Willamette’s new vice president for student affairs and dean of students, Lisa Landreman, came to Willamette in July 2020 following four years at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island, where she served as the assistant vice president and dean of student life. Landreman has a BS in social work from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, an MS in higher education and student affairs from Indiana University, and a PhD from University of Michigan. Now that she has been with us for a semester, I interviewed her on what her transition, position and overall experiences have been like from the time she was hired, specifically considering the COVID-19 pandemic.
Emmy Obenauf: Let’s start with your job title. You are the new vice president for student affairs and dean of students. Can you explain exactly what that means and entails?
Lisa Landreman: I oversee the folks that lead students outside the context of a classroom in all the student engagement services and activities offered – people like the directors of Housing, Bishop Wellness Center, Chaplain Karen Wood, conduct and care, Student Activities, Athletics, and new student orientation. It’s my job to guarantee that they are delivering the services that support the students and meet the institution’s learning outcome goals. I make sure that there are no barriers to a student’s success, and I deal with everything related to Title IX. I try to help students stay and thrive by guiding them to the paths that already exist and by creating new paths for them. Sometimes the barrier to a student’s success is just that they don’t know a certain resource or path exists for what they are dealing with or don’t know how to access it. Sometimes that is just connecting students with staff. I also make sure that we are in accordance with all federal regulations and oversee our legal liability.
Obenauf: Could you explain why you chose to transition to a new job during a pandemic
Landreman: I applied early this year before any of us really knew anything about the pandemic. At the time it didn’t seem like it would become much of anything, or maybe we were all just in denial. I got to interview on campus because nothing was shutting down yet, which I do feel lucky about. I knew I wanted to be a VP to have the ability to add more value [to a school] and didn’t want to miss this opportunity. I’m committed to learning more about equity and inclusion and to making change; within this position, I have the ear of President Thorsett and other staff that are involved in these things. If I was going to be anywhere during the pandemic, I’m glad it’s here. When I first met with Thorsett, I appreciated the vision he had and commitment to the school. It’s about making Willamette a viable place for the future not just maintaining for both of us.
Also, my husband and I weren’t relocating any children, just our cats. And my husband works remotely already, he did before the pandemic started, which made it a fairly simple process. Before this, I worked at eight different schools across multiple states so moving is exciting to me. I think of it as an adventure. I also wanted to go somewhere I could have a life outside of work and I feel like I can do that in Salem because of its location in Oregon. This was too good of an opportunity to miss.
Obenauf: What are some of the issues you have faced in this transition and job so far and were they caused or worsened by the pandemic?
Landreman: The hardest part is being in community with others. I believe that people pick this place to be in community with one another and that we are choosing shared values when we choose Willamette. Normally I would’ve hung out in The Bistro and Goudy to meet more students, but instead, I try to be remote whenever possible to provide more space for students. It’s a balancing game of when to show up and when to back up. I want to be known and trusted by students, but it is hard to get to that point now. I would typically be at athletic and club events or organization meetings and getting to know students that way too. Also, innovation headway isn’t happening because of the lack of time and attention that we all have because of the pandemic and everything else going on in the world. Both staff and students are experiencing burnout and asking for extra from anyone feels wrong right now. The reality is we are all struggling so we must be measured in taking on more responsibilities and pursuing innovation. It’s important to just take a breath and get to know Willamette but without being stagnant.
Obenauf: How else has the pandemic influenced your relations with students and other staff and faculty?
Landreman: Everyone has been very kind and friendly, but it has been hard to get to know the faculty. Normally, there would’ve been a reception for staff and faculty and more committee involvement. Most faculty interaction has been over email, and I’ve only really introduced myself to everyone at one meeting. It’s taking longer to figure out where I fit in and relate with faculty. There hasn’t been much headway, but I’m hopeful. At the same time, I have had a lot of one-on-one meetings with student leaders to meet them which has led to more personal connections. I want to continue that after the pandemic ends or regulations have been lightened because it has been beneficial. I also have had to take more initiative to reach out to people. I have emailed all clubs and organization leaders and met with a lot of them. These meeting introductions take longer since it’s individual, but in written communication things get lost in translation. It has also taken a lot longer to get committees going.
Obenauf: Can you touch a bit on your involvement with COVID safety and policies and how you have been incorporating anti-racism into this?
Landreman: I’m part of the Reopening Operations Committee. We meet every day and have been all semester. We met a little less over the summer. Every time we look at making a decision, we look at who exactly it will and won’t impact. In a perfect world, we would make everyone go home for Thanksgiving and no one would come back until spring. The reality is that finishing finals at home doesn’t work for everyone, and so, for vulnerable students and those without space or internet at home, we created a process for them to stay on campus. Food service ends when break begins so we then have to figure out how to feed those who stay on campus. We look at how any and every policy may have a differential impact on persons of all identities and circumstances. It’s also necessary to balance mitigating COVID and fulfilling other needs, like allowing some students to stay on campus longer even though that poses potential risks. The goal is to provide the most consistent and equitable support for students, staff and faculty.
Emmy Obenauf is a second-year student at Willamette University. She is an English major and works for the Willamette Events Board and Opening Days Lead Team. She serves as part of the Student Life Committee under Lisa Landreman.