Personal Journey Portfolio

Briana Legerlotz

Orientation and Fall of Freshman Year

CAN I belong here?

Orientation and the first several weeks of freshman year were difficult socially for me. Most people seemed to naturally gravitate into friend groups immediately based on who they had met during Accepted Students Day the previous spring- an event I had been unable to attend. Luckily, my roommate (Courtney) and I became quick friends.


Beyond Courtney, however, it took me a long time to develop solid friendships - most of the year in fact. It was hard to feel like I had a niche on campus. Some reasons I see for this were because the culture was rather preppy- wealthy students were the most visible population on campus, and the seeming majority. The girls would join sororities and buy fancy, expensive clothes and bags. Their hair always looked great. They made me feel very self-conscious, and I began to dress up to go to class. Unlike what my high school friends reported from their colleges, sweatpants were not a normal part of Gettysburg girls' wardrobes. Additionally, Greek culture was the center of social life on campus, and I did not want to spend weekends partying in a frat basement and getting drunk. That made me uncomfortable. The very first night I arrived at school, I remember almost every girl in my hall getting dressed up to go out. I was completely clueless about Greek life (didn't even know the term at that time) and had not brought one single dress with me to college! I didn't feel like I had much in common with these wealthy party-hard sorority girls. It was hard when many friends started rushing sororities, and I wanted no part of it, because then they suddenly had mysterious sorority things to talk about and I could not be a part of those conversations.


It would have been nice to have a mentor on campus. Reflecting on Baxter-Magolda (2002)'s idea of good company and tandem bicycles, and how administrators/professors/residence staff/etc. can be good company by helping students "navigate complexity with tools for exploration and structures for decision-making," I think I would have definitely benefited from having someone help me work through my feelings of isolation and loneliness, to suggest campus groups and resources that I wasn't aware of, and to help give me perspective on what I was feeling and what kinds of decisions I was making (or avoiding). I made the image below full of quotes that spoke to me when I was upset during the fall of freshman year, and kept it as my computer wallpaper for the rest of the year to keep me inspired to stick it out and hope that things would get better.

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Sophomore Year: Moving Past the Crossroads

Using Baxter-Magolda (2009)'s self-authorship model and developmental theory to analyze my college experience, I'd say that my socially challenging freshman year constituted the "pain" and wandering through the crossroads that Baxter-Magolda describes as the start of the journey toward self-authorship. Sophomore year was a critical year in my development, as I started creating a niche for myself on campus and becoming a more independent thinker as I began cultivating my internal voice. I became more open to trying new things as I listened to my internal voice about the types of things that made me happy, and what had been making me unhappy freshman year. I also thought a lot about what my strengths were and how I could make use of them. My classes in Sociology, History, and Intro to Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies courses taught me how to start thinking more critically about the world around me. I began reflecting on some external influences and foundations that I had accepted growing up, and questioning beliefs and values, such as gender roles and what constituted morally right or wrong things (e.g. my dad's opinions of homosexual and transgender people as 'wrong' were no longer the same as mine, as I got to know and became friends with gay and transgender peers.) I started involving myself in extracurriculars (like volunteering) that focused on community service, which dually boosted my self-confidence and reaffirmed the value I placed on helping others. Storey (2010) has noted that extracurricular or co-curricular involvements help students to develop their identities, and this was certainly true for me. I also made new friends with similar values, and learned how to form and begin asserting my own opinion into conversations about complicated topics, like cultural appropriation and gender inequality (my new friends shared Sociology and WGS classes with me). I was also helped by new acquaintances (project partners and suitemates) who were Juniors and Seniors, and who lent their experience and advice to help me gain perspective on problems we tackled and how I was experiencing college.

Psychosocial Identity Development

Although Junior Year had it's challenges, it was also an example of coming out of moratorium and into identity achievement. I think I spent most of my time at college in Josselson's moratorium/Searchers state as I constantly sought to answer the question of "Who am I?" During Junior Year, I was able to move into the identity achievement/ Pathmakers state as I adopted an identity centered around feminism and more deeply established myself in my campus niche. It was during this year that I began working at the Women's Center on campus as well as officially kick-starting the Students Against Sexual Assault club (SASA) I co-founded. Grounding my identity in feminism and women's issues gave me an outlet for exploratory experiences and new skills that contributed to my sense of self and self-confidence. I had officially separated myself from the very traditional gender roles/norms/schemas I was taught growing up, and made my own judgments about how I felt women should act and be viewed. Being co-President of SASA and a representative of the Women's Center became my central identity on campus and (in line with Josselson's assertion that relationships are very important during this stage) was the primary way I met new students and engaged with administrators and professors beyond those I had for class.


This was also the Presidential election year and the first time I would be old enough to vote. Following the progression of speeches and interviews leading up to election day, and considering what I had learned from Sociology and History, I realized that I was now more politically liberal than my parents and no longer could be in the same party as they were. The values of that party did not represent my own values on how women, minorities, and LGBTQ people should be regarded, and how problems should be solved. This political difference remains a slight wedge between my dad and I to this day, but I am resolved in my values and beliefs and know that my stance is genuinely my own.

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Identit(ies) Development

As a freshmen, the primary sources of my identity stemmed from my relationships with family and friends, followed by interests and personal characteristics. By senior year, the roles I held on campus and in work were also important ways I identified. Abes, Jones, and McEwen's (2007) Model of Multiple Dimensions of Identity is a great way to help conceptualize identity theory by taking into account the affect of intersectionality. Intersectionality was my favorite theoretical concept I learned in college, thanks to my sociology and WGS (Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies) classes. Being Caucasian was not something I had ever thought enough about prior to college (growing up in a very homogeneous community), but became aware of much more during college. WGS classes and my involvement in work at the Women's Center, leading a sexual assault awareness club, and other related activities highlighted my identity as a woman and feminist. Extracurricular volunteering kept my identity as a caring, helper-type person salient. I strongly identified as a daughter, sister, and friend. I identified as a girlfriend and fiance. My identity as heterosexual was also never a conscious one before meeting people with different sexual identities and going to LGBTQ club-sponsored events. For sure, thanks to the experiences I had and people I met in college, my identity became much more complex than it had been as a high schooler.

Gender Identity Development: Gender Schemas and the College Experience

Gender was a very salient influence, whether I realized it or not at the time, on many of my decisions and preferences as a college student. Bem (1983) posits in her gender schemas theory that people "construct and experience their self-concept within the framework" of gender-based categories such as color, personality traits, career aspirations, and hobbies (Evans, Forney, Guido, Patton, and Renn, 2010, p. 336). On campus, I found myself making friends almost entirely with girls, and joining clubs and volunteer activities that were predominated by girls. Evans, et al. (2010, p. 340) note that college women tend to "choose campus involvement that is consistent with their sense of self as nurturing, caretaking, and relational. Though I didn't think about it in those terms, the groups I chose to be apart of definitely upheld my gender role schema as a caring, compassionate, helping female. When I could make personal connections with people that I worked with or helped (as with tutoring in an after-school program for Hispanic kids in the community), I felt good about myself, because that part of my identity was being validated.

Spiritual/Faith Development

Reflecting on my spiritual and faith development is interesting for me, because it's been a winding road, and has been in the back of my mind pretty consistently for the past year, but especially since moving to a whole new state this past summer. Religion has always been a part of my life- I was raised Lutheran and became very involved in my church and youth group as a high schooler. However, my relationship with my faith started changing when I went to college. In high school, we attended church nearly every Sunday. During college, I tried out the Lutheran service on campus twice and never went back, though I would attend church whenever I was home, happy to be back in a community.


I did change the nature of my relationship with faith in two important ways in college. One, I started praying every single night- no matter how exhausted I was- before I would let myself go to sleep. College was emotionally and intellectually challenging, and I found myself clinging more to my belief in God than ever before to help me get through and to anchor myself when life seemed out of control. My faith became more of a private affair than a public one, and I began using my understandings of my faith to make meaning of events in my life and what was happening around the world. Aligning myself with Parks' (2000) model, I'd place myself firmly in the Individuative-Reflective stage by senior year of college. The second change in the nature of my relationship was part of the transition from Parks' Synthetic-Conventional stage to the Individuative-Reflective stage. As I've mentioned earlier, my Sociology, History, and WGS (Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies) classes helped me become a more critical thinker. My Intro to WGS class prompted me to start questioning some of the tenants of what I had been taught about Christianity in church. Particularly, one of the first articles we read for the Intro class was about ancient matriarchal cultures and how they had female gods and how women were so highly respected. History classes were simultaneously discussing the influence of cultural ideologies on how we write about and interpret history. All this added up to my new understanding of our cultural interpretation of Christianity, and recognition of the historical and cultural influences that undoubtedly affected how the Bible was written: which scriptures were included and which were left out, what kind of language was used. Learning about sociohistorical context has made me more liberal in my interpretation of the Bible. But while I question some details, I still maintain my overall faith.


Since moving to Virginia Beach, one of my goals is to find a church community my husband and I can be a part of. For me personally, I really want to find that community and join young adult bible study groups or some other small group. Discussing and analyzing the Bible in the company of others is currently really appealing to me. I'm curious about how others interpret passages, and looking forward to finding new friends in a new community. It's been a while since I've been to church, and I'm finding that I miss it and want to reconnect.

Developing Purpose

I remember being eight years old, sitting on the floor of my family's living room, and thinking "what do I want to be when I grow up?" and having no idea except that I didn't want to be a vet (as much as I loved animals, once I found out how many years of school it took to become a vet, that career path was out). By the time I entered college, I still had no idea, and was completely undecided about a major, but expected that I would figure out my major and finally figure out my career before graduating. Well, I figured out my major, but graduated with only an idea that maybe I'd become a High School Counselor. I knew enough about myself to know that I wanted to be in a helping profession. I was and am idealistic and I wanted to make a difference in people's lives. I'm a good listener and peacemaker. I'm friendly and approachable. These qualities fit a School Counselor, but I wasn't convinced that being a School Counselor was the career for me, and I would later discover a new career path I hadn't even known existed.

Despite my disappointment with not finding my magic, perfect career by the time I graduated, I had done a lot of work during college in terms of Chickering & Reisser (1993)'s Developing Purpose vector of identity development. Through my classes, extracurriculars, and work experience, I realized that whatever career I ended up in, I wanted it to be working with and helping people. Having a helping role, especially helping people less fortunate than me, was a value that became firmly entrenched in my self-concept. I decided to pursue a position with a college access organization helping underserved high school students get to college because although college had its challenges, I was extremely grateful for the chance to experience college and all it's opportunities for growth and discovery. I wanted to help other young people have that experience and those opportunities too. If I hadn't gone to college, I don't know what I'd be doing right now. I think that urge to help people would still be there, but I wouldn't be adequately equipped to do so. College helped me to find a life direction. Higbee (2002) wrote about her college experience and Chickering and Reisser (1993)'s vectors. On Developing Purpose, she reflected that while some people work to live, she lives to work. Her work is an important part of her identity. Without realizing it, I have built up this same link between work and identity since I was little: I want the work I do to reflect who I am, how I see myself, and what is important to me. That is the basis of the decisions I make about not only my career, but what volunteer work and causes I involve myself in.

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Moral Development

I think my conceptions of right and wrong, good and bad, are definitely more strongly influenced by an ethic of care and relationships, as Gilligan (1993) argues is common for women versus men. I am always judging my actions and behavior around others in terms of how I am affecting them: Am I helping this person feel included? Did my comment allow the student to feel that their opinion is valid? Did I hurt someone's feelings? (When I first started meeting people in college who came from different backgrounds than me, I was especially cautious with what I said at times because I didn't want to offend by accident or ignorance, and I did feel very ignorant for a while). Broader than my own actions and behavior, I reflected recently on the current debate over illegal immigrants and refugees. The idea that is at the center of every thought and opinion I have on this topic revolves around my recognition that we are talking about real people who have real feelings and needs. The commentary around the country, and even among some people I know focuses on the consequences of allowing illegal immigrants to stay and refugees to enter. They talk about numbers and hypothetical dangers. Whereas I worry about the lives that will be torn apart if we force deportation, and the sense of hopelessness of refugees seeking safety for their families if they are turned away from the US. I believe that it is essential that each of us, but especially world leaders with so much power, make decisions from a perspective of compassion and empathy rather than selfishness and a cold focus on numbers, because that is what I believe is the right thing to do.

Cognitive Development

How do I understand and make meaning of the world around me? In connection with Perry (1968)'s theory of intellectual and ethical development, I think that college helped me transition from simpler to more complex modes of thinking and meaning making. When I entered college, I believe I was somewhere between dualistic and multiplistic thinking, because I believed that most adults, and definitely most professors would know and help students come to see the' right' answer. Even if an adult didn't know the right answer, I was confident that one existed, yet was open to the idea that different people could enlighten me as to the right answer. Sociology, history, psychology, and anthropology classes as well as friends taught me to respect cultural differences in terms of defining norms and who/what is considered deviant from the norm. Similarly, I learned that what Americans see as right and wrong isn't necessarily always the same, and even more so when we compare American culture with other cultures. When I had to decide for myself whether I agreed that something was right or wrong, normal or abnormal, I increasingly wanted evidence to make an informed decision for myself, informed by what I heard from professors, peers, family, scholarly writings, or the media. I began to weight different opinions based on the source and the particular issue I was grappling with (change to relativism). I was particularly challenged senior year in a religion class when I was researching for a paper related to Muslim women and feminism. The idea that there were feminist Muslim women who strongly supported a more liberal and less literal interpretation of the Quran, yet still chose to wear a hijab was hard for me to wrap my head around, with my Westernized feminist views. But as I read these Muslim women's writings, I came to understand why they thought the way they did, despite what other non-Muslim feminists, the media, and general society might say about hijabs. I no longer saw one side of the argument, but considered multiple positions, their reasoning, and made my own judgement from there. The process of deciding which opinions were most appropriate to take into consideration based on the source and context reflected my advancement into relativism as well (Myers, 2010).

Awareness of My Privilege

Feagin, Vera, & Batur (2001) suggest that white people need a critical event or experience to help them realize how race operates in their lives. Though I had never thought about it until sophomore year when I had Sociology 101 and Intro to WGS at the same time, I have been born with many privileges. Except for the fact that I am a woman, I am otherwise the stereotypical WASP: White, Anglo-Saxon descent, and Protestant. My family is middle class. I have light skin, blonde hair, blue eyes and a thin body type: I have the privilege of having physical traits associated with mainstream beauty. I am privileged that people don't usually automatically assume negative things about me based solely on my skin color. I have the privilege of belonging with the majority religion in America, as well as being a native speaker of the dominant language. I was privileged that 70% of my campus community looked like me, and so did most college leadership. When my friend invited me to hangout in the Intercultural Resource Center with her and some other friends, I felt very aware of my white privilege, because almost all students who spend time there are minority race or ethnicity, and I felt for the first time in my life like an outsider because of my race (though everyone was very nice to me). I was privileged that my parents had enough money to afford to help pay for some of my college expenses and that they had good credit to co-sign on loans. Although I experience some oppression as a woman, I am privileged above minority women and low-income women. I am highly doubtful that I would be as aware of my privileged position if not for the learning experiences I had in college.


(Photo credit: http://www.gettysburg.edu/about/offices/college_life/irc/our-services/)

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Using Theory in Practice: Good Company as an Adviser

Though I expect my roles will change throughout my career, my immediate career goals are to have an advising position helping students to navigate either the college admissions process or how to navigate college once they are there. I especially want to work with underserved student populations: low-income, first generation students. Perhaps more so than other students, these populations need people who can serve as good company for them and help them as they make important decisions and face new experiences and challenges, sometimes without adequate support from home. The principles of good company which Baxter Magolda (2002) outlines (1- validating learners' capacity to know, 2- situating learning in learners' experience, and 3- mutually constructing meaning) are directly relevant to my advising work with these students. 1) First generation students often need reassurance that they are just as smart, and can and do belong in the college community just as much as 2nd or 3rd generation students. 2) I can help students from diverse backgrounds to realize that the experiences that might set them apart from other students are an important source of knowledge, and that they can build on it rather than seek to replace it. 3) I can help guide students when they come to me with problems or questions, but in such a way as to facilitate their confidence in their own decision-making capacity rather than simply blurting out an answer.

Present Day and Moving Forward: Moving Toward Self-Authorship

Connecting my current self with Baxter Magolda's (2009) theory of self-authorship, I think that at this point in my life I have some of my internal foundation built up that helps me to draw on my personal beliefs and values as I make decisions. However, I think that I'm also circling back and forth with trusting my internal voice at times too. I've made a lot of headway in my self-confidence, but there are many times and situations where I look to external sources for the "right" answer rather than trusting my gut. I've definitely made headway through facing and overcoming challenges with money, stress, and difficult scenarios with coworkers over the past two years that have helped me to develop my internal voice and knowledge base of how I react to and deal with certain things. I've learned how to budget and live extremely frugally, how to take care of myself when I am stressed to my limits and to open myself up to asking for help when I need it. I tend to bundle things up inside; even though I like to help other people, I'm afraid to ask for help sometimes for myself. I'm learning to allow other people to be good company for me, and to focus on what's truly important instead of all the surrounding details and distractions. Having dealt with financial hardship and the accompanying stress, I feel very confident in my ability to handle challenges in the future, and can pull on that experience to give advice and support to others.

References

Abes, E.S., Jones,S.R., & McEwen, M.K. (2007). Reconceptualizing the model of multiple dimensions of identity: The role of meaning-making capacity in the construction of multiple identities. Journal of College Student Development, 48(1), 7.


Baxter-Magolda, M.B. (2002). Helping students make their way to adulthood: Good company for the journey. About Campus, 6(6), p. 2-9. doi: 10.1002/abc.66


Baxter-Magolda, M.B. (2009). Authoring your life: Developing an internal voice to navigate life's challenges. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.


Bem, S.L. (1983). Gender schema theory and its implications for child development: Raising gender-aschematic children in a gender-schematic society. Signs, 8(4), 598-616.


Evans, N. J., Forney, D. S., Guido, F. M., Patton, L. D., & Renn, K. A. (2010). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Feagin, J.R., Vera, H. & Batur, P. (2001). White racism: The basics (2nd. ed). New York: Routledge.


Fowler, J. W. (2000). Becoming adult, becoming Christian: Adult development and Christian faith. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Gilligan, C. (1990). In a different voice: Psychological theory and women's development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP.


Higbee, J. L. (2002). The application of Chickering's theory of student development to student success in the sixties and beyond. Research and Teaching in Developmental Education 18(2), 24-36. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/42802531


Josselson, R. (1996). Revising herself: The story of women's identity from college to midlife. New York: Oxford UP.


Myers, S. A. (2010). Using the Perry scheme to explore college student classroom participation. Communication Research Reports, 27(2). DOI: 10.1080/08824091003738016


Storey, K. L. (2010). Bridging the gap: Linking co-curricular activities to student learning outcomes in community college students (Doctoral Dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Database. (UMI number 3403863.)