The Cavalier Daily
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Colleges create cooperative community

RUMOR has it that to live in Brown College, you must be, to put it nicely, eclectic. To live in Hereford College, you've got to love walking very long distances. But there is a third possibility: You believe in the mission of this University. Brown and Hereford, both examples of residential colleges, are modern-day interpretations of Thomas Jefferson's original plan: an academical village.

Jefferson imagined a residential community where the professors talked to - not at - their students. He organized his Lawn so that professors not only could teach their students easily, but also would live, eat and mingle with the student body. A professor's dinner table could become a roundtable discussion, allowing for a free exchange in a setting removed from classroom protocol. Students and faculty could learn from each other, rather than the "I talk, you listen" approach so often employed in today's gigantic lectures.

Both class sizes and student residences have grown since Jefferson's days, making it easy for a student to feel lost in the crowd. We file by the hundreds into giant halls where we catch but a glimpse of the professors at the front. Chances are that the huddled masses never will engage them in a discussion, much less chat in the context of a personal conversation. Perhaps funding and student interest will not allow for smaller classes, but we can feel more at home when we're at home.

At least two places on Grounds are making an effort to personalize the University experience and humanize the talking heads at the front of lecture halls. Hereford and Brown both offer faculty-in-residence, such as Brown Principal and History Prof. Eric Midelfort (he's the guy who lives in the big white house on Monroe Hill ... wouldn't it be cool to be invited there for dinner). Also in residence are Brown Study Coordinator and Assoc. Chemistry Prof. Carl Trindle, and Hereford Principal and Assoc. Architectural History Prof. Dan Bluestone. Each college also has faculty fellows who are closely tied to the residences - some even live there. New Dean of Students Penny Rue is a Hereford administrative fellow. Though she doesn't live in the college, her house is right across the street.

These faculty members have made the commitment not only to convey information, but also to teach - to have a debate over dinner, to offer guidance, to conduct short courses for their residents - functions those at other universities might consider above and beyond the call of duty for a professor. Those who know our tradition, however, know that this is exactly the way an academical village should be.

Residential colleges also encourage another University tradition: student self-governance. Each of the colleges has in-house leadership, such as Hereford's Executive Budget Committee. The EBC plans banquets, dances, speakers and even some trips for its constituency. This is representative democracy in a nutshell and offers a much more personal governing experience than, say, Student Council, where a representative may never know half the students he represents.

But if these ideological perks aren't impressive enough, consider that Hereford's EBC has a $45,000 budget to play with. That's enough cash to buy everyone living there two tickets to Busch Gardens and still have money left over for cotton candy.

Some might argue that residential colleges compartmentalize the student body too much, detracting from the overall Wahoo identity. Perhaps they do, but in a school of over 18,000 students, everyone needs a community within the community. The University's residential college system encourages diverse living arrangements where students from many disciplines can exchange ideas.

Students can find smaller circles through student organizations, the Greek system, or sports, but nothing can compare to the bond created between housemates. First-year students especially tend to look for a replacement family when they leave their real one at home for the first time; a residential-type living arrangement gives voluntary structure and closeness that some students might enjoy should they choose to participate.

The University's founder intended professors to know their students by name; today our professors know us by our social security numbers. Is it any wonder that some first-years may feel disconnected and depressed?

In a time when the University has faced a lot of criticism for neglecting the well-being of its students, residential colleges are a refreshing return to what should be the real mission of any institution of higher learning - not rote memorization, but thoughtful interaction.

(Emily Harding's column appears Fridays in The Cavalier Daily.)

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