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Greet the freshmen, meet the staff
On a Monday evening in late September, John King, chief of the Boston College Police Department, walked the all-male first floor of Fitzpatrick Hall, a freshman residence, knocking on doors. Accompanying him was the associate vice president for Career Services, Joseph Du Pont. The two were making House Calls, participating in a volunteer orientation program designed by dean of students Thomas Mogan. Over the course of the evening, staff and administrators representing the athletics department, O’Neill Library, health services, AHANA student programs, the office of transportation and parking, and other University subdivisions, would visit hundreds of students in 15 of the University’s 18 first-year residence halls.
Mogan created the House Calls program in 2015. “Our greatest resource is the people we have here,” he says. “I thought, How can we let our students know about them?” This year, more than 100 volunteers signed up to greet the newest residents of Boston College.
At 5:30 p.m., the approximately 60 staff who were assigned to visit Upper Campus gathered in McElroy Commons for a dinner of pizza and salad. (Those who would visit the Newton Campus were meeting at the same time, at 825 Centre Street.) Mogan spoke with them briefly, recalling the goal of the program (“to make students feel welcome”), and encouraging them to record any questions or concerns that they might hear. Volunteers were given House Calls T-shirts, which some fitted over their workday clothing so that, from maroon crewnecks, crisp collars and shirtsleeves protruded. Nine cakes in plastic bags were on hand, to be delivered to students who had upcoming birthdays. Then, armed with a one-page script by Mogan of conversation starters and appropriate answers to common questions (e.g., How might one go about securing an air conditioning unit? Or, How can I get a single room?), the volunteers filed across College Road.
John Mahoney Jr. ’79, director of undergraduate admission, partnered with Nekesa Straker, director of residential education, to meet the women living on Loyola 3. As he climbed the stairs to Upper, Mahoney said he was eager to see the results of his work, to “meet some kids who are here for the first time and encountering what we have to offer.”
The resident assistants and resident directors of Upper Campus greeted Mahoney, Straker, and the other pairs and pointed them toward their assignments—demystifying, for some, how a single building can contain four residence halls. Outfitted and equipped, the teams got knocking. And students answered.
Some, like Doug Rodier, a linebacker on the football team who came to the door with a full mouth and had to excuse himself to finish chewing, may not have been expecting visitors. Others, like roommates Rob Lemone and Cameron Balboni, who answered together to reveal a suspiciously meticulous room, seemed more prepared. When pressed, Balboni offered a shrug. “We try to keep it clean,” he said.
Occasionally, a lone student was in; and sometimes small groups had gathered in a room to study or to share a meal. Some occupants seemed shy, speaking quietly at first, until, disarmed by friendly questions (from the script: “Are college classes what you expected?”), they found their voices. They dressed as students do: in T-shirts and jeans and flip-flops, or sweatpants, or socks with no shoes. Many seemed to have stocked up on gear—duffles, jackets, caps, blankets—in maroon and gold.
Mahoney and Straker met young women who were studying physics, history, and economics. Other students were pre-med or undeclared.
There were students who had taken—and passed—their early exams, and those who were being tested for the first time. “I’m working on a paper,” said Nick Valiton, a Massachusetts resident who now lives on Fitzpatrick 1, to King and Du Pont. “It’s going to be a long night.”
And, perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the freshmen were already involved in campus life. “I’m on the Irish dance team,” said Brenna Recny of Loyola. “I’ve been doing it since I was five.” Patrick Welsh had to count to make sure he recited all of his affiliations: “I’m doing BLPP tutoring [a children’s literacy program at the University’s Neighborhood Center], Irish society, chess club, College Republicans.” One student, Sanjay Paul, said he aspired to write for the Gavel, the self-described “progressive” student newspaper. Another, Andrew Chau, wanted to get involved in sports radio. Du Pont and King met a water polo player, a recreational runner, a practitioner of Taekwondo, and Eric Lee, who’d recently signed up for the table tennis club.
For some students, living on campus seemed surreal. “I can’t believe I’m still here,” said Johnny O’Keefe, of Rye, New York, as if expecting to wake up at any moment. “It’s been a great experience so far,” added his roommate, Hart Ayoob, who hails from just south of San Francisco. Many said they felt adjusted or adjusting, though most admitted to missing home. Few expected quite so many stairs.
After several minutes of conversation, hands were offered and taken, contact information was shared, and students were encouraged to “stay busy.”
As King and Du Pont padded down the gray-carpeted corridors of Fitzpatrick, they passed oversized corkboards that hung from the walls displaying MBTA maps and advice on local attractions, with photos (“Walk around the Boston Public Garden.” “See a movie at an indie movie theater”). The halls teemed with students returning from dinner or heading out to Middle Campus, books clutched to their chests or laptops open and glowing, in hand. The pair knocked on doors that often had the names of the occupants written on whiteboards or on construction paper, sometimes with notes or greetings from friends. They said hello to all those who answered, and to any who passed by.
At around 7:30, about an hour after starting, the pair reached the end of Fitzpatrick 1. By then, most of the volunteers had finished their routes. The halls quieted. An occasional laugh echoed along cinderblock walls. Television sets sounded through partially closed doors. Many of the students they’d visited had said they planned to watch the first presidential debate. Flip-flops snapped as students came and went.
King and Du Pont returned their clipboard to the residential staff, but then paused before leaving. Both observed that their work affords fewer interactions with students than they might like.
“It’s the part of the job that I find to be the most interesting,” King said. “I’m glad I had the chance to participate.”
Christopher Amenta is a Boston area writer.