Moving Back to the Neighborhood

I never imagined that at 38, I’d be living back on the Rollins campus—in Ward Hall of all places. That my office would be my home. That 18- and 19-year-old students would be my neighbors. Or that I’d be the poster child for my alma mater.

(Art by Rachel Simmons) (Art by Rachel Simmons)

I never imagined that at 38, I’d be living back on the Rollins campus—in Ward Hall of all places. That my office would be my home. That 18- and 19-year-old students would be my neighbors. Or that I’d be the poster child for my alma mater.

But last year, I moved back into a Rollins residence hall—this time not as a student, but as a Rollins faculty member with a family. For the first few weeks, it was more than a bit surreal to wake up and find myself already at work before the sun rose. But pretty quickly, this feeling morphed into something much more comforting. Every morning as I walked the dog along the lakeside nature trail, watching the sun peek through tangled Spanish moss on cypress limbs, I found that Rollins had a secret identity as a nature preserve, where anhingas, herons, ibis, and ospreys go about breeding, squawking, fishing, and tending to their hungry young, seemingly oblivious to the busywork of the humans around them. These animals made no distinctions between work and home; they were just living life.

When people ask me (and they often do) how I maintain a balance between my work and home life when I actually live at work, I always think about those morning walks along the lake and evening strolls down Park Avenue, and how these have replaced my long morning and evening commutes by car to a home much farther away.

(Art by Rachel Simmons) (Art by Rachel Simmons)

Since moving to campus, my family has experienced a transformation in the way we live, but it can be hard to explain— maybe because it’s been so profound. Despite moving to my workplace, I somehow feel more balanced than ever before. I don’t know if this would have been the same on another college campus, but Rollins certainly is special. As one of the most beautiful campuses in the U.S., Rollins has abundant green spaces, gardens, and tree canopy, so it doesn’t feel particularly “urban” despite the fact that it is located in the middle of a metropolis of more than 2 million inhabitants.

But I can’t give all the credit to the smart design of the campus. Much more important to our new and improved lives is that nearly every person we cross paths with is someone we know. Yes, this has eliminated my husband’s infamous Sunday morning dash for the paper in his boxers. But the trade-off has been a remarkably increased sense of community. Suddenly, everyone we meet (once fully dressed) greets us as a friend, a mentor, or a colleague. I’m going to be honest, it makes me feel a little like a superstar. But I haven’t done anything to become famous except be exactly who I really am: a professor at a liberal arts college. That is to say, I’m not really celebrity material. Walking around campus, however, saying hello to everyone I meet—well, I truly feel I belong here and that “here” is the most awesome place I could be. (Imagine Fonzie walking into Arnold’s Malt Shop spouting “Heeeeyyyyy,” but now imagine him as a slim, blonde woman with funky glasses and a penchant for crazy nail polish).

Enhancing that sense of community, for us and for our neighbors, has been the real value of moving to campus. I can imagine more clearly now what it feels like to be a new Rollins student, finding yourself in an unfamiliar place away from home. You may feel isolated and wary, and things may be uncomfortable at first. You don’t know that in a month’s time all of that will change as new friendships are formed. Or that in four years’ time, Rollins will be the home you are sad to leave.

(Art by Rachel Simmons) (Art by Rachel Simmons)

As the director of the Living Learning Communities, it is my pleasure to meet students as they move into Ward Hall and greet them as my neighbors. When my husband, Jason (now a student in the Master of Liberal Studies program), our daughter, Parker (future Rollins graduate of Class of 2024), and I (Class of 1997) have students over for barbeques, dog walks, and class meetings, we are simply hanging with our Rollins family. Living here has reconfirmed my belief that having good neighbors is one of the most important relationships we can cultivate in this life. And what better way to cultivate these relationships than to learn and live together as a community?

I tell new students from the beginning that Rollins is a special place where people care about you and want to help you become the best version of yourself that you can be. They believe me because I am speaking, as many of our community members do, from personal experience.

In 1993, I moved into McKean Hall and began my first year at Rollins as a shy, introverted art student. Since then, I have been transformed—wait for it—into an extroverted art teacher!

I joke about being the poster child for Rollins, but it’s an identity that I wholeheartedly embrace because I believe in our mission to educate students for responsible leadership and global citizenship. I mean, learning to be a responsible leader and a good citizen starts at home, right? It starts by knowing your neighbors, building relationships, and feeling valued in return. Only then can you go out in the world and make a difference because you have learned to trust and respect those in your immediate community—even when there are differences, even when things are tough.

Anyway, it sounds sappy, and I apologize for that, but it’s true. As another alum (and celebrity), Fred Rogers ’51 ’74H, taught us over and over, feeling happy and productive in life is really all about being a good neighbor. So if you see me wandering around in my button-down sweater and casual sneakers, waving hello and being super, crazy friendly, just remember: I’m home, surrounded by my new favorite neighbors, and channeling Mister Rogers—the original poster child of Rollins College.