Before Retirement: Dean of Students Tom Shandley on Guiding Lives at Davidson


What has it meant to have the great privilege of serving as the Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students at Davidson? Of course, there have been numerous challenges as we navigated through tough issues regarding mental health, substance abuse, sexual assault, disciplinary issues, academic struggles and more.  The increasing diversity of Davidson, which has been both joyful and challenging, has pushed our students, faculty and staff to grapple with, embrace and question difference in ways that have made us all grow as a community.

But as I look back over a couple of decades of service to Davidson College, I would rather consider the joys of what I consider to be the best job in this remarkable place.  I have had the pleasure of addressing each entering class, pushing each to move beyond the comfortable and the familiar, and seek out those very different from themselves. I get to watch “green” if not uncertain first-year students, initially terrified of how they might do in the classroom, become engaged and thrive. I have worked with countless students on the Honor Council, charged with a daunting responsibility to uphold that code while making critical and reasoned judgments against their peers – and doing so with a thoughtfulness and sensitivity that belies their age. I have stayed up late with young men and women, struggling to accept the death of a classmate and friend, experiencing moments where their grief can also shift to recalling times of joy.

I have been a part of one of our greatest moments in athletics, when David took down Goliath in the 2008 NCAA second round victory over Georgetown. The celebration among students in the aisles, hallways and court afterwards was priceless and brought the college and town together in unforgettable ways.  I have challenged male athletes to lead the charge to combat sexual assault only to have six members of the men’s soccer team step up and provide the initial leadership to make it happen.

Finally, I have had the great privilege to observe, encourage, advise and occasionally guide literally thousands of students from a place of uncertainty and discomfort to that moment when they have achieved so much, formed life-long friendships and, through hard work, adversity and resilience, developed the confidence to change the world.

There are many more stories, many more moments that brought tears and laughter. But, suffice to say, I am more than ever convinced that there is something special that happens at this place called Davidson College. I am grateful for the opportunity granted to have played some small part in what makes this educational experience unique. I will end my time at Davidson with a thank you to many, and our caring parents should count themselves among that number.


About Author

Tom Shandley will retire in June 2017 as Davidson College Dean of Students, a job he took in 1994. On his watch, the Multicultural House (now the Spencer-Weinstein Center for Community and Justice) opened in a former fraternity building, the college launched a scholarship program for first-generation college students, the Chidsey Center for Leadership came to fruition, the Davidson College Advising Corps was created to serve under-resourced high schools, a sexual misconduct board was formed and bystander intervention training became the norm. The list goes on.

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