As the saying goes, “do what you love, love what you do.” Joseph DeFeo, who has been the Director of Living and Learning at Fairfield for that past 9 years, has really taken this saying to heart.

Although some students may have differering opinions of Joe DeFeo and the residential colleges that he helps direct here at Fairfield, one thing is very true: he feels that his line of work is what he has been called to do, and he finds genuine enjoyment in the job that he does.

Very recently, DeFeo took on the task of coordinating the launching of several new sophomore residential colleges. He sat down with The Mirror to talk about how he feels about his experience so far, how he tries to constantly address students’ needs, and where he sees the residential colleges going in the future.

The Mirror: How do you respond to complaints from students who feel that they were unfairly placed or forced into a Living and Learning community that they do not want to be in, with a mission that they are not passionate about?

Joseph DeFeo: “Unfortunately due to our housing needs this year, some students were placed in residential colleges that they did not choose. Even though this group is a small number of students, we invite them to all our building programs anyway. Because they live with other students, we want all living in any residence hall, regardless of the program of the hall or building, to live in community.

“So we invite them to our community nights where students can grab some snacks and hang out socially with one another. We invite them to attend our dinner series where fellow students and staff invite a faculty or staff member to a casual dinner and conversation about their life interests and work. We will invite them to take advantage of any programs, events we offer, all for free just for living there.

“For next year, our housing availability will be much different with several new buildings coming online. We will be better able to inform students of which buildings will and will not be residential colleges. This should help all students make choices about participation.”

TM: How do you feel when you hear reports and read articles that claim that the living and Learning program is not meeting expectations?

JD: “It saddens me on one hand, because I am aware of an awful lot…With any new program, there are always kinks that need to be worked out. While I’m sure for some students these colleges are not meeting their expectations, it is important to recognize all the things that are being offered…It is also important to realize that the staff can only do so much for the students.

“Students are the community and need to take ownership of how their community life will go and how they will realize their expectations.  Since orientation, students have been encouraged to get involved in programming, event planning, inviting of faculty and others to dinner, offer suggestions for events, and more.

“While we have offered a significant amount of support through people like faculty, mentors, staff, and significant financial support for these colleges, only the students living in these communities can make it truly meaningful.”

TM: Have you ever gotten angry phone calls from parents due to where you placed their son or daughter, and how do you respond?

JD: “Very few, but yes. They are usually parents just trying to advocate for their sons or daughters. The message I try to give them is to have their son or daughter stop by and I can discuss options with them.”

TM: Why do you think that some of the Living and Learning communities have a worse reputation than others?

JD: “A lot of this is due to the newness of most of the communities. As time goes on, the students will generate the reputation of the community. For example, in the early years, the Ignatian college was rumored to be a religious cult! Parents and students expressed concern. Obviously, that has passed.”

TM: What do you feel needs to be done to improve students’ perception of these residence halls?

JD: “Students living in these colleges can review what has been provided them so far… They should also get involved in generating ideas for events and programs and take ownership of the community, and make it a place they value, like their own or a friend’s homes…”

TM: How would you describe your experience at Fairfield thus far?

JD: “It’s been great. I really enjoy working here. It’s really exciting to be a part of creating something new, and to work with staff and faculty who are excited to be here, wanting to see what else we can do to serve students, in ways that engage students, in ways that make sense to them. It’s a fun environment, and it’s a healthy environment to be a part of.”

TM: What do you think is a common misconception about you?

JD: “Me? Um, that I have a deep voice. [laughter] Uh, let’s see, that I take pleasure in, you know, making students do things that they don’t want to do…though I’m not sure. I hope they would think I care deeply about their well-being and their wanting to get the most out of their time here as possible. I don’t know if that’s a misconception or not, but I would hope they would know that, or appreciate that.”

TM: What are some of your favorite things about your job?

JD: “I get to work with an amazing, diverse group of people. The Area Coordinators and RA’s are highly caring, energetic and skilled, the faculty have an incredible level of expertise in so many areas, the mentors are eager to accompany our students, and the university has been a very supportive environment for these colleges. I also have the pleasure of working with many fantastic staff who work throughout the university.”

TM: After working at Fairfield for 9 years, what is something that you are most proud of?

JD: “Besides my family? That certainly tops the list. I try to be a decent husband and parent. That’s more important than anything we do. But, trying to build, in real ways, experiences that promote our Jesuit tradition, here and now in the 21st century, in ways that make sense for students and faculty, that are owned by us and not just because they’re an old tradition. Because they’re meaningful in today’s world. I’m really proud to be a part of that movement…”

TM: Where do you see the Living and Learning Communities, as well as student participation in these communities, going in the future?

JD: “I don’t know. The hope is that they continue to be meaningful for students, and fun. And that students will want to be a part of them and take ownership of them, and make them their own. If they don’t on a large scale, we’ll do something else, because our goal, our jobs are to serve the students, and provide this type of education here at Fairfield that really stays important. So, however we need to adjust and change to provide an authentic Jesuit education at Fairfield, working with the student interests, is where we’ll go and what we’ll do.”

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