Southeastern’s Dean of Students, Dr. Gabe Willis, has used his Twitter and Instagram following to promote a sense of school unity among students and to create a direct line from himself to all students.
Dr. Willis repurposed his Twitter and Instagram accounts when he became the Interim Dean of Students in August of 2018 and continued when he became the permanent Dean in February of 2019, he said. “When I became interim is really when I decided to change my name on Twitter to Dean Willis and reach out to students to become as accessible as I can,” Dr. Willis said.
Being accessible through these accounts meant that Dr. Willis would receive tweets and direct messages with concerns students had that they previously were only able to send via email, he said. “I went to meet them where they are,” Dr. Willis said, “It really seems to work.” His social media accounts have reached 3,715 followers on Twitter and 2,737 followers on Instagram as of Oct. 15.
As the dean of students, Dr. Willis described that his role was to be the “pulse of the campus” keeping a finger on everything that is going on, he said. This includes supervising Student Publications, Recreational Sports and Wellness, Office for Student Engagement and Student Advocacy and Accountability, Dr. Willis said.
In addition to supervising those four functional areas, the dean of students can also be a last resort effort to solving student’s problem. “I don’t see myself as the ultimate problem solver but if a student comes, I would like to bridge them to the right person,” Dr. Willis said. Even if the dean of students cannot solve the problem, the position should be available to all students, Dr. Willis said.
The problems that students come to Dr. Willis for help with include: issues with faculty, hazing, scenarios in which students get into accidents and can’t return to school and last resort academic issues, he said. “Anything a student will email me, they will ask me on Twitter,” Dr. Willis said. Having a direct access to the dean of students through social media streamlines the process of getting these issues heard by the dean and handled promptly, he said.
While creating an accessible line of communication for students, Dr. Willis also uses his account to interact with individual students on a more personal note. “I always see him interact with students constantly,” said Southeastern student Logan Graffia, “He’s very interactive and a quick responder.” Dr. Willis even posts about his family and personal life in hopes of letting students know that he is just like anyone else to create an approachable image to students, he said.
On one of his recent Instagram and Twitter posts, Dr. Willis sparked some playful controversy about his love for the Dallas Cowboys before their game against the Saints on Sep. 29. As soon as the posts went up, the onslaught of memes and comments began. “They let me have it,” Dr. Willis said. After the Saints won 12 to 10, Dr. Willis even posted a video of himself wearing Saints shirt in defeat.
Dr. Willis retweets student accomplishments, posts pictures with students and reaches out about events going on throughout campus, he said. “I hope that that makes them feel like somebody is paying attention, like somebody is observing what they’re doing, and that somebody cares about what their doing,” Dr. Willis said, “Even if I may not get to share or retweet or like everybody’s good news just know that somebody’s watching and somebody is paying attention.”
Dr. Willis’s Twitter account is @drgabewillis and @dr_gabewillis on Instagram.