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On Moving To Campus: The Full and Inside Scoop

Posted by | April 19, 2012 | Uncategorized | 38 Comments


Because I’ve been asked, because my life is an open book, because I want to document this for myself and my kids for the future, because I wear my heart on my sleeve, because I can’t help myself…

Here is the full length version of our explanation for moving to campus. This is what we’ve told our closest friends and family, and in an effort to be clear about why we’re doing what we’re doing (for whoever might care or be interested, now or in the future), here it is– the full scoop:

Moving to Lehigh’s campus, as a “Family in Residence,” is the culmination of a bunch of things all coming together for us:

* We have been feeling very strongly, for a few years now, that we want to downsize in terms of our home/property. For the past 2 years or so we’ve been talking about doing something radical in terms of this– i.e., not only downsizing, but REALLY downsizing in a huge way. We feel like our current situation is too “big” for us; too “much” for us; we have too much “stuff.” We have really struggled with managing the house we have and do not feel committed to doing what needs to be done to maintain and keep up with a house like the one we have. We will be moving into a TINY, 800 square foot, 3 bedroom apartment. The only saving grace is that we are also getting a huge storage space in the basement of the building (this will be extremely helpful). Regardless, it is a massive downsize from our current living situation. It will be a true experiment for us in living much more simply, and radically downsizing our life. This is something we’ve been considering and discussing for a long, long, long time, but now it is a matter of ‘walking the walk’ and not just ‘talking the talk’… this is going to be a huge deal for us to make such a radical change in living space.

* We have also been feeling very strongly, again for at least a few years, that our current situation is not sustainable in terms of work/home balance. We are really struggling with balancing two huge and self-driven careers. I, especially, have been really suffering. It has been 3 years since Braydon went full-time with his business start-up. We have come to the conclusion that we are unable to sustain the current situation and something has to give. Neither of us are willing to give up our careers, and we are not willing to sacrifice our marriage or the tight-knit-ness of our family/parenting. So, we have been exploring lots of options for how to handle this. We’ve been wracking our brains to come up with some kind of solution. By moving to campus we’re trying to do something about this. We will have a MUCH smaller home to maintain/clean/keep up; we will be able to eat on campus a lot (we will have MUCH less cooking/food planning/food shopping/food cleaning-up to do); we will have tons of built-in-babysitters (!); and we will be massively stream-lining our life (Braydon and I will both be able to walk to work, and the kids’ school will be the same distance from us as they currently are now– they will stay at the same school). For a long, long time we’ve been complaining about our struggle with work-home balance. I’ve shed too many tears about this (constantly feeling torn in two directions, and feeling a TON of tension between work and home). We are finally going to DO SOMETHING about it. It is scary, but we’re excited to at least give it a try. Like I said, something has to give.

* Because of Braydon starting his own business, things have been very tight for us financially for the past 3 years. We have been really struggling with wanting to re-prioritize our budget (to spend much less on home stuff and much more on experiential stuff), but have felt ‘trapped’ by all of the financial commitments of our current house. By moving to campus we will have zero rent/mortgage, and all of our home utilities will be completely paid for (heat/AC; phone; cable; internet; etc.). Our only bills will be our car payments and our cell phones. This will allow us to do so much more with our kids while they are young… which is what we really want to be doing.

* While Kyle and Owen were really little our house was perfect for them. They/we used every square inch of it –inside and out. But now they are in school all day, they play sports after school, and we are often out and about on the weekends. They no longer ‘need’ the space the way they once did. We’ve been feeling like it is time to move on… and we’re interested in doing a different type of lifestyle with them and with Meera. For our area, Bethlehem (where Lehigh is) is the most ‘urban’-type of living. Although it is not a big city, it is as ‘big’ as it gets for here. It is by far the most diverse area (the area around Lehigh’s campus is extremely racially mixed, and predominantly black and Puerto Rican). We’ll be living in a MUCH more racially mixed area. We’ll be able to walk to many shops/restaurants/activities/events. And we’ll have access to a ton more stuff to do– both on campus, and around the campus. Kyle, Owen, and Meera are all extremely extroverted, and are always up for anything, so we are really excited for this change of pace for them. We plan to attend a lot more on campus (stuff we’ve been wanting to do, but have not been able to since we’ve been living 25 minutes from campus): concerts, lectures, shows, performances, sports events, etc. We also will make much more use of Lehigh (the swimming pool, the gym, the climbing wall, bike paths, etc.). And the area around Lehigh will allow for us to get take-out from ethnic restaurants, sign the kids up for dance classes or theater classes or hip hop classes or skating lessons, etc… all within walking distance. This is something we’re really looking forward to.

* I began teaching at Lehigh University in the fall of 2001. I was fresh out of a PhD program, eager to be a great young scholar, and excited to teach sociology. During my pre-tenure years I did a lot of research, teaching, and service on campus. I also did a lot of learning. Ten years later, and three years post-tenure, I am now doing a lot of reflecting. What I have been reflecting most upon is this: It has become clearer and clearer to me in the past few years just what exactly my role at Lehigh (and beyond) really is. What I thought I had been doing for the past ten years was being a sociology professor. What I have come to understand, however, is that much more powerful than any of my teaching or scholarship is simply my presence on campus; specifically, my presence as a young, female, progressive, ambitious, working-mother, concerned-citizen, modeling for young adults what it means to live a life of purpose. Perhaps what I’ve noticed most in my ten years at Lehigh is the need our students have for mentors in their lives. This makes sense, of course, given the phase of life they are in—they are in the process of forming their own social identities, and figuring themselves out. Many of them want to forge lives for themselves that don’t look like the lives of the generations before them. But they don’t know where to start. And they don’t have the self-confidence to begin, even if they did know how. What has struck me is their need for examples— real-life, living, breathing examples – of what it means to carve out a satisfying life for oneself that is committed to the common good. More than anything, as I reflect on my past ten years at Lehigh, I see this as my role: simply being a presence in the lives of young people who simply need to see someone leading a life of purpose. With the Faculty in Residence Program at Lehigh, there are no expectations for me to be a “Dorm Mother,” or for our family to take any sort of responsibility for caring for students. We are, however, expected to be a presence at Lehigh, engaged with students, and integrated into in the life of the campus (which, for us, comes easily and is almost unavoidable when we are at Lehigh).

We all (truly, all five of us) are looking forward to this new phase. And I, especially, (although Braydon, too, for sure), am feeling a strong sense of purpose to do this. We are compelled to move on this path and feel that this is what we are supposed to be doing next. And so, despite some trepidation (and a lot of people questioning this untraditional move), we step forward into this journey.


  • Siri says:

    Love it. Really, really love it. I think you will all look back on your time as a “Family in Residence” with wonder, joy and lots of memories, but I think for K, O and M it will be magical. I also think this is a brave and bold step– pretty inspiring.

  • tafel says:

    I was nodding along with your thoughts about needing less space with school-age kids – while it’s still important to have home-time, there is so much more time spent away from it as well. Our house is a little over 700 sq ft (granted, only 2 of us not 5!) and there’s one room we don’t even use much.

    and my, I do love de-junking. :) Enjoy your new adventure!

  • shannoncl says:

    This is an amazing step! Fun. Exciting. New. Campus life. WOW! So very excited for all of you! Congratulations

  • Laurie Watson says:

    I love to see people walk the walk and not just talk it forever. It sounds like a neat future for your family! It’s annoying (to me) when people question other people who are actually doing something to live out their convictions and being adventerous. I am excited to follow along! :)

  • Melody says:

    What an exciting time for your family! I admit, I read your initial post on this subject with lots of surprise and some…may I admit, dismay? I couldn’t imagine why you would want to give up your beautiful house! (I also have a personal frame of reference–I spent part of my childhood with a family of me, one parent, and one sibling in a 847 square foot house, and I remember exactly the size of that house!)

    But reading this post allows me to understand your reasons completely. It sounds like you are going to get to enjoy so much more freedom! Congratulations on deciding to make the non-traditional choice! I can’t wait to hear about all of the fun, new experiences you get to share as a family!

  • Ashley says:

    I think it’s awesome, and the students are so lucky to have such a warm, fun, and loving family such as yours to interact with on a daily basis. And ,wow,!just think, you and Braydon can have so many more date nights now with all those built in sitters! Looking forward to reading about your new adventure, but I will sure miss your cooking posts.

    • Heather says:

      Don’t worry! I plan to still do cooking posts— I can see a cooking theme coming: “If *I* can cook it in a *DORM*, then you can cook it too!”

  • M3 says:

    You guys always make me grin. You grab life by the tail and make me wish I had half of your bravery. Congrats on your new adventure — can’t wait to come along for the ride.

  • Amber says:

    WOW! As a looooong time blog reader I’m so excited for your family. Thanks for sharing so openly – as always.

    When we recently moved (actually to a larger house) we got rid off SO MUCH stuff. Five months later I’m still downsizing our possessions because we’ve found so much freedom in ownng less.

  • Kendall says:

    This… is… fantastic. Heather one of my favorite things about you (considering that I don’t REALLY know you) is that you never, ever back down from your ideals, integrity, and sense of purpose. I am so full of joy and gratitude toward your family for the lifestyle you’ve chosen to live together, truly setting an example for both the Lehigh students AND the blogosphere. I know Kyle, Owen, & Meera are going to have SO MUCH FUN on campus!!! Enough basketball boys around to fill aaaall of their playing/cheering whims! This makes me want to go to Lehigh for grad school…. πŸ˜›

  • Kate says:

    Thanks for sharing the scoop with all of us! I believe it will be a wonderful adventure (ups and downs as is life) for you and your children — well done on boldly making the move! From the sounds (and looks of it from the other programs at other Universities) the sense of culturally diverse community you’ll all get will be immeasurable, and from my personal perspective that is very important. And I totally agree, university students who want to lead the dream of the dual career family need to see/interact with real-life examples/role models and it’s great that you are embracing that aspect too. Wishing you all the best, excited to hear how life goes :)
    – Kate

  • Renee Worfolk says:

    Good for you! I made a similar move to eliminate my mortgage to provide travel opportunities for my children and to allow me to quit a stressful job I hated! Go for it! Enjoy your adventure!

  • Gail McCormick says:

    It’s possible that the most important example you’ll be setting relates to climate disruption. You will be living a far more sustainable life and massively lowering your carbon footprint. When the children are old enough to understand that we all need to do whatever we can to keep our planet habitable, they will thank you.

  • Cheryl says:

    I am very excited to hear about your new adventures on campus. I was worried that there would be less food posts, but I’m happy to hear that we will still have some cooking tips. I love the idea of living with less but gaining more in experiences. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us.

  • KJ says:

    Wow, that is a big life change. Sounds like the reasoning behind it is completely valid. Also a good time in your kids’ lives to downsize. I can’t imagine fitting 5 people and all the baby garb into such a small place. For a family constantly on the move this may just be the perfect fit! Wishing you the best.

  • Nicola says:

    Such an exciting adventure for you guys, and Heather, your reasons for being at Lehigh are the reasons that friends and myself read your blog. Thank you for continuing to publicly navigate the more challenging/fulfilling waters.
    Good luck!

  • Elizabeth says:

    This sounds awesome. I imagine your children will have a total blast living on a college campus for a couple of years. And what a great example for all the Lehigh students to see.

    You said that you had committed to two years, can you stay longer if you like it, or is definitely a two year gig?

  • What a fabulous opportunity! I went to Middlebury College where we also had faculty in residence and the younger professors with children were always fascinating to me. It was difficult to imagine myself in the place of the older residents whose children had already left the house, but seeing faculty who were in the midst of raising their kids gave me something to aspire to.

  • melissa says:

    Congrats! I agree this will be magical for your kiddos. Blessings!

  • Sara says:

    I work in higher education (on the staff side of the house) and used to be a staff in residence in our honor’s residence hall. I loved that position because my job was to make sure the honors students didn’t study too much (said with some degree of sarcasm) and got involved on campus.

    I think it will great for the campus and your family to learn from and experience each other. I look forward to reading more!

  • Susan says:

    Hi Heather,
    I took your grad seminars from 2007-2009. One of the most memorable classes we had was when we talked candidly about the realities of being a professor, wife, mother. The last reason that you wrote for moving on campus resonates with me- being a role model, a presence on campus. I know without a doubt that you and your family’s presence will truly have a meaningful impact for the students. After I got married last year, my life, perspective, and priorities have radically changed. It’s been wonderful, but I have also been constantly questioning and doubting myself and my abilities to pursue two loves simultaneously- raising a family and having a fulfilling and challenging career. I also have to make some painful and difficult decisions.

    I’m an occasional silent reader of your blog, but I just wanted to say that I think you and Braydon are remarkable people. It’s so amazing how supportive Braydon is to your career. It’s wonderful how your family consistently and consciously sets aside quality time for each other.

    Being a graduate student at an R1 school has made me very introspective these days about my dreams and desires in life. I know I don’t want the hectic and stressful life as an R1 academic. And sometimes, I was so discouraged that I felt a woman has to have one or the other- a family or an academic career- but they can’t have both. But your blog shows an encouraging, inspiring possibility that you can do both.

    I know that there will be many Lehigh students that will be blessed by your family’s presence. Thanks also for being a blessing to me during my time at Lehigh. I realized that I was able to pursue my research interests because you and the other faculty really encouraged me and invested in me. This was the academic environment that I thrived in. I hope the same for other Lehigh students as well. :)

  • Teresa says:

    Good Luck! We have downsized twice – once to move to Japan and once to move to New York City. It is really hard (when you are staring at the shelves and shelves of STUFF that you have to weed through), but every time we are so thankful that we did it. We go on living very happily and don’t miss any of it. It is such a liberating experience to realize how little you actually need.

  • Jon says:

    Sounds pretty cool. (I really don’t have a good picture of the size…but the ideas you expressed sound cool anyway.)

    Hey…maybe we can get a discounted rate on the arena! For…oh…I don’t know…a Haitian party of some sort. :)

    Looking forward to hearing how it all goes and praying it will be a blessing to your family and those around you.

    • Heather says:

      Jon, we’re on the same wavelength!! In my original proposal to do the Faculty in Residence program I even wrote in plans for potentially hosting the Haiti Reunion at Lehigh! πŸ˜‰
      We just need to see how others feel about changing location… But we’ve got many months to figure all of this out.

  • Gloria Freeborn says:

    Awesome! That was my reaction to reading your recent posts about the big move. What a fabulous opportunity to try out a completely different way of living! And a great financial deal too! I have often said to the my husband (and 3 young kids) that I am not AT ALL attached to living in our big house. Would love to move to the city in smaller digs. Of course in our city (Vancouver, BC) a small apartment (e.g. 800-900 square feet) costs as much as our 3600 square foot house in the suburbs! But it’s definitely something I would love to pursue and your posts have inspired me.

  • Candis Gillett says:

    I think this move is fantastic for all. A college campus is a great place in which to bring up a family–scholarly, yet fun. Close-knit, yet with an international flavor. Unload all those trappings of the suburban home and embrace this gift! (I only wish I were in a position to do the same.)

  • kathy says:

    It sounds like a positive move forward and I like that you want to be a role model of living with purpose for the students.

  • Jess says:

    Awesome. Best of luck with the sale and the move! Congratulations on starting a new chapter, which is always exciting.

  • Beth says:

    You guys are awesome. I wish you so much happiness and experience from this move. It makes me happy to see mentors realize their role, power, and responsibility. I had a mentor professor in grad school and it made all the difference. She not only showed me a new facet of my career option, but helped me survive the environment I was in. She made me the professional I am today and I can never thank her enough for that. So thank you, for doing that for others. Your modeling of family/life/work balance (and its natural shifts) will go a long way in the education of all those students you interact with.

  • NJTed says:

    Cool, it would be great being able to walk to work. Ya know, I’ve been contemplating moving into the family apartments on Busch Campus here at Rutgers with my girlfriend, and trying to start a family there. I couldn’t see how I could do it though if I owned a house. My parents want me to downsize my car, but I can’t even do that, I love it too much. LOL The other issue for me would be having kids while living in a building with a fire alarm system, the BANE OF MY EXISTENCE!!! LOL
    Anyway, I hope this whole thing works out for you guys the way you hope it does.

  • Eden Marchman says:

    delayed thought: i’m concerned for the kitties, are they coming?

  • Danny Greenawalt says:

    Prof Johnson & Braydon! I’m way behind the times and just getting caught up, but I gotta say this is really cool! Your paragraph about what you realized that you ‘really’ did on on campus really struck a nerve for me.

    I thought I was getting a degree in engineering and business (and I did), but reflecting on why I was really there led me towards campus ministry. In the end, it was the long conversations I had with residents as an RA, the cross cultural immersion summers with InterVarsity, finding myself drawn towards diverse sociology classes, the thought provoking Tuesday night Bible studies I help lead, joining BSA as the only white person, the need for racial reconciliation on campus that became alive to me, and the students who mentored me and I got to mentor; it was all this stuff that seemingly had real impact in my life. Invaluable lessons learned while getting some degree.

    Thank you for playing a part of this! Thanks for continuing to model justice and reconciliation with your life and family. As I work in an intentionally multi-ethnic ministry with students in Ohio, I often tell them my spiritual journey in college. Even the ‘short version’ includes how impacted I was/am by the classes I took with you in conjunction with summers spent in cross cultural immersion ministry.

    Just next week we are headed for a cultural immersion plunge to Cleveland for spring break with Ohio State students. I can’t wait to see more students encounter God’s heart for justice and reconciliation. Maybe sociology classes will be a bit fuller next semester too. :)

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