Asst. Features Editor
Deanna Merino-Contino not only appreciates the Poet community for what it is, but what it can be. Merino-Contino has her sights set on the future for her new position as Interim Dean of Students and Vice President at Whittier College.
For three years, Merino-Contino has embraced the Poet lifestyle on Whittier College grounds, spending most of her time in service as the Associate Dean of Student Life before earning her current position. She is no stranger to the Ettinger Lounge or the fascinating flavor profiles dished out in the Campus Inn, and she walks a similar path to many students in pursuit of a more prosperous future. In many ways, that is where Merino-Contino prefers to be, journeying alongside students as equals. “My philosophy bases itself on a student-centered experience, around care, community, and identity-consciousness. And that’s recognizing that our students bring their own lived experiences with them,” said Merino-Contino.
As someone who identifies as biracial (Mexican and white), Merino-Contino recognizes the importance of diversity as the foundation of her livelihood. As a young girl, Merino-Contino socialized herself in her parents’ lifestyle of service. “My parents always served. We always got involved in our community and we always served other communities,” said Merino-Contino. Despite her habit of giving back, she often felt othered within her predominantly white neighborhood — a type of isolation she intends to eradicate.
Now, only two months after a year and a half of isolation for many students and faculty, they emerge from their respective shelters only to walk unfamiliar territory riddled with masks, testing sites, and new regulations. It’s easy to get lost amidst the changes inspired by the current COVID-19 era. Luckily, Merino-Contino has set out goals that seek to protect the college experience from the various impending dangers of this year.
“I want to connect with the student voice more. I realized I need to do that more now in this role,” said Merino-Contino, with the confidence of someone whose mind has been made up for some time. “One of the things I’ve been looking to do is to hold open office hours similar to President Oubré,” said Merino-Contino.
In an effort to engage with the greater student population, Merino-Contino intends to take office hours outside of the office. According to Merino-Contino, the best way to hear from the students of Whittier College is to be amongst them — or, at least, incredibly accessible to them. “I want to make it simple where I just set up a table and chair and invite conversation and opportunity to connect with students,” said Merino-Contino.
Perhaps, in the near future, Merino-Contino could be recognized for frequenting some of Whittier College’s favorite spots and existing as an open door to productive conversation. “I want our office to be inclusive and welcoming to students” clarified Merino-Contino regarding the welcome posed by the physical Office of Administration, before continuing, “but I also don’t want to create that barrier for students so, I like to go where the students are at,” said Merino-Contino.
Student feedback exists as a crucial aspect of Merino-Contino’s role on campus because, without it, she cannot act as a responsive participant of the campus community. With this in mind, Merino-Contino seeks to involve various representatives of the campus community, especially in light of worldly events.
“What can we do to work with student clubs and organizations to create community so that when we have to make statements about a marginalized community . . . we’re not being reactive, but responsive? And we want to consider ‘what can we do to create these spaces ahead of time?’ and ‘what can we do to create statements in collaboration and in community with students?’” said Merino-Contino, relaying the questions that must stay in mind while addressing the student body and leading in a progressive manner.
Of course, however, all forms of progress enlist the guidance of mistakes and Merino-Contino admits that she is far from perfect. “I’m the first one to ask, ‘What can I do differently to make you feel a part of the conversation?’” Merino-Contino claimed. She can recall lessons she has learned from moments she failed to address student concerns to the fullest extent, explaining how these moments have inspired her and her team to focus on “creating statements that have a next step, making sure our students feel that it’s not just a statement, that there’s action behind it.”
“When there’s no space, I build tables. I build chairs. I make spaces and I feel it’s important to do so,” said Merino-Contino.
Featured Image: Courtesy of whittier.edu