About the RLWG
Upon the start of President Mandel’s tenure in 2018, she began the college’s comprehensive strategic planning process. One of the areas of this process has to do with Learning Beyond the Classroom, and a working group that was charged to look at several college programs and functions that fall into that category, completed and delivered their report in the spring of 2020. The report (as well as the other strategic planning working groups’ reports) can be found on the President’s Office website.
The report highlighted some areas of residential life that need to be addressed. President Mandel and Dean Sandstrom charged the Residential Life Working Group, or RLWG, to explore four of these areas:
- professional live-in residential life staff (focus for November 2020-March 2021)
- theme/affinity/program/special interest (or TAPSI) housing (focus for November 2020-March 2021)
- housing focused on senior students (focus for March 2021-beyond)
- housing focused on students with advanced life experience (focus for March 2021-beyond)
The RLWG’s charge is not to determine whether or not these programs will occur at Williams; the work of the Learning Beyond the Classroom strategic planning group has made it quite clear to President Mandel and Dean Sandstrom that these programs are critical to put into place to improve residential life at Williams. Rather, we have been charged to determine the best ways to move forward with these programs.
The RLWG is listening, especially to those who have struggled the most with our current programs or in some cases the lack thereof, so that we can begin to address those struggles and to provide more and better support through residential life at Williams. The RLWG’s work is not only in response to the groundwork of the Learning Beyond the Classroom strategic planning subgroup, but is also in response to the groundwork of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategic planning subgroup as well as the college’s overarching commitment to support minoritized students. The outcome of our work will enhance students’ residential life at Williams by bolstering student wellness, safety, and autonomy, and will be part of a four-year arc of student co-curricular development.
- Aseel Abulhab ’15, Assistant Director for Intergroup Relations and Inclusive Programming
- Meg Bossong ’05, Director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, and Health Education
- Kendra Brenya ’22
- Justin Connell ’22
- Joe Cruz ’91, Professor of Philosophy, chair of the Committee on Student Life
- Aaron Gordon, Director of Student Administrative Affairs, Strategy and Planning
- Patty Leahey-Hays, Assistant Director for Residential Life and Housing
- Aria Mason ’21
- Sophie Moore ’22
- Essence Perry ’22
- Shivon Robinson ’11, Assistant Professor of Psychology
- Doug Schiazza (chair), Senior Associate Dean of Campus Life
- Christopher Sewell ’05, Associate Dean of Students / Dean of First-Year Students
- Doug Adams, Associate Dean of Students, Franklin & Marshall College and former Associate Dean of Students, Middlebury College
- Fran Koerting, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life, Wesleyan University
- Mike Ranen, Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Director of Residential and Student Life, Bowdoin College
- Andrea Robinson, Director of Residential Life, Carleton College
Progress Update – March 1, 2021
The RLWG has been meeting weekly since November 2020, with discussions thus far focused on professional live-in residential staff, or Area Coordinators, and Theme/Affinity/Program/Special Interest (“TAPSI”) housing.
These full-time professionals will work with student leaders to create and support an atmosphere for a safe and fun living environment for students in their respective residential areas, and will fill several gaps in our current residential system. They will create and facilitate a four-year developmental co-curricular learning arc for students, to help students successfully enjoy residential autonomy on campus, to be a connection point for residential student leaders with various student-facing offices as well as with offices that provide various services correlated to housing, to ease the burden on CSS for after-hours student support, and to support and bolster the roles of the JAs, JAAB, HCs, and RDs. They are not being designed to replace any existing student residential leadership positions. We do anticipate that the new Area Coordinators will provide support and advisement to student leaders and to student residents on low-level, non-emergency residential issues for which students now tend to first contact CSS. We hope that the Area Coordinators will further enhance student residential autonomy and responsibility, by helping students utilize the resources they have at their disposal and reduce their need to involve CSS.
The Area Coordinator positions are necessary to meet increasing need for student wellness and support, especially in the evenings and on the weekends when, otherwise, the only other non-students on campus are CSS. Relying on CSS in this manner is challenging both for CSS as well as students; we’ve heard for many years now that the presence of a uniformed police-like entity within student residential spaces results in significant anxiety and misunderstandings of purpose and roles, and this came through clearly in last year’s strategic planning work as well. We need people readily available after 5pm, who can give good advice and support to students and student leaders when something isn’t at a level of an emergency and doesn’t need to be escalated as such, but is still important in the moment. And Area Coordinators can help student leaders determine if something might be an emergency if there’s some question about that in the moment as well.
The Area Coordinator positions are not designed to surveil students, nor to replace student leaders; rather, they will support, advise, and augment, and their roles will make it easier for students and student leaders to work together to address low-level community issues how they should be addressed – with and amongst students.
We anticipate that two of the Area Coordinators will focus on first-year residential life, and two will focus on upperclass residential life. Their regular hours will involve evenings and weekends. During the program’s 2021-2022 inaugural year (and likely for a few years beyond), the Area Coordinators will reside in college-provided apartments adjacent to the campus, while sharing newly-created residential life satellite office/work/collaboration spaces within residence halls with student residential leaders. The four Area Coordinator positions will be hired in time to on-board for the fall 2021 semester.
(the TAPSI acronym is simply Dean Schiazza’s taking liberty to create a temporary acronym. The RLWG has not landed on a name or series of names for this to-date.)
It’s critical at this point in the college’s history, as well as this point in our national dialogue around inequity, to ensure we are doing everything we can to support all students through our residential life program. We have heard loudly and clearly that providing TAPSI housing as an option is an important step forward in doing so. Nobody has to opt into this program, but it is important for it to be available for those who could benefit from it. We believe that the benefits of a program to support students in this way significantly outweigh the costs and challenges. That said, we must be cognizant of those costs and challenges and stay mindful of them, not the least of which is to ensure that these spaces do not devolve into de facto fraternity/sorority spaces, which the college made clear over 50 years ago is no longer and will no longer be part of our culture. Additionally, TAPSI housing has the potential to connect academically and co-curricularly in ways Williams has not done before, which while it is still at a very high level of conceptualizing, is very exciting to think about for the future.
TAPSI housing is not designed to segregate nor diminish Williams’ student body’s existing diversity; rather, it will provide opportunities for students to create spaces with inclusion in front of mind, and may provide further opportunities for academic co-curricular support as well.
These housing units could be located within larger residence halls or in stand-alone buildings, and we anticipate program proposals to inform decisions on locations. For the inaugural 2021-2022 year, we anticipate starting relatively small, learning from the experience, and making adjustments/increases as warranted.
In January and February 2021, RLWG members, in pairs, have conducted targeted outreach meetings with students, faculty, and staff. This outreach included JAs, members of JAAB, members of the RLT, the MinCo Steering Board, WSU, Interfaith Council, Davis Center, OIDEI, Accessible Education, Athletics, CLiA, Chaplains’ Office, Dean of Students’ Office, Office of Campus Life, IWS, Medical Services, Facilities, College Relations, CSS, Dining, and members of several standing college committees.
In February 2021 we held two forums that were open to all students, faculty, and staff.
In February 2021, we collected input through a survey that was open to all students, faculty, and staff.