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Resident directors in barracks give cadets another trusted adult to turn to

Tom Coyne

Resident Director Gretchen Sweetland speaks to a cadet in South Barrack.

 

Aug. 30, 2022

Many Culver Military Academy cadets returning to school this month encountered an unfamiliar sight in their barracks: resident directors. 

Resident directors were added to give cadets another adult to turn to for guidance, support, and instruction and to create a positive command climate in the barracks, said Col. Mike Squires, CMA’s commandant of cadets. 

“I thought it would be helpful for those boys to have another trusted adult on campus who knows them and looks out for them,” Squires said. “I wanted the boys to have someone who had a relationship with them to help them navigate both Culver and being a teenager, creating the right conditions for boys to grow, develop, and flourish.”  

Squires arrived at Culver in 2019 and observed that the Culver Girls Academy had resident directors, which, along with counselors, provided about one adult for every 21 CGA students. CMA had counselors and a few military mentors, but the adult-to-student ratio was still twice as high. 

Squires has a daughter who is a junior at CGA, and he noticed the strong relationship she has with her resident director. He believes most girls at CGA have similar relationships with their RDs. He thought that relationship might be missing for some of the more than 475 boys here. 

“I noticed this distinct difference in relationships,” he said. 

Squires said he had near universal support from school leaders, the Board of Trustees and everyone else when he proposed adding the RDs to CMA’s oversight model. 

The job of the RDs is not to be constantly looking over the boys’ shoulders, Squires said. It’s also not their job to constantly tell the boys what to do. Squires wants the resident directors to provide guidance, to nudge them in the right direction, remind them of things they should do and to provide counseling when needed. 

 

West Barrack resident director Dulce Vazquez talks with cadets.

 

“I want them asking, ‘Hey, how did that go? Can we do that better next time?’ Or, ‘Hey, that part didn't work. What do you think you could do tomorrow night to maybe get that point across a little bit better? Maybe you should demonstrate how to complete a particular challenging task a couple more times,’ ” Squires said. 

While students sometimes might get frustrated at another student who is struggling, the job of the resident director is to educate, correct and reinforce, encouraging students to try again, Squires said. 

Thomas Collins ’23 (Bloomfield, Michigan) and Leo Brummell ’23 (Niles, Michigan) said some cadets were a bit leery about resident directors when they were first announced because they were concerned it would mean a big change in barracks life. But they said the change has been subtle. 

“I think it’s actually a great addition for the guys because it gives another set of eyes on them. But it’s also another adult to build a connection with. It’s important to try to build those connections,” Brummell said. 

Collins, a member of Band, said his resident director, Paul Davis, has been a positive influence in making sure everything is running smoothly in Lauridsen Barrack, which has 70 boys. 

“It’s been good because we’re the biggest unit,” Collins said. “He’s been welcoming, and we’ve been welcoming of him. Just day to day, he does a lot to help us out, whether making sure we’re in our rooms at night or just checking in on us.”  

Brummell, a member of Battery C, said his resident director, Gretchen Sweetland, makes food for the cadets in South Barrack, including lasagna, cookies, doughnuts, and root beer floats.   

“So, we’ve had an array of awesome things, so the guys are happy about that,” he said. “I think she’s probably going to become like a mom for a lot of us. That’s a super special thing. You’re not getting that anywhere else in high school.” 

They also like having her golden retriever, Bob, around. 

Brummell said most of the cadets he’s talked to approve of the change. 

“She understands we’re teenage boys. We’re going to be playing music in the hallways. We’re going to be having fun,” he said.  

The RDs do enforce rules, though, like making sure cadets turn their phones in at the right time and encouraging them to get their work done. They also help solve problems. 

Brummell said Battery C members were trying to decide the most efficient way to move a pile of full laundry bags from the first floor to their rooms. Sweetland came up with the idea of creating teams to pass the bags along more efficiently. 

“It made it a lot easier,” he said. 

For now, there are four resident directors for nine units because not all the barracks have enough living space to accommodate an RD. The plan is to add three more RDs when the Main Barrack is rebuilt and two more when North Barrack and East Barrack are rebuilt, giving each barrack an RD. 

Squires believe the resident directors are having an immediate impact. 

“The CMA RDs have exceeded my expectations already, making an impact in each barrack on campus” he said. 

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