Carolyn Livingston

Carolyn LivingstonCurrently: Carleton’s vice president for student life and dean of students since July 2015
Previously: Senior associate vice president for campus life and Title IX coordinator for students at Emory University
Education: BS, North Carolina State University; MEd and PhD, University of Virginia

I grew up in North Augusta, South Carolina. My aunt and uncle had six kids and then they raised me and two of my older sisters, so I was the youngest of nine. My uncle was a mill worker and my aunt (we called them Mom and Dad) was a stay-at-home mom.

We were considered low income. You know how you don’t know what you don’t know? We had one car. All of us got in that car. We always had food and we could participate in whatever activities we wanted.

None of my parents finished high school. My siblings didn’t go to college. I had a great high school guidance counselor. I told her I couldn’t afford the SATs or the application fees. She told me about North Carolina State in Raleigh. She said, “If I get you there, will you stay there?” I felt an obligation to succeed because of her.

I had good mentors who lived through very trying times. Folks who lived through segregation in the South and went on to receive doctorates. They talked to me about professional etiquette, encouraged me. Studying in Ghana, West Africa, with two of these mentors changed my perspective on life and what I thought I needed to do.

College and university students today face a lot of challenges. Many have financial challenges. Mental health challenges are prevalent. How do we teach our students how to be a part of this community—to be a good roomie, a good classmate, a good person? This whole notion of belonging is a big challenge for some of our students.

I’m focused on building community. How do we build an inclusive and diverse community? What does that path look like and how do we engage students, faculty, and staff along the way?

Substance abuse on college campuses reflects society, but is even more prevalent. Students have the access and the freedom. That’s where peer pressure comes in. They have been taught to succeed in everything they do, so it’s all-in for them. We tell our students: Work hard, play hard. We need to tell them instead: Work hard, play smart!

Intellectually smart students may think it’s a sign of weakness to ask for help. They’ve always had the right answers. We need to teach them that it’s okay not to have the answer. You do figure out some things later in life—with time and a different set of experiences.

Some students live a delicate life in the sense that they have the Carleton community, and then they have their home communities. It’s sometimes hard to navigate the difference between the two. When you’re home during break, you realize that you’re a different person there than you are at school.

Carleton students care about each other in ways I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else. I learned that on day one.


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