Residential Life has been busy since the announcement in February that the don system would be shifted to a more administration-heavy one.
Dean Martin, the director of Residential Life, has hired three new staff this summer in accordance with a plan to restructure the department.
Two new full-time Residential Life Coordinators (RLCs) will work alongside current RLC Krysta Skentelbery; meanwhile, Satinder Gill, faculty member and post-doctoral fellow at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, has been hired as a Residence Fellow.
According to Martin, these hires will enable Res Life to provide more support to students.
“I felt that there was not enough support on our end … It was basically just Krysta and me, so we were feeling very overwhelmed with not being able to really make any changes,” Martin said.
Each RLC will live in residence and oversee a “cluster” of houses. The “Four Points” cluster will consist of Lady Beaverbrook, Aitken, McLeod and Mackenzie; Lady Dunn, Joy Kidd and Tibbits will become the “East Campus” cluster and Bridges, Harrison, Neville-Jones and Neill will make up the “Core” cluster.
The addition of two new RLCs aims to provide equal, consistent support to students. In the past, support depended on the dons’ level of involvement; typically, a don would have other full-time commitments and no mandate to assist Res Life.
“The perception to proctors and students is that they had all this great support in residence with their dons, but it wasn’t the right type of support…” Martin also noted that this created “a huge disconnect between Residence Life and each of the residence communities.”
The new hires are allowing Res Life to extend their hours to 8 p.m; Martin hopes this will increase their accessibility to students.
A Residence Fellow will also live on-campus and will coordinate with education proctors to provide increased support towards students’ academic needs.
The new model being adopted is one used in various universities across North America and is one that Martin says “has been around for years” and is proven to work.
According to this new model, lead proctors will replace the dons as the main points of contact within each residence building and will be tasked with some additional duties; in addition to the standard free room provided to proctors, they will receive an additional $1500 as compensation.
Restructure announcement causes pushback
February’s announcement regarding the removal of dons caused pushback against Res Life and their decision—a reaction Martin said he anticipated.
“When we announced [the new system], it obviously went over like a lead balloon—which I knew it would and we had to kind of weather the storm. It was really difficult, and people took it personally, and that was certainly never our intention … Ultimately, this is going to provide more support to students,” Martin said.
After the announcement, one of the most concerned groups on campus was the residence proctors; without the dons, many of them felt they were being given more responsibilities and less support.
The dons themselves served as a go-between for Res Life and house proctors; according to their job description, their responsibilities included providing oversight, organization, and support for both proctors and normal residents.
Zach Dunseith, a fourth-year student and returning hall proctor, said that it was “all over the place” when the initial news broke.
He noted that dons “are your friend; they’re your sort of confidant when you need help and they’re like your pillar for support, whereas just hearing the phrase RLC makes you think of discipline and structure and fines and letters and all that sort of stuff …” With regard to the proctor-don relationship, he noted that “there is still discipline and structure, but [the relationships are] very strong, they’re very interpersonal.”
Martin said that the pushback didn’t affect the way he wanted to implement the system, but merely delayed the process.
Not the bad guys
One of the most prominent concerns was that of proctor health and wellness; proctors worried they might become overwhelmed while supporting students without the help of house dons.
According to Martin, Jennifer Campbell, an intern from Counselling Services, offered her assistance to Res Life over the summer; this coming year, she’ll be living on-campus and offering drop-in hours for any proctors who might become fatigued or overwhelmed by their duties.
Martin and Dunseith both stressed how crucial team-building will be to fostering strong relationships—not only between RLCs and house teams, but also between the house teams within each cluster
The promise of more inter-house mingling is one thing Dunseith says the proctors are quite excited about. “I can see [inter-house activities] being very beneficial for student life and student enjoyment in the houses, and on-campus in general.”
Above all, Martin hopes this new system will improve the relationship between residences and Res Life, so that Res Life is no longer seen as the “bad guy.”
“I really want to sort of rebrand Res Life and make it—you know—not a bad thing. I’ve never seen that before and it was really interesting to me, and I started thinking, ‘well, why is it like this?’ And I just think it was a product of the way we were structured … It’s like the dons were like parents in the houses who were protecting students.”
According to Martin, Res Life has committed to a thorough review of the new system in two years’ time.
Despite doubts originally expressed by proctors and students, Dunseith anticipates they will be able to move forward without too much bitterness.
“To me, it feels like at its core it’s just changed. Of course, when any change happens people are going to resist … It’s like, ‘woah why did this happen? I’m angry, I’m sad, I’m frustrated’; you know, those all come out because you’re scared of change.”
“But once the change becomes sort of common life—it’s just life, you know—things go on … I think it’s going to take us some time just to get used to it, but I think in the end we’ll be strong enough and independent enough to just move forward.”