Head Residents to be replaced by hired professionals

Denison has officially decided to make a change to the Head Resident position here on campus. Instead of hiring students, they will now be seeking to hire professional staff to fulfill the duties of Head Residents on a full-time basis. Over the past year this change has been discussed frequently on campus, allowing students to respond to this proposed, and now official, change.

“Personally, I am not sure how I feel about it but I know a lot of students are confused and some even upset. I think the concern is having someone older around the dorm and invading our living space, but I can also see the benefit,” said Tait Zeiner ‘20, a psychology major from Boston, Massachusetts.

Erik Farley, a 2003 Denison alum and current Dean of Student Leadership and Community Engagement, has been closely involved with the development and planning of this change to the Head Resident position. He wants students to understand the reasoning for Denison moving towards this shift to the position, and to be aware of all the benefits that’ll accompany the change.

“This model isn’t completely unique to Denison, there are a number of entry level B.A. credentialed young professionals who work alongside students with on call responsibilities. This would be a great opportunity for individuals with an interest in student affairs to get some experience, and also work alongside students directly to do community enriching programs in the residential spaces,” he said.

“The idea to transition comes from a couple of different areas. For one, we’ve been hearing for some time that students have an interest in us focusing more on what they have interests in, things like conflict resolution and being able to connect more across lines of difference with students who may be different from themselves. This information is from first hand accounts with students and survey data. We realized that there have been some time constraints in what an H.R. can actually do, based on the fact that they’re also full-time students,” Farley continued.

Farley noted that being a student in charge of other students can be difficult. He explained said students already need to manage both their academics and social life, and then also follow up on the behaviors of their peers. This can be hard for some students, especially when they leave the residence hall and then they have to go to a chapter meeting or a student organization meeting with those same people the discipline.

“The excitement comes from having someone who is going to be solely focused on the work of building community, without having these other commitments and distractions that come with being a full time student at Denison,” said Farley.

One thing students were concerned about was the lost opportunity for upperclassmen to have some leadership within the residence hall employment structure.

Farley says ideas have been discussed that students can take advantage of, such as a type of head community advisor role that functions slightly different from a regular community advisor (previously known as residential assistants). These head advisors will be able to do work that gets students excited about programs or leading efforts in the halls that connect to other administrative units within student development.

Erik also talked about where the inspiration came from to make a change to the student held position.

“I would say the change is a direct response to wanting students at Denison to be students first, and being able to balance their activities and academic responsibilities. It’s also recognizing the weird space they’re often placed in, when they have to discipline their peers and being able to respond to that. It’s also realizing that the management of a building is a responsibility for somebody to be monitoring at really weird hours. So if we could have someone whose sole purpose is to build a community we would get further along with some of these goals we have articulated for ourselves under this new residential communities model,” he said.

Something Erik wanted to clarify to students is who exactly they can expect to find filling this new position, because it is not who they might originally predict.

“Students were concerned that the people we are bringing in were going to be around 50 years-old. We want students to know that it is intentionally designed to be an opportunity for a newly elemented B.A. person to come on board and get some experience to interact with students, and to really get a sense of what it means to build a community in a residential setting. Also for that individual to consider student development as a career pathway,” said Farley.

This change to the Head Resident position is not occuring all at once. Students can expect to see four newly hired individuals testing out the role next year, followed by an additional four the year after that if all goes well.   

Although the new Head Resident position being taken on by an adult may sound intimidating to students, it is important to pay attention to the logistics and details of the change. The Residential Communities are not making this change with any bad intentions. Residential Community staff work to provide students a comfortable community to live in, providing them the safest and most successful college experience possible.

That being said, this change is being made to the Head Resident position in belief that it will be extremely beneficial for students and their peers in developing safe, welcoming and involved communities.