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Campus Life: What It's Like for Faculty and Staff Who Reside on Campus

It’s time for dinner at Frank Dining Hall and the students clamor in, making their way through the food area and then settling down to sit with classmates and friends.

But at one table, Emma Visser, who turns 2 later this month, sits in her booster seat and waits to be fed. Like most of Pomona’s students, Emma is also a resident of the campus. She is the daughter of Sarah Visser, the interim Associate Dean of Campus Life, who moved into Mudd-Blaisdell dorm this past summer with her family. The two-bedroom apartment came with the position she recently accepted.

“We eat in the dining hall frequently, and we’re always bumping into students in the hall,” she says. “It’s a joy being with the college students.”

Though she is not new to Pomona College, Visser’s living experiences at the College are fairly new. Other staff members, however, have also forged the same path of living on campus. Tomás Summers Sandoval, Assistant Professor of History and Chicano Studies, has been living at Pomona for a little over a year, and Heather Williams, Associate Professor of Politics, has been living on campus for almost two years. They are among the several people who simultaneously work and live within the Pomona College community.

According to Ric Townes, the Dean of Campus Life, the College is committed to having members of faculty and Student Affairs staff living on campus because of Pomona’s mission as a residential, liberal arts college. “The point has always been to have them be involved in all areas of the student experience, including such things as where students live and where they eat,” he says.

Though Visser’s residence came with her job, other faculty members who want to live on campus fill out an application that is looked over by a committee of deans and assistant deans. Different faculty members occupy the residential areas every three years.

Before moving into her current home, Williams had been mostly exposed to only the academic settings of the College as a professor. “I get a glimpse of a different side of college,” she says. “I thought it would be fun for a while to be a part of the life of college in a residential setting.”

For Summers Sandoval, as a graduate of Claremont McKenna College, he liked the experiences he had with his teachers who were closely involved with campus life. “This is the embodiment of what I like in being a professor—to interact with students,” he says. “My wife and I wanted to make the move here so that I could make a stronger connection.”

Summers Sandoval says that the most common interactions with students are the informal ones, including the unanticipated meetings that come with life in the campus residential community. “We’ll take evening and weekend walks with my wife and [family]. It’s those casual interactions beyond the nine to five, Monday to Friday.” Williams has also enjoyed her unplanned interactions with the college residents—she once went surfing with some students and a couple professors on a whim.

As a part of their roles as residential faculty members, Williams and Summers Sandoval often plan formal events for students. At her home, Williams has hosted several dinners, including those with food from Pomona’s own organic farm—at one point, she had a record 51 students at her home. Last year, with support from the Latin American Studies program, she also sponsored a dinner and a showing of Milagros: Made in Mexico with two directors from the film.

Likewise, Summers Sandoval has held receptions in his home. He has had intimate gatherings of students and professors for informal dinners, and even turned his space into a soup kitchen during finals week. He says that he wants the students to see that his residence is their space as much as it is his family’s home.  Outside of his home this semester, he is holding a film and discussion series relating to Chicanos and Latinos at the Chicano/Latino Student Affairs lounge.

“The best value of the program is that it brings students together in a different venue in a less formal kind of way,” Summers Sandoval says of the events he plans as a faculty resident. For Williams, she is grateful to have gotten to know the many students who have helped her with her events, and hopes many others would take the initiative in interacting with faculty.

“People should feel free to knock on my door and say, hey--you have cable…Can we watch The Daily Show?’” she says. “If people want to come by to take a break, they should.”

A Little Noise, But a Lot of Benefits
Visser, Williams and Summers Sandoval all seem to enjoy campus life, though some drawbacks are inevitable.

There is a consensus that noise is an issue to be expected on all college campuses. “It can be loud at certain times,” Summers Sandoval says. “The north parking lot between Pomona and Claremont McKenna is a weekend highway for foot traffic.”

Williams says that people have been considerate, but she does take note of the night owls on campus. “You’ve got to have a really high tolerance to the noise,” she says. Visser has found a coping strategy: They use a white-noise machine.

Matters such as this also bring up the idea of personal space for each of the residents.

“At first, we were like—are we going to have privacy? But we feel like we have our own space and it feels like our own home,” Visser says. Each of the faculty and staff residents has a private yard and a fence.

The children seem to be enjoying it just as well. Visser is excited when she discusses her daughter’s interactions with those around her. “She’s a very social kid. She loves being around college students and they love her,” she says. “She loves the hall and always points to the door and says, ‘Outside! Outside!’”

Summers Sandoval also enjoys Pomona College with his wife, Melinda, and children, Benito and newborn Lil. “Part of the fun of the program is not just me as a professor to play a part in campus life—it’s my family,” he says. “This is a great place to have [children]. There is a lot of walking space; it’s safe to let a two-year-old off the leash.”

As for Visser, the newest resident, her family is also growing like Summers Sandoval’s—she has a new baby boy, Maxwell. Unless circumstances change for Visser, she is anticipating living at Pomona as long as she can.