e got chairs!” Barb Jones, the retiring vice president for student affairs at Boston College, says on a beautiful July afternoon in her Maloney Hall office. Any other summer, it would be a normal and quiet time to visit her.
But this summer is her final one, so it’s hardly typical—though her enthusiasm for what she does hasn’t waned a bit.
The lights aren’t on, but the sun shines brightly into the huge windows surrounding Jones’s desk. She sits comfortably, legs crossed, completely at ease. Despite her impending departure, Jones is still excited that she’s secured a victory for the students she cares so much for: There will be adirondack chairs in the quads at BC in the fall.
That doesn’t sound like a huge victory, but in a way it is for Jones. She’s been fighting to maximize student space on the Heights since she arrived in Chestnut Hill in 2013. By putting chairs on what students may think is the treasured grass of University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., Jones is giving them an excuse to instead walk all over the grass and enjoy a beautiful day—however few there typically are during the academic year.
It’s a good example of the little things Jones has made time to fight for in her tenure, and of what she viewed as her biggest strength while at the helm: engagement.
To Jones, giving students, faculty, and staff opportunities to come together and be involved in the mission of BC in a variety of ways—whether through chairs on the grass or expanding offerings in the Career Center and at Counseling Services—is what has made her time here special. Her success, she believes, has been built off finding opportunities for faculty and staff to engage with students.
ones has been in the business of taking care of college students for 40 years. Five years ago, she joined BC from Miami University of Ohio, expanding the influence of Student Affairs wherever she could during the final stop of her career.
A notable example of her work can be found not far from her office: She’s worked on making the fourth floor of Maloney accessible to students who need to get work done—it will receive a makeover before students return to campus in August to open it up further and already boasts phone chargers, the best tool to lure students into hanging in one spot—as well as expanding the opportunities across the walkway at O’Neill Library, where new study spaces and reservable rooms have become staples of the building.
“The first thing I heard when I got here from students was that they felt like there wasn’t enough interaction between the classes … [or] the majors,” Jones said. “How [do] you create a culture where that natural interaction is going to happen?”
“I remember one of the students—first group I met with—he said, ‘Well maybe we should have fraternities and sororities because those seem to make those kinds of connections,’” Jones recounted with a wry smile. “I worked with fraternities and sororities for 35 years … it can—sometimes it doesn’t always work out—” another pause and broader smile—“the way you want it.
“So how do you do that within the student organizations here?”
She referenced the creation of class councils and bringing them together to create more interaction among the leaders of classes to try to influence a trickle down effect, in addition to the spaces she’s worked to create in her half-decade of service. Thanks to the inherent challenges of BC housing, to Jones, it can be difficult to redefine the inherent culture on campus to hang with the eight people in your suite and nobody else on your floor, or in your classes, or in an extracurricular group.
Jones’s tenure has also been marked by some tensions between portions of the student body and administrators. In her years leading Student Affairs, BC has experienced a series of high-profile outbursts of student activism, some of them highly critical of the University’s responses to students’ concerns and policies on demonstrations and free expression. Jones was often tasked with being the face of the administration in addressing controversies—during the Rights on the Heights demonstrations, the 2014 die-in in St. Mary’s, and various protests made by Eradicate BC Racism, and the fall 2016 Silence is Violence march over LGBTQ+ issues. Dean of Students Tom Mogan has also featured prominently in many of these since he started at BC.
In the wake of the Silence is STILL Violence demonstrations of last fall, Jones sees the steps the administration has taken on diversity as important ones. She cites the freshman Mosaic program, programs run through the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center, the Campus of Difference program, and the new racism education module DiversityEdu as further progress toward breaking away from the “BC-type” of student she doesn’t believe should be the defining aspect of the University’s social identity.
Jones has outlined her—or the University’s—thoughts on student activism in several comments and letters during her tenure. She and Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley wrote a letter to the editor in The Heights about infusing curriculum offerings with communication training related to diversity, and she wrote another herself in response to difficulties Climate Justice at BC had in getting a permit to demonstrate on campus.
“Whether it is in examining racial inequality or climate change, Boston College supports the exploration of issues through intellectual discourse and open dialogue,” Jones wrote in her letter on Climate Justice. “We believe, as a university, that we have an obligation to our students to engage with them on all matters of societal, cultural or intellectual interest. We hope that when our students are moved to activism, they choose to do so in the honest and transparent manner that [is] expected of all BC students.”
“There’s always the room for the conversation and the room for the dialogue, and understanding what students are thinking and feeling, and understanding the support and the education that we can provide,” Jones said in an interview for a fall 2016 piece on BC’s LGBTQ+ population.
Now, Jones looks back on these matters and cites newer programs and initiatives the University has begun as signs of progress.
“Student activism has always been a part of campus life; as it is a reflection of the issues that exist in our greater society,” Jones wrote in a follow-up email this week. “While social media is seen as a great influencer the most important part of activism are the dialogues and conversations that take place.”
Former UGBC President Russell Simons, BC ’17, when looking back upon his time working with Jones through such issues, saw her as a critical voice in the corner of BC students, despite her position among BC administrators who often were the subject of advocacy groups’ ire.
“To work with Barb was to work with someone who never stopped caring about students,” Simons said. “Most BC students won’t know the ways she has impacted their experiences, but her role was certain: Barb has been a committed advocate for the student body at the highest levels of university leadership, especially at times when other voices at the table were out of touch with the realities of student life.”
To Simons, Jones’s more broad role wasn’t the only level on which she was able to help him.
“A remarkably caring and perseverant woman, she always made the concerns of students her priority,” he said. “For Meredith [McCaffrey, former UGBC vice president and BC ’17,] and me, one of the simplest joys of our time in UGBC leadership was working with Barb and her team in Student Affairs to make the improvements we could and fight for the ones we all agreed BC students needed. Of her and our greatest ambitions, the Student Center still remains an unfinished and yet sorely needed project. But, like so many steps taken towards progress on campus, large or small, when it does become reality, it will bear the unmistakable handiwork of Barb Jones.”
On a prospective student center, Jones described the idea as being “on the radar” for administrators.
Akosua Achampong, a former UGBC president and BC ’18, felt a similar way about Jones’s willingness to listen to student needs—most notably due to the authenticity Jones approached her job with. Early on in her time at BC, Achampong was passionate about social justice issues and racial inclusivity, sitting in on meetings between Jones—sometimes the only female administrator in the room—and student leaders, and she would learn firsthand all about Jones’s style.
“Barb was always someone who definitely listened,” Achampong said. “I mean, the reality of the situation is something can’t always be done about everything you say the way you want it to be done, but I think Barb Jones served as a really great mentor … in teaching me a level of patience that I didn’t possess before working with her. She taught me the value of good relationships even if you weren’t always on the same page as someone.”
Achampong doesn’t believe that she and her vice president, Tt King, BC ’18, would have been as successful when it came to building their platform without Jones’s guidance. Her role as a woman in power was just as valuable to them.
“It was really great to see a woman leading,” she said. “I wouldn’t have made it through UGBC … without her. She was always someone, especially last year, that I felt I could go to with my concerns. You could always tell she cared not only on a professional level but cared on a personal level. And I appreciated her for always wanting to build me beyond student government or student activities.
“So I’m sad to see her go, because I think a lot of people could benefit from what she has to offer. … We didn’t agree on everything, but I could always count on her to be honest and more or less straight with me when she could be. That’s something I really appreciated.”
o Jones, what was most difficult for her during her time at BC, and in her career as an administrator, has nothing to do with physical space or trying to rewrite BC’s culture.
“The first thing that always comes to mind, for me, is when we lose a student—when a student passes away,” Jones said. “That’s always the hardest thing. How do you provide support to their friends? How do you help their family?”
Jones learned a valuable lesson by accident earlier in her career at another institution. The administration was embarking on a project to call every single freshman attending to check in on how their transition was going.
“I was having a conversation with a young woman, and she said that she was really having trouble focusing, and she couldn’t quite get her arms around this transition to the university,” Jones said. “And I asked, ‘Well, do you have any idea why you’re having this difficulty?’ And she said, ‘Well, it could be because my dad died the week before school started.’
“She didn’t know where to go for help, she didn’t know how to reach out, she knew that something wasn’t clicking for her but she didn’t know what to do about it. Those are the ones that you hope you find out about in time to be able to help them and provide that support.”
Hearing Jones talk about the difficulties of her job almost feels strange. She’s known more for her enthusiasm, for trying to create opportunity, yet she has to face head on some of the darkest elements of caring for young adults. It’s a point of emphasis in her mind to make sure she’s a bright face on campus, regardless of the darker realities that can surround students she’s aiding.
“It’s not always easy,” she said. “I think that what helps in those situations is knowing that you need to focus on the needs of the other person. As long as we’re there and whatever we’re doing is helping that person, then you feel like you’re making that contribution, you’re providing that support.
“And that’s what makes the job easier to do when you’re in a situation like this—you know you’re making a difference and you’re there for that person.”
efore Jones turns the page on her time at BC and pursues some of her other passions—like traveling and genealogy (she’s a card-carrying member of a genealogical society and wants to devote time to tracing her roots back as far as she can)—she’s been reflecting on her time in Chestnut Hill.
“I will dearly miss the interaction with the students,” she says. “I will miss the people I work with—they’re amazing. I am so thrilled and so proud of the staff I get to work with every day. They are so committed to the students. Every single one of them is focused on how we make the student experience the best experience it can be, and it’s so rewarding to see that and then to see the students as they grow and develop.”
When it comes to the advice she’d give her successor—Jones believes her interim successor Joy Haywood Moore will do a “wonderful job”—she begins to choke up.
“Value every moment, because you’re not sure, when you reflect on them, which ones are going to be the ones you…”
She stops, holding back tears.
“I’m not good at goodbyes,” Jones says.
She smiles, chuckling at herself for a moment before shaking her head. Jones gathers herself—once again, she looks prepared to finish the job, as if it were just any other week or day or year in Maloney Hall.