When Professor Dr. Rita Kirk takes an evening stroll with Sir Emerson of Eaton in the SMU quad, students tend to walk a little straighter on their way back to their dorm rooms from a night out on the town. That’s because not only is Kirk a professor, she is their neighbor.
Kirk, Professor and Director of the Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility, is there for students when they need her. She sees them coming back from a late night at the library, and heading out the door for a night out with friends.
Kirk’s apartment is on the corner of the Armstrong common, which has 3 bedrooms and an office. She sees students out on her strolls, and from her patio where she has chairs, a grill, and some potted plants.
“As I am watering from my patio, I see female students leave for the night. Some outfits are precious, others are concerning to me,” Kirk said.
Kirk is one of 11 faculty members living in apartments across campus. The Faculty-in-Residence program allows students and faculty to interact outside of the classroom, create a community and share memories.
Dorms such as Virginia-Snider, Mckelvaney, Morrison-McGinnis, Mary Hay, Peyton, Shuttles, Boaz, and the five new residential commons welcomed the first faculty neighbors at the beginning of the Fall 2014 school year.
Faculty members interact all day long with students, sometimes even inviting students into their homes for dinner or dessert. Some of the faculty-in-residence have spouses and even children living with them.
SMU Sophomore Maddy Levitt lives in Crow Commons and raves over Will Power, an award-winning playwright and performer, that lives in her dorm with his wife and kids.
They have “the cutest kids and always invites us over for smoothies or bagels for Sunday brunch. They are the best,” said Levitt.
“It’s super nice to have faculty-in-residence because they open their doors for students to come into and provide a home -like environment,” said SMU Sophomore A.J Johnson.
Kirk jumped on board quickly to be a part of this new “tradition” after hearing Associate Director of Academic Initiatives & Campus Partnerships, Jeff Grimm, talk about his image of what SMU can be.
“His enthusiasm was contagious, I knew I had to be part of this new tradition at SMU,” said Kirk.
Kirk, along with the other faculty-in-residence signed a 3-year contract to living on campus.
Kirk said that in many ways SMU has been a commuter campus, but now it is gearing towards creating a culture and defining the SMU community.
Unlike students, faculty gets to keep their pets with them. Sir Emerson, known as “Emmy” around the quad, is Kirk’s dog. Kirk said that Emmy, a Bichon frise, gets very excited when students are outside reading, and loves when students give him attention.
Kirk said some students are resistant when passing by, but the “dog talk” is a great icebreaker.
“People talk to you more when you have a dog with you,” said Kirk.
SMU Sophomore Hannah Blake lives in the Armstrong common and loves when Emerson is running around the grass in the quad.
“Having an animal run around makes me feel at home,” said Blake.
Kirk describes living on campus with students “as a place for somebody to share joy.”
Kirk finds the fun that students want to have as simply “amazing.” She recalled the water balloon fight that erupted suddenly around the quad at the beginning of the school year.
“I like the spirit of weirdness,” Kirk said.
Besides witnessing the enthusiastic energy among students, Kirk also gets to witness random acts of kindness.
“I will see a student talking on the phone outside that looks upset, and right when he or she hangs up, another student goes up to them and makes sure they are OK. It is warming to my soul,” she said.
With the many perks that come with living on campus, Kirk does miss certain things about living in a home off campus.
“I miss my swimming pool. With that being said, I am not going to go join students out at the tanning pool!”
Kirk also misses gardening; it is her first spring to not have her hands on a soil patch.
Although Kirk misses these perks that come with living in a house with a big yard, she couldn’t imagine not being apart of this new era at SMU.
“It is such an adventure,” said Kirk.
Kirk recommends that all faculty live on campus with students, but says it takes a certain personality type.
“We are not disciplinarians, we are there to create a bond with students and to be here for them if they need us,” said Kirk.
Emerson enjoys his bonding time with the students, too.