A Little Older, A Little Wiser

Posted on 11. Feb, 2010 by in Points of Departure

Their numbers are small: emails to the administrative offices of the residential colleges revealed only five names spread across two colleges, Davenport and Saybrook. Few students in the general Yale College student body know of their existence. Unlike masters, deans, or professors, they do not look or behave so differently from undergraduates. Instead, they live among us, as us—almost. Though they live, eat, shower and sleep amidst undergraduates, they are no longer in college themselves.  Yes, several graduate students, still suspended in a dormitory lifestyle after many of their peers have moved on to independence and adulthood, live among us in the residential colleges.

Dov Fox, YLS ’10, however, seems perfectly content with his on-campus residential situation in Davenport. “I eat most, if not all, of my meals here,” he explained, referring to the advisory sessions he schedules with students in the college’s dining hall to discuss summer options, career plans, how to develop research projects or get to know professors. Even if he has no official plans to meet with students, he sits with them anyway. “I’m kind of annoying. I sit down and introduce myself. I try to be a presence, so that students feel comfortable coming to me.”

While an undergraduate at Harvard, Fox interacted with the network of graduate students who live in the Upperclass Houses, Harvard’s equivalent of Yale’s colleges, who advise undergraduates in a range of different fields and academic disciplines. Entering Yale Law School, Fox wanted to relate with undergraduates in a similar capacity. He contacted the masters and deans of the colleges expressing his background and interest. Though Davenport’s Master Richard Schottenfeld and Dean Craig Harwood had never hosted graduate students in their dorms before, they were interested in Fox entering the college’s community. Now completing his last year of law school, Fox has been a resident of Davenport for the entirety of his graduate school career.

Fox takes his advising duties as an affiliate very seriously. No doubt, he is a serious guy: a former Rhodes scholar, Fox is also the author of a book on the admissions process and residential life at Harvard, and has published articles on bioethics and law in multiple academic journals. As intimidating as his resume may be, however, Fox is mild-mannered, soft-spoken and endearingly enthusiastic about Davenport and his fellow residents. “To say the least, it enriches my experience so much,” he says. “It’s been the most serious thing I’ve done in New Haven for the past three years.”

He spread the word. A classmate of Fox’s from Oxford, Kenneth Townsend, pursued the possibility of living within a residential college at his friend’s suggestion. “As soon as I decided to come here, Dov said I should email the masters of the colleges about my interest,” Townsend explained, his native Mississippi accent not fully erased by a decade pursuing his studies in the UK and New England.

Though Townsend has a stand-alone single room, he shares a bathroom with Saybrook undergrads. “Last Friday, Feb Club had parties on the first through fourth floors of Entryway C.” Townsend lives on the fifth floor. “It’s times like these that I feel like, I’m 28, I should move on,” he says. “But the benefits definitely outweigh the costs.” Townsend receives free room and board in exchange for coordinating the Mellon Forum dinners for the college and managing the scheduling for the Underbrook, Saybrook’s theater facility. While room and board are no doubt important, Kenneth enjoys college life for more than its convenience and financial advantages. “Undergraduates are at a very formative part of their lives. I think it’s neat to be a part of that.” Townsend interacts with his undergrad neighbors not only at the dinner table, but also on the basketball court. Talking about his involvement on the Saybrook intramural basketball team, Kenneth mentioned, “The other week, we were playing Calhoun, and some guy on the other team was giving me a hard time, saying, ‘Why is there some thirty-year-old fellow on your team?’”

Kenneth is, in fact, nearly thirty. But Rachel Schon, a graduate affiliate in Davenport, is the same age as members of this year’s graduating class. A native Londoner, Schon completed her undergraduate degree at Cambridge last year, where college is three instead of four years long. Now a student at Yale Divinity School, she lives in Davenport as a Clare Mellon Fellow, a program that allows for two Yale College graduates live and study at Clare College, Cambridge, and two Clare students come to New Haven each year.

Schon’s living experience  could not be more different from that of Fox and Townsend’s. Her age, and the fact that unlike the other two, she is not an affiliate of the college with official responsibilities, naturally changes her interaction with Davenport students. “I feel more like an undergraduate. The senior class is really friendly; they’ve invited me to parties,” says Schon, who is dating a senior in Ezra Stiles. “I’ve made the conscious decision to see Davenport College and Slifka as my social community.” As both a college resident and a graduate student, Rachel has received her fair share of blank stares. “I’m constantly having to explain myself,” she told me.

It makes sense—the concept of a grad affiliate may be hard to grasp for the Yale senior looking eagerly towards his diploma and a life beyond the white walls of a crowded dormitory. But for Fox, Townsend and Schon, the decision to live in the company of students up to a decade their junior represents less a retreat to the past or a fear of the future than a grown-up decision to contribute actively and passionately to a collegiate community. Fox, for one, in unambiguous in his commitment to Davenport: “It’s definitely my home.”

Image: Qizhong Guo, Picasa

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