Student affairs hires RHDs amidst campus tension

After months of searching and interviewing, Amanda Haskins and Alexandra Pearson have joined the Student Affairs department as Residence Hall Directors (RHDs).

Haskins received her master’s degree in higher education from Springfield College last May. She was involved in extracurricular activities from being an orientation advisor to working as a peer advisor and resident assistant (RA). After living in Massachusetts, Haskins wanted to relocate to the South where she could enjoy warm weather and the beach. Haskins was drawn to the academic structure at New College, which she found intriguing.

Pearson received a master’s degree in educational leadership with a concentration in higher education from the University of Central Florida (UCF). While an undergrad at Rollins College, Pearson was involved in several extracurricular activities including student government, working as a lifeguard, and being an RA.

“My residents were absolutely amazing,” Pearson said. “It’s obviously a hard line to kind of balance because you’re a student but at the same time you’re an enforcer of policy.”

Both Haskins and Pearson are eager to become involved with the community.

“I was looking for something that was similar to Rollins but public,” Pearson said. “I actually studied abroad with two people that went to New College, so it was kind of on my radar of schools that I knew a little bit about.”

RHDs are in charge of overseeing the RAs as well as helping them create a safe environment for their residents. They also assist with room changes and roommate mediations.

“We’re always creating new projects for ourselves,” Haskins said. “I’m really looking forward to doing more late-night weekend programming and just offering a variety of programs as well as getting to know all of the students, what the students are interested in, and then getting to work with that as best as I can.”  

The search for the new RHDs began in January. The hiring process included on-site visits to conferences and campus interviews. By May, applicants had been narrowed down to Haskins and Pearson, who officially started working in July.

Training consisted of two weeks dedicated to learning basic procedures. According to Dean of Student Affairs Tracy Murray, the new RHDs have yet to cover the protocol for fall break inspections.

Due to being hired late in the summer, the new RHDs were not able to attend all of the four task force meetings that took place on campus before the fall semester started.

“It was not expected that they go,” Murray said. “We have not, as a group, talked about the task force report. […] We’re really just waiting for direction.”

At an open meeting, held by President Donal O’Shea, Murray and Provost Stephen Miles, students expressed concern with the lack of knowledge the administration has on the recommendations given by the task force.

Following the arrest of a student on Aug. 21, tension erupted between students and administration both in person and on social media.

“Following the arrest, some students taunted members of the professional Student Affairs staff whom they deemed responsible for involving the Campus Police,” O’Shea wrote in an email addressed to students, faculty and staff. “Since then, social media, especially Yik Yak, have been filled with threats, sexual and physical. A notice on one of the Campus Life Coordinator’s door was burned.  Knocks have come at all hours of the night, as well as shouts from outside the room. This is bullying, pure and simple.”

Many members of the community are disappointed with the violent threats, and would like to see more of a productive dialogue focused on solutions.  

“Both sides have a say in what happens on campus,” second-year and a student representative on the task force, Lorraine Cruz, said. “I’ve seen students be vocal about what they want to change. But I have not heard administration talking about what they want to change when it comes to the recommendations or making the community safe for students. We always hear from students, but we never hear from administration. And it shouldn’t be like that.”

Other students are preoccupied with having members of administration who are not properly aware of issues on campus.

“At a campus so small, I think that the presence of so many RHDs and CLCs feels as if New College is hiring people to make decisions for our community who have no interest and don’t particularly like the students or the community here,” second-year and Student Allocations Committee representative and secretary Rebecca “Becca” Caccavo said. “I think that the CLC position could be incredible if an alum had that position.”

And while other students have echoed the idea of having an alum hired to work for the school, there has not been a significant presence of alumni willing to work here.

“I don’t think we’ve had an alum apply for the position in four or five years,” Murray said. “We have not had any applications.”

Murray stated that the school has occasionally kept graduating RAs on for an additional year after graduating. According to Murray, there have also been changes in the criterion for RHDs this year, which have largely been influenced by the deaths of first-year student, Julian Toomsen-Hall, and University of Central Florida (UCF) student Dylan Besser last May.

The position for RHD requires a bachelor’s degree while the position for CLC requires a master’s. RHDs are also expected to have had experience working at other colleges and expertise dealing with crisis and intervention.

“We changed our focus in the position to focus on dealing with students in crisis and mental health and crisis management,” Murray said.

When asked about his predictions for the success of the new RHDs, Murray pointed to the unique structure and community of the school as an inevitable obstacle for new hires.

“I’ve been here eight years and we have always had a difficult transition bringing people in because of the cultural piece, and the community piece,” Murray said. “There is always adjustment. I think that, unfortunately, there is a serious incident that occurred where that […] could not have happened. What we are planning to do is find ways to introduce them to the campus with student organizations and making small contacts with different groups of people. Every school will say that it’s student centered and that students have a role in the decision making process,” Murray said. “And then you come here and you see what it’s really like.”


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