Letters from your Dons
Dear first-years living in residence,
You probably hear this way too often, but this school year is truly unprecedented, and I am continuously inspired by your resilience. As you are settling into your new homes for the school year, I just wanted to remind you that you are never alone: you have each other, your sophs, your Dons, and a wide array of university services to lean on.
For years, people have developed an image of Dons as people who are only there to break up your parties and write you up. However, they are so much more than that. With this letter series, I hope you get to know who your Dons are beyond their jobs, why they do what they do, and how at the end of the day, they want what’s best for you.
So without further ado, here are some letters from your Dons.
Denise Zhu, USC Brand Journalism Coordinator
To my first-years on 4East,
I hope you’re all doing okay since the last time we spoke. For some of you, that may have been on an awkward elevator ride to the cafeteria. For others, it might’ve been when I came to check-in on your suite, and we chatted about the horrors of Zoom lectures or the rising COVID-19 case numbers. Or maybe it was even when I sent you an Instagram DM about how good your take-out looked. Regardless, I hope you’re okay.
This year is a weird one for sure. If you guys are worried, scared, anxious, frustrated, or just frankly sad, I feel you. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t felt all those emotions too, but I just want you all to know I’m here if you need me. To chat, to vent, to laugh at some really bad memes together – I’m down for it all. But maybe you need to know a bit more about me to open up, so here goes!
My name is Abitha for starters (pronounced Ah-bee-thuh, like the island Ibiza), but I think that’s probably the one thing you guys actually remember. I’m in my third year of Med-Sci and am specializing in pathology. The dream is medical school, as is the same for many of you (and shout out to my BMOS kids too! ily). I love to sing and am part of a-cappella, as well as a subpar pop cover-band with my roommate from first year. I would live off chicken fingers if I could, and I would sell both my kidneys for Harry Styles…if I could. And at the end of the day, I am here at Western to be a student – to learn from my classes, to join clubs and network, but ultimately to have fun and be part of an amazing community with students like you.
I decided to be a Don for that very reason, as I know first-hand how the community thrives in residence. In fact, I’ve lived in residence for my entire undergrad so far, and trust me, when someone tolerates cafeteria food for that long just to meet some first years, they really care. As a Don, I want to be more than that girl who tells you when quiet hours are or forces you to wear a mask in the hallway. I genuinely want to be the friend you can come to for anything. Whether you’re dealing with the turkey drop during Thanksgiving, wanting to switch from Med-Sci into business, or just need an oven to use (yes, I have an oven), I’m your one-stop shop for information or company.
That being said, I wish I had the answers to the questions that mattered most right now. “When can I see my friends again?” “Why does everything have to be online?” “Will university always be like this from now on?” “Will we be sent home if there’s an outbreak?” “When will things go back to normal?”
Frankly, I don’t know. I wish I did. I wish I could ease the stress of school and COVID-19, or bring back your proms and graduations and your real O-week. Honestly, I just want to give each and every one of you a hug sometimes, but I can’t even do that! It’s a tough situation for all of us, but I’m SO proud of you all for braving through what I consider uncharted territory – doing your first year of university during a pandemic. You are all stronger than you think, and I cannot wait to see where your university journey takes you.
And if you ever need help, any step of the way, I’m just a few doors down.
Your Don, Abitha (Elgin Hall 4East)
My name is Cory and I am currently a residence Don on 4 East. It’s fitting that I’m back in this building for what will be my fourth and final year at Western because this is where it all started for me. I have fond memories of meeting everyone during O-week and of late nights hanging out with my floor in the hallways of 6 West (my floor in first year). It’s because I had such an amazing experience that I’ve made it my mission the last few years as a staff member to do what I can to give others an equally incredible experience in residence.
I know this year has been unusual to say the least. Being a staff member doesn’t make us immune to the same fear and frustration I’m sure many of you feel about the current situation. This only makes it that much more disheartening to witness or hear about students deliberately ignoring rules that are in place to keep everyone safe. I hope you know that it brings me no joy to enforce room capacities in a lounge or break up a party. In fact, it makes me quite sad.
The reality is that every staff member wants to help make residence feel like a community, and personal connections are a big part of this. I feel a strong responsibility though, to keep Ontario Hall a place where everyone feels safe, and if that means being the killjoy that reminds everyone to wear a mask, so be it. When you wear a mask or make plans with friends while physically distancing, it shows you give a damn about your fellow first-years in Ohall and that’s all we can really ask.
I think it’s often forgotten how little of my role is about policing the rules though. Everything from referring you to the right resources to programming fun activities is a big part of my job. At the end of the day, my job is to make first year your best year at Western. So if you ever need advice or just want someone to talk with, don’t be shy to stop by and give your Don a knock on their door. I guarantee they will be happy you did.
If I have any advice, it would be to find your people. First-year is an amazing time where you’ll meet lifelong friends. You’re not always going to be best friends with everyone on your floor and that’s OK. Find what interests you and the people that share those interests. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did. When the year is over, nobody is going to care what grade you got on your first calculus midterm, but the relationships you make can last beyond your years at Western.
Cory (Ontario Hall 4 East)
Dear first-years in residence,
My name is Victoria, I’m a fourth-year student in the Ivey HBA program, and I have the incredible honour of being one of your Dons this year on campus. This is actually my third year as a residence staff member at Western. I was in Deli as a first-year, Med-Syd as an RA, Ohall as a Don, and finally Perth as a returning Don.
As you can see, residence has played such a big part in my university experience, and this job means the world to me. On top of being a staff member, I’m also VP Communications for the Western French Club, I’m a huge movie lover, and I’m a proud mother to my cockapoo puppy Marty.
I decided to be a Don for a couple reasons. The first being that my Don when I was in first year and my sister, who was a Don before me, are my two biggest inspirations. The second and most important reason is that I wanted to make a difference in someone’s life. This job gives us the opportunity to be a leader and genuinely help people through one of the toughest transitions of their lives as they move away from home for usually the first time. I hope to be that helping hand, that friendly smile, and that shoulder to cry on for someone else.
I wanted to address some of the common misconceptions about what it means to be a Don. People often think our jobs just involve shutting down parties, enforcing the rules, asking people to put on their masks, and cleaning up puke. But there is so much more to us than that. What you might not see is us consoling the international student who feels like they don’t fit in, walking our student to their first counselling appointment, organizing floor dinners and building-wide events, mediating a roommate conflict about the temperature, helping a student find academic support after failing their calculus exam, providing students with first aid and directing them to hospitals for care in emergency situations, working with campus police to address serious conduct issues, and having really difficult conversations about mental health, gender-based violence and suicide. We do all of this and more while juggling our own personal lives and academic responsibilities. Our jobs are very challenging, but even more rewarding as we provide support to thousands of students on campus.
We understand that this year looks very different. We understand that it is frustrating and not exactly the experience you wanted. However, if we all do our part to be safe, I promise you that we will make the best of it. I’ve seen countless students not wearing their mask indoors, pile by the dozens into rooms to party, continuously downplay the pandemic, and blatantly disrespect staff members who are just trying to keep you and the rest of the building safe. I would ask that you please think about the students and staff who are high-risk, think about your parents and grandparents that you go home to, think of the impact on the London community, and please be kinder to the people in purple shirts.
Victoria Wallace (Perth Hall)
To first-years living in residence,
Let’s face it – navigating first year is as wonderful as it is scary. First year is about being exposed to new experiences, making friends, and growth. But the transition into first year has a lot of small bumps along the way. You are going to make friends and lose friends, make mistakes, and learn new things about yourself – and this is how you will grow and become a stronger, more well-rounded person.
You may face personal struggles during your transition into university and residence – whether that is related to academic, mental health, homesickness, relationships, or other difficulties. Doing this without a support system is hard – which is where Dons come in. As Dons, we want to take you under our wing and become your friend, mentor, emotional support, and guide. We are here to listen, connect you to resources, and support you.
My favourite part about being a Don is getting to know each of you and seeing you grow into yourselves as the year progresses. I look forward to sharing laughs and memories, and having late night chats.
If I could go back and talk to my first year self, I would tell them this: reach out to your Don and keep them in the loop; don’t be afraid to go to your prof’s office hours, connect with your residence’s Academic and Leadership Programmers (ALP) to develop study techniques and a study schedule, and don’t be too concerned about grades. It is common to have a 15% drop in your grade average between grade 12 and first year – but don’t worry! In my experience, first year was more difficult academically than second year. I wish I hadn’t stressed so much about grades and that I spent time doing self-exploration and learning about how I study best (e.g. what times of the day I’m most productive) instead.
Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need someone to talk to and want to feel heard and validated. Even if we do not know the answers to your questions, we will connect you to a resource that does. Whether you want help writing an email to residence counselling or academic counselling or just want to have life chats – we are here for you!
A Don from Ontario Hall
Dear Saugeen Students,
My name is Scotia and I am a Don on 7M/L in Saugeen Maitland Hall! I am majoring in music education and play the clarinet. In my free time, I love to read, listen to music, watch tik toks, and call/spend time with my friends and family. I decided to be a Don based off of the great first-year experience I had in residence. I wanted to give back by helping new students have a great year, find support, and a community of friends they can count on. My residence soph and Don both encouraged me to go for this position and their support helped me with the whole interview process. The support they gave me is what I want to give to my students.
If there is something I wish you knew about me and the staff here at Saugeen, it is that we really do care about you! I genuinely care about your wellbeing, if you’re making friends and how you are finding your classes. I know first-hand how tough first year can get and hope that through my support and the support from your sophs, we can help make the tough times better.
I feel like sometimes Dons are perceived as this authoritarian figure that works here just to bust parties and write people up, when in reality that is my least favorite part of the job! This year especially, we are so concerned about your health and safety regarding COVID. As a music major, I selfishly want everyone to follow the COVID rules so I can stay on campus to learn new instruments and play in an ensemble. I also want to be with my floor until April! The Dons may seem stuck up about the COVID rules, but it’s because we also want to stay on campus and want Saugeen to be a safe place to live. My wish is that you respect and follow the rules, thinking of others before yourself so that we can all stay on campus and in Saugeen.
Some advice I wish I heard in first year was that learning is a process. You won’t understand everything right away and it is okay to take your time understanding a concept. Going to office hours doesn’t magically make you perfectly understand, but they help give you the tools to work out the answer/concept. Another piece of advice is to be yourself! It is so cliché, but if you are your authentic self, then you will find your authentic friends. Join clubs that interest you, take time to meet your floor and other people in the building.
In the future, please always feel free to reach out to your Don if you have something going on, want to chat, or just say hi! I want to be there – not just as a staff member, but as someone who wants to get to know you on a personal level. Be kind and respectful to all the Dons in the building because they care about you too!
Scotia (Saugeen Maitland Hall 7M/L)
Dear Med-Syd frosh,
My name is Yihang and I am a Don at Med-Syd this year. I am a Don this year because I really enjoyed residence life both in first year and during my summer employment as a residence assistant where I took care of international students visiting Canada. Some things I like to do in my free time are listening to music (R&B and rap), playing video games, watching anime, and watching the UFC.
As a Don, I want to see all of my frosh thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. To my frosh at Med-Syd, I hope you understand our actions are aimed to maintain the well-being and safety of our community and all of its members. We don’t want to write you up just for fun, trust me (that’s just extra paperwork for us). I hope we can continue to follow the rules and regulations to keep ourselves safe.
During this time, it is crucial that we take care of each other, our community, and ourselves. Let’s make sure we don’t forget to physically distance, wear our masks, and limit our social bubble as much as possible in residence. Instead of attending parties or big gatherings, how does a floor game of skribbl.io or Jackbox sound? Also, don’t forget all the great virtual events your councils and clubs have planned for you!
This year must be really different from what you imagined your first year to be. Now more than ever, it is important to try to connect with people from your classes and clubs, whether that’s through Zoom calls or online games. People you meet in first year will become your valuable resources and friends in upper years.
I genuinely hope the pandemic can be under control soon so we can all get the most out of our time here in residence! When things are back to normal, I look forward to all the floor dinners, study dates, and game nights we are going to have! As for now, don’t be afraid to come to us for anything, we will help you to the best of our ability and direct you to the right resources. Together we can get through this difficult time.
Yihang (Medway-Sydenham CI3)
I would like to thank all of the Dons who contributed to this letter series for their openness and all Dons currently in residence for the work they are doing.
If you are a first year living in residence and wish to seek additional resources:
Free individual counselling for students who live on a Main Campus residence.
USC Peer Support Centre
A safe space in which students can express their feelings and explore resource options provided by the university, the city of London, and the USC.
Monday to Friday | 10AM-4PM | UCC 256
Free confidential mental health helpline.
24/7 | (866) 925-5454
Student Health Services
Multidisciplinary counselling services/medication consultations. Available through video calls.
Monday to Friday | 9AM-4PM | firstname.lastname@example.org