Campus family: Living in a dorm, but not students

Eric Ferreri

DURHAM, N.C. — Maeve Cook-Deegan will have plenty of new experiences when she heads off to college this fall. But dorm life won’t be one of them.

Maeve, a 17-year-old Durham Academy senior, has already spent six years living in a Duke University residence hall as the daughter of one of the university’s 13 faculty-in-residence professors.

Which means she’s already had a few “crazy college kids” moments.

Exhibit A: “I walked out the door yesterday and there was a guy with his shirt off,” Maeve recounted recently. “And his friend was reading what people had written on him the day before.”

Such is life in Alspaugh dorm on Duke’s East Campus, Maeve’s home since she was 12. She lives there with her parents, Bob and Kathryn, and their dog, Oshie, a friendly mutt named for a Swiss lake.

For Maeve, Duke dorm life was a dramatic change from the suburban bliss of Annapolis, Md., where the family lived before Bob Cook-Deegan was recruited away from a Stanford University program in Washington. She left a neighborhood where her best friend lived next door and moved into a cramped room at the back of the Cook-Deegan compound, a retrofitted apartment fashioned from several standard dorm rooms.

The apartment is long and narrow, with a spacious kitchen, a cozy living room, two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a giant dog bed for Oshie.

For Maeve, life has been one slow transition. When she moved in at age 12, she got funny looks from students who may have mistaken her for a resident’s little sister. As she grew, she began to fit in more. Now 17, she’s just a year or two younger than the students.

Still, she doesn’t mix with them much. In fact, the most interaction she has with students is during fire drills, which often come on weekends or late at night.

“This year hasn’t been so bad,” said Maeve, who will enroll at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland this fall. “They’ve learned how to use the microwave.”

Dorm life can be frustrating at times. It’s hard to direct friends to her dorm, which is tucked away in the back of the campus. And when they do visit, they risk a parking ticket from the campus cops.


But there are bonuses, though, such as campus arts events, use of the campus gym and the quiet that comes with winter break. That’s when Maeve has the run of the place, so she and her friends can enjoy the rec room and its flat-screen television — and pool and foosball tables.

Bob Cook-Deegan is a public policy professor and director of Duke’s Center for Genome Ethics. When he was recruited to Duke, he insisted on living with his family in a dorm, in an attempt to recapture the experience he had as an undergrad at Harvard, where faculty members live in “houses” with students and act as advisers. The idea is to eliminate barriers between faculty and students and enhance the academic experience.

“I figured this would be the most efficient way to learn this new universe,” he said. “I learn a whole lot more about the students hanging out with them and then eating breakfast with them.”

The faculty-in-residence model is not common at Triangle universities, though N.C. State started a program this year aimed at bringing a faculty member to live in a residence hall.


In exchange for free housing, utilities and wi-fi, Cook-Deegan is both a formal and informal adviser to the 120 students who live in Alspaugh. The formal: He helps organize dorm events, outings and educational activities, though he has no official disciplinary duties. The informal: He becomes a crisis counselor on occasion when an overstressed student bangs on the door in the middle of the night.

It’s an arrangement he likes. He routinely chats with his students, and when they camp out in Krzyzewskiville for weeks to score coveted basketball tickets, he brings them coffee and doughnuts. But while he’s a familiar enough presence in the dorm that students refer to him simply as “BCD,” there are boundaries.

“I’m not one of the gang,” he said. “There’s a definite disconnect between the student and the faculty. Every year, I do have very close friendships with students, but it’s not the expectation.”

Connie Chai lived in Alspaugh as a freshman and enjoyed having a faculty member living among the students. Chai, now a senior, said it was nice to have an adult adviser close by, and seeing a professor outside the classroom set students at ease.

“You’re seeing him in a different setting, and you meet his family and his dog,” she said. “We’d be eating pizza in the common room, and Oshie would come in and try to get a piece of pizza.”


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