The Collegian
Sunday, September 27, 2020

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Little places big concern on student safety

Depending on whom you ask, the name Bernard Little produces vastly different responses - smiles, grimaces or a shrug of indifference.

But regardless of other people's perceptions, Little seems to have a clear understanding of who he is and what motivates him: people ... whether it be students, co-workers or his fiancee.

By profession, Little, 25, works as the Area Coordinator for the University Forest Apartments, Thomas Hall and Pacific House at the University of Richmond. But although he is new to the university this year, Little said working with students had been his passion since seventh grade.

"I was a child who really enjoyed challenging the rules," Little said. "I wasn't a rebel; I just wanted to know 'Why?'"

One day, Little's principal suggested he join the student government as a way to learn cooperation, a trait that seemed foreign to his independent nature, he said. As the oldest male in his family of seven - his parents divorced when he was 5 years old - Little said leadership and responsibility came naturally.

He listened to the suggestion and has participated in student life ever since. Yet even though he sought leadership positions, Little said his involvements had taught him teamwork and listening skills.

While attending Bowling Green State University for his undergraduate degree, Little served as president of Undergraduate Student Government, and met his fiancee, Krystal Pernell, through his involvement on campus.

Little said that after graduation he had wanted to continue pursuing his passion for working with college students, and he had enrolled in the Educational Leadership/College Student Personnel graduate program at Miami University in Ohio.

As he was finishing his degree, Little began looking for jobs that would allow him to continue connecting with students. He said that when he discovered Richmond College focused on men's development, he became interested in the school's open position.

"I didn't have a man in my life," he said. "So if I can be a positive example to other men, I want to be able to do that."

Little received a job offer and began working at Richmond in July. He moved into one of the university apartments on campus, a requirement of his position.

Although his job often keeps him busy, Little said he and Pernell made their relationship a priority, and meet each other every day for lunch.

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"My time here is just as important as my time with her," he said.

Little said his professional duties typically consisted of e-mails, meetings with Resident Assistants and Head Residents, administrative tasks and work with other student groups. He works as the adviser for the RC Senior Class Cabinet and the Explore UR World Program, in addition to serving on the Black History Month Committee and the MLK Day Planning Committee.

But regardless of his work responsibilities, students always take precedence, Little said.

"If ever there is a question or a suggestion, my door is always open," he said.

Senior Kristen Rhaney, a UFA resident assistant, interacts with Little on a regular basis. Every two weeks, Little meets individually with members of his student-staff to find out how they are doing and whether they need anything, Rhaney said.

"He has stressed that he is there to make our lives easier," she said, adding that Little was always an extremely flexible boss. "He understands the life of a college student. He can put himself in our shoes. He is realistic with his expectations and goals for RAs."

Similar to RAs, Little is required to document any prohibited situation he may see, although it is not the main focus of his position, Rhaney said. And if an RA writes up a student, Little's job is to talk to the student and evaluate the course of reprimand suggested by the RA.

Such was the case when senior Tom Sinclair met Little during the fall semester. Sinclair said he and his friends were hosting an unregistered party in his apartment on the Saturday before classes began.

"We were loud," Sinclair said, "and two RAs came over and wrote us up."

At the time, Sinclair said it had not been a big deal, because the RAs had told him and his two apartmentmates that the write-up was for an unregistered party and noise disturbance, which are lesser violations.

Sinclair said he received an e-mail from Little the following Monday in regards to an unauthorized party with alcohol, a word the RAs had not mentioned. Within university policy, alcohol violations carry more severe consequences than other violations.

Sinclair said Little read the write-up statement to them during the follow-up meeting.

"It never actually used the word alcohol, just the term 'drinking games,'" Sinclair said, explaining the liquid could have been anything. But Sinclair said they did not notice the report's omission of the word in the moment and therefore could not bring up the counterpoint.

When Little told the students their three options - accept the punishment, appeal the charge or resign from the university - Little warned them that their affiliation with a fraternity would not help their case should they choose to appeal, Sinclair said.

"That annoyed me, because I felt like that was pretty unprofessional," Sinclair said, noting that the men weren't even affiliated with a campus fraternity. "I was quite off-put by that."

They ended up choosing to accept the punishment - fines and event-registration probation - but Sinclair said he was still unpleased with the situation, and considered filing a complaint.

"He gave us punishment based on the implications [that there was alcohol], not what the RAs wrote down," Sinclair said. "I didn't really think that was fair."

Little said no formal complaints had been filed against him, and he had an open door policy for student concerns.

"[Concerns] are real," he said. "They are honest, and I welcome them."

Although he never intends to ruin students' social lives, Little said he realized his responsibility to make sure students stay safe sometimes placed him in the role of the bad guy.

"But I'd rather me be the bad cop [within the safety of the university], then students actually meeting Mr. Cop when they are in the real world," Little said. "We want students to be safe and be responsible."

Patrick Benner, associate dean for Residence Life and Little's supervisor, said he thought Little has been getting better connected to students and starting to understand the culture of Richmond.

"With any young professional you are going to have a few bumps in the road," Benner said, mentioning a mistake in communication he himself had with a student earlier that week. "Everyone makes mistakes."

Benner said Little's listening skills often made a positive impact during staff meetings.

"He keeps calm and quiet, and then offers a rational approach that takes a lot of things into consideration," Benner said.

Little said his position had allowed him the opportunity to learn and grow as a professional.

"I still don't know it all," he said. "I want to make sure I'm constantly learning and trying to improve."

Contact staff writer Jill Cavaliere at jill.cavaliere@richmond.edu.

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