A few years ago in a meeting, it was suggested that the Dean of Students takes the place of the Student Government Association (SGA) president for a day and that the SGA president takes the Dean’s position. The idea was at first mentioned jokingly. No one thought it would take flight in the future.
Despite the idea’s comical nature, on Monday, Oct. 10, Dean of Students Doug Pearson, Ph.D., and SGA President Rylan Allen ‘23 did just that.
Last week, they met to discuss what classes and meetings each would attend. Allen is majoring in both political science and sociology, the latter of which was one of Pearson’s fields of study in school. That connection was key in deciding which classes of Allen’s Pearson would attend in his day as a Mercer student. It became clear that because of a common interest in sociology, it would be feasible for Pearson to attend classes intended for Allen.
When he went to the classes, Pearson played the part of a student even down to his dress. Wearing an SGA sweater and book bag rather than his typical dress shirt, Pearson surprised Vice President Abigail Yemisrach '23 who usually sees Allen on the way to those classes.
“I was like, that’s just so fun, you know?” said Yemisrach.
One of the things Pearson focused on ahead of his day in the life of a student was to be prepared for the classes he was heading to. In his role as a student, Pearson took the classes Sociological Theory with Laura Simon, Ph.D., and The Discourse of Power with Kate Siegfried, Ph.D. He said that he thought it could be beneficial for faculty to, once in a while, experience again what school is like for their students.
Siegfried called Pearson “an enthusiastic student who participated fully in class.” She also noticed how much he interacted with the students in the class, and how much he contributed during the class-wide discussion.
Pearson said that being the school’s Dean of Students added some pressure leading up to the classes because he didn’t want to appear unprepared in front of his colleagues and their students. Yet, once the class began, Pearson said that trepidation “dissipated because the faculty was so terrific and the students were so good.”
For his part, Allen went to the weekly provosts meeting, and his experience there was something that he was slightly familiar with beforehand due to his experience working in SGA. During the meeting, Allen was even able to offer some insight while serving in his interim position, which speaks to his maturity and willingness to participate in this otherwise daunting venture.
Despite taking part in the provost's meeting, Allen felt like he handled only a fraction of what Pearson deals with on a regular basis. Pearson, too, was taken aback at the daily schedule of the SGA president, especially the period of time when he had to run the weekly SGA meeting.
Typically, Pearson has the role of listening in on SGA meetings, making comments infrequently. Yet, when he was in charge of the meeting this time around, he had to assume all of the responsibilities of the President, down to calling the assembly to order and giving reminders to the members of the Senate.
“That was a dramatically different experience and very challenging,” said Pearson. “I was very impressed that [Allen] is able to do that as a student.”
For Allen, the switch also proved to be difficult in that he had to keep himself from speaking up during the SGA meeting. “I am so used to running Senate meetings now that it was almost difficult for me to sit in the back and refrain from inserting myself into conversations,” said Allen. He served as freshman class president in his freshman year, which was the last time he didn’t chair a meeting for Mercer.
“All in all, I truly enjoyed the experience and thought it was beneficial for me to see the Senate from the perspective of Dean Pearson,” said Allen.
At the SGA meeting, it took a little time for the senators present to get used to the role reversals. The titles “Dean Allen” and “President Pearson” were used but frequently required a small pause before being said aloud because of their novelty. Aside from that, however, the meeting rolled on as usual with the subject of the upcoming Pilgrimage to Penfield and financing various student groups being the main topics of the day.
At the end of the SGA meeting, the Dean of Students and SGA President returned the nametags bearing their respective titles as well as the President’s gavel, symbolically finalizing their day.
Gabriel Kopp '26 is majoring in Journalism and Law and Public Policy at Mercer University. He has written for The Cluster since he started at Mercer, and currently works as the Sports Editor. When he isn't studying, he enjoys going for runs and reading the New York Times.