Two things make SUNY Geneseo’s Department of Student Life special, according to Senior Director Chip Matthews.
The first is the way it makes people feel.
“People will come back 15 years later and say, ‘Remember when we did this?’” says Matthews.
Those warm feelings are prompted by a variety of experiences. Through student life, students can attend welcoming events such as picnics, hall meetings, obstacle course challenges, and book discussions.
They can also attend the student organization expos held at the beginning of each semester.
“We have about 190 student organizations on campus,” Matthews explains, “and 90 percent of them are represented at the expos.” The events give new students a chance to gather information about clubs and activities that sound intriguing—from accounting to quidditch, from gaming to rugby, to many others. “An expo is the community coming together and talking about what they do outside the classroom,” Matthews says.
One option outside both the classroom and the campus is student life’s travel program, which takes students to, for example, plays and sporting events.
“We also go to bookstores and museums,” Matthews says. “We’re keenly aware of the needs of introverts.”
Those who are more socially reserved also sometimes enjoy crafts, Matthews says. For example, there’s a knitting club—"they’ll find a lounge somewhere and start knitting.”
All these ways to participate allow students to meaningful time with each other outside the academic context, having fun and evoking a feeling of belonging.
So what’s the second thing that makes the department special?
“It’s the students,” Matthews says.
“Students who come to Geneseo—they’re driven, they’re smart, and they want to contribute. We provide avenues for people who have ideas and motivation to do what they want to do.
“When we started the Late Knight program” (which hosts events such as live performances, chocolate tastings, and Battles of the Bands that run from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.), Matthews remembers, “we said, ‘Let’s have the students be the programmers!’ We support students to create their experience, with our guidance.”
Eduniz Mendez ’20 is one student who took full advantage of that opportunity. “I was hesitant about getting involved with Student Life at first,” she admits. But she gave it a try, and ended up becoming president of OGX—the college’s multicultural dance group—and of the LatinX Association, a group for students who explore and support the LatinX community.
“I think student life is really important for all students, but especially underrepresented ones,” she says. “It feels like you’re at home, just because you have that diversity or presence you don’t always have at other schools.”
Mendez recommends getting involved in dance to have fun and blow off steam. “There are so many kinds,” she says, “from ballet to Zumba to hip-hop. There’s a dance or an arts club for any student out there.”
Between the feelings evoked by student life and the students who shape it, Matthews says, the department serves its purpose: “It’s all about the making of memories.”