Dean of Students Doucet takes leave of absence, triggering leadership adjustments

By Tony Sjodin

Life on campus looks very different this semester so student life staff are adapting to help students face new obstacles. (Van Barth)

Dean of Students Derek Doucet will be taking a leave of absence through the end of November, according to an email sent from the Office of the President on Oct. 14. AJ Place, associate dean for student life, will serve as acting Dean of Students in Doucet’s place. Place will oversee the Office of Community Standards, Student Activities and Residential Life. Kristy Carpenter, assistant director for residential life, will temporarily step into the role of associate dean for student life.

“Since I’m only stepping into this role temporarily, I’m trying to get up to speed on the work Dean Doucet was doing, which always has a bit of a learning curve,” Place said. “Overall it’s a challenging term for everyone, so continuing to help us as a community through the next few weeks is my main goal.”

Jennifer Sellers, dean of student life, will temporarily co-chair Community Council — a responsibility usually managed by the Dean of Students.

“I was more than happy to do it,” Sellers said. “I miss being in the classroom a lot this semester, so having a chance to talk more with students about issues, like on Community Council, just seemed like a wonderful thing.”

The Community Council’s first meeting was on Monday, Oct. 19. Sellers said she has no agenda of her own, but looks forward to hearing councilmembers’ concerns.

“I really do think it’s a forum and a space for the people who applied to be on the council to advocate for what they thought were going to be issues of importance, and also to be able to vet those issues that are coming up organically in the moment,” Sellers said. “I imagine a lot is going to be around the issue of uniformed [Public Safety officers] on campus and how it might evolve in the future.”

The email also announced several updates to staff working on programming within the Student Life Office.

Jessica Holmes, professor of economics, will be stepping into a newly created role as student life advisor for remote students through the end of the 2020–21 academic year. Holmes said that the college recognized a need for greater support for remote learners and designated a point person so more resources would be available to those students.

“My goal is to find new ways to build community for our remote learners and help them stay connected to Middlebury,”  Holmes wrote in an email to The Campus. “All of our students, no matter where they are living, are Middlebury students, and we want them to benefit from all that Middlebury has to offer.”

Holmes plans to gather student input in the coming weeks, with an upcoming survey to better understand the needs of remote learners. She also hopes to create a virtual student council to help design programming and a virtual student union page for remote learners to connect and engage with one another.

Robert Moeller, associate professor of psychology, will become the director of residential education and innovation as part of the college’s BluePrint residential experience, the group of residential changes that occurred after the commons system was put to an end last spring. Moeller previously co-led the college’s How Will We Live Together review of residential life at Middlebury with Doucet.

BluePrint is the college’s planned residential programming for building students’ communities and life skills. Moeller pointed to his research about mental health at Middlebury in past years through the “Student Stress & Social Life Study” and his work as the MiddCORE director — which features a significant life skills component — as experiences that informed his advocacy for residential programming.

“We are creating a residential community that reduces students’ experiences of stress and anxiety, celebrates our diversity and provides important life skills so that all students have equal access to the full Middlebury experience,” Moeller said in an email to The Campus.

Those life skills include relationship building, conflict resolution, time management, financial literacy, study skills, leadership development, identification, networking and careers explorations, so that students can live happier and healthier lives during and after college, according to Moeller.

He is working with the Student Government Association to develop life skills programming for students that will be available during J-Term and spring term, with a full rollout of BluePrint to follow in fall 2021. Residential programming will also be designed in collaboration with the college’s Task Force on Anti-racism to create a more equitable living and learning community.

“Every Middlebury student belongs here, and every student should have a clear set of paths available to them to experience the college’s mission — to live engaged, consequential, creative lives where they are prepared to contribute to their communities and address the world’s most challenging problems,” Moeller said.

Christal Brown, associate professor of dance, was recently appointed to head the college’s Task Force on Anti-racism and will meet with Student Life staff regularly to create anti-racist programming for all students, according to the email from the Office of the President.