On a chilly Thursday morning, petting her three-year-old mixed-breed Cavachon, Mambo, Ezra Stiles College Dean Camille Lizarríbar — who was named Yale’s new dean of student affairs in December — was talkative and relaxed in her office, rattling off jokes and eliciting laughter from her assistant and a student worker nearby. The care and warmth she brings to people around her, students interviewed said, are her defining characteristics, and they will play a critical role as Lizarríbar assumes a position that will be more important than ever after a tumultuous semester on campus.
“It’s obvious to everyone that we are in an era of profound change in Yale College,” Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway told the News. “And while we had very compelling external candidates in the finalist pool, there was something reassuring that we would bring someone into Student Affairs who was already up to speed on so many aspects of the office and of this particular campus culture.”
Lizarríbar is no stranger to developing policies or working with students. She was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and she worked as an attorney both in government and in private practice, as well as lectured at Harvard, before coming to Yale. Here, she has taught classes in Directed Studies, led the Freshman Scholars at Yale program and mentored Stilesians. She is also a single mother of two boys, eight-year-old Tadeo and 11-year-old Arcadio. Students from her college described Lizarríbar as both professional and down-to-earth, making sure her students are on the right path academically but also connecting with them on a personal level. Lizarríbar is a self-professed zombie lover and an avid traveler and language learner. Among an array of other hobbies and interests, watching “The Walking Dead” — a popular study break in Stiles — is a personal favorite, students noted.
Lizarríbar’s appointment concluded a nearly yearlong search for a new dean of student affairs. The position had been vacant since Marichal Gentry left Yale last summer to serve as dean of students at his alma mater, Sewanee: the University of the South. Following Holloway’s announcement, students and administrators alike said they are excited to see Lizarríbar in her new position. Especially after almost two months of campus protests surrounding racial climate last fall, many — including Lizarríbar herself — have expressed high hopes for the role she will be able to play in leading Yale to become a better and more inclusive campus.
“The events this fall on campus showed that we have a robust community that is willing to have honest conversation, no matter how difficult, and that is something to be proud of,” Lizarríbar told the News. “I will be collaborating closely with Dean [of Student Engagement Burgwell] Howard, and working together with Dean Holloway, the Yale College Dean’s Office and other Yale administrators to address not just those issues, but all the ways in which we can build a stronger and better Yale community — for everyone.”
Holloway added that Lizarríbar’s familiarity with Yale — and especially the residential college system — was a major asset as the administration looked for someone to fill the position. Lizarríbar’s deep understanding of Yale’s student body will be an “excellent resource” for her colleagues and for Yale College, he added.
“I have always had a very positive relationship with Dean [Lizarríbar]. From the moment she was hired in Stiles I could see that she had just the right mix of good cheer, seriousness of purpose, and determination to do right by Stilesians,” Holloway said. “I expect that she will bring the same energy and outlook to [the Office of] Student Affairs.”
In the Yale College Dean’s Office, Lizarríbar will serve many of the same functions as her predecessor: She will be Holloway’s senior adviser in undergraduate affairs and activities, which include helping students transition into Yale, organize extracurricular time and navigate University regulations. She will also work closely with Dean of Academic Affairs Mark Schenker to lead the residential college deans and respond to cases of emergency that go beyond a particular residential college. Given Lizarríbar’s nearly six years of experience as the dean of Stiles, Holloway said he is confident in her ability to advise the residential college system.
New to her role as dean of student affairs, however, will be Lizarríbar’s close partnership with Howard to coordinate student programs and initiatives, oversee aspects of undergraduate student life and foster an inclusive community on campus. Howard, who was welcomed to campus at the beginning of this school year, occupies the newly created dean of student engagement position, which now divides and shares responsibilities with the dean of student affairs. In a September interview with the News, Howard said the dean of student affairs will focus on the programmatic aspects of student life, such as student organizations, while he will supervise the cultural centers and develop new programming for first-generation college students, among many other projects. Given Lizarríbar’s experience working with first-generation students, however, these boundaries may still be blurry, with the two deans’ responsibilities and expertise overlapping.
“It is my hope that together, with the input and support of students and faculty, [Lizarríbar and I] can continue to think of ways to help Yale be even more inclusive for all our students. Her interest and work with some of our lower-resourced and first-generation college students, along with her awareness of many of the issues that Yale students face, will make her a tremendous partner for all of us within the YCDO,” Howard told the News in December. “Besides all of that, she is just fun — so I look forward to working with her, even closer, as a colleague.”
Howard added that, during her time as a residential college dean, Lizarríbar has already given much thought to creating student-centered services that address alcohol, student well-being, housing and the freshman counseling program. She will be able to have an even broader impact in her expanded role, Howard said.
Nine Stiles students interviewed all spoke positively of their experiences with Lizarríbar, who has been dean of the residential college since 2010. She was “funny,” “relatable” and “not too formal,” even though she occupied an authoritative position as their academic adviser in the college. Freshmen also said that her welcoming demeanor at the beginning of the year helped ease their transition into college.
“I am super happy for her as the new dean of student affairs, and I think it’s great for the general student body,” Adam Zucker ’17 said. “But I will miss her in Stiles. She’s a big presence here.”
For Lizarríbar, though her job title may be changing, her approach to engaging with students will not. When asked what she would say to her students both in Stiles and in the entire Yale community, she replied, “That’s easy.”
“My door is always open,” she said.