Academic Dean Sews Lasting Gift for Dorm

Dean Sabrina Thomas is a busy mother of two with little time for her quilting hobby.  But this year she bonded so much with students in Jarvis Residence Hall that she made them a Duke blue-and-white quilt.

She did make them help. Thomas purchased fabric, cut out one hundred quilt blocks and asked Class of 2019 first-year residents of Jarvis, the substance-free dorm on East Campus, to write a piece of advice on them. The recipients will be next year’s Jarvis residents -- members of the Class of 2020. The white squares display messages such as “Eat, sleep, anime,”  “Take classes for fun,” and “Don’t try to do everything – trust me.”

 “The Jarvis class of 2019 may not physically return to East Campus to share with next year’s class but they’ll still provide them guidance,” Thomas said.  

“The quilt represents how we stitch these classes together,” said Thomas, who titled the quilt: “Stitching Together Communities, Unveiling Ambitions and Fears, and Providing Guidance and Advice.” The quilt will be framed and displayed in the Jarvis common room.

The strong connection between Thomas and Jarvis students developed as a result of a new four-year academic dean system in Trinity College. Starting in the fall, first-year students were assigned academic deans based on their East Campus residence halls. Those deans remain with the students all four years, to ensure consistent academic contact over the course of a student’s time at Duke – and to encourage possible mentorships.

“What this quilt embodies is the relationship that Dean Thomas was able to establish with us,” said Quinn Holmquist, a now-graduated senior and resident assistant of Jarvis.

In the past, students tended only to encounter academic deans when there was a problem, such as failing grades. Thomas reached out to the students and held office hours in Jarvis from 7-9 p.m. every Tuesday. She invited students to stop by and talk about classes or anything on their minds.

For the quilt “construction” party in February, Holmquist drummed up students by going door to door and asking them to join her in the common room. Then in April, Thomas drove to Jarvis at 11 p.m. on the eve of final exams to unveil the quilt. The celebration was a family affair: she presented the quilt to her Jarvis family – and brought along her husband, Lee Baker, associate vice provost for academic affairs in Trinity College.

 “Dean Thomas only quilts for family members and people she loves,” Holmquist said. “We’re in that category.”

Other students also said they appreciated Thomas’ efforts.

“The only time I’d talked to my dean was to go over critical academic stuff,” said Feruth Kidane, a sophomore resident assistant who wrote “Rock Ur Style” on her patch. First-year resident Logan Fettes, a Pratt student said he saw Thomas’s project as a great way to leave a lasting legacy for Jarvis, which he said has an exceptional sense of community.

Holmquist liked the exercise of boiling advice down to one phrase. “Something we don’t do enough of as Duke students is to reflect,” said Holmquist, whose patch, “You matter here,” serves as the centerpiece of the quilt.

Some of the advice was funny, Holmquist said. “Like, ‘Watch ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Sleep.’”

Fettes corrected Holmquist.  “Getting sleep IS serious,” Fettes said.