As YALSA President, one of the things I sometimes hear from new YALSA members, and those attending Midwinter Meeting or Annual Conference for the first time, is that YALSA is very cliquey. I can see how that can be the perception as at meetings and events, people who know each other and haven’t seen each other in months, get excited about having the chance to talk face-to-face and huddle around each other excitedly, often talking non-stop. To some, walking into that environment, it can seem like first day at a new high school on the first day of school after summer vacation. Vacation is just over and everyone is running up to each other, hugging, and gabbing away, excited about being together again after time apart.
But, I’m here to tell you that yes, while it’s true that YALSA members love to see each other after not having a chance for face-to-face conversation for several months, it’s even more true that we are a welcoming bunch of people very interested in helping new members and bringing newbies into the Association.
Here are some things YALSA staff and leadership are doing in order to help guarantee that those new to the Midwinter Meeting and events experience, don’t feel like they are walking into a room of high school cliques:
- YALSA Board members and staff hover around the meeting doors of All Committee and Leadership Development in order to welcome people to the meetings. We’ll all be wearing ribbons that say Board Member or Staff or President, President-Elect, Past President and you should feel free to walk up to one of us and say “hello.” You should also feel comfortable asking questions about how the meetings work.
- The same is true for the Joint Youth Division Membership Reception on Monday evening of Midwinter. I know I’ll be stationed at a door to welcome those who attend the event. If I don’t see you as you walk by, feel free to walk up to me and say “hello.” I’ll wear my name badge and have a ribbon that says President. (By the way I’ve included my photo in this post so you’ll know what I look like and can very definitely feel like you can walk up and say “hello.”) I very much want to meet new (and potential) members and first time attendees, and look forward to talking with you about what you would like to get involved in in YALSA and how YALSA can support you in your work with teens.
- Perhaps social events like the YALSA Happy Hour and Games, Gadgets, and Gurus might be the most difficult in overcoming a perception of clicquishness. At these events, again there will be people stationed at the doors to welcome you. But, once you walk into the room, if it seems like there’s just bunches of people who all know each other talking it up and you don’t want to interrupt, don’t let that stop you from selecting a group and going up and introducing yourself. Believe me, I know that can be difficult. But, it’s really an important thing to do. I promise, the people you walk up to will be friendly and welcoming. (And if they aren’t I apologize in advance, that’s not what YALSA is really like.)
As a new YALSA member, potential member, or new Midwinter Meeting goer, I’d like to ask you to wear your badge when at meetings and events. I was always terrible at this, (so it may seem inappropriate for me to suggest) but I have learned, now that I’m in a YALSA leadership position, that badge-wearing is a really important part of being able to be welcomed into the Association. If I, and others, can quickly see your name and where you work, then it’s really easy to start a conversation with you. (I can even see your badge and say “Hi, Amy” without having met you before. We’ll be on a first-name basis instantaneously.)
One important message I have is that YALSA has made changes over the past several years in order to be more welcoming to those who are new to the organization, and/or face-to-face meetings and events that the Association sponsors. To some extent, this is a two-way endeavor. We’ll welcome you as best we can. And, I hope you’ll be willing to take the risk of talking to people that you might not know. It can be difficult, but as others who have gone before you can tell you, it’s worth it. You’ll meet people who become life-long colleagues and friends and whom you’ll be able to connect with when not at face-to-face events in order to brainstorm ideas, discuss challenges, and celebrate successes.
If you are attending Midwinter and have questions about any of the meetings or events, feel free to contact me.
If blog readers have tips, advice, etc. for first-time attendees leave them in the post comments.