Lauren Thorn Oral History Interview

Lauren Thorn

Patrick Cash
East Carolina University

August 15, 2020
Main Campus Student Center
East Carolina University

[No audio/video until 00:13]

PC: All right, this is Patrick Cash, Assistant University Archivist of East Carolina University.
I'm here with Lauren Thorne who serves as an associate dean at Eastern University. It is August
15, 2020. And we are on the campus of East Carolina University in the Student Center. If you
could start by please stating your name, your birthday and where you were born.

LT: Sure. So my name is Lauren Thorne. I was born February 5, 1983. And I was born in
Clinton, North Carolina.

PC: Alright, and can you share a little bit about your background? You mentioned you're from
Clinton. Where did you go to school?

LT: I so, I was born in Clinton and actually grew up for the most part in Fayetteville, North
Carolina. So my family, my mom's side of the family was there. My parents divorced when I was
young, about five years old, my mom moved back to our hometown, where her parents and a lot
of the extended family were. I went to Terry Sanford High School, which was actually the same
high school that my mom, my aunt, and my grandmother all went to, and actually had the same
English teacher that my mom did. So my mom got her, her first year of teaching, and I got her at
her retirement. So it's unusual, I think for a lot of families to sort of have that type of relationship
in Fayetteville, it's seen as being a very transient place because of the military base. But it is
something where there are a lot of families who have been there for multi generations and my
family is one of them. So I still have a lot of family there. I graduated from Terry Sanford and
came here to ECU as a part of the EC Scholars Program. I was able to interview in February of
2001, and was selected as one of the EC Scholars when they had a more expanded program. It's
since gotten a little bit more competitive, a little bit more narrower, we had about 30 in that
incoming class, and they now have it as a smaller class of about 20. But came as an EC Scholar,
and then also got to be a part of the Marching Pirates here, and a lot of the other activities on
campus. And so I was coming here as a social work major. I had also, of course, been involved
with music and had been considering music therapy. And ECU has a great music therapy
program here, but ended up realizing that as much as I loved music, I didn't want to make it my
vocation, I really needed it to be more as a hobby and an outlet.

LT: And so was able to continue being active in the School of Music through the Marching
Pirates and the Symphonic Band and concert bands, but chose to go into social work. My career
goal was to be a child therapist, or a family and child therapist. And so I'd gotten some advice
early on that a really great route to do that was to get your license for clinical social work. It
allowed a lot of flexibility, allowed for a lot of opportunities, and would be a pretty
straightforward process compared to going and getting a doctoral program or, you know,
doctoral degree and things like that. And so I also like the fact that ECU had the advanced
standing program for their BSW and MSW program. And so when I enrolled, I was able to bring
in a fair amount of AP credits was on track to graduate in three years with my BSW and then to
get my MSW in that fourth year of scholarship funding that I had from the EC Scholars Program.
So it was really kind of a no brainer. I almost went to Appalachian. That was my second choice.
And so I was sort of torn between the mountains in the coast and ended up at the coast and
haven't looked back. I've have been here in Greenville since I moved here as a student and never
- haven't lived anywhere else.

PC: Could you explain a little bit of about what the EC Scholars Program is?

LT: Yeah, I can. So EC scholars has changed over the last few years, like I mentioned and is on
track to be competitive, amongst the other kind of university scholarships program like the Park
and the Morehead, and the Levine Scholars at UNC Charlotte. It is a now a $40,000 academic
scholarship, which includes a stipend for study abroad. It's a small cohort of about 20 students
who live together in the residence hall, and then usually have several classes together. They've
included a lot of honors seminars, and that was actually one of the great things about our
incoming classes that we were living all together at that time in Jarvis, and then also took a class
together with Dr. Michael Bassman who led the honors program for a while and had a great
reputation here at ECU of being just a wonderful faculty member and professor and really
inspiring to a lot of students. And so it helps sort of solidify us as a cohort and a group and
certainly got us connected with a lot of a lot of opportunities here. We did some different trips
through the Rec Center, we went whitewater rafting one time, they took us skiing, they would
take us to different plays and events and provide opportunities like that. And so it really just
enriched the entire experience and made it easy to kind of find different ways to get involved and
to stay active on campus. A lot of us also worked for the admissions office, and we would work
the phone banks at night, we would do campus tours. And so I mean, it just kind of was this all-
encompassing program that if you were interested in it, and they had an opportunity, they really
helped you get connected and be able to make it happen.

[Abrupt audio/video cut away at 05:55 and resumes at 05:56. Narrator is answering unknown
question and not in-screen until 05:58. Camera is readjusted from 05:59-06:20 until narrator is in

LT: You're just getting to the point where I'm particularly being asked to make calls at work, but
then going home and being asked to make really significant decisions, like, what are what are we
doing here and, and knowing that with each of those decisions, there's so much that comes from
that, like so many potential consequences, good and bad. Um, and, and getting to a point where
you're just like, I don't want to have to make another decision. Like, I just want someone to tell
me what to do, and to make that call for me.

[Camera frame is readjusted from 06:29-06:42. Camera loses focus from 06:59-07:08.
Intermittent noise from camera operator adjusting device during this portion.]

LT: And so we saw that with, you know, I had friends who because of necessity, continue to
send their children to daycare throughout the first few months of pandemic and we're like, we
don't feel comfortable doing that, you know, and then they would kind of they would write or,
you know, make a comment on social media and say they're fine, like, well they haven't shut
down, my kids are great. And you're like, why am I torturing myself with this working from
home and trying to navigate all this and not utilizing this? And what that also like, if we take that
risk, what does that mean? What does that look like for our family? And, and so and I mean, that
can be transferred over to so many things. I mean, there was one time where it's just like, I don't
want to decide what for making for dinner, or you know what, what restaurant, we're going to
pick up takeout from this weekend, I have made too many decisions today. And I just need
someone else to tell me what to do. The other thing has been just balance, like trying not to take
everything personally, I am responsible for responding to a lot of emails from generic email
boxes here at ECU right now. So there's one associated with the Cares Act funding the COVID-
19 grants.

LT: And then there's also the generic COVID-19 email box that has been up and running since
March with a call center. And it is amazing what people will write to an anonymous email
account and the criticism that they'll share. And, you know, those of us who have been doing this
since mid-March, we have put so much of our life on the line to make these decisions and to do
what we feel like is best, given the circumstances. And some of the critiques that come in and,
you know, questioning and both sides of the spectrum, I think what's really hard is that, you
know, for every email that you get asking you to shut everything down - you also have parents
who are writing in saying, why are all my kids classes online? How dare you, these classes could
totally meet in person, and they would be fine. You know, and so it's just like you, you can't
make everyone happy, you know that you're going to always have someone who ends up
disappointed or upset. And so you just try to hope to meet them somewhere in the middle, and do
what you know, is best and is going to be you know, something that you feel like you can defend
if it comes into question later on.

PC: All right, so we've talked about COVID-19. And we know - we both know COVID-19 is
not only thing that's going on currently in the world and being on a campus of higher education.
Historically, higher ed campuses have been kind of sparks of social change and sparks of
questioning why and questioning issues? Do you think it's important to use your leadership skills
and your position on campus to further positive social change? And if so, can you talk about
some of the examples of that?

LT: Yeah. So one of the projects that I'm really proud of that's come out of my work in the Dean
of Students Office is our Cupola Conversations Program series. That was actually one of the
things that when I was first brought over in the interim role, even before I assumed the position,
they were like we have our first one. Come, watch, see what it looks like be a part of that
discussion. And so that was fall of 2016. It was an election season just like it is now. We had just
some amazing discussions and some powerful, some powerful statements from our students. And
it was one of the first times we're able to really see, okay, this Town Hall style program, where
we are asking students to have a an outlet to, you know, provide their thoughts, to provide, you
know, their feedback to us as administrators.

[Light goes out in room at 10:20 followed by audio/video cut. Resumes at 10:21, room has
different lighting.]

LT: So, I have been doing that for a good almost five years. And our dean of students here, Dr.
Lynn Roeder, while she oversees several different offices, she kind of has her own office. And
then she also oversees Student Health Counseling Center, Office of Student Rights and
Responsibilities, and our Disability Support Services Office. She had been looking for someone
to come into her particular office, the Dean of Students Office and do similar work to what I had
done with a counseling center, create programming, be able to build up content, you know, have
different events and collaborations and sort of create, create again - a being able to be present
and visible on campus. And so she had an interim role that she asked me to consider taking, I
wasn't seeking it out, it wasn't something I actually, when I was first approached about it, I was
really on the fence because I was very happy and very content with what I was doing in the
Counseling Center, and had been there for a while and had developed a lot of really good
relationships with my coworkers there. And so it was honestly, it was really hard to make that

LT: But I also recognized that this wasn't an opportunity that was going to come around again.
And so I decided to go for it and moved over to the Interim Associate Dean role in the fall of
2016. So from there, I was able to get my feet wet and start doing a lot of the programming and
the different work that she wanted to have done in that role. While also using some of my
experience as a counselor to do the case management work, it really kind of went back to a lot of
what I did is, you know, a social worker and working in the community, because it was also
addressing a lot of basic needs, you know, how do we get you connected with financial
emergency services? And how do we kind of figure out what's going on here with your financial
aid payment or with just with your academic concerns, you know, talking with faculty members
and helping to advocate for you. And so I then interviewed for the full position was able to be
placed in it and have been doing that ever since.

[Interview cuts away and resumes at 12:38-12:39.]

PC: So you mentioned all of the kind of responsibilities and roles you have here on campus, how
do you exercise your leadership skills in these roles that you have?

[Camera shifts angle from 13:28-13:48]

LT: I think it's definitely been a journey, because it's, it's taken some time to sort of figure out
what my leadership style is. And what I've found is I've been giving, I've been given a lot of
opportunities to work independently, a lot of you know, a lot of chances to take on special
projects or you know, assignments and kind of take them and run with them. But then a big part
of it has also been figuring out how do I work collaboratively with others on campus to get that
done. And so for me, I am not necessarily going to be the first one to speak in a meeting,
especially if it's with people that I'm not familiar with, or that I'm still kind of feeling out. I do
use a lot of my counseling skills still. I like to figure people out and be able to sort of identify
what are their goals? What are they hoping to get out of this? What does it seem like their
preferred means of communication are and then use that to hopefully achieve a common goal of
getting whatever project we're working on done. For me, it's, it's taken a while to be able to, be
able to blend those two approaches. Because it is intimidating sometimes to get pulled up in a
meeting where you recognize kind of hierarchically, you're, you're outnumbered, there are a lot
of people way above you. But what I've also found is that if I'm not necessarily the one to speak
immediately, or to just say whatever I'm thinking, it also helps that when I do speak, people
listen and they take they take note and pay attention to it.

LT: And that's really helped me to feel like I'm contributing in a positive way without
necessarily inserting myself in a way that is being seen as intrusive or unnecessary. So it's
definitely something where I've created a core group of friends and colleagues that that I trust
and that I will bounce things off of. I'm very big on making sure that I think through things
before I respond. I am one that really watches my tone and the words that I use. And I'm not
someone who's just going to shoot off a response really quick without necessarily thinking
through how it can be interpreted. And again, that's that counselor side coming out, I want to
make sure that when I do have a message that it reflects who I am, where I'm coming from, and
what I hope to be able to maintain in that relationship. You're nothing without the relationships
of the people that you've built here on campus. And so I'm not one that's going to burn bridges,
just for the sake of things. I've started meetings before saying, this is not the hill I plan to die on.
I'm not married to this idea. Let's see what we can talk about to try and find a common
compromise. And, and I think that that helps people to approach you in a more kind of
comfortable way. If they know that you're not coming at them where - offensively - where they
have to automatically kind of put their guard and feel like I have to respond, then it really helps
to make sure that you get everybody on the same page.

PC: And being someone who has had a successful career as a pirate, and coming into higher ed
and continuing a successful career, have you seen your leadership style change?

LT: I think so. Because so much of this is figuring out especially at a campus like ECU.
Everybody has a background and everybody has a story. And every you know, and after a while,
you start to kind of put together pieces of hearing about kind of, you know, previous work
environments, or previous histories that people have had with one another. And, and so much of
that is kind of you have to learn on the fly and figure out, okay, so these two people seem to
work really well together, and they seem to get along. But this, this particular pairing is not
actually that good to work with, and might be more challenging, and you kind of have to
navigate that differently. And so I think it's, you know, we feel like it's a really big place, but it's
actually a pretty small, small sort of subgroup that are oftentimes making a lot of the decisions
and, you know, being called upon to, to lead the university and making those tough calls. And so
it helps to kind of know who the major players are, and what their histories are with one another.
And that's been a big part of what I've learned is sort of how to navigate that politically. Because
there is a lot with that. In the end, we have our students and our faculty and staff best interest in
mind, and hopefully, that's what we're able to work towards. But it does always help to kind of
have that backstory as well. And, and being able to have colleagues to work through that with
and, and kind of understand where people are coming from.

LT: I mean, that's essential. And that helps a lot. I think also recognizing the greater picture of
how our UNC system operations affects how we operate as a university, and the roles of the
Board of Governors plays. That part has been a really big, really big learning opportunity for me,
as we we've seen over the past few years, how much influence that can have on the day to day
operations. It was very easy when I was in the Counseling Center, not to even think of kind of
what was going on at the system level or with the Board of Governors, and now being kind of
pulled up into a higher level with the administrative role. It's become more evident how crucial it
is to know and understand all the different - all the different factors at play, when we're looking
at how the system influences the individual operations of all those systems - or all the
universities within the system.

PC: Alright, thank you. I'm kind of transitioning more from your specific role to some broader
questions. Why do you think it's important to see females in leadership roles in today's society?

LT: I think in - I mean, in the grand scheme of things that inspires us and lets us know that it's
possible, I find myself very blessed to be in a place where my two direct, you know, supervisors
are both strong female leaders who have great reputations here on campus. And so Dr. Roeder,
was the director of the Counseling Center before she became the Dean of Students. I love the fact
that she understands and has been in the shoes of the counselors and, you know, building those
relationships with students. And so I find myself talking about that and what that experience was
like for her kind of going from more of a day to day working with students and meeting with
them one on one to then representing them on a grand scale and kind of making sure that we
don't lose that touch. And then Dr. Virginia Hardy, has been a great role model and honestly a
mentor in some cases where I've been able to turn to her and ask for recommendations and look
for opportunities to continue growing. And so I think in the Division of Student Affairs, we've
got a lot of really great representatives of strong, powerful female role models. And that helps for
those of us who are looking for opportunities to kind of move up, we see that it can be done, it
has been done. And we're able to witness that in action and use that as a way to sort of build our
own self confidence and move forward.

PC: So this next question, if you would, I'd like for you to think both during your time on
campus and then before you came back to campus, how do you think that our traditional gender
roles have helped and or hindered you in your positions over the years,

LT: And, and I'll say, as a working mom, there, there have definitely been times where I have
compared myself to those who don't have children, or you know, who seemed to have a little bit
more flexibility, there have been times where I get the dreaded phone call from school, and I'm
like, oh, I have to drop everything. And now, like shift into this role as a parent. And that's hard,
especially when I think we do have a lot of our female leaders that that maybe don't have to
worry about that and seem to have a little bit more flexibility and independence with that. And so
that has been challenging, thankfully, my husband is very understanding and supportive.

[Interview cuts away at 10:23 and resumes at 10:24]

LT: And one of the things that we frequently hear is, you know, oftentimes men are more likely
to apply for a job that they know that they're not qualified for, because they just figured they're
going to apply for it. Whereas women will read the qualification say, I'm not qualified for that
and won't apply. And, you know, we have to make sure that we are able to take advantage of
opportunities that are put in front of us, without second guessing ourselves. And without, you
know, allowing the kind of little small voice in the back of your head to talk you out of it. It gets
easier with the more kind of experiences you are able to gain and the more the more information
you're able to gather. And I will say and the network that you're able to build so much of what
I've been able to do, or it's because I have people that I can bounce ideas off of, and I can kind of
go to and say, can you read this email for me before I send it? Or you know, can you proofread
this letter because I tend to be very, you know, flowery in the way that I write and it needs to be
more direct. And so building that network and having those people that you can really turn to,
and really just having your own kind of your own cheering squad that's going to back you up. I
think that that helps in those days, where you're second guessing yourself, and you're questioning
how did I even get here? And it just.

[Interview cuts away at 22:54 and resumes at 22:55. Frame adjustments and operator noise are
present in seconds following]

PC: Alright, so for the final question, is there anything else you want to talk about that we
haven't already covered? Any other advice for both - either young men or women who are
looking for a career similar to yours, students who might be on ECU today - who want to make
an impact for the future.

LT: I think for me, you know, thinking about going on almost 20 years from when I first arrived
on campus, I would have never guessed that this is where I would have ended up. When I think
about my experiences coming to campus as a student. This is a special place, you know, ECU I
think is the place where people go who sort of like to dream big, have a chip on our shoulder and
always support the underdog. And so I think that, in general, I've always said from the
beginning, you - ECU is what you make of it. There's a lot of criticism about our reputation, that
we are working hard, recent news stories haven't helped with that. And it's hard as someone who
you know, is an alumni and an administrator, and you know, has my kids who talked about
wanting to come here I want - I want our, our university to continue to grow and to continue to
have the same positive impact in our community that it had when I came here almost 20 years
ago. So I would say make the most of the time that you're given here. Know that you know, there
are so many great opportunities and so many people who are willing to have that hands-on
support for you. And just know that it will give you a platform to really be able to go out and do
good. So I've been really blessed to be a part of the EC Scholars Program now as an interviewer
for their Selection Sunday, and to go and present and be a part of some of their programs. And so
it's just really cool to have that full circle experience of, I remember being in their shoes, and
now I get to be one of those people that talks about what they can do and to be able to give back
to a university that has given me so much it's really rewarding.

PC: Alright, well, thank you very much.

LT: Thank you. I have to go pick up some students.

Lauren Thorn Oral History Interview
Oral history interview with East Carolina University Associate Dean of Students Lauren Thorn created as part of a 2020 Library Services and Technology Act Community Connections grant received by ECU Academic Library Services. Thorn discusses her background, her career at East Carolina University as a student and employee, and her views on leadership, especially women in leadership roles. Interviewer: Patrick Cash.
August 15, 2020
Original Format
oral histories video recordings
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Location of Original
East Carolina Manuscript Collection
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