Life as a first year and life as an upperclassman are two entirely different experiences. After a year on campus, problems like getting lost on campus are replaced with navigating major declarations and room draw. Fellow groups may drift apart and former student fellows go abroad.
Two years ago, the floor fellow program was launched in Raymond and Strong, designed to provide a support-system specifically for upperclassmen. Today, as the current floor fellows reflect on their experiences, the program has the potential to become a campus-wide institution.
The College concieved of the new student position as one both similar and distinct to the role of student fellows. House Advisor for Raymond and Strong Houses and Assistant Director of International Services Mariyah Salem is one of architects of the pilot program.
“We are currently working on a proposal that will outline ways in which the floor fellow program can be expanded to other houses,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “The program will continue in its pilot program for a third academic year and any expansion will be planned for the fall of 2015.”
Salem observes that the transition between freshman and sophomore years can leave some students feeling adrift.
“Most sophomores look fondly upon their first year and the sense of community they felt within their fellowee group,” she wrote. “Although in their second year they are more independent, students recognize that they do not have designated peers that they can confide in or go to for support when they are facing challenges.”
She continued, “I took this matter to the Director of Residential Life, Luis Inoa, and he agreed that although we do a great job in supporting our freshmen we do not have intentionally developed programs to support our upperclassmen.”
Tanenbaum Inter-Religious Post-Bac Fellow Adah Hekto works firsthand with and advises the floor fellows.
“It’s definitely a challenge for many campuses specifically in providing programming to meet the needs of sophomores, juniors and seniors,” said Hekto.
One of the floor fellows’ most basic objectives is to get to know the other upperclassmen on their floor.
“The main goal of the floor fellows is to build community on their floor, get students together and to promote House Team and House Fellow events to the upperclassmen,” wrote Salem. “Floor fellows organize small gatherings in their room or the common spaces with food and activities to get to know the students on their floor.”
Hekto elaborated on how the floor fellows she works with will open their rooms for casual get-togethers. The most successful ones, she said, feature a combination of food and games: pizza and Uno or cupcakes and friendship bracelets.
One student who chose to devote time to supporting their fellow upperclassmen is Courtney Rowley ’14, who is the fellow for Raymond second floor.
Rowley said one of the reasons she chose to become a floor fellow was to remain a part of the House she has lived in since her first year at Vassar.
“I really wanted to be a supportive role and resource in the house, and it has been a wonderful combination of the two roles. The residential experience on this campus means a lot to me, so I have really enjoyed being a formal part of Reslife,” wrote Rowley in an emailed statement.
Others highlighted the difference between first-year students and upperclassmen when it comes to interaction with their floor fellows. Floor fellows may be the same year as the students they are meant to support. This relationship is distinct from that of student fellows and fellowees who are separated by least a year of experience.
Because of this more level footing, some think that accessing floor fellow resources might be easier for some students.
“I guess also when you’re an upperclassmen there is not so much of a barrier with your floor fellow as there was with your student fellow,” said Strong resident Margaret Port ’16. “In the case of student fellows you are supposed to be friendly but not friends. They are a higher resource. The relationship with floor fellows is a very different dynamic.”
Port, however, questioned whether floor fellows are a particularly important resource to uppserclassmen, because these students may have forged other support networks outside the framework of the Residential Life system.
“I honestly don’t feel like it has been a hugely vital resource. I think that upperclassmen, if they needed something, would go to their friends first,” she said.
Rowley also described some of the difficulties in working with a larger pool of upperclassmen and the struggle to bring members of various class years together in a cohesive unit.
“I think one of the greatest challenges of being a floor fellow is trying to bring such different people together, especially trying to create an approach that is different from how student fellows approach first year students,” she wrote.
Rowley went on, “There have been some hard times trying to make this happen, but I think this program is a great opportunity to really create a sense of community in the dorms, and connect the class years.”
There have already been surprises shared, according to Hekto.
“Something floor fellows have been good at is bridging the divide between freshmen clusters and upperclassmen on the hall,” she said
Salem believes the program has a good chance at being expanded.
“I think the floor fellow program shows very good promise as an initiative to support our upperclassmen in the houses so it is a program Reslife is interested in pushing forward,” she said.