members; let them woo you.

Ask real questions. Request real answers. If you feel like you’re getting a canned answer then you’re probably right. Push harder. This is a lifetime commitment and you want to be real clear about what you’re about to pledge your life to. Think about what would make this joining experience worthwhile for you and then take the time to inquire about those desires.

Become informed about all of your membership possibilities. For instance, do you have to join during the first semester? As a first-year student? Are there opportunities to join during the next semester? Will going through recruitment as an upperclassmen hurt your chances? Many students would rather acclimate to their campus surroundings and academic schedule before joining a Greek-lettered organization. Make sure that you’re clear on what waiting might do for your chance at membership. At some schools being older greatly impairs your chances at a bid.

Gain an understanding of all of the possible fraternities/sororities you can join. NPC, NPHC, Multicultural, Co-Ed, Professional, Service, Academic…there are many ways to belong to a Greek-lettered organization. Perhaps a traditional “social” group isn’t for you and instead you’d be happy become a sister of the engineering sorority.

I joined at 26 for extremely different reasons than I would have had at 18.

At 18, it would have been about making friends, creating a smaller community on my campus, the cuteness/happiness of it all, the social opportunities, and some of that values stuff might have played a small role.

sorority why

At 26, I joined because I believe strongly in the values of my organization. I support our efforts at making women better women. I am an advocate for our stellar philanthropic work. Our ritual makes me cry. Our Purpose connects with my purpose. The women I have known since college from this group have always impressed me and I work to be like them. I love the progressive nature of my sorority. I was at a place in life in which I clearly understood that sorority membership is a reciprocal relationship. We make each other better. My reasons were a lot deeper than they would have been at 18. I joined right when I was supposed to and I’m glad that I didn’t become a member earlier in life.

Go Greek or don’t Go Greek. I know that you can have a fulfilling college experience without membership the same way you can with membership. I think people gravitate to Greek because it seems so instant and easy. For many, it is worthwhile and for others they realize after joining that perhaps they should have made a different decision.

What I would encourage you NOT to do is to knock it before you try it. I mean, some things you should knock before you try like drugs BUT I’m not going to make the leap to group Greek Life and drugs in the same category.

Don’t judge something or someone that you don’t know anything about except for what you see in the media. Make your own informed decisions.

Oh, and the above advice is just good life strategy.

Sign up for Recruitment and participate in a Round or 2. Go to a few Rush events and check out the scene. Make a few visits to programs being held by the Greek community or specific chapters. You really don’t have that much to lose by just seeing what’s available and collecting information.

I’ve met many women and men that were “Maybe Joiners” and after a few rounds of recruitment, they were sold on the experience. I’ve also worked with men and women who couldn’t wait to become a member but realized that during the process of joining that this didn’t really meet their expectations.

Disconnect from the blabbering of all  the so-called “experts”–myself included–and venture out to see what your gut tells you about fraternity/sorority membership. You know, I’m a firm believer in the gut.

If you decide it ain’t your thang. Cool. However, support your peers who have made the decision to join and live the Greek life. Yes, you might spot its flaws, but nothing in college is perfect. Respect those who are doing their best to add value to your campus, community, and the lives of fellow students through their membership. Don’t be Judgey McJudgerson.

I know that the process can be BRUTAL. I’ve watched it for years and know the toll it can take on students. What I also know is that you’ll come out okay on the other side. You’ll find other ways to make your college your home. Other groups, other people, and other parts of yourself will take center stage in your life in ways that you never expected. It’s such a personal “no”. Breathe and know that you’re enough. If you’ve given your authentic self and didn’t find yourself with a bid on Bid Day then I’d count that as a win. You gave them all of you. Why would you want to be in a group that doesn’t appreciate the unicorn that you are? Go find your people. They’re waiting…

For those of you that do join, don’t look down on those who decide not  to or aren’t able to due to the process.  Invite them to open Greek events and support them in their campus involvement. Don’t make a snap judgement because someone isn’t Greek. This doesn’t mean that they are less than you.  Your letters don’t make you better than anyone else.

better letters

No campus benefits from Greek v. Non Greek Battles. You aren’t Biggie and Tupac. Scratch it.

Whatever you do, join a fraternity/sorority for the right reasons. The values, the people, the service, philanthropy, leadership opportunities–no matter what you see in the media, the heart of Greek Life is a beautiful thing.

Alright, now go learn and figure out whether this world is for you.

Check out this blog on deferred recruitment and a few other blogs I’ve done on Greek Life.






Also, check out T.J. Sullivan  and John Shertzer

Thanks for reading. Happy First Year!

Lata Y’all.

College…Ready or Not?–College & Money: Too Much and Never Enough

College is a lot of things but one thing it can never claim to be is cheap.

One of the things that I’ve noticed college students often have issues with is money. We’re living in a time in which the vast majority of students are receiving some type of financial aide whether that be scholarships, grants, work study, and/or the dreaded loans. Room and board, books, student fees, and tuition all have to be paid. Costs vary depending on the institution. Private schools are often more expensive than public and going to school out-of-state will often cost you more than in-state. Community Colleges are a less expensive option and there is a movement of students who are starting out at the CC and then transferring to a four-year institution after completing their first two years of coursework. This helps save money while the student pays cheaper tuition, lives at home, and works to save up for the greater costs of a four-year college/university.


college money

A source of stress that is rearing its ugly head on campuses is that many students are able to find ways to be able to afford “going to college”. They get what they need to be a student. What they don’t get covered in their financial package is what I call ” [insert name of college/university] Plus”. This is all of the other “stuff” that college students want in order to take full advantage of the college experience.

This might include:

– Fraternity/sorority membership

– Participation in certain clubs/organizations/teams

– Spring Break/Fall Break trips

-Beach Week

– Study Abroad

– Alternative Spring Break

– apparel

-late night food, coffee runs, frozen yogurt, smoothies

– money to spend on the weekend excursions (cabs, festive beverages, dinners out on the town with friends, movie tickets, concerts)

and anything else that costs extra beyond basic college expenses.

This creates a class bubble and can lead to some destructive financial habits including the dreaded college credit card trap. Stay away! If needed, get one card! Only one! Emergencies ONLY! Pay it off immediately! Money also serves as a determinant of how and if students participate in extracurricular activities and it can dictate who they choose to include in their circle of friends.

Here are some financially healthier ways to figure this out:

1. Get a job! There are always offices on campus looking for student workers. Ask your Career Center about resources on campus to help you find openings. These are also usually in the school newspaper, on flyers around campus, and some schools even have Employment Fairs for on-campus jobs. The great thing about working on-campus is that your employer will make sure that you honor your identity as a student. At many of these jobs you can even do your homework during downtime and still count those hours on your timesheet. It’s convenient and you’ll learn about another aspect of the university as well as basic skills that can help you later in life. You won’t get rich BUT you’ll earn extra pocket change for those “plus” opportunities.

Of course, you can also work off-campus. Studies have shown that it is actually beneficial for a student to work 20 hours a week as it helps establish time management skills. Be upfront with your employer about your schedule as a student. Think about the proximity of your job to campus. Unless you absolutely need to, try not to work to the point that you’re actually missing out on your college experience. If you have to work, I get it, but you don’t want to resent your job and you want to make sure that whatever you’re paying for that you actually have an opportunity to be an active participant. Don’t forget, you’re in college to get your diploma. Make sure that you’re not working to the detriment of your academics.

Babysitting is often a clutch role that many students pick-up as a college student.

Check out the Psychology or Sociology department as they are often holding non-threatening and non-invasive studies in which students can serve as subjects and make a little extra money.

A great deal of students work extremely hard over the summer to bank their income in order to serve as their bucket of funds for the upcoming school year. This isn’t a bad idea and will certainly help you to develop and manage a budget.

Make sure to set up a checking account and develop a basic budget. What are your wants versus your needs? What is your family helping you pay for versus what are you responsible to pay for on your own? Keeping track will help you avoid those pesky overdrawn fees that I became way too familiar with in college.

2. Inquire about scholarships or payment plans. For things like sorority/fraternity membership, study abroad, and even some trips there may exist financial aide opportunities in the form of scholarships or payment plans. Connect with the person in charge of finances for the organization and be upfront about your payment concerns. I know that money can be hard to chat about with a peer but if you’re interested in the opportunity then you’ve got to do the work to figure out how to afford it. Just ask the general question, “Are there opportunities for payment plans or scholarships?” Believe me, this isn’t the first time this has been brought up by a student. Contact staff in the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life or the Study Abroad Office for more information. For many trips, you pay for it during a certain period of time and not all at once. If this is the case, figure out if the payment plan is doable for you and your budget.

3. Look for alternatives. Everyone has the ability to class pass these days. If obtaining the latest gear is important to you then it is important that you become adept at obtaining the look for less. TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Ross, Target, Old Navy, H&M, Forever 21, outlet stores, ASOS, Goodwill,  consignment shops, Charming Charlie’s, EBay, and clearance sales are going to become your best friends. Don’t let me loose in a Wal-Mart–I will make that $15.00 dress look like a million bucks. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. All you need is the look and not the label. Learn how to make that $25.00 dress from Target look like that $150.00 Anthropologie dress. There are so many blogs and Pinterest boards that can assist you with getting the look you want for 1/3 of the price. You wear the clothes. Also, become aware of all the discounts stores offer college students. The movie theatre, J.Crew, LOFT, Kate Spade, and many local boutiques over 10-15% off if you have a college ID. Go for the high/low approach to fashion. Splurge on the basics and save money on overly trendy items that will only be “cool” for 5 seconds. My current outfit includes a Target dress, belt that came with a TJ Maxx dress, Anthropologie flats that were 50% off and I used my birthday discount to purchase, Stella & Dot bracelet, Longchamp Tote,  Old Navy Cardigan, and basic pearl studs from Macy’s.  I could throw on another basic Target dress and have a whole new look tomorrow. Rock what you got! Confidence is the essence of style.


For anything that people are buying that is exorbitant in price, you can certainly find a lower-cost option including the needed textbooks. Check out AMAZON or local booksellers before you settle on the bookstore prices. There are often previous students who also will cut you a great deal on their used textbooks. Don’t forget, you can make money on those at the end of the semester. The University will often hold a Buy Back OR you can sell to fellow students. Sometimes, I would get up to $250.00 back at the end of the semester. Granted that was certainly not anywhere near the amount I spent on them but I wasn’t mad at $250.00 to help celebrate the end of the semester.

Switch up your social plan so that you can still go out, but do it differently than your peers. Perhaps you engage in festive beverages before you go out, maybe you eat dinner on your already paid for meal plan as opposed to splurging on an expensive dinner, take the free student bus and not a cab, keep coffee or chai in your room so as not to make Starbucks runs that quickly add up. Have a stash of snacks for those late night urges.

4. Scour your campus for FREE opportunities. You’re in college and there is free fun happening EVERYWHERE! Make it a game and see how many free things you can attend, eat, and take home each week. Shows, lectures, t-shirts, movies, food, sporting events, and lessons, etc. can all be found underneath your nose. Take advantage of it and take a group of friends on low budget adventures.  Perhaps create a FREE STUFF resource through twitter, Facebook, or a blog to disseminate to your peers. I don’t care how much money you have, everyone loves free stuff.

5. Sometimes, you just have to accept that you can’t do all the things. I accepted that I’d never be off to Cancun for Spring Break or Italy in the summer. I accepted that I could not afford sorority membership or full-price items from J.Crew. I learned to be happy with what I had and to fill in any perceived “gaps” with all of the free or inexpensive stuff I could find. I had an amazing college experience. I’m eternally grateful that I even was able to attend college. When it gets rough, think about the bigger picture. You’re one of the privileged few that has the opportunity to receive a college education. Praise Him!

enough gratitude

The biggest obstacle is often communicating to your friend group about your finances.

What do you say when everyone wants to call a cab to go downtown to grab dinner and festive beverages at the new swanky speakeasy? 

What do you say when your girls have invited you to Vegas for Fall Break? 

I would encourage you to do this, TELL THE TRUTH.

If peeps walk away from you because of your financial situation then you might want to find new friends. College is hard enough without hiding your economic situation from people and lying your way through the day by making excuse after excuse about why you can’t do things with the group. The truth also trumps unsurmountable credit card debt that could haunt you long after you graduate.

“Y’all, that’s just a bit too steep for my budget. Would you consider [insert option here]?” 

“The old bank account doesn’t feel good about this one, y’all go ahead and I’ll see you in the morning for brunch at the caf.” 

“You know, this event is happening on campus tonight and that makes more sense for me financially right now.” 

“I’ll meet y’all there. It’ll be best for me to take the bus.” 

“Thanks for inviting me along for the trip. I’m all about it and can’t wait to celebrate with y’all, but I’m going to look into making my own travel plans.” 

“I’m going to eat dinner here and then I’ll be able to take the cab and grab a celebratory beverage.” 

“I’m planning next Thursday night. We’ll have a fun and low-key game night with my home cooking.” 

Once again living your truth invites others to do the same and it creates a learning opportunity for those that are completely oblivious to financial struggles of other students. Unfortunately, when money is not an issue for students they often assume that those around them –especially when you attend a prestigious institution that has a reputation of attracting economically privileged students–come from the same economic background and that money is not an issue for anyone and certainly not those they call their friends.

Don’t expect your friends to change their lives entirely for you but instead make the adjustments that will allow you to participate at whatever level makes you comfortable. A good friend will get it and will support you in your practices.

Money is something that we’ve been taught in the South to not speak about at the dinner table, but I think it demonstrates a great deal of maturity for a student to authentically address this matter with those who are important in shaping their collegiate experience.

Developing this practice now will also help you to not become an adult who struggles to “keep up with the Jones'”. This family has caused us all so many issues. The goal isn’t to keep up with anyone but yourself. Remember, money and stuff, will never bring you lasting happiness.

enough money

Class has to become a topic that college students become more able to discuss. College is the place to strengthen the skills to have what have been deemed “awkward conversations”. The more students can relate across class lines the better.

How are you managing your finances in college?

Hope the first year is going well. Thanks for reading.

Lata Y’all.


College…Ready or Not?: Go With Your Gut!

There was a pause in my blog because I was actually working with college students and not just writing to them for the past few days. Move-In has occurred. The “visitors” are back on campus. I laugh just thinking about some of the interactions I’ve had since Saturday. Don’t worry, parents/families/guardians, we’re doing our absolute best every day to make sure they’re doing just fine. We love them and don’t even really know them yet. That’s Reason #678 that I love my job. Upon matriculation we fall in love with them and to be honest, never stop. 

But, here’s the thing that students and the people that love them MUST understand. Students are going to make their own decisions–regardless of what any of us “grown folks” have said to them. 

We build college up to be a time of self-discovery, exploration, experimentation, and the period of life when you begin making the journey home to yourself. We preach self-authorship and creating the life you wish you live, being the change you wish to see, “doing you”, and learning all of the nooks and crannies of who you are and what you want to be in this world. Amen! Preach on, preach on! 

All of that stated above is true and Reason #679 that I love working with college students. 

HOWEVER, with all of this freedom to play the game of life, another thing that we MUST get super clear about…I mean, like REAL CLEAR is that your actions have consequences. You are free to make all the decisions you want BUT you are NOT free from the consequences. We have turned college into into the “fake world” and we’re constantly preaching to students about the “real world”. Guess what? College is REAL. 

free to choose 2

You are not actually in a bubble. You are not made out of Teflon. Your actions could lead to self-harm and harm of others. Your actions could create long-term detrimental impact on your life and those you love, have loved, or could possibly love. As my pastor said tonight, The Universal Law of Consequences is actually a thing. 


I know that it can be ridiculously hard in college to make a good personal decision. A decision–a choice–that is all your own and no one else’s. One that you can completely own up to and take accountability for without hesitation. You’ve got a lot of factors weighing on you at all times. Family, peers, professors, crazy staff members like me, and  all the many sides of you that are playing a fiercely intense 24/7 game of Tug-of-War in your heart, mind, and soul. Oh, and your gut. Your gut is ALWAYS speaking to you. I mean, not out loud unless you know something about the gut that I don’t. In that case, please stop reading and consult your nearest physician. 

What I firmly believe is that we know way more about ourselves than we take credit for. Sure, you might be 18, but if I asked you to list things that you’re 99% sure you’d never do or that you know would be really bad for you then you could do just that. When you find yourself in a multiple choice situation, your gut wakes up and it starts chattering like crazy. There is something inside of you pushing you towards “your right” answer. Notice, I said “your right answer” because what’s right for you and what’s right for someone else might not be the same. This is where it gets even more tricky, because when you’re in college–you tend to surround yourself with people who you feel are similar to you. So,  if you are “the same” then you should be okay with doing the same things and making the same decisions as those other same people. Hmmm…my friends, that is false and irrational logic. This is why peer pressure is the downfall of most. You are not your roommate, teammate, or sorority sister/fraternity brother. You are, YOU! Your gut works for YOU. Don’t let someone else’s gut do the talking. If you do, then you’ll be subject to consequences that were never actually meant for you. You could have made a different decision. You could have manifested a different outcome. 

trust your gut

This is so much easier said than done. I get it. You’re in college and the wannabe cool kid side of you is winning at tug-of-war. Sometimes, it takes a year or two to tire that kid out and wake up the side of you that has a better understanding of what’s important in life. Someone who has finally embraced what they value and want to live it out loud. No matter which senior I have spoken with throughout my 8 years of working with college students as a graduate student and as a professional, the cool kid never wins the tug-of-war tournament. In fact, at some point that person gratefully disappears from from the field.  

Embrace who you are and what your gut is telling you. I’m not telling you not to explore or experiment but that’s not necessarily the best practice to have with every aspect of your life. Work real hard to muster up the courage to remove yourself from places, things, and people that don’t serve you and aren’t in your best interest. Leave that party. Quit that group. Don’t respond to those people. Don’t pop that pill. Put that cup down. Don’t go in that room. If the people you hang out with aren’t fans of your gut, then they aren’t fans of you and frankly, you can do better. 


SPOILER ALERT! YOU WILL MAKE BAD DECISIONS!–you will make heartbreaking decisions during college, your actions will break your heart and the heart of people you love. This doesn’t make you a bad human. It just makes you human. Even if some people never find out about those decisions, you’ll always know and that is consequence enough. But, what you won’t do is wallow in regret and you certainly won’t accept that this is the best you can do. If you know you can do better for yourself then do that. People like me on a college campus always want to help you get back up after you fall down. We won’t even say “I told you so”. 

If looking in the mirror ever becomes difficult, then let’s create a new reflection. 

With everything that happens during the first semester of college and all of the options that are put on your plate, remember, your gut already knows what’s up. It has known you for 18 years. You know more than you think you know about who you are and who you want to be or want not to be in this world. Don’t silence that voice. 

So, what’s your gut been telling you? 

Lata Y’all! 

College…Ready or Not?: Inconvenient Friends

I didn’t realize until I was 25 that all of my schooling missed out on educating me about a very important topic–MAKING FRIENDS! I had no idea how to intentionally make a new friend.

When you’re in school your entire life, friendships just happen. It’s about proximity–youth groups, people who live in your neighborhood or who happen to have on the same color shirt. It’s never that deep. You just fall in with groups of people. I never had to approach anyone and say, “Will you be my friend?”

Friendships in college pretty much abide by the same system. Your first friends will be your roommate and the people who live on your first-year hall. At some point, you might decide to join a student organization(s). You’ll have people in your classes that you’ll connect with because of a group project or because you sit in the same seat/table 2-3 times out of the week.

So, that’s cool.

BUT, I challenge you to do more. Go that pretty sparsely populated extra mile.


Approach people who aren’t in your convenience bubble. See someone who just looks like a good person to know? Say, “Hey!” Perhaps you’ve heard good things about a person. Say, “What’s up?” Did your RA give you the contact information of a student who’s involved in a project that might interest you. Email, “Let’s get coffee.” Keep seeing that same kid around campus, y’all always offer a smile to each other, but have no idea of each other’s names? Next time, stop and simply say, “Hi, I’m [insert name here].”

People are just people. They shouldn’t make you nervous.

Every person you meet is an opportunity to change your life. Think about all of the opportunities you miss by letting people pass you by day after day.

If this sounds crazy, then inch your way toward your goal:

– Visit a student organization’s meeting. Chat with someone about the membership experience. “Hi, I’m [you know what to do], could you tell me a bit more about your experience with this organization. I’m thinking of becoming a member.” Chat it up with that member and get some contact info for follow-up information.

– Sign up for a retreat offered by the university. Leadership, diversity, service, faith–offices are always taking students on retreats. You’ll meet a ton of new people after the slew of icebreakers you’ll be asked to do as a part of the program. You’ll also be away from campus and that increases students’ propensity to bond with people they don’t know. That’s why people like me do that in the first place. A little trick of the trade.

– Tag along with a hall mate who has an entirely different circle of friends than you do.  Expand that network.

– Study Abroad during your time in college. It exposes you to an entirely new group of friends.

– If at all desired, spend a summer in your college town. Since a large amount of students will have vacated campus, those students who remain often bond over their summer destination and establish a whole new friend group.

Whatever your normal path to making friends –deviate from it and take a new route to great relationships. If you master the art of this short but multi-step process, you’ll have a full life of friend making even long after you graduate college.

Step 1: Say hi!

Step 2: Chat with open-ended questions, active listening, and smiles. Show interest in them. 

Step 3: Say,  “This was fun, let’s get together.” or “We should hang out.” 

Step 4: Add, “Can I get your email, phone number, Twitter/Instagram handle, name of your messenger owl?”

Step 5: Follow-up with provided information. Remind them of where you met, tell them you enjoyed meeting them, offer an opportunity to meet up, and a “Can’t wait to hear from you.” or “Looking forward to it.” or “Sounds chill.” —Whatever, you kids say these days.

Step 6: Actually attend the planned event.

Step 7: Step 3 (add an “again” or “We should do this again.”) + Step 5 + Step 6

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Dale Carnegie


This is a challenging process for many people esp. 18-22 year olds, but once you’ve got the hang it, your life is going to become ridiculously incredible.

Why? Because most people want to meet other people. Most people want to know other people. Most people are just sitting around waiting for someone else to plan their social calendar. Most people have a difficult time engaging in this process. You do this and you win. 

You’re not always going to find your next bridesmaid or groomsmen but you might meet a lovely human being who adds value to your life. Occasionally, you might meet someone who doesn’t really tickle your fancy but, there is nothing like a good moment of clarity around the kinds of people you want to fill your life and the kind you hope to keep extremely removed from your lived experience.

College creates a small world within a very large world and I promise you’ll bump into these people in the most random corners of your life. You’ll run into that guy from the retreat during a game of kickball, the person you studied abroad with works at your new law firm, the girl who was great friends with your hall mate is the volunteer coordinator of your favorite local non-profit.

This is life. 

Do yourself a favor during this first- year of college and make some inconvenient friends.

Lata Y’all! 

College Ready or Not?: Come Back to Calm.

How do you rid your life of stress?

I don’t think I really thought about this until I was in college.  However, I was handed stress on a shiny antique silver platter quite swiftly as a first-year student.

To cope, I took “field trips” to Colonial Williamsburg to get away from all the noise. I found that running DOG Street brought me needed happiness and spending time on the elliptical machine and lifting weights made life a bit sweeter.

I can’t neglect sharing that when I was younger,I made my life “calm” by drinking alcohol. Going out and getting beyond the capacity for clear memories seemed to be the easiest way to release it all and to just forget all of my, in hindsight, first-world problems.

No judgment, if that’s where you find yourself at some point this year, but please know that your calm is not at the bottom of a bottle. If you’re going to drink, do it responsibly. Surround yourself with people that care about you. Don’t drive.  Recognize your limits. Work hard to ensure that alcohol does not become your only means of stress relief.

College brings a continuum of angst composed of grades, relationships, rejection, unmet expectations, homesickness, the realization that your professional aspirations ain’t always what they seem, speedy change, roommate woes, time management, financial crises, and peer pressure, etc. I’m not trying to frighten you at all. This is a moment of real talk. Like most things in life, college ain’t all sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns.

stress break up

I strongly encourage you as you venture into your first-year of college to begin figuring out those activities/items/people that bring you back to calm and  work to keep those things a part of your burgeoning college schedule.

– If you enjoy the gym, look up the facility hours and block off  time to workout. If you’re a runner, inquire about the best routes on campus or the neighborhood in which your school is located. If you want to run in a group, inquire at the rec center about groups already in existence or chat with your hall mates about starting a group.

– Perhaps you played a sport in high school but aren’t able to or decided not to be a collegiate athlete. Check out intramurals or club sports. This is a great way to keep playing a sport you love but it’ll often be less of a commitment.

– If shopping is your outlet, then please be responsible about it.  I’d advise you to look for things that calm you that are also inexpensive and even better if it’s FREE. You don’t want to replace one stressor with another like money woes. It’s totally not worth it.

– Maybe you’re into “field trips” like me. What are places on/off campus that you can escape? Perhaps there’s an independent movie theatre nearby where you can engage in “escape by cinema”? A local park? A cool coffee shop? A place where you can let your guard down and just enjoy the space. Get off campus. Breathe new oxygen. See what’s popping outside the bubble. 


– Sitting in front of the TV or computer can certainly bring you calm. Stop forcing social. Put on your favorite loungewear, grab some snacks, and chill out with familiar characters.

– Read your favorite book. I know, I know. No one has time to read for pleasure in college BUT when life gets hectic, make the time. Get back to words that make you feel whole.

– Hang with your besties. Be with those that remind you that there’s a bigger story in this world in which you play a critical role.  Having a strong support system can be key to relieving stress.

– Perhaps you’re into playing and/or listening to music. Check out your school’s music department for possible practice spaces. I’ve never been on a college campus that doesn’t have at least 2 public pianos for students to play at their leisure.

– I now know that writing is a great way for me to come back to center. This space helps me release a ton of stuff. Start a blog, public or private, and get yourself a great notebook to journal your thoughts.

– Engage in a life audit. Why are you doing everything that you’re doing? Is it valuable? Do you actually enjoy it? Has it become a burden? Do you really want to spend time in college with this particular group of people? Is this experience adding energy or depleting energy from your life? Sometimes, we just need to get back to the essentials and say a strong “No” to many of the items we have on our to-do list. Remember, the word “no” is a complete sentence. People would rather you give a strong no than a weak yes.

say no

– Go to those that know you best. For me, that’s God and then my family. Speak to Him, read His word, spend time in His house.  Call your family and laugh at all that they are and absorb their love through the phone.

So, how do you come back to calm?  What are those things that give you your wings?

A wonderful part of my job is that I think for some of my students, I’ve become a person that helps them find their calm. We engage in some ultra real talk–like some, get clear, get rid of all that unnecessary crazy talk— and lots of snort filled laughter.  Look for staff members on campus who want to help. Talk to your RA and/or Orientation Leader, student organization advisor, or a faculty member with whom you’ve made a good connection.

Sometimes your stress can become bigger  than a trip to the gym or the local movie theatre can cure. I strongly encourage to seek out your college Counseling Center should you feel that your normal tactics aren’t doing the trick. Never feel alone. If you’re nervous about making an appointment or walking over to the Counseling Center ask a staff member to help you and most of the time they will make a referral and even walk you to the building. I pinkie promise you that students use the Counseling Center on  your college campus. Never feel ashamed. You’re taking care of yourself and that is to be applauded and not maligned. Make yourself a priority. 

Regardless of how you choose to obtain calm, don’t hold stress in and don’t act like it doesn’t exist. You’re human and you get stressed out. It doesn’t make you weak; it makes you real.

Lata Y’all! Enjoy the season my first-year friends.

College…Ready or Not? Pt. 1

A whole new lot of first-year students will move into our residence halls on Saturday. I can’t help but flash back to my move-in day with my multiple carloads of crap, family members in tow, and an overwhelming amount of excitement. I had the good fortune of spending 6 weeks at my college prior to the beginning of the fall semester and already had 36  acquaintances/friends/soon to be boyfriend under my belt. I was never nervous about people. I was more nervous about my academics and just figuring out all of that bureaucratic “stuff” that comes with college.

My mom doesn’t do prolonged goodbyes so she told me “we’re going to head back” took my hand and filled it with a folded wad of cash, hugged me, and before I knew it she and the rest of the clan were driving back to Portsmouth which is a whopping 45 minutes away from my college.

find out who you are

When I think back to that first semester and the roller coaster that college can be, I began to wonder what I would have told myself to help me get through it all? What do I wish I would have known as a first-year student?

I had boy woes, a bit of an eating issue that resulted in an iron deficiency, crippling self-doubt when it came to my academics, raging racial/ethnic identity development problems, and a bit too much fun on the weekends. So, what messages might have been helpful to little ol’ me?

1. Take Spanish. A foreign language will be more than helpful to you throughout your life. Don’t place out of it just because you can.

2. Figure out a plan to study abroad. This is my one true regret from college. I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity and I’ve still never been out of the country.

3.  The rejection you experience this first semester will serve a greater purpose. It’s all going to be okay.

4. Your first love should be yourself and not some boy. If things happened in that order, you both would have been better off in the long run. Sitting around depressed and pining for him is quite a waste of your time. Snap out of it!

5. Sometimes you and your friends grow apart. It is what it is. Just cherish the good times you had with each other.

6. You’re beautiful. You’re enough.

7. STOP with the t-shirts with the ridiculous phrases.

8. Do things that sound cool to you and don’t let the people around you sway you from going on an adventure.

9. Go to church!

10. Invite people to eat meals with you.

11. Yes, this school is really hard BUT the work ethic you’re developing and the skills you’re acquiring not to mention the importance of producing quality work on a daily basis is going to serve you for the rest of your life. You’ll look back and be glad that you chose a pressure cooker for college.

Hmm…all of this stuff still sounds relevant today and I would certainly give this advice to any first-year student I have the privilege of meeting on Saturday.

College, for me, was AMAZING! I loved it to an extreme degree and even when I hated it, you could have never gotten me to leave. It was my home. I knew it like the back of my hand and when I needed to  I figured out just how to escape the “noise”.  I only remember REALLY wanting to escape once and I called my brother and told him to come get me. He, of course, called my mother and it was settled that I would not be leaving campus to go anywhere including home. All of this drama was about a boy. Ick!

future is exciting

What I want for our first-year students is a chance for them to choose their own adventure. I want their journey to be full of learning, growth, fun, taking chances, failure, and moments of brilliant resilience. I want them to make friends by being their authentic self. I want them to own what makes them a unicorn. I want them to grapple with their identities and hard topics. I want them to stay up until 2am chatting with their hall mates about their hopes and dreams. I want them to have an internal sense of freedom that guides them to join or not join a student organization. I want them to love it but not to their detriment.  I want them to love themselves so much that they understand when to say yes, no, I don’t know, and I need help. I want them to find a spot on campus or in the city that when they need it, they can breathe it all out and let it all go. I want them to look in the mirror and be proud of who they are becoming and if for some reason they’re not then I want them to find the strength to start again and to have the wisdom to know that it’s okay. They are coming home to their alma mater but also to themselves.

This may be asking a lot BUT I know they have it all inside of them and like anything else they must find the COURAGE to live it. I enjoy helping them discover that courage.

So, what would you tell your first-year self?

My next few posts will be dedicated to words of wisdom for first-year college students.

Thanks for reading.


Lata Y’all.