Dustin chats with Jeremy about the various factors at play currently when it comes to off-campus student housing and how institutions can better support these students. He also discusses his unusual journey to his current position as Dean of Students at Naropa, a very unique institution in Colorado.
- Dr. Jeremy Moore, Dean of Students at Naropa University
Listen to the Podcast:
Watch the Video:
Read the Transcript:
Welcome back to Roompact’s ResEd Chat podcast, I’m your host, Dustin Ramsdell. This podcast series features a variety of topics of interest to higher professionals who work in and with college, university housing. So, our conversation today is another in our series, our annual just fun get to know you series for the blog team that works hard to create new, relevant, engaging content for the Roompact community.
So, this episode, we’ll get to know one of the bloggers and what they have been focusing on and care about. And yeah, we’ll start as we always do, if you want to, Jeremy, introduce yourself, your current role and background and then we’ll go from there.
Yeah. Thanks, Dustin. So, my name is Jeremy Moore and I use he/him pronouns and I am the current dean of students here at Naropa University which is a small, private liberal arts institution that is Buddhist inspired. So, we’re one of the only Buddhist inspired institutions in North America which is pretty awesome and exciting and unique opportunity. Prior to that, I was at the University of Colorado Boulder for about nine years and I’m sure we’ll dig into that a little bit more here with some of the other questions that we’ll be talking about today. But yeah, I’m here at Naropa University in sunny Boulder, Colorado today as the dean of students.
Yeah, that’s perfect. I feel like it’s, for these episodes, prudent to really explicitly ask about people’s career in higher education just as a way to contextualize their work a little bit more. So, I guess I’d be particularly interested in how you ended up where you are now since it’s such a unique institution but if you just want to give the high level overview of your career in higher education, what made you pursue it in the first place and that origin story and, yeah, it’d be really great to hear.
I love that origin story, that sounds like something cinematic, very cool way to spin that. Yeah, so I am not unlike many folks in student affairs, I really got bit by the student affairs bug and that happened when I was a student leader in undergrad. So, I am originally from Dayton, Ohio which is the birthplace of flight, of aviation. Some might disagree with me on that if you’re from North Carolina but the Wright brothers were born in Dayton, Ohio, they had their bicycle shop there and I actually went to Wright State University which is named after them there in Dayton, Ohio.
And so, I went to school about 10 minutes away from home and my plan was totally to go there for the first year and transfer to a much larger institution like the Ohio State University which is just up the road in Columbus. I got to Wright State and I fell in love with it, I lived on campus my first year and this will tie in a little bit later but I wasn’t supposed to live on campus. I had signed a contract for on-campus housing as a backup but I actually had some buddies from high school that I had also signed a lease with. And so, what ended up happening was a contractual tug of war and I ended up, thankfully, being able to get out of my lease with my buddies from high school because it would’ve been a total Harry Potter situation. I would’ve been living in the little room under the stairs because we somehow thought three guys could live in this very small apartment.
But I ended up becoming an RA, I ended up getting involved with the programming board as the vice president, I was an Apple campus rep so I helped with sales on campus while I was there. So, I did all these things and got involved and, at one point, my hall director who was my supervisor, I think, my sophomore or junior year said, “Hey, Jeremy, you can actually do this as a job.” And I said, “Wait, what? I can do this as a job. What does that mean?” And he was like, “Yeah, you can go to grad school and you can get a master’s degree in higher education, adult and higher education and you can work in higher education,” and I was like, “What?”
That was not what I had thought about growing up. I don’t know that many people are like, “I’m going to be an administrator in higher education growing up,” but that’s what happened. And then I went to grad school at Northern Illinois University in Chicagoland, as they call it, in good old DeKalb, corn capital of the Midwest and the rest is, as they say, history. I’ve been at, I think, about six schools now full-time professionally with a small stop over within a [inaudible 00:04:30] internship that I did at Texas Tech down in Lubbock. And I’ve been in Colorado for about 12, almost 13 years now so this has been my longest stay over since I grew up in Ohio. So, this is definitely home right now for me and my partner. But yeah, that’s a little bit about how I stumbled into higher ed.
Yeah, yeah, that’s great. Yeah, we can maybe talk more about the housing contract dynamics and everything. Because our topic, broadly, that we’ve settled on was about off-campus housing dynamics which I think has definitely evolved a lot, definitely nuances there and not anything that I’ve super examined myself. It’s funny, I always say origin story of stuff like this but it’s even the idea because, maybe subconsciously, people always say what you said of, and I’ve never made this connection before in my mind, of like, “I got bit by the student affairs bug,” and it’s like, “Yeah, that’s superhero 101, it’s some radioactive spider or something,” but, yeah.
And I think it’s great, I guess, yeah, that you’ve had a lot of different institutional experiences and, again, the one that I, to follow up, was most interested in Naropa being a very unique institution. How did you find that place? Were you looking for something like it or did you just really stumble upon it randomly or what brought you there?
I did really stumble upon it. So, Naropa is located physically down a hill from the University of Colorado Boulder which is the flagship campus of the University of Colorado system. I was at CU Boulder for nine years, I started there as a hall director, I ran one of our really, really tall 450-person residence halls for two years and then I went to the dark side as many housing professionals would say, although I don’t see it that way, but I went to off-campus housing. And so, we had an office at CU Boulder where I actually worked to support our students and the idea of town gown which is essentially the marriage or the relationship between the university or the gown and the town, in this case, Boulder.
And so, our students, during the pandemic when, unfortunately, there was a riot that occurred off campus, our office was the one that would respond to things like that that would help provide education support and sometimes liaising with our student conduct office or our dean of students office so we did a lot of programming. So, I actually saw myself as a hall director for 25,000 students that lived off campus because it’s really that, it’s how do I take what the students were learning in the residence halls and translate that from a floor of 35 peers to a city block where they now are living with, co-located with permanent residents.
So, after doing that for a while, Dustin, I was like, “I’m ready for something different, I’m ready to grow in my career.” And I had just finished my doctorate at the height of the pandemic at Arizona State University, I graduated in May of 2020 and that was something graduating at the height of the pandemic. And I said, “I’m ready to do something different,” and this job opportunity had opened up in January, I think, December, January of ’21 here at Naropa and I said, “It looks like it’s maybe a little bit out of my league,” it was an associate dean of students and I was like, “I’ve been at a small school before, I think I’m ready to go back to a small school. I want something a little bit more intimate, something where I can really get to know folks and build community,” and I applied and I was a successful candidate for the role and ended up here.
I will be honest, I didn’t know a lot about Naropa. Naropa is, and I said this during my interview so I don’t think I’m saying anything I haven’t already told my colleagues here, it’s like a Charlie’s chocolate factory, Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory of higher ed. I knew there was a lot of really great things going on here, I would see people, when I would drive past, on campus doing stuff like yoga, meditation outside beneath the Flatirons which is our mountain range here but I didn’t really know what was going on here. And I knew that it was a private institution but I didn’t really know a lot about the history. We’re getting ready to celebrate our 50th anniversary next year, in 2024, and the institution was founded by a person who was a Tibetan refugee who really wanted to have an east meets west approach to education so what we call a contemplative learning pedagogy.
So, really bringing the best pieces of meditation, mindfulness. Mindfulness is a really hot topic coming out of the pandemic but what does that mean to folks, what does even the word contemplative mean? So, we spend a lot of time right now, even now we’re talking about that in our community, but our students primarily study to become counselors here at our institution. We’re a grad heavy institution where folks are learning to become counselors and it’s an astounding number of folks in the state of Colorado that get their counseling education here before going out into the field to be a practitioners.
So, it’s been very fascinating to be here and to learn some different ways of showing up as an administrator in this space. And we have an online population that’s really growing and blowing up so that’s been interesting too to how do we take this residential experience where people are in community and having dialogue with one another face-to-face and translate that to an online experience where we’re expanding our reach worldwide. That’s been a really … It hasn’t come without its challenges, for sure, but being here at the growth edge of all of this has been wildly fascinating for me and bringing the things that I have at CU and other schools to this dynamic. And we’re young so we haven’t benefited from a strong student affairs culture, I guess, and so that’s been fascinating for me to bring that in but also learn, being able to learn as much as I’m bringing in as well in that dynamic too.
Yeah, I appreciate you sharing all that because, yeah, just to give a little shout-out to Naropa, let people get to know a little bit better, super unique institution there. So, yeah, I appreciate just that context because I think that does inform a bit of our conversation because I think those are dynamics that a lot of institutions are grappling with right now is the digital transformation when it comes to a student community whether that’s residential, commuter, hybrid, online and those sort of things but, yeah.
I think coming into a certain point as a lay person, I lived on campus always and didn’t really have the exposure of how, even on a staff level, how did the institution interface with that town and gown piece that you mentioned. But yeah, I think, nowadays, you’re seeing, obviously, there is strictly campus owned housing but there’s private-public partnerships where there might be RAs but it’s owned by another entity, classic just renting a house or an apartment or something like that. And then, certainly, people are commuting from home or could be online students and how an institution might view outreach to that population.
So, with all of that, whatever, I guess, resonates a bit with you, the dynamics that are impacting off-campus housing. Because I think what I laid out, I guess, is my point of view of all the things that could be impacting how institutional leaders are looking at off-campus housing and how that maybe has evolved from decades ago. But I guess, yeah, what’s has been catching your eye or what have you been working on?
Yeah. So, I didn’t even know that off-campus housing existed as a field where there was actually dedicated staffing. I actually thought I was going to be a on-campus housing professional for my entire career and some things had happened that really resulted in me needing to make a pivot and I was really interested in marketing and communications, I was doing that as a side hustle for our department. We didn’t have a marketing team at the time when I first started at CU Boulder and residence life. And it’s funny how your side hustle can sometimes become or your interests, your passions can sometimes become your full-time job.
So, there was actually a marketing and communications coordinator role that opened in off-campus housing and neighborhood relations, the actual office at CU that’s charged with supporting our off-campus students and I interviewed for the position and they were really excited about what I brought because I was a hall director and I had done those things. And it really got me to think about that idea that I mentioned earlier, Dustin, where it was like, “Hey, I’m really like a hall director for this entire population of students.”
Now, that’s not sustainable because I can’t have the same interactions with 25,000 … It’s about 25,000 students at CU that live off campus in a given year, that’s a lot of people. And when you talk to administrators on campus, we would focus a lot of our time and energy on the students that lived on campus and our residence halls and CU Boulder has quite a few residence halls but it was always interesting to me that, once they moved off, it was they’re off on their own, they’re signing leases, they’re doing all this stuff. How many students have you met that know how to sign a lease? This is one of the largest financial things short of buying a house or buying a car that a student’s going to do in their life.
And you think about the college towns that many of our large institutions are located in or co-located in and it’s scary when you think about students going out and maybe not having the tools in their toolbox to be able to have those resilient life skills to navigate that. And if they have … I’m actually working with some students right now that are international students here at my institution that unfortunately had a situation that happened where they encountered a leak while they were not even in the country. They had went home for the summer to visit family and it’s a situation where, now, they’re going back and forth with their landlord about who’s responsible for that situation because they weren’t there and they had notified the management.
And so, I worry sometimes about our students like international students or … I’m a first generation college student so the first in my family to go to school, I always like to say I didn’t know what I didn’t know. So, sometimes the power is in the question. A beautiful question or a curious … Having curiosity to ask those things but not all students are thinking about, hey, is the utilities included, can I have a pet if it’s not a service animal, how many people can live here, what’s the actual legal occupancy limits? And so, you see situations where students unknowingly get themselves into really, what I call, tricky pickles because they didn’t know and they didn’t maybe ask those questions.
And then you’ve got parents also that are co-signing leases. And here in Colorado, our state laws for tenant rights are very different than places like California or even New England where maybe some of those states are maybe more tenant friendly. And so, we have parents that are signing leases thinking, “Oh, if things go south, it’s the same as the state here.” In California, for example, in many cases, if you have a situation that you’re working to resolve with a landlord, you can withhold rent, in many cases. Here in Colorado, that doesn’t fly, you could be evicted for something like that. So, it’s really important that students know the local laws, they know the local ordinances.
And a lot of times students are only thinking I’m only here for three or four years but in Boulder, for example, a lot of our students end up staying here well after because they get jobs, they have partners, they build connections, they love the mountains, they love skiing, they want to be here. And so, I try to get students to think about this is where they’re at, this is their home for now, whether it’s for two years or whether it’s for 20 years, we just don’t know. I didn’t think I was going to be in Colorado for more than two years. I was going to come here, be a hall director and me and my partner were probably going to move somewhere else, we’ve been here for almost 13 years like I’ve already said so you just don’t know in life sometimes what cards will come your way.
So, getting students to think about those things and how they can get engaged. Election time is coming up and we’re recording this right now in October but election time’s coming up and I usually try to work elections every year. Getting students to think about registering, to be involved in local politics is also extremely important. We’ve had some really big ballot measures here in Boulder recently around occupancy limits. We have big, big houses, historic houses that are around the area and they’re only zoned for three people or four unrelated people and people are asking some questions right now around why can’t more folks live in these houses with our current housing crisis.
So, these are the things that young people, I think, have incredible power to help influence. But unfortunately, a lot of times, I think our youngest students feel disempowered to get involved because they’re like, “I’m only going to be here for a couple years, my voice doesn’t matter.” And I want folks to hear, yes, your voice does matter and it is important to get involved and to feel a sense of community. That’s really what I did a lot when I was in that marketing role at CU Boulder was helping students to feel empowered and engaged. And we were fortunate enough, Dustin, to have a part-time attorney, who’s now full-time thankfully, but he worked in our office and he went over leases with students and actually would go over them and explain all the things that they had before they even signed. And when they would get into those tricky pickles, he was also there to support them through the navigation of a legal process or demand letter, things like that.
So, these are the types of things that I think a lot of schools don’t have and I am really looking for my colleagues across the country and the world to help equip our students. We have to arrive to this because, if we’re going to house our students on campus, we have to be able to prepare our students and equip them with the same level of tools and resiliency that they’re going to need when they move off campus. So, if we’re putting all of our resources, time and treasure and talent towards the on-campus experience but we’re not doing that for off campus, I feel strongly that we’re failing those students when they move off campus.
Yeah, definitely yeah. A lot of dynamics because I think, yeah, housing has just been in such a weird place over the past couple of years with the pandemic and stuff but it could depend on where people are located, like you were saying, with different laws or things that are changing with those laws. And it’s almost the idea of people who live on campus have the privilege or luxury of being in a bubble, they might not be as inclined to be like, “Oh, do I need to vote? I’m just here, whatever.” But if you live off campus, it’s like, “No, no, no, no, you probably should be more motivated to vote because you are very much prone to all of the whims and changing of laws and things.”
So, yeah, I like that idea of … I don’t think it’s ever necessarily going to be 100% equal parody between on campus and off campus but we have to at least try to not just have these people be just cut off completely. Because I think that’s the old notion is like, “Hey, if they chose to live off, it’s because they don’t want anything to do with us or something.” And even if you view it as … I think I remember when I was at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, they had a commuter coordinator or something and they had a lounge and that idea and maybe that was just how they normed it in that culture. That idea that, even within residence life, if you have a person who is that outreach coordinator for people who live off to try to maintain a connection and that’s the idea.
There’s just going to be a lot of different ways that you could come at it as an institution and how you’re going to invest in the people or just the strategies and processes from the very beginning where you’re obviously marketing the opportunities to live on campus and how that process works, to apply and look at your options. But then just, okay, from the very beginning, if that’s the experience that you want to pursue, we can try to help make sure that you have the education to make a decision and sign a contract and have that responsibility and everything be conducive to your success because it’s just that idea of the things that often are going to get in the way of a student retaining and being successful. A good chunk of it is just academics, they might be struggling to understand concepts, there’s tutoring, a lot of resources to support that but then it’s just all that other context around your living situation and affordability of school and food and housing and all that stuff.
So, yeah, think it just really behooves institutions to do what you’re saying and try to invest in how you keep that connection really well maintained and make sure that those students are engaged in a way that is relevant to them. And I guess those are some of the dynamics and everything so if there’s anything more that you wanted to mention but I think you’re already getting to what I wanted to ask next around how you view success, some maybe anecdotes or things that you can think of knowing the efforts that you’re making in this area are working. So, anything that comes to mind in terms of how institutions are successfully navigating supporting off-campus housing?
Yeah, it’s a great question and I’m going to go back to something you said a few minutes ago which was you had used the phrase if students choose to live off campus. The reality is though, there’s a lot of situations right now where students don’t get the choice. We only have enough housing stock, really, at a lot of schools especially largest institutions with these growing first year classes to allow only first or second year students to live on campus. I know that this has been the case at multiple schools I’ve worked at where there’s not enough room for transfer students. I also worked with transfer students a lot and post-traditional learners when I was at CU as well.
And so, it’s a challenge when I have students that would come to my office and say, “I want to live on campus but there’s no space for me.” And I think, for a lot of students, they think, “Oh, on campus is my backup if I can’t find something off campus.” Well, the reality is, it’s not a backup for many students anymore because there’s very limited space available. And I know for many years when I was a hall director, we would put students into lounges that we would convert into temporary spaces that every school, I think, that I’ve worked at or know of has done this at some point or time and oftentimes it happens when we have new buildings under construction or we’re doing renovations.
And so, it’s tricky because those students have to live somewhere and, if they’re moving from out of state, they’ve got to find housing. And what I found a lot with students … I appreciate that you brought up commuters because commuter students are a really important passion for me. I actually did my dissertation research on first year commuters in particular and what I found was a lot of students had chosen to live with their families within a 30 to 40-minute radius. At CU Boulder, our occupancy at the time basically said you could only live off campus your first year. We had a one-year live on … Well, we had a first year live on requirement and you could only be exempted from that if you lived within a 30-mile radius and it kept expanding because of, basically, the need for housing so they kept rolling it out further and further.
And I said, “We need to do something for these students,” and so I spent about four years developing a peer mentoring program which was essentially, for lack of better terms, it was really an RA, a resident assistant, a resident advisor for our commuter students. I paired them up into clusters based on where they lived. So, if they lived in North Denver, I put all the students that I pulled from my roster of commuter students all into one cohort and I assigned them a seasoned upper division student who is also a commuter student and we would pair them together. The idea was how can we get them to carpool together. All of our students got a bus pass so if they’re using the transit system, those kinds of things.
I also realized that, hey, we’re doing a lot of programming on campus that students aren’t coming to. Why is that? Well, there is this old notion that commuter students only come to campus for classes and then they leave. Well, the reality is a lot of our students want to spend time, they want to be involved in the social fabric but a lot of the commuter students I found have a lot of demands. They’re oftentimes taking care of a younger sibling, they might be living in a multi-generational household, they might be connected to the faith communities where they live. Home, in many cases, might be two bus rides and a light rail so they have to spend an hour and a half commuting. So, it’s not that they don’t want to be on campus but, to come back again, that’s just not going to work when they only have one car for the whole family or whatever or mom and dad might be dropping them off.
So, what we ended up trying to pilot, Dustin, was we actually took the events to the students. So, right before the pandemic, we said, “Hey, we’re going to do” … The Avengers is coming out or whatever, the third movie, we’re going to rent out a block of seats at the theater in their community which I know doesn’t sound like something super groundbreaking but, at the time, at least at CU, we weren’t thinking about taking the programming to them. We were trying to do everything in Boulder with the assumption that they wanted to come to campus. The students really wanted to connect where they were so it was really great for them to be able to go to a local coffee shop, go to the local farmer’s market, whatever it was and it gave them an opportunity to still have that buff identity, we were the buffalos at CU, to have that buff identity but also be able to be where they lived as well because that was home for them.
So, we did a lot of that work and for me the measure of success was looking at the retention numbers to see that these students were at a higher risk compared to their residential peers of not proceeding or persisting to the subsequent spring semester after their first year, first semester, rather, that was a measure of success for me. It was also the qualitative data that I was getting in my research of, hey, I feel a sense of community for the first time since I’ve been here, I feel like I’m connecting. And the students also wanted to connect, not only with other commuters, but they also wanted to connect with their other first year peers.
And so, it was also for me, as an office and as a staff member, to advocate for policy change because there was things like our students would pack their lunch, bring their lunch to campus, there was nowhere for them to put their lunch, no for fridges. All of the spaces on campus that were designed for them, designed for them, in our student center had been taken over by our residential students because they were in convenient places where all the classes were. So, all the phone chargers, all the plugs, all the comfortable soft seating, it had all been taken over by our residential students and there was no dedicated space. So, I worked very hard for about four years to get a commuter lounge and I’m happy to report that, shortly after I left CU Boulder, they were able to open that space up and now they have printing and they have all that stuff.
So, that was a measure of success for me too and getting our students to connect with our rec center, our counseling staff, all those different resources, those were the things that I was really looking for as my markers and indicators of success.
Yeah, it’s great. Those fundamental metrics, obviously, are what anybody would look for for support resources like this and the idea that it could be a larger endeavor of bringing programming out to students or just giving them a proper lounge that is very much framed for them and contoured to their needs versus just being like, “Hey, it’s a place where you could sit down, whatever.” It’s like, “Yes, and let’s put a fridge in there, let’s put a microwave, let’s put lockers or whatever,” stuff like that. So, yeah, that’s great and that’s the idea is you could do a little fact finding to figure out what might be top priorities and figure out what could be feasible over time to adapt existing space, if you need to create new space or adjusting your programs.
Because I imagine, again, it’s even the idea where certain ideas that you’re already doing is can we just do that somewhere else. Don’t we do movie nights in theaters anyway? Can we just do them at different theaters and just bring that around? And it makes me think too of similarities of you do alumni programming. Yeah, there’s going to be a lot of alumni in a local area where the institution is but you’ve got to go where they are and not expect that … I’m sure every alumni always wants to go back to their institution as much as possible but that’s just not feasible consistently so then it’s how do we take advantage of there could be really unique, awesome things where a lot of your commuter students are and just really leverage that.
Either the idea like, oh, I’ve been always wanting to do this and it’s great to do it with my peers or I’d love doing this all the time and now it’s even better to do it with peer, you could do something where it’s a more unique experience or just an everyday experience that you get to do with your peers or something. So, I think that brainstorming and the ideas are endless once you start clicking into being like, “Okay, this makes more sense versus trying to get people back to campus as the only option.”
Well, the full circle moment for me, we were using Microsoft Teams. Everybody pretty much knows Microsoft Teams now post pandemic but this was back before the pandemic when I was doing a lot of my research. Because, again, I graduated in May of 2020 so I had been working on this for two, three years but I actually created, basically, a virtual living learning community on Microsoft Teams and took those cohorts and created private channels for all of them so that they could have asynchronous conversation. We would do weekly drop-ins, we had a newsletter that had about an 87% open rate which, if anyone knows anything about email open rates and college students, talking to our comm team on campus, that was a moment of bragging because we were getting peer curated content.
Again, students didn’t want to hear about me writing, they wanted to hear from their peers so I had all of our peer mentors writing the content that they wanted to hear from and we were really in an iterative cycle. But Microsoft Teams, what ended up happening, Dustin, was, once the pandemic started, my housing colleagues came to me and said, “We can’t do the RA model like we used to because people can’t have the face-to-face. What are we going to do? How do we use some of the stuff that you’re doing with the commuter students to help work with our students that live on campus?”
And for me, that was another mark of success and it felt really rewarding to be able to pull both the on-campus side of me and the off-campus side of me together in the symbiotic relationship during the pandemic because everyone was trying to figure out how do we rewrite our rules of engagement. We can’t do the things that we used to be able to do where we’re having a pizza party down in the lobby, in the residence hall. So, that was, for me, another thing where I was like, “Okay, let’s see what we can do here and let’s pivot together.”
Yeah, yeah, I love that. Because I think, yeah, identifying that strategy is another good thing for people to jot down is leveraging Slack, Teams, whatever it might be, to … Again, it can be a good thing to augment on campus community but is incredible for that asynchronous or synchronous communication for commuters, hybrid students, all that stuff. So, as we start to wrap up, so you are a blogger on the Roompact blogging team. I’m curious what attracted you to writing for Roompact?
Yeah. So, I have known the good folks at Roompact for some time and we weren’t initially a Roompact campus when I was at CU but they became a Roompact campus towards the end of my time there and, actually, we started working on residential curriculum work towards the end of my time in residence life. And when I moved over to off-campus housing, I started asking questions like why aren’t we doing residential curricular approaches in off-campus housing. And we actually had started, earnestly trying to work on a housing continuum plan where students would live on campus their first year, maybe move to our apartments on campus their second or third year, move off campus their third, fourth, fifth year, whatever it is, or grad school and how do we link all of those things so that students are going to have, obviously, have different experiences but we can think about the residential curriculum really as a full circle wraparound approach whether they’re on or off campus because, as I always like to say, you’re a buff wherever you are as I would say when I was at CU.
And so, it doesn’t matter where you’re living but how are we still having our touch points with them. I’m happy to report that that work has continued since I’ve left and I know that my colleagues up at CU are continuing to do that residential curriculum work and I’m also seeing other schools that are now doing this. Because when I was talking about this, no one had done a residential curriculum for off-campus housing, it was unheard of. And so, I’m really excited that people are doing this. And Dustin, I don’t think I mentioned, but I’m the co-chair of the National Off-Campus and Commuter Student Services knowledge community for NASPA which is a really large student affairs higher ed organization, if not the largest, I think. And we talk a lot in that group about how schools are now looking at residential curricular approaches for off-campus.
And for me, I’m so excited about that because one of my favorite JFK quotes is a rising tide raises all boats and it’s that idea of how do we raise everyone together wherever they are and whatever schools they’re at. I’m just really wanting to help advance support for all students. So, Roompact blogging for me, when I talked to Paul about this, I said, “Paul, I’m not a housing professional anymore. I oversee housing as part of my portfolio as the dean of students. We have a very small on-campus population of about a hundred students here in Naropa, I still want to stay connected to that.” It was 10 years of my life, my full-time life and I still very much believe in the mission of on-campus housing, I also very much believe in the mission of off-campus housing.
And my goal with my blogging is to bring to light topics that maybe aren’t exposed as regularly. I’m the co-chair of our care team, our student support team today so things like that. I’m blogging about things that are not the same as maybe some of the other folks on the team but I think that’s great because we’re bringing in different influences and different perspectives. And I never thought I was going to be a dean of students, I certainly never thought that was going to happen and it did and I want folks to also imagine what can they do in their careers and how do we help impact the student experience.
So, that’s really what’s been exciting for me is to be able to talk about things like Disney customer service and me coming out as a gay man and thinking about how I lived on campus, how things have really changed. There was a time when my partner and I, when I was looking at jobs, we might have not even been able to live together on campus and things have changed so much since I entered this field. So, it’s been exciting and honestly very humbling to be able to share that with folks out there in the interwebs.
Yeah, and we appreciate you sharing it because, yeah, any different voice, perspective, story and everything, it just adds to the chorus of the human experience, the hired experiences and all that. And I think, yeah, that ability to get out of what might be lockstep and key with just, okay, this is the Res Life zeitgeist or something, it’s like, “Well, I can contextualize a little bit for interacting with other campus colleagues or just take a more holistic look of a career trajectory and those sort of things,” I feel like that’s been coming up so much more as people’s life plans maybe were disrupted over the past couple years and stuff. It’s just like, “Okay, well, what have I done? Where do I want to go? How do I want to get there?” versus just, I think you even said it, where it’s just like, “Oh, I thought it’s just going to be Res Life for life. Just do that, be on campus and all that stuff.”
But yeah, stories help people see each other differently, themselves differently and their work differently and everything so, yeah, and it’s always just great to hear just people’s backgrounds and everything. We will wrap up with one last question. As the eternal optimist, always like to ask just what are you looking forward to in your work or just anything else that’s going on at Naropa or anything else that you want to share.
Yeah, I really appreciate that question. I’m also an eternal optimist, it’s my own detriment or my own fault but I really do believe the best in the best intentions and things. And also, I’m at a Buddhist inspired institution so it’s very much in alignment with our values, I think, too. One of the things that I’m excited about and, also, I’ll be honest, worried a little bit about is student support, I’m just seeing a lot more need from that. And so, I just did a presentation this last summer for an off-campus summit which was all these housing professionals coming together and I talked about how we need to think about what does care look like or student concern support outreach look like for students that live off campus. I always worry about those students because, again, they don’t have the same touch points. They don’t have an RA that’s knocking on their door checking in with them all the time and so how do we manage that, how do we scale that and make that sustainable because I’m also worried about burnout for folks like myself in this field, there’s so many more expectations.
Sometimes we talk in our care team a lot about how it feels like sometimes you have to be a counselor, a social worker and a higher ed professional and many other things, basic needs coordinator, all tied into one and I think students have higher expectations of what we as institutions can provide them. We also have limitations on what we can provide so it’s important that we find what our scope of care is. And so, I’m excited about that but I’m also a little bit worried about it and I think that’s okay. It gives me something to dig into, it gives me something to advocate for in my work and it gives me something to continue to keep my light lit every day when I come to work and continue to work with our students.
But our students are incredible folks, whether it’s here at Naropa, whether it was at CU or wherever it is, and seeing them and the promise and the purpose of why we’re here every day, it makes me very excited as a first gen kid. Because I never thought I would be here in this seat, I never thought I would have my doctorate, frankly. I didn’t even know I was going to have my master’s degree. And to be able to continue that journey and had great mentors along the way, that’s why I’m here, Dustin, every day trying to show up is to hopefully help other people and help them open the door wherever they’re wanting to go in life.
Yeah, beautiful sentiment, beautifully said and, yeah, I think that’s always the driver and there’s so much discourse and scrutiny and everything around higher ed and almost becoming transactional where it’s, yes, you are making a big investment of time and money and everything and it’s a very emotional adventure and journey and everything so, yeah, you should get what you want out of it. But at least always as a motivator as somebody who works in and with higher education, that very optimistic notion of just it is a transformative life-changing experience and, if we can get more people in it and through it and getting what they want out of it and all that and that being a complex challenge, that it can be motivating in its own way, I guess.
All that coming together to hopefully bring committed people into higher education to keep doing the good work and supporting students and everything. And yeah, I think it’s a big topic, I’m sure we’ll have to come back and talk about it again but I appreciate you helping us take our initial crack at it here. And we have ways to connect with you and the work that you’ve been doing for the blogging team in the show notes but thanks so much for hanging out and sharing all that you did.
Dustin, I really appreciate your time, the gift of your time today and this has been great and thank you so much.
Access the Show Notes:
Roompact’s ResEdChat podcast is a platform to showcase people doing great work and talk about hot topics in residence life and college student housing. If you have a topic idea for an episode, let us know!