For New Assistant Dean Clark Dawood, ’98, a Return ‘Home’
The College’s new leader for community living and student conduct says the residential experience “should be one that’s transformative and accessible to everybody.”
February 24, 2022
By Ariel Berry
Whenever he reminisces about his years as an Albion College student, Clark Dawood comes to the same conclusion: “It felt like a family.”
That’s the experience the 1998 graduate wants to help current students have as Albion College’s inaugural assistant dean for community living and student conduct.
“Albion was such a special and core experience of my life, and my education and professional life, and I want to be able to contribute in that way to students here,” he says. “I want to make this Albion as special to them as it was to me.
“That doesn’t mean it’s going to be my Albion or my experience or what Albion was like when I was here,” he continues, “but I want them to walk away with that same feeling. I want them to walk away from this place and say, ‘That was one of the most special things I had the chance to be a part of.’ And so I’m really looking forward to learning how to create that for the students who are here today.”
Dawood, who started in January, steps into a new position that was a result of restructuring in order to better serve Albion students.
“As an Albion College alum, Clark has firsthand knowledge and experience of the value of residential living and co-curricular learning,” says Leroy Wright, vice president for student development and dean of students. “Clark has a heart and passion for helping students and his staff navigate their challenges and realize their full potential while living in community.”
Before returning to Albion, Dawood earned an M.Ed. in counseling and personnel services from the University of Maryland, College Park, and worked in student affairs at several institutions. He says of his time as an Albion student, “My favorite thing was the really deep relationships I got to build with the faculty and the staff.”
One professor in particular made an impression on him. “Mary Collar, who just recently passed away, was someone near and dear to me,” Dawood says. “She was my thesis advisor, and she specifically worked material into a course that would help me with my thesis. And that was amazing. That level of interest and commitment to what I was interested in and passionate about was what made her excited, too.”
Dawood’s position focuses on two things: community living and student conduct. He says he is enthusiastic about what residential life on campus will look like once COVID-19 restrictions are loosened. “I think the last few years have been unusual for anyone, anywhere, in a higher-ed environment, but I think our community assistants haven’t really had the chance to see what a vibrant residential community can look like,” Dawood says. “The only folks who really saw what was a normal collegiate experience at Albion are seniors.”
He remembers his own Albion residential experience fondly and is looking forward to bringing that experience back to students, “It was something that was really vibrant and vital while I was here.”
Dawood says he also wants to focus on the physical buildings in the future. “What I really want to start advocating for is a reinvestment in the physical plant of the residential experience, something that visibly and distinctly says from the College to the students, we value the residential experience and we are going to invest in the spaces where you live.” He adds, “We are going to make them conducive to learning, we are going to make them competitive with other institutions, and we are going to find out what students are looking for in their living spaces.”
One strategy that began last year was intentional learning communities, where students live in clusters based on a common interest. Dawood says he looks forward to continuing and expanding these options. He also views living spaces as a way to talk about diversity issues and create “intentional experiences around diversity and equity initiatives.”
He adds, “What are the types of communities we can be building for students that encourage dialogue across cultural differences, or across regional differences, or gender identity, so those conversations can happen? These conversations are happening without us leading it, but it’s something we could lean into more.”
Dawood also says that being a first-generation college student, and a first-generation American on his father’s side, serve as influences in his work. “That experience and that life progression informs how I work with students, and it informs how I think about the college experience,” he says. “It should be one that’s transformative and accessible to everybody.”
Dawood’s approach to the other part of his job, student conduct, is to use the practice of restorative justice. The concept, he says, is about “making student conduct an educational experience instead of a punitive one, with the hopes of helping students find learning through challenging circumstances and helping them return to a community in a more healthy way.”
Dawood would like to build on and expand restorative justice practices already taking place, seeking more ways to help students grow and learn. “We’re not looking for problems,” he says. “I always say there are some instances where safety comes first and a student has to be removed from a community, but the goal should always be to help them re-enter as positively as possible.”
Wright says one goal for Albion’s students is “understanding how to live within agreed-upon community standards and providing a pathway for education and restoration when those standards are broken. The assistant dean for community living and student conduct will provide visionary leadership and direction to support the growth and sense of belonging of students.”
The assistant dean has a strong team working with him. “The folks I have been charged to lead here, they are top notch,” Dawood says. “These folks have worked long and hard to get through COVID, to manage leadership changes, and their attitude and resiliency are amazing. I’m very, very impressed by them.”
Part of the thrill of being back at Albion is running into old mentors who are now colleagues, Dawood says. “That sense of longevity and commitment to this place is something I just think is so unique and beautiful,” he says. “I was really looking for my next institutional home and somewhere I can settle in. I want to be the guy 20 years from now that somebody is like, ‘You’re still here?’ I really want that to happen.”