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Resident Fellows working to cultivate community respect
Courtesy of Cardinal Nights

Resident Fellows working to cultivate community respect

As dorm staff selection begins, resident fellows (RFs) are working to foster supportive and inclusive communities among their dorm residents at Stanford.

RFs are Stanford faculty or staff who live in apartments in or adjacent to student residences. They play a major role in shaping students’ living and learning experience by encouraging community building in dorms, providing residents with academic advice and more, according to associate dean of Residential Education Jennifer Calvert. According to Calvert, the tone of the dorm community created by RFs can help set up learning opportunities for residents and help them feel at home.

“What does a house feel like, what does a house value, what does a house do together, what does a house talk about together?” Calvert said. “All these kinds of cultural factors – an RF plays a role in that.”

Cheryl Brown, RF of the Meier Hall student residence and director of Frosh 101, a two-unit course that aims to help first-year students transition to life on campus, said she believes one part of her role as a resident fellow is to help promote inclusivity among her residents.

“I feel like our job is to create a space that feels like home for people from every background,” Brown said. “Sometimes our job is to provide a place for people to just come in and talk.”

Forming intentional communities

Every year, dorms set out community standards, principles that guide residents to act with awareness of their individual impacts on the community and the importance of their relationships with their peers. Meredith Manda ’19, resident assistant (RA) in the Otero student residence, emphasized the importance of creating an intentional community that emphasizes openness and inclusivity. 

Manda said that RFs, RAs, resident computer consultants, peer health educators and residents collectively contributed to the establishment of Otero’s community standards this year.

“A lot of it was intentionally having conversations that allowed people to feel like they can share whatever perspective they have on certain things and creating a space for diversity of thought,” Manda said.

Marie-Louise Catsalis, RF of Toyon Hall and music department lecturer, emphasized the importance of leading by example.

“I think it’s important to set a good tone in the dorm from the very beginning and to make sure that all students have a voice,” said Catsalis. “It’s important to make sure that underrepresented students are not being marginalized.”

Catsalis also pointed out the importance of dorm programming in creating spaces for diversity of thought, citing the “Beyond the Line” activity as an example. During the activity, a staff member asks students questions related to identity and life experience and invites participants to walk across a line depending on their responses. Students are also encouraged to elaborate on their reason for either crossing or not crossing the line.

“I love Beyond the Line because you get to speak and say why you made that move… You’re given a chance to listen to others, and you’re rewarded for listening to others’ input, which I think is really powerful,” said Catsalis.

Brown added that she often opens her house to host gatherings for students and that she also helps plan dorm-sponsored social events.

“We opened our house for the Super Bowl,” Brown said, “ This week, we’re going to go see Black Panther, along with a dinner and a discussion.”

According to Calvert, resident fellows’ role in making dorms an educational space is also significant.

“[The RF] has an incredibly important educational role — finding ways to integrate learning in the classroom and your life,” Calvert said.

Events organized by RFs are often inspired by RFs’ interests and fields of academic expertise.

“We have [events], particularly things that are linked to the things that my husband and I do at Stanford,” said Catsalis. “We take students to the opera, and our signature fall event is a trip to L.A.”

In addition to promoting dorm community through events, resident fellows also participate in the selection and training of house staff, who interact more with residents on a daily basis.

“[The staff] are the students we know the best,” said Catsalis. “We see our role as supporting the staff in running the dorm — we really let them do the day-to-day running.”

RFs meet with dorm staff weekly to discuss community issues as well as situations where RFs are needed to support RAs.

“Every week, we have a staff meeting — we talk about ways to build community, we give them feedback based on our experience and we also help them manage issues that come up in the community,” said Brown. “[Staff members] may ask us for mentorship for their own lives.”

Living at Stanford

According to Catsalis, one perk of the RF job is the ability to live on campus.

“It’s so convenient to live on campus,” Catsalis said. “But on the downside of that, you never leave your work. The only way I get a real break is to leave the premises—if I’m here all the time, then I’m working all the time.”

Brown echoed Catsalis’ sentiments.

“It’s very nice to walk to work and raise our kids in this community, but there’s also something about living where you work,” said Brown. “You live where you work, so you’re thinking about work all the time.”

However, Catsalis added that one benefit of having a living environment integrated with the workplace is that resident fellows are able to spend more time getting to know students.

“Before you become an RF, you think you know your students well because you see them in class, but I don’t think anything compares to living with them,” Catsalis said. “It’s a real eye-opener.”

“Whether there’s a performance, a lecture [or] a show, when you’re so close, you’re able to see the sorts of things students are involved in outside of the classroom, which is really awesome,” Brown said. “I really have loved the jobs that I’ve had at Stanford, but I think being an RF is one of my favorite things because… people show up authentically in their living communities, and you really get to see the full student.”

Contact Karen Kurosawa at karen16 ‘at’ stanford.edu