Q&A with new Dean of the College Kathryn Lively

by Grayce Gibbs | 8/30/19 4:15am

In June, sociology professor and South House professor Kathryn Lively was named Dean of the College. She previously served as interim dean since July 2018, when former Dean of the College Rebecca Biron returned to teaching. As dean, Lively will oversee undergraduate academic life, the Student Affairs division and the six house communities. Her term began on July 1. In the following interview with The Dartmouth, Lively discusses her goals related to the house system, Greek life and more topics important to students.

What does it mean to be dean of the College? 

KL: I oversee the division of Student Affairs and all student activities and organizations that are not academic in nature, so all student organizations, student life cocurricular activities, the centers for social impact career and professional development and the Tucker Center for spiritual and ethical life. It’s essentially everything that the dean of the faculty is not responsible for. 

I think my role is to advocate for students’ perspectives. My role is to help facilitate student communication with the administration and to make sure that, when decisions are made on campus, the student perspective is always present and at the table. 

Dartmouth’s small classes and programs like “Take a Faculty Member to Breakfast or Lunch” are meant to help students foster close ties with faculty members. As dean, what plans do you have to facilitate communication and interaction between students and professors? How do you plan to stay connected to the student body? 

KL: One of the things that I negotiated is for the Dean of the College to live on campus, which hasn’t happened for many years. I realized, having been a house professor, that there’s so much power in having people over to a home and the kinds of conversations and connections that you can make in a living room as opposed to an office. I’ll be working closely with members of my staff to think about the best way to remain open and to get to know students. One of the things that I would really like to do is to make the role of Dean of the College much friendlier and much more accessible for students than it has been in the past. 

With the house system still in its early years, what do you think has worked best and how do you plan to address students’ concerns with these communities? 

KL: I think that one of the biggest concerns that students have is the lack of choice. But it’s important to remember that four years ago, students’ biggest concern was the fact that they got bounced around between dormitories all the time and they never knew who they were going to be living with or where they were going to be living. Moving around campus was just as disruptive to their friendship networks as the D-Plan was. You’re either going to have stability and house communities or you’re going to have this issue about student choice. It’s one or the other. That’s just a function of the system itself as it was designed. 

One of the things that we are changing about the system that didn’t work well is that first year was that students were gathered all over campus. You didn’t necessarily know that everyone in your dorm was also in your house. You would just know the people on your floor and maybe the people above you. There was no real way for first-years to get to know members of their house community. So what we’ve been able to do, working really closely with the Office of Residential Life, is make sure that all first-year students in a house will be co-located together. Not only will they be together, they’ll actually be closer to their upper-class dorms. 

With roughly two-thirds of eligible Dartmouth students involved in Greek life, what measures are in place to ensure that the organizations are safe and inclusive? Are there any changes you want to make to the system, or ways that you hope it will evolve over the next several years? 

KL: I think that the system is actually stronger now than it has been in terms of Greek leaders’ ability and their willingness to work among themselves to solve problems. I would like to tip my hat to the student leaders who have really stepped up in order to appreciate the efforts of our students, faculty and administrators to move Dartmouth forward and to adhere to and to take very seriously President Hanlon’s desire to make us a more inclusive and safer campus. 

There’s obviously still work to do, and I think that the Greek Leadership Council has been really good at working with their members. What I would like to continue to see happen are those conversations that members of Greek houses continue to participate in and the training that we’ve been asking everyone on campus to adhere to through groups like the Sexual Violence Prevention Project and the Dartmouth Bystander Initiative. 

I think we’re being faced with new challenges in terms of what does it truly mean to be inclusive. Five years ago, no one was having a conversation about gender. It was totally binary. All of these conversations are new and people make mistakes. I think that as a campus, as a society, certainly as a nation, we have a lot of work to do. And I actually think that our student leaders are really on the forefront of that. 

Thirty-four percent of female undergraduates at Dartmouth report experiencing non-consensual penetration or sexual touching involving physical force during their time at the College. New initiatives, like the recently-unveiled Unified Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures, have been put in place in an effort to address this. What other measures do you hope to implement to help keep students safe on campus? 

KL: The first year of training done by the Sexual Violence Prevention Program is completely done, and they’re about to roll out year two. They have put in an incredible amount of work in conjunction with the Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault as well WISE and the Student Wellness Center as we’re beginning to really unveil SVPP and its four-year capacity. 

We need to continue to have conversations about what consent means. I think that our Greek leaders have been doing a good job about this. We need to make sure that people are doing these trainings and having these conversations in groups where they feel safe, whether it’s on athletic teams or whether it’s an affinity houses so that people can really be vulnerable and express their concerns and their confusions without judgment. 

I think what happens now around issues of racial bias, homophobia, high-risk drinking or sexual assault is that people aren’t willing to have open conversations about what they know or don’t know because everyone’s afraid to come across as racist or sexist or a rapist. If we can begin to really shed light on these and allow ourselves to be educated and to learn skills to have difficult conversations and understand the perspective of people who are dissimilar from us, I think that we will be better as a campus. 

According to the 2018 Dartmouth Health Survey, 62 percent of Dartmouth students agreed or strongly agreed the campus climate has a negative impact on students’ mental and emotional well-being. Recently, the College has seen an increase in student demand for mental health resources, and Dartmouth’s “The Call to Lead” capital campaign allocates $17 million to supporting these resources. How do you hope to improve the quality and expansiveness of our mental health resources? 

KL: The good news is that we’re starting the year with three more mental health counselors than we had last year, and our goal is to grow that number. We’re in the process of thinking about new ways to deploy the services that we have. Right now, health services, and mental health services in particular, are piloting a new program that if you have a one-visit problem, you can elect to skip triage and see someone that day. That is a pilot that they’re going to be trying out through the end of the summer and perhaps into the fall to see if that helps with some of the demands that students have. Being fully staffed is going to make a difference. I’m going to continue as I meet with donors and go to campaign events to really talk about the need for increased mental health services so that we hopefully will be able to hire the remaining positions that we have available. 

I think one of the things that would be most important for first-year students coming in is, in the midst of the flurry of things that are going to be thrown at them during orientation, just to make sure that they keep of the resources in mind because there are actually a ton of resources on campus, whether it’s through wellness or mindfulness activities or meditation or through the Center for Spiritual Life. 

According to the New York Times’ The Upshot, Dartmouth enrolls more students from the top one percent of income earners than the bottom 60 percent. How do you plan to make Dartmouth more accessible for lower-income students and adequately support students from all backgrounds throughout their time at the College? 

KL: One of the things that we have been doing is that we’re extending our First Year Student Enrichment Program from four days to four years. Part of the gift that came in for that also includes money for academic coaching, but there’s also money that will be set aside for what we internally call “barrier removal.” Essentially, it’s funds for student who come up against a cost that might prevent them from taking part in an opportunity. We’ve always done that, but the funds have been relatively low. I’ve been working with the Provost and the Executive Vice President to look at the issue of food insecurity, which is not only specific to Dartmouth, but to campuses all across the nation. We’re working very hard to eradicate that on this campus. The Guarini Institute for International Education received a gift which will make all international programs accessible to students regardless of financial need. 

What advice would you give the Class of 2023? 

KL: I think my advice to the Class of 2023 is the advice I would give to all Dartmouth students, which is to always stay curious — and that this is your home, too. Don’t wait until you’re a second- or third-year student to feel like you could make a difference, because you can make a huge difference in a four-year period. In Dartmouth terms, that’s a lifetime. This is a really safe container to try something, even if you fail, and failing is actually fine because there’s a safety net here and there’s always going to be people here who are going to help you figure out what happened so that you won’t make that mistake again. 

I think it can sometimes be really intimidating coming to a place like Dartmouth, and you’re afraid to think outside of the box or do something that you’ve never done, or you might be afraid to take a risk, whether it’s to raise your hand in class, or to take a class in an area that you’ve never had before, or to try out for an acapella group or audition for a dance ensemble. Take the risk and enjoy it. Sometimes it can feel like you’re really stuck, but a term is only 10 weeks. You can do anything for 10 weeks and then it all starts over again. I think that’s actually a really important thing to remember. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

This article is a part of the 2019 Freshman Issue.