On April 3, Dean Justin R. Smith began his new role at Goucher as the Associate Vice President for student well-being and Dean of Students. Smith’s new role comes with the responsibility for the planning, implementation, and assessment of comprehensive student services that encompass student well-being, student development, student transition services, retention and re-enrollment activities, student care, and crisis support.
Just a week after Smith began his career at Goucher, I sat down with him for an interview to help the student body get to know him better.
Born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Smith is a self proclaimed traveler, foodie, and sports enthusiast. He enjoys working out, and going to sporting events, especially football.
“I just really love to have fun,” was his overarching statement when asked about his hobbies and interests.
But fun isn’t all Smith signed up for with his new position at Goucher. As someone tasked with the wellbeing of students, Smith is responsible for maintaining an amicable relationship with the student body while juggling professional expectations and administrative decisions.
When asked what drove him to this position at Goucher, Dean Smith emphasized that the requirements of the job really resonated with the type of work he was already doing in his previous roles at Princeton University and Nova Southeastern University.
“This position really, I think, centers those two passion areas that I have with working with students, but also working with students to take care of the overall health and wellbeing,” he said.
Dean Smith majored in public health, and has always tried to find a way to combine his work in that field with the work of student affairs in higher education, as the two often coincide. Smith also noted that a holistic approach to supporting students is a very important aspect of how he interacts with student populations, especially at an institution of Goucher’s size.
When asked if any specific issues or student groups immediately come to mind when he thinks about his role as a student-centered professional, Smith noted how trends among students can be crucial to identifying any sort of issue they may have, and that as the new Dean of Students he hopes to act as a liaison between the student body and administration, allowing for more open communication between the two.
“I think my role definitely comprised of vocalizing and advocating for student needs,” he said, “but also serving as a conduit for students to also recognize institutional needs.”
This academic year has seen an increase in vandalism across campus, including an instance of racist, anti-Black graffiti in a residence hall. These instances have sparked debates within the Goucher community about how safety can be improved on campus. Smith was previously unaware of the hate crime, but after we discussed it, was eager to share his perspective as Dean, while also acknowledging the intersections within his own identity and the task at hand.
“I think for me, I’ve always had a working relationship with external partners, particularly with local police departments,” Smith said of his approaches to public safety at previous institutions, “And I’m a black gay man in America, you know, that’s an identity that I walk with every day and I’m very aware of… But I also know, for me, it’s been very important having those relationships with the local police department, for them to have an understanding of our community and our students that we serve.”
Smith also highlighted how his role in these conversations can be not only to vocalize concerns, but also share resolutions and seek opportunities to make students feel that their voices are being heard. As someone whose role is essential to closing the divide between the student body and administration, Dean Smith expressed the importance of connecting with students and how he hopes to build trust and relationships with those who seek them.
“I’m very much a friendly person to get to know, and I’m a lot of fun. I definitely love to find ways in which I can connect with students and support them, not only in the role in which I have, but just generally because college is hard and having someone that you can talk to who can make this situation easier to navigate is always helpful,” Smith said before reflecting on his own college experience, “I wish I had the opportunity in hindsight, to really develop a stronger rapport and relationship with my Dean of Students, because I think that would’ve helped me feel better about navigating the college process, particularly as a low income student.”
Located in Dorsey 203, Dean Smith encourages students to stop by, even just for a quick hello. He is constantly looking for opportunities to connect with students in and outside of his administrative role, and is happy to meet with anyone anytime.
Photo credit: Sameer A. Khan (via Goucher’s news webpage)