Centering honesty and transparency is vital when it comes to making progress as an institution. This is something Eleanor Daugherty, Associate Vice President and Dean of Students at the University of Connecticut, knows all too well, and has applied to her academic work, as well as her professional services remit.
Eleanor sat down with Kira Matthews, GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead, to discuss her journey into Higher Education (HE), embracing the complexity of individual students, and more.
I’m the Associate Vice President and Dean of Students at the University of Connecticut. I work with students across multiple campuses. My specific responsibility is focusing on the complexity of the student and how we embrace them. It involves helping students during important transition periods, as well as how we connect with the community around us.
I didn’t realize there was a field dedicated to me! The entry point was in access, I was very much somebody who lacked confidence in my ambitions and talent, and the University of Chicago, which admitted me, opened up to me a really transformative definition of education. I had a lot of incredible mentors, which created stepping stones for me along the way.
I’m an applied learner and my scholarship and my practice are very entwined. I was working at the University of Michigan amidst two very important cases making their way to the supreme court, based on affirmative action.
The diversity of classrooms enriches and enables academic missions — it’s not just about providing opportunities to the marginalized. I didn’t understand why this was so hard to understand, so that became my scholarship.
I take a qualitative, sociological approach, of listening to the stories of those who haven’t been heard and enabling that to inform strategic practice. That informs everything I do in my community. I realized I could be a catalyst for advocating for communities that couldn’t speak out in public, like undocumented citizens in our education system.
More broadly I want to acknowledge that college is stressful, and not necessarily the best four years of somebody’s life — life is long and rich! College is transformative and challenging but it’s okay not to be perfect. In my speech to freshmen, I said ‘if you’re aiming for perfection, let it go’.
The work is never done. Adopting restorative practice measures in the residential halls is one thing — we’re one of the biggest campuses in the country, so focusing on community and conflict resolution is vital. I think about conflict resolution with humility and empowerment.
Health inequity is very real, and this became apparent during Covid. We had to make sure health inequity enabled equity in our campus, ie. opening up residence halls to underserved communities and missing out on profit that year was important. Students were able to live away from multigenerational families without the fear of getting others sick.
I don’t necessarily view it as a bad thing if our numbers go up — it means that people are engaged with our support services and talking about their experiences. We did a lot of work in this arena in 2014, but when we revisited it in 2022, we heard that students don’t necessarily trust the university when they’re feeling afraid, which was a hard thing to hear.
That means a focus on transformation and trust building. We’re focusing on training peer cohorts to enable peer-to-peer conversations. We really feel it creates stronger pathways to our reporting systems and administration.
You have to love yourself as much as you love your work. This job has ‘crusader’ in the job description, because you’ll be fighting for things a lot — don’t sacrifice yourself, you’ll be a better leader as a result.
Susan Herbst, one of the first women in a presidential leadership role. I love her fierceness and support, as well as our CEO Frank Tuitt. He’s so committed to enabling the success of his colleagues in his work.
Also, Greg Anderson, my doctoral supervisor! I’ve never been so uncomfortable with someone — and been a better person for it as a result.
Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittany Cooper.