Inevitably, every RA has a topic that they struggle with in regards to programming. Whether talking about Safe Sex, Suicide, or any other range of topics, each RA faces this challenge at least once in their careers. In trying to solve these problems, many RAs try to find a simple solution. The fact, however, is this: There is no straightforward answer. However, many RAs have found success in following these guidelines for difficult programming topics.
Know your Residents – Regardless of the work you’ve done, if your residents aren’t interested in what you offer, your program will be substantially more difficult to create and implement. To solve this, it is best to understand what your residents like or dislike. Are they residents who enjoy a dialogue on a topic? Or do they prefer to hear experts discuss something? In any event, knowing your residents needs in general will help you immediately decide what will and won’t work for your program. Beyond this, don’t be afraid to start the discussion before you actually hold the program. If you know how your residents feel about a topic, you may also realize what will and won’t work in presenting the topic.
Know what’s worked in the past – Regardless of your major, it behooves you to be a student of history in programming for tough topics. Do you have more experienced RAs on your staff? Ask them what they’ve done in the past. Don’t be afraid to go one step farther and ask graduate and professional staff as well. Inevitably, you’ll find someone that can tell you about a program that they (or past RAs) had done in the topic. Through this, you may receive an idea of how to address the topic, and perhaps how to tailor it for your residents
Know the experts – For every topic in the book, there are people who know lots on your program idea, both on and off campus. Reach out to them! In a lot of cases, they can provide you with information on the topic directly. If they can’t do this, they’ll probably be able to direct you to another individual for help. Beyond giving you information, some experts may be willing to help you develop a program, which is always a huge plus.
Know how to frame the topic – In a lot of cases, using the term ‘program’ can have a negative connotation. For some residents it implies boredom, regardless of what the topic. To alleviate this stigma, it’s best to present the topic in a positive way. If you’re having a discussion on a special topic, present it as a town hall lecture as opposed to a presentation. In addition, be outgoing in getting residents to attend. As an undergraduate, I remember one RA dragging residents out of their rooms to attend a program five minutes before. While this may not be the best choice for every program, the point is clear: Market your program carefully.
Many RAs worth their weight in gold will tell you that programming is difficult, period. For the more difficult topics, programming is even tougher. However, it is not impossible. With an idea of what you want to say and how to say it, you can turn a difficult topic into a successful activity for everyone.
Submitted by Dennis McIver, Community Development Assistant, University of Maryland, Baltimore County