By Belen Edwards
Helping students feel safe has always been at the heart of Lynda Daher’s work. Before coming to the University of Chicago in 2011, Lynda worked for the Broward County, Florida, School District. When she first relocated there from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she began substitute teaching and assisting at a before-school program, working with students from under resourced communities.
“I remember one time close to the weekend, I said to one student - he was about 6 - ‘I bet you’re happy that the weekend’s coming so you are off school for a couple of days.’ He said, ‘Oh no, I love my school. I wish I could live here forever. I would sleep so peacefully.’ It just broke my heart to think that this child saw his school as safer than his home,” Daher said.
Drawn further by her desire to help students in need, Daher accepted a job there as a school safety coordinator. “It was a contrast from UChicago,” Daher said. “I counseled students who were being pressured to join gangs or use drugs. Seeing a need for emergency management services, my job expanded to include developing crisis response plans and managing emergency drills. That’s where my passion for student safety came from.”
Daher now brings that passion to her position as the Assistant Dean of Students in the University and Associate Director of Student Emergency Response Systems.
In her role, Daher supervises the Deans-on-Call, Sexual Assault Deans-on-Call, and Bias Education and Support Team (BEST). She also manages Dean-on-Call coverage for high profile speakers and special events. “I volunteer for each program,” Daher said. “This ensures that I remain current and understand the types of challenges my staff faces. If they are managing a complex situation and want a second opinion, I can advise them from experience.” She also serves on campus-wide diversity committees and is a Mental Health First Aid instructor.
Daher is proud of the partnership she has established with the University of Chicago Police Department. “The goal was to bring CSL and UCPD together to build collaboration,” she said. Some ways she has done so is to have regular meet-and-greets with police and the on-call staff, being invited to sit on police interview panels, and by adding an officer to the BEST program. In 2014, she was recognized by the Department of Safety and Security with the Community Service Award for her efforts.
“Having good working relationships with UCPD and other campus partners is essential when it comes to responding to students’ concerns, be they reports of bias, instances of gender-based violence, or finding resources to resolve academic matters,” Daher said. Her and her team respond to students in crisis and help them navigate these critical moments in their lives.
“The toughest part for us is that we don’t typically know the outcomes. We connect students with their Deans of Students or other support resources, and once that happens, our job is done. Deans-on-Call make connections with students so that can be difficult – not knowing how the student is doing,” said Daher. In the future, she is hoping to build opportunities to expand case management. For now, though, Daher said she focuses on what is important: “I know our work is important. We empower students by giving them the skills they need to overcome challenging situations. These skills will follow them so that they feel safe not only during their time at UChicago but where ever they go. It is gratifying.”