College Halls | Blog

Nathaniel Rich at the Warren and Moore Environmental Series Dinner: Addressing modern anxieties through fiction

This is a guest post by Alisha Newton. Alisha is a junior in Peabody College and the editor-in-chief of Orbis, a student-run publication on environmental issues.

Last month, I attended a dinner with author Nathaniel Rich to discuss his novel Odds Against Tomorrow, which has been hailed as the pioneering work of a new genre of literary fiction known as “climate fiction” (cli-fi for short). The dinner was hosted by Dr. Doug Fisher and his wife Patricia in Warren College, as part of the Warren & Moore Environmental Series (#enVU).

In writing Odds Against Tomorrow, Rich wanted to address the anxiety of the modern age in all of its forms. “Natural disasters, epidemics, terrorism, nuclear war, financial collapse — it’s all in there,” he says. It is the man-against-nature story of what happens to disaster-obsessed mathematician Mitchell Zukor when a Category-3 storm hits Manhattan.

We talked about the process of writing such a novel: “Research is how writers procrastinate,” joked Rich. In researching his novel, he read books about probability math and descriptions of natural disasters such as the Dust Bowl in the 30s. He read biographies of famous scientists and mathematicians to get inside their heads, and he studied flood scenarios of New York City.

At the dinner, we also discussed the role of fiction in the discourse on environmental change. “Ethical journalism is not allowed to be sensational, and yet many facts about the future are scary. People have this hunger to engage with their fears, and fiction is an outlet for that,” says Rich. During the Cold War, he says, people could read spy stories and other thrillers like 1984 by George Orwell, but in today’s world, people just go on the Internet and obsess over the seismic activity of the Yellowstone caldera.

It was an engaging discussion, but when you’re sitting in the well-furnished living room of a professor at a top-15 university, speaking to an acclaimed author over plates of vegan crab cakes and kale salad catered from Whole Foods, seltzer water in hand, it can be hard to grasp reality.

Reality is that in October 2012, “superstorm” Sandy ravaged the Eastern Seaboard from Florida to Maine, flooding New York City with a 13-foot storm surge and costing the United States $71.4 billion in damages. Reality is that this won’t be the last time a storm takes Sandy’s unusual path — the “left hook” directly into New Jersey — will be more common as mid-Atlantic ocean waters warm, according to some geoscientists.

In attendance at the dinner was Prof. Teresa Goddu of the English department. Goddu commented that in the novel, the storm incapacitates Wall Street, the symbol of our country’s economic strength. Yet as soon as the waters recede, the machine starts again, and the underlying issues are never resolved. There’s the sense that there will be another disaster, that this will happen again.

“How can we make peace with the uncertainty of the future?” asks Goddu. “To what extent do we freak out, and to what extent do we proceed with our lives?”

Personally, I believe neither route is the answer; it doesn’t help anyone to stay up nights fretting about the impacts of climate change, but on the other hand, we cannot proceed with business as usual. The problem of global climate change demands that we change our lifestyles and our national and international policies. Susceptible as they are to storm surges, the Manhattanites are on the right track: living smaller, living closer, and driving less, as part of overall increases in urban density, are key in reducing carbon emissions. Globally, we must take political action that looks out for the interests of vulnerable developing countries, especially those with large agricultural sectors. The future is highly uncertain, but like the protagonist in Rich’s acclaimed cli-fi novel, we can take action.

This post is a contribution by Alisha Newton, Class of 2017, and it does not necessarily represent the opinions of Vanderbilt University.

Posted by Douglas Fisher on October 27, 2015 in News

Open House and the Warren Faculty, Grad Fellow, and Study Suite

Welcome back! Don’t forget the Open House at the Warren College Faculty apartment (B503) from 9:30 am to Noon on Sunday, August 23 (students, family, and friends welcome).

And see the homemade tour of the Warren College Faculty Office suite, with the Warren College Faculty Director and the Warren Graduate Fellows. The tour features a special study room accessible to Warren students by card swipe, a video production studio available to students who go through training, and the faculty and grad fellow offices, which we encourage all Warren students to visit with ideas for activities!


Finally, the Kawai upright piano in the Warren Great Room is unlocked and ready to be played!

This is a guest post by Doug Fisher, Faculty Director of Warren College


Posted by Douglas Fisher on August 21, 2015 in News

Move in is around the corner!

Move in is less than two weeks away! Wow! Its been a great summer, but as with every summer of my 28 years at Vanderbilt, I’m looking forward to the return of students. For most of those years, its been computer science and engineering students I’ve welcomed back, then McGill students, and now Warren (and Moore) students.

  • August 12: Deadline for students to pay fall charges without a late payment fee
  • August 20: International student orientation
  • August 22: First-year and transfer student move-in day
  • August 23: Upperclass residence halls open at 9 a.m.
  • August 22-24: Orientation for transfer students
  • August 26: First day of class

Find the complete official schedule at

On Sunday, August 23, the door to Warren 503 will open at 8:00 am for breakfast for RAs, and will remain open at 9:30 am until about Noon (when the Welcome Wagon starts), so drop in, and visit with Patricia and I, other students, families, and friends in our big open common living space. We’ll have food and drink too, including some of my dynamite oat cakes!

See you soon!

This is a guest post by Doug Fisher, Faculty Director of Warren College.

Posted by Douglas Fisher on August 10, 2015 in News

The Truth about Warren and Moore Colleges

At the very end of Spring 2015, VandyRadio interviewed Moore Faculty Director Jim Lovensheimer, Area Coordinator Matthew Sinclair, and me. The interview was posted on the College Halls at Vanderbilt Facebook group, which is where I discovered it last night. On listening, I was struck by how articulate Matthew and Dr. L were, and also how perceptive and informed our interviewers, Chukwukpee Nzegwu and Alex Slawson, were. The title of the podcast — The Truth about Warren and Moore — is delightfully suggestive, and I decided to keep it.

I remember the late night April 20 interview on the Monday Minds show, sitting around in a ellipse. The studio reminded me of my two years as a DJ in college, at WRNV — nice flashback!

I became perceptibly more relaxed as the interview progressed — I think others did too. There was modest editing to move the podcast along. I remember, for example, a long pause after Chukwukpee’s first question, but post editing, I jumped all over that question :-)

The VandyRadio site of the podcast is I took notes on questions as I listened. The radio interview treated “college halls”, “LLCs” (Living and Learning Communities), and “residential colleges”, as roughly synonymous. The outline below lists timestamps of all questions, so the distance between timestamps indicates the level of discussion.

00:19 What is the residential college system at Vanderbilt?
01:27 What are the responsibilities of faculty directors?
03:00 Is all of Vanderbilt’s residential life headed toward an LLC system?
03:55 Is there a place for students who don’t want to engage in an LLC setting?
06:15 How do you enforce engagement in college halls’ communities?
07:15 What are the relationships between Warren|Moore and The Commons?
10:45 What about the complaint that there is little transparency in programming?
15:50 What is Warren|Moore to Vanderbilt?
16:40 Does programming (clutter) in residential colleges “baby” its students?
22:25 Do you assess programming (clutter)?
24:37 What are next steps in college halls building development?
26:40 Is spending on residential life the best use of Vanderbilt’s resources?
30:01 Does college halls encourage cliqueness, or inclusiveness instead?
35:10 What is the application process for Warren|Moore?
36:44 What are the weaknesses of Warren|Moore?
40:39 Will residential colleges develop individual personalities?
46:55 Sign off

This post is a contribution by Douglas Fisher, Faculty Director of Warren College, and it does not necessarily represent the opinions of Vanderbilt University.

Posted by Douglas Fisher on July 23, 2015 in News

A WaMily College Halls Cookbook

Jo Ann McIntire, the College Halls Administrative Assistant, pointed out that the Vanderbilt Admissions blog had a recent post on selected eateries in the vicinity of Vanderbilt (’re-eating-summer-2015-edition/). Jo Ann’s idea was to do something similar on the College Halls blog — what a great idea! We’ve been wanting more activity on the blog, and what better topic than food to encourage participation! Everyone loves food. I’m hoping that Jo Ann does the kickoff post on favorite places to eat around here. Lets see what she comes up with.

I’ve been making some progress of the food front too, but at home in Warren 503. I’m hoping to help my wife Patricia out at Fisher’s Fresh Baked Friday’s, so named by alum Head Resident Samara Lieberman, a master of alliteration. I’ve also been getting in touch with my Scottish heritage. In particular, I’ve been cranking through variations on Scottish oatcakes from different regions of Scotland. My absolute favorite are adaptations from “Scottish Fare” compiled and self-published by Norman and Gordon Latimer (1983):


“Oatcakes like shortbread are made in many different varieties but this recipe is a favorite around Edinburgh and the Lothians.

1/2 cup plain flour
1 cup medium oatmeal
3 oz. butter
1 teasp. baking powder
1/2 teasp. salt
water to mix

Place flour, oatmeal, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Melt the butter. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and add the melted butter and enough water to make a stiff dough. Roll out the dough on a floured board and cut into rounds about 2 1/2  ins. in diameter. Bake in a warm oven (300F) for 30 minutes.”

You may need very little water, and I’d add it a teaspoon or two at a time until you know what you are doing — the dough should get just beyond the crumbling stage. Roll the dough out to about 1/4 inch in thickness. These are the oatcakes I remember my grandmother making!

The lack of sugar results in a very subtle sweetness from the oats and butter, but I will typically add a 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of stevia powder to the dry mix for a slightly sweeter version. I’ll add about a tablespoon of grated parmesan cheese to the dry mix for a savory version. I’ve also used olive oil instead of butter, should you want a vegan version, and its delicious — I can’t tell much of a difference. I’ve also mixed in a bit of peanut butter — all good. The variations on this simple recipe are endless.

These are good out of the oven, but I like to grab them from the freezer. I’ll probably be cranking these out en masse on selected Thursday nights for the early crowd at FFBF. I dropped some oatcakes off with Matthew and Andrea Sinclair, along with scones (yet another story), and apparently they did something very smart — Matthew took the oatcakes and Andrea took the scones — these are very wise people! (Professor Lovensheimer was out of town, but he’ll benefit from my next batch).

The oatcakes are the rounders around the perimeter, and scones are in the center.

Why are my oatcakes worthy of a blog post? Because there was serious talk last year of a College Halls Cookbook, something that could serve as a resource for Warren and Moore’s four student kitchens, student kitchens around Vanderbilt, and anywhere else if the WaMily cookbook ( is Web accessible. And as easy, delicious, and healthy as these are, I’m advocating that they be the inaugural entry.

If you have thoughts on a crowdsourcing platform that could serve as the College Halls WaMily Cookbook, I would love to hear it!  And if you want to design a cover for the WaMily Cookbook, let’s talk too! And if you want to do a blog post on food or other topics, then please let us know as well — we want to have lots of student involvement on the blog!

And thanks Jo Ann for opening our imagination!

This is a guest post by Doug Fisher, Faculty Director of Warren College. This post reflects Doug’s opinions, which are not necessarily the opinion of Vanderbilt University (but these oatcakes are pretty darn good).

Posted by Douglas Fisher on July 21, 2015 in News

Warren and Moore Alums

The last day of class is just 3 weeks away, and in a year of firsts, Warren and Moore Colleges will each have their first alums a short time later!

I hope that Warren College alums will continue to talk with us, through our Warren and College Halls Facebook groups, through other digital connections that we make pervasive and natural, and through in-person visits. Our community is so young, that alums can substantially influence what Warren becomes. Indeed, Warren’s relationship with its alums could become one of its distinctive and definitional characteristics, at Vanderbilt, and any where else for that matter.

I have been looking for ways of engaging with Vanderbilt alums in my teaching, through mechanisms of digital learning. So, its natural that I would look for ways of engaging with Warren alums.

Whether you will be an alum or a student of Warren next year, lets talk about ways that Warren (and Moore) alums can and will continue as part of our nascent community. For example, if Warren establishes a seminar series, for credit or not, can alums participate remotely through video-conferencing, bringing with them the benefit of their experience? Can alums routinely speak with current students, perhaps by “skyping” into Sunday faculty apartment dinners or fireside chats, perhaps to talk with faculty they didn’t have the opportunity or inclination to engage deeply with while here? Perhaps Warren alums can have Warren “office hours” once or twice a year, and/or sit for an interview with the Warren newsletter.

Some may think only students who have been here 2-3 upperclass years will develop a bond with Warren strong enough to stay engaged after graduation, but I can name current seniors who I am sure will remain engaged if encouraged and welcomed to do so.

So, lets look for programs that will engage Warren and Moore students and alums — and if any of you seniors want to take database or artificial intelligence later on, after graduation, let me know — we can work something out.

[A]nd soon now we shall go out of the house and go into the convulsion of the world, …” ― Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men

Posted by Douglas Fisher on March 27, 2015 in News

quaerenti unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno

I think that most all understand the policy on study abroad students wanting to return to Warren College (or Moore College) — they will have to reapply to Warren and Moore in the open lottery, though they will receive a priority status relative to other students who are in their class (e.g., among other rising seniors).

A group of students living in Warren College during Spring cannot partner with a returning study-abroad student and still go through the internal lottery — such a hybrid group would have to go through the open lottery.

The “safe” approach, where “safety” assumes that staying at Warren is prioritized above other factors, is for the group living at Warren now to go through the internal lottery as an entirely self-contained group, with no “empty slot” held out for the student abroad. Under the “safe” path, the resident who is returning will go through the open lottery to return to Warren (or Moore for that matter, because it is an open lottery for Warren and Moore).

The policy is intended to take into account a number of factors, including continuing to ensure good balance across all three upper classes.

I hope that an assurance of returning to Warren can be given in future years to students who study abroad and who have lived at Warren for several semesters already. Warren and Moore represent a continued commitment by Vanderbilt University, which began with the Commons, to rethink and encourage persistent, supportive communities on campus. Warren and Moore aren’t just buildings — they are communities.  After all, I want students to commit to Warren, and I want to commit to them — a Warren community member who studies abroad, is still a Warren community member, or so we aspire to that ideal in practice and in theory. The study-abroad policy is an important issue that we will revisit for future years, but this year the policy that is in place is an appropriate one, balancing a number of factors, and indeed it may prove to be the best policy going forward as well — we’ll see. Your comments are welcome!

Again, a “safe” strategy for those currently living at Warren for guaranteeing housing at Warren, is to go through the in-house lottery with one, self-contained group, with the returning student going through the open lottery, with a priority, but no guarantee (i.e., there has to be a class-specific slot available when the returning student rises to the top of the queue relative to other returning students).

My focus has been on Warren College in this post, but of course, my comments apply to Moore College as well.

Doug Fisher is the Faculty Director of Warren College, the Director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Digital Learning, and an Associate Professor of Computer Science and of Computer Engineering. The opinions herein are Doug’s and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Vanderbilt University.


Posted by Douglas Fisher on February 11, 2015 in Moore, News, Warren

Students will have the right to return to their College

This is a guest post by Doug Fisher, Faculty Director of Warren College.

Over Thanksgiving break, a Warren resident told me that some Warren and Moore students were confused on the rules regarding whether rising juniors and rising seniors would be able to stay at Warren or Moore, respectively. The answer is “YES!”, unless a student works hard at being removed.

As the College Halls Web pages indicate:

“Once students enter Warren or Moore college in their sophomore year, they can remain in the same college as juniors and seniors.” (

This expectation of continuing through senior year also applies to those who enter Warren or Moore as Juniors (which will be relatively few in the years to come).

The motivation for promoting continuity in each college’s community is straightforward and common to other residential college systems (e.g., UC Santa Cruz, Rice University, Yale College):

“This residential option conveys the ambience of a small college community, while still affording students an education at a world-class research university with a wide variety of undergraduate academic programs.” (

Warren and Moore aren’t just buildings — they are communities — and communities don’t boot people out without good cause. Students can, of course, opt to leave Warren or Moore, and enter into other Vanderbilt housing options.

Importantly, Warren and Moore aren’t interchangeable — if you are a member of the Warren community, there is nothing that privileges you above any other Vanderbilt student if you want to enter Moore (nor vice versa).

The vision of College Halls as small residential communities within larger academic institutions are much older than Vanderbilt’s College Halls, but this vision is affirmed in a series of reports that paved the way for College Halls ( Here are some quotes from one of those reports (

“In College Halls, any member of the college may choose to remain in a subsequent year. Under a self-governance model, however, the community of a given college may choose to consider a given disruptive student’s strong negative impact on the community and prohibit his/her return, mirroring McGill’s “concern for community” measure.”

In sum, you have a right to stay, unless you work at being told not to return.

“(The Faculty Director is asked to adjudicate if too many students are asked not to return; this should be a rare exception to our campus process.)”

The Faculty Director’s role as “adjudicator” is made clear here. But “who” has asked the “too many students not to return”? The report does not say directly, but the context suggests “the community”, presumably of students, through their reports to staff.

“We may also look ahead to the revisions needed for the second round of selections, given the premise that students will have the right to return to their College. “

The first phrase in this statement is about selection of NEW students to College Halls (and the topic of a post I’ll be making to this blog soon), but the second phrase clearly says “the right” to return (and its the phrase that I’ve used as the title of this post).

As this quote also suggests, if residents in the Warren and Moore living and learning communities have a right to stay once here, some advocate that there be a revision to the first year’s application process, which only required a passive checking of boxes.

What the College Halls Task Force reports ( say about the issues of new applicants, squatting in the same room, and the nature of the Warren and Moore living and learning communities will be topics of posts soon. These reports don’t put a hard limit on what Warren and Moore can become (indeed, they acknowledge that the College Halls vision will evolve), but they do represent hard work by dedicated people, and so deserve a close look for the potential guidance they provide.

**This guest post reflects Doug’s opinions, and not necessarily those of Vanderbilt University.

Posted by Douglas Fisher on November 28, 2014 in Moore, News, Warren

Kawai upright piano arrives!

This is a guest post by Doug Fisher, Faculty Director of Warren College.

A fire drill seems to be going smoothly, with all the residents of Warren or Moore on the Wilson Lawn, or so we hope. The drill gives me about 20 minutes for a blog post.

When I went down for breakfast from The Kitchen this morning, I found the new Kawai upright piano in the Warren Great Room. Its exciting to actually see it in place. Soon, a Steinway baby grand will appear in the Moore Great Room.

The pianos are the brainchild of Jim Lovensheimer, Faculty Director of Moore College. Jim has arranged a concert series, hosted by College Halls, for the Vanderbilt community, throughout Fall and Spring semesters on selected Sunday evenings starting about 7:00 pm (Oct 19, Nov 2, Jan 11, Jan 25, Feb 8, Feb 22, Mar 22, Apr 5, Apr 19). Jim arranged such a good deal on the baby grand, which will be a centerpiece of the concert series, that there was money to spare for the upright piano at Warren (and I was raised on an old upright, so I like it very much). The Warren Great Room will play host to a number of showcase events on selected Saturday nights, highlighting College Halls student talent, again for the entire Vanderbilt community (including tentative dates of Nov 15 and Mar 14). I expect that the upright will be a centerpiece of some of our student talent!

Because the great rooms are used for study and conversation, the plan is to lock the pianos except for performances. Its possible that student interest might lead us to unlock the Kawai upright on some non-performance nights, perhaps Friday and Saturday nights, but we don’t want to interrupt study patterns.

I am more excited about the pianos than I first imagined I would be. Glad that I kept the faith with my friend, Jim Lovensheimer! Thanks, Professor Lov!

**This guest post reflects Doug’s opinions, and not necessarily those of Vanderbilt University.

Posted by Douglas Fisher on September 3, 2014 in News

Live College Halls Tour from Melbourne

This is a guest post by Doug Fisher, Faculty Director of Warren College.

Last night at dinner time, a group of College Halls student and faculty staff gave a brief tour of the Kissam Center and Warren/Moore Colleges to a group of about 15 visitors from University College of the University of Melbourne. Students on their way to the football game (despite the torrential downpour!) and eating in Kissam greeted our visitors with friendly hellos, broad smiles, and chit chat. We started the tour in the Moore Faculty Director office, and ended up in the Delbrück living room, where we talked about the future and said goodbye to them before they vanished in an instant. Our tour had been by Skype, facilitated by my laptop. The decision to take the tour was spontaneous, intended to wake all of us to the affective possibilities of live communication between students around the world.

For a couple of months now, Warren and Moore colleges of Vanderbilt University (WMV:, and University College of the University of Melbourne (UCM:, have been exploring the possibility of establishing a live feed between common areas of the two complexes — one at WMV and one at UCM. At a minimum, this interactive portal would enable students at the two locations to talk to and see each other in real time. The portal would be implemented by installing two “large” interactive displays at each location, each outfitted with camera and mic, so that students could walk up and talk to students at the other location. The display might support other functionality too, perhaps allowing students to share content, such as student produced visual art. A location of the interactive display at the Vanderbilt site has been tentatively determined. This picture, taken before the start of classes, shows the view of the WMV space (minus the people) that Melbourne students would see.

WMV Center: The location is along a major thoroughfare for student traffic, but there is also ample space for students to step out of traffic to converse with students at UCM.

The interactive portal might only be active for selected hours, perhaps to synch up WMV’s evenings with UCM’s mornings (the next day) and vice versa (UCM is 15 hours ahead of WMV). Alternatively, the feed might be active continuously.
Faculty, student, and staff leaders at the WMV and UCM are interested to see whether the interactive portal encourages broader collaborations and friendships among students at the two institutions. Indeed, the interactive portal is viewed as a “flagship” project that helps establish a larger culture of connectedness between UCM and WMV. In addition to the individual collaborations and friendships for example, formal interactions among college community members would be encouraged. For example, when discussions on important topics are hosted at faculty apartments of WMV, participating WMV students and faculty can host UCM students and faculty through Web-based video conferencing (e.g., skype) on their laptops (literally, perhaps, on the laps of WMV participants facing outward towards the larger group on site at WMV). These UCM students, visible and audible to the WMV group, would then be active participants in the WVM/UCM discussion. We imagine many possible kinds of connections between UCM and WMV.

Again, we are currently in an exploration phase. Our next step is to bring students more actively into the conversation and planning, to get their ideas on the possibilities for the interactive portal project specifically, and for a richer connectedness between WMV and UCM, generally. Last night’s meeting was just a start, and despite the imperfections of the video and audio feeds, was still a great success in convincing us that live community talk around the globe is within easy grasp, even as part of our day to day routines.

*Doug Fisher is Faculty Director of Warren College.

**This guest post reflects Doug’s opinions, and not necessarily those of Vanderbilt University.

Posted by Douglas Fisher on August 29, 2014 in News