As the current Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of Georgia, Victor Wilson has dedicated his career to ensuring that students have the best possible college experience. Approaching his retirement, VP Wilson takes a few moments to reminisce about his own time as a student living on campus. In his own words, here are his stories retelling his fond memories and lessons learned.
University Housing: What years did you live on campus?
Vice President Wilson: 1977-81
UH: Where did you live?
VPW: Russell Hall room 435B and Lipscomb Hall room 306
UH: Do you have a favorite memory of living on campus?
VPW: In the evenings when all the work was done, people would just hang out in the halls, and that’s when the good stuff happened. I remember people just talking and hanging out. There weren’t any TVs in the rooms, and guys left their doors open until they went to bed. We’d go from room to room to talk or just hang out in the hall. The evenings were my favorite time because that’s when we could just be ourselves.
UH: How did you decorate your room?
VPW: I had a few posters and that was it – just something to put on the walls. I don’t even think there was a rug on the floor.
UH: Many people develop long-term friendships through living on campus. Did you have this experience?
VPW: Yes, the friendships I made in college with my roommates and hallmates have been lifetime friendships, and I still keep up with roughly 10 guys from my time living on campus. We still text and call each other, and some of them might drop by my office before a football game.
Years ago, I saw a photo, and it was a group of us guys, and when I looked at it, I recognized everyone in the photo. I couldn’t believe it.
UH: Did you do anything mischievous in the dorm?
VPW: Henry the hamster lived in my room. I don’t even know if I was allowed to have him or not, but the RA knew, and all the guys knew. I don’t know if that counts as mischievous or not.
Henry lived in my room until spring when someone gave him something to eat that killed him. I called the vet school, and they told me that he probably ate something that was bad for him, or he choked on the food.
After Henry died, I took him out and buried him outside Russell. I really don’t think I was supposed to do that, but Russell had been his home. I will say if anyone sees the ghost of a hamster on the fourth floor of Russell not to worry because it’s just Henry.
*Editor’s note: hamsters are not currently allowed in residence halls.
UH: Many students feel a sense of freedom. Did you have this feeling, or did you experience other feelings when you first moved into the residence hall?
VPW: Yes, I did feel a sense of freedom, but more than that I felt a sense of accomplishment.
Before I came to Georgia, I had a lot of people tell me not to go here because it was only a few years after Georgia had been desegregated, but from the first time I visited campus, I knew this was where I wanted to go to school.
Living in Russell and later in Lipscomb, I had a lot of great experiences, and I did feel some freedom, but I remember feeling more accomplished than anything else. It felt great knowing that I was working and studying and paying bills. I was very proud of myself.
It was during this time that I bought my first Polo shirt which I still have. For folks who don’t know this about me, I love Polo shirts and probably have every color of them, but I kept the first one because I remember how proud I was that I had earned that money myself.
UH: What advice would you give students who are living on campus now?
VPW: I believe it’s so important for students to meet people especially when they first get to campus.
Get out and embarrass yourself; don’t take yourself so seriously! This is your chance to push your limits and to have fun. Don’t waste the opportunity by staying in your room. You have hallmates and classmates that are new too.
When they first get to campus, everyone is looking for their group, so don’t be afraid to talk to people and to get involved with something you are passionate about. If you spend all your time in your room, you miss out on what college has to offer.
Time as an RA
UH: When were you an RA?
VPW: I was an RA during my second year of college.
UH: What made you want to do this?
VPW: I had not planned to be an RA, but I sort of inherited the position from the RA on the floor at the time. Our RA left in the middle of the school year, and I was approached to fill the position. I remember being told that I would be a great fit for the position because I had good relationships with the guys on the hall, and I had already demonstrated leadership in the group.
Something funny that I remember was my room was right next door to the RA room, so I think they just moved the sign from one door to the other. I didn’t even move.
UH: Did you plan any social events?
VPW: The most common event I did was Sunday night pizza because back then the dining halls weren’t open for dinner on Sundays. I always thought that people needed to eat, and this gave them an option. Some people did complain about so much pizza, but it was easy.
One time I did a hall outing where we all went to eat at the dining hall together. I thought it would be good to go together because we all had to eat.
It turned out not many others wanted to do it, so people started complaining. After a little while I said, you know what you all came, and I appreciate it, but if you want to go- go on. Everyone left but four or five guys, and I decided I would never do that again.
From that failure, I learned people have certain groups they like to eat with, and I never planned another hall outing to the dining halls.
UH: Looking back what did you learn that you feel benefited you later?
VPW: The first thing I learned is that your room is your home on campus. It’s your place, and it is where you feel like you can relax and let your guard down. Your room is also where you are when life gets tough. The protections you carry around come down when you’re in your room, and your true feelings come out.
The second thing I learned is that everyone has stuff they are dealing with. It doesn’t matter if you are the coolest person on campus or play on the football team, but at night when you are in your room, that is when it shows up.
UH: Is there anything you would like to add?
VPW: I’d like for people to know how important the first-year, live-on requirement is. It’s why we have a 96% retention rate for students from the first to second year of school and happiness in the 90% range for students living on campus.
Some people may not understand the importance of it, but it is so important for students to build their community, and living in the halls is how they do that.
I tell students all the time that everyone is new, and you are all figuring this thing out together. When you let yourself get close to the people around you, you’ll find that they are looking for a friend too.