A Conversation with Dean Ameer

Interim Dean of the College Inge-Lise Ameer discussed MDF with The Review

Interim Dean of the College Inge-Lise Ameer discussed MDF with The Review

Editor’s Note: After hosting a dinner on February 25 to discuss the Moving Dartmouth Forward proposals with student government and Greek life leaders, Acting Dean of the College Inge-Lise Ameer sat for a follow-up conversation with The Dartmouth Review.

The Dartmouth Review (TDR): How will the six residential colleges for undergraduates be organized?

Dean Inge-Lise Ameer (ILA): Everyone at Dartmouth College will be assigned to a house. The first years will still live in first year housing because we’ve had a lot of success with that [program], but they’ll still be assigned to a house, they’ll be doing things with their house in their first year, and they’ll also know who their house professors are. Each house will have about 700 students, but because of the D-Plan, there’ll only be about 350 there at one time. Each house will have a house professor, graduates students, and we hope that there will become groups of faculty affiliated with each house. We hope that students want to hang out at the houses, that there’s social space, and that it really becomes like a community, like a home. There are a lot of great aspects of the D-Plan, one of the challenges is that people move around a lot in their sophomore and junior year, and we’re hoping that the houses will provide some stability.

TDR: Will houses be centered on different interests, for instance a business house or a pre-med house?

ILA: I think the houses will have identities, I don’t know if it will be around subject areas, but my guess is that the selection of house professors will have a big impact on identities. That’s why we wanted to hire them a year early, so that they can be intricately involved in the planning process.

TDR: What are the construction plans for renovating and building the student housing needed for the house system?

ILA: Right now we’re looking to create community spaces for the houses. We don’t have anything definite yet, but we will. Areas like McLaughlin were designed for that, so it’s going to work really nicely. This is a long-term project, over the next several years; we will hopefully be renovating each space as we go along. In the meant time, there are things we can do quickly to create more community space; I’m hoping to have a café in each [house], like the east Wheelock café.

TDR: Given the issues with the construction of the Hanover Inn, what changes have been made to the construction panel and how things are approved?

ILA: So we have really wonderful new people now, a new president, provost, a new CFO, and Lisa Hogarty who is the new [Vice President of Campus Planning and Facilities]. I think they’ve set-up an excellent new process with the Board of Trustees for approving and providing accountability on construction, so I’m not worried about that.

TDR: Moving on to alternative social spaces, there’s been some initial success with events such as BarHop and Programming Board activites, how do you think they can expand on that?

ILA: We have to do more at various locations around campus. I’m hoping these houses will be a place where people feel like they can socialize, and we just need to keep identifying more activities and more space to provide students with really fun and compelling things to do. We’ve done a lot of that in the last five years, there was no Collis Late Night, there was no BarHop, so we just have to keep going in that direction, and I felt that President Hanlon made that point in his speech.

TDR: How does the College plan to fund these activities, as well as the construction costs for new buildings?

ILA: I think it’ll be very important for us to work with our partners in advancement, and we’re going to have to raise the money. I hope people will be excited about the houses, and will donate.

TDR: Are there are any concerns that, because of the cost of new construction and activities, other programs might not receive full funding?

ILA: No. I really feel that President Hanlon and MDF spent a lot of time looking at the current story, how things are going now, and that we’re adding on, and not taking away. Which is nice, from an administrative position, and that helps my staff and I a lot.

TDR: What space issues have organizations faced, and how is the College trying to combat the issue, besides just building new buildings?

ILA: Space is a big issue on campus, now Collis is pretty much booked 24/7; even though people think Sarner isn’t, it has actually been booked over 800 times in the past year. We’re working with our colleagues in athletics, at the Hop, and other places to see if there are creative ways we can open up space for students. Another thing we’re going to be doing this year is looking at the space issues, talking to student leaders, and seeing what we can do to improve the situation.

TDR: Switching gears to the hard alcohol ban, a lot of students have been confused about what policies are going to enacted, so what is enforcement going to look like?

ILA: We’re hoping to post the policy next week so that students have a good two weeks, before the spring term starts, to respond to it. We’re looking for stricter sanctions for hard alcohol, that’s the main difference.

TDR: Is there any difference between what the administration hopes to do to police Greek and affinity houses versus dorms?

ILA: No we’re going to take the ban on hard alcohol very seriously in all facilities: fraternities, sororities, coed [houses], residential halls, all of them. Anywhere where undergraduates are.

TDR: How does [the alcohol policy] work with the graduate schools?

ILA: The President, as you know from hearing his speech, has asked everyone to help, but there are no sanctions or rules that are new for the graduate schools. They’ve been really supportive, we met with all of the graduate deans and I felt a lot of support in the room. I feel like it’s going to be an institutional movement. I think that’s the only was it can work.

TDR: Specifically relating to [UGA] rounds, which have come up a lot in campus discussions, how was that system established?

ILA: Two years ago, we established rounds for UGAs for big weekends (Green Key, Winter Carnival, Homecoming). That worked really well to one reduce transports [to DHMC], and two, to help intervene early with students that might be in trouble. Mike Wooten and a group of UGA’s are going to look at what has worked and what hasn’t and put forth some proposals. I know people are really worried about that, but I think we’ve already had a lot of success and I think we’re just going to keep in that direction, I’m not that worried about it. I know change is hard, but I think it’ll be fine.

TDR: A big initiative on campus this year has been mental health, what initiatives have been taken, and how will the housing system help with that?

ILA: We see, in our surveys of first year students that they feel connected to their floors and UGAs, but that in sophomore year they feel very disconnected, and when you feel disconnected it is very difficult to find help. So, I’m hoping that people will know each other for the time that they’re at Dartmouth, helping support each other, and that we can identify problems earlier, and people will get help earlier. The other thing that we’ve been doing is that we added more counselors two years ago, and that’s made a big difference. The wait is very minimal now, there’s a 24-hour counselor on call now, I think we’re going to keep moving in that direction. Also things like the mental health fair that happened last week, a lot of students were there. We have to get out to where students are, and that’s going to make a big difference. I’m hoping Dick’s House’s counseling center will have connections with the houses, and the counselors will come in and do programming with the houses so that students know that they’re there.

TDR: You also mentioned a lot of student involvement in how MDF policies are implemented, could expand on how student input is being taken into account?

ILA: There are four working groups, which we invited students, staff, and faculty to join; we got a great response from students. The four working groups are the student advisory boards for the housing initiative, student code of conduct, social event planning, and accountability. It’s going to be very important that students are an integral part of all of this as we go along. The model that we are using in the Dean of the College office is like the one from last year, [which had] weekly meetings with twenty plus students who helped us formulate the Living Learning Communities, and the ideas behind them, and how they would work. We worked with faculty also, and that is going to be the same model we use. [That model] has been very successful, and we need to keep that kind of momentum. It’s not going to work if we put things out that students aren’t interested in.

TDR: How will these Living Learning Communities be integrated into the new housing system?

ILA: Living Learning will be an option, similar to the option of a fraternity or sorority, so you’re still assigned to a house, but just like [Greek-affiliated students] that study aboard for a term, you would come back to that house after a few months. With Living Learning, you could go do a Living Learning for a term, but you can still participate in all your house activities. There’s always going to be a place for you at the house, which I hope especially upperclassmen will benefit from, as people go back and forth. It’s an anchor, that’s what I hope, and I hope that it’s a positive anchor with faculty involvement and graduate student involvement. It’s a step forward.

TDR: MDF also mentions an annual review of residential organizations on campus, what would that process look like?

ILA: President Hanlon incorporated in his plan an outside review committee that will report to him and to the Board of Trustees on the progress we’re making. I think they’ll look at each of the MDF initiatives and see, are we moving forward on them? Are there any barriers preventing us from moving on? And then they’ll the President know, and the President will let [the Administration] know.

TDR: Will these reviews be focused on individual houses or organizations?

ILA: It’s all of MDF, all of the initiatives.

TDR: Going back to an earlier question, are there any concrete plans for funding MDF initiatives?

ILA: As the President mentioned, he’s giving money for increasing the diversity of the faculty, for experiential learning, for the house system; he’s been super supportive of these initiatives.

TDR: Lastly, what additional ideas do you have about how MDF can be implemented?

ILA: I’m excited, we’ve got our first thing with the ban on hard alcohol. I know that’s one of the more talked about recommendations, but I’m proud of my team, they’re ready to move forward on it. The key is going to be student input and buy-in and faculty input and buy-in, and working as a community to make these things work. Otherwise, it’s not worth the effort.

TDR: Besides just following the policies, how can students help to move Dartmouth forward?

ILA: I’ve been pleased with how many students have been coming to the meetings I’ve been having. There’s a forum with the President, the Provost, and myself on Monday (March 2nd) that Paleopitus is hosting, so I hope students come to that. Even if you can’t participate in a working group, we’re going to be doing a lot of focus groups and surveying to ask students if [the policies] make sense as we move along. [If there is negative feedback] we’ll make a change, that’s how we operate.