Scholars in Residence program brings professors, students together outside the classroom

David Proctor, history professor and Scholar in Residence, stands in front of the door of his room in Tilton Hall on April 4. Seohyun Shim / The Tufts Daily

The Scholars in Residence program was created over 10 years ago by the Tufts Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife), according to Director Yolanda King. Faculty members who express interest in interacting with students and being part of a residential community participate in the program by living in residence halls throughout campus.

Currently, there are four Scholars in ResidenceSenior Lecturer in History David Proctor, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies Orly Clerge, Associate Professor of Music Stephan Pennington and Assistant Professor of Physics Timothy Atherton. These scholars are housed in Tilton Hall, Lewis Hall, Houston Hall and Metcalf Hall, respectively.

King told the Daily in an email that the program attempts to provide students with an intellectual and academic component to their residential life.

“I think this is a great program as it provides [an] opportunity for students and faculty to connect outside of the conventional classroom,” King said. “The students enjoy the opportunity to have [an] informal conversation with the faculty member over a meal, or during a program that they may plan within the residence halls.”

Scholars in Residence collaborate with ResLife staff to plan weekly or monthly events for their students. These events aim to connect the students’ curricular and co-curricular experiences. Past events include an advising and academic resource fair, a discussion of the scholar’s research and an informal conversation with Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon.

Proctor is currently the Scholar in Residence for the Area 3 residence halls (Bush Hall, Hodgdon Hall and Tilton Hall) and lives in Tilton Hall with his wife, Colleen Cooper. He said that he believes the Scholars in Residence program provides regularized access to faculty members and personally allows him to be a more active part of day-to-day student life.

“They know I’m there. They know I’m a resource and I think that’s valuable,” Proctor said. “Seeing one of us in the laundry room doing our laundry or bringing groceries in is just a sense that faculty are people too and they are engaged in different things and that they are living their lives just like the students are. I think that humanizes the faculty members a bit more.”

As a Scholar in Residence, Proctor organizes advising fairs every semester, to which he invites faculty and staff from as many as 25 departments to speak to students.

He emphasized how he wants to make the events useful and enjoyable, but also educational and a way of offering more casual interactions between students and faculty.

In addition to his advising fairs, Proctor hosts trivia nights and “fireside chats” where faculty members talk to students about how they got to where they are now in their careers. He said that Tufts faculty all have different stories and sharing those stories can really be informative for students.

He also hosts health panels where faculty give tips on adjusting to college life, healthy eating, handling stress, resolving relationship issues and getting enough rest.

In his welcome flyer to the Class of 2020, Proctor wrote that he hosts monthly dinners in Dewick-MacPhie Dining Center, the days and times of which he posts to his Facebook page. He also emphasizes his availability to students both inside and outside of academic settings and his openness to any topics pertaining to the students’ interests or concerns.

Clerge is the Scholar in Residence for Area 4 residence halls (Harleston Hall and Lewis Hall)Clerge explained that she joined the program because her colleagues at other universities had enjoyed their experiences interacting with their students in residence halls.

“I wanted the opportunity to get to know students outside of the traditional classroom and advising experience, and the program was the perfect opportunity to do so,” Clerge said. “[The program] decreases the distance between students and faculty, and helps students understand that faculty are people too, have families and are willing to engage with them in non-traditional capacities.”

When Clerge discovered the program at Tufts, she found the co-curricular and social programming put on by her colleagues exciting. In particular, she said she found the research projects and social events of Pennington and former Scholar in Residence Ben Shapiro to be impressive.

Clerge also said how, as an undergraduate student at Wheaton College, she participated in special interest housing programs herself. The one she was the proudest of was the Intersectionality House, a residential space that she and other groups of women created to sponsor retreats and programs about anti-racism, gender discrimination and religious tolerance.

She believes such housing programs made Wheaton a more welcoming environment for the diversity of students on campus and hopes to replicate this experience as a Scholar in Residence at Tufts.

Last year, Clerge organized the screening of “Tested,” a documentary film that follows 12 racially and socioeconomically diverse eighth-graders who navigate the unequal education system in New York. Curtis Chin, the award-winning producer of the film, gave a talk following the discussion.

During the talk, Clerge herself shared her experiences with growing up in anti-black and anti-immigrant schools. She said the event even won the programming of the year award from ResLife.

“I was surprised to receive the award, and honored that the students appreciated the efforts involved in executing the event,” she said.

Currently, Clerge is organizing an event called “Survivors’ Stories: Creating Safe Futures for our Women and Girls” to which she has invited the national nonprofit group A Long Walk Home to perform Stories of a Rape Survivor (SOARS), which aims to empower college students, survivors and their allies to address campus sexual assault.

King emphasized that the Scholars in Residence are always available in their respective halls on move-in days to welcome students at the beginning of the academic year, and that they attend some in-hall staff meetings to stay updated on current issues and trends occurring in the community.