Residential Commons in Oxford

Eight SMU undergraduates and four faculty and staff members are exploring the birthplace of residential colleges: Oxford, England. With stops in London, Cambridge, and Bath, this group of residential leaders are searching to answer the question, “What is the culture of a true residential college system?” The students, faculty and staff hope to bring back ideas and traditions to enhance SMU’s new Residential Commons system.

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Exploring Christ Church Cathedral and Trinity College

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An update from Andrew, a sophomore majoring in anthropology and human rights, and a member of the Residential Commons Leadership Corps in Armstrong Commons:

Following a spectacular celebration at Highclere Castle last night, the RCLC began our 6th day of research in Oxford this morning. After breakfast, I was one of several RCLC members to attend a service at Christ Church Cathedral.

The Cathedral is thoughtfully situated amongst the picturesque landscape of Christ Church College, one of the largest colleges at Oxford University. Founded in 1546, Christ Church College boasts a rich history of distinguished alums, including Robert Hooke, John Locke, and John Wesley. The college has also produced 13 British Prime Ministers, which is more than any other college in England. In addition to being a chapel for College students, Christ Church Cathedral also serves the Anglican Diocese of Oxford. The service we participated in today involved traditional Anglican hymns, prayers, and beautiful organ music accompanied by the Cathedral’s famous choir. The picture above was taken on the quad outside of the Cathedral.

While thinking about the Cathedral’s significance to the history of Christ Church College, I reflected on my visit to Merton College four days earlier. Merton College was founded by Walter de Merton, regent king of England for Edward I from 1272–1274. Merton wanted his college to be a place where students could live together, work together, eat together, and pray together.

Based on the research we have done this week, I have concluded that these aspects of life are central to the residential communities in many colleges at Oxford University. I hope the Residential Commons model at SMU will create a culture in which students will interact with faculty, staff, and each other, not only in the classroom, but also in other areas of life.

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Dr. Vicki Hill and Andrew

After the church service, we met up with the rest of our group to explore Trinity College. The visit brought back fond memories for Dr. Vicki Hill, Assistant Dean for the University Curriculum at SMU. Dr. Hill studied at Trinity College during the summer of 1974, after graduating from the University of California, Berkeley. She said learning about the Bloomsbury Group and Virginia Woolf at Oxford was one of the most exciting academic experiences she has ever had. One of her favorite aspects of residential life at Trinity College was having opportunities to interact informally with professors.

Speaking with Dr. Hill confirmed that SMU’s Faculty-in-Residence model will be a great way for students to spend time with their professors outside of class. When I asked Dr. Hill what she would like to bring back to SMU from her experience at Trinity College, she replied that she would like to achieve the sense of responsibility people have to each other in the residential communities at Oxford within the new Residential Commons at SMU. I think this is an excellent goal, and one that SMU is well on its way to achieving.

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