Marie Siena Chamara
Interview with Sr. Marie Siena Chamara
Conducted by: Sr. Jean LaFebvre
February 18, 1980
I want to thank you for coming over and spending this time to do this I'm wondering if you can tell us how you came to be associated with Barry College.
My first association with the college was in June 1965, when I was appointed to be on the summer faculty. My consideration of that appointment was that it would be just for the summer, but in August I found that I was again appointed to Barry to be on the full time faculty so I assumed the position of instructor of education within the department. I taught undergraduate and graduate courses that year ad in June of 1966 I was appointed Dean of Students. I served as Dean from 1966 through June of 1969 I continued to teach some graduate courses although my primary responsibility was Dean of Students. In 1969 I again became a full time faculty member in education, I still am a full-time faculty member in education. There have been many changes since then and I have been promoted but that is not the responsibility right now.
Sr. Jeanne: In the course of that time that there have been many different kinds of changes. I'm wondering if you can tell us how you came to perceive the atmosphere of the college.
That's very interesting, when I came to Barry it was exactly what I expected it to be. It was a small Catholic liberal arts college really under control of the Adrian Dominican Sisters. With one exception all the administrators were Adrian Dominican Sisters.
My first year at Barry was the year that the school of social work started and so with the opening of that school there was a dean of the school of social work who was Dr. Henry McGinnis, but aside from him all the other deans were Sisters. The emphasis was on liberal arts, there were no other schools. The only division was graduate and undergraduate division, although my perception was that the graduates kind of piggy backed the whole program. That they were there primarily as part-time students and there were courses offered but all of the activities and the decisions to be made were primarily with reference to the undergraduates. Since the larger number of the faculty was Sisters and the administration was that of the religious, it had a very Catholic thrust and decisions were made rather silently. It was a very informal unstructured sort of situation at that time, as far as the students were concerned.
They came to the school I think, primarily because they wanted a Catholic education. The students who resided in the dorms I think were there with the understanding on the part of their parents that we would keep them safe and secure. That if they were at Barry they wouldn't get into any trouble. I think that at that time we really acted under the auspices of in loco parentis. If the children as their parents still perceived them to be, got into trouble they tried to hold us some what responsible. We were to regulate their actions and to a good degree we did regulate their actions. There were many changes before I came to Barry. Just a few years before the new dormitory had opened with we call Dalton-Dunspaugh was Regina Mundi- Regina Caeli and the dorms were designated according to class. Regina Cocli was a dorm for seniors, Regina Mundi was a dorm for juniors and then the sophomores and freshmen were in what we now call Weber, Kelly and Ferrell, but the first year I came to Barry after all room assignments had been made there had been a number of sophomores that were going to move into Regina Mundi for the first time because that dorm wasn't going to be filled. However, as the summer progressed there were a large number of transfer juniors and these sophomores who thought they would be moving into Regina Mundi found when they arrived on campus that they had been placed in the Villa. To make room for those juniors coming in so that there were a large number of sophomores in the Villa that year and that's where I lived. Of course they were unhappy when they got there because they had anticipated moving in this beautiful air-conditioned dorm and it took them a while to appreciate that the Villa was a nice place to live. At the end of that year they didn't want to move out so through a little coherence on their part perhaps they asked if they could stay there. So the class structure in the dorms began to break down because now there were juniors at the Villa. Who by the way stayed on as seniors. Almost without exception those students who moved in as sophomores stayed for those three years. When I became Dean of students in 1966 I decided I wouldn't try to regulate class structure. It almost stayed that way because the most desirable were Regina Mundi and Regina Coeli and since the seniors had first choice for the coming year, of course they chose those dorms and then the juniors. But little by little that class distinction just erased itself and the housing situation much of what happened in the dormitories changed while I was there. The Sisters used to take duty at the desks where they lived. There were Sisters assigned to each hall and they were responsible for the girls in that hall. They checked on the care of their rooms and this type of thing and they more or less assumed the responsibility of the girl where the sisters took care of her and this sort of thing. There were a few ladies that worked in the houses but they were more or less like head housekeepers at that time. It became apparent that it was too much that the Sisters were doing if they were really going to fill their obligations as teachers.
There are some funny things that happened in my three years as I was Dean of Students. I'll talk about that first and then go to education since I wore two hats. I was really initiated as Dean of Students. About one month and the first month after the students arrived another young lady arrived too, her name was Betsey, the only hurricane we had when all the students were there. Nobody had ever prepared me for this at all. I knew we had to do something and of course one of my concerns was the students that were house on campus.
At that time our dining room was served by an independent chef Mr. Ogden. I went to Mr. Ogden and asked him what could we do about the students in the dorms, whether he could get some care packages together or box lunches or something. I really didn't know how we were going to handle it and he said it would be virtually impossible, so since we couldn't take food to the students we brought all the students to Thompson Hall. They were given a certain length of time to report to areas which would represent the dorm so that roll could be taken and we were sure they were all there. Thompson Hall was enclosed with all the aluminum shutters and we were virtually closed in. Mr. Ogdon set up a buffet table up stairs, he didn't serve a meal. It was a perpetual buffet going on all the time. Fortunately we didn't lose power, there was no problem there. There were lights on all the time and the students stayed in Thompson Hall almost ten hours that day.
That day they pretty much regulated their own activities. It wasn't too long before they decided that the activity room which is now used for dances down stairs on the bottom floor of Thompson Hall would be a complete place for silence. They put down the mats which were used for tumbling on and so on, so that students could sleep down there and anybody that wanted to rest knew they could find a certain amount of peace and quiet there. When they went down there was a lot of card playing and music, the students had brought guitars over. There were four students who were freshmen at that time, Mary Ann, Marlene, Angnes, and I really can't remember the name of the fourth girl. She was a friend of Mary Ann's from the middle of the state. These four found they could sing together and they formed a singing group then that they continued during the four years in school. They now perform for local groups like the Chamber of Commerce and so on they really were very, very good.
We survived Betsey and fortunately there was no damage and al the students were safe and it was an experience so I think it was all well insulated.
I think it was during that first year also that I began to get some complaints from the students, about a lot of stealing going on. I was perhaps a little impatient and said there isn't much I can do about it if you girls don't keep your rooms locked. Then what am I supposed to do about it? It was at that time I found they couldn't keep their rooms locked because they had no keys. They could lock them while they were in them because there were bolts from inside but when they left the rooms this was when things were being taken. There was no way they could secure their property. I was kind of appalled by this and I started looking into the situation and I found that there were keys for Regina Mundi and Regina Coeli that were nicely hung on hooks in the wall in Thompson Hall but the students didn't have them. There were locks on the doors in the other dorms but no keys. I searched the campus I could not find keys.
I asked people, nobody seemed to know anything about keys until I talked to one of the maintenance men and he said that about a year before Sister Grace Ellen had given him a can of keys and told him to get rid of them. I asked him what he did with them and he said he, "threw them in a canal behind my house." I never expected to see them. About a week after that Danny appeared with this can of muddy, rusty keys he had dug out of the canal. They looked like door keys, he had no idea where they came from or what they fit and I didn't either, but I cleaned them up and I decided I'll see whether they fit the doors. I was living in Kelly House then on the second floor so in the evening I took a chair out and I began to try keys and I thought if I found some keys that fit no doubt they all fit. It would be just a matter of matching them up and I did. I began to realize that these were in fact the keys for those houses. It took me about two months to match them up. I just took a chair and I sat at the door in the evening and I tried them and when I found one that matched I labeled it. I would say I found about 80% of the keys, they weren't all there. They were keys from Weber, Farrell, and Kelly. I then had a locksmith come out to get the pattern from the both of the other keys. We had keys made for all the dorms I kept those as masters, had keys made, ordered key tags and we issued keys to the students. So I think it in 1967 was the first time that the girls had keys to their rooms. Of course they were issued ever since then so I guess you can say are a small trusting. This is what I mean by saying it really was small and informal but the time had come where we should perhaps be more realistic and see that there was a need for such things.
As you look back in retrospect when you think it was only thirteen years ago I think it's rather interesting to see that this clean college was our counterpart. As far as the male student body was concerned and many of the social functions were conducted on our campus and then men would come over. Then our students would go over there and I had a telephone in my room.
When the switchboard operator left, all the calls were turned into my room. In case there was an emergency with some of the students I would get the calls; I had all kinds of calls. The middle of the night I would get calls from people in the Miami area who didn't even identify themselves. I think they thought of Barry College as being a clearing house for information and if they needed a question answered they would call. One night I had a call, some people wondered if I had a recipe for pumpkin pie and it wasn't a prank call, they really wanted to know. I said I didn't have a recipe for pumpkin pie but possibly if they called back during the day the library could tell them if they had recipe books. They could come over and get them another time. Earlier that evening there had been a Hall Mart special on with a Shakespearian play and apparently a group was sitting around talking about other Shakespearean plays and they couldn't remember the name of one of the characters in one of the comedians so they called to ask whether Barry could supply them with this name and of course I was the person who they got. I guess I should be honest and say I couldn't. It was at the tip of my tongue as it was at the tip of theirs, but at 3:00 in the morning one isn't too coherent. I tried to be kind and understanding but these calls I could have done without.
One evening much earlier perhaps earlier than three in the morning about 11:00 at night I had a call from Father Harold who at that time was Dean of Students over at Biscayne and he wanted to talk to me and wondered how everything was going and I said fine, Father. He said, "you're not having any trouble?" I said no and I said should I be and he said, "I don't know." I almost remember his words verbatim he said the natives over here are getting restless. He said, "Something's brewing but I don't know what it is." I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "I think you're going to have some nocturnal visitors sometime." He said, "I can't put my finger on it, but there's some activity going on. I think the men intend to visit your dorm some night." In fact I'm not sure we really called them men so much then it was boys and girls and the students let us understand that they didn't want to be called boys and girls so some place in those years we began to call them men and women and perhaps treat them more like men and women too, so I suppose he said I think the boys tend to visit. I'm going to be honest with you and so I thought, "My goodness, this is another thing I didn't learn. What do you do in a case like this?" At that time I had already hired students as resident assistants and they were the ones functioned in the halls where Sisters used to, so I called a meeting of the resident assistants. I talked to them about this as a possibility. I said, "Now you are not to say anything to anyone unless you get word from me. We'll plan some strategy as to how we're to act. If I happen to get a call saying that this is going to be a reality you are immediately to arouse the students, tell them to lock their doors and to stay in their rooms."
So a few nights later I had another call from Father Farrell and he said "Sister we've just had a mass exit from this campus. I strongly suspect they're headed your way." I contacted the resident assistants and said, "Now is the time to act. I think we are going to have visitors." About ten or fifteen minutes later as we looked out the windows of the dormitories we saw cars creeping on campus with no lights on. Yes it was the fellows from Biscayne coming we learned later. I notified the Miami Shores Police. They really had this ell-orchestrated. There was a fellow up in the bell tower of the chapel with a walkie and the fellows in the cars and they had the two crawling over the walls. It was something like Keystone Cops if you could have watched it. The police chasing them, it had to be funny but it also was disconcerting.
Someone called the Harold, the Harold some how got on the ticker tape and about two hours later someone from United Press International called me and wondered about this. We were in the newspapers throughout the country, this panty raid. some of the fellows did get into the dorms so there had to be a little inside work on the part of some of our girls. No damage was done and some of the boys were taken down to the police station and booked for trespassing. Father Farwell wasn't too sympathetic with them. We didn't press any charges so Father signed them all out and their parents were notified. This is what i mean parents and all adults were still very much involved at that time.