UNITY, Maine — On the Thursday night before Thanksgiving break, the residents of Unity College’s Eastview Residence Hall were relaxing with a movie and a game of tickle-fighting in the student lounge.
But they cheerfully moved over on the institutional couches to make room for their newest neighbor, 65-year-old Bill Trumble, the senior vice president for academic affairs at the small liberal arts college.
Trumble has been living with the students for a week, sharing a bunk bed and a spartan dorm room with the hall’s resident advisor, joining them in impromptu games of tennis on Nintendo Wii and joining in the general frivolity that takes place by night.
“This week, I got my full quota of late nights and very little sleep,” he said from his dorm room sofa, the sounds of squealing and giggles rising from the lounge outside his door. “It’s actually been an awesome week. I’ve had a great time.”
Unity College is small, with about 500 students, and calls itself “America’s Environmental College.” Students are used to collaborating with faculty members on both projects and protests, and officials say there is a friendly spirit on campus. However, that spirit usually stops at the entrance to the college dorms, according to Stephen Nason, the director of resident life.
“One of my challenges is to get faculty to come to residence halls. They’re scared to death,” he said. “Faculty like to be in control. You go in the residence hall, it’s a whole new world.”
A committed visit like Trumble’s is unprecedented.
But the administrator has done this before, spending time in dorms when he worked as a dean at the University of New Hampshire. Living with students is the best, fastest way to really get to know about student life.
“It’s the opportunity to see what’s going on on their own turf,” Trumble said. “It takes a while for young folks to open up to an old-timer.”
And students, though at first a little perplexed by the white-haired official’s stated desire to join them in the dorm, have come to appreciate and really like Trumble.
Kristin Haser, 21, of Zanesville, Ohio, said that she initially thought it was “kind of odd” when she heard of Trumble’s request to spend a week at Eastview. But she and other residents ultimately were enthusiastic about the chance to share their lives with someone higher up.
“I think it’s awesome,” she said. “I think it’s really cool that he’s interested and wanted to get to know us, not just us as students, but us as people.”
Some of the highlights of Trumble’s week included joining foosball tournaments, getting beaten at both tennis and bowling on Nintendo Wii and going out for an early-morning doughnut run with some sleepy students who had stayed up all night. He learned about resident assistant Matt Dyer’s pet rock, Phil, which had disappeared earlier in the week under mysterious circumstances. He heard that students at the rural college would like more integration between their academic life and their residential life.
“I thoroughly enjoy the students. I find them energetic, and interested in relevant things,” Trumble said.
Another highlight for all was when Trumble invited new college president Stephen Mulkey and his wife, Michele, to join the residents for Thanksgiving, college-style.
Matt Dyer, the resident assistant, said that the group meal featured Ramen noodles, Pop-Tarts and Mountain Dew — and lots of conversation.
“He’s like me. He’s new,” Trumble said of the president. “We’re learning what we’re doing, trying to get our visions and ideas together. And the kids were thrilled. They really had a chance to talk about what interests them. They were both stunned and happy to have someone listen.”
Kaitlyn Nafziger, 18, of Parkesburg, Penn., agreed.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” she said. “I don’t know of other colleges that would do something like that.”
Trumble’s next step, after his workday ends of Friday, may also sound familiar to college students, and those who love them.
“I’ll be thoroughly exhausted,” he said. “I intend to sleep a lot this weekend. That’s my goal.”