Friendship and Direction

K.C. Potter made campus more inclusive and welcoming as dean of residential and judicial affairs

K.C. Potter, Vanderbilt dean of residential and judicial affairs, emeritus, for Trailblazer portrait series. KC Potter Center.(John Russell/Vanderbilt University)

When K.C. Potter, JD’64, dean of residential and judicial affairs, emeritus, decided to retire in 1998, his fans came out of the woodwork, sending notes, making calls and honoring him in person at numerous receptions. A note from Don Matheson, BA’72, reflected a sentiment that rang universal among his supporters: “I was one of the thousands of students whom you steadied and put back on the tightrope toward adulthood at times when we might well have slipped into an abyss. …Your friendship and direction helped me and stuck with me more than you could know.”

A Kentucky native, Potter first came to Vanderbilt as a law student in 1961. After completing his law degree, working as a law clerk for the Supreme Court of Tennessee and being admitted to the Tennessee Bar, he returned to Vanderbilt in 1965 as assistant dean of men. When the offices of dean of men and dean of women were combined in 1971, Potter was named associate dean of the new Office of Student Life. He held that position until 1977, when he was named dean of residential and judicial affairs.

In that capacity, he was the chief arbiter of the university’s judicial system, addressing matters of student conduct. He also oversaw housing for the university’s students who resided on campus and was responsible for matters relating to Vanderbilt’s sororities and fraternities, as well as for gay, lesbian and bisexual student issues. For almost 10 years, Potter let Vanderbilt’s LGBTQI undergraduate student group, Lambda, meet at his home on West Side Row. As a residential dean, he lived on campus in Cumberland, one of the West Side Row cottages, and was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Potter’s work gave him the opportunity to know students and for students to know him.

“I do many things poorly,” he said in 1998, “but relating to young people is the one thing that I do well. I treat students just as I would treat any adult. They are very young, which means their judgment is not so good, but they are people, and they should be treated carefully and respectfully.”

Potter retired from the university in June 1998 as dean emeritus, but his influence is still felt at Vanderbilt. In 2008 the Euclid House on West Side Row became the K.C. Potter Center, which houses the Office of LGBTQI Life. The university also honored Potter as part of its Vanderbilt Trailblazer portrait series in 2019.