RAs pushed to focus on 'community development'

By Katie Havranek & Mari Mejia

The Community Learning Model, a new program that aims to target student learning and development outside the classroom, launched this year. The program, sponsored by Residential Life and Campus Life, has been developing since fall 2007.”Its about students becoming global citizens-how they work into a community in a diverse population,” said Peg Olson, the associate director of Residential Life. “The education that goes on in residence halls is not the same; [students] are learning about relationships and themselves.”

The model is built around seven learning outcomes that attempt to “capitalize on the experiences outside of the classroom,” said Keith Edwards, Director of Campus Life.

Doty Hall Director Joe Kaufman said that while Residential Life and Campus Life have always strived for learning outside the classroom, they are looking to create a program with “better purpose and intentionality.”

“Students felt that activities were over-programmed and the staff felt overworked,” Edwards said. The Community Learning Model has changed the job of the Resident Assistants considerably.

“More time will be spent on community development rather than policy,” Olson said. RAs for first-year students have been expected to foster roommate contracts and community agreements. RAs have also been asked to have one-on-one sessions with each of their residents.

Administrators hope that this will create concrete connections between RAs and their residents as well as build relationships between residents through the RAs.

Kaufman says that RAs have been adjusting to doing different kind of work than they have done in the past. “It’s more work at the front end,” he said, “getting to know their residents and creating agreements.”

Peg Olson said she hopes that the community will build on itself constantly throughout the year and will be “self maintaining.” The idea is to make the RAs focused on creating community, rather than policy.

So far, the community contracts have drawn mixed reactions from students. “I feel as though it was good measure to be made because certain issues for the community were addressed. There are really good things like don’t slam the door, flush the toilet, and don’t play loud music” said Mac McCreary ’12.

However, other students remain skeptical of the process. “It wasn’t that serious, people didn’t care that much I guess,” said Micah Fowler ’12. It just felt like busywork, no one really seemed to care”

Residential Life and Campus Life emphasize that the project is an evolving one. “We fully anticipate that the program will look different next year,” Edwards said.

Residential Life administrators said that their approach to dorm life varies by year.

The upperclassman model, Edwards said, is focused less on floor issues and more on “area pride initiatives” that intend to expand the community through events such as the courtyard party last Friday.

So far, the community model has been fairly successful on campus.

“The number of conduct incidents has been down dramatically,” Kaufman said.

Edwards believes that RAs and hall directors have better connections with their residents. He also points to the fact that the number of students showing up to events is “tremendous”.

While the full effects of this program have yet to be seen, Resident life and campus life are feeling optimistic about the model’s future. “I’ve heard nothing but good things,” said Edwards, “We’re hoping to learn as much as we can to make the project a success.