Ever since the shift from dormitories to residence halls, the residential living environment has been concerned with the growth, development, and learning in college students. On many campuses this has led to the development of learning communities, focused programmatic efforts, thematic halls, peer advising models, improved staffing patterns, increased involvement in student governance, enhanced emphasis on leadership, and many more intentional programs and strategies to enhance student learning. In addition, the concept of leadership development has taken on a greater emphasis.
While much attention has been devoted to the development of leadership strategies of professional and student staff, there is a resurgence in student leadership through community service programs, involvement centers service learning opportunities, and hall/community governance, to note a few. The following discussion will examine one component of leadership development through a pre-school (fall) training model for hall government executive officers.
The three campuses I have been associated with throughout my professional career have long been strong proponents of student development. This has occurred through numerous varied activities, but in particular through student leadership development activities. Success has been evidenced through the very active and award winning delegations at local, state, regional, and national conferences. In addition, these institutions have hosted state, regional, and national student conferences.
These activities do not happen in isolation; rather, through empowering students to expand their skills and setting and then meeting goals, outcomes are accomplished. Much staff time and effort needs to be put forth to not only create the environment in which students feel important and the focus of our work, but to provide learning opportunities for students to develop the skills which will better provide them with post collegiate challenges.
Like most campuses, hall government executive leaders are selected in the spring semester for the upcoming academic year. Once elected, brief and informal “meetings” are held with the primary purpose of “getting to know one another”. However, in an effort to enhance the importance of the hall governance leadership program, very similar to many RA fall training activities prior to the return of residents, hall executive board members (“execs”) return to campus 4-5 days prior to opening.
The primary goals of this effort are to:
1. Form cohesive hall exec government teams;
2. Encourage cooperation and collaboration between individual staff teams and hall governance groups in terms of community development, maintaining hall environments, programming efforts, opening expectations and roles, and specific hall policy formation;
3. Promote the residential hall environment;
4. Provide specific hall exec role training (i.e., president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, RHAC rep, etc.);
5. Promotion of the Residence Hall Association Council (RHAC) through empowering this organization to organize the retreat and facilitate a peer education model of training;
6. Allow for inter hall interaction and sharing of programmatic ideas and collaboration.
7. Prepare for the opening of the hall and the arrival of residents; and
8. Implement welcome week activities.
The training, while coordinated by central staff members of the Office of Residence Life, is facilitated in a large manner by the Residence Hall Association Council executive officers. In addition to large, total group experiences, each individual hall exec board has its own “training” time which is facilitated by the hall government advisors, either the hall director or the assistant hall director, and the hall president.
A typical training schedule and format is as follows:
• The hall student staff prepare the hall for welcoming exec officers (door decs, signs, welcome packets, etc.).
• Sunday: Residence Hall Association Council (RHAC) executive officers, hall presidents and vice-presidents arrive and move-in. Student staff have dinner with the president and vice president. The president and vice-presidents develop in-hall training/welcome of other exec officers.
• Monday: RHAC officers conduct training for the hall presidents and vice presidents. This includes team building, “fire-up” sessions, role discussion with just the officers and then further discussions on roles with hall government advisors present. There is a luncheon for these student leaders with central residence life staff. Following lunch, the other hall exec officers move in. Hall presidents and vice presidents get a tour of the Office of Residence Life central office and are shown where supplies are kept, mailboxes, etc. There is further training on the art of delegation, parliamentary procedure, and programming. The hall advisor then meets with the president and vice president to review the hall constitution, the exec hall office, computer programming data entry, review welcome/opening theme and tasks, and in-hall exec training plans. Dinner is then prepared for all exec officers by the student staff of that hall. The day closes with an all campus ice cream social for the hall presidents and vice-presidents.
• Tuesday: All morning there is a team building exercise at the university’s rope course for all hall execs, the hall council advisor, and the student staff liaison to hall council. The afternoon is free time for in-hall specific activities. Following dinner, there is a team building exercise (inner/outer circle) for hall execs and student staff.
• Wednesday: Individual position role training and exec team expectations are discussed in the morning. Following lunch, hall execs join the student staff in a resource fair and leadership activities and opportunities for involvement both on and off-campus. The evening meal is a “mystery dinner” followed by in-hall exec time.
• Thursday: On this day all welcome week hall crewmembers move in. In the morning there are two separate two-hour database training for two representatives from each hall exec team and the first RHAC meeting. In the afternoon hall welcome week chairs and traffic coordinators meet for final discussions and review of welcome week activities. Dinner is held in each hall.
• Friday: Halls open at 9 AM!
Several follow up activities also occur which supplement and build upon this training program. Separate bi-monthly meetings are held with presidents and vice-presidents (RHAC reps meet weekly as well) to discuss various issues that are particular to their offices. These meetings serve as a communication source as well as an opportunity to address concerns specific to their hall as well as the residence life department.
Further, student leadership is promoted though daylong student leadership conferences held in late September/early October and then again in February. Current hall governance leaders and student staff facilitate these programs and approximately 15% of our residence population (350-400) attend these Saturday programs. The fall conference is held at an off-campus location while the spring conference is held on campus. The primary session facilitators are students. The development and coordination of these programs may be the genesis of a future article.
These training activities promote a strong residence life department, involve and empower students, and enhance collaboration with hall exec leaders and student staff. Evaluations on these activities have been rated very high. Due in part to these activities, our resident student involvement is high with hall council attendance (which are held every Sunday @ 8 or 9 PM) ranging from 30-40% of the hall residents in attendance. On the institutional senior survey, students rank living in a residence hall as one of their best learning experiences at UWL. We believe that this statement strongly reflects our efforts working with our student leaders.
Submitted by Nick Nicklaus, Director of Residence Life, University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse