Campus Celebrity: Residence Don

It’s probably one of the toughest student jobs on campus. They fill the role of responsible adult, surrogate parent, and cruise director for the hundreds of students in residence each year. They have the power to shape our time in residence and years later when residence seems like a distant memory, most of us can recall at least something about them. I’m talking about Residence Dons. For this week’s Campus Celebrity, I got to sit down with one of these super humans and get the inside scoop on life as a residence don. (She chose to remain anonymous in the interview)

Year: 4th

Program: Concurrent Education

Years being a Don: 2

So we’ll start with something easy, why did you decide to become a don?

I knew that it would be helpful since I want to be a teacher after I graduate. My passion is helping people and I feel like being a don is the best way that I can give back to the Queen’s Community.

Did your own first-year residence experience impact your decision?

My initial experience was great; everyone on our floor was really positive and close. There was a sense of family that I liked, and every year as a don I’m granted the opportunity to have a new family. So I guess, that sense of family in first year made my own experience positive and made me want to do it again as a don.

I also didn’t want to be like my don. I felt that some of the things my don did, I would want to do differently. I felt that my don didn’t have much of a presence, and he picked and chose his role, without consistency. I felt that I could bring consistency to the job.

Do you ever feel like you’re missing out on the ‘off-campus’ living experience?

I do, but not in a negative way. If I was living off campus, I feel that my social life would struggle a bit, being on a new floor each year gives me an opportunity to know a different group of people each year. There are a lot of perks to it, for me it’s not about the money (sure, it is a perk) but that’s not why I do it.

Do you find it difficult to balance?

Yes, well it's twofold if there’s a situation that’s happening then it’s definitely time-consuming, having to handle that. I think you have to remember that it is a full-time position; you don’t really get to walk away from it at the end of the day. You have to be there when someone needs you or when the next situation arises, and these things don’t tend to happen when you have free time from your own class work and plans. When it rains, it pours in residence.

On a similar note: what do you think the hardest part of the job is?

There are two things when you have to document your own students (because they feel like family and you just don’t want to have to do that. It’s about finding the balance between being friendly but not too friendly and also not having them take your niceness for weakness). The other tough part is to see your students go through a hard time whether it’s mental health or substance use related. It’s hard because I wear my heart on my sleeve and I invest in each of my students, so when they’re going through a hard time, I internalize that and it can be really hard to separate myself from it.

What about the best part of the job?

Definitely, being able to see your students happy and healthy on the floor. Seeing them making friends, and when you see them smile, it’s all worth it.

What do you want your legacy to be as a don?

To know that I was able to impact their lives for the better, and even if it was something small just knowing I was able to help them in some way

For example, when one of my students came to me about potentially leaving the school and joining the military we had a good long chat, and he ended up staying at Queen’s. After the fact, he wrote me a letter saying, “If Queen’s helped facilitate in the person you have become, I would be a fool to leave,” and that meant a lot to me, and will probably always stick with me.

What’s your most awkward story from your time as a don?

One time, there was a couple having sex in the stairwell while I was on call doing rounds.

Do you have any really funny stories?

It’s pretty funny when your students find you Tinder. But there was a funny time when my students were talking about wanting to set me up with a guy, and they wanted to know the requirements for my perfect guy. The first thing I said was that he has to be at least 6ft tall, and one of my students turned to me, and said, “Just remember I’m still growing!”

What do you think your students think or assume about you?

I would hope they think I’m a fair but fun person who cares about them. I like to think that I’m a pretty open book and they don’t have to assume anything, they can just ask me. I don’t compartmentalize my social life and my residence life because my life is in residence. I think that they can learn a lot from my experiences and to hide those experiences would be a disservice to them. There’s not that much of an age gap between us, and they’ll be going through what I’ve already gone through soon so I may as well be open with them.

Having been a don what would you tell your first-year self?

To just stand out, and not care what other people think (I know, it sounds cliché). I think that in first year you are re-inventing yourself, to make the best possible version of you and in that reinvention sometimes we forget ourselves in the process of trying to create someone that other people want to spend time with.

Do you have any words of advice for incoming students and first years?

Don’t be afraid to act goofy and be silly because it’s those moments that leave the biggest impact on your heart (and make the greatest memories).

Do you have any last words?

It’s a great job, it certainly has its ups and downs, but all jobs do. It makes you more responsible and it’s great experience in a lot of situations that other people wouldn’t ever encounter. Additionally, It makes you more aware of relationships in your own life and forces you to keep on top of your own relationships to keep them healthy.