Deacon Profile: Matt Clifford


Cooper Sullivan, Staff Writer

Matt Clifford is the Dean of Residence Life and Housing and Assistant Vice President of Campus Life. He has helped direct spring move-in, including efforts to mitigate and track the spread of COVID-19 on campus. He received his Ed.D. from the University of North Florida.

Q: How’s move-in going?

It’s going pretty well, as far as I can tell. Spring move-in is much different because we have very few new students in the spring and most students don’t really have to move back in; they just come back. You’ve got your keys and everything is in your room, you just return to campus, so it’s very passive in our office. That said, all the pre-arrival testing and flu vaccine documentation is having to be navigated around that this time.

Q: Was that one of the biggest concerns, making sure everyone had everything they needed in order?

We knew that after coming back after two months, and with people coming from various locations that we wanted to start the school year off well at a baseline where we felt confident that we were keeping the virus really low in our community and on our campus. So we decided to put these pre-arrival expectations in place: restarting SneezSafe daily symptom monitoring, flu vaccinations,  pre-arrival testing and quarantining. Those pieces together would give us the sense to really start the semester off well. For a large majority of students it was relatively easy to navigate and they just breezed on through, but for some, students might have had challenges submitting documentation or getting the right test or thought they submitted flu vaccine documents in the fall when they got it all. They needed to just get it all straightened out.

Q: You are the Dean of Residence Life and Housing and the Assistant Vice President of Campus Life. Can you tell me what your role is between each department and how they are intertwined?

My primary role is being responsible for our Residence Life and Housing program. At Wake Forest, that means being responsible for our campus residential program, which is usually housing 4,200 students and working with all our buildings. We have over one million square feet of residence hall, believe it or not, between Deacon Place and the first-year buildings on South Campus and the Quad. That means managing and working with our partners to make sure things are in the best shape for students to have a good experience. That’s my primary role. The Deacon OneCard office and physical security technology sits in Residence Life and Housing, so we work closely with a lot of partners across campus so that we have strong physical security and tech to bolster that, whether it’s cameras or card readers or panic alarms or anything like that. And the connection to Campus Life really situates with the residential experience being such a central part of the student experience that it puts me into a leadership role.

Q: What have you learned from the fall that you can implement this semester to make sure everyone is safe but socially engaged while also having a good time?

Yeah, that is a challenge for sure. I’ll acknowledge that. One of the things that I would say is that we had a good semester. We finished it the way we started it and that was in-person and on campus. We all need to give each other credit for that. I give the students a lot of credit for navigating the expectations that we had for you so we could stay in person and so we could stay safe, keep the faculty and staff safe and the community at large safe.

One of the things we are trying to do to help students have an engaging experience — hopefully you have had a chance to see Manchester Plaza — is to make an engaging space outside. Students can plan events on Manchester or a small gathering of friends with the fires on. To be able to be with each other and enjoy each other’s company, that’s really exciting.

We continue to think about our other programming initiatives in terms of what Campus Recreation has been doing. The Wellbeing Center is introducing a temporary game room that has air hockey, ping pong, cornhole, other games, kind of building on the RecreationGo aspects that happened in the fall as we move things inside.

Q: Incoming students are about to start putting down deposits. What have you been telling them to expect? Have you started the process for what housing in the fall will look like?

We are continuing to take a deliberate project-management approach to planning, so we are working on summer and fall plans right now. What we are doing, at least residentially, is examining what we have learned about our plans, how we’ve seen the virus spread on campus and how we can adapt our plans. By looking at virus transmission data from the dashboard and layering that on our residence halls, we can see transmission throughout the residence halls and will be able to make changes. Will we be able to open our residence halls as normal, or will we need to continue reduced occupancy in our buildings? We are keeping a close eye on vaccine distribution, so it may be frustrating to some students who want to know what it will look like in the fall. I wish I could tell you, but I think waiting and continuing to evaluate the environment is going to do us some good so we can understand how to take advantage of what the environment is providing and be flexible.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Again, the biggest things I would reiterate is that we, across the university, are working really hard to keep everybody safe but also retain the essence of Wake Forest. We believe that we offer a distinctive educational experience and student experience outside the classroom. How can we keep the university safe and keep the spirit of Wake Forest intact? We are very cognizant of that. To students, because we care so deeply about this place: do the little things that help us finish the semester where we started. That means masks, washing hands, keeping distance; those are all critical aspects. And it’s important we keep those efforts up throughout the spring semester.

Editorial Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.