Shannon Thorin - Ass't Dean of Faculty
What is your role at Hampshire?
I’m the Assistant Dean of Faculty. What I primarily do is help the new faculty that are starting at Hampshire to get informed about what makes Hampshire so special. A lot of them have not not written narrative evaluations before. They have never worked on divisional committees. I’m there right at the beginning as soon as they are hired. I coordinate an orientation for them where they learn about what makes this place so great. I get to cultivate relationships early on and work with them on their whole career. I love to be able to help them do what they need to do to become really successful. I also coordinate the commence ceremony for students. I send all info about your diplomas and voting for keynote, student speakers and moderators. I distribute diplomas to students. I get to see the very best day of the student experience without the struggling in the between parts. I feel very lucky I get to enjoy that celebration every year.
That’s one of my favorite times of the year. As a dean for faculty, I work with faculty, but during commencement I work with students. I learn about the DIV III projects. It makes me feel happy to see the work students are doing. The students at Hampshire are among the most brilliant and thoughtful I’ve encountered in my career.
What do you think about Hampshire College?
I think Hampshire is beautiful. I think the staff is dedicated, but more than just dedicated, they are passionate, capable people. You know as a student here there are major ups and down, and as a community, we have faced tough times, I think you really see the true nature of the people are around you, work with, teach, the true selves of people come out during hard times.
How did you find Hampshire College?
Previously I was working in Boston, Boston is beautiful and is full of activity, I worked at Suffolk University where I was the web editor for the College of Arts and Sciences. The experience here has been life changing for me. I’ve grown so much more as a person working here. I was looking to do more work that would be directly impactful to the lives of the students, staff and faculty. At Suffolk, I felt like an observer looking at the college. Now I feel very integral to the workings of my office and college. I get more job sanctification out of that. I think it’s great.
What is one thing you would change in this world?
I think I would want to be able to cultivate a society where people listened to each other more. We’ve developed a system where we do a lot of talking around us; the tv and the internet is constant words. I think sometimes people lose their way and they don’t see the connections they have with people around them because their are not listening as well as they could be. There is more value placed on talking and less on listening as it is now in our society.
We experience a lot of political commentary that puts to opposing sides against each other and the value is in proving your side is superior and that is done through attacking every point that the other side makes. It’s not just political, it’s interpersonal communications. People have learned through example that arguing is more effective to get your point across than calm and open communications. I think the loudest people are the people that have been successful. We see examples of two communities listened to each other more, found more similarities that they did not see before. I grew up in a conservative household and I’m a liberal minded person. It was always difficult for me. A lot of people end up in my situation who distance themselves from family members who cannot align politically as they grow up. I did not feel that was the way to learn and to grow as a person. I tried to listen to what made them have those beliefs that different from mine.
Can you tell me about your childhood?
I grew up in a small, rural area in Connecticut; lot of wholesome family values, church goers, people who are invested in their community. My parents are old fashioned republicans; Reagan economics and morals. I was very much aligned with the political things I had learned in my family. My father is a very strong NRA supporter. He hunted for a lot of the meat that we ate when I grew up. He was a respectful and careful hunter. He didn’t shoot for sport. He had healthy respect for firearms and how to use them and taught us how to be safe with them.
When I went away to Stonehill College in North Easton Massachusetts, I started taking a lot of different kinds of classes and expanding my knowledge and experiences. I made my first openly gay friends. One of my first roommates was an African American woman. I met more people of diverse backgrounds. I learned about their life stories. During this time, LGBT marriage rights were at the forefront of the political arena. My politics sort of gradually changed as I saw people I cared about, especially my gay friends, struggling being seen and heard; struggling for equal rights that I just took for granted for myself. That was the biggest thing that broke me from my allegiance to the Republican Party. That one thing: recognition for equal marriage, blasted open the door for so many other things. I have never looked back after that. I like to joke that my parents got one “Republican” vote out of me in the 2000 presidential election. I joke with my mom that my vote now cancels her vote. I am blessed that my parents, though different from me politically, taught me that we can still get along as long as we are respectful and open to each other’s opinions-- I have taken that into everything I do and everyone I interact with.
How is it like working with President Miriam Nelson?
It’s been wonderful working with her and her whole office staff. Three of the four people of the office are brand new. Mim has been so gracious and asked a lot of questions and wanted to hear about our experiences and what we saw as the greatest assets to the College and also wanted to know what we perceived as the biggest problems as well. One thing I truly appreciated and took to heart is that she wasn’t just asking the Deans or the Board of Trustees or the Vice Presidents of the college those questions, she was asking everyone from the building and grounds staff all the way up to the Vice Presidents. She wanted to hear from me and my colleagues, faculty and students. She wasn’t afraid of the answers. When you open the door to what’s wrong with the college, you cannot plan for the answers. I’m sure if you asked twenty people, you’d get twenty very different answers on what they think would make the college perfect.
But I think for a lot of my colleagues it was a the first time they were given the opportunity to speak candidly and one on one with the President of the College and have that person seem to truly care about the answers. I’ve really enjoyed working with her and her staff so far. Im looking forward to good things and I’m very hopeful to the future of Hampshire as we go into the 50th year.
What would you tell future Hampshire students:
I would say there are so many opportunities on campus to make amazing connections with other students, faculty, and staff that will enrich their time here as much as their in-class studies. Focus on building relationships, go out to the concerts, attend the theatrical productions, go to the sports events, stop into the dances and the book fairs, get to those events and don’t stay in your room all day because the best part of being at Hampshire is experiencing the wonderful people at Hampshire.