Rachel Head officially began as the new Assistant Dean of Residential Life last Tuesday, replacing Liz Derickson ’01 who, after 3 years, left Swarthmore to pursue graduate studies. Head previously worked in similar positions for Dartmouth College, the University of North Carolina, and the University of South Florida.
Head earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in social work from the University of Florida and has prior experience in the field in addition to university residential work. After graduating, Head worked at a U of Florida law clinic, representing kids in foster care, and later as a coordinator at the University of South Florida.
“The Center for Civic Engagement at USF is very similar to the Lang Center here at Swarthmore,” said Head. “I worked through the center at USF for Americorps to host 65 students who did literacy education for kids in grades K through 3 in economically depressed areas.”
She moved into leading residential life programs at various universities, eventually ending up at Dartmouth for the past two years.
Head felt connected to Swarthmore when she visited the campus and interacted with the community.
“Everybody was so welcoming!” Head said, “Swarthmore really seems like a place where individuality is appreciated and accepted. I knew that I could come here and be surrounded by people who genuinely appreciate me as the loud, funny person that I am.”
Head already has plans to improve overall quality of life at Swarthmore. Experience at the residential offices at other schools has taught her student voice is an integral part of any and all decision processes.
“Students give the only real insight on actual 24/7 residential life,” she said. “Ideas may seem great on paper, but the actual implementation and overall outcome on the hall itself is what matters most.”
One idea Head hopes to test out at Swat, is increased faculty engagement in student residential life.
“Faculty programs in dorms might help first- and second-years get acclimated to the dynamics of the campus.” She gave the example of a student-faculty Iron Chef competition at Dartmouth, where teams consisting of three students and two faculty members competed against other floors in their dorms.
In the coming months, Head wants to assess whether there is an actual need for increased student-faculty integration at Swarthmore.
Head’s biggest challenge at other residential offices was seeking the out opinions of quieter students. As Housing Coordinator at Swarthmore, she hopes she can help students listen to each other.
Swipe-card access to dorms and general campus lighting and safety questions will be the most pressing housing concerns. Head believes. Her current project is to provide a warm welcome for the class of 2012 in conjunction with the Residential Advisors.
At this point, Head says she is still adjusting to her position at Swarthmore. The transition is facilitated by the similarity of Swarthmore’s lottery system to other college’s housing system.
In learning more about Swarthmore’s environment, Head invites students to stop by her office on Parrish East.
“My door is always open,” she says (although there is a “fear of dogs” disclaimer here), “come by and say hello!”