Collegiality and respect are the two qualities that Myrt Westphal, associate dean for student life, values most highly among the students and colleagues with whom she works at Swarthmore.
"I feel very lucky to be here," Myrt says. "It's a unique place, not just because of the exceptional students, but because of my colleagues and the wealth of knowledge I'm always able to tap into."
Myrt directs the student life team, which oversees housing, the resident assistants, the student judicial system, and all student activities. In addition, she advises many students individually and oversees the on-call system for the dean's staff. She moved into this position in 2004 after many years as assistant dean, director of residential life, and coordinator of services for students with disabilities. In addition, she served as the Lang Scholars' advisor for five years. Before joining the Dean's Office, she was director of the Adventures in Math & Science summer enrichment program for inner city high school students, with Swarthmore students working with her as residence and teaching assistants.
After earning an A.B. from Occidental College and an Ed.M. from Boston University, Myrt taught junior high school art and then was a "stay-at-home mom" and community activist. Now with nearly 20 years at Swarthmore under her belt and two adult children, Westphal's experience in working with young people is vast.
"Every interaction is a learning experience," she says. "And if you know a person's story, you know why they're in the position they're in. I learn from my friends, from my children, from literature, from travel, and from my colleagues. It all informs my work."
Myrt says her "deaning" style is very much like her parenting style. "If you treat a young person with respect and kindness backed with a clear principle for your actions, students will learn and feel positive about the experience."