I don’t think I’ve ever met a family with such instant infectious energy as the Greys. As I entered through the glass doors of New College House on Friday to meet the house’s faculty director, Classical Studies Associate Professor Campbell Grey, I could barely utter a greeting before I was overtaken by the excitement of his two children upon seeing a new face in their midst. Connor, age four, couldn’t wait to show off his light–up snake toy and dangerously fast monster truck. Isabel, nine, confidently strutted alongside me through the dorm halls in her pajamas. Their self assurance was undeniable, one of many positive traits that Grey attributed to the unique structure of living in the college house system.
“I think they are really powerfully nourished by the experience,” Grey said as I watched Isabel and Connor run after Connor’s toy truck behind their father. “They have all of these really powerful and positive role models who validate them and take them seriously as people. They are, as a result, very socially confident.”
Grey and his wife—Ann Vernon–Grey, the Associate Director of Undergraduate Research at CURF—have lived on Penn’s campus for 12 years, originally serving as residential faculty members at Kings Court English House before transferring over to NCH in 2016. Isabel and Connor, born in 2008 and 2014, respectively, have never known a life outside of the college house system.
“You can see how my children are completely comfortable with all of the public space,” he says, looking over his shoulder. “It’s their home. But,” he concedes, “it’s not the suburban neighborhood that I grew up with in Melbourne.”
While recognizing that many consider his family’s lifestyle to be outside of the norm, Grey has nothing but positive things to say about the experience. “A lot of my colleagues and friends ask me, ‘Why would you do this? I don’t like people enough to do this,’" he says. “But c’mon, it’s so cool.”
The Greys are luckily not subjected to living in the cramped dorm rooms that many undergraduates call home in NCH. They, instead, live in a “grown–up house”, as Grey calls it, complete with a kitchen, multiple bedrooms, and a large living room designed for entertaining. It is in this living room that many students come and go throughout the day, comfortable enough with the family to just stop in, chat, and play with Isabel and Connor.
“The opportunity to interact with [students] outside of the classroom has completely changed my attitude toward education in a really powerful and profound way,” he says. “Living with our students is inspirational, and also just super cool, because we are able to go to shows and dances and plays and sporting events and be going because we know the people and are supporting them. What do I know about tennis? Very little. But I’m heavily invested in the women’s tennis team because they’ve lived with us for nearly ten years.”
Grey and his family also have tight relationships with the other faculty families and staff living on campus. Regarding Isabel and Connor’s relationship with the other children who live in the college system, he describes them as “almost like cousins or siblings.” Directing my attention to his son playing in the background, he says, “The snake that Connor is playing with is a gift from his and Isabel’s ‘older brother’, who is the son of the faculty director and his wife in King’s Court. We’ve known them and their son since their son was 11. He’s now a senior at Temple. So that’s family, for us.”
Grey insists that very few of the challenges you may expect from living with 18–22 year olds are actually apparent. “For all the sort of images one might have of large, loud parties—communities don’t really work like that. There’s an in–built, collective respect that a community ideally possesses and instills. This isn’t a fraternity house.”
The one difficulty that Grey does acknowledge is addressing Penn students’ mental health as a live–in faculty member. “We are very explicitly a resource for every member of our community,” he says. “You talk to any Penn student, and, when they take their Penn face off, you learn that Penn is a challenging place to survive. It’s intense, it’s high energy. There’s lots of opportunity, lots of things grabbing your attention. For us, helping to create and to sustain an environment where Penn students can meet those challenges most effectively is an ongoing challenge itself.”
In totality, Grey’s disposition is clearly one of contentment; with his easygoing attitude and endless praise of his own living situation, it is apparent that he would recommend the setup to anyone.
“Life is learning. Life is family. Life is community,” he says. “What I think having faculty families in the college house system really does is it communicates that all those things are a package. All of those things go together.”
Grey’s daughter, Isabel, also had eloquent opinions to share on living with college students. She concedes that she gets FOMO sometimes with so much going on around her. “My least favorite thing is that they stay up late and I miss most of the parties because they’re past my bedtime on school nights,” she tells me. However, she has managed to develop some strong bonds with the students who live with her.
“Last year, I had a homework buddy with a college student,” Isabel says. “She would help me with my homework and I would sometimes help her with hers, because I’m really good at addition.”
Overall, Isabel gives living in NCH a big thumbs up. “I tell my friends that I have 336 brothers and sisters,” she says. “Can you beat that?”