Wheaton College President Dennis Hanno announced in December that Kate McCaffrey Kenny would assume the role of Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students. Kenny, formerly Kate McCaffrey, served in the top student affairs post last summer and fall in an interim capacity while a national search was conducted to find a successor for Lee Williams, who left the role last June.
Kenny, formerly associate dean of students and director of residential life, has built a strong student following at Wheaton over the past several years, particularly last semester as she brought increased visibility and approachability to the Dean of Students position.
When reached via e-mail, Kenny told the Wire that she was excited to be taking over the position permanently, noting that her history at Wheaton and her lifetime of experience at small colleges in particular were invaluable in her bid for the permanent student affairs spot.
“I have chosen to spend most of my career at small, private liberal arts campuses and these experiences have prepared me for the Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students position here at Wheaton,” Kenny said.
“This coupled with the amount of Wheaton blue I own made me stand out from the others!” she joked.
Kenny was selected as a result of a national search which was conducted by a committee under the chairship of Provost Linda Eisenmann. With the help of a consultant, the search committee reviewed applications from candidates all around the country with experience in student affairs. The committee narrowed down a list of finalists and subsequently conducted interviews on campus.
The search committee included three student representatives as well, one each from the classes of 2015, 2016 and 2017. Ciara Sidell ’15, William Battaglia ’16 and Muneeba Syed ’17 organized sessions at which the student body could meet with finalists in the closing weeks of the fall semester.
Eisenmann stressed that the student members of the committee were “excellent and equal partners in the committee work.”
The search parameters were relatively straightforward. “We were looking for a well-rounded, energetic and creative person who could quickly step in and support our students and faculty, as well as our new president, in the work ahead,” said Eisenmann. “Kate McCaffrey Kenny stood out for her solid understanding of residential liberal arts colleges and how they foster the student experience, as well as for her well-established relationships with Wheaton faculty and staff.”
Eisenmann noted that Kenny’s track record of leadership on Title IX and sexual assault issues on college campuses made her an even more attractive candidate.
There is no doubt that Kenny has worked hard, and succeeded in, cultivating support at Wheaton. Since assuming the interim position in July, she has engaged with students through a number of different channels. She has hosted student groups at her on-campus home, reached out to students on social media and even staged a surprise study break during Finals Week last semester by hiring a food truck that gave out hot chocolate and whoopie pies to students while it was parked outside the library one evening.
Kenny’s accessibility has made her well-liked by the student body, among which there was staunch controversy surrounding Kenny’s predecessor, Williams.
“I’ve always been a huge admirer of Dean Kate,” said Mary Murray ’15, who created the Twitter hashtag #DeanKate4DoS last semester to show her support for the prospect of an internal hire for the top student affairs spot.
“One of the advantages of hashtags and social media is that it is public and accessible,” said Murray. “#DeanKate4DoS was a way for me…to voice my opinion and support.”
Perhaps the group with which Kenny has had the most interaction on campus is the Residential Advisors (RAs), a group she led in her former role as Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life, and amongst whom she was nearly universally popular.
Isabel Goncalves ’15 is one such RA that worked with Kenny during her time at Res Life.
“She was always really supportive of [the] RAs and all that we did,” said Goncalves. “She would send us e-mails thanking us for our hard work and it felt good that my work was being appreciated.”