The Residential Life and Student Activities Offices will be merged in the coming school year to create an Office of Student Engagement. Rachel Head, currently the assistant dean of residential life, will preside over the joined functions as assistant dean and director of student engagement, and current Student Activities Coordinator Mike Elias will serve under her as assistant director of student engagement. These changes are made possible by a reallocation of funds which will allow the college to hire new staff. They are also a response to student concerns, and to recommendations made by Margolis Healy and Associates in their report evaluating the college’s response to sexual assault.
The new hires will include an assistant director of residential communities who will work parallel to Elias and an administrative assistant who will facilitate their mutual efforts. Two residential community coordinators will also be instated to function as live-on-campus advisors.
The entire project is being conducted under the auspices of Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Liliana Rodriguez. She, Head and Elias seek to consolidate the management of what they see as already overlapping aspects of student experience through the merger.
“We’re too small of an institution to not have residential life and student activities together, because so much happens on campus and in the residence halls that we’re already functionally collaborating. It’s kind of a natural reorganization,” Head said.
To this end, the administrators hope to use the new office to create a centralized campus calendar, which will include academic, departmental, student-organized and independent events. They also plan to simplify and improve the procedures that concern event planning and funding in general. Elias recognizes that in the past, complications have arisen when students trying to schedule an event were not given adequate notice that it conflicted with a different campus event. He wants to prevent confusion like this in the future.
“If we have two groups that are planning to do something, they [will be] coming to one central place, to be sure that they’re not planning against each other,” he said.
“We do hope that organically, [this merge] will lead to more collaborations,” Rodriguez added. “If we know that three student organizations want to do something very similar, we can say, ‘Why don’t you talk to each other?’”
Rodriguez stated that any administrative intervention will not take decision-making power away from the student body. The Social Affairs Committee, Campus Council, and the Student Budget Committee will remain under student oversight.
“These are…completely autonomous groups,” she said.
Rodriguez emphasized that the new office would take student feedback into consideration throughout the year. One way she plans to do this is by creating an internship program, which would be a way to include students in management roles. However, she also wants to ensure that student leaders are given administrative support they need to achieve an appropriate work/life balance.
“We could essentially make CamCo’s job a little easier by taking away some of their logistical responsibilities, if they wanted us to,” Rodriguez said.
The changes being made to residential life are designed to align Swarthmore both with the standards set by its peer institutions and by Margolis Healy and Associates in their final report. The law firm suggested that Swarthmore should enhance its response to high-risk drinking in ways appropriate to the school’s cultural context, which is one of the reasons for the new residential community coordinators. These administrators will live on campus, although not in dormitories, and will be available for support during less traditional hours. Rodriguez was firm that their main duty will be to advise, not to police. She further clarified that their presence will not change the status of RA’s as required reporters.
Beyond immediate safety concerns, Rodriguez, Head and Elias hope that increased collaboration between residential life and student activities will allow for the implementation of new and ambitious projects which better integrate the different domains of student experience.
“A long term dream is living-learning communities,” Rodriguez said. “We’re trying to set up the structure to move towards something as dynamic and holistic as that.”
In the meantime, Head and Elias, currently the only people working in their respective offices, look forward to the merger and the extra support it will bring them.
“We work very well as one body now, but we’re only two people. I imagine some of the things which could come out of [the future Office of Student Engagement], and it’s really exciting,” Head said.