Faculty-in-Residence Making Wellness an Elder Tradition

The end of the quarter means Northwestern students get to go home and see family soon, but it also means the culmination of three months of classes and learning. It’s a fast-paced and busy time, and students often feel anxious or overwhelmed. Elder Residential Community’s Faculty-in-Residence Jake Smith and Freda Love Smith have seen it all before. For the past five years, they have lived with approximately 350 first-year students in Elder. On November 30, they hosted their quarterly Elder Relaxation Night for students to kick back and color, listen to soothing music, get relaxation tips, eat healthy snacks, and literally loosen up with a 15-minute professional massage.

“It’s a hard first quarter,” Smith said. “You’re getting used to so many different things. At the end of the quarter, people are very stressed out and getting ready for finals… It seemed like they needed a kind of pat on the back. But how can we do that in a nice, supportive way?” There are many ways to answer that question, but Smith is sure about one tried and true answer from his years at Elder. He smiled and dramatically revealed the secret: “Professional. Chair. Massages.”

Elder resident and Weinberg first-year student Marcianni Morillo attended the wellness event to take a break from studying for her first college final and escape what she called the “Northwestern Stress Olympics.” “I definitely think that there is a lot about Northwestern culture that revolves around being very busy and being stressed, which is not great,” she said. Fortunately for Morillo and the thousands of students living on campus, Northwestern has live-in faculty who understand academic demands and have creative ideas for encouraging students to take a break while they are at their campus home. It’s all part of the network of care and support that is central to the undergraduate residential experience. With four Faculty-in-Residence already and a fifth being added in September 2018, Northwestern is committed to expanding faculty involvement in the residential experience.

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These Faculty-in-Residence work closely with Residential Life staff, including the approximately 100 Resident Assistants living on campus. At Relaxation Night, Elder Resident Assistant and Weinberg junior Sherlina Chauhan affirmed for Morillo the importance “of understanding how to be nice to yourself and to take a break when you want one.” According to Chauhan, it’s about “fighting that Northwestern vibe of 'you having to be busy and productive all the time.'”  

The accessibility of the event helped draw both Morillo and Chauhan in. For them, it was a good way to practice self-care without bundling up and leaving their residence. It was also reassuring for them to know that the Faculty-in-Residence appreciated the challenges students were facing. Smith considers that one of the more rewarding aspects of his role. “I definitely think there are a lot of faculty members here that also know about the culture of being very busy,” Smith said. “They know that sometimes students don’t take time out for themselves. Having events like this relaxation session is really essential… It was really nice for them to know where we’re coming from and provide this type of service.”

After some well-deserved massages, students remained to color and chat with the Faculty-in-Residence, Resident Assistants, and other residents. By the time they returned to studying, tension was eased, minds were refreshed, and energy was renewed for an evening of studying.  The sense of community and feeling of support that come with living on campus can make all the difference for students making the transition to college.