On July 10, President Carolyn “Biddy” Martin announced that Dean of Students Allen Hart ’82, Professor of Psychology, would take a leave of absence for a year, having deferred his sabbatical in 2010 to replace Dean Ben Lieber as Dean of Students. Senior Associate Dean Charri Boykin-East agreed to serve as Interim Dean of Students for the 2012-2013 academic year and the beginning of summer 2013. A search committee has been identified to select a new dean of students. Professor Austin Sarat, of the LJST and Political Science Department will chair the search committee. Other members of the committee will include Professor David Hall from the Physics Department, Professor Jill Miller from Biology, Tom Parker, Dean of Admissission and Financial Aid, Frances Tuleja, Assistant Dean of Admission and Senior Coach Billy McBride, Assistant Athletic Director-Diversity and Inclusion, as well as two students yet to be appointed.
Hart stated that he intended to use the leave to spend more time with his family and pursue academic research related to college student affairs. Hart said he looks forward to rejoining the Student Affairs Division, which encompasses the Offices of the Dean of Students, Health Services, Health Education, Residential Life, Student Activities, Counseling Center, Services for International Students, Services for Students with Special Needs, Peer Tutoring Services, Religious Life and the Career Center in a role yet to be established. The Student sat down with Dean Boykin-East to discuss her plans for her term as Interim Dean and her thoughts on the College, edited with permission for length and clarity:
Q: What inspired you to start a career in college administration?
A: During graduate school I served as a Residence Director, equivalent to the role of the College’s Area Coordinator, at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in the Residential Education Department. The Residential Education Department at the University really impressed me with its policies and procedures and the comprehensive ways the department worked with both the professional and paraprofessional staff. By being part of the Residential Education program I learned a variety of skills including but not limited to supervisory skills, stress management and how to work with students regarding sexual misconduct, concerns related to drug and alcohol problems, supporting students who may be dealing with eating disorders, psychological and emotional concerns. I was in the final stages of a graduate school program at the University of Massachusetts when I applied for and was honored to receive the position as the Director of Residential Life here at the College. At the time the Residential Life Program was very young. The current Residential Life Director Torin Moore, along with his staff of Area Coordinatiors has instituted new programs policies and procedures and they have created a more robust program.
I thought I could balance full-time graduate research with a full-time job and still take care of my family, but I was unable to balance a growing family, an exhilarating position and graduate school. I left the program before finishing my dissertation. However, my position at the University inspired me to seek a career in Higher Education Administration.
Q: What made you interested in agreeing to serve as the Interim Dean of Students?
A: Well, I have always wanted to be a Dean of Students. I had applied at times to be a Dean of Students at other institutions, but the timing wasn’t right — and who would want to be a Dean anywhere but Amherst anyways? A few years ago I served as acting Dean of Students while Dean Lieber took a sabbatical for the semester. I loved it, so I jumped at the opportunity to serve again.
Q: What are your plans for your tenure as Interim Dean of Students?
A: I want to do a lot as Interim Dean! I’ve been here since the 1990s, and I’ve seen a lot of things that I’d like to change about the climate and attitudes within the College. I know I can’t do everything, but I’m anxious to institute some modest changes that I have thought about for a long time.
I have lots of ideas, but I think they all center around the need to improve intra-campus collaboration and harmonize all the different advertisements and calendars on the web to better promote our wonderful programs. The new digital signage program with all the iPads that you see around campus, designed by new Chief Information Officer Gayle Barton and her staff, is part of that effort. I would also like to implement some strategies used successfully by the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) such as running a column in The Student and holding public relations events at Valentine Hall. I want to change the relationship that students have with the Division of Student Affairs. I don’t want students to view coming to the Dean of Students’ Office as a bad thing. We’re nice people and, yes, sometimes we have to have difficult conversations with students, but it’s out of a sense of concern and caring for our students and not to just spoil their fun. We like to have fun, too.
I would like to increase the profile of the Multicultural Resource Center, I would like to work with the staff and bring back the series “Elephant in the Room,” and I hope to work with the staff of The Student to highlight diversity at the College. For example, I remember that The Student ran a human interest piece about the locksmith, Doug Fuller, and I thought it would be great for the newspaper to tell the stories of the unsung heroes on campus, the staff that you rely on every day, but who rarely get adequate recognition for their work. If I had to wrap it up in one theme, it would be about trying to build a caring community. I like the motto on the 2016 orientation T-shirts: “Building community, one voice at a time.” I want to reassure students that the administration cares about issues such as sexual respect, and I want to create conversations about those issues. I am also concerned about the amount of binge drinking that’s been going on — and it’s not about trying to take away people’s fun; it’s about safety and responsibility, and taking care of those around you.
Q: How do you think the position of the Provost will change the way the College administration functions?
A: I think the position of the Provost will help the College to think more strategically. As an administrator I am engaged in the day-to-day tasks. That often prevents me from identifying long term goals and objectives. I also think the new Provost’s position will provide offices and departments more opportunities to communicate and collaborate.
Q: What would you like to change about the long-term direction of the College?
A: I think we do a really good job of planning and administering New Student Orientation, and we elaborate on some of the orientation topics through Extended Orientation events. But I don’t think we spend enough time reinforcing the message of community and respect with upper-class students. We try to really inform the first-years but we do not have enough conversations with upper-class students. I believe upper-class students serve as the role models for new students. I believe we need to do a better job of communicating and working with upper-class students and work with them to promote a healthy and inclusive community.
Please know I am really seeking advice and support from the AAS and other student groups. I am hoping through dialogue we can collectively identify strategies on how to achieve and maintain open and on-going communication with upper-class students. I want to work with others to plan thematic programming about topics such as sexual respect, alcohol and other drugs and stress management. I would like to create a buzz on campus about these issues. I’d like to have conversations with student groups about creating leadership and community development events. I want students to really think about what kind of community they want at the College. It is my hope when current students look back on their experience they will feel that Amherst College was a respectful and caring community and when someone needed help they and others had the courage to step in up and provide assistance.