By Frances Marion Givhan
Disclaimer: I live in a themed house. Dorm life does not directly affect me. However, it affects most of the people who live on this campus; my friends, co-workers, and peers live in dorms as Proctors and residents. So far, the new changes that the Office of Residential Life has implemented this year has changed the way dorm life functions in ways that make people uncomfortable, frustrated, confused, and distant from each other.
The rundown: Assistant Proctors, whom the Residential Life office compensated with $250 per semester, no longer exist. When I heard about this change, it shocked me. Every time I go into St. Luke’s on campus tours, I remember how my Assistant Proctors guided me through freshman year, helping me navigate heartbreak, friendships, illness, and classes. Two of them became sincere friends with whom I still love spending time. From what I’ve heard from past and current Proctors, the distance between residents and Proctors feels greater than before. “APs really shaped my college adjustment period,” says Alena Kochinski (C’18), who currently works as a Proctor in McCrady and Ayres. “Being an AP last year was super rewarding. Connecting with freshmen was my favorite part of the Res Life job.” Now, as a proctor under the new system, Kochinski does not feel as approachable to her residents, especially since she does not live with half of them.
In the new system, Proctors do rounds in multiple dorms. Residential Life has grouped the dorms together under a particular number of Proctors. For example, Trez and Courts form a unit, as do St. Luke’s, Hoffman, and Johnson. This means that Proctors have to take care of people in two or three dorms, instead of focusing on the one dorm to which Residential Life assigned them. This may have worked for Hodgson and Philips last year, two buildings that basically touch, but Proctors in the two dorm groups that I mentioned have to walk in the middle of the night to do rounds at other dorms. It’s an inefficient system.
On another note, when I talked with past and current Proctors, they also brought up a point that had not occurred to me before: Proctors that handle single-sex dorms have to deal with problems in spaces they would not be allowed to live in. A girl working as a Proctor in Courts still has to do rounds in Trez and assert authority over its residents. However, people choose to live in single-sex dorms for a reason, and problems that arise within the dorm might apply specifically to the people who live in that dorm. Having a girl go into Trez or Elliot or having a guy go into Johnson or Phillips creates an uncomfortable and distrustful atmosphere.
The dorm staff and residents have to share trust. One Proctor described how his staff “was a close knit group of people because we spent time creating that group. The structure allowed us to spend time together and build meaningful relationships between ourselves and our residents.” He also emphasized how he believes this current system of dorm life does not allow Proctors to give their residents the benefit of the doubt.
In his eyes, the focus has shifted to enforcing rules rather than fostering healthy trust, which doesn’t allow the same kind of relationships to grow. “APs and Proctors used to establish and maintain a social norm as friends and authority figures,” he says. “My Proctors asked me how my school was going, how I’ve been. I valued that.”
The year has barely begun; we are one week into this new system. It could become the perfect system for Sewanee, or the relationships between Proctors and their residents could dwindle until Proctors act only as rule enforcers. I believe that APs added value to the system, as a way to connect with residents, transition into the role of Proctor, and act as a go-between in the hierarchy of Residential Life. If the university fairly compensated them for the work that they did, I believe that system would still work for dorm life. I lie in wait for the new system to prove its place at Sewanee or show a need for more change.