Even with COVID-19, faculty in residence choose to live on campus

Professor Rishi Sriram, a member of the Faculty in Residence program, hosts Tuesday Tea in Brooks College. Photo courtesy of Rishi Sriram.

By Mallory Harris | Reporter

Baylor’s Faculty in Residence program started in 2004 and has been fostering community ever since. While Baylor’s response to the pandemic has downsized multiple events, faculty in residence who choose to live among college students strive to build community. According to their website, the program exists to shape social, cultural, educational and spiritual life within Baylor’s residential communities.

Terri Garrett, faculty in residence program director, explained that the role of faculty in residence is to help students live life on a college campus and gain influence from the faculty. Having students interact with faculty outside of the classroom helps show them that the faculty is interested in their overall development at Baylor, not just in academics, Garrett said.

Prior to COVID-19, faculty members were encouraged to live life with residents in both formal and informal ways such as having dinner or casual conversation, Garret explained.

“With COVID -19, it’s been hard in the sense of now we have to figure out how to do life together, but in a way that still protects everyone,” Garrett said.

Multiple programs within the residence halls had to limit the size of groups due to COVID-19, Garrett said. To maintain community, faculty and students were encouraged to participate in more one-on-one engagements. Garrett also explained that many faculty members are embracing new ways of interacting with and supporting students — such as going door-to-door and talking with students about their day. Dr. Rishi Sriram resides in Brooks Residential College and has reflected on the ways he traditionally gets to know his residents in light of the new challenges.

“One of the things that I love doing as a faculty in residence is learning the names of students,” Sriram said. “I think that’s one of the most honoring and validating things that a student can experience when a faculty member knows them by name. That’s one thing that’s been a real challenge [with COVID-19], and I’m still trying to learn people’s names.”

In his eight years of living in residence, Sriram has thoroughly enjoyed watching students grow into the people they are meant to become and has done some of his most meaningful work. With the onslaught of COVID-19 guidelines, Sriram said he felt supported by Baylor through their encouragement of hand washing, provided resources and in keeping specific traditions.

“One of the things that I really appreciated about the university is the way that they found to keep the Great Hall, our dining hall, open,” Sriram said. “Even in the midst of COVID-19, that has been one of the most crucial spaces for community that we have.”

While COVID-19 hasn’t changed the living situation for faculty in residence, the community atmosphere has been affected. Creating new formats to meet students that abide by safety regulations comes from monthly meetings all faculty in residence participate in, Garrett said. As COVID-19 has brought its challenges, faculty in residence have not stopped in connecting with their fellow residents.

“[It’s] really important to us is to be able to offer to students an experience that shows how faculty care for their students’ wellbeing and that Baylor faculty are willing to live life out on a daily basis with their residents,” Garret said.