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Staff departures to leave gap in Division of Student Affairs

September 4, 2020

Senior Vice President and Dean for Student Affairs Janet Lohmann announced several staffing changes to the Division of Student Affairs in an email to campus on August 3. These changes follow departures from Counseling and Wellness Services, the Center for Multicultural Life, the Bowdoin Outing Club (BOC) and the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good.

In the email, Lohmann announced that Director of the Student Center for Multicultural Life Benjamin Harris is leaving Bowdoin after five years in the position. Harris plans to take a position as co-director of the Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Emory University’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, which will allow him to live much closer to his family in and around Atlanta.

“I gained so many friends since I’ve been here … so I’ll definitely miss that,” Harris said in a phone interview with the Orient. “It is nice to be back to family, but it is bittersweet.”

As the inaugural director of multicultural life, Harris played a major role in shaping inclusion and diversity work at Bowdoin.

“It’s been an opportunity to establish … programming that really speaks to the needs of our community,” Harris said. “I just hope the new director can keep student voices at the forefront of some of the work that we do and continue to move the campus forward to be a more socially just place—a place that addresses issues of racism.”

Kate Stern, associate dean of students for inclusion and diversity, is heading the search committee for a new director to fill Harris’s role.

“I’m being realistic that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and that hiring in a pandemic can be challenging,” Stern said in a phone interview with the Orient. “I don’t want to rush it because I really want to get the right person.”

In the meantime, Admissions Counselor Kyra Green and Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach Felix Abongo will step in as interim directors of the Center for Multicultural Life. Abongo will support the Multicultural Coalition and affinity groups, and he will help with LatinX Heritage Month programming. Green will be working with the Women of Color Coalition, developing first-gen programming and creating an intra-group dialogue for students of color alongside Eduardo Pazos, director of religious and spiritual life.

There will also be changes to the staff in Counseling and Wellness Services. Roland Mendiola, associate director of counseling and wellness services, will step in as interim director of the department, replacing Bernie Hershberger, who spent 23 years working in Counseling and Wellness Services and 16 of those years as director. When speaking of his time at Bowdoin, Hershberger reflected on the progress he made in diversifying the approach to counseling and wellness at Bowdoin.

“I am most proud of helping to recruit, hire and retain a very diverse staff. Next year, 70 percent of our clinical staff will be non-majority identified with regard to race, LGBTQ status and International origin,” Hershberger wrote in an email to the Orient. “Secondly, I am proud that Counseling has led the way and networked with many other departments on campus to create wellness programming.”

Although he is stepping down as director, Hershberger will stay on as a clinician in Counseling and Wellness Services until May 2021.

“We’re super fortunate to have Bernie still in an active role, a full-time role on counseling staff,” said Mendiola in a Zoom interview with the Orient.  “[It] will be just an ongoing collaboration and communication to review responsibilities and the mission and values of the…counseling and wellness services, and just logistical operations of the center.”

This will also ease the transition as the department adapts to shifting counseling and wellness needs arising from the ongoing pandemic and the move to remote learning.

“[We] talked about whether this was the right time to just go for a big search for a new director, and we just felt with so many transitions and so many ways in which we are sort of grappling, we want our students to feel supported,” Lohmann said in a call with the Orient via Microsoft Teams. “[Mendiola] very, very generously said, ‘I will step in as the interim,’ and we’ll make it work so they’re sort of switching roles.”

According to Lohmann, two other staff members in the Division of Student Affairs will also be departing before this fall. Matt Gee, assistant director of the McKeen Center, will leave his position to start a doctoral program in child study and human development at Tufts University, and Anna Bastidas, assistant director of the BOC, will leave Bowdoin to pursue a master’s degree at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. Because of the freeze on new hires, neither of these positions will be filled for the upcoming year.

Lohmann explained that, in addition to these concrete changes, many staff members in the division are also adapting to fulfill new duties as a result of the pandemic.

“I’m honored to be a part of this, the Division of Student Affairs,” Lohmann said. “People have really repurposed themselves on behalf of figuring out a way to get students back onto campus [and] doing the work that affirms us as professionals.”

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