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Graduate Tutors for Princeton’s Residential Colleges

— As part of the continuing expansion of the residential college system at Princeton University, The Daily Princetonian reports today that each college will soon include a compliment of resident graduate students. This is an excellent practice, regularly recommended here on the Collegiate Way. At some other institutions these resident grad students would be called “resident tutors”—not tutors in the help-with-studying sense, but in the historical sense of someone who looks after the welfare of another. Congratulations to Princeton on this important enhancement to the collegiate life of their campus.

Colleges pick grad students

As the University anticipates drastic changes to take effect next year with the opening of Whitman College and the advent of the four-year residential college system, 60 graduate students are preparing for their roles in the new order.

These “resident graduate students,” or RGSes, will live among undergraduates in the residential colleges next year, planning weekly activities and socializing with their younger neighbors.

Currently, graduate students serve as assistant masters and graduate fellows in each college, but they will be replaced next year by a full-time director of student life, who will live close to campus and oversee the residential college adviser (RCA) program.

“The idea [for the RGSes] initiated with the Four-Year College Program committee, composed of students, staff and faculty,” Associate Dean of the College Claire Fowler said in an email. “One important goal of the four-year college is to create a more integrated campus, to provide more opportunities for freshmen and sophomores to mix with upperclass students, and it also makes sense to create opportunities for undergraduates to get to know graduate students.”

Applicants for RGS positions wrote essays, submitted recommendations and participated in 30-minute interviews. About 120 students applied for the 60 spaces, which will be divided among the six residential colleges. Each RGS received notice of his or her acceptance to the program in late March.

The high number of applicants might be due to the perks of being an RGS: subsidized housing and 125 dining hall meals a semester. For some, other enticements are more persuasive.

“I feel as a graduate student that we don’t really have a community, so you seek it out,” Natalie Kostinski GS, an electrical engineering Ph.D. student and a future Mathey RGS, said.

Padma Maitland GS, a future RGS in Wilson College, said undergrads and grad students must work to ensure that the two populations can coexist harmoniously under the new system. “You live together and hope there can be a shared interest,” she said.

While RGSes will be responsible for organizing events and participating in the undergraduate community, the specifics of their job remain unclear. “[The activities and their frequency] will depend on the role taken by the RGS and the needs of the college,” Fowler said. “The position is intended to be very flexible.”

Future RGSes and college masters agree that the program will pan out differently in each residential college. “What I’m planning to do is to meet weekly with the RGSes and review their activities,” Mathey Master Antoine Kahn said. “I expect them to be involved in many activities.”

Kahn will meet with the Mathey RGSes through the spring and early fall to solidify the goals and operations of the program. “Everyone, at the beginning of the year, will have an assignment,” he said.

Kostinski’s personal initiative will be to promote music among her undergraduate neighbors. When she was an undergraduate engineer, Kostinski didn’t have time in her schedule to continue playing the violin.

“I really missed it … I was hoping I could help others keep that in their schedule, keep that in their lives and maybe organize a [quartet.]” The quartet would then hold open concerts for the college community to attend.

Rosa Andujar GS, a future RGS in Mathey and current graduate fellow in Mathey, said she is excited for the program to change because she feels the RGSes will have a more focused purpose. “There are so many [graduate fellows]—we may have had dinner once, but we don’t even know each other,” she said. By contrast, she said, she hopes the new system will foster a tight-knit community of RGSes and their undergraduate neighbors.

Not everyone believes the new RGS system is a good idea, however. Kevin Smith ‘07, an RCA in Wilson, lamented the removal of the assistant masters. “Right now, AMs are helpful for RCAs because they are more authoritative than an RCA, but [they] aren’t bound to report any violations that might lead to consequences for students,” Smith said. “They can use their discretion when resolving issues in a way that full-time college staff can’t.”

But Butler College Dean David Stirk said he is “confident the RCAs will feel supported [under the new system].”

“To some extent it will be an honor system, since they’re not employees,” Stirk said of the RGSes. “We’re still working out how we’re going to direct it.”

Correction: The original version of this article stated that resident graduate students receive free housing and meals. In fact, they get subsidized housing and 125 dining hall meals per semester. The Daily Princetonian regrets the error.

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