The University of Richmond is praised for its low student-to-faculty ratio, allowing students to have close relationships with their professors. But there are some faculty on campus who can say this dynamic has been taken to an even deeper level, considering they live in on-campus dormitories among the students.
Professors who live in the dormitories with students do so as a part of the College Fellow Program run by Residence Life.
The program pairs faculty members from different academic disciplines with residential communities to plan and execute programs that take what students learn in the classroom and apply it to life beyond that, according to the program’s website.
Not all College Fellows live in the dorms, but there are currently four who do.
“I’m always surprised when students find out I live on campus because they don’t know the program,” said Jan French, associate professor of anthropology, who lives in an apartment in Westhampton Hall.
As College Fellows, the faculty meet with the residence assistants, the head RAs, and the area coordinators for their respective dorms, French said.
French has enjoyed her time as a Fellow so much that she has been a part of the program since 2006.
“It is really great,” French said. “I love hanging out with students, and I love my students. They are the best part about UR.”
It is common for a professor to hold a gathering for students at their house, but French takes this to a new level by holding her anthropology senior capstone class in her on-campus apartment.
“First of all, having a seminar in a classroom is not conducive to having a good conversation if you’re discussing serious things,” French said.
“I tend to take a more philosophical approach to things, and so I want students to think about how what they're reading affects their lives and in relation to how they think about anthropology and how to bring theory and practice together. A comfortable setting is preferred where everyone can look at each other.”
Senior Pebbles Daez is a student who is in French’s anthropology senior capstone.
“Because it is such a small class, we are able to sit around her living room space in a circle,” Daez said.
“It’s very discussion-based. Dr. French even offers us tea, water or soft drinks. It’s very fun.”
Sandra Joireman, associate provost for faculty and professor of political science, is a faculty member who was a College Fellow in Moore Hall for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 academic years.
She decided to join the College Fellow Program because it fit the needs of her personal life at the time. Joireman had been living in an off-campus house for professors her first year teaching at UR when French brought this program to her attention and told her she would enjoy it, Joireman said.
It not only made commuting much easier, but she also loved the idea of the program, she said.
“It kind of normalizes relationships between faculty and students and shows they are human beings and have lives,” Joireman said.
Joireman said that the only downside to living among students was getting to witness first-hand a bit of college party culture.
“If I was here on the weekend, Moore was not the place to be,” she said with a laugh. “It was right on the path to lodges, and you’d see all kinds of stuff that I’d have loved to remain ignorant about.”
Martin Sulzer-Reichel, director of the Arabic language program, agrees with his colleagues that the Fellows program fosters a more natural relationship between professors and students.
“I think the students enjoy that there is this neighborly feeling as opposed to this authority position that exists,” he said. “I think they are more comfortable with me because of that.”
Despite the pleasant interactions with students, Sulzer-Reichel’s three years of living in Dennis Hall has not come without a hiccup or two.
At the beginning of last year, Sulzer-Reichel’s daughter lived with him on occasion. One weekend, they got a knock on their door at 1 a.m. When he opened it, a UR police officer was standing there.
“He said ‘Sir, what are you doing here?’” Sulzer-Reichel said.
The police officer had been under the impression that his daughter was a student at UR and that he had been illegally living in his daughter’s residence, Sulzer-Reichel said.
Sulzer-Reichel said that it had taken over 30 minutes to explain the College Fellow Program and prove its existence after the officer had not believed him. The officer had never heard of the program in his six years working for the URPD, Sulzer-Reichel said through laughter.
Having these troubles puts professors even more in tune with students as they experience all of the ups and downs of dormitory life alongside them.
“You really do get a student’s-eye view which is different from a faculty member's,” Joireman said.
Contact contributor Holly Schiltz at firstname.lastname@example.org.