New Residence Life Assistant Director Hired

Veronica Hernandez ’13
News Editor

The Smith College Office of Residence Life recently hired a new assistant director, Erica Banz. The new position, renamed from housing coordinator, is part of the office’s efforts to connect more with the student community.

Banz has been a part of Smith’s staff for three-and-a-half years, having started first as a reservationist in the Campus Center. She then worked as program coordinator in the Office of Student Affairs before taking the newly created and renamed position a little over two months ago.

“It’s been a really good change for me,” said Banz in an interview. Banz listed her background in higher education administration and an undergrad degree in math as some of the reasons she was excited to be the assistant director of Residence Life. “I really enjoy problem solving [and] making things as effective and streamlined as possible.” Banz listed the housing quotas, room and housing assignments and roommate matching as some of the projects she enjoyed.

Banz also enjoyed the switch to Residence Life because it allowed her to work more closely with students while utilizing her background and interests.

“I bring those two sides of myself together,” she said.

“I get to be there for students and be a resource, not just a person in a room,” she continued. “That communication is key – people know they can email Erica, a person.”

Banz has been very focused on being an advocate for students in the housing process, as she explained in the interview. Much of her job is based on answering the “why” questions about ResLife’s approach and policies. Banz gave the example of students asking for special extensions for the house decision form, which closed to students last week.

“Opening the form for you – if I make an exception, that affects hundreds of students. The processes we have in place are so everyone has an equal playing field,” she explained. “I would love to be able [to say] ‘Let’s fix this, let’s make this work,’ but how will this affect everyone on campus?”

“The biggest challenge is knowing that it’s not always an equal fix. That’s where social justice comes into play in what we do here. Sometimes I’m the voice for the student who can’t voice their own [issue].”

Banz understands the strong influence housing plays on a student’s experience at Smith. “It’s a complicated community, with unique housing. Even guaranteeing a spot in houses [all four years] is unique. There’s a tradition of house community here – even at Rally Day, three of the five people mentioned housing. We try to take into consideration what it means to be in your house and be part of that community.”

Banz explained that she’d been part of a small, campus-specific sorority at her undergraduate college. The bonding experience was what she remembered most. “It’s cool you all have that [community], I love that!” she said.

“I’m not just processing room forms, rosters and assignments. I’m part of something so much bigger, so important to students’ experiences,” Banz explained as a reason why she was so passionate about her job.

Banz was excited for the upcoming Room Draw experience and opportunities to make housing more transparent and efficient in the future. “I don’t need mystique,” she said. “We’re always looking for ways to make things better.” One possible idea suggested by a student to smooth out the experience that was particularly appealing to Banz was to film Room Draw for first years to see in order to “get rid of the mystery.” Benz said that bringing the student voice in was an important part of the housing process. She mentioned the coding of first year rooms, originally done by house presidents, as a process that would be happening again in the future.

In terms of housing improvements, Banz was positive the housing shortages and room placement issues would be addressed in the upcoming years. “We’re trying to get to a class of 640, and it’s going to take some time.” The current sophomore class was one of the biggest in Smith’s history, but its unusually high retention rate complicated housing availability. Factors such as how many students are accepted, how many choose to come to Smith and how many stay all play an important role in housing.

“It’s all a guessing game,” Banz explained. “It’s the best and worst problem to have – we love that people love it here but we’ve got to make sure there are enough beds for everyone. The ideal situation is not to have students living in spaces they feel are temporary.”

Students living in temporary spaces, such as converted parlors and last semester’s Gawith House, had mixed reactions to these placements. “It’s something we have to consider after the third year of using these spaces. How long is temporary?” According to Banz, once the current sophomore class graduates, these spaces might be considered for converting to permanent student rooms.

Banz finished the interview by expressing her strong interest in getting to know students. She has made several visits to house teas, and wants to continue her goal to eventually get into all of the houses on campus. “It’s really important that students feel like they can always ask any questions so we can explain why we do what we do and be advocates for the students,” she said.

Banz may be reached by email at ebanz@smith.edu, or by phone at x4839.

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