The emphasis for RAs to “Build Community” on floors or in halls is a large focus of many Res. life departments for their RA staffs. If you are reading this article in hopes to learn how to “build” a community, you might as well put down your hammer and nails, stop and realize that you live in a number of communities that formed without any “one” person doing it. Yes, let me say that again…communities will form if you do anything or nothing at all. It is an ontological part of our nature as human beings to group together and develop shared meaning. This knowledge is pretty common as Webster (dictionary) says, a community is a group of individuals that share something in common, or is a body of people living in the same space. Whahllah! On move-in day your floor community is built. Therefore, rather than “building community” your job should be to serve as an active catalyst in maintaining the community as a positive, healthy, welcoming place to live. Yes, give your floor community a workout routine that will make it a healthier place to live. Forget building it…think shaping it!
The infamous Field of Dreams quote, “If you build it they will come” is true, and your hall is built and they are coming! With them they are bringing perceptions of residence hall living, which they have picked up from media and movie portrayals, and from the influence of their friends and family. These perceptions are difficult to change on a large scale, which indicates why the word “dorm” is still largely a part of our society’s lexicon. Reshaping a community is much more difficult than shaping one as it forms, which you’ll discover if you have more than a handful of returning residents. Thus, your job is to begin shaping the community with them as they move in!
Here are some aspects that might be helpful to think about in preparing to shape a floor community:
1. Take advantage of the first 3 or 4 weeks
◦ Get to know everyone’s names
◦ Initiate conversations and interactions with residents
◦ Provide experiences for residents to get to know each other
◦ Establish expectations and community standards
2. Foster respect
◦ Respect others’ space, opinions, and personalities
◦ Encourage residents to have respect for the building and the property
◦ Be inclusive in your actions and language
3. Spend adequate time with your community
◦ Role model desired behavior’s, norms and values
◦ Offer assistance to help when you can
◦ Challenge unacceptable characteristics, which take away from your floor community as being healthy, positive, and welcoming. (Ex. race-based jokes, excessively loud music, messes in the bathroom, etc.)
◦ Reward and recognize good stewards of your community!
4. Encourage residents to take responsibility for the community
◦ Remain consistent with your community interactions (no favorites)
◦ Encourage residents to become active catalysts in the community
◦ Provide opportunities for residents to give back to the community or other communities they are part of through volunteer projects, or community service
There is no set proscribed successful method to shape a floor community to be positive, and welcoming. However, there are numerous means to reach this end. Check out the sites linked at the bottom of this article to gain a stronger understanding how groups form and process, and how communities can develop through Boyer’s principles.
Take advantage of returning staff members and professional staff to help you in shaping your floor community. Remember when you are trying to shape up your body by working out it takes a great deal of determination and dedication. Shaping up a community takes forth the same dedication and effort and in six weeks you should begin seeing results!
Good luck in shaping up your community!
Submitted by Scott Peska, Resident Director, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign