For the Warners, the decision to live on East was part of a broader process of discernment. For several years, they had lived in their own home in northern Durham County. But life there felt increasingly distant from their two primary commitments and interests: their membership at Asbury Temple United Methodist Church in downtown Durham and their work at Duke, where Gaston serves as director of university and community relations at Duke Chapel.
“We jumped at the opportunity to move closer to Duke and church, and to simplify our lives,” Warner says. Selling one car and giving away many of their belongings, they downscaled from a 2,400-square-foot house to an apartment in Blackwell.
So far, they love it says Warner, also associate dean for academic formation. The students are engaging and interesting, and bring a different and fresh perspective as they struggle with questions of what to study and do in life. Even the most informal hallway discussion is filled with possibility.
“What’s best is just being part of those conversations and watching them learn and get excited about learning,” says Warner.
For Chapman, it’s just these moments that drew him to the program. His first-floor apartment is near the dorm entrance, and he found that the small act of leaving the apartment door open could have a disproportionately large impact.
“One of the most successful things I do is to leave the door open whenever I can, especially in the evening,” he says. “Students on their way in or out say hello, ask how I’m doing, or share what’s going on. They see someone around who knows who they are, an adult who knows them and is approachable, and it changes the atmosphere in the dorm.”
On a beautiful fall afternoon, a student pops in Chapman’s door asking to borrow a large pot to make chicken for a fund-raising dinner. Walking past the apartment on the way back from class, another shouts a quick greeting, “Hey, Chaps!”—a nickname students gave him a few years ago based on his then e-mail address. A more recent variation currently in use is the popular “Chapsdude.”
The times he cherishes are in the wee hours, when a student wants to talk, for example, about Book Nine of Milton’s Paradise Lost and how it is giving him or her new ideas about life and the world.