Not your sister, not your friend — but she is here to help
Mention “dorm supervisor” and the images that come to mind are often stereotypical and stressful: lots of cleanup, high emotions, a cat-and-mouse game of rule-breaking.
That’s not at all how Seward County Community College’s Director of Student Housing & Safety sees her job. Kit Hernandez carries out her duties at the intersection of business-professional and the relatable older sibling — at a carefully calibrated emotional distance.
“I tell the students, it might sound harsh to you but I’m not here to be your friend,” Hernandez said with a smile. “I am here to help you figure out what to do when you aren’t sure.”
A small-town girl from Ely, Minn. (pop. 3,200), Hernandez began her college journey at a two-year college, followed by transfer to a Wisconsin university where she double-majored in business and property management.
“Knowing that my [future] husband and I would be moving about, it was something I could take up wherever we lived. He always knew he wanted to be a coach and I have always been a bit of a nerd. I was interested in the property listings in my hometown and I wonder now if the real estate agent got sick of me showing up to open house events,” she said.
Hernandez’s inspiration proved spot-on: when her husband, Rylee, accepted a coaching job at Williston, N.D., she managed rental housing properties in an area characterized by the boom-and-bust cycle of the energy industry. After about three years, a position for residence life director opened at the two-year college, and Hernandez switched from commercial property management to higher education.
“The college there was very similar in size and in flavor to Seward,” she said. “About half the 200 or so students in campus housing were athletes. While I was in that director position, my coworkers were good about mentorship and helping employees figure out ‘What cup are we needing to fill?’ as part of a care team.”
Hernandez found that she enjoyed this aspect of work, “seeing how student life and accessibility and the environment on campus all work together for the student as a whole, and their love or disdain for the college.”
When a men’s basketball coaching position brought the Hernandezes to SCCC, she opted for an advising position within the TRiO program, which focuses on support for first-generation college students.
“I loved it,” she said. “Helping students navigate the system of college, even when they don’t know what the possibilities are.” A little more than a year later, she applied for the newly-created position combining student housing and campus security.
Compared to property management, which is paperwork- and regulation-focused, Hernandez said student housing offers an opportunity to focus on people holistically.
“At Williston, I kind of fell in love with the human development aspect of it,” she said. Unlike adult tenants who demand that property management fix the problems, “students are just looking for guidance about, say, the noise from upstairs, or the roommate who isn’t considerate. The role is helping them learn how to ‘adult,’ whether that’s paying your bills or problem-solving.” The smaller scale of a community college also helps.
“At smaller institutions, there’s still a desire for community,” Hernandez said. “There’s this want for coexisting peacefully.”
At SCCC, Hernandez supervises six student Resident Assistants, four housing assistants, and a security staff of four that is still hiring a few open positions. The housing aspect of her job is “like being back in the saddle,” while managing campus security is a new challenge. Initially, Hernandez shadowed the previous security supervisor to acquaint herself with the processes.
One semester in, she continues to learn, she said, always with the focus of well-integrated, holistic student relations.
“The goal is that we provide a healthy and safe learning environment, no matter what side of campus you’re on,” she said. “The not-so-fun side is the conduct side. A lot of good conversation can come from a poor decision, but the end goal is still the same whether the student is in the classroom, in the dorm, driving through the parking lot, at a sporting event, the cafeteria … the desire is to support our students and keep them safe and well.”
That ideal can feel far from the reality of a student caught in a handbook violation, Hernandez said.
“I think it comes down to treating students as adults. I want to maintain the balance of providing guidance versus hand-holding. Sometimes we tend to pick and choose when we want them to be an adult and go figure out their problems — to me, it’s focusing on creating an environment, a safe environment where they can learn to be an adult.”
Hernandez often leans into her experience in the commercial housing arena.
“At SCCC, to live in student housing, we sign a contract. The hope is that you understand what you’re signing up for, and what the expectations are. If we find you haven’t upheld your end, the conversation becomes, how can we support you through the process of what has to happen next,” she said. “Every action has a reaction, which might result in a fine or a sanction, a letter of apology or even dismissal from school.”
Even so, empathy has a role in how Hernandez performs her role as enforcer.
“I remember not knowing what to do, I remember being super-confused about where to transfer, all the woes of being in college. Your finances are going to affect your classes. Your job is going to affect you. If you’re worrying and you’re not sleeping at night, that’s going to affect you,” she said. “When I meet with a student, typically it goes something like, ‘this has been reported,’ and that’s when we find out all the extra stuff that they’re grappling with. It’s not going to necessarily change the outcome of being sanctioned, but it gives us insight about how to better support them.”
As the semester winds down, Hernandez remains positive about the opportunities for growth — both in her professional role and for the students.
“I feel like we’ve got a great group of students, honestly,” she said. “It’s great to work with them.”