I think we can all agree that we expect our RAs to lead double lives. Not only do we expect these student leaders to be our policy enforcers; we also expect our students to be community developers. While I do not agree that these responsibilities exist independently of each other, I want to look at the role of developing a sense of community within the residence halls and how we, as SA professionals, can assist.
One of the more structured ways to encourage the development of community among residents is floor programming. As easy as it sounds, programming requires as much consideration as the enforcement of policies does. Here is a brief checklist of questions I encourage you to use when creating and establishing a programming model. It will only be effective if you answer the questions honestly:
- The Institution: What is the mission of your institution? What are the values? What is the culture? I work at a small, private, Catholic institution whose mission: “Serving those who would not otherwise be served” permeates our daily activities. I knew that creating a programming model that would be appropriate for our residents would have to align with this mission.
- Residential Life: What is the role of Residential Life on your campus? Is it to provide a co-curricular education? Is it to provide housing to those who would not otherwise have it? Does Residential Life have its own mission? The Department of Residential Life on my campus has four main strategic goals that all actions must align with, and a programming model is no exception. This is also a great time to assess where your Department could improve.
- Residents: What do your residents need? Why do they live in the residence halls? Assessing and analyzing why your students are there and what their needs are can be instrumental in establishing what kind of experience and environment to provide.
- Research: What does the research say? What aspects must you consider regarding overall compliance? Sometimes we can rely on our common sense to tell us what to do and how to react. When it comes to creating structures that we operate from, having every piece of the puzzle is imperative. I suggest collaborating with somebody on your campus that works with compliance, Title IX, etc. to ensure that all bases are covered.
- Resident Assistants: What skills do you want them to gain from their RA experience? This should not only be an employment opportunity for students, being an RA should also be a growth opportunity. Taking the skills they should be learning into consideration, will help you determine the “how” of the programming model. Who knows, you may be fostering the future influencers of our field!
- Implementation: What sort of accountability will there be for the RAs? Once you have the programming model constructed, what does it look like on a daily basis? Will you be tracking their completed requirements? What paperwork do you need? What does the planning process look like? What sort of evaluation will you do?
Implementing and creating anything from scratch is difficult. It will not be perfect. There will be hiccups. However, we need to apply the same attitude we take with our students to our own work: there is always a chance to grow and improve.