I’m sitting in class Sunday evening, wearing my fleece pajamas curled up on my favorite purple couch in the common room, which seems to have lost its cushions to the previous night’s game of “floor is lava.” I listen to our professor, Josh Exoo, talk about the debate in the NFL on Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem. I look around at my housemates, enthralled in discussion with Josh, and realize how unique this house is to its 25 members.
Rance Davis calls it the Commons Theme Cottage; the Sergi’s delivery guy calls it 78 Park Street; and the alumni fraternity brothers call it Phi Sig. But to the members who live inside it, we call it home. As one of the largest theme houses on campus, Commons attracts a variety of students. Nothing pushes your boundaries like sharing a house with 24 other people, who are similar yet distinctly different from yourself. Or should I say: nothing pushes your boundaries like learning how to share a kitchen with 24 other people. We still haven’t quite mastered that part yet.
Commons started as an extension of the FYP program back in 1985 for a group of upperclassman in Sykes to live and learn together about social justice issues. Lucky for us, the Commons class started gaining attention, and they moved into our current house on Park Street. The janitors at the time appreciated a group of social justice advocates moving in, after years of the Phi Sig fraternity basement swamp parties.
As a house, we volunteer with the Little River School in Canton, hold fundraisers throughout the year for the school, and host Mental Health Week in the spring. However, the most important part of living in Commons is taking a class together, similar to the style of an FYP, where you are living with the people you are learning with. Except the students in Commons get to choose the class topic and formulate the semester’s curriculum with our professor, Josh. In the past, we’ve had classes on cooking, movies from the 90s, and stand up comedy as a lens to look at mental health. Josh comes to our house every Sunday evening where we hold class in our common room for an hour.
This year we tossed around a few ideas before Josh came over for the first class: woodworking, astrology, or even the haunted houses in the North Country. Josh walked into the room that night and asked about our ideas and said he had been thinking about a few ideas of his own over the summer. But then Charlottesville happened. He explained that three years ago, Commons had a class about the riots in Ferguson and were able to follow stories on the riots as they were occurring. He inspired us to take on the topic in light of Charlottesville and focus on the rise of white supremacy and historic racial tension in the U.S. We’ve been following a syllabus created by professors at the University of Virginia called the Charlottesville Syllabus, which includes scholarly articles about the history of racial tensions and the current rise of white supremacy nationally and internationally.
As a senior in my third semester in Commons, and therefore third class with Josh, I’m so grateful for this unique learning opportunity we have in our house. Before coming in freshman year, I never thought I would get to be a participant and leader in the analysis of the movie Batman, or the terrifying rise of white supremacy in our own backyards. I’ve never wished for more class time than our classes with Josh Exoo