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Opinion: The Dean of Students Office isn’t Westminster’s principal’s office

The placard for the Dean of Students Office, located in the Shaw Student Center on April 18. The Dean of Students Office is a hub for student information and resources which many students do not utilize. (Photo by Jasmynn Velez)

Students can graduate from Westminster College still not knowing all of the resources the college has to offer. I’ve worked in the Dean of Students Office for three years and I agree students don’t always know what we do.

Dean of Students Karnell McConnell-Black and Assistant Dean of Students Dan Cairo said they want to change that.

The Dean of Students Office, which is located in the Shaw Student Center, acts as a hub for student resources. It is one of nine departments and offices under the umbrella of Student Affairs.

“It is helpful to think of the Dean of Students Office for this particular college as the one stop shop for student concerns or student advocacy or student support,” Cairo said.

McConnell-Black said utilizing the Dean of Students Office during college is a stepping stone for students preparing for adulthood after college. He said it’s an opportunity to “lean into the discomfort” and build skills for self-advocacy with a support system of a professional staff behind you.

“I always say we never get anywhere in this world by ourselves,” McConnell-Black said. “We always have to use people, we don’t live in vacuums by ourselves. At the end of the day, your tuition bills [are] helping pay for the services we’re providing. Use the services that you’re paying.”

The Dean of Students office handles situations such as conduct or withdrawals. However, they aren’t limited to just that. The office also handles first-year orientation and graduation as well as student safety, mental health and academic concerns.

However, the professional staff doesn’t want the student body to think they only handle these more serious matters. We don’t have a compiled list of resources and services because every student’s needs are unique.

Carlie Hiatt discusses ideas with Assistant Dean of Students Dan Cairo while students Sean Distance, Carson Bold and Jazmin May mingle with each other and the office assistant in the Dean of Students Office on April 17. Staff said they want students to know the office is an open space for students to visit for any reason, even just to chat. (Photo by Jasmynn Velez)

“Giving you a laundry list of […] all the resources [students] can access […] doesn’t really help,” Cairo said. “If [students] don’t see themselves within that list of resources they’re not going to come here for other questions or other support. Whether it’s academic support, questions for graduation or orientation, financial stuff, mental health, we’re gonna walk you to this other office where they’ll be able to help you or we’re gonna problem solve and figure out in what ways we’re gonna take care of you.”

My co-manager, Chad Husband, and I also want to make the office a positive, welcoming place, however, many students still perceive the Dean of Students office as a principal’s office.

“I knew that you go [to the Dean of Students Office] when you’re in trouble,” said senior Burt Merrill. “Or that’s what I thought. […] That’s all I knew.”

Other students said they only know about a small selection of the services offered, such lockout assistance and posting fliers on campus.

“When I got locked out of my dorm, I’m pretty sure I went there,” said senior Madison Paulson. “I think that’s my only experience [with the office].”

In fact, some students graduate having never interacted with the Dean of Students Office expect for graduation purposes.

“I have never visited the Dean of Students Office,” said Naomi Shapiro, another Westminster senior. “I’ve never really had an issue that required their help. I heard about them, but I didn’t really know specifically [what they did].”

The staff in the office want to combat the idea it is a bad place and want to clear up confusion about what they do. We want students to know they can visit for any reason. Whether you have an issue, want to share your achievements or just want to talk to someone, anyone in this office can be available to you.

“Come talk to us,” McConnell-Black said. “We’re normal people [too].”

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Jasmynn Velez
Jasmynn is a junior communication major, manager for the Dean of Students Office and executive director of social media for ASW. Often busy with school, Jasmynn still makes free time for the latest movie, concerts and eating out with her friends. She looks forward to making the best of her time at Westminster College and preparing for the professional world.

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