One of your primary goals as an R.A. should be the development of a meaningful community amongst your floor residents. The programming that you do as an R.A. can have a big impact on whether your floor becomes a meaningful community.
Lets think a little bit about the concept of community and what it really is.
To start with, communities are generally places where people know each other. If you are interested in your floor becoming a community, you need to think critically about the type of programming that you do, in that it should be focused on activities that help people interact and form connections. Through getting to know each other, and learning about each others similarities and differences, residents will be in a much better position when they encounter the challenges and inevitable conflicts that occur in a residence hall. Conflicts are generally much easier to manage and resolve if people know each other. Generally, if people know each other well enough to know what may or may not be happening in their personal life, they will be in a much better position of understanding or relating to another person’s bad mood or bad behavior.
Communities are places where people openly share their opinions. So, how do you as an R.A. help you residents get to this place? Think about how hard it is at points to speak freely if you in a situation that is unfamiliar and threatening. The work you’ve done in helping your residents get to know each other will help them in sharing their opinions. Additionally, programming that helps to teach communication skills, and programs that help individuals share personal information and needs in a safe and sensitive forum will help residents gather the skills and courage that they need to openly share their opinions.
When you accomplish this goal, and your residents feel comfortable sharing their opinions and what they think, your job may get a lot easier. As an example, if your floor bathroom is getting trashed every Saturday night, the problem will most likely be stopped quicker if your residents are speaking about their displeasure with the situation (i.e. the concern is not just coming from you).
Communities typically all have policies, rules and regulations that serve as guidelines for how people live and exist. Sometimes these rules are written (i.e. quiet hours start at 11 p.m. and end at 7:00 a.m.), and sometimes they are unwritten (people generally do not blast their room stereo at 7:01 a.m.) As an R.A. you need to think creatively about how programmatically you can help your floor understand the written and unwritten rules that will help everyone live compatibly together. As a hint, I suggest you think carefully about how to engage your residents in discussions about how they will feel if certain things happen on the floor (i.e. finding vomit in the sink one morning when you go to brush your teeth). If you can get your residents engaged in setting the standards for how you will all live together on your floor, you might have more success than simply telling them what the rules are during your first floor meeting.
Communities are places where members show personal and social concern for one another. Excellent communities celebrate differences, good communities accept differences, and unfortunately, some communities do not tolerate differences. As an R.A. you need to be working programmatically to promote ethnic and cultural awareness, and the celebration of the many lifestyles that exist in society today. You can do this through guided activities where floor residents share personal items that may relate to their ethnic and cultural upbringing, through bulletin boards, and through role modeling acceptance and appreciation every day.
Communities are places where all members are given a voice. Work as an R.A., and through the programming that you facilitate in your residence hall, you can empower your residents with the skills that they need to openly discuss topics, issues, concerns and problems. Through the relationship building that you programmatically facilitate, you can create an environment where your residents can share their opinions freely without the fear of retribution or retaliation.
As an R.A. you need to be purposeful about your programmatic activities in the residence halls, and you need to engage in a well thought out plan of activities that will support the development of community on your floor.