Wardens are a key part of the student community, especially for students living in University of St Andrews accommodation. They are the first people a student in halls should turn to if they have a problem with no clear solution. That said, some students might not be aware of the wardens in their halls or about what they do. Who are they? What is their role? And how big an impact do they have on our way of life as students?
With this in mind, I decided to sit down with four members of the wardennial team to hear about the life and role of a warden. After meeting each of them, it was clear to me that all of the members of the team are dedicated to their job. Each member works to balance their lives between being wardens and doing their others jobs.
Despite this, the wardens struck me as caring about the students first and foremost. In my interviews with them it emerged that when a difficult situation occurred, both the wardens and the assistant wardens would sometimes take out an entire day to help students out of unfortunate situations.
As the interviews went on, I heard more and more about how they saw their role in the community and the key aspects of the job. The role itself can be broken down into what Dr Lara Meischke, Assistant Director of Student Services and warden of John Burnet Hall, called: “The Three Cs: Community, Care and Conduct.” The phrase has only recently been coined but it’s effective in explaining a warden’s job in St Andrews.
Community is about making a hall into more than just a couple hundred bedrooms and kitchens. It’s about creating a sense of belonging for students, both to their halls of residence and by giving students in those halls a sense of shared identity. Wardens seek to empower students into creating a community of their own choosing. They accomplish this by working with Hall Committees, both parties working to create events that allow students to come together. Hall sports is one such way, creating a hall identity through both its participants and their supporters. It gives students the common ground they need to stop worrying and start bonding.
Students can often miss the sense of community that being in a hall gives them. Susan ‘Suz’ Garland, an assistant warden for John Burnet Hall, told me that she saw many students leave halls for a year and then decide to come back the following year. When she asked them why, they told her it was because “they missed the community, the wardens, all the students” in their halls.
The sense of community fostered in halls can even go beyond university life. Many St Andrews Alumni revel in their identities and come to view it nostalgically. Stephen Stewart, warden for Andrew Melville Hall, mentioned a stag weekend of former students who came to St Andrews. After a game of football, they asked him if they could dine in the old Andrew Melville canteen, just for old time’s sake. He told that me he was happy to oblige: “So we reserved a table for them, they brought some wine and they had a great, great occasion.”
Care is about getting students the help they need, and a warden acts as a facilitator for students, listening to a student’s issues and helping them get in touch with the most effective service for their issue. As Ms Garrand puts it, they’re happy to talk with people about issues of any kind. From mental health or academic issues to everyday problems like relationships ending or roommate disagreements, because according to her, “[these issues] can seem so minor to some people from the outside, but from the inside they can be seen as catastrophic.”
She went on to talk about how this aspect of the job was a “wheel of emotion”, where every 20 minutes brought a new situation, completely different from the one before. Each warden seems to expect this, because it’s just another part of their job.
Conduct is when the warden seeks to prevent negative behaviour in halls. Even when a warden has to reprimand a student for bad behaviour, the first warning does not focus on punishment. It centres more on making a student realise how their actions can affect others. They also remind a student how their actions affect how people perceive them. It’s a particular point of pride for Ms Meischke when she has a “casual chat” with students going off the rails to encourage them to make better choices.
The chat revolves around reminding them that they chose to be here and not to waste the opportunity they have. When this happens, students often tell her that they remember how important that conservation was in getting them to work and pass their exams.
The job of a warden leads to a lot of experiences and each of the wardens told me of the moments that had stayed with them over the years. Some were uplifting, others hilarious, but most are sadly unprintable. Ms Meischke loves watching the new students change over their four years in St Andrews. How they come from being nervous about the “whole big university experience and four years”, but gradually change into people confident enough to go out into the big wide world.
Knowing she has played a part in helping them adjust and be able to make that change is a rewarding feeling for her. Mr Stewart told me about his 50th birthday when the students of Andrew Melville worked together to create a celebration that left him speechless. They even created a video of old friends and alumni that paid tribute to him, a moment he got to witness with his wife and two sons by his side. Ms Garrand talked about another student she felt connected to, and how she was able to help them work through some difficult issues. She became a positive inspiration for the student and helped them to manage their concerns. She still meets with them, always happy to help.
For my final question, I asked each of the wardennial team what they considered the most important advice they could give to someone who wanted to become a warden. Each of them said it was a job that encouraged different personalities and approaches, but they did emphasise some key aspects to being a good Warden.
Dr Penny Turnbull, Assistant Director of Student Services and Warden Manager, spoke strongly of a warden needing a sense of fortitude, a resilience which is required to “do the job and be called up in the middle of the night and then still get up and go work and be pleasant the next morning.
Meanwhile, Ms Garrand and Ms Meischke both spoke about a warden needing to be ready to deal with anything, emphasising that it can also happen at any time. In their words, it’s not always the Opening Ball or the Hall Ball, it’s “a random Tuesday afternoon.”
Mr Stewart remarked that a Warden should always show students trust because they’ll always rise to the occasion. He concluded by saying: “be prepared to get immersed in the whole thing, never complain about it.”
For the members of the team that I spoke to, being a warden is more than just a job. The role leads to the formation of a unique bond between students and wardens to the point where wardens take pride in students’ achievements and receive caring and respect in return.