The University announced in an email that Smita Ruzicka will be leaving her post as dean of student life on July 16 to work for Middlebury College. Allison Avolio, current deputy to the dean of student life, will serve as interim dean.
Ruzicka outlined in an interview with The News-Letter what her role encompassed.
“My portfolio these past three years has included health and well-being,” she said. “I also oversaw our Student Engagement units, our four centers for Diversity and Inclusion, Residential Life and Student Conduct.”
Ruzicka also mentioned her role in advising the Student Government Association and the Graduate Representative Organization, offering resources to students who have fallen on hard times, and dealing with student crises, issues and protests.
She took particular pride in spending time with students on campus.
“Pre-pandemic, I made it a point to always walk around campus, talk to students, join them with my family, whether it was a meal in the FFC or for student organization events,” she said. “So I am proud of the fact that I was a visible and friendly face to students and made myself really accessible.”
The email noted that she helped create dedicated resources as part of Student Outreach and Support for first-generation, low-income students dealing with the leave process. Ruzicka also championed initiatives like the R.A.C.E. Matters Series and the Black and Latinx Student Experience Workgroup.
Ruzicka noted that, as a woman of color, lifting up the voices of marginalized peoples was very important to her.
“It has been important for me, as a woman of color, to be in spaces and to not speak for students, but to speak about the importance of representation and equity on a campus that has a history and systems in place that have oftentimes not been welcoming,” she said.
When asked about some of the greatest challenges she faced, Ruzicka mentioned that the pandemic was one of the most difficult.
“Having to be constantly nimble in plans and having lots of different plans depending on public health guidance and what the city and state were thinking posed a lot of challenges and uncertainty for our students,” Ruzicka said.
She did add that many of the student online events she and her team helped create were successful in terms of engagement and turnout.
When asked about what she wants to see in how the University chooses her successor, Ruzicka hopes the University will review current policies and Identify goals for the new dean.
“Whenever someone leaves, it’s really important to honor their legacy, but it’s also important to really review and explore if there could be something that can be done differently or could there be changes,” she said. “So I would hope that the leadership would ask what kind of dean of student life we need.”
She emphasized the need for her successor to be willing to develop strong relationships with students, be highly visible and listen to student concerns.
In an email to The News-Letter, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Sunil Kumar pledged that the University will appoint a replacement who will fulfill Ruzicka’s wishes.
“We will prioritize candidates who will strengthen relationships with students, increase the vibrancy of programs and activities, enhance affinity and connectedness of students in creative ways and create an even more inclusive campus environment for all students,” he wrote.
Kumar added that the search for a new dean of student life will take place after a new vice provost for student affairs has been found, as the latter will need to approve Ruzicka’s replacement.