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University of Puerto Rico students find homes in houses of staff, faculty

Visiting students praise hosts who provide housing, academic, social support

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, December 7, 2017

In the wake of Hurricane María, random housing assignments were taken to a whole new level. Nine students from the University of Puerto Rico who enrolled at the University in late October are currently living in the homes of faculty and staff, said Chief of Staff to the Provost Marisa Quinn.

Katerina Ramos-Jordán ’20 first met Deputy Provost Joseph Meisel and his family Oct. 22, just hours after she landed from Puerto Rico and only three days after she was notified of her acceptance to the University.

“It was an instant connection with them,” Ramos-Jordán said. Meisel agreed.

“Given all she had been through, Katerina showed her amazingly positive spirit,” Meisel wrote in an email to The Herald. “In spite of all the disruption, she seemed primed to get the most out of her time here at Brown.”

Ramos-Jordán attributes part of her successful transition from 30 days without electricity to life on College Hill in her third-floor quarters at Meisel’s house, she said.

“Not feeling that loneliness that you feel in a dorm is such a wonderful thing to have,” she said, adding that she has found both academic and social support through her hosts.

This faculty-student housing arrangement was not formed with the explicit intention of cultivating relationships but was created more out of necessity, Quinn said. To ensure that each of the 30 students enrolling from the University of Puerto Rico had a place to stay, Provost Richard Locke sent a survey to department chairs on Oct. 9 that included questions about interest and capacity to host visiting students — 14 of the 71 responders said that they could house a student in the fall or spring semester or both, Quinn said. Even after this survey, additional staff and faculty members of the community reached out to open their homes.

“It really is heartwarming to see people just meeting as human beings,” Quinn said. “We are a community that values education, and this project is really about helping these amazingly talented, bright (and) driven students get on with their work.”

Some faculty members face a bigger adjustment than others, as not all have raised college-aged children, Quinn said.

“Having raised a college-aged child myself, that can be very different from having a young child,” Quinn said, adding that she encouraged faculty members to set guidelines for the students they host from the start.

Ramos-Jordán said she finds Meisel’s rules relatively lenient.

“They emphasize that ‘We want you to have that experience of being independent,’” Ramos-Jordán said.

She does not have a curfew and is invited to have friends over as she pleases, she said. Ramos-Jordán is looking forward to hosting friends for a cookie decorating Christmas Party at the end of the year.

“She’s an adult, and college is supposed to be an independent time, so we don’t want her to feel that she has to check in with us all the time,” Meisel wrote. “She is under the (Rhode Island) legal drinking age, so that is one rule for the home.”

Other hosts have slightly stricter ground rules. Jessica Ortiz ’19, who lives with Professor Jeffrey Colgan, his wife and their four-year-old daughter, Sophie, can have guests in the afternoon and the morning but not at night. Even so, she said she feels “very at home,” and has noticed that Colgan is “a really good dad.”

“Having Jessica (at home) has meant cultural enrichment for my family, and — for me — that is a real pleasure,” Colgan said.

Not all aspects of the transition to living with a new family have been seamless. The customs surrounding dinner took some getting used to, both Ortiz and Ramos-Jordán said.

“They have dinner and it’s like a ritual, everyone sits down at the same time,” Ramos-Jordán said. “In Puerto Rico that can happen, but in my house … everyone makes their meals depending on what they are craving and then we just sit down … it’s not like an official thing.”

Ramos-Jordán has come to enjoy dinner with Meisel and his family, she said, and has made a goal to eat at their house at least two or three times a week.

Neither Ramos-Jordán nor Ortiz feel as though their housing has prevented them from engaging in campus life, they each said. Whether by walking 20 minutes to campus or catching a ride with Meisel or his wife, Ramos-Jordán spends most of her time in campus buildings, she said. Ortiz eats most of her meals in the Sharpe Refectory.

University of Puerto Rico students recently received a Google Form asking whether they would like to remain in their current housing or if they want to request a change, Quinn said. Each student remaining on campus in a faculty member’s home said they felt comfortable staying where they were, Quinn said. A few did state preferences to be moved to dorms, citing colder weather and proximity to campus, she added.

Ramos-Jordán is excited to spend her next semester in her new home.

“I decided to stay because they are so lovely,” she said. “I have everything I need here. I want to keep cultivating that relationship, I just feel at home.”

“I think we all feel quite comfortable with each other,” Meisel wrote. “It’s pretty much like having another member of the family.”

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