By Jacqueline Peterson, Vice President for Student Affairs/Dean of Students
On March 31, 2017, The Crusader published a statement from the Student Government Association following a “vote of no confidence” in the Office of Residence Life and Housing. The vote was taken after a few students voiced concerns to the SGA and they sought to provide information to the larger community. In reviewing the article, it seems that there were three different issues: one, the consistency in adjudication and sharing of information about a personnel matter with paraprofessional staff members; two, a lack of transparency in the Off-Campus Housing Process; and, three, a concern about the level of professionalism of staff. Please know that we have heard these concerns and have taken steps to move forward.
In our community, whenever there is a behavioral concern, College employees do everything they can to respect the dignity of each individual person. As the SGA statement recognized, “each sanctioning case is different and should be treated as such.” The difficulty for the Office of Residence Life and Housing is that each of these situations is a confidential personnel matter and information cannot be shared. However, we understand that we will need to be much clearer in expectations going forward regarding appropriate behavior. Moreover, if this situation were to happen again, we have identified ways to better share information with staff members.
With regards to the Off-Campus Housing Process, the associate dean for student life, assistant dean/director of residence life and housing, and the associate director of residence life and housing have been meeting with a group of eight SGA representatives since December 12, 2016. The purpose of this group was to address student concerns with the process and make improvements for 2018-19. This group has continued to meet to gain student input. At the same time, the SGA agreed to help improve the information that is sent out to students. This partnership has given students the opportunity to provide guidance for the process and help improve transparency. While it is clear there is information online and through email, it is not always read.
Finally, in order to address the perceived lack of professionalism with staff, Dean Coolbaugh has held open office hours and sought out conversations with RAs to discuss specific concerns. As we move forward, this will be a continual opportunity for us to provide more training and mentoring. Moreover, the following specific steps will be taken to increase the visibility of staff in the main office:
- We will be modifying or removing administrative hours. This change will allow each of the professional staff members to have up to two more hours in the office per week.
- We will identify meetings where all staff are required and post these times on the staff member’s door so students can identify where they are.
- Working around those all staff meetings, we will schedule pro-staff to have visibility hours in the office.
- We will be reviewing expectations and how they apply to their professional relationships but also how they apply to their RA staff and students.
In the end, we thank the SGA for bringing these concerns forward. We have heard ways that we need to improve and will take steps to make changes. We intend to continue to do everything we can to ensure that students have an exceptional residential experience.