News  Tracy ends a 28-year era in residences

After 28 years, Flo Tracy retired from her position as Director of Residences Friday. Throughout her tenure, she was a favourite of students and administrators alike, admired for her easygoing, accessible approach. The Daily caught up with Tracy last week as she trained new Executive Director of Residences, Michael Porritt.

McGill Daily: How did you get started with McGill residences?

Flo Tracy: I started in 1967 as a nurse in the student health service. In 1979, they needed somebody to fill in as Warden at RVC for one year. Well, they decided the job liked me and I liked the job, so they appointed me for a six-year term, and then I moved out of RVC in 2004, so I was warden for 25 years at RVC. I was appointed director of residences in 1980.

MD: How are Mcgill residences different from what they were 20 years ago?

FT: They’re much bigger. When I started there were only five residences and Bishop Mountain Hall. Now we have 32 buildings. Then we had 1,100 students, and now we have 2,700 students. They have grown quite a bit, but basically the 19-year-old is still the same 19-year-old. They’re growing, and learning, and experimenting, and feeling insecure, and having fun. So the students themselves are the same, more or less.

MD: What else hasn’t changed about McGill residences?

FT: What hasn’t changed is the basic respect rule, that was there when I arrived, and we’ve built on it and fostered it. I think that’s what makes McGill residences so unique and the students so responsive to the leadership by the hall directors and the Dons and Floor Fellows. That respect is transmitted to the Dons and Floor Fellows at orientation by me and the other directors, and we pass it on to the students on their floors at the first floor meeting, and the students respond. They like being respected and treated as adults.

MD: What does the Director of Residences do?

FT: The job encompasses everything that is involved with housing the student, from the quality of life, to maintaining the buildings, and to managing the staff, and then interacting with the University community on committees and councils.

MD: How did your interaction with students affect your role as an administrator?

FT: Living in RVC for 25 years with the students helped me understand and be on the ground with students, [as has] my style of leadership, of being on the ground, with not a lot of layers in [residence administration], but a very flat organization. Students know that they call me Flo and can walk into my office all the time…. You have to be sincere, or they see through you. I think I’ve managed to gain their trust and confidence over the years, and I’ve maintained it by being consistent. By being that way, I transmit it to the staff, and they pick it up. It becomes a culture in residences.

MD: How have your personal beliefs factored into that?

FT: What I’ve learned from working with students over the years is that they are unique individuals in a unique space, and they really need to be understood and cared for as opposed to judged. So many people are quick to judge, especially young people. It’s so important to nurture as opposed to judge, and to encourage and to build confidence instead of having someone become something they’re not. I think there’s a way to do it, and to make the correction without being punitive.

MD: At the end of 28 years, why are you choosing to step down?

FT: There comes a time. I was asked two years ago by the senior administration what my plans were, because they need to plan for replacement. It seemed like a long time when I was asked two years ago to say Fall 2008. I’ve achieved a lot, so I’ll step up and let somebody else take over, and I look forward to my next career, whatever it is.

MD: Do you plan to stay involved with McGill residences?

FT: I don’t know…because you don’t want to crowd out the new director. I will stay in touch with the students of this year, and the staff, of course. I’ve made a lot of friends over the years, so I will be in contact with the directors and with those students on an ad hoc basis. But I will certainly be involved with McGill.

MD: Is it odd to leave in the middle of a year?

FT: I think it was nice, because it gave me a chance to celebrate with the students as opposed to being in the summer when they’re not here, and get used to the idea that I won’t be around. It’s going to be a big void in my life, there’s no question…. I think it’s time. You don’t want to stay in a position so long that people are wondering where you’re going to go, especially when you’ve been around for so long.

MD: You’re training the new executive director of residences this week. How is it going?

FT: The new executive director is Michael Porrin, who comes from Trent University. I’m really very happy working with Mike this week. He certainly understands students and student residences, and I’m sure I’m handing it over to a capable leader.

MD: Last year, the floor fellows set up a D-league hockey team, the Flo Tracys. How was that for you?

FT: I love it. The last game when they won last year, it was like the Stanley Cup. They did me a great honour.

MD: What do you hope students will remember about McGill residences when they leave them?

FT: That it was a caring place for them, that they felt safe, that they felt support, and that they grew during their time here from what they learned outside of the classroom.

– Compiled by Will Vanderbilt