Petty’s first year marked by student connections, improvements to residential life

Media Credit: File Photo by Donna Armstrong | Senior Staff Photographer

Petty said she spent her first academic year building connections with students.

Updated: May 2, 2019 at 1:56 p.m.

Dean of the Student Experience Cissy Petty has trouble listing just one favorite experience from her first year on campus.

For Petty, several events stand out: hosting a pizza night in Mitchell Hall, doing the “Wobble” at the Multicultural Student Services Center Block Party and meeting Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg with GW Hillel.

“And, as soon as I submit this, I’m sure I’ll think of a few more highlights,” she said in an email.

Officials hired Petty last May to head the student experience office, placing her at the helm of the Colonial Health Center, the Center for Student Engagement and the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities. Student leaders said that in the last year, Petty has “passionately” connected with students in person and through social media and addressed their concerns with tangible changes.

“I will build upon the experiences and accomplishments from this year to help shape our future efforts as we focus on providing our students a network of support to help every student succeed,” Petty said.

In her first year, Petty has taken several steps to understand the issues with residential life students face and address those issues. Petty took weeklong stays in West, Shenkman and Amsterdam halls to identify which areas of residence hall life could be improved.

During her visit to Shenkman, she noticed that adding comfortable seating near the hall’s elevators could foster community, and she is in the process of installing furniture to each floor, she said.

Petty added that she worked with other officials to hire 27 additional resident advisers to lower the student-to-RA ratio, which she said would create “better opportunities for connections among our residents.” Officials overhauled the RA contract to offer RAs GWorld funds instead of stipends and complete an online summer training.

But one accomplishment she is “extremely” proud of aimed to encourage students to leave their residence halls and bond with one another. Petty said the District Connections program, which launched this spring, has allowed 540 freshmen to attend 35 events around the city, like shows at the Kennedy Center, for free.

“The impetus wasn’t just to get off campus – the purpose was to create meaningful experiences for small groups of students who may not have met yet,” she said.

Petty said that next academic year, she wants to add more affordable dining options to campus.

Student leaders said Petty has taken a personal, hands-on approach to building relationships with students on campus.

Student Association President Ashley Le said Petty’s first year at the University “has been very successful” because she frequently engages with student leaders through both formal appointments and informal meetings. She said Petty holds regular bimonthly meetings with her – and ad-hoc meetings in Petty’s fifth-floor Marvin Center office as needed – to discuss issues related to the SA.

“She loves seeing students,” Le said. “Just being able to be with the people she works for, that’s what makes her such an effective leader in terms of student affairs.”

Le said she often seeks Petty’s guidance when SA leaders devise new policy ideas because Petty brings “valuable” insight to the table. She added that Petty has helped SA leaders push their proposal to provide students with 24 free loads of laundry and free access to rental spaces, which was unveiled Monday.

Tyler Kusma, a resident adviser in West Hall and the SA’s director of Mount Vernon affairs, said that when Petty stayed in West Hall last September, she hosted daily events for students to get to know her and grabbed dinner at Pelham Commons with a group of Mount Vernon Campus RAs.

Kusma said Petty spoke with RAs about expanding Pelham’s night hours and about how frequent commutes to the Foggy Bottom Campus strain Vern residents’ sense of community at GW. He said Petty’s stay in West exemplified her willingness to actively seek out concerns from Vern residents.

“Having her experience what we have to experience, like taking the Vex all of a sudden and stuff like that, really just showed like the commitment and dedication she had to furthering the student experience and remembering the Vern student experience as a component of that,” Kusma said.

Kara Zupkus, the co-president of GW’s chapter of Young America’s Foundation, said the organization engaged in “productive” conversations with Petty after several incidences of students vandalizing GW YAF’s posters on campus. Zupkus said she and members of her organization wish Petty had proactively reached out to GW YAF leaders to address the issue because members of the organization tweeted to Petty after the posters were taken down.

“It seemed like during our troubles this year, Dean Petty only interacted with us after multiple attempts at communication after the vandalism had already occurred,” she said in an email. “However, now that we have met with her and have a relationship established, we are optimistic for the future.”

Lizzie Mintz contributed reporting.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Petty oversees enrollment and undergraduate admissions. She leads the CSE, SRR and the CHC. We regret this error.

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