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University taps Dickerson for new vice president post

Janet Dickerson, Duke University's vice president for student affairs, has been selected by Princeton to fill the vacancy created by the departure of Dean of Student Life Janina Montero — and then some.

With Dickerson's arrival, Montero's old position will broaden both in name and function. As vice president for campus life, Dickerson will work with both the graduate school and undergraduates.

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She also will coordinate several programs relating to student life, such as the alcohol initiative, the opening of the Frist Campus Center and the expansion of social alternatives in conjunction with the recently approved increase in the size of the student body.

According to President Shapiro, the University created Dickerson's new position to distinguish her from Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan. "We wanted to indicate through the vice president title that this was a very important, policy-level appointment," Shapiro said. "But we also wanted to eliminate any uncertainty. We have a dean for undergraduate student life, and we didn't want there to be any confusion about who was who."

Though she will hold a higher administrative position than her predecessor, Dickerson said she still wants to work closely with students, both undergraduate and graduate.

"One of my first goals would be to get to know you all, to hear what students have to say. I tend to listen carefully," she said. "I will have office hours to get to know student individuals and groups."

Dickerson said she sees her role as a student advocate and "community builder."

"I like to think everything I've achieved is because I've been able to work well with others," she said. "I like to build relationships between students, students and faculty, alumni and parents. Relationship building is work that I value."

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In an interview during her visit to campus in April, Dickerson said she already is forming ideas about how she can improve campus life. She said next year will be a "critical time" for the University.

She noted that she plans to take an active role in preparing for the increase in the size of the student body recently approved by the trustees. "I would raise questions and hopefully as a representative on the [president's] policy group, I would want to be thinking with my colleagues about all those areas that are likely to be impacted by having more students," she said.

Another important task for Dickerson will be to oversee the trustees' alcohol initiative, which was started last year to reduce binge drinking on campus. This will not be her first experience with such a program, as she coordinated a similar alcohol abuse initiative at Duke.

"I think what we're trying to do is not likely to result in an overnight transformation of a culture that has existed since the beginning of the institution," she said.

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Dickerson said she also hopes to make more resources available to student organizations.

"I notice that you don't have much money for student activities," Dickerson said. "At Duke, our student organization [budget] is about $1 million a year. Princeton has a fraction of that. I think there are ways we can get students more money."

Dickerson will be the University's first female African-American vice president, according to Shapiro.

"I don't know that my race and gender will have the first impact," Dickerson said. "Justice issues are very important to me — providing an environment that respects diversity and equity."