Wellesley College has hired a new Director of Residential Life, Helen Wang, who will begin working in an official capacity this coming April. Wang has previously served as Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Director of Residential Education at Carnegie Mellon University, her alma mater. According to the email sent to House Presidents Council (HPC) and College Government (CG), “Helen has 11 years of progressive leadership experience in residence life where she has implemented a residential curriculum and researched, designed and delivered a new philosophy for residential education.”
Wang is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, where she has served as an English instructor, and of the College of William and Mary, where she spent a year as the Director of Cross Cultural Collaboration with Keio University in Japan. She has also served as a visiting faculty member at the University of Hong Kong.
The email sent to HPC and CG details exactly what Wang’s duties will be in her new role: “As a member of Wellesley’s Dean of Students’ Cabinet, Helen will bring new ideas and initiatives to residential education, inspire our students, faculty and staff and collaborate with colleagues from Facilities and across campus for the Campus Renewal implementation.”
The search for a new Director of Residential Life began in September of 2017 when Interim Director Shawn DeVeau unexpectedly left at the beginning of the fall semester. Dean of Students and Vice President Sheilah Horton expressed in an email to The Wellesley News that this loss came at an especially inconvenient time in the semester, and she hoped to fill it quickly. In the period between Deveau’s exit and Wang’s beginning, Dean Horton and Associate Dean of Students Carol Bate have filled the role of Director themselves. In order to find a suitable replacement, the college worked with the search firm Spelman and Johnson, which specializes in student affairs positions.
Dean Bate served as the chair of the search committee, and, according to Dean Horton, she “worked with the firm to ensure that they understood the kind of candidates we wanted and the unique aspects of our campus community.” Based on these criteria, the search committee found three candidates to bring to Wellesley for further interviews and consideration in the fall. Wellesley College staff, academic administrators, Facilities colleagues and students, mostly House Presidents (HPs) and Resident Assistants (RAs), were involved in interviewing candidates. Dean Horton told The Wellesley News that overall, approximately 27 people were involved in the interviews in some capacity.
The search committee was looking for a candidate who was a “visionary leader with deep experience in residence life, possessed a clear understanding of the connection between the residential program and residential space and demonstrated a collaborative spirit,” Dean Bate explained .
McAfee House President Amanda Hernandez ’18 was one of the students involved in the hiring process. “Both times that I had the opportunity to sit with her [Wang], I was impressed by her obvious passion for and experience with Residential Life, her clear ability to listen and her willingness to engage in difficult conversations,” she said. Hernandez went on to comment that Wang seemed invested in getting to know Wellesley’s culture and learning from students.
According to the job listing for the director position, “The Director will join Wellesley at a time when the college is embarking upon a multi-year residential capital improvement program and will advise the Vice President and Dean of Students on major construction and campus renewal projects that impact housing operations and residential facilities.”
Some students have expressed hope that the new Director will implement free or discounted room and board for residential life staff. Crystalina Guo ’20, an RA in Claflin Hall, is one of these students. “I believe that residential life should be paid more than we currently are, as I believe that it would bring in a larger and more diverse pool of qualified applicants,” she said. She acknowledges that RAs at many other institutions are paid more than at Wellesley, but they may also perform different duties. “Another consideration I have heard students bring up is that if our pay is increased, the RA experience across campus should be equalized in terms of responsibility and resources,” she said. Guo mentioned that discrepancies in duties between RAs who have many students on their floors and those with fewer students.
On the subject of increased RA compensation or free room and board, Dean Horton said “We need to benchmark our programs against other schools to see if we are providing our residential life staff the same expectations as RAs at other schools and the same financial package as well.”
Wang was unavailable for comment prior to her official start in April.