Construction on the new residence hall for upperclasswomen may not even be completed yet, but that hasn’t stopped its house director-to-be Rosemary Pynes and the group of girls that will become its resident assistant team next year from setting ambitious goals for themselves.
According to Rebekah Dell, assistant dean of women, a new residence hall was necessary because Hillsdale College exceeded student capacity in currently existing on-campus residences. The administration determined that junior and senior women needed a new residence hall just for them.
When the deans approached student leaders about what they thought would make a new residence hall fun to live in, they found what students really wanted was a building that could become more than just a place to sleep. They wanted a dorm that would become a community.
“They have a twofold mission, as an RA team and as a residence hall,” Dell said. “First, to cultivate an excellent living environment for the residents. Second, to be a group of women who are invested in mentoring younger women and charging up the rest of campus.”
For Pynes, a junior who currently serves as head RA of Olds Residence, that twofold mission is an opportunity for upperclasswomen to invest in the mission of the college and set an example for their younger peers of what it means to live in community.
“Being off-campus can be a good environment for some people,” Pynes said. “But I think that some women move off campus and wind up slipping away from the wider Hillsdale community. Having women on campus is so important to make sure nobody becomes disconnected.”
Everything about the new dorm — from the double-occupancy rooms to the coffee shop on the first floor — is specifically designed to foster exactly that kind of community.
“So many of our students come from out-of-state, so we want the residence halls to become a kind of home away from home for everyone,” Dell said.
All residence halls that primarily house freshmen have adult house directors, but the deans said student house directors — such as Pynes — are great at fostering that sense of hospitality in upperclassmen dorms.
“It’s a challenging leadership position, but Pynes exhibits a perfect marriage of responsibility and an ability to socially engage and communicate,” Dell said. “You need someone who you can rely on to get the job done, but also someone who will work well with others. Rosemary is very well-respected by her peers because of this, so we were very drawn to her when we were looking for a house director.”
A former Olds head RA, senior Emily Barnum, called Pynes “an absolute gem.”
“She’s filled with such vibrant energy and love for other people, and she’s a wonderful woman of God,” Barnum said. “Rosemary is the best choice to be a house director. All the other dorms need to watch out — Simpson, she’s coming for your homecoming trophy!”
Hannah Fleming ’17, another former Olds head RA, said that Pynes’s experience with Olds is part of what makes her so qualified for leading this new dorm.
“I look up to Rosemary, even though I’m older than her. She carries a wisdom and a dignity well beyond her years,” Fleming said. “When she interviewed for her first RA position in Olds, she was shaking she was so nervous. I think it really showed just how much this job matters to her, and how much she cares.”
Pynes pointed to an experience she had as a freshman in Olds as an example of why her job as an RA matters so much to her.
“The second semester of my freshman year, [now-junior] Shelby Bargenquast and I were walking through the student union and we bumped into one of the RAs we didn’t know very well, [now-senior] Claudia Sladick,” Pynes said. “She asked us to get a meal with her sometime, and that whole semester after we got that first meal, she was always checking in on us and I remember that relationship making me feel so loved.”
Now, Pynes said that she hopes to bring that feeling to all of the young women in her care. She even said that her job as an RA isn’t something she has to carve time out of her busy schedule for — it’s the thing from which she has to carve time for other parts of her life, like academics and extracurriculars.
“I’m so sad to graduate next year and give RAing up, even though it’s one of the toughest things I’ve ever done,” Pynes said. “It has called strengths and virtues out of me I never even knew I had the capacity for. It’s the college experience I’ll talk about forever.”
Annie Ingham, who will be the head RA of the new residence and currently works under Pynes as an RA in Olds said she sees residence life as one of the essential experiences of a liberal education. She pointed to a time that she and sophomore Michelle Reid stayed up late talking about Plato and philosophy.
“I didn’t really know Michelle before she was on the Olds RA team with me this year. One night, she was sitting desk, and we wound up talking until four in the morning about what Plato meant by ‘coming out of the cave,’ and how Hillsdale’s doing that to us, Ingham said. “We’re just not able to do what we do without those kinds of discussions if we didn’t live in community with each other. The whole point of these things, after all, is learning how to love better. Residence life gives you a chance to go back into that cave and help other people out, together.”
Pynes said that she learned from the lives of Mother Teresa and St. Thérèse of Lisieux that people show love through the small things in life. In her mind, that is the guiding principle of an RA’s job — to strive to put the residents at the forefront of her mind, to pray for them, and to meet whatever needs they have.
“Our lives aren’t made up of huge, glamorous actions. They’re made of little, small decisions,” Pynes said. “In residence life, that means doing things like decorating girls’ doors the first week of school, or doing the dirty dishes left over in the kitchen. That’s how you show people love.”
Caroline Hennekes, a freshman transfer student who will serve as an RA and coffee shop manager in the new dorm, said that she fell in love with Hillsdale because of the way people like Pynes and Ingham think about their community lives.
Hennekes said that one of the things she’s most excited to see about the new dorm is the way Pynes and others on the team will bring this attitude of servant-leadership to their work next year.
“Seeing Rosemary step into all of her leadership roles has just been really inspiring,” Hennekes said. “She can pursue her studies with her whole heart, but also always makes time to be friends with anybody who need her. She’s really going to be an incredible student house director, because she’ll set the perfect tone.”
Dean Dell said that she is very really inspired by the thoughtful way the new residence’s team has been approaching all the possibilities of a new building, and that she has the highest of hopes for their future.
“I have been so impressed, but not surprised, by the quality of students that are taking on this charge to build something new and special for campus and how serious this new leadership role,” she said. “I think the world of Hillsdale students and what they’re capable of, and it’s very exciting to work with this particular group of women. They’re going to be a great addition to campus life and student culture.”