The heart and soul of residence life programmatic efforts come from the students who live within the residence halls. A perfect way to organize these creative and enthusiastic students is through the creation and utilization of a residence hall association. The residence hall association is also an outlet where residents’ concerns can be voiced and heard.
Creating a new organization can be a difficult task especially if the right steps are not taken. This article will give you some suggested steps that you can take in order to create a residence hall association on your campus.
DEFINE THE NEED AND MISSION
The first step in creating a residence hall association is to determine why you are
creating the organization in the first place. What is the purpose for the existence of this organization? What need is there for this organization? Are you creating it because students need an outlet to have their concerns heard? Or, are you creating it because students want more activities within the residence halls? Or, is it a little bit of both of these elements?
Whatever you decide upon, and every organization’s purpose will be unique, you must incorporate these thoughts into the group’s mission statement. Clearly define the purpose for this organization and what it is that the organization actually does.
Once you have determined what the mission of the organization is, you must now be able to determine what tangible resources you have in order to function. An organization can only be as successful as their resources will allow. That is why it is so important to figure out who can and will help you, if you’ll be able to obtain financial support, and if you’ll be able to utilize campus facilities such as meeting rooms and programming space.
Will the organization be directly supported by the Residence Life Department or perhaps the Vice President or Dean of Students? Or, will the organization come under the purview of Student Activities and possibly the Student Government Association?
How will the organization operate financially? Can money be obtained through Residence Life, Student Activities, or will the organization have to be self-funded by means of fund-raising? Perhaps your organization does not need funding depending upon its mission.
And what about the “people-factor?” How many people will it take to run the organization and who will they be? Will administrators be involved, and if so, who will realistically be committed to the cause of the organization?
CREATE A CONSTITUTION
Now you’ll need to create the “rules” for running this organization. The best way to do this is by writing a constitution or by-laws. A constitution establishes how the organization operates and the responsibilities for all of the participating officers.
A constitution doesn’t have to be long and/or complicated, but it should cover the basics of how to run the organization. You may want to consider using the following basic form to base your own constitution upon:
1. Name of the Organization
4. Executive Board (Officers, Duties, Elections)
SELECT AN ADVISOR
An important component that any student organization requires is an advisor. An advisor’s role is that of a student advocate and a guide for the organization’s success. The advisor should be a university professional such as a student affairs administrator (i.e. hall director, assistant director, vice president, etc.) or a professor.
The organization’s advisor should be just that, an advisor. They should not act in the capacity as an officer to run the organization, but as a resource for training and administrative support.
It’s very important when approaching potential advisors to inform them of the responsibilities that are involved with being the advisor. How involved will you need them to be? Will they be able to attend regular meetings? Are they knowledgeable concerning student leadership, residence halls activities, and residence hall culture? Be honest and let them know what it is that they are actually volunteering for.
Now that you have the organization defined with a constitution and have selected an advisor, you’ll need to choose the officers. The officers should be students selected from the residence hall community. Depending on the provisions of the new constitution, you may have to elect the new officers from the residence halls.
Electing officers is a pretty straightforward process: advertise elections in the halls to recruit candidates; complete a ballot with the candidates’ names; and then hold elections. You may also circumvent the election process and simply opt to select the officers. As with selecting an advisor, the potential officers need to know what responsibilities they are getting themselves into.
You also need to ascertain whether or not the potential officers will be able to carry out their responsibilities given their class schedules and extracurricular activities. You want to be able to start your organization out on a strong footing, so you’ll need to have capable and determined officers.
When everything seems to be in order with the organizational structure including the officers, you’ll need to develop comprehensive training so that your people know exactly how to serve the students in the residence halls. Give them the intellectual tools needed to perform well. Some topics that should be covered with all of the officers include: how to run a meeting; recruiting and motivating volunteers; programming and advertising; and fund-raising.
Start planning, start programming, and get going! Don’t spend an inordinate amount of time developing the organization. Of course you need to take the right amount of time to get everything in order, but put those plans into action. Sometimes well-intended plans never come to fruition and students become disenfranchised and uninterested.
Keep motivation high and let everyone take a part. The most important thing to remember is that people take a part in what they help to create. So create a meaningful, and more importantly fun, residence hall association!
Submitted by Scott M. Helfrich, M.S., Area Coordinator, Bloomsburg University