Meet the new leader of residence life and student conduct at St. Olaf
This fall Christopher Medley joined St. Olaf College as the associate dean of students for residence life, a position that includes overseeing both student housing and student conduct.
On the St. Olaf campus — where 95 percent of students live in college housing — it’s a role that touches the experience of nearly every single Ole.
Medley’s goal is to facilitate a residential experience that is student-centered and student-ready, designed to be both sustainable over the long term and flexible to meet the current needs of Oles. He has 20 years of experience at a wide range of large and small colleges and universities, including public, private, predominately white institutions, historically Black colleges and universities, and religious-aligned institutions. He is committed to creating spaces of belonging through accessibility and opportunity, and he intentionally advocates, engages, and supports marginalized communities.
Medley earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a concentration in vocal performance and a master’s degree in education from the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Department at Virginia Tech.
In this Q&A he shares what drew him to St. Olaf, what he’s learned about Oles in his first semester, and what “must have” thing he thinks every student should bring with them to college (spoiler alert: it’s not something you can buy in a store).
You have extensive experience working in residence life at colleges across the country, large and small, public and private. What got you into this field?
I was blessed to have supportive mentors during my undergraduate experience at Virginia Tech. I entered the university through the Student Transition Program (STP). The head of the program was Delores Scott, a dynamic, strong-handed, caring professional. She transitioned from Virginia Tech to her alma mater, Virginia Union University (VUU) as the vice president for student affairs. Soon after, she reached out to me and asked if I would join her student affairs team in residence life. That was 2004, and I haven’t looked back since!
What do you most enjoy about working on college campuses?
The ability to help students define their success. College is such a great opportunity to explore and be an “adult.” Learning how to be independent can be challenging — but those challenges can come with support.
What drew you to St. Olaf?
I was drawn to St. Olaf by the institution’s unique position within higher education — specifically, the ideology behind the support of the on-campus living experience during a student’s collegiate experience. Focusing on your academic skill building, growing interpersonal skills, learning the art of collaboration, and developing competencies from a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens are critical skills embraced and practiced within a residential community development model.
What have you learned about Oles in these first few months of leading residence life at St. Olaf?
- Our student body is both inspirational and aspirational.
- Students truly care for their peers and hold them accountable.
- Students here believe in the power of leading and following, and they understand both are important and needed for growth and change.
Many students might assume that they’ll only interact with you if they have an issue with housing or are in trouble. You’re certainly there to support students in those moments, but what other ways would you like to engage with students and families? What’s the best way for them to reach out to your office?
Most definitely, I want students and their supporters to know that the residence life team as a whole is here for them. I am a very big fan of Google Chat! Even though the virtual world is very popular, sometimes a face-to-face meeting is necessary. Tomson Hall 148B (my office) always has an open door policy. Yes, a lot of times my first interaction with a student is due to an issue — but that doesn’t mean the conversation can’t expand to our various likes and interests. What brought either one of us to St. Olaf is a great way to open the doors to future interactions.
What are your goals for the future of residence life at St. Olaf?
My top three goals for the future are:
- Creating measurable DEI learning goals for student staff.
- Creating opportunities that support the residential experience by which students are able to communicate out the value of on-campus living.
- Creating a residential learning community that supports levels of shared interest groups that support building community and academic engagement.
You’ve undoubtedly seen a lot of residence hall rooms over the years. What’s the coolest (or craziest) thing you’ve ever seen in a room?
Well, my own residence hall room was pretty dynamic if I say so myself! My grandfather built an entertainment unit between the two lofted beds. Everyone on my floor wanted one!
The wildest things I have ever seen … well, I will keep that to myself! Just know that my expectations are that all residence hall rooms are left in the condition they were found in on move-in day!
If someone were to ask you what they should bring with them to college, is there a “must have” item you recommend?
Unfortunately, this is not something you can buy at your local department store. Students should arrive at college with the understanding that we have to build “home” together. Everyone grows in their own individual communities for 18 years, and on move-in day we land on the Hill together. Home is more than just buildings — home is the people who walk the grounds of the college. Let’s make sure we come with a spirit to listen, share and engage. Oh, yeah — and bring a box fan and shower shoes!
Students should arrive at college with the understanding that we have to build ‘home’ together. … Home is more than just buildings — home is the people who walk the grounds of the college.Associate Dean of Students for Residence Life Christopher Medley
What is your favorite space on campus?
My favorite space thus far is the Ytterboe Lounge. I have a vocal performance concentration. I know that would be my favorite residence hall, and I would probably get on everyone’s nerves by singing “Blue Skies”!
What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
I am a brand specialist and stylist. I work with individuals looking to transition in their careers, campaign elections, and pageantry!
What else should people know about you?
I like to laugh and have fun. If you see me walking across campus, please stop and talk to me. I try to do the same thing. If you are hesitant about speaking, just give me a head nod! I love meeting new people.
I also have never met a sweet potato pie that I did not like!
Anything else you’d like to add?
I am very fortunate to have Pamela McDowell, my predecessor, here at the college. Her support has been invaluable during my transition. It is truly an honor to be here at St. Olaf. Together there is so much we can do to continue the growth of the residential experience and the integration of on-campus living within the mission of “For Every Ole.”