Behind the scenes of Amherst housing

The four ACs, Todd Anckaitas, Kristie Miller, Vanessa Olivier ’01 and Shelley Perdomo spend endless hours communicating with their staves of RCs and the various administrative offices on the campus. They are the essential links that get information to and from the RCs who are in direct contact with the students. In addition to dealing with residential and disciplinary problems, each has additional responsibilities at the College. Essentially, the ACs ensure that the residential life of all students at the College is comfortable.

This week, we feature Olivier and Anckaitas, who supervise all upperclass dorms except Pratt and Morrow.

One of Amherst’s own, Vanessa Olivier returns to the College for second year as area coordinator

One of Amherst’s own, Vanessa Olivier returns to the College for second year as area coordinator

Vanessa Olivier ’01 is the only one of the four ACs who attended Amherst. During her junior and senior years here, she was involved in numerous activities, had four jobs and double-majored. “I had to drop a lot of things midway that I wanted to finish,” she said. “The residential life position let me stay and implement many of the things I wanted to do.”

Olivier noted that her position at the College has given her a great deal of valuable job experience as well. “This position lets you do a combination of things you would do in the corporate world, as well as have direct contact with students. You can see how your work affects students on a daily basis,” she said.

In addition to dealing with the every day issues of dorm damage and disciplinary problems that come with being an area coordinator and the assistant director of residential life, Olivier is a co-diversity educator, as is colleague Shelley Perdomo. “We sometimes offer our services to the affinity groups if they ask,” she added.

As an AC, Olivier has had the opportunity to put her ideas to work. “I got to test the ideas I had as a student in a working environment, in a place that I knew well, was comfortable in, and that I enjoy,” she said. Olivier is AC for the “Upperclass and Theme Houses” subset of housing-all of the College’s old frat houses are under her watch, including the majority of the theme houses, as is Cohan Dormitory. Last year, she instituted a theme house collaborative. “I met with the RCs on a monthly basis to train them how to organize their houses better, how to combine their efforts and how to publicize events in such a way that people felt welcome at the events in the houses without needing friends who lived there,” she explained.

Olivier hopes, ultimately, “to do something within education or administration, probably with the Department of Education,” she said. “Residential life is so central because we get every issue that could possibly happen in a dorm and to a student. If you want to learn how a school works, starting with how people live is a good way to start,” she added.

“The ACs just love each other. We have a great relationship,” Olivier said. “If I am going to do this job, I am going to make it fun, and I can do that by interacting with interesting students. I stayed to work at Amherst because I like the people here.”

Assistant coach of women’s soccer Todd Anckaitis takes the field for residential life

Assistant coach of women’s soccer Todd Anckaitis takes the field for residential life

While Todd Anckaitis is a graduate student at Smith College, he is quite involved here at Amherst as well. He is the assistant coach of the women’s soccer team, advisor to the Disciplinary Advocates and an AC.

A graduate of Lafayette College, Anckaitis first found Amherst through his graduate work. He is getting his masters degree from Smith in exercise and sports studies. “The program was developed to train coaches in women’s athletics,” he said. “When I got into the program, I looked for a coaching opportunity and of the schools in the area, Amherst interested me the most.”

When he became an AC, Anckaitis was already working at the College. “I thought since I was already working here as an assistant soccer coach, the job would be one more way to get involved with the campus and with the students,” he said.

Anckaitis had previous experience working in residential life. He was a resident advisor at Lafeyette when he was there as an undergrad. “A lot of the issues that come up are similar, but there are certainly some Amherst-specific things that I’ve learned about since getting here,” he said.

In addition to dealing with problems and activities within the social dorms, Anckaitis has a great deal of responsibility as the disciplinary advocate advisor. “[The disciplinary advocates are a group on campus like the Peer Advocates [of Sexual Respect] that help students who are having disciplinary problems by giving them guidance,” he said. “They know the disciplinary policies and how they work. [A disciplinary advocate is] just another student who might be able to give advice to a student who might or might not already have been taken in for disciplinary action.”

Anckaitis is especially interested by group dynamics. “I like to see how groups maybe have one focus at one point and how that changes completely to be something you would not have necessarily expected, and how you got from point A to point B,” he said.

“A lot of what I have encountered is really challenging. It’s very hard to learn how to handle certain situations. You just have to use what you know. There is no right or wrong answer necessarily,” he added. “I like that, that there is no prescribed course of action. It is like the athletic world. Different things happen and you just have to deal with them; hopefully you’re prepared enough with the basics.”

Caring about students and wanting them to get the most from their time at the College is a huge motivational factor for Anckaitis. “I think a lot of [my] learning in college came outside of the classroom: wanting to learn something about myself, about people and about different groups. This job lets me do all of the above.”