By Laurel Merkel
Room 134 Thomas Hall, also labeled Suite 129, is a rowdy room. People are always going in and out. You can hear laughter and shouting coming from their windows at all times of the day. Posters of mountain landscapes decorate the cream walls, and sheets cover the couches. It is a typical dorm room, just a little bigger. But it would have to be€¦for the home of the Mayes family.
Had you ever wondered who the little children are that play around Whitehurst?
Or who gets the special "reserved" parking spots outside of Weinstein Hall?
Dr. Rick Mayes, a political science professor, and his wife Jennifer have been living in Thomas Hall for four years as part of a program on campus called the College Fellow Program. Their two sons – Tim, 5, and Ben, 2 – are part of the Mayes mix in the hall.
"Ben's a pure €˜Thomasite'," said Mayes. "He knows nothing else." Tim, the eldest child, was born in California while Mayes was teaching at Berkeley. Mayes graduated from the University of Richmond in 1991 and was an adjunct instructor here from 1999-2000.
Mayes said the family moved into Thomas because they "were broke. Berkeley was expensive."
Steve Bisese, the university's vice president for student development, said the College Fellow Program was designed to have Mayes be available for students and to plan programs.
"He's [Mayes] a great guy- students appreciate that," said Bisese. "He opens himself up outside of the classroom€¦everyone knows him."
And his children.
"They live right beneath me; you can hear them [the children] yell," said Phil Colon, a sophomore. Colon said, "It's a tease" when he can smell the Mayes' family cooking waft up through his windows on the second floor. Will Bradley, another sophomore who lives in Thomas Hall said, "I figure we must bother them more than they bother us."
Jennifer Mayes said they couldn't really hear people in the dorm. Rick Mayes agreed, and thinks their family must be the loudest group that lives there. Even so, there are perks for students. For example, Bradley said he enjoys playing with the kids' toys that get left out.
"It's been a terrific experience for them and for the students," said Dr. Catherine Bagwell, a psychology professor who co-teaches Mental Health and Policy with Mayes.
Bagwell met Mayes about four years ago, the summer that Mayes returned to Richmond.
She said that he is a "real engaged, smart, fun person" and that he has planned some wonderful events and built strong relationships.
"It's a win-win situation for everybody," Bagwell said.
Another colleague of Mayes is Dr. Jennifer Erkulwater, who was hired the same year as Mayes. Erkulwater said that Mayes called her up to say hello because he thought they might be colleagues.
"It was a sweet gesture," said Erkulwater, who later said that she found out that "that was typical of him."
"It's neat to have a professor like that€¦students are very lucky," she said.
A professor living in a college dorm is a good idea, according to Erkulwater. She thinks it is great for students to see that their professors are people, too.
"It allows professors to get to know their students and vice-versa," she said.
Besides getting to know students, another aspect that Mayes thinks is great is that he does not have to worry about maintenance, whereas Erkulwater will occasionally gripe about her roof leaking.
Mayes said that the minute they moved in, they loved it, especially his commute every morning (just across the road). Mayes said that he gets a lot of time with students and family. He just got back from a trip to Chicago with seven of his students. They were visiting and researching Hope Meadows, a world-famous foster care home, and Children’s Memorial Hospital. Mayes also holds book discussions in his home.
"This is what Jefferson wanted at UVA- to be close," he said. Oxford and other schools have similar systems, he said, where professors live the same way that their students do. He feels that he can teach better if he knows his students better.
"The campus is a really nice place for the kids," said Mayes.
The ease of finding a babysitter, the laundry facilities, the commute to work, and no maintenance worries: how many more perks could there possibly be? There are plenty more. The Mayes family knows when there will be scheduled fire alarms. They have air conditioning whenever they want it, free utilities, UR cable, a big kitchen with a table overlooking the bell tower, their own bathroom, and a coffee shop close to their home.
They are also surrounded by activity at all times. Mayes likes living in Thomas Hall, but said that it would be quite different if it were Gray Court, a freshman boys' dorm.
Mayes said it is funny to hear students on their cell phones. He sometimes can't believe all that is said. He also gets a kick out of the drunken students that come back from the row and other social events at night.
Change is coming, though, next year. Mayes said that five years is the maximum amount of time that they will stay.
"I can't live here forever, unfortunately," he said. "Five years€¦time to grow up."