During my time as a student at the U, I haven’t interacted much with the Office of the Dean of Students. Because the function most commonly associated with the office is the handling of student misconduct, many students might think that no interaction with the office is a good thing. Up until a few weeks ago, I would have agreed as I knew almost nothing about the office and what the staff there do.
However, over the past month, I have had multiple opportunities to learn from Jason Ramirez, the dean of students, about the broader scope of work and services he and his office do for students. While coordinating the Student Accountability processes, the office also supports students facing challenges to their success as students and assists with the interpretation of university policy and regulations. The Office of the Dean of Students is a fantastic resource for students, but many, like me, may not be aware of it, or how to go about accessing its services.
To remedy this, I recently caught up with Ramirez to discuss his experience working for the Office of the Dean of Students, as well as to clarify common misconceptions about the office’s purpose. Our chat made it abundantly clear that Ramirez is passionate about his work and is a strong advocate for students. Read below for our conversation.
So, to start, can you explain the purpose of Office of the Dean of Students? When you are working perfectly, what are you to students?
I put our responsibilities into three different categories, or buckets, which are, advocacy, support and accountability. We are often thought of as a group that deals only with discipline. But in working with students, our goal is really to support them and advocate for their success. We advocate for their needs, support them in their goals, and if something does happen that requires administrative action, not harshly punish them for it, but rather ask, how do I get them to graduation? How do I help them learn from mistakes? How do I help repair harm? There are definite lines that, when crossed, do require more severe disciplinary action. However, our overall goal is to support students, help them navigate and succeed in higher education and make their experiences here ones from which they can learn, improve and use to become better citizens.
What do you feel are some of the biggest issues facing students today?
Honestly, I think one of the biggest ones is just navigating this complex structure of higher education. We have huge volumes of policy and processes, and oftentimes, when I’m looking at them, I’ll think, how could a student be expected to succeed in all of this? That is something we work on with student support. We want students to come to us with their questions and concerns. It may be that we can’t help with a specific problem or question they have, but in talking to us they will have an advocate working for them who can direct their inquiry to the proper department and help them to get the issue resolved.
How do you balance your role as a university administrator with that of student advocate?
By listening mostly, and trying not to champion my causes, but the causes that students bring to us. One of the reasons I’ve gone down the path I have is that I was a very lost student. I was a student that got in trouble a lot for many reasons, mostly immaturity, and I had to work through life on my own. I understand what that feels like to be confused about how to navigate higher education. I remember sitting in a financial aid office as a 17-year-old, them saying “FAFSA” and me not having a clue what that was. These experiences allow me to be more sensitive and empathetic to what students are going through, and we hope the services we offer, and the policies we enact, will benefit all students living and working in our university community.
How would a student go about reaching out to your office?
We try and be as accessible as possible. I have a personal email available on our website, in addition to the broader email listed for the entire office. A phone call, or scheduling an in-person appointment works well, and if a student walks in with no appointment, we do all we can to work them in, they are our top priority. In addition, if students contact my executive administrative assistant, I’m more than willing to set up appointments to meet with students or student groups at their convenience.
One of my favorite ways to interact with students is eating on campus. At lunchtime, you’ll often find me around the union food court, and I’m always willing to talk. Hallway conversations can sometimes be more beneficial than a meeting.
Can you talk a bit about your divisional vision to help students find their “Passion, People, and Purpose”?
We want to make sure our office is focused on student success, and this vision is the framework through which we do that. With “passion”, it comes down to helping students find careers and areas of interest that they’re excited about, and then be able to pursue them. With “people”, we want students to be able to find their community and feel like they belong at the university. Social integration is actually a big part of success at a university. “Purpose” would be the academic pursuits of students. Why are they attending the U? What’s their dream or destination? We want students to find their purpose and use the university as a launching pad to something greater in their life. It’s our job to help them in that pursuit.
What can students do to help your office accomplish its goals?
It comes down to communication and engagement. We work as hard as we can to support students and create policies and programs that help them on their journey. However, meaningful change really comes when students engage with us, share their unique perspectives, and work to help implement creative solutions, make meaningful policy, affect real change and be part of the solution.
If you could have a two-minute conversation with every student at the university, what would you tell them?
First and foremost, I would tell them they belong. I know the university at times has done well at this, and at times has done poorly at this, but I want them to know they belong, no matter where they sit on the spectrum of students. We are a big organization, so finding their community may be hard, but they will, and we want to help them with that.
The second thing is that college is hard. Students are figuring out their identity, learning, jobs, living in Salt Lake City… What they are facing is difficult, but we can help them. I’ll paraphrase Mr. Rogers saying, “Look for the helpers.” Please find us! The university is full of helpers, and we want to be a base for students. We are here for you! All you have to do is ask. If you’re lost and don’t know where to go, just come to my office. I don’t care what the issue is. It could be the most complex, random issue that doesn’t have to do with the Dean of Students’ work, but I can get you to the right place. Let me do the leg work for you, I’ll find the answers that you need, that’s the point of my job and my office. We love every student. We don’t believe in bad students here, just occasional bad decisions. Everyone can succeed at this university, and if you feel like you are hitting roadblocks, come talk to us. We’ll work together to overcome them.
Want to learn more about the Office of the Dean of Students? Or do you have something you feel they can help you with? Stop by their office in the south hallway on the second floor of the Union. Drop-in appointments are welcome, but you’re encouraged to make an appointment before you come. You can also call 801-581-7066 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.