Illustration of Gibson Hall by Errol Barron

Physical Places and Spaces

Architecture Professor Errol Barron — in his signature watercolor drawings — and English major graduate Frankie Fachilla — in a very personal essay — are inspired by the Tulane Uptown campus.

Above illustration by Errol Barron. 

While in New Orleans for a work conference, I visited my alma mater, Tulane University. I could feel Tulane calling to me as I was attending sessions at the convention center across town. The call was so strong that when my work day ended and I could finally go to the campus, I didn’t even stop at my Airbnb to leave my work bag behind and change shoes (despite the fact that my feet were desperately hurting and despite the fact that this would have only delayed me about 30 minutes, tops). It was like I just had to get there as soon as humanly possible.

Physical places and spaces that were significant in my past are intensely powerful for me to revisit. They “wake up” the version of myself that experienced so much life in those spaces. In the day leading up to this trip, I’d been encountering multiple triggers to past feelings of being constantly afraid and feeling small and lonely when I was in college. I was also returning to New Orleans for the first time in 13 years, so the whole city felt like an emotionally charged time capsule (there’s no place quite like New Orleans)! I don’t think that I’ve ever more strongly recalled how desperately lonely and afraid college-me was, and I don’t think I’ve ever been at a place in my life where I was able to offer that past version of myself so much genuine compassion, love and total understanding. Before, I merely felt frustrated with myself — like, “Ugh, I hate that I felt that way!” — shaming myself for the old struggles. Because of all that, it felt like a sacred calling to get myself as closely intimate with past-me as I could, and wild horses couldn’t have stopped me from getting to that campus.

“My very existence as the person I am now is a total repudiation of all the demons I was fighting back then, so I felt like a superhero wandering around and effortlessly seeing malevolent shadows from the past vanish via my mere presence.”

Frankie Fachilla, NC ’04

On my aching feet, I walked and walked and walked the campus. I visited my freshman dormitory (It smelled the same! That same smell brought me right back). I peered at the bushes behind an academic building where I stopped to cry once. I listened to so many conversations that the kids walking by were having with each other ... and I remembered exactly how I felt back then listening to those same conversations from my peers. I saw everything through past-me’s eyes, and I “got it” — I completely understood why she felt that overwhelming fear and “not enough” feeling all the time. The thing is: My very existence as the person I am now is a total repudiation of all the demons I was fighting back then, so I felt like a superhero wandering around and effortlessly seeing malevolent shadows from the past vanish via my mere presence.

My husband and I recently rewatched the episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” where she dresses up like a noblewoman from the 1800s for Halloween and a warlock’s spell makes her actually transform into a noblewoman who has no idea that she has the superpowers of the Slayer. So, she wanders around getting stalked and hunted and almost killed. She flails about and thinks that she’s helpless and needs someone to save her. Watching that episode this week (for maybe the 10th time), I finally understood more deeply — if she’d just tried to take a punch, she would have discovered the Slayer within. But, because she couldn’t get past the fear to take that step, her power was invisible to her. Metaphorically speaking, revisiting Tulane felt like me finally taking that punch and knowing who I really am. No more fear. I graduated exactly 15 years ago, and my wish for today’s, tomorrow’s and yesterday’s Tulanians is that they take that punch as soon as possible, or — whenever they’re ready. It’s right there waiting for them.

Frankie Fachilla lives in her hometown, Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, stepson, and three cats. She is a licensed professional counselor, and she works at a women’s prison providing psychotherapy. She is also working on her PhD in counselor education.


Errol Barron, professor of architecture, has published a new book, Tulane Observed: A Campus Sketchbook, a personal reflection on the building styles, both historic and modern, throughout the Uptown campus.

It is a culmination of Barron’s decades spent on and around the campus. In particular, Barron taught an architecture class that tasked students with observing and drawing Tulane’s buildings.

“I used to walk students around and give them a sense that ideas don’t exist in isolation. We would connect buildings on campus with buildings that may have inspired them,” Barron said. “I would often draw with them.”

The size and layout of the book mimic the sketchbook style of Barron’s previous publications New Orleans Observed and Roma Osservata

The book is available from the Tulane School of Architecture.