Although many students perform experiments as part of their class work, few would describe their lives as a “sociology experiment.” Yet that describes campus life for Resident Assistant (RA) Seth Bergeson ’09 and Student Academic Adviser (SA) Ian Gill ’11 for Whitman’s fall 2008 term.
The two guys live in Anderson Hall’s C section, which is comprised entirely of female residents. Bergeson is the RA; Gill is the SA. And what an education they’re getting..
How did this happen? This unusual situation resulted from the demographics of this year’s entering class. At 431 students, the class of 2012 is the second largest in Whitman history; only the class of 1978 was larger. This posed a unique challenge to the residence life staff, partly because 58 percent of the class is female. Anderson Hall’s C section living space was converted from all-male to all-female this year to address the higher than normal influx of first-year women.
The conversion required some creative thinking about RA and SA assignments, said Associate Dean of Campus Life Nancy Tavelli. Bergeson and Gill were chosen to lead the all-female section because they displayed the skills needed to work with either gender, and they were very enthusiastic.
It was a good choice, according to Tavelli. “Anderson C section is going very well. We make evaluations each semester, and we’re very happy with the feedback we are getting.”
“Seth and Ian are both incredible people, and they click perfectly with our
section,” agreed first-year Katie Lei. “When I got their letters before coming to Whitman, I was confused about why a girls’ section would have a male RA and SA. However, now that I am here I can't imagine having it any other way.”
Bergeson and Gill are not only approachable, she said, but they are always willing to drop what they are doing to help residents with homework, give directions, or, in Bergeson’s case, supply chocolate to residents in need.
A now legendary experience from opening week prompted the rechristening of one of the study rooms as the “cry room.” After the Voices of Whitman event, Gill explained, the section conducted its own discussion about personal experiences of leaving home and coming to Whitman.
“We brought up all of these collective insecurities that a lot of them were facing in coming to college,” Bergeson said. “By the end of it, I’d say two thirds of the people were crying, including the two of us. And afterward, 16 people crammed into my room, and we ate a bunch of dark chocolate and listened to Enya. It was great.”
The discussions he and Gill have had with the women in their section have been extraordinary, Bergeson added. “I think with my personality it’s more rewarding to work with women. They’re a lot more responsive to positive energy and they seem very excited to be here.”
“It’s definitely a big contrast to living with all guys last year,” Gill noted.
To bring the group closer together, Bergeson and Gill have crafted a number of activities and excursions, including brunches, trips to the Farmer’s Market, and thrift store shopping. Yet Bergeson said that fostering close relationships within the section has not been difficult.
“I think that a female section is more emotionally open,” said Bergeson. “The women are really sincere and direct, and you can cut through a lot of the red tape that keeps guys from discussing personal things.”
Summing up his semester so far, Bergeson justifies his feelings of living a sociology experiment, joking that he’s “thinking of applying for gender studies credit if I can find a faculty sponsor.”
Whitman RAs start work in January and continue through December. This system allows them to become familiar with their responsibilities by working with second semester students in the spring before taking on fall duties with incoming first-years. Bergeson spent last semester as an RA in an all-male section; this is Gill’s first experience as an SA.