The path Jen Fraley took from being a chemistry major with her sights set on a medical degree to a dean of students working on a law degree is exactly what makes her such a good choice for her new role at Longwood.
“I wanted to help people, and I thought going into medicine was the way to do that,” said Fraley, who’s been in the Student Affairs division at Longwood for seven years and began her new responsibilities as dean of students this July.
The epiphany that changed her life happened during her senior year at Kenyon College in Ohio.
“I realized that a career in medicine wasn’t that Norman Rockwell vision I had in my head,” she said. She turned to her mentor—advice she often gives students today—who helped her realize that being a physician wasn’t the only way to help people.
That mentor just happened to be Cheryl Steele, then an associate dean at Kenyon and now dean of student engagement at Longwood. “I went to talk to Cheryl about my situation, and I’ll never forget when she said to me, ‘Jen, I get paid for what I do,’” Fraley recalled. “Until that moment, I hadn’t even thought about a career helping students in a university setting.”
From there, she never looked back. After finishing her chemistry degree, she went on to work in various areas of student affairs at three other universities and earned a master’s degree in student affairs in higher education. Fraley came to Longwood in 2013, serving the majority of the time since then as director of student conduct and integrity and Title IX coordinator.
These days much of her focus is on dealing with Covid-19 issues, but the regular business of the Dean of Students Office continues even in the face of a pandemic.
Fraley took some time out of her busy schedule—she’s also working on a law degree through the University of Dayton—to share how she sees the role of her office, how she and her staff can be a resource for parents and how they can best serve students.
As Longwood’s dean of students, what offices do you oversee?
Of course, the Dean of Students Office is one of my areas of responsibility. Also under my “umbrella” are the offices of Student Conduct and Integrity, Title IX, Disability Resources, and Residential and Commuter Life. This is a new structure for Longwood. All of these offices are working toward the same purpose, so having everyone together as a team makes sense. This structure presents opportunities to benefit students in some really powerful ways.
What is the role of the Dean of Students area?
I see it as seeking to instill self-advocacy in students and connect them with the proper and best resources for their unique situations and concerns. We’re looking to serve students by providing some of their basic needs so they can be successful academically.
Exactly what do you mean by instilling self-advocacy in students?
We want to help them develop the skills they need to fend for themselves, while still providing a safety net.
How can parents help you accomplish that goal?
The best advice I could give to parents is to check in with their students and make sure they know where to go for help. For example, if there’s an issue about their student’s scholarship, instead of the parent dealing with it, they can tell their student about the Office of Financial Aid and suggest they call there to ask for help in resolving the issue.
Can parents call the Dean of Students Office for help?
We’re happy to speak with parents. FERPA (Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act) limits some of the things we can discuss without a waiver from the student, but we’re always happy to give information that’s publicly available and to listen to concerns. Usually we can say, ‘This is what you’re describing to me, and these are the offices we’d suggest that you refer your student to.’
We can also help when there’s been a family emergency or a death in the family that impacts the student.
Parents also can call us and say, ‘I’ve never heard my student sound so down, and I’m concerned.’ We’ll send someone to check in on that student.
Would the Care Team be the group looking into concerns about a student?
Yes. The Care Team is a multidisciplinary group of faculty and staff run out of the Dean of Students Office who meet regularly to discuss concerns that have been expressed about students and to develop a plan for reaching out to those students.
What should a parent do if they believe their student is in an emergency situation?
If there’s an emergency with the safety and welfare of a student, parents should call LUPD (Longwood University Police Department) at 434-395-2091. This will activate a 24-hour administrative response, seven days a week/24 hours a day. Parents should be aware that our office isn’t monitoring email or phone messages for immediate, emergency concerns—and especially not in the evenings or on weekends. It’s really important that parents call LUPD if they believe their child is in an emergency situation no matter when that emergency occurs.
What are the 3 most important things parents can do to help their students be successful at Longwood?
—Help your student solve their own problems.
—Encourage your student to make connections with their faculty/professors. I come across a lot of students who don’t take advantage of office hours, which are designated times that students can connect with their faculty members. That connection or extra piece of help can really make a difference in the outcome of the class. Faculty are so willing to help—but I know they can be intimidating to students. Encourage your student to have the confidence to make those connections.
—Emphasize the importance of forging friendships and finding ways to get involved. They don’t want to overdo it, but your student should look for organizations or activities focused on things that are important to them and become involved with those on campus.
Finally, what’s your current take on the Covid-19 situation at Longwood?
Of course, it’s a day-by-day situation, but right now I am cautiously optimistic. I see very few students across campus who are not following the rules. By and large, our students are committed to being here, and they understand their actions have consequences beyond themselves.
We just need to stay the course and not relax our vigilance. There is a general sense at Longwood that students look out for each other. This situation is just really a broadening of that experience—of students’ recognizing their place in the community and how they can contribute to this effort. As long as they don’t get lax on that, I think we’ll make it. So far so good.