When Victoria Brown, History, received a note that one of her students had the flu and could not come to class, she took it as a routine absence. But after class, she returned to her office in Mears Cottage to find a surprise out the window—the very same student on top of the Main Hall loggia, smoking marijuana.
“I’m like, ‘Well that’s one way to deal with it,’” Brown said. “[But with] the flu you’re really supposed to be in bed.”
Awkward moments like this one are all but inevitable, because the faculty offices in Mears are right next to the South Campus dormitories. Offices on the east side of the third floor, such as Brown’s, look directly onto the Main Loggia.
Professors with offices in Mears say that the proximity is the source of occasional annoyance, especially in the spring when students are outside. But there are also benefits of feeling part of the community and getting a window (literally) into student life.
One problem is noise.
“Friday afternoons I’d be like, ‘F— there they go,’” said Kelly Maynard, History, describing her reaction when students turned on music. “I’d just give up and go home, and that pissed me off. But on the other hand, it’s Friday afternoon, and its Grinnell, and people kind of need to party and I get that.”
“There have been times, like, when they’re playing the Rolling Stones or music that I like when I think, ‘Oh that’s kind of nice,’” said Tim Arner, English. “It’s when they start playing Miley Cyrus or something like that that I’m more annoyed.”
Other distractions are visual. The South Campus Loggia is a favorite spot for student nudity. Brown was sitting in her office one Friday afternoon with an alumna and her non-Grinnellian boyfriend.
“He’s just suddenly drop-jawed,” recounts Brown. “And the alum and I turn and look and go, ‘Oh, yeah.’ They’ve all just dropped trou. It’s not a big deal. He was shocked, and the alum actually said, ‘Welcome to Grinnell.’”
Over the years the exposure has taken something of a toll on her, though. “I have probably seen more of my students’ skin than I would choose to see,” Brown said.
Students show no signs of shame because of the proximity.
“I never really think about it or change how I’m acting because Professor Maynard or Tim Arner can see me out their window,” said Ryan Moorehead ’13, a resident of Main Hall. “I have run into Professor Maynard [while I was] streaking, but that was in the library.”
A professor particularly mixed in with students is Ken Christiansen, Professor Emeritus of Biology. His office is on the first floor of Main Hall because his other offices have all been destroyed. His science building office was torn down when construction began on the first stage of the Noyce Science Center in 1997, so he moved to an office near the corner of Park Street and Sixth Avenue. That was torn down in 2002 to make room for the John Chrystal Center. He then moved to another house on Park Street on the other side of Sixth Avenue. That was torn down last year to make way for the new Grinnell College Preschool. Hence, he is now in Main Hall.
But he is not bitter about his new office location.
“I love seeing students,” Christiansen said. “I usually leave my door open to encourage visitors.”
The 2010 campus plan update raised the possibility of a new humanities building farther from south campus. But professors would be reluctant to leave.
“I love being imbedded in this whole kind of neighborhood,” Brown said.
“Mears is a great old building with some soul and some history and it’s crooked, and I’d much rather that than be in a new building that stinks of new building-ness,” Maynard said. “On the other hand it depends on what they build…It would also be nice to be around a bigger pool of faculty, but there are plenty of people in History and English, and we all get along pretty well.”