Res Life shifts aim to caring

Amy Hamblin

The Daily Northwestern

Dean of Students Mary Desler’s responsibilities have expandedbeyond her previous responsibilities as associate vice presidentfor Student Affairs to include dorm issues, Greek life and studentdiscipline.

And now that Desler has settled into her position asNorthwestern’s first dean of students, she said she would like toforge a closer bond between students and Undergraduate ResidentialLife staffers.

“What we are beginning to do is craft a plan to look at studentlife and how to make it better,” Desler said. “I want to work withother units to strengthen the safety net for students, so we arethere when they need us.”

In her old position, Desler oversaw the Multicultural Center andthe University Hearing and Appeals System. But now Desler said most”essential student services” are centralized under her, includingResidential Life, the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life,Judicial Affairs and New Student Week.

So far much of Desler’s focus has been on redefining the role ofarea coordinators — full-time staff members who live in dorms. Shesaid the bulk of major disciplinary action should be handled bysomeone who doesn’t live with the students, so area coordinatorsare not seen as “police officers.”

“I have asked them to think about their roles not asdisciplinarians but as people who are there to be supportive,” shesaid. “I really want them to walk around and not snoop, but reallyget to know everyone.”

Desler added that she hopes students feel more comfortableopening up to area coordinators with personal problems.

However, some resident assistants are skeptical that studentswill approach area coordinators with personal issues because theyare older and sometimes are seen as being out of touch withstudents.

Area coordinators are typically in their mid-20s and hold masterdegrees in subjects affiliated with counseling and studentinteraction.

Residence Hall Association President Joe Vera said he doubtsmost students even know who their area coordinator is. But they doknow their resident assistant, who could be a better person forstudents to approach.

“(RAs) are connected to students,” said Joe Vera, Residence HallAssociation president. “Area coordinators have more than onebuilding so they can’t know what is going on in a dorm and get afeel for the building.”

But Allison President Robert Boesel thinks the slightly olderage of area coordinators is beneficial.

“If they couldn’t talk to a peer or someone they will see in thebathroom, they can go downstairs to an area coordinator,” saidBoesel, a Communication sophomore.

The area coordinator position was added several years ago, afterit was recommended to the university that “professional adults”live in and supervise dorms, said Virginia Koch, senior assistantdirector of Residential Life.

“I think (area coordinators) make a tremendous impact on hallgovernment advising and personal student advising,” said VirginiaKoch, senior assistant director of residential life.

“It has taken a huge weight off student residentialcoordinators, which is basically like a full-time job,” shesaid.

Desler said she supported the formation of a committee startedin August to review potential discrepancies between dorms and otheron-campus housing in the punishment students receive for alcoholviolations.

Representatives from the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life,Residential Life, Health Education and Counseling and PsychologicalServices on the committee will look not only at punishment foralcohol offenses, but they also will monitor the impact ofstudents’ drinking habits on the larger community, said LupitaTemiquel, head of the committee and NU’s Student Judicial Affairsofficer.

Temiquel said it will require a lot of dialogue betweendepartments about a fair way to resolve the issue.

Through the committee and her other efforts, Desler pledged towork for more accountability to NU students.

“What we really want to do is to find ways to connect to ourstudents so we aren’t seen as disciplinarians and so we can loveand care for them,” she said.

Reach Amy Hamblin at [email protected]