Higher Education & Student Affairs

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What is a Residential College? by Nick Blair

Asking someone what a residential college is will get a variety of responses, debates, and discussions similar to asking your friends “is a hot dog a sandwich, why or why not?”. That is to say, there are many ways to describe residential colleges. Today, I will attempt to provide a fair representation of the concept of residential colleges and how it applies to Brooks Residential College where I am privileged to work as a Graduate Apprentice Residence Hall Director. While the title may be long and silly sounding, it’s a truly amazing opportunity that I’m thankful for every day.

Nick Blair, Graduate Apprentice for Brooks College

Residential Colleges are a housing community model inspired by the college systems of English universities, most notably Oxford and Cambridge. In contrast to American universities, Oxford and Cambridge are umbrella organizations which contain smaller entities, called colleges. Each college is responsible for housing, feeding, educating, and supporting their students. Upon completion of satisfactory coursework within the college, a degree is granted by the university. Each college in a university like Oxford and Cambridge has its own unique identity and traditions.

While similar patterns may be found in American universities, which are often divided into different ‘schools’ or ‘colleges’, they are all closely connected to their university identity and could not exist without the components of the whole. The American university provides housing, meals, and other administrative services while the ‘colleges’ are often simply an organizational category to describe groups of academic departments. Residential colleges are an attempt to bring back to student life some of the benefits of a closely connected academic, social, and personal life for students.

In residential university settings across the United States, residential colleges are an expansion on the residence hall model. Residential colleges seek to provide close connections between the academic aspects of college and university life with the extracurricular activities that solidifies the collegiate experience. In residential colleges, faculty members from the university live, work, and lead the residence hall. They take part in the daily operations of the hall and invest their time with students in ways that surpass the classroom setting.

At Brooks Residential College, you can see this as you meet Dr. Rishi Sriram and his family. They live in an apartment adjacent to Robbins Chapel and across from the Great Hall. Dr. Sriram hosts guests in his home every Tuesday for tea and speaks at Sunday Night Dinner. He drops by the common rooms to converse with students, participates in the college council, and is active in guiding the mission and vision of our community.

But the real question of “what is a residential college?” is not as simple to answer as saying “the faculty live there”. What makes a residential college is the important and irreplaceable connections that happen between students, faculty, staff, and visitors. From these connections we learn about ourselves, each other, and the world around us. We support each other and the mission of our university. We come together as a family bringing with us our own individual stories. Residential colleges are about living together and learning together.

I see this every day through the interactions I have at and around Brooks College. There is no higher point in my week then entering the archway on a Friday afternoon and seeing a game of pick-up soccer happening adjacent to the common room where ping-pong, board games, and afternoon socializing are in full swing. Through my apprenticeship, I get to meet people from across the world, share good times and bad times with students, and have had my life changed as a result. Truly, a residential college is home.

megan_michener • October 24, 2017

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