An update from Ann Batenburg, Faculty in Residence (FiR) for the Virginia-Snider Residential Commons:

November 25, 2013

As I reported in a previous post, whenever I tell someone about what I am doing here in the residence hall, the first question they ask is, “What’s it like living with students?” The second question that I am inevitably asked is, “What do you DO with them?” Last time, I wrote about Sunday Night Snacks and Pancakes and Potter. This time I’ll describe some other programs and activities – some have been successful and some haven’t been.

A smaller-scale but successful effort has been Celebrity Chef. This is actually my diabolical plan to get out of cooking for students – really, with my cooking skills, it benefits everyone to have me NOT cook. When I began the interview process, students always asked if I would host dinners and cook for them. It was a bit awkward for me, this question, so I had to come up with some way to say, “Yes, of course, there will be dinners.” So, I invite other people, “celebrity” chefs, to cook for the students. The sheer number of people who want to cook for the students overwhelms me. Friends of mine are growing offended, because I have not yet called their number to be the Celebrity Chef. This program involves only a small number of students (4-6) and is an “invitation-only” event. I am finding that the letters “RSVP” are mostly meaningless to undergraduates, so how many show up on the night of the dinner has been a surprise! Students help with the cooking and there is always a good discussion. At the last dinner, we discussed sustainability and environmentally friendly living, among other things. There is such a warm, family atmosphere that grows over the course of the evening – it is working exactly like I hoped it would!

I have tried to get students to come to the apartment after the Tate Lectures for “Treats and Discussion,” but that one seems to fall a bit flat – only 1-4 students have ever showed. Not sure why – maybe the programs during the week are inherently less well attended? Maybe the students who go to the Tate Lectures have already spent an hour of valuable studying time on the lecture itself and need to go study? I will keep trying on that one, mostly because I would like to discuss the speakers afterward, and it is a nice time to get to know the few students who do come.

Other activities that are involved in the FiR job have been:

• A weekly staff meeting with the RAs, RCD (Residential Community Director), and Community Chaplain. Great team – we laugh a lot.
• A semi-weekly meeting with my RCD, during which we discuss grocery lists, programs, expectations, and whatever else has come up. We are becoming good friends. That relationship is key to making this job work – the FiR and RCD relationship must be collegial and collaborative.
• Eating in the cafeteria with students. I haven’t managed this very well – I have a hard time escaping my desk in Simmons during the day, so eating more often with the students is a priority for next semester.
• Bumping into students and chatting with them all over campus. I had one of these serendipitous collisions with a student, a Sunday Night Snacks regular, a couple of weeks ago when I was all dressed up for work. He said that he almost didn’t recognize me. When I asked why, he responded, “Because I normally see you in lounge wear.” This is true – I do not dress up for baking. This same student promises to give me the novella he just finished writing, so I can read it over break.
• A beautiful thing has recently developed. The students have to come to me to make requests. I have been attending Community Council meetings about once each month. (Community Council is the aggregate of the hall president and officers, floor presidents and representatives, and the RCD. This is an additional layer of programming and engagement available to students.) Community Council members have asked if they can tie some of their programming efforts to Sunday Night Snacks. So, one Sunday, we made a poster for the SMU troops for Veterans Day. Another Sunday, we made holiday cards for the troops during this time, and started a hall-wide game while munching on cookies.

I see this as a sign that the students are embracing this FiR thing, and we are all beginning to expand our understanding of it as we go. Though starting a position that is not clearly defined is a challenge, it is also exhilarating. We get to create what this looks like. In my life, I have rarely been involved in such a positive creative effort. Each FiR with each staff in each hall in the new Residential Commons will get to create new traditions. We are working right now on choosing our colors and creating a crest for Virginia-Snider with the Residential Commons Leadership Corps members, a la Harry Potter’s Gryffindor. I am researching some history of Virginia-Snider Hall, and we are inventing the atmosphere that we hope VS will have in the future.

What do I do with students? I’m having way too much fun with them. See you next semester!