Fairfield Now - Winter 2008
All Together Now:
New on-campus communities integrate residence living with study in the classroom
By Meredith Guinness
There's a green leaf tacked to the door of the Village residence apartment at Fairfield that Alexandra Gross '09 shares with fellow seniors Emmalee Egan, Kelly Bauer, and Mary Anne O'Gorman.
Inside, a handmade sign reminds residents not to leave home without a reusable bag, a refillable bottle, and a thermos. The kitchen shelves are stocked with the peach salsa and pepper relish Gross made and canned herself over the summer while she worked at an organic farm.
Over in the corner, hundreds of wriggling red worms feast on coffee grounds, food scraps, and muffin wrappers in the indoor compost bin.
Welcome to Earth House, where an environmentally focused group of students are living together, one of eight living and learning communities that have been established at the University in recent years as part of the strategic goal of encouraging students to live in more focused and engaged residential settings. The communities have attracted hundreds of students.
On a crisp fall day, Gross unpacked the year's supply of cleaning products an enviro-friendly company sent to Earth House to help with the project.
Gross, a vegan, plans to eat locally for the entire year, and to walk wherever she can in order to reduce her carbon footprint. Meanwhile, Egan has trained herself to unplug appliances and lamps whenever they aren't in use, and the students proudly point out that their apartment features low-flow plumbing to save water, and compact fluorescent bulbs to save electricity.
The group plans to use the compost the worms are busily breaking down in the corner of the apartment to help start a garden in the spring.
"We hope to get that going so students can, eventually, grow their own vegetables on campus," Gross said. "It's something we can leave behind. A legacy."
The living and learning communities that are emerging at Fairfield range from this four-person apartment to the inspiration for all campus communities - the 200-strong Ignatian Residential College established in 2002, where a select group of sophomores live together in a guided community inspired by Jesuit values.
"My parents instilled in me a sense of leaving a place better than you found it, and we are really trying to live like that here," said Gross, an English major from rural Roxbury, Conn., who is also the editor-in-chief of The Mirror. "People think living green is hard, but we want to show them it's easy. You can be the busiest person in the world and still do this."
Earth House sets up shop (L to R): Alexandra Gross '09 and Charlene Wallace, an environmentally savvy secretary for the Philopshy and Religious Studies departments, feed the worms in the apartment compost bin; the Village residence apartments where Earth House is located; Gross helps Emmalee Egan '09 stock the cupboards with green cleaning products.
While Gross and her apartment mates reduce, reuse, and recycle, the 20 students on the Diversity and Social Justice (DSJ) floor in Kostka Hall are creating "passion projects," which range from a plan to help displaced Columbian children to lobbying for state universal healthcare initiatives.
Then there are the 12 women in the Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (WiSTEM) community in Gonzaga Hall, who support each other as they study what have traditionally been the more male-dominated subjects, such as organic chemistry and calculus. The Healthy Living Floor of 31 first-year students in Campion organizes communal dinners, nutrition workshops, and trips to the RecPlex.
The emergence of these new campus communities is music to the ears of University President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., who has made the integration of what goes on in the classroom with how students live their lives one of the cornerstones of his vision of how Fairfield should evolve.
In his inaugural speech four years ago, Fr. von Arx said one of his three goals as president would be the integration of living and learning, inspired by the ages-old Jesuit idea of cura personalis, care of the whole person. Calling the Ignatian Residential College "one of the most successful and imaginative experiments at integrating life and learning that I know of," he challenged the faculty, staff, and students to find new ways to live an inspired life.
Last year, Residence Life invited students to come up with ideas for their own living communities through the Build a House contest.
"We were looking for a way to give students an opportunity to live together around a theme that would engage and benefit the larger Fairfield community," said Deborah Cady Melzer, dean of student development.
Among the winners were Gross and her group, as well as five juniors who came up with the Empowering Women group, which will create a support group for Fairfield women and volunteer at a local women's shelter. Rounding out the pack are a five-member community service group and FIRE, a five-member leadership collaborative house with members drawn from the Fairfield University Student Association (FUSA), Inter Residence Hall Assembly (IRHA), and students who work with Rescue, and Emergency Services.
A recent fall evening found the Diversity and Social Justice group at a workshop and dinner with Dr. Nadinne Cruz, director of the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford University. Unique opportunities to work closely with such an international scholar come with membership in a living and learning community.
Dr. Nadinne Cruz (left) leads the Diversity and Social Justice group in an exercise on the meaning of "service."
Group members discuss their views.
The group is a perfect fit for Shawne Lomauro '11, a politics and economics major from Freehold, N.J. Engaged by her courses and dynamic professors like former Teacher of the Year and Assistant Professor of Politics Dr. Jocelyn Boryczka, Lomauro said she is passionate about gender identity equality and other political issues. And she's found a place where she can talk about them with like-minded - and not so like-minded - people.
"I'm trying to fight apathy," she said. "If I can get people to do anything, it would be just think! If students start to think, then they start moving to action."
At the workshop, Dr. Cruz had students consider what "service" means to them by ranking the importance of a list of activities. The choices ranged from giving $50 to the Red Cross to adopting a child or joining the armed forces. The results sparked conversation that might help students hone in on meaningful "passion projects" they will complete this year.
"One of the biggest things I can do with my life is give it to service to others," said Lomauro, who might minor in peace and justice studies or women's studies. "And I'm really getting into it. Before I got here - you know, in high school and before that - this wasn't true, but now it's hard for me to put my books down. The more I learn, the more I want to keep learning."
Jeanne DiMuzio, director of Counseling Services, (left) meets with her mentoring group. Dr. Judy Primavera, professor of psychology, (right) chats with a student at the Ignation Residential College fall retreat.
Over on the Healthy Living floor, students sign an agreement with six community expectations, adding four more personal expectations for the year. And it's not just a pledge to shun alcohol and drugs: Students agree to help prepare monthly meals together, join men's and women's health forums, and discuss and promote healthy living across campus.
Yes, someone might wolf down the occasional bag of Fritos, but that's all part of the equation, said Bonnie Nimmo, area coordinator for the group. "It's really about reaching your goals," she said. "You can eat things in moderation and still be healthy and we talk about that."
The educational component embedded in many of the communities is key for Dr. David McFadden, a history professor who is teaching "The American Prophetic Tradition" as part of the DSJ program. He will be a mentor to the group in the spring, when other professors take on a teaching role. The student communities and the faculty learning communities instituted on campus (see sidebar) are reinvigorating the way professors teach and students learn, he said. "It's an exciting time to be teaching at Fairfield."
Students from the Ignation Residential College create a flag and perform during the retreat with their mentor Patricia Brennan,
a coordinator in the President's Office (L image, third from left).
Faculty Learning Communities Grow As Well
Dr. David McFadden, professor of history, has been teaching college classes for 25 years, the past 18 here at Fairfield. But does he think he knows everything about how to impart wisdom to young minds? Hardly.
Which is why he and 34 other professors joined the University's 2007-08 faculty learning communities (FLCs), five cross-disciplinary groups who spent the year reflecting on their own practices, learning new teaching tricks, and considering meaningful ways to integrate the core with other courses, the majors, and the University's mission. A new batch of 40 faculty and staff joined this year's communities.
They may not be living together like their student counterparts, but FLC members meet twice monthly, attend retreats, and file portfolios through this popular Center for Academic Excellence initiative, now in its third year. Many come away invigorated and ready to change the way Fairfield educates, said Dr. McFadden, who joined the 2007-08 Diversity and Big Questions community.
"In my time here, we've done this sort of sharing minimally," he said. "But the Center for Academic Excellence is building a critical mass of people with the wisdom and courage to really think about these issues. Now the new faculty are seeing this as exciting and it's starting to change the climate, the ethos, of the campus culture."
This year's communities are focused on such things as learning portfolios, spirituality in teaching, and Ignatian pedagogy. For Dr. Lisa Newton, professor of applied ethics, the communities have offered a "discussion on what once was an impermissible topic: how you teach. I think it's a great idea, a fantastic idea," she said. "The structure has amazing possibilities."