Are you looking for a new way to approach programming in your residence halls and hoping for something different? Maybe one with increased flexibility and ideally, greater effectiveness. One path to explore is a “community model”, based on Boyer’s Principles of Community. This concept is not original, or unique. However, the standard structure of this model has been used and modified on many campuses to fit the needs of a variety of residential living programs. Its versatility is its greatest asset.
There are three concepts that form the model’s foundation. Stemming from this foundation are the components of the model, which can be molded, based on the needs of your resident population and the goals of your residential living program. The first concept is that each community is based on the individuality of its members and its leader. This programming model allows for selective programming catered to each group of residents. Secondly, the model values the uniqueness of the leader, such as an RA. It allows them to use their individual talents, experiences and interests to meet the programming needs of their residents. Lastly, the model allows for easy manipulation to deal with the reality of a constantly changing student population as well as the continuing growth of a department’s goals. It is these three beliefs that can allow a community model to be an effective tool in the halls.
The first task in implementing a community model is to list all events, activities and tasks that the RA can or should provide. Note the list below. A point value is designated to each activity. The point value will be based on the philosophies of your department and professional staff, and ideally, input from RA’s. The key to forming this list is that it has to benefit individual floor communities, the building community, and/or the campus community. By assigning numeric values, a total number of points can be set as the “goal” that each RA needs to achieve. The goal is based on the dynamic of your student population, the number of weeks your institution is in session, and the importance placed on each activity.
|Attend on-campus event||2|
|Plan educational event||4|
|Off Campus Trip||2|
|Community Living Agreement||2|
Once a list of activities is compiled and point values are set, the model can be creatively organized, and Resident Assistants could be required to earn a set number of points in different categories. For example, the list can be made into two categories, such as “Activities” and “Builders”. Activities could comprise separate interactive social events, whereas builders could comprise administrative tasks, like bulletin boards. Both impact the community but in two different ways. Again, it is the goal of your department that will determine whether categorizing the list is necessary. In addition, other RA responsibilities can be incorporated into the model, such as special “campus wide programming” or committee involvement. Caution should be used when including too many RA, administrative tasks that remotely impact the RA’s residents.
Now that your list is formed, categories assigned, and point values designated; the next step is to provide incentives and rewards for your staff. Certificates for reaching the goal points, raffles based on earning certain point values, and end of semester dinners are examples of how to reward staff and keep them motivated to program. Another successful element to the community model is forming a Resident Assistant committee that acts as an advisory group to address suggestions, facilitate changes and to represent the entire RA staff. This committee can be motivators as well, by selecting “of the month” activities or programs to reward. This allows staff to see what types of programs are occurring in all the residence halls. Creating an opportunity for RA participation values their role and feedback, resulting in an enhanced investment in the programming model. Another auxiliary step is the production of a community newsletter that announces “of the month” winners, recognizes upcoming events, and contains articles for motivation and new ideas in the world of programming. If seen as an on-going training tool, issues of community can be discussed, campus issues explored, and RA awareness extended. Whether it is monthly or semesterly, this communication tool contributes to the effectiveness of the community model.
The perpetual final step is assessment. The community committee provides constant feedback from RA staff. Yet a thorough evaluation of each aspect of the model is necessary for further development and improvement. It should be mentioned that the steps to community programming listed in this article are based on the experience of residence life professionals. Many campuses have developed their own models based on a community philosophy and others have built from what is described here. The foundation presented hopefully allows for each campus to have fun developing a programming base that has a positive impact on RA staffs and residents.
Submitted by Jennifer Thorpe, Assistant Director/Resident Director & Betsy Stone, Assistant Director for Residence Life, Drexel University