This year, Residence Life and the Dean of Students Office are breaking down walls and bridging gaps – literally.
The two offices have combined forces and are now housed in one complex of offices in Reis Hall called the Student Life Suite.
Dividing walls were removed, rooms were enlarged, and the two departments moved in to their newly expanded work space.
This alliance was instigated by the growing number of students living on campus – about 1,900 – and the demand placed on the offices to meet their demands.
“I felt that the Dean of Students Office needed to make sure we were really connected to the best of our ability with Residence Life that manages all the housing for students and the programmatic needs,” said Joe DiChristina, dean of students. “I wanted to have a sense of the students who are living in our space and how we’re taking care of them.”
The newly-fused offices are meant to enhance community and communication between students and staffers despite population growth. According to DiChristina, having a singular place of operation creates a constant flow of students coming in and out that allows him to communicate with them in a way he was not able to when the departments were separated.
Gretchen Kerr, assistant to the dean, also noted the increase in traffic that has lead to more freely flowing dialogue between students and staff.
“We had it [traffic] before in the Dean of Students Office, it just wasn’t as heavy as it is here,” she said. “And I like helping people so as they come in with questions, I learn something new every day about how the campus operates and what the students need.”
In addition to the open floor plan, the staff is making numerous efforts to make the environment in the suite warm and welcoming. Their goal is for the office to become a place where students can come to work through problems, talk with the staff, or just hang out and eat lunch.
“We just want this to be a fun place for students,” said Joe Hall, assistant director of residence life. “We never really had the space before or the setup, it wasn’t really a welcoming place to students who aren’t RAs just to come in and chat and tell us what’s going on in their lives.”
Now, however, the office has turned into a bustling hub of activity. Comfortable couches and pictures of students are being moved in, and the French doors to the main sitting room are open wide.
The move has also increased communication within the staff.
“When I walk in now, I’m walking into a space that used to have three people that now has eight of us all bumping into each other immediately and it’s through that that you have a development of a team,” DiChristina said. “That certainly, for me, helps run things more smoothly as an institution.”
Aside from some student confusion over where the office is located – there is currently no sign denoting the suite as the offices of the Dean of Students and Residence Life – the transition of merging the offices has been relatively seamless.
“Certainly there’s challenges when two offices merge,” Kerr said. “We have different cultures in our offices, we have different operations, the way we organize the structure and the staff.”
Both departments have had to adapt quickly to learn how to direct students with problems that were usually under the other office’s jurisdiction.
“It’s weird because even though we were next door to each other just across the hall, it’s a whole different feeling,” Kerr said. “So yeah, it’s an adjustment, but I think that it’s definitely the right move.”