On her first day as Clark University’s dean of students, Francy Magee was greeted with 16 inches of snow.
It was not the only challenge she faced that day. Magee also presented to the Clark Board of Trustees her plans to shape, and lead, a cohesive and responsive Division of Student Affairs from a loosely connected group of offices that lacked an identity and shared purpose, but was brimming with raw talent.
Five years later, Magee looks back with pride on her ability to fulfill her pledge to the board.
“Today, the student affairs professionals at Clark employ their talents across the campus in support of strong, engaged student experiences through connections with faculty, other student-facing units, and the dean of the college,” Magee says. “This is always a work in progress, but now the division has the capacity and cross-campus relationships from which to create a community that shares not only experiences but also hard conversations.”
On March 29, Magee is stepping down from her position at Clark, first to take some time off and enjoy “long walks with my dogs and family,” and then to explore what she describes as “my next adventure.”
Since arriving at Clark from the New York Institute of Technology in February 2016, Magee not only restructured and reimagined student affairs — she also fostered a culture in which students play a more vital role in campus life. Her office’s collaborative work with the Undergraduate Student Council and other student organizations took on special urgency during the pandemic, with students wrestling with issues like food insecurity, social isolation, and the general disruption brought by the lockdown. Magee notes that from the onset of the pandemic, the goal was always to promote positive engagement among students regarding adherence to pandemic protocols, rather than to focus on punitive measures for violations.
The Division of Student Affairs regularly engages with student leaders, and invests in their development and knowledge to support other students. Magee points to the collaboration with Student Council during the Winter Intersession to help highly-stressed students as an illustration of “the power of co-creation.”
“This is a critical partnership, because students look to others as mentors, and this is the foundation for creating a tight community among students at Clark,” Magee says. “One of the most important connections between our student leaders and the Division is the knowledge that they can turn to us to support the more profound needs on the campus, including mental health challenges and crises of belonging.”
Magee notes the “staggering” increase in the need for mental and emotional health support, which spurred her to enhance services to address the well-being of students from a holistic perspective — and from a framework of both prevention and response.
“These services are an integrated approach to serving the social, emotional, and community health challenges students face as they pursue their academic goals under profound stresses,” she says. “This includes building infrastructure through the professional development of staff; the creation of new spaces — virtually and in-person; gatekeeper training sessions for faculty, staff, and TAs; awareness campaigns; and the development of shared protocols across the campus. The ethos of mental health and well-being is tied to the ethos of student success and care at Clark.”
In 2018, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education and ACPA–College Student Educators International cited Clark as one of the “Most Promising Places to Work in Student Affairs.” Magee takes pride in the designation, which speaks to the care and attention her division has given to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“We’ve done a lot of work around identity consciousness, and those efforts have been a bedrock for us and for Clark,” she says. She leaves a legacy that includes promoting division members’ meaningful participation in anti-racism initiatives and the creation of the inaugural Lavender Celebration — a special graduation event for LGBTQIA+ students. “It’s about pulling people together to center the student experience and to build a team by doing so.”
Magee is confident she’s leaving the Division of Student Affairs in a position to sustain its record of excellence for shaping and enhancing the Clark student experience.
“I decided that at this point it’s best for Clark, and for me, to enable the new administration to build its team, especially in such an important space as the Dean of Students office. The infrastructure is in place,” she says.
“Throughout my career, my sweet spot has always been rebuilding and revitalizing programs for institutions that want to rise to the next level, but aren’t always sure how to do that effectively. Student Affairs at Clark is now operating at a high level, and it’s time for a new leader to step in and shepherd the division under the new administration’s vision.”