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.
I want to point out that in Hodgson and Phillips, male proctors in Hodgson would still respond to issues in Phillips, so that’s really a non-issue. In addition, proctors are not required to do rounds in “the middle of the night”. They need to do 1 round per night, which is usually at 9:30. 9:30 is hardly the middle of the night.
This kind of attitude that resists change (change that was carefully thought-out to make the system more streamlined and time, money, and energy-effective) is the exact reason why people might think it’s “failing”. If people’s reaction to a change in structure is to cry about it without letting the change settle in, then of course the new system will stumble.
Proctoring is not, and has never been able, being a cuddly, loving member of the hall. We are there to ensure safety and to react to (and document) violations of residential policy. Being an AP was about being a hug-buddy and, as it turned out, doing the more uncomfortable parts of residential life (such as documenting policy violations). The AP position had too many functions. If you’re interesting in bonding with all of the members of your hall, the proctor position in not for you.
I’m not sure why residents at Sewanee have such a hard time accepting that a proctor is an RA and fundamentally a member of residential life and the hierarchy therein. This is the standard practice across the board in large universities and in our peer institutions (other LACs).
Proctors are meant to be approachable as solutions to issues. Proctors do not exist to give hugs and candy to every resident.
Additionally, Ms. Givhan did not interview someone who was a proctor last year and this year. This is not a representative article. This is always – ALWAYS – how the proctor position has operated within the last 10 years. AP and Proctor are different. I was an AP and a proctor. The AP position is about the things you described above (helping with heartbreak, having a good time, etc) and the proctor position is not. Universally, every person I know who was a proctor in their junior year had the exact same experience.
All this article describes is what happens when you go from AP to proctor and nothing more. Proctor is a different position with a different role in the hall.
In response to some of the comments from Proctor 1, as a current proctor I would like to say that we actually do have to make rounds in the middle of the night as we are required to make two rounds – one at 9:30 for the beginning of duty and one at 12 (or 1 if it’s a weekend) for the end of duty. As to Ms. Givhan’s interviews, at the beginning of the article she quotes a current proctor who was a AP last year.
Being a current proctor and having been an assistant proctor, I would say that I have to agree with Ms. Givhan’s point in the article. While training to be a proctor we discuss how even though we are not parents or therapists, we are the first line of defense and support in residence halls. As an assistant proctor, there were many times where I was not only a support system but also an enforcer. Although it would appear that not much has changed with the new system, I feel as though being an AP was an important stepping stone between being a student to taking on the responsibilities as a Proctor. That being said, being a proctor is not, by any means, a cushy job. I am well aware that some of my current residents dislike me. However, another one of the proctor’s job requirements is building community which is very difficult while being in responsible for more than one building.
Perhaps it is just that the system is new and is still trying to take it’s roots, but as of now it stressful and more work than I feel some who applied were expecting. I appreciate this article because it is an open look to some of the doubts that the system is creating.
My point is that what Ms. Kochinski describes is a normal part of transitioning to the proctor role. I am in my second year as a proctor and this is just how it is when you transition from AP to proctor. Being a proctor IS more work than being an AP. None of that was a secret in the application process (having done it myself).
So, having been in residential life for 3 years, there should be no doubts – my life is so much easier now the AP role has been dissolved. Something important about the AP role going away includes the misconception that AP is a “stepping stone” to being a proctor. They are really different jobs. It’s unfortunate that you, Ms. Kochinski, and perhaps others did not understand this going into the role. However, that’s part of the reason why APs don’t exist any longer (as they were).
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