Families-in-residence provide students with home away from home

Dr. Rishi Sriram is one of the many faculty in residence that calls Baylor home, literally. Photo courtesy of Baylor University School of Education

By Olivia Turner | Staff Writer

In residence halls dominated by Baylor students, there resides faculty-in-residence (FIR), the university’s faculty members who choose to live among the students. Though few and far between, these members of Baylor’s residential communities are greatly cherished and impact the lives of many students simply by being present.

Brooks Residential College is one of the campus’ living communities that is lucky enough not only to have a member of faculty-in-residence, but an entire family-in-residence. Dr. Rishi Sriram and his family have been living in Brooks for ten years now, an accomplishment which Sriram said he owes to his wife and to his daughter, Lily, who initially urged him to make the move to campus.

He recently published a book chapter titled “The Hidden Helpers,” which is part of a larger publication, “The Faculty Factor: Developing Faculty Engagement With Living Learning-Communities.” This book aims to help readers learn more about faculty-in-residence and why they are “key stakeholders of college student success,” Sriram said.

According to Sriram’s chapter, daily functions such as having meals together, attending community programs and remembering the names of each student, are all things FIRs do to help establish a more comforting and familial setting for students.

“There is something magical about someone’s name,” Sriram said. “They feel known, they feel cared for, they feel loved — they are often surprised.”

Though presence is important, the contributions of a FIR don’t end there, Sriram said.

Throughout his years at Brooks, Sriram said he and his wife have had enlightening conversations with residents on deep topics such as relationships and marriage. By interacting with the students on this level, Sriram said he and his family serve as a sort of second family for many students.

“When students have a sense of community and a sense of belonging, everything else seems to work so much better,” Sriram said.

Lily Sriram, Sriram’s daughter, wrote the introduction to the chapter that goes into more detail on how all the members of a family in residence, even the children, contribute to this role of care and comfort for students.

Lily, who began her life at Brooks when she was only seven years old — now 16 years old — said she knew from the start that she wanted Baylor to be her home.

“Everyone was just truly incredible to me and made me feel like they were all my brothers and sisters,” Lily said.

As the daughter of a FIR, Lily said she feels she plays a part in making students feel welcome at Brooks. One way she accomplishes this, she said, is by allowing students to mentor her. She said It’s a refreshing change for most students from constantly being the mentee a role which can sometimes wear students down more than it benefits them.

Lily said college students make good mentors because they have had time to reflect on their experiences as teenagers, yet have not forgotten what it is like to be one. In her mentors, Lily said she has found much inspiration from them.

“I’ve been able to observe and see the person I want to be in these students,” Lily said.

Even with the meaningful relationships the family has made with students, Sriram said he has contemplated moving off campus, especially when his wife was about to have their fourth child, Levi. However, it was Lily who convinced him to allow them to stay, which helped him to realize that he didn’t need to move because of family; he needed to stay.

According to Sriram, staying has been rewarding in ways he hadn’t anticipated.

“I came into this role thinking that the sacrifices would be bigger than they’ve been,” Sriram said.

Sriram said the cons to the job he had expected were vastly outweighed by the reward of impacting students’ lives. One of the most memorable times Sriram said he can recall this feeling was when a student left him a heartfelt letter of appreciation under his door.

Sriram said he couldn’t believe his eyes when he read who had signed it.

“I would have given you the hundred-closest student relationships that I have had over the years, and I would have been wrong on every single one,” Sriram said. “It just really struck me that you never know who you’re reaching or what kind of impact you’re having on them.”

Living in Brooks College has been the most meaningful commitment Sriram said he has made in his entire career. Though he doesn’t know the future, he said he plans to continue to live there with his family and impact the lives of students for years to come.