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DSO Talks Common Space Reopenings, Equity Goals

Dean of Students Katherine G. O'Dair in a 2019 interview.
Dean of Students Katherine G. O'Dair in a 2019 interview. By Delano R. Franklin
By Hannah J. Martinez, Crimson Staff Writer

Administrators at the Dean of Students Office said in a Friday interview they were working toward easing the transition from remote learning to in-person instruction for students, as well as opening up common spaces for undergraduate use.

“I think it’s really important for us to collectively acknowledge that we’ve all made this transition back to a fully dense campus in a very short period of time,” Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair said.

“I think part of how students are experiencing it is some students have really embraced being in person and everything that comes with being in person and their student organizations, and other students are more hesitant to want to be as present in large group events,” she added.

This fall, the College invited back all students for on-campus living and in-person instruction, after restricting residential accommodations to select class cohorts and implementing virtual classes due to the ongoing pandemic.

“There’s the whole operational piece of having people arrive, which was supported by so many different people and so many different partners across the University and the College,” Associate Dean of Students Lauren E. Brandt ’01 said. “We are really thankful for everyone’s efforts.”

As undergraduates have moved back into on-campus housing, some have lamented the lack of open common spaces, such as the student-run house grilles.

Brandt said these concerns are being addressed and explained that reopening spaces has been a “learning curve.”

“It has been a period of time where our buildings weren’t at full capacity, and so there have been some things that I know are being addressed,” Brandt said. “The building managers are working very hard to know what’s going on in their spaces and to work on that.”

“I would ask that people remember that these are also student-run spaces, and so having moments where students are transitioning into positions that they haven’t really had a chance to do in a while, that’s a learning curve for them, it’s a learning curve for us,” she added.

Brandt cited hiring processes as one factor that has contributed to the delay in reopening of house grilles.

“Part of it depends on hiring,” Brandt said. “There are trainings that need to happen in terms of food safety, preparation, making sure the spaces are ready to be used because they haven’t been used for a year and a half.”

“There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes,” she added.

When asked about student compliance with Covid-19 protocols, O’Dair said she believed the student body was doing “very well.”

In the beginning of the semester, the College experienced a surge of Covid-19 cases among undergraduates, leading the College to increase the testing cadence for residents of undergraduate housing from one to three times a week.

“We certainly had in the first couple weeks that small uptick [in cases], but we have seen that go down, and we have seen it go down by increasing the testing,” O’Dair said. “Students have been very compliant.”

The DSO also spoke about its goals for the 2021-22 academic year, which include using data to inform how programming and policy decisions affect the student experience, continuing its work to become an anti-racist institution, and identifying strategies to address stressors faced by students.

“This year, we’re focused on a few things, so we’re considering the strength of the DSO through an inclusive excellence framework,” Associate Dean of Inclusion and Belonging Alta Mauro said.

“It’s really looking at our organization, who we bring into the organization, how do we retain talent, how do we prepare talent, and are there any things that we need to learn about that would suggest that we have some really awesome new, clear equity goals,” she added.

—Staff writer Hannah J. Martinez can be contacted at hannah.martinez@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinezhannahj.

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