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Jablonski Focuses on Student Communication

By Daniel C. Stevenson
Associate News Editor

As the new associate dean for residence and campus activities, Margaret A. Jablonski wants to focus on opening communication with students and creating stability in her department.

In an interview last week, Jablonski said that she wants "to open channels of communication that have been blocked and to really look at how we can improve our department's effectiveness in delivering service to students."

Jablonski also said, "I think the immediate goal is to establish a sense of stability in this area given the past year," referring to problems associated with the departure of her predecessor, James R. Tewhey, amid allegations of misconduct.

Jablonski started her MIT position on Feb. 1. Before this, she was director of housing, then assistant dean at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. She has previously worked in student life jobs at Boston University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

RCA to communicate, guide

Jablonski also plans to introduce more of a "team process" in the RCA and work for more open communication between student services offices.

Jablonski said that "channels of communication need to be reestablished or strengthened. I think that includes those with the housemasters and the tutors and also with the Undergraduate Association."

Jablonski encouraged students to "send any comments about what is life really like at MIT."

Students should also look to the RCA office for "assistance when they're having a problem negotiating outside of the classroom experience at MIT," Jablonski said. She is also interested in students' ideas about "student activities, clubs and organizations, or Greek life."

The RCA office can help students "make a situation better or make the environment better," Jablonski said. "We are here to guide and assist, and not mandate policy whenever possible."

Evaluation of disciplinary system

Jablonski and other administrators are evaluating the entire disciplinary system to see if it can be "more effective and helpful," she said. "I think we're going to get more involved, or would like to get more involved, in helping the students in the residence halls resolve their own conflicts in-house."

MIT students do not have one set of guidelines of policies and procedures, for harassment or for discipline, Jablonski said. Several publications outline mostly policies, she said, but do not adequately describe the procedures.

Jablonski plans to examine the disciplinary system to search for "ways that we can basically empower students to take more responsibility for it" and then to "work with those students in training through actually putting together a good policy guidebook that makes sense."

Such a guidebook could be entirely new, or it could be a revision or combination of existing publications, including Dealing with Harassment at MIT, Policies and Procedures, and the statement on alcohol policy, Jablonski said.

Jablonski regards harassment as more than a discipline issue, and said that mediation is a "key way" to deal with the issues related to harassment. "By dealing with conflict, especially by mediating it, you can develop solutions that people agree on," she said.

Hands-on, collaborative effort

Jablonski described her leadership style as hands-on and cooperative. "I think anybody in this position has to really be hands-on and has to want to be around students a lot," she said.

Jablonski met with students at MacGregor House and East Campus last week. She plans to attend functions in other dormitories and the Interfraternity Council.

The "lack of interaction between Greeks and non-Greeks" also concerns Jablonski. She suggested bridging that gap through student activities and discussion. Additionally, she is exploring ideas about new programs or activities for different minority student populations.

"We all need to be working together to accomplish that goal of creating a really positive living environment," Jablonski said. "I perceive the system here to be one that is very much cooperative."

"In general I'd to see us spend a lot more time working together than working against each other," she said. Jablonski wants students to view her role as an advocate and an asset to them, and not as a hindrance or disciplinarian.

In addition, Jablonski is interested in expanding her office's services to graduate students. "I look at residence and campus activities as broader than just who lives in the residence halls," Jablonski said. "If we're supposed to be servicing students at MIT, that includes graduate students." To that end, she wants to "open the channels of communication with the Graduate Student Council."

Graduate students "need services and programs that are a little different than what undergraduates need," Jablonski said. She has started a "consistent dialogue" with graduate students to discuss issues important to them.

Dealing with overcrowding

In terms of dormitory overcrowding, "our goal is not to have a crowded [housing] situation," Jablonski said. However, projections for this fall's incoming students are similar to last year, and "it looks like we will again have some level of crowding," she said.

Finding new on and off-campus housing options and examining the number of admissions are ways to limit overcrowding, Jablonski said. "There are still continuing discussions about purchase of buildings, etc. for the long term."

Moreover, the RCA is "looking to expand housing options for women for the fall," she said.

Last December, Jablonski accepted the MIT appointment. Jablonski was chosen from a short list of three candidates submitted to Dean for Underraduate Education and Student Affairs Arthur C. Smith in November. The selection committee began with a field of 145 candidates.

Jablonski received a bachelor's degree cum laude from UMass-Amherst in 1981 and a master's degree in 1984. She received a doctorate in education from Boston University in 1992. Her doctoral work on women college presidents received three awards: the National Association for Women in Education Research of the Year Award, the BU Graduate Student Association Dissertation of the Year Award, and the Massachusetts College Personnel Association Research Award.