February 5, 2013,
Volume 59, No. 20
Reflections of a Faculty Member on Being a College House Fellow
Annette Yoshiko Reed
Two years ago, when I submitted my application to serve as a College House Fellow, it was with equal parts curiosity, enthusiasm and uncertainty. I was then in my fourth year at Penn, and I felt comfortably and productively settled into my department and into related programs, centers, and graduate groups. Yet for all the time I had spent getting to know my colleagues, my students, and Penn’s interdisciplinary resources, there remained the sense that I had seen only a sliver of the diverse, busy and bustling undergraduate population spread across Penn’s multiple schools. My curiosity had been piqued by colleagues who had been College House Fellows, when they offered their poignant insights into student life as well as their sage advice about what they gained pedagogically from their experiences. What they emphasized above all, however, was how much about their experiences could not be put into words. “There is a different Penn after 6 p.m.,” said one, somewhat ominously, “but you’d have to see it to understand.” “Each College House is unique,” another stressed, albeit assuring me that the experience was always rewarding, even if in unexpected ways.
When I applied and was accepted as a College House Fellow in Stouffer College House, my thoughts and plans were centered on what I could provide the students and community that I was joining. As I recollect the past two years, however, I am most grateful for our students’ generosity in sharing their spaces, stories, friendship, adventures, and experiences with my family and me—and also for all that we have learned from them. Looking back now, it is almost funny to think about how much I did not know before I joined the Stouffer community—why Penn students always look so tired on the first day of the fall semester, for instance; or just how busy our students are outside of class; how much they manage to juggle; how much they support one another; why it’s a bad idea to assign papers in mid-April; how many secret talents and great stories they have; just how many survey-projects they seem to be assigned; and how very often someone seems to need one stamp, one DVD, one token, one egg, one pushpin, etc., in the middle of the night.
Now, when my colleagues hear I am a College House Fellow, they often press me for information about Penn undergraduates: “How do they decide what classes to take?”; “Why do they pile on so many majors?”; “Are they really so concerned about grades?” I am lucky, of course, to see more of what we all experience when teaching and advising—such as the remarkable ways in which Penn students can be so intense in their interests but also so multiple in their multitasking, so fast thinking but also so deeply engaged, so fiercely intelligent but also so pragmatic. As a College House Fellow, however, I feel like I also get to see the best side of our students: the generosity and empathy that temper the competitiveness, the commitment to community behind the individual achievement, the curiosity and enthusiasm behind the concern for grades, and—above all—the startling uniqueness of individuals in what might seem sometimes, from the perspective of an instructor looking out from a lectern, like an anonymous sea of faces. I feel perhaps luckiest to have learned that there are special places on campus like Stouffer—communities built and enlivened by the best sides of all of us, not just through the parade of events we plan for one another, but also through the mundane cycles of our connections day-by- day and week-by-week. And what is exemplified by Stouffer College House is surely true across Penn’s undergraduate population: great minds but also big hearts.
Through teaching, one experiences the school year in certain familiar cycles. At the start of February, for instance, one can feel the excitement of the beginning of the school year beginning to slip into stress. Month-by-month, the bright eyes of our students darken bit by bit with sleeplessness, and their curiosity gradually gives way to concerns about midterms and exam performance. By the time spring classes end and the task of grading begins, one might feel almost relieved that the campus will soon be quiet. Among what I have learned as a Stouffer College House Fellow, however, is how very much will be missing when the halls of Stouffer will empty for the summer.
Annette Yoshiko Reed is the M. Mark and Esther K. Watkins Assistant Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, Acting Director of the Center for Ancient Studies, a member of the Department of Religious Studies, Program in Jewish Studies, and
Graduate Group in Ancient History, and Faculty Fellow in Stouffer College House.
The Office of College Houses & Academic Services is currently accepting
College House Fellow applications for appointments starting in August 2013.
For more information about the position, see
Instructions on how to apply may be found at the bottom of this same webpage.
Any questions may be sent to Leslie Delauter, Director of College House Academic Programs, at firstname.lastname@example.org