The University of Michigan’s Residential College hosted a talk in East Quadrangle Residence Hall on Monday with Catherine Badgley, director of the RC and head of the Science, Technology and Society program. The RC is a multidisciplinary liberal arts program within the College of LSA and is one of LSA’s Michigan Learning Communities.
The event facilitated conversations about building community, increasing diversity and exploring the identity of the RC. About 10 members of the RC community attended the event, including students, faculty and staff.
The discussion began with attendees sharing their interpretations of what the identity of the RC truly is. Badgley commented on the curiosity and open-mindedness of RC students.
“I find RC students extremely curious,” Badgley said. “Despite the fact that I think we have a reputation of being kind of on a certain part of the political spectrum, I also find RC students fairly open-minded in terms of being willing to consider a wide range of ideas.”
LSA senior Camilla Lizundia, a member of the RC, discussed the academic attributes of a typical RC student and the sense of community she felt the RC embodied.
“When I think of an RC student, I think of someone who’s really engaged,” Lizundia said. “Someone who’s perhaps interested in organizing, someone who enjoys learning languages and who enjoys the arts. When I think of the RC as a whole, the word that comes to mind is community.”
Badgley further talked about her experience as a member of RC faculty and the learning that she feels comes with the RC community.
“One comes here as a faculty member, as a kind of a co-learner,” Badgley said. “So I feel as though in my classes, even though it’s true I have some expert knowledge that I can impart, I try to point out questions and topics for which I don’t have the answers. Because I’m genuinely interested in hearing what my students think, and they often have really unusual and valuable insights.”
The discussion then moved on to talk of diversity within the RC. Steven Ward, an associate professor at the RC, commented on how a perceived lack of diversity can be attributed to the RC being a microcosm of the broader University community.
“I do think that racial diversity in particular and other forms or types of diversity are problems and concerns in the RC,” Ward said. “And I will say that that’s also symptomatic of the RC, but also symptomatic of the University. Something that I think we should be mindful of and talk about and try to work on, and maybe beat ourselves up a little bit but not too much. If we want to beat up on somebody it should be the whole University.”
Badgely responded with a comment on the active effort to increase diversity within faculty.
“We are trying to be more proactive in hiring,” Badgley said. “For example, we just had a joint search with the English department for a position in creative non-fiction and we rewrote the job ad in a way that specifically encouraged people with experience with underrepresented minorities to apply. And we also sent the ad to 60 colleges and universities that are especially populated with underrepresented minorities.”
The discussion then moved to talk of alienation within the RC community and fitting in, particularly with respect to international students.
“Yes, we do have a very low retention rate,” Lizundia said. “But there are a lot of factors that go into it … I would say to be more specific at what I’m trying to get at, the international community is not very welcome in a lot of social cliques. Absolutely I think we need to be having more conversations like this, more town halls … and I think the addition of task forces is excellent but there needs to be more.”
Speakers then reminisced about the roots and history of the RC. RC drama lecturer Kate Mendeloff talked about the tradition of student self-governance within the RC.
“Certainly when the RC was founded, the students ran it,” Mendeloff said. “They had a student board that was as powerful in making policy as the faculty. I think it’s part of the tradition.”
Reporter Sunskriti Paranjape can be reached at email@example.com.