“These moments are transcendent for me,” he says. “They are one of the main reasons I went into teaching: to engage the passions of students and to participate in their intellectual development.”
Yes, Chapman says, Duke undergraduates, even first-year students, do want to talk about John Milton and other subjects they are studying. Whatever the popular stereotype of Duke students might be, particularly in the wake of last spring’s lacrosse scandal, the reality is far more complex.
Brown, for example, is a “wellness” dorm. To live there, students must commit not to use alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs at any time, inside or outside the dorm, and to observe quiet hours from midnight to 7 a.m. A popular housing option, the dorm has had twice as many applicants as available space in recent years.
Maybe the Brown residents are more studious than other first-year students, maybe not, says Chapman.
“But I have found they have a tremendous appetite for learning,” he says. “Duke undergraduates are brilliant, intellectually eager and curious. They are funny and clever. The opportunity to know these students and interact with them is largely why this is such a fulfilling role.”
The role is simply to be in relationship with students, says Chapman. It’s particularly important for first-year students, who are undergoing huge transitions. Freshmen arrive essentially as high school students and, if things go well, morph into young adults.
“It’s wonderful to see how people go through Duke, graduate and go out into the world,” says Chapman. Many students stay in touch with him, both while at Duke and afterwards. Last summer, he officiated at the wedding of two alums who had met and started dating as first-year students in Brown. Chapman recalls each of them excitedly telling him about meeting the other.
An ordained American Baptist pastor, Chapman says serving as resident faculty does have religious dimensions. He is not a chaplain to the students nor does he try to be, but the role is a form of ministry.
“It gives me a chance to model a lifestyle that is connected with my faith and my vocation,” he says. “Part of my hope is to provide students with an appreciation for community and a model they can take with them for how to live in community.”
Like many of the best callings, it’s also one that lasts. “I can imagine doing this for the rest of my life,” says Chapman.