When thinking about life on a college campus, “family friendly” does not immediately spring to mind. More likely, we think of a cohort of faux adults attempting to figure out this thing we call life, possibly in less-than-PG-13 ways. At Vassar, this common concept only tells part of our story. Our unique House Fellow program means that some professors and their families live amongst us.
We can all see House Fellows in action when we manage to make it to the programming they offer, or when we get to the Deece at a regular dinner time, but these intermittent interactions are just one aspect of House Fellows’ lives. In order to learn more about their experiences as part of our campus community, I spent time getting to know the Lowrance family. Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Adam Lowrance and Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Lisa Lowrance, as well as their four children—6-year-old twins Victoria and Penelope and 18-month-old twins Margaret and Juliana—live in Jewett House.
Over dinner at the Deece, I had the opportunity to ask them all my burning questions about living as a family of six on campus. Throughout my questions, Victoria flipped the script a bit by asking me questions of her own, largely demanding I show off feats of mental math. When I answered her that 20,000 times 20,000 is 400,000,000, Adam intervened: “I want to say, for the record, we don’t make our children do math problems.”
I first asked the parents to give me an idea of exactly how they balance their work and family lives without clearly defined spheres for each. To start, Lisa gave me a rundown of her daily routine. Just listening gave me a newfound appreciation for my 8 a.m. alarm. As early as 5:30 a.m., Lisa is up to feed Juliana and Margaret. Shortly thereafter, the older girls wake up, and the task of getting them ready for the day begins. Both Lisa and Adam take part in the choreographic morning procedure. They have designed their routine so that each parent can efficiently accomplish different tasks.
For example, Lisa told me about Adam’s apparently newfound role as hairdresser. He stated, “I’m not an expert,” with a laugh. I responded, “It’s not rocket science,” and he quickly responded, “I think I might be better at rocket science.” After accomplishing the day’s hairdos, outfits and breakfasts, Adam takes Juliana and Margaret to daycare, and Lisa walks Victoria and Penelope to the bus stop. Once they’ve been respectively dropped off and picked up, both professors continue with their work days.
For Lisa, that means teaching four classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, as well as holding her regular office hours. Her entire week is not quite this intense, though. “On Tuesday and Thursday, it’s more laidback because I don’t teach those days,” she explained. Adam confirmed that he follows a similar schedule.
Adam then described a typical day after work hours, saying, “Usually around 5 we Deece with the family.” As I can personally attest, 5 p.m. dinner frequently includes a brief interaction with Victoria and Penelope, who often approach students and spark conversations. Students regularly smile while interacting with the twins, or offering their assistance at the drink machine. While I continued to chat with Adam, Lisa got the younger twins set for dinner in their booster chairs.
After their regular family meal, Adam continued, “We do the bedtime routine: bath, reading. Occasionally I’ll hold appointments or office hours after the kids go to bed in Jewett, which is something that is a little unique to being on campus, I think.” This shows an additional advantage for House Fellows: greater availability to connect with students both socially and academically.
In addition to these less formal opportunities to interact with students, Adam described the programming he and Lisa plan for Jewett: “We have weekend events just like all the House Fellows. I would say our events try to be things that can involve our children.” Victoria and Penelope remembered one program with particular fondness: a spa day in the MPR. Picking up two cucumbers from her plate, Penelope placed them over her eyes. “When we go to a spa, we put cucumbers on our eyes, like this,” she told me, somehow managing to balance the cucumbers at the same time.
Both parents agreed that, contrary to popular beliefs about college students, seeing students interact with their children has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. Adam indicated that those students who wish to engage with the children feel free to, and they are considerate. Lisa described more generally, “I think campus has been a really great environment … I’ve found students, in particular here, are very respectful and nice.”
Likewise, Penelope and Victoria seem to enjoy their home at Vassar as much as the average student. Penelope contributed, “[My favorite part is] getting ice cream sandwiches.” She added that she enjoys riding her bike around the quad. Victoria enthusiastically replied, “The top of Vassar!” After some follow-up questions, I determined that she meant the common space on the ninth floor of Jewett.
While students get the benefit of heartwarming interactions with the kids, the girls get to learn about a variety of different life experiences from the people they meet every day. Adam spoke directly to the benefit of the House Fellow program for the kids: “The quad is their front yard, [and] they get to play with all sorts of people from all over the world, which would not be the case in any other standard way of growing up.”