Spears starts as new OPAL dean

by Astrid Bradley | 7/13/07 3:12am

Sylvia Spears, the new director of the Office of Pluralism and Leadership and Associate Dean of Student Life, assumed her responsibilities on campus last week. Spears replaces Tommy Lee Woon, the first associate dean of OPAL, who left the College in mid-August, citing family concerns.

Spears was officially hired in late March, but did not move to Hanover until June, in order to finish teaching at the University of Rhode Island.

"One of the things that was very attractive to me in coming here was the quality of the staff at OPAL and the students that I met," she said.

She added that, after initially viewing the job posting for her new position, she said to herself, "that is everything that I do and care about."

Holly Sateia, Dean of Student Life and head of the search committee to fill the position, said that she felt pleased to bring a person with Spear's "experience, skills and passion to Dartmouth."

"I think our faculty and staff will greatly appreciate her as a colleague and our students will value her as an ally and mentor," Sateia said

Spears said that she is excited to have the opportunity to work at Dartmouth.

"I am absolutely committed to the kind of work that comes out of OPAL," Spears said. "Because we have the opportunity to make such an impact on the community."

Still, she acknowledged that there will be challenges lying ahead in this new position.

"There are some wounds and misunderstandings across communities and we need to find ways to heal that," Spears said, in reference to the racially charged events that occurred in the Fall term of 2006.

Although painful, Spears said that these negative incidents can lead to positive growth for the College.

"While conflict hurts sometimes, it provides us with a creative opportunity to build relationships, and to come up with some new and exciting ways to build community," she said.

Spears said that Dartmouth must come to terms with its history and legacy while at the same time update its past to fit the present.

"One of the larger challenges for Dartmouth is to embrace the ways of tradition and at the same time embrace the new ways of being."

In addition to being a professor, Spears has also served as the interim affirmative action officer at URI and was the assistant director of multicultural student services at Bryant College.

"I love teaching. The part of it that I am attracted to is the interaction that comes with the students," she said.

Spears said that her experiences as an administrator and faculty member allow her to "walk in both worlds."

"[It's] interesting and complex work, because you are in the position to know the best about the institution and worst about the institution," she said.

She added that faculty and administrators must be able to work together in order to cater to their first priority -- the students.

Students who are struggling with personal crises will have difficulty succeeding academically and students with academic dilemmas may develop identity problems, she said. As a result, this relationship creates the need for collaboration between various faculty components.

"If we really believe that we are here to meet with the holistic needs of students, we all need to work in a way that is holistic," Spears said.

It is also the responsibility of faculty and administration to facilitate the development of students' ability to work across cultural bounds, she said, since this is one skill that students must possess after graduating.

Spears also has been the Tribal Administrator for the Narraganseet Indian Tribe, her home tribe.

During that time she collected data on the representation of Native Americans in higher education and found that less than four-tenths of a percent of those in her tribe ever attended college.

This experience was the main catalyst in Spear's decision to return to school for her master's degree and pursue a career in higher education.

One of Spears' goals is to expand the presence of OPAL within the College.

"I think I would like for the campus to have an increased understanding about what OPAL does and how we serve the larger Dartmouth community," Spears said.

Spears said that OPAL sponsors a number of programs and workshops and hopes that these too can achieve a higher profile on campus.

"I also want the campus to see us as a resource," she said.

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