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Creative’s CACUSS 2015 Conference Experience: An Acrostic Poem

Co-written by: Bailey Parnell, Donica Willis, Hamza Khan, Tesni Ellis, and Troy Murray.

When we racked our brains for how we could share our CACUSS 2015 conference take-aways, it didn’t take long for the entire team to reach the exact same conclusion, as if it had been handed down from on high—

We needed an acrostic poem!

No, serious, one acrostic poem spelling out C-A-C-U-S-S—it’s the perfect way to share the grey-matter material that Creative brought back from the CACUSS 2015 conference. These are the thoughts and feels that are rattling around in our heads and will, inevitably, inform our work for the next year.

So without further ado, we give you…

Creative’s CACUSS 2015 Conference Experience: An Acrostic Poem


C = Collaboration

A = Authenticity

C = Community

U = Understanding

S = Storytelling

S = Students!


Collaboration shows through in a word cloud.

C — Collaboration

Using each other’s distinct talents, insights, and perspectives towards a common goal to produce or create something.

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.
— Helen Keller

This was described most clearly when one delegate said during a session “Students don’t see us as our individual units, they don’t see us as individual services;” rather, they just see one whole Student Affairs and they expect to get their answers from any touchpoint they have with us. Collaboration should happen all over: within our teams, between departments, and across institutions. One thing I was thrilled to notice was people talking about collaboration over competition; delegates and presenters were talking about how we should not be in competition with other schools, we should be working together. By sharing best practices instead of hoarding them, by celebrating our new ideas and encouraging others to take them on similarly, and by learning from what others are up to in other institutions, we can only improve.

— Tesni

Teamwork makes the dream work. I had multiple competing and converging deadlines around the time of CACUSS, including the preparation of a presentation about—and by—the Creative Unit. Saying the words, “I need help” was not only therapeutic, it was necessary. As a leader, my job is to either delegate, defer, diminish, delete. I can no longer just do.

– Hamza

“Community of Practice” is what CACUSS called the groupings of SA professionals working in similar roles across the country. In being able to genuinely exchange ideas with people who also work in marketing and communications in Student Affairs, I was reminded that it can’t be looked at as competition. Ultimately, talking to someone from Humber College about what we’re doing at Ryerson and getting their feedback just makes our end product all that much stronger for students. Collaboration > Competition.

– Bailey

I display my authentic self.

A — Authenticity

True to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.
Authentic Functioning: Being true to yourself in organizations.

We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.
— May Sarton

One of my biggest take-aways from this conference was highlighted in John Austin’s and Adam Kuhn’s concurrent session: “What would Pepper LaBeija Do: Lessons in Student Affairs from Drag Culture.” I went to this session purely out of curiosity and had no idea that it would have such a profound impact on me. When asked to reflect on how we identify within our own personal subcultures, I couldn’t help but question what my “hockey guys” might think of this session, or think of me for attending it. What this session helped me realize was—who cares? “Just be your authentic self. Don’t care what other people think.”  Working in Student Affairs has allowed me to be true to myself, and more importantly, question the behaviors and attitudes of those who don’t accept and celebrate each individual’s unique identity(ies).

– Troy

I’ve been criticized of being a marketing professional in a student affairs world. And for some time I felt self-conscious (maybe even guilty) about it. But believing that I could only be one or the other was a limiting belief that prevented me from bringing my full self to work and to CACUSS in years past. This year I decided to embrace it—and I felt whole.

– Hamza

Gather around the community tree and be together.

C — Community

A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

Teaching kids how to feed themselves and how to live in a community responsibly is the centre of an education.
— Alice Waters

If I break down this definition based on my recent experience at CACUSS, I’d confidently conclude the following things about the Student Affairs professional community:

“A feeling of fellowship with others”

Yes. A huge portion of the conference was social. I have never had so many amazing conversations (unforced) in my life. Conversations that weren’t even directly related to “work.”

“Common Attitudes”

Yes. We are here for students.

“Common Interests”

No. Complete opposite. Instead, we are a rich group of people that often fall on opposite ends of the interest spectrum. But that gives us our Authenticity.

“Common Goals”

Yes. We help students get the absolute most out of their post-secondary experience in whatever shape or form that may take.

– Donica

Whether it’s 10,000 fans in a digital community or 5,000 in an incoming cohort of students, communities naturally form around common interests and values. Taking a page from CACUSS’ book (via Communities of Practice), I’ll be thinking of ways to empower the leaders in the communities that we have influence, to guide and manage our priorities.

– Hamza

In that place where you meet me, is empathy.

U — Understanding

Another word for empathy; something we strive to have. The ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of another.

I call him religious who understands the suffering of others.
— Mahatma Gandhi

Now more than ever, we need empathy in our lives. Everything about the experience of modern life is lulling us into a trance of “me, myself, and I.” This can make us lazy—or worse, insensitive— towards the needs of others. Listening to people and the nuances of their stories will illuminate the missing pieces of our work. Listen, hear, align, and truly understand.

– Hamza

I didn’t learn as much from CACUSS about things I can apply to the direct tasks of being a Digital Marketing Specialist in Student Affairs—it’s just such a new concept and I’m proud to say, Ryerson is very much leading the pack— as I did about Student Affairs itself. What I got was more of an understanding of the departments we serve. I became hyper aware of the inner workings and missions of our “clients”—or partners as we like to call them.

– Bailey

Gather round the fire as the night closes in and share stories to hold back fear.

S — Storytelling

The conveying of events in words, images, sound, taste, and touch, as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation, and instilling moral values.

After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.
— Philip Pullman

Stories, stories, everywhere! I walked in to CACUSS believing—knowing—that storytelling is a key part of our lives in Student Affairs. Our business is people, and people tell, need, and are stories. It’s impossible to separate a person from story, just as it’s impossible to do Student Affairs without them. What I found at CACUSS was that I am not alone in this belief (which seems so obvious now). So many others were talking about stories; framing them in different ways depending on their department, or their goals, but fully aware that our penchant for story is what makes people tick. The best part of every session I attended was when the presenters stepped around the lectern, gestured the crowd to gather closer to the fire, and spun a personal story to illustrate their point. We need more stories, and I’m truly lucky to be responsible for helping my colleagues in RyersonSA share theirs.

– Luke

While I didn’t see many others talking about the ways they are telling students’ stories or the stories of their own work, I did see people getting excited about these sorts of projects. It was humbling, yet stirring at the same time, to have people come up to us at the end of the Creative Unit’s presentation and tell us we were doing something innovative, something exciting, that they wanted to be a part of it too. Sometimes when you’re in the thick of it, you forget that what you are doing is novel to someone else. So, we need to keep being excited at our new ways of doing things, and keep storytelling at the root of how we share our successes and challenges in RyersonSA and those facing our students.

– Tesni

A little bit of humour goes a long way. If you know me, you’ll know that I’m a very serious person. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good laugh. But 99% of the time I’m “on” and focused on getting things done. As a storyteller, I could benefit from a dose of humour. A smile, a joke, a laugh, can go a long way towards projecting warmth. Something this robot needs to do more.

– Hamza

Our students inspire us to work, to be better.

S — Students!

The people we work for, and more importantly, with.

I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.
— Toni Morrison

I’ve been known to advocate for students in the past, so I was truly inspired by the amount of people I met who were genuinely trying to make the post secondary experience better for all the students at their respective institutions. You can do marketing anywhere, in any field. You can be a counsellor anywhere, but what connects us all is that we work for students. Our roles all support the academic excellence of our students and it was interesting to see our roles through the shared lens of our peers. It was also nice to not have to explain what is student affairs!

– Bailey

What do students want? I mean, what do students actually want? Not what a white-paper says that they want. Not what a webinar says that they want. What they—our students themselves—say that they want. We need to know this. We simply can’t design an exceptional student experience by leaving our “end users” out of the process.

– Hamza