Making it work (or, Thoughts on The Collegiate Way Of Living)

I am a huge fan of the TV show Project Runway. My family’s watched it together for over a decade, and while it’s often as fluffy as any other reality series on air, it’s got a number of elements I really respect: designers who go above and beyond in their creative use of material and design, uniquely artistic challenges, and Tim Gunn — a mentor figure who constantly provides thoughtful feedback for the contestants, encouraging them to push their creativity even further and edit their designs into something that will actually work on the runway.

I watched a new episode of the show last night, so maybe it’s no surprise that the idea of tailoring has been on my mind. One-size-fits-all looks are rarely flattering for anyone, whether they’re supermodels or communities, and I think it’s worth extending this metaphor a little to take a look at The Collegiate Way of Living.

Yale’s residential college model is pretty fantastic, but it did not spring, fully-formed, out of nowhere. It evolved naturally, growing from the shared desires of the community and changing when something wasn’t working or when new opportunities appeared on the scene, and it is fully a reflection of the students and faculty who shaped it.

I think this is an important thing to keep in mind here in the HRC. It’s difficult to imagine that a residential college model developed at Yale would be possible to duplicate here at Virginia Tech. There are, after all, a number of significant differences between the student body at these two schools — not in the caliber of the student or our academic interests, necessarily, but in our backgrounds and collegiate culture. And that is not only okay but completely to be expected! All colleges and the communities they maintain are different, and that’s something that should be recognized and celebrated.

The problem comes when we try to follow Yale’s model to the letter and expect it to work exactly the same way in a different community. It’s a fantastic starting point, but we need to make sure that we’re flexible in our adoption of this model and give ourselves space to edit as necessary. A residential model perfectly tailored to one specific university isn’t going to fit another like a glove by default, in the same way a jacket tailored to perfectly flatter one person’s figure might pull across the shoulders or hang too loosely on their friend. The trick, as any good designer knows, is to use the basic form and then work on perfecting the fit for the individual who plans to wear their garment. The same goes for the structure of a community — if something’s uncomfortable or difficult to move around in, changing it is best for everyone involved.

The HRC has grown a lot in the three years I’ve been here, and will only continue to evolve in the future — almost certainly in some unexpected directions. I would encourage community members to draw inspiration from, but not cling to, Yale’s residential college model for its own sake, and instead remain open to putting a new twist on this classic piece. I believe that if we strike a balance between the residential model we’re using as a pattern and our own new ideas, we really have a chance to make this thing work.

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One Response to Making it work (or, Thoughts on The Collegiate Way Of Living)

  1. This. I completely agree. Sometimes it feels like the expectation is that the HRC needs to be a fully formed Res college instead of one that is trying to make the model work in a school that kind of doesn’t want it (if that makes sense). Drawing inspiration from Yale is great, but haven’t unrealistic expectations is butts.

    (I love the Project Runway example by the way. Sometimes I think we need a Tim Gunn running around yelling ‘Make It Work’ at the faculty.)

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