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Grinnellians you should know (or know about): Andrea Conner

Topics/tags: Grinnellians

In about a month, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Andrea Conner will depart Grinnell for less rural (and perhaps greener) pastures. She has made a positive impact on this institution that we both love, and I will miss her.

Not everyone knows Andrea well and some students don’t necessarily appreciate her enough, so it seems appropriate to write a bit about her before she leaves. I’d also like to express my thanks [1].

I don’t know everything that Andrea does, but I know that she has a lot of responsibilities. She’s in charge of Student Affairs, Academic Advising, Campus Safety [2], Student Health and Counseling Services [3], and likely a bunch of related things. As far as I can tell, she effectively has responsibility for most of our students’ co-curricular experiences, except for those that are tied to Athletics or Careers, Life, and Service [4].

That’s an incredibly hard job. Grinnell has awesome students, but we also have awesomely demanding students. Then there’s the issue of self governance, which leads some students to object to any attempt to develop rules or structures. While I very much support self-gov, I also admit that self-gov doesn’t always work. And when it doesn’t work, someone has to do something. I think, for example, about the issue of unscheduled lounge parties [5]. We had long-term evidence that many students were negatively impacted by those parties, which keep other students up and which can lead to damage. Given those issues, you would hope that our principles of self-governance would lead students to make changes. But they did not. So after a lot of reflection and consultation, Andrea and others developed what seem to be reasonable policies [6]. When I watched her discuss those policies with students, particularly sets of student leaders, the students expressed some dissatisfaction but understood the issues and accepted the change. In contrast, when I watched another senior leader try to explain the changes, it just made students angry. So I appreciate her willingness to talk through things thoughtfully with students.

In great part, Andrea is able to talk with students and have them listen because it’s clear that, in the end, her primary concern is in improving our students’ lives at Grinnell. She may not always agree with others [7] on the best way to do so, but she shares a common interest in supporting students. No one thinks (or no one should think) that she makes choices just to satisfy external forces.

I don’t always agree with her suggestions or decisions, but I find them well motivated. For example, while I did not appreciate the move toward first-year-only housing or the development of a separate one-credit Grinnell culture course for Grinnell, I acknowledged that she had developed good rationales for both approaches. I still don’t support the one-credit Grinnell culture course [8], but I appreciate the ways she has been studying a variety of approaches to deal with the underlying issues. And I am glad to see that the first-year-only housing has not had the drawbacks I feared [9] and seems to be having some very positive impacts.

I’ve also had the opportunity to work with Andrea both formally and informally in a variety of situations. We don’t always agree [10], but I think we respect each other and can talk thoughtfully [11].

That relationship carries through to other situations. I know that some of my crusades are intimidating to others, including members of the student affairs staff. I appreciate that Andrea has served as a buffer; she may not like my crusades, but we have a long enough relationship that (a) she knows that my heart is in the right place and (b) she will call me out appropriately if I behave in a way she thinks is inappropriate.

In any case, it’s been great to have someone in her position who is willing to develop and promote thoughtful changes and who will listen to different viewpoints

Thanks, Andrea! I know it’s been a challenging job, but you can leave knowing that you’ve made Grinnell better.

[1] Yeah, I know. If this is how you write when you’re thankful ….

[2] No longer Campus Security in the hopes that it will be less intimidating as Safety.

[3] No one calls it that. It’s SHACS.

[4] The TLA wins here, too. CLS.

[5] I am not a student and am not in student affairs. I may get some things about this issue wrong.

[6] I know not everyone agrees that they are reasonable and that some worry about other consequences. I’ve reached the point that I’m no longer willing to accept the claim that If you know we’re going to do stupid things, you should provide us with a supportive environment to do those stupid things.

[7] Others includes students, outspoken faculty members, and alumni.

[8] I have a host of objections to the one-credit course that I will not list here. I am happy that a possible compromise has been reached of incorporating many of those topics in Tutorial.

[9] I had experienced many positives, including mentoring by older students and getting better exposed to opportunities on campus, from living in a mixed-year dorm; most of the friends I know had similar experiences. I worried about the loss of those experiences. But it looks like students are still getting some of those kinds of mentoring in other ways and are also finding a greater sense of community. There are also other benefits that I’ve failed to recall.

[10] Arguably, few sensible people regularly agree with everything I say.

[11] There are times that I have not treated her with sufficient respect. I deeply regret those times.

Version 1.0 of 2018-05-20.