Etched above the door of the beautiful building at the corner of Lindsay and Jenkins streets in Norman is the name Headington Hall. The University of Oklahoma residence hall is a familiar site some three years after it opened. In those three years, it’s taken on another name that accounts for the spirit of the building that has come to match its regal appearance. Welcome to DampHousse.
Housing both student-athletes, who previously lived across Lindsay in older “athletic housing” now banned by the NCAA, as well as students not associated with a sports program, Headington Hall is a majestic building inside and out, a first-choice destination of students living on campus. However, the 380 students who call the building home each year soon find out the best part of Headington is not its finer apportionments, but rather the love and care that emanates from a family apartment tucked away on its first floor.
The apartment is home to Dean Kelly Damphousse and his wife, Beth. It’s a part-time hideaway for one daughter, Kristen, an OU senior, and “back home” for a second, Kayleigh, a graduate student at the University of Kansas. The Damphousses call Headington home as part of the university’s Faculty-In-Residence program, under which each residence hall is called home by a faculty member, or members, and their family. Kelly serves as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, while Beth is the event coordinator and a recruiter for OU’s office of Admissions and Recruitment. They both serve equally as “parents” to those living in DampHousse.
As such, they have counseled students, picked up prescriptions at two in the morning, sat on their couch and cried with students after the death of a grandparent and most likely hung as many lights and decorated as many Christmas trees as anyone on campus.
“This matches where we are,” Kelly says in explaining the couple’s decision to join the FIR program. “Beth and I are fully-vested in the university. We’re all in for OU and this allows us to be engaged in that way.”
Not long after asking the obvious question, “Why would do you this?,” it becomes obvious the Damphousses don’t just “do this.” They wouldn’t be able to not do it. It’s in the fabric of who they are. While Kelly was earning a doctoral degree at Texas A&M University, the Damphousses started a tradition of having Waffle Night every Sunday night with fellow students and just about anyone who smelled waffle batter hitting griddle in the vicinity of their home. That tradition morphed into an open door life at their Moore home while Kayleigh and Kristen were growing up, and it further morphed into Late Night Breakfast twice a month at Headington.
“We have kids lined down the hallways in their PJs and house shoes,” Beth explains about Late Night. “Those kinds of things we’ve always done, we continue here.”
Among those things they’ve always done is loved and cared for young people. In addition to his duties as dean, Kelly teaches courses in Arts and Sciences and serves as the current OU-Big 12 Faculty Athletic Representative, a position that has given him a new appreciation for the life of a student-athlete.
“I get to see what their lives are really like,” he reflects. “I get to see the rowing team get up at five in the morning, get on the bus and be on the river by 6 am; what it’s like to be a student athlete rolling in here at two in the morning after a road trip and having to be up for an 8 am class. I see how difficult that life is to balance.”
He also sees the result the athletics department and university has placed on success in the classroom, as well as in competition. For the past seven semesters, the overall grade point average of student-athletes has been above 3.0. Some programs boast 100 percent graduation rates.
Whether an athlete or not, Damphousse finds the students in Headington, and across campus, impressive on many levels.
“The first thing I’ve noticed is our students are brilliant,” the dean says. “I’m convinced I could not be a freshman here at OU. I could not have gotten in here with my high school record. I’m just amazed with the high quality of academic preparation of our students.
“More than that, I think our students seem to be much more selfless. They all want to be inspired by something. They want to be connected to a cause bigger than themselves.”
So do the Damphousses. Both relish in the opportunities to serve students. Beth remembers receiving a call from the father of a student from Kansas City who was a freshman at the time. He was concerned his daughter was struggling a bit with the transition to college life. Beth and Kelly visited with the young student, provided guidance and helped her through that tough first year. Now a flourishing junior, it was to Beth she turned after the death of her grandfather this past spring, asking if she could just come over to the Damphousse apartment and wrestle with her loss.
“She said it was the closest thing to home,” Beth remembers. “She came and hung out for the day. We ate lunch together, grieved together, made sure her classes were taken care of until she was able to get home.”
Known affectionately Dr. D and Mom Beth, the Damphousses have found caring and compassion is a circular proposition. Since their daughter Kayleigh moved to Lawrence to pursue her graduate studies, she has been shown the same hospitality by the very family of that young lady who would find solace on the Damphousses’ sofa.
“They’ve turned around and given our daughter a home away from home,” Beth explains. “We tell the kids we want to pay it forward with what we’re doing. We’re doing this for that reason. Because somewhere along the way people have helped us. They’ve molded and shaped our lives.”
Ask either Damphousse and they’ll both say they themselves are the real benefactors of living in Headington Hall. Most of the time what they gain is not measured practically. At other times, it’s very practical. Kelly is quick to point out being a FIR has made him better as a dean, professor and mentor. Case in point. Living with 380 college students allows for the opportunity to reacquaint one’s self with the early morning struggle of leaving bed. Having witnessed this first hand, and having recalled his own struggles in the morning as a college student, an initiative was begun to cut back on the number of freshman composition and math classes scheduled for early morning bells.
“Hearing their stories reminded me of the difficulty of getting up for early morning classes,” Kelly explains. “There’s a lot of research that backs this up. Students struggle with early morning classes and attendance. A lot of universities are considering the same types of limits. Living here helped me see that in a manner I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
While a reduction in early morning classes may be justified, one area in which Kelly says he doesn’t favor lessening the burden, so to speak, on students is personal responsibility. It is, he believes, the most consistent advice he dispenses.
“I think over time it’s really easy for a student to abdicate responsibility for their own lives to someone else, an adviser, a parent,” he explains. “The most common advice I give students is how to take care of things themselves. I’m trying to give ownership back to the student. I think that’s what I’m most proud of is to be able to encourage students to take ownership and responsibility for the own lives, not to defer to someone else.”
For Beth, the growth that comes from such advice, and from all the couple does for students, is satisfaction itself.
“It’s neat to see how these kids grow up and mature,” she says. “It’s fun for me to have a knock on the door and open it and see a student from two years ago that wants to catch up and tell us what’s going on in their lives.”
While most FIR appointments are for three years, athletics appointments differ. The prior faculty member living in a residence hall with student-athletes stayed 13 years. The Damphousses admit they wouldn’t mind doing the same.
“We’ll be here until they’re ready to move us out,” Beth expects. “or until they drag us out kicking and screaming. This is the perfect fit for us at this stage in our lives.”
And, one can be assured, the perfect fit for their 380 DampHousse “kids.”