Keeping Doors Open

Tenley Rooney
Associate Dean of Students Stephanie Harris sees opportunities everywhere

During a sunrise ceremony several years ago, Associate Dean of Students Stephanie Harris discovered a piece of herself. Harris, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts, received her native name from the tribe’s medicine man. “As I spoke to him, he said I spoke fluidly and moved my hand like a feather,” recalls Harris. “He said there was a calmness to how I spoke.”
Harris, also known as Talking Feather, keeps a reminder of that moment inside her office on the garden level of the Friedman Community Center. A painting of two feathers hangs on the wall, in recognition of her indigenous heritage.
Opportunities for introspection and exploration are part of what drew Harris to education. It began when she was a student at Milton Academy in her hometown of Milton, Massachusetts, where Harris marveled at how the world was at her doorstep through opportunities at an independent school.
“The capacity to be a learner in multiple disciplines within a diverse group of people with varying points of view was a dream come true,” remembers Harris. "I decided to go to Milton for a few reasons, but part of it was learning about how you can be so many different kinds of a student in one place, not having to choose a box or a lane.”
Upon graduation, she felt a similar pull to Brown University. Harris entered undergraduate school, considering pre-med. After a few biology classes, she made a 180-degree turn and filled her class schedule with courses in psychology, ethnic studies, and Africana studies.
“My go-to in any situation is finding ways to close as few doors as possible, and keep as many avenues open as I can,” says Harris. That approach worked, and she graduated from Brown with a degree in education and then pursued social work in graduate school.
Her non-linear exploration led her back to education, where curiosity is central to the experience. It also led her back to independent schools, where she first made the connection between the value of her interests and its fit with scholarly pursuits. One of her responsibilities in the Dean of Students Office is teaching Living in Community (LINC) classes, the School’s residential life curriculum, to Fourth Form students. The material looks at life through a socio-emotional lens, leading class conversations to unexpected places. “We had an entertaining conversation about whether school is a social construct,” recalls Harris. “I love those impromptu conversations. It wasn't necessarily the goal of the class, but it fit what we were talking about, and it was a point of passion for the students. It was a lot of fun to see this organic, philosophical, very intellectual conversation come out of a question that someone posed on a whim.”