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Prior to the new school year, the Office of Student Life was largely known for, among other responsibilities, being the place that processed house transfer forms and disciplined students. However, students can expect radical changes from the office this coming year. Its recent name change from the “Office of Student Life” to, simply, “Student Life,” reflects those changes.
“We felt like we were losing a PR battle in that the students really love what their RCs do, but when you say ‘OSL,’ all they could think of was literally this office space here,” said Reid Charlston, now the Home Life Manager. He also said that the new Student Life seeks to be a “unified department trying to be advocates for students and support for student growth.” This is reflected in a variety of key changes being implemented this semester.
First, it is important to understand what “student life” truly means to the department. “My job has two major parts,” Dean of Students Debra Jones said. “One part is serving on both the College Cabinet and the Principia Executive Committee, and the other major part is to provide leadership for Student Life.” Jones remarked that Student Life employs 17 staff members and up to 30 student employees, and that its work “spans from support and oversight of all student houses, to social events, the international student program, the RA program, orientation programming, curriculum and more.”
Considering that it oversees a variety of facets of campus life, one key goal of Student Life is to bring greater unify to the department’s many functions. It hopes to do so by emphasizing the idea of spiritual unfoldment in all its endeavors. Josh Sprague, now the Programming Manager, remarked that if “unfoldment of spiritual character is our guide on what we do as a department, then all the things we do should connect to each other.” Recently, the department has made important changes in order to further clarify its purpose and work toward common goals.
The most visible outward change has been the five resident counselors: Ann Brown in Anderson, Dana Byquist in Buck, Shannon Carney in Brooks, Samantha Gudger in Joe and Paul Needham in Lowrey.
Key structural changes have occurred as well, most notably the addition of new positions, including Home Life Manager, Programming Manager and Student Event Manager. Charlston explained that the old Office of Student Life employed separate residence directors for freshmen and upperclassmen, but they oversaw both housing and student programming for their respective students. Now, however, programming elements like moral reasoning and new student orientation are run by Sprague as the Programming Manager. Student housing, for both freshmen and upperclassmen, is overseen by Charlston as Home Life Manager. These positions have shifted from nine-month to 12-month contracts.
Another new position is the Student Events Manager, currently filled by Brett Grimmer. “The Student Event Manager works as an event coordinator for social and character education events” and should be a “vehicle for character unfoldment, promoting a spiritual approach to all events,” he said. Grimmer is also seeking to hire students which will act as Social Assistants to “share ideas, plan and host socially-enriching events for the Principia community.
How does the new Student Life department intend to impact the average student at Principia? First, according to SL, it allows for a more coordinated focus on the college-wide learning outcomes, one of which is to help students “be effective members of communities.” It also intends to serves the students’ needs better overall. Already, there seems to be an overarching sense among department employees that significant progress is being made. Jones remarked that they have been able to build off of the previous office’s work and “increase our support for students by becoming even more efficient and spiritually focused.” Likewise, Charlston said that he appreciates the intentionality of all that is happening.
While at present it might be difficult to see the changes coming directly from the department’s restructuring, Student Life is confident that the changes made to the social atmosphere will soon be obvious. “The students are going to see some real tangible results as far as the social activities, and [Grimmer] is really innovative and inclusive as far as how those social activities get made,” Sprague said. More specifically, students will be able to be more involved with the process as well.
Student Life is confident that these changes, big and small, will provide more transparency between the administration and the student body, unify the department and better serve the Principia community as a whole.