By Gabe Brison-Trezise
For the first time in roughly seven years, students were offered the chance to weigh in on the search for a new director of Housing and Residential Life (ResLife), yet no students attended the public discussions with the first two of four short-listed candidates.
“There’s kind of a gap between what students say they want and what they’re actually doing to get it,” said Becky Gorin ’14, community adviser (CA) and a member of the nine-person search committee charged with selecting former ResLife Director Alicia Dugas’s replacement.
“I definitely encourage people to come out and go to those open sessions and have their opinions heard,” Gorin said. The last session is tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. in Peirce Lounge, with visiting candidate Paul Posener, who most recently held a similar post at Alfred State College in New York.
Dean of Students Hank Toutain, also a part of the committee, noted in an email that he wanted to see the next ResLife director undertake “a greater integration of the curricular and co-curricular aspects of student lives.” He added that he hoped to see “more learning and skill development take place as a result of the residential experience.”
Lara Conrad, another one of the four candidates, also advocated a move toward more curricular programming in ResLife. “It would be similar to some of the themed housing Kenyon already has but possibly driven by an academic department versus being driven by just a student club or something — maybe some sort of experiential learning, preparing for studying abroad,” she said.
The four candidates have worked across the country, from New York to Ohio, Texas to North Dakota. Cindy Spencer, director of residence life at the University of North Dakota as of this winter, discussed the need to be visible in students’ lives. “It’s important that students know who I am, not just a title but a real person,” Spencer said, adding that CAs “have the most important job on campus. They need to feel supported, they need to feel listened to. Because they’re there for the students, I expect myself and my staff to be there for them.”
Jill Engel-Hellman, the final candidate, who currently works in Denison University’s provost’s office, echoed the need to build relationships with CAs — not only to support them, but also to gauge the student body’s opinions.
“I’m going to function with as much transparency as possible and make sure that I base decisions on the needs and wants of as many students on campus as possible,” Engel-Hellman said. “To do that, I think it’s first important to get to know all of the CAs. I worked at the University of Maryland for almost four years, and I would meet with the RAs [resident advisors] every year one-on-one.”
Key to building relationships with student staff, as well as the student population more broadly, according to Posener, is maintaining an open mind. “When you’re talking about students who may be upset about something,” he said, “the first step you need is to be available to them and listen to what they have to say.”
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