SMU Faculty in Residence

As live-in faculty members in SMU’s Residential Commons, Faculty in Residence (FiRs) serve as the intellectual leaders of their commons. The FiR program creates opportunities for students to know faculty members outside of the classroom and emphasizes a culture of mentorship, intellectual discourse and community.

The student Residential Commons Leadership Corps also is blogging at

Diary of an FiR: Boulevarding 101

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

September 7, 2013

My first major program for students was today: Boulevarding with Batenburg, or Boulevarding 101. Students stopped in to get some treats and some mentoring for how to handle the Boulevard. The RA’s made a handout of tips for first years, and my apartment is rather ideally situated as a jumping-off point for the festivities (fortunately or unfortunately). Probably 30 people showed up and filtered in and out. Some just came down to introduce themselves – how lovely is that?

I feel as though my life is very full tonight – in the very-satisfying-yet-perhaps-too-full-but-it-was-all-so-yummy-after-Thanksgiving-dinner kind of full. I definitely need a nap, but I also keep smiling as I remember some of the things these students talked about. They are all so excited to be here at SMU. And every one of them who spoke about their major was terribly excited to be starting a challenging effort. They are excited for things to be difficult and to grow as a result of wrestling with big issues. Many were the hyper-achieving type for whom a quadruple major is not quite enough to satisfy all of their interests. I love people like that. People who are interested and excited to learn, and who take full advantage of this great gift that is a college education.

Our Common Reading author, Wes Moore, spoke the other day, and two things from his talk stayed with me. First was his phrase “avoidable tragedies.” Many people don’t realize how few Americans actually graduate from college. Current Census data show that 57% of Americans have “some college,” yet only 30% earn a Bachelor’s degree. This figure is backed up by the National Center for Education Statistics’ Condition of Education report that finds that only 33% of 25- to 29-year-olds have completed a Bachelor’s degree.* The numbers are very different based on race; that is, minority students have much lower graduation rates. People are shocked by these statistics. I know I was the first time I heard them. SMU’s 4-year graduation rate is better at 67.3%, and its 6-year rate is better still at 79.4%.** Still, most of the students I have spoken with this year are even surprised by that figure. No one expects that anything other than graduating in four years will happen to him or her. Avoidable tragedies are not in the plan. Fingers crossed.

Wes Moore

Wes Moore also talked about the opportunities and advantages that he had, and challenged us to think about, “What will you do with your experience here?” I met a bunch of students today who are already into it, grabbing every opportunity they can: combining subjects into fascinating majors, taking hard classes, joining clubs, starting community service projects. Here are students that are already reducing the chance that avoidable tragedies are going to happen to them by jumping right in and getting involved. I will take my nap, calmly reassured that the future is in good hands and the human race will be OK as long as these students are at the helm. And I am delighted that I am here to make the journey a little easier, with some free food and company, cookies on Sunday nights, some mentoring for the Boulevard and some encouragement when needed.

*The government shutdown continues to shut down the reputable online sources for these data: and Please forgive this temporary use of Wikipedia.

**SMU Institutional Research Retention and Graduation Rates for First-Year Students Fall 2012.

Posted in SMU Faculty in Residence | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Diary of an FiR: Boulevarding 101

Diary of an FIR: The Silent Disco, Part II

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

August 28, 2013

So, the Silent Disco. Fascinating. My RA buddy said it had an atmosphere of a social experiment, and I think that captures it quite well.

The premise of a silent disco is that people wear headphones to listen to the music. There are two channels on the headphones, each represented by a different color; tonight’s colors were red and blue. Each channel plays a different set of songs, so people are dancing together on the same dance floor, but they are dancing to different music.

How utterly silly and beautiful. And this, August 28, 2013, is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. We were not judging by the content of our character that night, but on the content of our headphones. Sort of.

At first, I have to say, it was just awkward. Not because I was still feeling like a creepy middle-aged woman even after my RA arrived, but because not very many people were dancing. People put the headphones over one ear, but left them a bit askew so they could hear each other’s conversation out of the other ear, generally swaying, but not actually dancing. I think this is how every student dance in history has started – without dancing. Groups mingling awkwardly until someone has the guts to start. There must be safety in numbers.

As more people arrived and we reached that mysterious tipping point, dancing ensued. To one not wearing headphones, the scene was hilarious. First, not being able to hear themselves, some people would sing out loud. Of course, two different songs were playing, so the two a cappellas were often in conflict. Second, when a popular song came on, everyone on that color would suddenly scream and start to dance together with enthusiasm. If one group appeared to be having a great time, other groups switched colors on their headphones to hear which song was playing and usually joined in, dancing to the better song. Third, there was at least one team of two young men, each on a different color. When one thought a good song came on, he tapped the other one on the shoulder, wordlessly telling him to switch. They would then smile and nod in agreement, heads bobbing in unison to the beat.

And on this 50th anniversary of the King Dream speech, a speech that dreamt of a time when people would no longer be excluded from society for arbitrary reasons like skin color, there were still groups of white kids and groups of black kids at the disco. There was some mixing, but the dominant dance groups at the Silent Disco were initially split by race. And there were still awkward kids on the fringe, not being invited into the dancing circles, pretending not to care. (Cell phones now provide excellent escapes for the wallflowers. We can pretend to return texts when no one is asking us to dance.) Segregation was noticeably still alive.

Until. The Electric Slide.

Line dancing saved the day. Everyone either knew the Electric Slide, or wanted to know it. Nearly the whole dance floor took those steps in unison, or tried to – teaching each other, prompting each other, counting the steps out loud for someone with two left feet. And then another line dance, to the song Blurred Lines, kept us dancing together as one group. Black, white, geek, cool: all were stepping as one.

I left shortly after that. The groups were much more mixed up by that point. People felt freer getting to know each other after bonding over music and dancing and general silliness. Makes me think that we, as contributors to the new Residential Commons, need to find that thing – that thing that brings everyone together. Many things, in fact, that show us that we are all ridiculous and afraid and yet willing to try. Willing to help out. Willing to sing aloud when we can’t hear ourselves. Able to communicate clearly with no words at all.

What a wonderful way to spend the 50th anniversary of the Dream speech. Rather felt dreamlike, didn’t it?

Posted in SMU Faculty in Residence | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Diary of an FIR: The Silent Disco, Part II

Diary of an FIR: The Silent Disco, Part I

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

August 28, 2013

It’s been a big day.

All of you over the age of 40 will be relieved to know that the Electric Slide is alive and well. I know this because I went to the Silent Disco tonight. All of you under the age of 40 will not comprehend my next statement: Horror of horrors, after years of a not-entirely-silent protest against it, I am now on Facebook. (And blogging, for heaven’s sake. When I announced these things to my best friend, Edmond, his response was, “Who are you?”)

Seeking to use this new social networking tool (Well, it’s new to me, isn’t it?), I sent out an announcement for the Silent Disco that said, “If you want to go in together, meet by Café 100 at 9 p.m.” (This was a carefully worded email. If I chickened out, then people wouldn’t necessarily count on me being there – just go in “together.”) Bucking up my courage, I showed up around 8:50 p.m. to see if any students actually wanted to attend. My plan was to meet them, gather them, make introductions, and usher them into the program, while I “waited outside just in case more people came.” I was still very uncertain and insecure about this FiR thing and what my role would or should be. Would students want to dance with a professor? Wouldn’t that be a bit weird? Can I even still dance at this age?

All of these fears became moot when absolutely no one showed up. Nine o’clock passed by – no students. Then the decision became: how long do I stay? What if students are always 10 minutes late? So, I agreed with myself to stay another 10 minutes and then go home, having given it the good ol’ Facebook try. During those 10 minutes, I just hung around Hughes-Trigg watching the students silently dancing down in the courtyard. (Fascinating! Worth a whole ‘nother blog post on its own. Stay tuned.)

As people were passing me by heading into the student center, and as people were looking up at me from the disco, I realized that I was getting some dirty looks. Some confused looks. Some looks of growing alarm that seemed to say, “Who is that creepy middle-aged woman just hanging around?” And it then dawned on me, what is the difference between a creepy middle-aged woman hanging around and a faculty-in-residence? I only began to contemplate this when, mercifully, one of the RAs in my building showed up.

By the way, two of my RAs had “liked” my post about the Silent Disco on Facebook. I had to write to one of the RAs and ask what “like” meant in this context. I wrote, “Does that mean you both are going, or is that more of a noncommittal, encouragement type of thing?” (Rookies. *Sigh*) Though I now understand “like” to mean absolutely nothing of consequence, I was quite relieved to see my RA! We did go down to the dance, and I did some dancing. The Electric Slide, in fact. One girl looked at me with some amazement while we were dancing this eternal line dance and said, “You know how to do this?!”

Yes, dear girl, we’ve been doing it since at least 1986. When I am sure I thought it was brand new, too.

Posted in SMU Faculty in Residence | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Diary of an FIR: The Silent Disco, Part I

Diary of a FiR: Week 2

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

August 27
Fire drill. 6:30 a.m. ‘Nuf said?

They warned me ahead of time, so I did have advance notice. And it’s not like I haven’t been through this before; after all, I was an undergraduate myself in the distant past subjected to this state-mandated form of torture. More recently, I was a “House Counselor” (Read: “RA.”) for a boarding high school for girls in North Carolina. The building was very old and dusty, and its particle-sensing fire alarm system was very new and sensitive: a tragic combination. It was unfortunately common to have two or three fire alarms go off in a single evening. So, it’s not like I didn’t know what to expect from a fire drill.

And yet.

I feel as though I need to prepare future FiRs who are saying to themselves right now, “How bad can it be?” In that spirit, here are some special FiR preparedness tips for fire drills:

1. Find a place in your unit where clothing will be kept – clothing dedicated to fire drills. Clothing that can be easily put on when you have been woken from a dead sleep in the middle of the night by you-are-not-quite-sure-what, because an earsplitting alarm is removing all capability of rational thought from your mind, and strobe lights are threatening to throw you into a state of photosensitive epilepsy.

2. Or, just plan on students seeing you in your jammies. Might use that first drill just to get that out of the way.

3. Hope the earsplitting alarm prevents students from remembering to grab their phones, so they won’t be able to get pictures of you with a shocking case of bedhead.

4. It might be raining. Leave an umbrella by the likeliest exit. (Yes, if it’s raining, you still have to leave the building. Trust me. With that noise? It will be impossible to stay. Your choice is wet or deaf.)

5. People with kids? Good luck. Fortunately, the crying/screaming-in-fear will be drowned out by the alarm.

I do hope that, now, future FiRs will be better prepared for this, again, state-mandated activity (Read: Your complaints will fall on deaf ears. Everyone in the Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office has been through too many fire drills.)

Posted in SMU Faculty in Residence | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Diary of a Faculty in Residence

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

Week 1, August 12: First Impressions

The Boulevard is my front lawn. Before I completely moved in, I quickly decided that I am never leaving.

Virginia-Snider Residential Commons

I feel like I’ve moved into a fancy hotel. My apartment in the residence hall, carved out of the space in which several student rooms used to be, is swanky by my standards: beautiful hardwood floors, granite countertops, a larger kitchen and pantry than my cooking skills deserve, top of the line appliances and cabinetry, two bedrooms, and 2.5 baths in roughly 1,400 square feet of space. I am swimming in luxury. One of the resident assistants noted tonight that she felt like she was in a real home that was far away from her room in the residence hall. I think it’s like that scene from Harry Potter when they are at the Quidditch World Cup: there are a bunch of standard tents all over, but when you open the tent flaps, you find a mansion. (Undetectable extension charm.) A la Doctor Who’s TARDIS, it’s bigger – and nicer – on the inside than anyone could possibly expect.

My first official meeting was with the residence hall director and the 7 resident assistants with whom I will be working. We met for about 90 minutes, introduced ourselves, went over expectations, and began brainstorming programming ideas. We decided immediately that one good idea that would “stick” would be “Sunday Night Snacks” (SNS). I will bake cookies and have other munchies available for students on Sunday nights during the semester. Students can stop by to grab a bite and leave, or they can stay for a chat. Apparently, any programming will be tolerated if food accompanies it. We all put forth various ideas for programs for students: a knighting ceremony for the Order of the Elephant, Pancakes and Potter, and Wellness programs. This residence hall team, as in every residence hall, has specific goals for programming during the first six weeks of the semester, so we knocked out plans for those programs, and then made plans to discuss ideas further at our next big meeting.

This group of people has been so welcoming to me. I feel very comfortable and supported already. We had a spontaneous meal together in Umph toward the end of the week. Tonight, we had our first inaugural SNS. What a lovely bunch of people! I liked them all immediately. The RAs are an interesting and diverse group of undergraduates, taking on an immense amount of responsibility and training. RAs go through eight intense days of training (8 to 10 hours each day) before the opening day (move-in). I am a small part of that training, though I have been welcomed to all of it. Tomorrow, I have four hours set aside to meet with them to discuss programming, and Tuesday, another three hours. All hands will be on deck for move-in day, so it will be an intense week! This first week before classes begin is definitely devoted to the “in Residence” part of the “Faculty in Residence.”

I am sure I have syllabi to write somewhere.

Posted in SMU Faculty in Residence | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Diary of a Faculty in Residence