Following the announcement of the departure of John Blackshear, associate vice president of student affairs and dean of students, some students applauded his approachability and reflected on his presence.
Blackshear’s departure impacts many divisions of campus: the student affairs office where he serves as dean of students, the Trinity dorm where he serves as faculty-in-residence and the psychology department where he serves as an adjunct professor.
Blackshear has served as a mentor as much as an administrator since his start in 2001, and he is remembered for his impact in both roles. He will begin a new position as the inaugural vice president of student life at the University of Rochester on Jan. 1.
As the faculty in residence of Trinity, the largest dorm on East Campus, it was small gestures like remembering everyone’s names, hosting doughnut socials every Sunday and weekly Zoom check-ins during the COVID-19 pandemic that first made students feel at home, said Bentley Choi, Trinity ’23.
Despite his upcoming departure, Blackshear has continued to stay involved with the new freshman class. Many first-years saw Blackshear on move-in day, walking up and down the long car lines and chatting with incoming students and families through their rolled-down windows.
A campus leader
Blackshear quickly became a familiar face to East Campus students, regularly seen walking his American bulldog. First-year Evan Bulan remembers stopping to pet the dog with a group of friends, not knowing that his owner was the dean of students.
“Dean Blackshear told us, ‘Oh, and by the way, I’m your Dean,’ so we started asking him about everything, and he was talking to us like he was our friend as opposed to a Dean,” he said.
For some, the approachability of Dean Blackshear will be missed most. Students have grown accustomed to talking to him about anything and seeing him in casual settings, which has helped make Duke a home away from home.
Bulan noted that his “random” conversation with Blackshear made him feel more welcome on campus.
“[Duke] is an environment where I don’t need to worry too much about social status or any structure like that,” he said. “I can be myself, and I can even talk to a guy who is the literal dean of students and have him talk about the most random topics.”
Some students had the opportunity to work closely with Blackshear at the Academic Advising Center as well.
Despite knowing Blackshear for only a few months, first-year Maria Ding was moved by his kindness when providing suggestions on her class registration and major pursuits at the AAC.
Building a home away from home
In Blackshear’s 23 years at Duke, he has a wide range of experiences to pull from.
“If you go up to him and say ‘I want to do physical therapy,’ there will be someone he can connect you with,” Choi said.
Choi remembers talking to Blackshear about her ambitions to pursue the pre-law track at Duke.
“When it comes to making decisions, I always chicken out, and Dean Blackshear said to do whatever you want and see what happens. And that’s why I am here,” Choi said.
Their relationship evolved into one that would shape her Duke journey. Choi said that Blackshear and his wife Kimberly became people she could confide in about her concerns, and having such adult figures away from home helped her make many good memories at Duke.
Similar sentiments of approachability were shared by first-year students that attended the inaugural doughnut Sunday.
First-year Emilie Dorrestein spoke to Blackshear at the event and was surprised to learn that he had spent time in her home town of Lexington, Ky.
“Knowing someone who’s lived in your hometown, however small it may be, is super nice,” Dorrestein said. “His absence will be felt.”
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