Each fall, in residence halls around the region, students come together at the start of the semester to develop community codes. Although not used at every institution, community codes can be a powerful tool at the Resident Advisor’s disposal. The concept of community codes is startling simple: gather the floor or building community together, talk about how issues that arise (frequently those not covered explicitly within the Code of Student conduct) will be handled, come to consensus and create a document that outlines how the floor will respond to the issues, have students sign the document, and post it on the floor/building.
The benefits that can be reaped from the appropriate use of community codes are extensive. First, students have a chance to discuss, in an appropriate forum, some of the issues that they will face while living together and, even more importantly, the expectations of how the floor will deal with these issues can be laid out. Students have the opportunity to discuss issues of value to them and have the chance for others to understand their perspective. Ultimately, how individuals contribute to the larger community can be more completely understood.
Using quiet hours and courtesy hours as an example, one can examine how the community code process functions. Most residence halls have established quiet hours – time when sleep and study should be of primary concern and there is an agreed upon expectation (or even policy) that residents not make undue noise. However, each floor needs to address how the issue of noise (loud stereos, televisions, etc.) is to be addressed during the day or early evening hours when quiet hours are not in effect. Again, it is common for schools to have “courtesy hours”. Loosely translated, the expectation is that it is really never okay to broadcast your favorite new cd throughout the entire campus, residence hall or floor. But how are students to understand the expected behavior, since in many cases it is not explicitly spelled out? During the discussion of community codes, the Resident Advisor may ask how loud stereos, televisions or other noise will be handled outside of quiet hours. This question will undoubtedly lead to some discussion about what exactly is loud. For example, is it too loud if the noise can be heard outside your door to or is it too loud if it can be heard three doors down? Once the standards are agreed upon, the Resident Advisor should encourage floor residents to consider how they will address any violations. How should they bring it to the attention of the loud floormate? Is there a set number of resident to resident requests for compliance with the Community Code before bringing the issue to the attention of the RA?
The value of the community code document is that the threshold can be discussed and clarified before it is established and also clearly communicated to all members of the floor. Additionally, the terms for confronting such issues can be stipulated as well as the consequences for not following the guidelines.
There are multiple advantages to developing community codes at the start of the semester. Some of the advantages are: the ability to determine the appropriate response to behavior that does not meet community norms before people become associated with the activity, empowering residents to determine how situations within their living environments will be handled, enabling the Resident Advisor to share the responsibility of maintaining an acceptable living environment with the entire community and providing students with the opportunity to practice confrontation skills in a relatively safe environment. Upon graduation students will become engaged in a variety of negotiations involving co-workers, neighbors, and partners. The discussions that result in the development of a Community Code document can provide valuable practical experience in articulating needs and in being flexible in dealing with others.
In order for Community codes to become a living document and to maintain effectiveness, they should be revisited periodically during the year. It is especially important to review the community codes at the point when floor members change, such as mid-year or between trimesters. This practice provides an opportunity for new members of the floor to engage in shaping the community, allows for new ideas to be brought into the conversations from other students, and enables the floor to revisit any issues that have been problematic. During this time the floor may decide to revise or change the previous agreement to make it work better for the floor.
Tips for effective community code creation:
- Establish a time to hold the initial meeting when most residents can attend.
- Have someone be a note taker and write down ideas to discuss in depth.
- Focus on the positive aspects of establishing trust and building floor community rather than the punitive issues of punishment.
- Remember not to allow students to change any items in the community code that are not negotiable from the College (i.e. the alcohol or drug policy).
- Be sure that students have ample time to discuss each item in the community code and look for the less frequently voiced opinions.
- Make the consequences reasonable, easily understandable, and enforceable.
- Print the document on nice paper and have everyone sign it.
- Post if where everyone, even visitors to the floor can see it, these are the things your floor values and you should be proud of them.
- Allow for revisiting the codes, especially when there is turnover on the floor. If you have monthly floor meetings, bring up any issues that you have observed or heard about.
Submitted by Lafayette College Residence Life Staff