A Departure from Dorms

Residential colleges provide an immersive on-campus experience

Residential Colleges
E. Bronson Ingram College

For Vanderbilt alumni who graduated more than 15 years ago, residential colleges may seem like a far cry from the drab, maximally efficient dormitories built on campus in the 1960s to accommodate a quickly expanding student body. In fact, before the Class of 2012 moved onto The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons in 2008, never had there been anything on campus like these intentionally designed communities where undergraduates with different backgrounds are paired together and live alongside faculty.

But as new as it is to Vanderbilt, the idea for such communities is an old one, dating to the earliest days of England’s Oxford and Cambridge universities. The tradition also has some notable long-standing examples here in the U.S., including at several Ivy League universities. Today Vanderbilt is among a select group of higher education institutions that offer such a thoughtfully designed undergraduate residential experience that can encompass all four years of a student’s time on campus. Integral to that experience are the ideas of belonging and inclusion, as well as an emphasis on learning outside the classroom.

“One thing I encourage among the residents is inclusive curiosity,” said Rosevelt Noble, BS’97, PhD’03, senior lecturer of sociology, director of the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center and head of Stambaugh House on The Ingram Commons. “That means not settling for what I call the low-hanging fruit—that is, only seeking out friends who are just like them. I tell them that the ‘reaches’—the people who on the surface don’t seem to have anything in common with them—may end up being their best friends.”

Vanderbilt requires all first-year students to live in one of the 10 houses on The Ingram Commons, each led by a faculty head who lives on-site and oversees innovative programming that gives each house its distinct identity. Sophomores, juniors and seniors have the option of continuing to live alongside faculty in one of five residential colleges in the West End Neighborhood: E. Bronson Ingram College, Moore College, Nicholas S. Zeppos College, Rothschild College or Warren College. A sixth is scheduled to open in 2024, while three other residential colleges for upper-division students are planned for Highland Quadrangle along 25th Avenue South.

“Our residential colleges create a collaborative and inclusive culture that empowers our students to thrive as thinkers, leaders and engaged citizens,” Chancellor Daniel Diermeier said. “The Highland Quadrangle development will create even more opportunities for Vanderbilt students to learn from different perspectives, engage in informed discourse and expand their thinking about the world.”

View a photo essay about Vanderbilt’s residential colleges.