by Milo Booke
Tucked away in the First-Year Quad is a dorm room unlike any other. Associate Professor of English Sarah Heidt ’97 lives on the bottom floor of Norton Residence Hall, in a cozy space more reminiscent of a Brooklyn apartment than a college dorm room. Numerous bookshelves lined with novels recently mailed back from England, acquired while teaching in Exeter last year, line the wall. The couches are plump, comfortable and provided by Kenyon. However, despite the lived-in feel, Heidt hasn’t been here very long.
“I moved in in August when I got back from running the Kenyon-Exeter program last year with [Professor of English] Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky,” Heidt said. “I had actually been away for three years, which is weird at Kenyon. I ran Kenyon-Exeter in 2011 to 2012 and then had a sabbatical in 2012-2013, and was then asked to go back and co-direct Exeter last year. While I was over there, I applied for the faculty-in-residence job and got accepted, so I moved in when I got back.”
Although living in a first-year dorm as a professor might seem like a daunting proposition, Heidt said she genuinely enjoys her living situation. “I’ve been away for so long and I’ve moved 12 times in the last seven years and I’m kind of sick of that, but I wasn’t quite sure where I was going to move to when I came back,” she said. “It was really helpful to me that it was a thing that was available at a good time for me, but it’s actually been a really wonderful place to live. I actually like the fact that I can hear my neighbor.”
Heidt has embraced the opportunity to live with and communicate with first-year students. Due to the close proximity between Heidt and her upstairs neighbor, they have become friendly. “We actually have bonded partly over the fact that I can hear his music,” Heidt said. “I might not have gotten to know him had that not been the case, and that’s actually been sort of lovely.” In fact, they share the same taste in music. “At the beginning of the first semester, I was finishing a syllabus and it was a Wednesday night, and the music started up and I was like, ‘Man, that’s so cool, but I got to keep doing my syllabus,’” Heidt said.
However, not all the noise has been as pleasant as the tunes coming from upstairs. As dorm residents know, the plumbing system is noisy. “This is probably too much information, but we’re all on the same plumbing system, so I know when someone has flushed a toilet somewhere else in the building,” she said. “The water pressure drops, and I know to get out of the way. If I don’t time things right, everyone is taking a shower at the same time, 25 minutes before classes.”
The most notable feature of Heidt’s presence in Norton is her frequent quiet-hour congregations. “Part of my function is to be here and to do some degree of programming,” she said. “Trying to think through what kind of programming I was going to do, I started realizing how much everybody is programmed already.”
She decided to host quiet-hour sessions for three hours on Thursday nights. “The only rules are that you can’t bring your computers or devices. It’s actually one of the things on the sign,” Heidt said. “Some people read, and some people sit and write. Somebody came and put decorations on a T-shirt one evening. Sometimes people take naps, and even bring blankets and pillows. At the end of the first night of quiet hours, I think I had two or three people that had fallen asleep.”
The lack of technology allows students to get their work done. Heidt believes the numerous gadgets people tote around with them can be too distracting for a studious environment. “Even if people are working quietly, they’re often talking or working quietly but checking messages, and communicating with people that way,” she said. “It has felt like a kind of very low-key way to make a space where people can also practice shutting that stuff off, for at least a little while.”
These sessions have proven highly rewarding for Heidt, giving her the chance to get to know her students on a more personal level. “One of the things I like about it is that by the end of the couple of hours, there’s just this really nice feeling of, not just calm, but quiet,” she said. “I feel like I’ve gotten to interact with people more informally than I do in the classroom.”
Unfortunately for Heidt, this living situation will not be long-lasting. She will move out of Norton and into a house at the end of the school year. “It was a really nice convergence of what I needed and what the College needed,” she said. The opportunity to live in a first-year residence hall was a blast from the past for Heidt. “I’m a Kenyon grad,” she said. “That was one of the reasons I thought this would be sort of fun, because it was like I was starting over.” While future generations of Kenyon students won’t be able to enjoy the serenity of quiet hours in her apartment until May, current first years will still be able to finish their essays, or be quietly lulled to sleep by the soft scratching of pens in this tranquil home.