As former Dean of Studies Allen Green settles into his new singular role this year as Dean of Equity and Inclusion, the College now has a new Dean of Studies to get to know, Daniel Trujillo. A liberal arts graduate who majored in philosophy and gender studies at the University of Redlands in California, and a clinical psychologist by trade, Mr. Trujillo says he recognized early on his passion for working with students. After getting his doctorate specializing in the psychology of substance abuse fom the University of Missouri at Columbia, he held jobs as both a faculty member and a member of psychological services at various institutions, learning about the world of higher education from different perspectives.
Of the roles that led him to Sarah Lawrence, he expande on a position he held at MIT for ten years, saying, “It came up, unfortunately, through tragedy. MIT experienced a number of student-led fatalities that involved both mental health via self-harm/suicide and substance abuse--alcohol and other drugs. And so they created a position that was really supposed to look at the entire university’s approach when it comes to mental health and substance abuse issues.” He called the position a “fanstastic experience” that really allowed him to combine his passion for working with students with his academic background. During briefer times at Columbia University’s Medical Center and St. John’s University, his interest in working at a small, liberal arts college led him to look for opportunities at Sarah Lawrence.
Of his experience at the College so far, he says, “Everything that I had imagined about Sarah Lawrence, being an outsider, at least to date has been validated.” He sees his role as Dean of Studies as having two components: one being academic enrichment, which he describes as supporting the relationship between faculty and students through the donning process, being a resource for students to seek help with time management and other areas, and monitoring students’ academic progress.
“We’re here to help [professors] help the student so they can get back on that path of success, which to me is incredibly gratifying and that’s just a wonderful position to be in, to get students help before they get to a point where they fail a course or have real dramatic academic repercussions. So that’s the goal.” The other aspect of his position is working with Student Affairs, which he sees as “a really nice partnership [because] the student lives the whole Sarah Lawrence experience.”
On his general approach to the position, he says, “Ultimately, what I always go back to is that this college needs to be student centered, first and last, so at the end of the day, in my mind, decisions are always based on the student and the student interest and what’s going to help our students not only succeed but what’s going to help out students really even, hopefully, prevent any sort of issues that they may experience that maybe we can try to anticipate.” He also stresses the importance of student involvement in the College, adding, “Some people talk about ‘student-centered’ and then they take this sort of paternal approach of, ‘Now I’m going to tell you how things should be’. That’s not being student centered. Student-centered is you collaborate with students, you give them the ownership of being able to help in that decision-making process, and you give them that responsibility and accountability, too.”
Still new to the school, he says his first goal in the position is “to listen, and really try to make sure I understand because it will do no one any good if I come in and just start interpreting and then start doing things, start responding. I think I really need to take the time, and I think it’s absolutely critical that I take the time, to try to listen, understand, and really have as much contact with students as possible.” He hopes to keep his door open and have students able to approach him whenever needed.
Mr. Trujillo also responded to a somewhat present climate on campus of students feeling that administration is not acting in the best interest of the greater direction of the College and that student and faculty opinions not being adequately taken into account in large-scale decisions. “When I work with students, I think one of the things which I think we really struggle with but we have to get through is, what is the community point of view around an issue,” he says. “There are individual points of view—many, you know, this is a diverse community and you have many different perspectives, as you should, [but] I think oftentimes the challenge for everybody is, how do we look at this diversity of viewpoints and how do we understand really, what are the critical issue for students, what are the community values when it comes to this, and make sure that we’re reflecting that community perspective.”
“I’m trying to really understand how students see Sarah Lawrence, what that student identity of Sarah Lawrence is because I think that’s really important,” he continues. “We have to effectively give voice to that.”
Janaki Chadha '17