By day, Assistant Dean of Students Kevin Butler’s door in North College is always open to students, but in the evenings, if Butler is not attending a campus event or spending time with his family, he can be found acting, writing, or watching his beloved Baltimore Ravens hit the gridiron.
Butler left the University in 2007 after serving in the position for over three years but returned this year to Middletown for a second stint. The Argus sat down with Butler to discuss his award-winning screenplays, his grandmother’s delicious macaroni and cheese, and his vision for equal opportunity.
The Argus: Why did you decide to leave Wesleyan originally, and what tempted you to return to the University?
Kevin Butler: My wife was employed at Quinnipiac University, and when her office was dissolved, she was able to find employment at Assumption College in Worchester, Mass. We relocated there for her, and I actually continued to work here for a little while after until I was able to find something closer. I worked as the Dean of Student Conduct at Providence College and then as the Assistant Dean of Students at Quinsigamond Community College in Worchester, which was really close to [our] home. I accepted opportunities that made sense geographically for my family and me, but they were also on par with my career aspirations in terms of working professionally with students.
I stayed in contact with Dean [Rick] Culliton and Dean [Mike] Whaley, but I had no idea that an opportunity like this would arise just six months ago. When I saw the job listing, immediately a light bulb went off in my head, and now I am back.
A: What qualities does it take to be the Assistant Dean of Students?
KB: The dedication to student success is necessary, and also the commitment to help cultivate these minds into more responsible and educated citizens, who are ready to go out and engage with the global community. Furthermore, attention to detail, patience, and the ability to think critically on issues that arise are vital. Then, most importantly, having an open door, and really being able to listen when students either need to vent or are asking for some kind of assistance. A position like this is the perfect training for making the next step into the dean of students, not now, but maybe at some point down my career path.
A: What do you like to do outside the classroom?
KB: Other than being a student professional for 17-18 years, I am also an actor and earned my Masters in Fine Arts and Performance from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This is what I did in between my stints in student affairs.
Acting is what I do when and if I’m not here. It is hard to do with the kids, and if I do get an opportunity these days, it’s quick work, where I can get it done in a day or two. I long to be back on the stage at some point. Maybe that will happen once my kids get older and they rely less on me.
A: How did you start to get into theater?
KB: At St. Michael’s College in Vermont, I was dead set on becoming a sports analyst. They did not have a television journalism program, so I spent a lot of time interviewing athletes, coaches, and going to town halls, but that didn’t do it for me. After some research, the theater major seemed like something that I might want to do. I had done some theater in high school, and I really liked it. I remember walking into the McCarthy Arts Center and deciding that I was going to become a film major. It just kind of snowballed after that.
A: What are your top three favorite shows?
KB: “Othello”; “The Death of Papa,” written by Horton Foote, [which] was a highlight for me because I got to act with Matthew Broderick; and “A Christmas Carol,” which I performed at the Hartford Stage during my first tenure at Wesleyan.
A: Can you tell me a little bit about your screenplay, “George Love”?
KB: I found myself concentrating on writing after my kids were born. The theses in my program at UNC are all one-person shows. “Searching for Harry” was my project, and Harry is essentially the same person as George from “George Love.” “George Love” is about my grandfather who was born in the 1920s, and he finds himself responsible for raising seven children during a tumultuous time in the United States. In addition, there were the trials and tribulations that went along with finding a job, keeping a job, putting food on the table, trying to be a good husband, and fighting against racism and the Jim Crow laws. It received third place at a Maryland film festival and second place at a Rhode Island festival.
Subsequently, I penned a second screenplay called “Misfits,” and I have written a 60-minute drama called “East Side Eye” about growing up in Baltimore. It highlights a group of friends who are trying to get to college and get an education while dealing with the mean streets of Baltimore in the 1980s and early 1990s. I am almost ready to start sending it out for revisions.
A: What is your favorite food?
KB: My late grandmother’s macaroni and cheese.
A: Was there a specific point where you first knew you wanted to work with students as a career?
KB: I knew I was good at it when I become a resident assistant at Saint Michael’s. I think I had a knack for listening to my peers and being able to put things in perspective for them.
A: What does social justice mean to you?
KB: It means that everyone has the access and ability to use the resources that any school, branch of government, law enforcement, or library has to offer. And that no one’s right to gain access to those things is impeded. There must be equal opportunity at all costs, fairness, and the ability to speak.
A: What do you think makes someone who presides over judicial board cases effective?
KB: It is an interesting concept and process. There is a balancing act that is really important where there is a different way of looking at a particular situation. Me, as an adult having many different life experiences, having children, having the perspective of how the University or college might respond to the incident at other institutions of higher learning, gives me a unique perspective on how to approach certain situations here at Wesleyan. That is not to say that students on the board will think that same way, but that is okay. I think for us at Wesleyan, our student judicial process is about the fairest that I have seen, and is developmental in nature. The most important thing is during the student’s process, how do we hold the student accountable for unwarranted behavior but also give them the tools and resources they need so that before they put themselves in the same situation again, they will think before they act?
A: What is the biggest challenge of your job?
KB: Trying to make sure that we reach out to and provide resources for as many students as we can. That is a challenge not because we have a hard time doing it, but students have to be ready for that.
A: If you wanted students to describe you in one word, what would it be, and why?
KB: It would be “approachable.” I think sometimes students might not reach out because they might think that someone in my position might respond negatively to a situation, but it is not about that. When a student walks through my door, I always ask how can I help you? I might not be able to help them in the way that they want, or I might not be the person that can get them what they need. But what I can do is pick up the phone, turn on the computer, walk across the hall to Dean Whaley’s office, and say I have a student who needs something, and that I need to help facilitate a solution to this problem.