No double duty

Dons should focus on mentorship, not discipline

If you’re living in residence, or even spending a few minutes in one, you will likely come across a don — the upper years in bright red vests.

According to the job description, a residence don is meant to mentor, support and compassionately challenge residents, while also serving as a resource to them.

While the description provided makes a don appear to be the ideal friend, their role as a rule enforcer creates a tricky conflict of interest, often leaving first years feeling double-crossed.

Whenever I’m asked about my don from last year, I can’t say enough good things about her. She was the don every floor wished they had — easy to talk to, understanding of what we were going through, and most importantly, she never got us in trouble.

This relationship created comfort and allowed us to trust her as someone we could go to whenever we needed advice. However, this also meant that she was only fulfilling half of her job description, as a don can’t enforce and support effectively without a conflict of interest.

Many of my friends who lived on other floors had radically different experiences. They had rule-enforcing dons, who wrote students up for the smallest of noises during the week, and put a quick end to their nighttime hangouts.

All of a sudden, this person who was put in place to be a mentor became someone my friends looked to avoid whenever possible.

The current vision of the idealistic don who is “tough on crime” yet friendly and approachable is flawed. Even the friendliest, most amicable dons that I met became backstabbers once they reported rule violations. You simply can’t trust someone as a mentor to the same extent when they are meticulously evaluating your behaviour.

At the very least, dons shouldn’t be writing up their own floor for rule violations. When they patrol residence, I would recommend that dons trade floors with one another to avoid playing “bad guy” with the students they are serving as a mentor to.

Without question, there’s a need for both rule enforcers and mentors in residence — they just shouldn’t be the same person. The University should create two separate positions: one for rule enforcement and another for peer support.

The ideal of the “super-don” — one that both enforces and supports is something that other universities have realized is unrealistic. Western University’s system contains three residence staff positions, including a “Learning Community Leader” (their terminology for a peer support don) and a “Behaviour Management Don.”

Building a strong, positive relationship with your don can make all the difference in your residence experience. Being stuck with a don who places greater value on maintaining order than being an approachable mentor can negatively affect a first year’s integration into our university.

By institutionalizing the separation of a don’s roles, residences at Queen’s will become even more welcoming for all first-year students.

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