No place like home: Johnson-McCormick children speak about life on Lehigh’s campus


*View Part 1: The Johnson-McCormicks’ decision to live on Lehigh’s campus and their transition into moving to Sayre ‘B.’

*View Part 2: The Johnson-McCormicks adjust to campus life, downsize, and host events for students in their new home. 

Kyle, Owen, and Meera Johnson-McCormick will have a unique advantage when they go off to college in the future — they will have firsthand experience of what it’s like to live on a college campus.

Johnson worried how their children would react to the downsizing the family had to do before moving onto campus, including giving up a pool, trampoline and swing set.

“They miss a few of those things, but they say it’s worth it; they love living on campus,” Johnson said.

In talking to the kids, only Owen mentioned missing their trampoline, almost as an afterthought.

Johnson said their children had always been extroverts, but now they know about things that other kids their ages don’t, such as what it means to have a major in college and the crazy hours students spend studying. At the same time, Johnson said Lehigh students have been very good at treating the children as children and not adults.

Watching the interaction between the Lehigh students and their children has been incredible for McCormick.

“The Lehigh students are totally bringing their ‘A’-game in terms of how they are respectful and trying to be good role models,” McCormick said.

Johnson echoed her husband.

“They shock and surprise me all the time with how well they handle the responsibility of being that big brother-, big sister-figure to these three kids,” she said.

The kids all expressed how much they enjoy being surrounded by college students.

“I like interacting with the students,” Kyle said. “In our old house it was so much more quiet, it wasn’t as interesting and exciting.”

Owen agreed with his brother, saying that he likes that “we can be with college students and have older people to play sports with because at school we don’t really have a challenge.”

Meera said she likes to play hide-and-go-seek and freeze tag with students and that they teach her gymnastics.

The one thing Kyle, Owen, and Meera all agreed they don’t like about living on campus: quiet hours.

“I’m never quiet,” Owen said.

“For students it’s hard to stay quiet late at night; for our kids, it’s hard to stay quiet early in the morning,” Johnson explained. “It’s just a little challenge of living here.”

Johnson said she and McCormick moved onto campus with their eyes wide open and without unrealistic expectations of what living on a college campus would be like.

“Our kids are not walking around the hill at 1:00 a.m., so they are very oblivious to what’s going on out there,” Johnson said. “I purposefully avoid putting myself into situations where I know I would encounter things I don’t want to encounter.”

Jennifer Scaia, assistant dean of students and director of residence life, said a component of moving the Johnson-McCormicks onto campus was thinking through the possible scenarios of what could be and how to best prepare Johnson to handle them.

“We put a few things into place to help support her and make sure she has resources, so if she ever needs to she (can contact) the Gryphons, or the Assistant Director (of Residence Life), or even the police,” Scaia said.

Johnson said she never had to go to a Gryphon with issues concerning students, nor has a Gryphon had to come to her with the opposite.

Response from Gryphons in Sayre has been nothing but positive, said Scaia.

Jon Merwine, ’14, Head Gryphon in Sayre last year, said Halloween was a big event for the residential community. Merwine asked residents to hand out candy, provided by Residence Life, to Kyle, Owen and Meera as they trick-or-treated through the Sayre complex. He said that he was astounded that nearly 80 percent of apartments participated, even giving out their own candy and dressing up in Halloween costumes.

“As a Gryphon, it was one of the greatest feelings to see the residential community so cohesive and open,” Merwine said. “It’s a Halloween I’ll never forget.”

There is an apparent trend in student conduct data for Sayre over the past three years. According to data obtained from the Office of Student Conduct, the number of incident reports filed at Sayre has decreased since the Johnson-McCormicks moved on campus. Trembley Park and Brodhead House (identified by the Office of Residence Life as comparable to Sayre based on similar population of students or community characteristics) saw spikes in incident reports in the 2012-2013 academic year and do not display the same trend as Sayre.

Information from the Office of Student Affairs Planning and Assessment cites that the incident reports filed at Sayre concerning drugs and alcohol decreased 50 percent during the family’s first year on campus and 33 percent during their second year on campus.

Can this decrease in incident reports be attributed, at least in part, to the Johnson-McCormicks’ presence in Sayre?

“Without a doubt, I would say they definitely had an effect,” Scaia said. “I think having the family of five creates so many opportunities for students to feel like they’re part of something larger than just living in a residence hall with a bunch of other students.”

Holly Taylor, assistant director of student conduct, also said having a family in-residence can have an impact on conduct.

“There’s something about having children in the hall that can curb behavior issues,” Taylor said. “When students are involved and have a support system, they’re less likely to get into trouble.”

Taylor also cited other factors that could have impacted the trend, including Sayre’s location relative to the rest of campus, training of staff, weather, the students living there, and what is going on that particular year.

Scaia said the Office of Residence Life and Office of Student Affairs Planning and Assessment will continue to look at the data as long as the Johnson-McCormicks live on campus to see if there is an actual, continuing trend.

Johnson is passionate about the family’s decision to live here, despite breaking the faculty norm here at Lehigh.

“I believe in it,” Johnson said. “This is one of the things that should happen on this campus to positively and progressively change the campus climate here…I hope I’m the first of many.”

Scaia said more faculty members living on campus would have a tremendously positive effect on the campus climate and for students and faculty to see a connected experience.

“I think if this program expanded, it could have a huge impact,” Scaia said.

Neither Johnson nor McCormick hesitated when they said everything they went through has been absolutely worth it for this experience.

“The best thing I’ve done is get married; the best thing we’ve done is have kids; the best thing our family did was move here,” McCormick said.

Meera succinctly summed up her family’s experience: “Everything here is amazing.”

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