Find Who You Are
New director for Residential Life champions structured autonomy in residential education
Thursday, August 12, 2021
Headshot of Bret Biance

Bret Biance had never considered moving to Texas, much less to a school like Trinity. San Antonio wasn’t on his bucket list of places to live, and Trinity wasn’t anything like the large public universities he’d staffed in his career.

Then Demi Brown called.

Biance and Brown, Trinity’s new dean of students, have known each other for more than two decades: Brown was Biance’s hall director when Biance was a resident at Florida State University (ask Biance some time about painting his walls), and their personal and professional paths have crossed ever since. “Demi asked me, ‘Have you ever thought about moving to Texas?’ Truthfully, I hadn’t,” Biance says. “But once I explored the school and learned how student-centered it is, it was evident to me that Trinity embodies everything a top-flight residential life program is trying to accomplish. There are real opportunities to create personalized approaches to learning and development, so residents are better citizens when they leave campus.”

Luckily for Trinity students, Biance and Brown are a dynamic pair. Yet Biance admits that the intersection of Residential Life and the Dean of Students Office often comes at pivotal junctures. The two teams work in tandem to provide an exceptional level of care during on-call, front-line moments. “We have to be ready and prepared to balance both challenge and support—and since Demi and I have been shaped by many of the same experiences, we already share a common language,” Biance says. “Our goal is to create systems and processes that support our staff and our students to make sure they feel cared for within the residential spaces.”

It’s not all critical care, but it is all about caring. Day-to-day, Biance will oversee residential education through myriad programs. He manages three residence life coordinators who mentor and coach Resident Assistants in the first-year area, the Sophomore College, and junior and senior housing. He also assists the University’s living-learning communities with programming and service initiatives. He even has plans for the Witt Center’s service-centered front desk—“Almost everything in residential life has the opportunity to become a leadership experience with long-lasting impact,” he says.

As director, Biance’s self-titled “big thing” is structured autonomy: “I will give you rough outlines of where your journey should take you, and I will also give you the space to paint between those lines,” he says. He sees his job partly as helping linear learners find more wiggle room, and wiggling learners a more linear path. “We want everyone to embrace their individuality, but we also need to be mindful of the confines of our environments and how we navigate them.”

He is quick to point out, however, that his goals for residential education aren’t about him—they’re about the students he’s been called to serve. “We need to understand what student needs are. Where are the gaps? How can we help in those places?” Biance says. “The needs of a first-year student are very different than a sophomore or third or fourth year. All of these needs are different depending on your academic major—or whether you’re questioning it.” (Biance would know; he changed his major four times as an undergraduate.) “I’m combining personal experience with understanding the totality of what a student is trying to seek in order to help that student graduate in four years.”

Biance’s personalized approach to campus living fits right in at Trinity, where being a residential campus is central to the University’s mission. A three-year residency requirement affords students a safe space to make memories with roommates and hallmates, explore living-learning environments, and practice conflict resolution. 

“Through residential education, we are helping curate relationships that grow and develop over time,” Biance says. “We are going to see the best of each other in these spaces, and we’re also going to experience discomfort. But this is where you find who you are: We learn the most when we experience discomfort and overcome challenges. I want to create as many of these opportunities to learn and grow as possible.”

Jeanna Goodrich Balreira '08 is the director for content strategy for Trinity University Strategic Communications and Marketing.

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