Student Life ushers in latest revisions to a steadily evolving office

The former Office of Campus Life underwent several important logistical changes over the summer, reemerging this fall as the Office of Student Life. In addition to changing its name, the office has also added two internship positions and hired an interim assistant director for student involvement. The office has also adapted its long-term focus to include an emphasis on student leadership, to make student groups more accessible and to further streamline and more effectively facilitate programming and event planning on campus. While the Office of Student Life has changed significantly from last spring to this fall, it has also been gradually evolving – under its former name as the Office of Campus Life – over its nearly 10 years of existence at the College.

“Part of why [the College] reconfigured the office is [so] that it is a comfortable place for students to go,” Dean Bolton said. “They are becoming an office that is a resource.”

One important aspect of being such a resource, according to Ben Lamb, interim assistant director for student involvement, is that a Student Life staff member is always seated at the front desk of the office to welcome and direct students who have questions or concerns regarding anything from housing to how to plan a bake sale.

“We’re trying to let people know that our doors are open,” Lamb said. Some of his and the office’s goals are to serve as a reference point for questions about student leadership, for student groups looking to coordinate in event planning and as for individual students with interesting event ideas that might need help getting off the ground.

Changes in staff and responsibility

Now the director of Student Life and formerly the director of Campus Life, Doug Schiazza came to the College in August of 2003 as the director of residential and student life, with the responsibility of working closely with the Community Life Coordinators (CLC), whose role was similar to that of Student Life staff members now. Schiazza also oversaw the Student Activities Office, which sometimes coordinated with Residential and Student Life, but was an entirely separate office. The two offices were divided across three buildings: Schiazza worked in Hopkins Hall, the CLCs were located upstairs in the Log on Spring Street and the Student Activities Office was in Baxter Hall, which predated Paresky Center.

In 2004, Residential and Student Life and the Student Activities Office merged to become Campus Life. “By the nature of my position, I was already supervising both [offices],” Schiazza said. “It was kind of naturally happening anyhow.” He said that he saw value in the synergy between the two offices and their ability to communicate with one another.

“We had the responsibility, and continue to have the responsibility, of the operation of the student centers,” Schiazza said about Campus Life. “When Baxter started coming down in 2004, we knew that when [Paresky] opened we would have responsibility for that as well.”

Schiazza said that how the newly founded Office of Campus Life managed student centers “was not as clear then and was one of the things we wanted to bring some clarity to over the years.” He said that Paresky’s openness and accessibility was a huge improvement from Baxter Hall’s one dining hall, single snack bar and small lounge. “It was going to be much more interactive, with more spaces for student involvement,” Schiazza said. He also noted that when Schuyler Hall ’10 joined the staff of Campus Life last year as the student centers coordinator, the office was better able to elucidate appropriate uses of campus centers such as the Log, Goodrich and Greylock.

According to Schiazza, when he first arrived at the College, Facilities had been responsible for the annual upperclassmen housing lottery and student housing concerns. Schiazza had been involved in housing as well, but Campus Life did not take over this responsibility until the fall of 2005.

Facilities is currently responsible for summer housing placement, but Schiazza said that Student Life may assume this responsibility going into the future, ensuring that “student housing placements go to one place, no matter what time of year it is,” he said.

Over time, Campus Life has seen fluctuations in its staff composition. In 2008, Campus Life cut its number of CLC positions from four individuals who worked both within and outside the office to two individuals who worked just within Campus Life, to streamline the office’s focus, Schiazza said. At that point, at the outset of the 2008-2009 academic year, the office included eight staff positions.

During the 2008-2009 academic year, Schiazza’s administrative assistant left the office and, due to the College’s hiring freeze, Campus Life was left with seven staff members. The departure of staff member David Schoenholtz at the end of that year left the office with just six employees, Schiazza explained.

“Tim [Leonard] was still the student activities coordinator from 2009 to 2010,” Schiazza said, “[and] when [Leonard] left, we decided that it would be really good to have somebody who could focus on the student activities centers,” leading Campus Life to hire Hall, the student centers coordinator, for the 2010-2011 academic year.

While the Office of Student Life is still looking to hire an assistant director of upperclass residential programing, who will be responsible for students’ housing concerns and overseeing housing-related programing, several staffing changes have already been implemented for the start of the semester.

Lamb, who worked with the former Office of Campus Life as a graduate student intern last spring, is now a new staff member with Student Life, working with students primarily on leadership and identity, as well as facilitating communication among the College’s many student groups.

Ellen Rougeau and Gail Rondeau, both staff members of the former Office of Campus Life, have returned as student activities coordinator and student housing coordinator, respectively. Hall has returned as the student centers coordinator.

Communication with Baxter Fellows and the neighborhoods

 

In 2005, the Committee for Undergraduate Life (CUL) proposed the neighborhood system as a new housing system in which students would be affiliated with residential neighborhoods. Originally, each neighborhood was comprised of a cluster of buildings around a central house. The goal of this system, implemented in the fall of 2006, was to foster a sense of community among students (“CUL outlines agenda,” Sept. 20, 2005). The neighborhoods fell under the purview of Campus Life, and now fall under the new Office of Student Life.

The Baxter Fellow program, also overseen by Campus Life, and now by Student Life, was revised to foster community on an even smaller level than the neighborhoods. Baxter Fellows, formerly known as house coordinators, stemmed from the role of house presidents during the era between the late 1960s, after fraternities were abolished and the house system was instated, and the early 1990s. The position’s name was changed because, according to Schiazza, “especially as Baxter the building came down, we wanted something to continue to show how President Baxter’s impact on student life continues to exist until this day,” he said.

The program saw significant modifications in 2010 when Campus Life implemented several changes, including the addition of a Baxter Fellow for each floor of larger houses and the introduction of a head Baxter Fellow and quiet housing Baxter Fellow. The compensation for Baxter Fellows was also adjusted at this time (“Campus Life alters Baxter Fellow program,” May 4, 2010).

In the past, Aaron Gordon, who is now deputy to the vice president for campus life, had overseen the Baxter Fellows program as a member of Campus Life, while Schiazza advised the neighborhood program. When hired, the new assistant director of upperclass residental programming will take on both these responsibilities.

“In the new assistant director, I’m looking for a highly creative person who will think outside of the box when it comes to residential life,” Schiazza said. “I expect the new assistant director to find new ways to bolster the programs’ effectiveness and development, including the leadership development of the Baxter Fellows and Neighborhood Board members.”

Schiazza believes that residential life programing has definitely evolved over time, especially with regards to student leadership and interest.

“We’ve been working with the program since the beginning. I just think that now we are seeing more students interested in the student leadership opportunities that are available through positions like being on a neighborhood board or being a Baxter Fellow.”

Encouraging student leadership

According to Schiazza, this year Student Life is aiming to step up its focus on student leadership and identity development. Schiazza said the office plans to execute this focus by highlighting existing student groups and leadership opportunities on campus, a well as through “specific workshop[s] that help interested students explore and reflect upon what it means and takes for them to be a leader,” he said.

During the last week of each month, Lamb hopes to coordinate a leadership week that will include specialized workshops on “self-branding” and identity, with a focus on social networking and social media. He is also in the process of planning several leadership workshops throughout the year, including one later this semester, one at the beginning of the spring semester and one at the end of the academic year. The workshops would be structured as a series that “builds on itself, almost like a course,” Lamb said.

He will also help to supervise this year’s Freshman Leadership Weekend, an annual overnight event at the Log during which first-years have the opportunity to engage in leadership workshops, meet-and-greet events and discussions, all led by upperclassmen in leadership positions. “It’s seeing who was in your shoes three years ago and where they are now,” Lamb said of the program, which, in the past, was entirely student-run. “Our goal is to make this something that continues.”

Speaking to Student Life’s goal of fostering coordination between student groups, Lamb noted the usefulness of the Freshman Leadership Weekend for members of Frosh Council, a group of first-years responsible for planning social events for their class. According to Lamb, a similar idea for sophomores is in the works.

Another goal is to encourage interested students to attend regional and local conferences on student leadership. “We talk about how we’re here in the purple bubble, well this is really popping the purple bubble and throwing you out there,” Lamb said.

According to Steve Klass, vice president for campus life, Student Life has an expanded yet specified focus as the office moves into the future.

“If you watch the way we’ve developed over time, we initially developed the infrastructural piece in the treatment of students on campus, and we are now focusing on the leadership piece,” Klass added.

Klass said that the emphasis on leadership will also be supplemented by the Multicultural Center encouraging a similar focus within its own programing.

“Now we are really focusing on student involvement on campus, which has more to do with the leadership component for students involved in organizations,” Klass said. “It is important for student organizations to follow rules, but we are now thinking about more than that – about how you budget, how to mediate conflict between academic organizations and about what kinds of skills are transferrable academically in terms of things we are doing outside the institution.”

Schiazza noted that the goal of Student Life is not just to alleviate housing concerns or host parties. “It isn’t just about putting on a program. It isn’t just about a specific task or responsibility,” he said. “It’s about asking, what are you getting from this? What are you learning from this?”

He added that Student Life is striving to provide such experiences – specifically experiences in leadership – both through promoting existing clubs and organizations in which students can participate, supporting students who want to plan campus events and providing specific opportunities that focus directly on leadership.

“We want more opportunities for students to seek that out and walk away with those experiences,” Schiazza said. “So I think you’ll see more of that coming through this year and in future years.”