Lehigh University
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It takes a village

Johnson has been a faculty member in sociology since August 2001.

Last August, while the 1,217 members of the class of 2016 moved into their residential communities, a unique family of five unloaded their belongings and settled into a South Mountain community of their own.

Heather Johnson, her husband, Braydon McCormick, and their three children traded their 3,200 square foot single-family home in Bucks County for an 800 square-foot apartment in Sayre Park. The drastic change was shocking to some family friends, who thought the family had run into some trouble, but the move had nothing to do with that.

“We like the idea of having a smaller footprint,” said Johnson, an associate professor of sociology. “This is a choice, but people think it’s crazy. When we tell people we’ve left this beautiful home for a place on campus people can’t comprehend it.”

Johnson and her family live on campus as participants in Lehigh’s Residential Fellow Program. The theme of their Sayre Park community, It Takes a Village, draws from an African proverb that encourages communities to take part in ensuring the development and well-being of others. Throughout the year, Johnson has taught courses in the Sayre Lodge, and welcomed students into her family’s life through various activities. She says that being around a family and witnessing first-hand the collaboration and empathy it takes to raise children is important for college students.

“I think it’s really good for college students to see what we’re doing and see how it works and doesn’t work,” said Johnson, who began planning the move in October 2011. “Students can see how you make things happen and how it’s challenging too, and I just want to be more transparent about that.”

Adjusting to a new environment

Johnson’s family made the move into on-campus housing for several reasons, including her and her husband’s challenging careers. McCormick is the founder and CEO of rVibe, an internet technology company with offices in Bethlehem, and she says that they have dealt with challenges in raising three young children while working in demanding fields.

“I have really struggled with getting home at 5:30 or 6:00, trying to get dinner on the table, trying to get everything ready, trying to give everybody a healthy decent meal, and Braydon is coming in and we’re all just frantically having dinner together,” said Johnson. “This is one example of struggles every working family knows.”

Since the move, their three children have enjoyed living on campus. Her daughter Meera, age 4, loves chalking the sidewalks and coloring alongside any students who will join her, and Kyle and Owen, 8-year-old twin sons adopted from Haiti in 2005, take on all challengers on Sayre’s volleyball and basketball courts. Johnson says that her children have been able to form positive relationships with the students

“We would not be able to do this if our kids weren’t extremely extroverted, friendly and happy-go lucky,” said Johnson. “They have been leading the way in terms of doing this. Every time I’ve wavered with this decision they have re-encouraged me.”

“I keep waiting for one of them to be homesick or sad about leaving the one home they’ve lived in, but they’re thrilled about it. They love Lehigh and they love being around the energy of the students.”
 
Photos by Christa Neu
 

 
Learn more about Johnson and her family by visiting their blog. For information on upcoming lectures and programs, visit Lehigh's events calendar. Follow Lehigh on Facebook at facebook.com/lehighu and on Twitter at @LehighUNews.

Story by Karl Brisseaux '11

Posted on Monday, April 15, 2013

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