#SATBT Student Affairs Throwback Thursday: Jason Meriwether

20150815_122930Jason Meriwether

Current Position and Institution:
Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management & Student Affairs, Indiana University Southeast

First Position and Institution:
Residence Hall Director, Department of University Housing, Georgia Southern University

After graduating from the University of Louisville in 2001, my first professional position was as a Residence Hall Director at Georgia Southern University, where I oversaw an upper-class residential apartment complex with 500 residents, over half of which were scholarship athletes.  Coming into the role, colleagues shared many horror stories about Kennedy Hall’s reputation for having athletes who were not interested in participating in a community.  Admittedly, I was a little nervous.  My first day on the job, I reached out to the coaches, setting up a meeting with athletes by sport, in particular, the football team since they had the worst reputation.  During our first conversation, I asked the football players how they earned such a negative image, and they told me that although they had acted up a little, it was because they didn’t feel the community in the building was designed for them.  To meet their concerns, my RA team and I designed late night programs for the athletes after their practices, put a new bulletin board in the lobby to celebrate athletes’ academic achievements, and even hosted tailgates where the football team could eat with other students in the building after home games.  We didn’t have any behavioral issues with athletes the entire year.  In fact, that was one of my best community experiences ever.

The lesson for me was to make sure to always listen to students before allowing stereotypes, real or perceived history, and negative imagery to become barriers to engaging them.  That year, the absolute best members of my residential community were the athletes, especially the football players.  It all began with listening to them, and then being willing to adapt our programming model to meet their needs.  After having done our jobs for a while, we can often believe we are doing all the right things for our students, and forget that they may not be receiving what we are trying to deliver based on our approach.  My experience at Georgia Southern taught me that something Henry Clay, my old boss at U of L, used to say is true, “we never really know what a student needs until we ask, and then we have to know how to listen and apply what they say.”   That lesson is valuable to this day.

The #SATBT series asks higher education and student affairs professionals to share a picture and reflect on a memory and/or one of the most important lessons the learned from their first job in the field.

Consider contributing your story for potential inclusion in the book version…

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