Resident Masters improve dorm life

By David Kaye

With the recent announcement that the new dormitory will include resident masters, students in dormitories with only resident heads shared conflicting opinions of life in housing without the resident masters program.

“I think not having a resident master was unfair because it means that other dorms received more activities and funding than us, even though we are all basically paying the same price,” said Bilal Askaryar, a second-year in the College who lived in Breckinridge—which did not have a resident master—for four quarters.

“I think this is just another example of the inefficiency and hypocrisy of the housing system,” he said.

Julia Crowell, a first-year in the College, emphasized the role played by the resident head in her dormitory, Broadview. “I honestly love my resident head. He is like a father to me here,” she said. “I am not really sure what the difference is between a resident head and a resident master, but I do not feel deprived in the least bit.”

Both Askaryar and Crowell said the resident masters issue did not come up often—if at all—in their respective dorms.

Blackstone, Breckinridge, Broadview, Maclean, and Stony Island do not have resident masters for “logistical” reasons, said Katie Callow-Wright, associate dean of students in the University and director of the Office of Undergraduate Student Housing. “[We] don’t have places for them to live in those dorms,” she said.

While there used to be resident masters associated with Broadview who did not live there, she added, in recent years people found it harder to enjoy the position while not living in the dormitory.

To compensate for this, she said, other dormitories can invite these “stand-alone” buildings to their own events. “It’s a way to connect and get involved,” she said.

For dorms with resident masters, events may be when students most connect with these faculty members. Resident masters host both study breaks—weekly, in the case of Snell-Hitchcock—and numerous, wide-ranging outside trips. “R.M. events are diverse. There has been a trip to please everyone,” said Bob Rayson, a third-year in the College and a resident masters’ assistant (RMA) in Burton-Judson.

Through the efforts of resident masters and their assistants, students in the housing system this year have been to the Chicago Symphony Center, the Lyric Opera, the Goodman Theater, the Art Institute, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the United Center, Second City, and Six Flags, among other places.

These events are generally well attended, with tickets in high demand. “Sign-ups are posted at 7 or 8 a.m., and when the masters show up with the list, there is already a line,” said Lia Bosma, a third-year in the College and RMA in Snell-Hitchcock. Tickets to see the new musical Spamalot quickly sold out at Burton-Judson, Max Palevsky, and the Shoreland.

Additionally, resident masters develop distinctive events for their students. From February 13 through 18, Max Palevsky, which welcomed David and Kris Wray into the position earlier this year, featured “MaxArts,” in which residents could display their creative work. Jennie Myers and Chris Woods of Pierce regularly have an “Open House” with food, games, and a cappella music.

These events often have an academic tone. “This quarter [Rob and Kit Chaskin of Snell-Hitchcock] started a series called ‘Change Your Mind,'” Bosma said. “A member of the University faculty comes to one of our study breaks and discusses something that affected their life.”

Similarly, Josh Scodel and Mayumi Fukui of Burton-Judson frequently organize a faculty fellows lunch that allows students to have a casual conversation with several well known professors. Larry and Penny Rothfield of the Shoreland hosted Allen Grossman for a week this year as a poet-in-residence and held a large reading and dinner in his honor.

Since the 1970 inception of the program, several faculty members have passed through as resident masters. The longest to serve were Charles and Sandra Cohen of Pierce Tower, who stepped down in 2002 after 22 years. Among current resident masters, the Rothfields are the most experienced, having taken the position in 2001.

Regardless of their duration, resident masters are of great benefit to students, the housing system, and the University. “They’re high quality, dedicated, good folks, [who undertake] a huge time commitment,” said Callow-Wright.

They are also remembered and appreciated by the administration. “We just held a dinner [last month] that brought together almost every resident master couple since we began the program,” said Stephen Klass, vice president and dean of students in the University.

“It was a wonderful evening that underscored the uniqueness of the position and its irreplaceably positive impact on the quality of student life,” he said.

Students agree that the influence of resident masters has been greatly beneficial. “Their events are a welcome break from the daily grind of classes and papers,” said Elise MacArthur, a second-year in the College and RMA in Snell-Hitchcock. “The resident masters are like your aunt and uncle—they are good people you enjoy visiting,” she said.

“As inter-house rivalries are often ripe, the [resident] masters’ position allows a relationship to be formed [in] the dorm,” said Rachel Fuchs, a third-year in the College and an RMA in Pierce.

These happy sentiments are hardly one-sided. “I’ve really come to appreciate how multifaceted U of C students are,” Scodel said. “[My wife Mayumi and I] feel like we have joined a rich community that a lot of University folks don’t really know much about.”