What does being a dorm supervisor entail? Well, mostly everything.

By Deanna Harkel, Dormitory Supervisor

Five years ago when I was approached about living in a dormitory, naturally, I inquired about responsibilities and expectations. 

"What does it entail?" I asked, somewhat naively, already having visions of evenings spent playing Trivial Pursuit and hanging holiday decor as girls sit on couches and knit scarves by the fire. A pause and a resounding chuckle from the Dean of Students should have clued me in. 

"Well," he said, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms behind his head. "To be honest, mostly everything." 

Dorm supervisor holding her baby outside of dorm

I was sold. Before my newly acquired husband could ask too many questions, I enthusiastically agreed to pack up our belongings and move from our quiet, peaceful home into a tiny one-bedroom apartment on the second floor of Masters, a freshman girls dormitory. It was there that I learned several critical pieces of information: no teenager seems to enjoy Trivial Pursuit, working fireplaces break about seven different fire codes and, instead of helping to hang holiday decor or knit scarves, the girls would much prefer to simply blast the delightful wails of Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" on repeat. All day long. Starting in November. (Deep breath).

Fast forward to 2020. I am now a veteran dormitory supervisor who can smell burning microwave popcorn from a mile away and who says "please turn down your music" daily. But, this year, I am also something else: a new mom. 

In many ways, my role in the dorm has prepared me well for motherhood. I've taught residents how to iron their clothes, format a resume and address a postcard (an interesting new fact for many a Peddie student: you can only write your message on the left side). I've removed splinters, wiped tears and listened to stories of homesickness and heartbreak. I've driven residents to the hospital, sat with them as they learned of a grandparent's passing and jumped up and down with them when they received an acceptance letter from their top choice university. 

It's a special honor, sharing this time with young adults as they grow into who they are meant to be, and I'm grateful that I get to raise my son here at Peddie amidst the controlled chaos of dorm life."

It has also been the unexpected situations that arise and the need to be able to adjust at a moment’s notice that has prepared me for motherhood — a global pandemic, for example — and that requires completely rethinking how I approach an opportunity or a task. Admittedly, I’m generally very bad at things that feel “messy.” I like order and structure. Slowly, I’ve been learning to let go.

But juggling the running of a dorm and having an infant (who, let's be honest, runs me) can have its challenges. My husband and I have a complex and color-coded calendar system with duty nights, Saturday Nights Activities and dorm programming along with pediatrician appointments, evening grad school classes and bath nights cluttering the weeks. We pass each other in cars going in opposite directions as I run to Shop Rite to grab snacks for the girls, and we high five in the hallway of our home as he returns from work and I head into the dorm for the evening. It takes our whole family working together to make this lifestyle work, and that includes a baby who promptly falls asleep at 7:00 p.m. every night like clockwork (yes, really!).

Being a dorm supervisor means wearing many hats and, for me, sometimes feels like being a cheerleader, camp counselor, referee, air traffic controller, office manager and, yes, a mom, all rolled into one — a unique set of skills that I imagine will be useful as my own child grows. It's a special honor, sharing this time with young adults as they grow into who they are meant to be, and I'm grateful that I get to raise my son here at Peddie amidst the controlled chaos of dorm life. 

And, who knows. Maybe one of these days I'll actually get the girls to play Trivial Pursuit with me.