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UCLA

An Early Taste of Dorm Life

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By Mary Daily

Published Aug 9, 2011 12:00 AM


UCLA's Faculty in Residence Program promotes close mentoring relationships between professors and students right where they live. And for a few fortunate kids, it's a chance to see college life up close.

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A star in the making, Joseph Green (in the striped shirt) acted alongside UCLA students in the production "Seussical." Photo credit: Hooligan Theatre Company

For four years, Joseph Green begged his mom, art history professor Charlene Villaseñor Black, to sign up for UCLA's Faculty in Residence (FIR) program. But Black wasn't sure dorm life was the right choice for the two of them until 2010, when in late summer they moved into Sproul Hall.

Now, a year later, neither could be happier about life in their small apartment, created out of four dorm rooms.

UCLA's FIR program began in the 1960s, soon after the first residence halls were built on campus. Its mission is to bring academic inspiration and support into the residential setting, to promote mentoring relationships in formal and informal interactions. Currently about 16 families are participating and, for kids, it's a rare exposure to dorm life at an early age.

Twelve-year-old Joseph loves being around the 94 undergraduates who share his hall. "They're just cool," he says. He also loves the food, the recreation facilities and the closeness to campus events. Last spring, he played the lead in a UCLA student production of "Seussical."

Joseph and his mom usually eat in Covel but have the pick of all the dining halls. They attend such student events as open mic and karaoke night, dance competitions and Earth Day. When Joseph's classmates from Crossroads School in Santa Monica visit, they play video games in Ackerman. "They say I have the coolest house," he says.

Meanwhile, Black likes not having to commute, shop for groceries or cook. But what she values most is the chance to provide this experience for Joseph. "I'm a single mom," she says, "so we don't have money for vacations. But this is an incredible gift to him — for him to get to know the students, who are all so impressive." (Joseph wants to know, though, if they're all so smart, "how do the frat boys get in?")

As a faculty member, Black also appreciates the nearness to students — more common at private colleges. She has taken residents on field trips to the Getty Center and spearheaded activities in recognition of Day of the Dead, reflective of her specialization in religious art in Spain and the Americas. But she finds the ordinary aspects of dorm life meaningful, too. When she and Joseph eat in the dining hall, "the students see that we're just normal, everyday people," she says. She in turn gets a "much more integrated view of the students' lives."

As for Joseph, he dislikes only two aspects of dorm life. One is the weekend visits of the students' moms who "mob the parking lot." The other is the onslaught of youngsters attending UCLA camps. "The computer kids and cheerleaders got in a fight over where the bathrooms were," he says.

Overall, though, he loves UCLA and says he hopes to be a Bruin himself someday "unless I get a full scholarship to Yale."

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