It can be easy to say officials are inaccessible and do not adequately hear out student concerns. But in her first year, Dean of the Student Experience Cissy Petty has debunked the assumption – and students should pay attention.
Petty filled the shoes of former Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski and has quickly become visible to students in more ways than one, responding to tweets and meeting with any students who want to speak with her. She is often seen chatting with students around campus, on elevators or in passing at the Marvin Center.
At a large institution like GW, students may feel like their issues are not being addressed or listened to. Even when officials say they are taking steps to curb problems like food insecurity or a lacking leadership in the Colonial Health Center, students may not hear from administrators for months before an update is given. But students need to recognize that Petty’s track record in her first year has not left them in the dark, and they should know to utilize her during her second year.
Petty has shown that she has heard out student concerns and is willing to help. Over the past academic year, she helped to establish District Connections, a program that provides freshmen with free tickets to events off campus. She also is attempting to give Shenkman Hall an upgrade with new furniture on each floor after hearing from students that there is not enough community space in residence halls. Petty and other officials recently overhauled the resident adviser agreement, adding more RAs to balance out the student-RA ratio. Each of Petty’s actions this academic year have shown that she understands student needs, even after just one year at the helm.
Students concerned about issues under her jurisdiction should continue approaching her with concerns because she has proven that she is willing to listen. Petty oversees the Colonial Health Center, the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities and the Center for Student Engagement, which cover some of the most salient issues students face on campus, like a lack of community and access to health services. If students have an issue in any of the three departments, they should know that Petty may have them covered.
Her interactions contrast from Konwerski, her predecessor, who was more often found responding to students on Twitter than in person. Petty has spent her first year at the University reaching out to students both virtually and in person, and that is an uncommon quality among the University’s top leadership.
Students often want to bring up personal issues to administrators, which can be done both in Petty’s office and through nonchalant conversations around campus. Petty has connected with students by talking with them in residence halls and in passing, but she also has structured meetings – formal and informal – where students can reach her. Petty does not just meet students in her office – she engages with them around campus in an environment where students are more comfortable.
Students who approach Petty should have the expectation of being heard and should continue using her as a resource. Being able to speak to an administrator and walk away feeling informed leaves students feeling that their concerns matter. As Petty looks ahead to her second year, she should also shift her focus to not just listening to students but also working to fix some of the bigger problems at the University.
While Petty spent time in residence halls this year to assess their quality, she only experienced living in Shenkman, Amsterdam and West halls. In the coming year, she should scope out some of the older residence halls that might have other structural issues. Petty is also currently the interim director of the CHC, and she should work to find the permanent director the center desperately needs. Food insecurity also continues to be a pressing issue on campus, and Petty should be transparent about her consideration of creating a dining hall.
Petty’s first year was about establishing student relationships. In her second year, Petty should focus on both maintaining those relationships and frequently updating students about the steps she has taken to address different campus issues.
In one year at the University, Petty has proven herself as an administrator who students can approach with issues. Students should know to come to Petty with any concern they might have, be it large or small. In addition, Petty should continue listening to students while informing them of the strides she has taken to tackle their concerns.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah and contributing opinions editor Hannah Thacker based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of assistant copy editor Natalie Prieb, managing director Leah Potter, contributing design editor Olivia Columbus, sports editor Emily Maise and culture editor Sidney Lee.