Pumpkin cookies, but no pillow fights for Dean Shaftel

Westminster Dean Matthew Shaftel and his wife, Pascale, sit on a bed in Ithica hall before the dean stayed over for the night.
Westminster Dean Matthew Shaftel and his wife, Pascale, sit on a bed in Ithica hall before the dean stayed over for the night.

By Thomas Albano

A new but already familiar face stayed the night in a residence hall at Westminster Choir College.

On Sept. 22, students got the chance to spend time with Westminster College of the Arts Dean Matthew Shaftel at an event on the second floor of Ithaca Hall.

The event, hosted by resident advisor Rachel Tyler, allowed students to get to know the new dean and ask him questions.

“The students were incredibly eager to speak with me,” said Shaftel. “It is thrilling to know that the students are so passionate about their community and what is going on around them.”

The idea to stay at one of the Westminster residence halls overnight started with someone kidding around.

“It just sort of came up by accident,” Shaftel said. “Somebody was joking about how the dorms don’t have air conditioning and I just moved from Florida, where it’s really hot all the time. So I said, ‘Oh, it won’t bother me. I’ll stay in the dorms overnight.’ Somebody said, ‘Really?’ and I said ‘Yeah, why not?’”

He first did rounds with the RAs. The remainder of the night involved student-engaged activities. They started off with icebreaker games that brought the students and Shaftel closer together. Many brought snacks and beverages to enjoy. Shaftel’s pumpkin cookie bars seemed to be a big hit, topping off a memorable night.

“I thought it was really cool of him to come experience what life is like for students on campus,” said sophomore music education major at Westminster Gillian Erlenborn. “We had some really stimulating conversations. And, obviously, cookies are awesome.”

The students had the chance to ask Shaftel an assortment of questions and converse on a variety of topics. After a long conversation regarding opera theater with students, he decided it was time to put an end to a rather eventful night in his temporary living quarters, Ithaca room 107.

Shaftel appreciated the great amount of hospitality that the students provided.

“My time in the dorm was fine,” he said. “It provided the average accommodations that you would expect from any other dormitory at an institution. Yes, I had air conditioning, unlike some of the other dorms. [That’s] something I would like to improve should we get the chance to update the power grids.

“The new furniture was pretty comfortable, so I slept pretty well. I put in earplugs, and then I woke up to someone playing an organ in the basement.”

Regardless of his comments about his stay, Shaftel is eager to improve the quality of residence life in the dorms.

“Students always poke fun about the conditions of the residence halls, so I thought it would be interesting to see what it is like,” Shaftel said. “I want our students to feel as comfortable as possible in their time here.”

Students were greatly impressed by the dean’s friendly, interactive attitude and by his willingness to understand such an important aspect of student life.

“I thought the event was really awesome and a really great thing that he was able to do,” said junior music education major Eric Roper. “It showed his devotion to his new position.”

Junior music major Alexandria Griner said this event helped to bring the students and dean closer together and she “would definitely like more events like this.”

“By spending a night in the dorm on top of spending time to chat with us over sweet treats, I felt that Dean Shaftel was really trying to get to know the students and what life is like for us,” she said. “I think this dean realizes the importance of putting the students and their needs first, which is very refreshing.”

Shaftel felt this was a great experience, and he would stay the night in one of the dorms again if the opportunity presented itself.

“I was impressed by the friendly atmosphere that was provided by the students and I truly felt welcomed,” Shaftel said. “It was a true learning environment where I got to learn more about the students and the students got to learn more about me.”

Additional reporting by Jason Diaz and Theresa Evans

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