Winter 2007 Volume 6 Number 2

‘Hello, Mr. Chaps’ or ‘Sup, Chapsdude?’
As Faculty in Residence, Stephen Chapman Finds Common Ground with Students

By Bob Wells • Photos by Jon Gardiner

Just imagine... life in a stately 32,000-square-foot residence, a veritable mansion with more than 60 rooms. Classic Georgian architecture, red-brick and white columns, with a billiard room, large-screen television, fully equipped exercise room. A fine-arts library right across the street, with full loan privileges for books and videos. Restaurants and shopping only blocks away. A small theater, a popular venue for plays and concerts, right at your doorstep. A bus stop nearby, just a short ride from work.

And it’s all free. No rent. No mortgage payment. Even the bus ride is on the house.

The catch?

You have to share the place with 119 college students. It’s a dormitory for first-year students on the all-freshman East Campus at Duke University. And the offer is available only to Duke faculty.

  As faculty in residence, Stephen Chapman lives with 119 freshmen on East Campus.

For many people, that first condition alone would be a deal-breaker. But for Stephen Chapman, assistant professor of Old Testament at Duke Divinity School, it’s no problem at all. Indeed, for Chapman, life with college students is the primary draw of Duke’s Faculty-in-Residence program. Well, maybe that and the pool table. He does enjoy an occasional game of pool.

Now finishing his second three-year stint living in Brown Dormitory on East Campus—and considering a third—Chapman says that serving as faculty in residence is an intensely rewarding experience. It’s also, others say, a role he performs very well. Last year, he was named Duke’s “Faculty in Residence of the Year” by the Department of Residence Life and Housing Services and was similarly honored by the American College Personnel Association.

“It is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done in my life,” says Chapman. “Being in this role brings together a lot of things I care about and a lot of traits in my personality.”

For Chapman, serving as faculty in residence is about education and life in community. He wants to help students—especially those just starting their academic journeys—bridge what has become a gap between the two. In many ways, he says, Duke is attempting to recover an era when faculty were more involved in student lives.

Over time, says Chapman, increased pressure to teach, conduct research and publish have forced faculty to pull back from student life, with those duties being taken up by professional “residential life” offices. As a result, there’s often little or no interaction between faculty and students outside the classroom.“There is a real need for students to integrate what they do in the classroom with the rest of their lives,” he says. “Unfortunately, they don’t have many models for that.”

  Chapman’s annual Christmas party features homemade cookies.

Chapman experienced the benefits of resident faculty in the 1980s at Yale University, which is organized around “residential colleges.” He lived in Jonathan Edwards College, where the “master” or resident faculty was the late Larry Holmes, the Avalon Professor of the History of Medicine. Chapman recalls Holmes as a “wonderful sounding board,” always willing to listen to questions and talk about issues of religion and science.

“It was a great experience for me, one of the most important parts of college,” he says.

Duke began its Faculty-in-Residence program in 1980 and today has 13 faculty members in select dormitories: 11 in first-year dorms on East Campus and two in upper-class dorms on West. Plans are underway to expand the program to all upper-class dormitories.

Sponsored by Trinity College and the Office of Student Affairs, the program is designed to free faculty and residents from the inherent pressures and formalities of the teacher-student relationship. Resident faculty have no disciplinary authority or responsibility. Instead, they are asked to be models and mentors, helping students understand and take advantage of the university’s many resources and fostering intellectual curiosity in all aspects of their lives.

Chapman is one of three divinity professors who have served as resident faculty. In addition to him, Amy Laura Hall, assistant professor of Christian ethics, and her husband, John, and their daughters, lived in Gilbert-Addoms dorm from 2000 to 2003. This fall, Laceye Warner D’95, assistant professor of the practice of evangelism and Methodist studies, and her husband, Gaston D’99, began living in Blackwell dormitory on East Campus.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.

  Chapman’s annual Christmas party features homemade cookies and time for hanging out together.

“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.

“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.

Copyright 2007 Duke Divinity School. All Rights Reserved. (919) 660-3412