Navigating the Partner-in-Residence Experience

The first time I saw our apartment, I was cynical. The floors were covered in building materials, and the bathrooms lacked faucets. The ceilings were conspicuously absent, and, strangest of all, the whole thing was built into the bottom floor of Lee Residence Hall.

On the day we moved in, it was a different story. The apartment had been transformed into a beautiful space, polished and prepared for us. All of the structural devices I had seen on our last visit were tucked away behind walls, coats of paint, and ceiling tiles. The apartment had its face on.

In a sense, this consciousness of structural underpinnings is emblematic of the scholar-in-residence position. As an instructor, I see my students’ professional faces. However, as a neighbor, I’ve been given the opportunity to see the building materials. I have the chance to understand the day-to-day experiences that help shape the students I teach.

When my partner, Dr. Patsy Sibley, took a position as the scholar-in-residence in the WISE living-learning village, I found myself in an in-between space. She lives in our apartment in an official capacity, working directly with the very group of people on which her course, Women and Gender in Science and Technology, is focused. By contrast, I’m a Lecturer in the First Year Writing Program; my job takes me all the way across campus to Tompkins Hall. As I write to you this evening, we’ve lived in this apartment for roughly seven months, and, in that time, I’ve tried to carve out what it means to be the WISE Village’s unofficial “partner-in-residence.” While I still have a lot to learn, I can safely say that I’ve figured out a few important things.

First and foremost, you should know that NC State’s campus is positively covered in students, and I have it on good authority that many other campuses around the country are in a similar state. Living on campus means being around thousands of students every day, and, for me, it means seeing my students every day. In the early days, this raised some questions:

  • Do we acknowledge each other, or do we just keep walking?
  • Should they say “hi” first? Should I?
  • Does he really want to know how I’m doing, or is he just being polite?
  • Is there mustard on my sweater? There is usually mustard on my sweater.

Over time, the deluge of daily concerns has abated, and the result is that I find myself surrounded not by students, but by people who are students. I’ve run into these people at the Talley food court, bought books from them in the bookstore, sat beside them in coffee shops, and even met with them to discuss research projects. My people who are students are also people who are friends, people who are workers, people who are performers, and even people who are emerging scientists and scholars.

As a teacher and a researcher, it is a rare pleasure to see students – the people for whom I do my work – every day. Whether we’re working on a WISE-specific project or research in the scholarship of teaching and learning, Patsy and I are constantly reminded (by their direct involvement, their general enthusiasm, and the way they slam their suite doors) of their presence. As researchers, we see those constant reminders as calls to action.  They are reasons to continue pushing the intellectual envelope. As teachers, we gain valuable perspective on the everyday challenges and triumphs of our students.

Living with students puts us in the position of navigating an unfamiliar borderland, and our relationships are inevitably both personal and professional. The maps of the classroom don’t always work on the quad, in the dining hall, or in the Lee Hall lobby, so we have the opportunity to draw new ones. The maps we draw exceed the boundaries of the classroom, connecting students’ internships to our science fiction book club to English 101 to the dreaded Change of Degree Application experience. While I will not always have the privilege of being the partner-in-residence, I will always have these maps. I will always have the understanding that I am teaching people who are more than students.

— Written by Jacob Clayton