Student Leaders Build Community in Residence Halls
For students at Denison, living in residence halls isn’t a short-term commitment. Since living on campus is required for all full-time students, it’s essential that residence halls provide students an environment that is welcoming and equipped to handle their individual needs. In addition to considering the needs of individual students, Denison aims to foster a wider sense of community throughout the residence halls to ensure that every resident feels included in a larger group of their peers.
In order to meet these goals, Denison has divided residential responsibilities between Residential Communities and Student Housing Operations and Planning. By establishing Residential Communities, Residential Assistants (RAs) and Head Residents (HRs) have slightly different roles on campus.
Paul Haddad, the Head Resident of Chamberlin, Beta, Kappa Sigma, and Morrow House, has acknowledged the changes in his position. “…I am more focused on creating community in the residence halls - more so than education of residents. But it has not changed in regards to the way that I interact with RAs. I think the transition is the right direction with a focus on community,” he said in regards to the transition.
The Head Resident of Shorney, Lexie Seward, has also seen the modifications even though she was an RA the previous year. “From working with my RAs everyone seems to be much more involved with their communities and the programs are tailored around making our communities stronger through focusing on building relationships rather than educational goals,” she reported.
Although the new focus of the department is in its early stages, the fact that current student staff members can see a noticeable difference bodes well for future success. Both HRs also recognized the changes within staff training prior to the start of the 2017-2018 school year. RAs were provided with resources and general teaching on how to make individual connections with residents as well as preparation for dealing with issues within a residential community.
Additionally HRs felt that they had been adequately prepared to take on this new switch to Residential Communities. Although working with other people can at times be unpredictable, they felt like making the ideological shift was very doable. The training focused on building a community rather than enforcing policy.
Two events that were especially successful were a community program where members of each community painted the picnic table on North loop together and Shorney De-Stress Fest. Seward shared the example of the De-Stress Fest within the residence halls which worked to bring together separate housing communities and easing first years’ transition to college are both fundamental aspects of building a sense of community, which these programs specifically addressed.
The student staff members agreed that a positive living environment enriches students’ experiences by giving them the opportunity to have conversations with each other in a space where they feel safe to express their opinion. It’s a goal of both the ResComm professional staff and student leaders to make sure that students have the most successful experience at Denison and by focusing on refining the ability to form meaningful relationships throughout residential communities. With the establishment of Residential Communities, this goal is certainly attainable.
Written By Caroline Ingalls ’20