A group of Wake Forest University staff members of varying professions, ages and backgrounds gathered over lunch on April 25, 2017, at Wake Forest University to discuss the residential campus experience.

We began by sharing what we remembered about where we lived during our first years of college. Some of us talked about the type of living situations we encountered – like the proximity to the Dean Dome or the wonderful view of the Santa Fe scenery or the tight squeeze it was for two over-six-feet-tall men to share a closet of a room. Others mentioned the people who made their experiences memorable – like the roommate who was an immediate kindred spirit, the friends that inhabited the art building or the golfer with smelly feet. We quickly realized that the people and the connections we made were more important than the physical space of the residence.

We began a group discussion about how perceptions change when our children are the ones going to college. We also talked about how technology has changed the way a person connects with other people. As a result, many students continue to keep in touch with friends back home and there is no longer the first-year sense that “we’re in this together.” One particular example resonated with our group: Years ago, a harsh penalty was to revoke the privilege of living on campus among the community. Students were sent to live off-campus. Today, off-campus living is seen as the privilege and on-campus living is a requirement.

Our conversation concluded with each of us sharing thoughts about what we should pass on to Wake Forest leadership as they consider the residential college experience. We expanded this discussion to how the college experience is meant to produce independent people – those who can leave college and thrive in life. This topic naturally led to a conversation about how much we attract and enable “helicopter parenting.” At one time, students were dropped off at college and their parents left. Now, we have a robust orientation program that almost prevents students from having that first “sink or swim” moment.

After a lengthy discussion, we were left to wonder: Does Wake Forest enable helicopter parenting by creating artificial programs to try and foster authentic experiences?

Our group’s conversation led us to consider how each element of the college experience – including the residential living component – can be tailored to help create independent leaders ready to better the world.