District House faculty in residence hopes family will be ‘present’ on campus

Media Credit: Olivia Anderson | Contributing Photo Editor

Nikki Usher, an assistant professor of media and public affairs, is the first Faculty in Residence for District House.

Updated: Sept. 5, 2016 at 8:09 a.m.

Sophomores and juniors aren’t the only ones smiling if they snagged rooms in District House — faculty in residence Nikki Usher, her wife Shelly Layser and their 20-month-old son Brinton are satisfied with their new digs, too.

“We knew it was going to be nice because they worked really hard to make this an incredible building,” Usher said. “The 10-foot ceilings are certainly a cool benefit.”

Usher, an assistant professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs, said she’s wanted to be a faculty in residence ever since she was an undergraduate student at Harvard University where she regularly spent time with professors’ families.

“That’s what I think of as normal when it comes to a college experience and something I think is really important,” she said.

In addition to making faculty members more accessible as resources and mentors to students, the faculty in residence program offers students a lens into adults’ worlds, Usher said.

Not only will District House residents be exposed to adult life, but Usher said she and Layser, her wife of eight years and an adjunct law professor at Georgetown University, will help normalize gay families for students.

“I think it’s important to have out faculty members that are present and visible and to have a gay family really present and visible,” she said. “Gay families are just like every other family, and I think it’s important for people to see.”

Regardless of students’ personal ideologies, having Usher’s family around should make what people could think of as “a statistic or rhetoric” normal, she said.

Brinton will have a “cool experience” being an “academic brat” surrounded by students on campus, Usher added.

Although construction is not yet complete at District House, the continuing work has been a dream come true for the toddler, she said.

“[Brinton]’ll sit by his window which looks out on the loading dock so they’re here at 6 a.m., he wakes up at 6 a.m. and he just stands there and waves and says ‘hi,’” Usher said. “And they gave him a helmet today that says ‘Clark Construction.'”

GW Housing went out of their way to make their home child-friendly, like by adding a bathtub to the bathroom, Usher said.

Living among college students may still take some getting used to: The ovens don’t have timers, and fire alarms could easily go off in the middle of the night. Fortunately, Usher and Layser followed the advice of past faculty in residence and purchased headphones for Brinton when a student inevitably misuses a oven or microwave at 2 a.m.

Usher plans to get to know students in the nearly 900-bed “superdorm” by hosting weekly breakfasts on Thursdays and other monthly events, including an apple-picking trip and a visit to the Newseum. For the upcoming presidential election, Usher said she will host a debate-watching party.

Usher researches how people consume news, which she said she is eager to further explore while living on the most politically active campus in the nation.

The positive and accepting feel on college campuses is especially refreshing for Usher and her family, she added.

“People aren’t told ‘no’ to their ideas — they’re told ‘yes, try it,’” Usher said. “And being surrounded by that enthusiasm and belief in your own abilities is so awesome and so energizing.”

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Usher said Clark Construction made sure the apartment was child-friendly. It was GW Housing. We regret this error.

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