By Victoria Gill-Gomez and Erica Quinones
After her recent promotion to Director of Student Engagement, Sarah Tansits departed Washington College on Friday, Sept. 18 after accepting the director of student activities position at Hood College in Frederick, Md.
“Sarah is a well-respected and dedicated member of the Student Affairs team. Her many contributions to WC are too vast to name but our team valued that Sarah could always be counted on to go beyond her duties and never refuse an opportunity to grow and learn,” Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Candace Wannamaker wrote in a Sept. 16 email.
Tansits joined the WC community in 2018 as the assistant director of student engagement. During her two years at the College, she filled many roles, including as advisor of Greek Life, Sexual Assault Response Advocate Coordinator, later transitioning S.A.R.A. to the current Peer SMART program.
WC was the next step on Tansits’s professional journey. Not only was it her first job after graduate school, it was her third career.
After working as a direct service professional and in marketing and sales, Tansits realized neither was what she wanted.
Rather, she enjoyed working with college students as a sorority chapter advisor, seeing them grow, develop, and change.
As a member of Phi Mu, Tansits found it easy to relate with members of Greek Life because of their shared experiences.
So, she decided to quit her job and go to graduate school for higher education administration.
After graduation, she discovered WC at the 2018 Placement Exchange, a student affairs career placement conference. She applied and joined the Student Affairs team that year.
At WC, Tansits found herself cultivating those strong relationships with Greek Life students again.
“What makes Sarah [Tansits] really special, professionally to work with, is that she really cares about how you are doing as a person and not just what you are contributing to the organization, which I think is so important especially in college when everyone has so many things going on emotionally, academically,” senior Colleen Larson, president of the Panhellenic Council, said. “She always prioritizes the individual over the activity. I think that is something really special to find in an advisor.”
This sentiment was shared by senior and President of Kappa Sigma Fraternity, Omicron Pi chapter Colin Levi, who was part of the team who interviewed Tansits in 2018.
For Levi, Greek Life and Tansits are tied together. When Tansits joined the Student Affairs team in 2018, Levi was a sophomore involved with the Student Events Board. It was during this time that Tansits encouraged him to join Greek Life. Tansits walking into the Student Engagement Office in Hodson Hall Commons and telling Levi to go to informal rush was the push he needed to get his foot in Greek Life’s door.
“She really has all the skills and the tools to be an excellent SA professional. She’s got the enthusiasm for it, but she has sort of a great way of matching that with both being thoughtful and supportive of students, but also not afraid to challenge them respectfully in areas,” Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Sarah Feyerherm said.
In supporting Greek Life students, Tansits said her focus was finding better ways to create community.
Be it by restructuring bylaws or helping students get past the mindset of “it’s always been this way,” she wanted to leave them in a better position.
“She did the best she could possibly do with the resources that she had. She has a lot of jobs that were put onto her…and she was so, so dedicated to [the students],” Larson said.
That dedication did not end when campus closed.
Over the summer, when Greek Life took a break along with the academic departments, Larson and Tansits worked closely to address discussions surrounding racial injustice and the effect it has on Greek Life.
Their work resulted in the institution of pledge statements for inclusion, the incorporation of a diversity, equity, and inclusion section into the Panhellenic and Interfraternity Councils’ bylaws, relevant awards to hold chapters accountable, and a series of book discussions that were in collaboration with different administrative and faculty departments of the College.
While Tansits was influential within Greek Life, she also served as S.A.R.A. coordinator, where she was developing the Peer SMART program.
Tansits said she wanted to “go bigger” with S.A.R.A. In fall 2019, she was considering how to strengthen the program and make it more accessible to students.
The S.A.R.A. team consisted of only staff and faculty, which might be intimidating for students. So, Tansits played with the idea that students talk to students.
While attending a conference in 2019, Tansits met another group who were using a peer model for sexual assault advocacy. Tansits tweaked the system, and thus Peer SMART was created.
Tansits worked to found the program, but did not see its launch, with its planned operations being postponed due to COVID-19.
With the many roles Tansits covered now open, filling their spots is a question being pursued, according to Dean Feyerherm.
For now, Dean Feyerherm said they are relying on several people to cover different areas of responsibility.
Tennis Coach Oliver Reynolds is willing to help advise the Interfraternity Council, and they have reached out to a couple people regarding Peer SMART, according to Dean Feyerherm. However, they are still sorting out who is taking what responsibilities and how best to align the talent within Student Affairs.
According to Larson, both the Panhellenic Council and the Interfraternity Councils’ executive boards are learning to function independently due to Tansits’s absence, but Wannamaker will advise the Panhellenic Council for the time being.
Whoever takes over Tansits’s roles needs experience working with students in a group, the respect of students, and the ability to motivate students. For Peer SMART in particular, they need knowledge of working with sensitive information, knowing their limits, and who to go to for support, according to Dean Feyerherm.
While who takes over for Tansits is being discussed, Tansits herself looks forward to the new opportunities offered to her at Hood College, including being able to help more students, gaining more supervisory experience, and possibly entering a doctoral program.
“[I] really do feel like since I’ve seen Sarah as an applicant to her leaving the school, I’m in a lot of ways sad. I haven’t known Greek Life without her, but I’m excited for her to move on. I have a lot of gratitude for the things Sarah does,” Levi said.