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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From University College to ‘British Bop’

Tour guide Owen and the Residential Commons Leadership Corps outside the library at Univ College

Tour guide Owen and the Residential Commons Leadership Corps outside the library at Univ College

An update from Kaleb, a sophomore majoring in accounting and advertising-creative, and a member of the Residential Commons Leadership Corps in Ware Commons:

Today in Oxford we had an extremely busy day! We had a tour of Univ College, Exeter College, a High Table Lecture and Dinner as well as a “British Bop” in the on-campus Univ Pub, all on our agenda.

We began our day with a 9:45 a.m. tour of Univ College with our tour guide Owen, who is currently studying law at Oxford and assisting with the SMU-in-Oxford program. Because we are staying at Univ College, we all knew the layout of the land, the housing situation and the basic ins and outs pretty well, but we were excited to be able to ask Owen specifics about life on campus and the history of Univ College.

University College, Oxford

University College, Oxford

Owen informed us that Univ College is the oldest college at the University of Oxford based on charter. He explained the “Oxford Union,” which functions essentially as a headquarters for all of the on-campus extracurricular activities for students, including rowing, debate, etc. He also explained that every subject has its own “society” associated with it, which he feels creates a bond between like-minded students. All first years live together in one “dormitory”-type facility and live amongst only freshmen for their first year at Univ College, and upperclassmen are intermixed in various housing around the college. Later we passed the statue of Percy Shelley (a prominent Univ alum), the infamous portrait of Bill Clinton (which he detests), and landed at the library.

The library is crucial to academic life on campus, as Owen explained; it is a hot commodity during finals because there are limited spaces to study within the library. We stood outside the library at the end of our tour and asked him questions regarding his opinions of the college model, Oxford as a whole and his favorite and least favorite things about Oxford. We learned a lot about what he felt worked well, ways to improve the model and what exactly were the greatest highlights and pitfalls of Oxford.

Exeter College

Exeter College

Later we took a 2 p.m. tour of the beautiful, pristine Exeter College and visited the chapel, the courtyard facilities and interviewed another student named Oliver studying biochemistry and repeated the process we used with Owen.

The RCLC with Professors Krout and Hill before our High Table Lecture

The RCLC with Dr. Krout and Dr. Hill before our High Table Lecture

We then rushed back to get into our formalwear for our 5:45 p.m. highly interesting “High Table Lecture” on the 100th anniversary of Great Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in WWI. After the lecture we attended our second “High Table” dinner where we sat together and discussed all that we had learned from our interviews that day while studying the art and purpose of these “High Table” dinners.

High Table place settings

We were served a four-course meal including a chilled soup, watercress vichy; a main course of grilled chicken over crushed new potatoes; a dessert of praline opera gateau; and a final round of coffee and mints.

These “High Table” dinners are of the utmost importance on campus and are held in reverence. They begin with all students standing as two fellows (professors) began reciting a Latin speech. All remain standing until the “second amen” is uttered from one of the fellows. We were all then allowed to sit and began to converse as the staff began serving us. The service culminated with another Latin speech followed by a final “amen,” signifying we were allowed to leave. This tradition dates back until the early stages of Oxford as fellows feel dining and speaking with students is a pivotal asset in the forging of student-professor relationships.

RCLC at our High Table Lecture

RCLC at High Table

Our dinner ended around 8:45 p.m., and we had a “British Bop” scheduled for 9 p.m. where all SMU students were invited to dress in their best “British” attire and hang out in the on-campus pub and listen to music. Programs like this, we learned from one of our earlier tours, are quite common and are a way the college attempts to create bonds and friendships between students. Usually programs of this sort would be planned by the JCR (the undergraduate governing body). We danced the night away with about 60-70 other students decked out in British Flags, right on campus. It was the perfect end to a long day filled with learning, experiencing, understanding and entertaining.

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