At Yale, college life can be a family affair

Selma Regan, the two-year-old daughter of Trumbull College Dean Jasmina Besirevic-Regan, leads a comfortable life with the amenities Trumbull offers her: a playset she can enjoy daily, a spacious courtyard to explore on warm spring afternoons, and the company of 420 older brothers and sisters.

“It’s a very friendly place for kids,” Besirevic-Regan said of Trumbull. “It wasn’t really a hard decision for me, as far as living on campus with my [child].”

Growing up at Yale can be a blessing in some respects and a curse in others. Assuming the role of a residential college master or dean is a weighty decision for any faculty member to make. The positions not only demand long work hours, but often impact the lives of family members. Especially for the children of masters and deans, living in a college environment presents both unique opportunities to dip into the resources of a university setting and challenges to leading a normal life.

Katherine Sledge, 23, who spent her high-school years at Yale with her father, Calhoun College Master William Sledge, recalls the occasional nuisances of living in the master’s house, such as returning tired from school only to have to tip-toe past her living room to avoid disturbing a Master’s Tea.

But the number of events that were held at the master’s house were sometimes overwhelming, Katherine Sledge said, estimating there was at least one engagement every week. Though Master’s Teas gave her the opportunity to meet celebrities such as James Earl Jones, she often felt her movement within her own house was limited by the constant influx of people.

“It’s also nice to have your own space, to have your own home,” she said. “I kept to my bedroom and to the upstairs part of the house.”

Steven Marans, professor of child psychoanalysis at the Yale Child Study Center, said the effects of having a master or dean as a parent depend heavily on the age of the child. The attention some college students lavish on young children, especially those at Regan’s age, can promote socialization skills and comfort in public settings, he said. Conversely, he warned exposure to large groups of older people creates the risk of over-stimulation, causing children to feel caught in a whirlwind of activities and faces.

“In the lives of young children, in particular, routine and order are important, as are opportunities for a retreat when there is too much activity,” Marans said.

Thus far, Besirevic-Regan, who became dean at the beginning of this academic year, said she has had nothing but positive experiences raising her child at Trumbull College. Trumbull students, she said, have helped make the college as child-friendly as possible, organizing special events for her daughter including a trick-or-treat route on Halloween. And while a dean’s schedule may be busy, she said she also appreciates the flexibility that working at home affords her and spends a play date with her daughter everyday.

Branford College Dean Thomas McDow, whose four-year-old daughter Maggie and one-year-old son Franklin live in the college, agreed his job does not interfere much with being a father. He said raising his children has actually helped prepare him to be a dean.

“Is it going to bother you if someone comes knocking at your door at two in the morning?” he said, recalling a conversation he had prior to his deanship. “No, I don’t think so. Having small children at home means I have to get up at two o’clock and hold someone on the toilet so that they don’t wet the bed.”

Like Besirevic-Regan, McDow feels life in the residential college system complements his children’s needs.

“Since we have the most beautiful courtyard, it’s also the most beautiful downtown park, so it’s a great place to play,” he said. “The basement is also a nice place to ride the tricycle, and we use the squash courts to throw the ball around.”

But the most serious obstacles may emerge as a child grows older, especially at a stage when normal teenage issues can be compounded by the hectic atmosphere of college living, Marans said.

Sledge, for example, lived in Calhoun from the age of 14, when she entered high school at nearby Choate Rosemary Hall, until she enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania. She admitted that her life at Yale had its advantages but often annoyed her.

She said her biggest gripe was eating at the Calhoun Dining Hall. While she said she disliked the quality of the food, she was also bothered by the way dining hall meals affected the time she spent with her parents.

“I had gotten used to having dinner be a family time, but the point of going to dining halls for my parents was to meet students,” Sledge said. “And I didn’t know the students, and I didn’t really care.”

Although she said students were extremely welcoming to her when she lived in Calhoun, her dissatisfaction living at Yale may have stemmed from feeling like more of a “townie” — an outsider rather than someone truly accepted into the Yale community.

“I guess I was the one who was unwelcoming,” Sledge said.

Marans said it is essential that masters and deans raising children draw boundaries between work and personal time so their children do not have to compete with students for attention.

“There’s a way in which family life is preserved,” Marans said. “There can be a distinction, particularly that older kids can make, between the time that parents are spending as part of their work and time that is meant just for them.”

Sledge said her parents did prioritize well, always placing family first. And as she grew older and distanced herself from Yale, Sledge said her feelings toward the University improved.

“As I was applying to college — I realized that [Yale is] such a great school, and it was the type of school I’d like to go to, if my parents weren’t there,” she said. “I still hold it in the highest regard, even though I make fun of it. It’s kind of like my sibling.”

Marty Keil, the 14-year-old son of Morse College Master Frank Keil, agreed.

“I think Yale students look happy,” Keil said. “But I’m definitely tired of Yale.”

Morse College Master Frank Keil and Associate Master Kristi Lockhart attend a holiday party in the college with their son Marty Keil (center).
Susan Keppleman
Morse College Master Frank Keil and Associate Master Kristi Lockhart attend a holiday party in the college with their son Marty Keil (center).

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