Searching for a sense of community

Brittany Moseley

Residence Services focuses on creating a better atmosphere for campus residents

Betsy Joseph, director of Residence Services, said it 22 times in an interview.

Amy Quillin, associate director of residential communities, said it 21 times in an interview.

Even President Lester Lefton let it slip once at a Kent Interhall Council meeting.

The guilty word: community. No matter what Residence Services does, the goal is always to build community, and programs are the main way to do that.

However, the traditional model for programming – an educational or social event paired with pizza and pop – doesn’t always work. To some students, residence halls are just a place to sleep – nothing more. With TVs, computers and game systems in dorm rooms, students don’t have to leave their rooms to be entertained.

How programming is funded at KSU:

• Residence Services receives no tuition dollars; program funding comes from Residence Services’ budget

• each semester KIC receives $16 for each student living on campus

• of that $16, each hall council receives $6.50 for each hall resident

• RAs request money for programming from their hall councils

• Allerton receives $9 per occupied apartment for programming

• Engleman receives $5.50 per resident

Community in the residence halls is still important, but students need change, forcing programming to adapt.

‘More than just a place to sleep’

With more than 6,000 students in the residence halls, the majority of them freshmen and sophomores, living on campus plays a vital role in college.

“It also gives (students) an opportunity to make that transition from living in their family’s home to having a little bit more independence and being able to make decisions and interact and get to know who they are and the people around them,” Joseph said.

Joseph started her career in Residence Services more than 30 years ago and has worked at several universities, each with a different programming model.

“(Programming) is really one of those areas within housing that is constantly evolving,” Joseph said, “trying to best identify what are the needs of students? What types of things would help make them successful? What types of things would help them get connected to the institution?”

Resident Assistants are required to do four programs a semester, and they must address one aspect of the Residence Services Ethos Statement, which has four points: engaged learning, decision making, cultural competence and citizenship.

RAs are also required to do community builders, which are less formal than the programs that address the Ethos Statement. RAs must do one community builder every week for the first six weeks and two a month after that. The programs can be anything from monthly dinners at Eastway to weekly get-togethers to watch “Grey’s Anatomy.”

“Programs aren’t the only way to create community, obviously, but they serve as a vehicle to communicate to students that we are committed to making the residence halls more than just a place to sleep,” Quillin said in an e-mail.

Most residence halls do more than the required amount of programs, offering students a variety. Often though, it’s the same group of people plus a few new students. Quillin said attendance is probably lower at traditional programs today than it was 20 years ago.

“What our challenge is, is finding something that really is going to be of interest to students,” Joseph said. “Once we can figure out what that is, then I think they’re going to come.”

One way Residence Services assesses students’ needs is the annual resident study sponsored by Educational Benchmarking Inc. According to this year’s survey, the majority of students thought their floor residents created a positive community. The survey also said the majority of students made some effort to get to know those on their floor.

Although the survey saw the largest number of respondents compared to past surveys (41.7 percent), more than half of those living on campus didn’t take the survey, whether it was because they deleted the e-mail without reading it, they we’re busy or they didn’t care.

“There has always been, in my entire career, some students who the only reason they’re living on campus is because it’s convenient and or the university’s requiring them to,” Joseph said.

Programs at other universities

Schools may have different programming models, but all have the same goal.

“It’s a matter of figuring out what (students) care about and relating that to whatever your focus is,” said Vicka Bell-Robinson, coordinator of living learning communities at Miami University.

Universities also know it takes more than a program to get students to participate in their halls.

“You have to be visible. You have to engage the students in conversation,” said Joseph Berthiaume, associate director for residence life at Wright State University.

Miami, Wright State and Kent State are public universities with less than 20,000 students. While Miami and Kent State have between 6,000 and 7,000 students living on campus, Wright State has just under 3,000.

All three have different housing options and requirements. Kent State has 24 residence halls (not including Small Group), and freshmen and sophomores are required to live on campus. Students at Wright State have 11 residence halls and four apartment complexes to choose from. Only freshmen are required to live on campus. Miami requires freshmen to live on campus, and next year, sophomores will also be required. The university has 36 residence halls and one apartment complex.

All three universities do surveys to address student satisfaction.

At Wright State, community advisers (RAs) do four or five programs a quarter. Berthiaume said community advisers did 300 programs in the fall quarter.

Miami’s RAs have different aspects of residence life they must address, including connections, fire safety, academic success, diversity, alcohol education and personal safety. Bell-Robinson said RAs do at least one activity every two weeks.

Like Kent State, there are some programs that attract more students than others.

“Social programs and programs containing giveaways are better attended than the programs that are a little bit more educationally focused,” Bell-Robinson said. “Most of the times there needs to be some incentive.”

Even if a program isn’t well attended, Berthiaume said he still wants the RAs to keep being creative.

Keeping up with student needs

In college, Quillin remembers when having a stereo was a big deal, and they were “big, huge, cumbersome things.”

Now though, it’s not a surprise for students to have TVs, DVD players, computers and game systems in their rooms, giving programs some competition.

“It’s difficult sometimes to get people out of their rooms because what’s the entertainment value?” Quillin said in a follow-up interview.

Competition between technology and programming is something universities across the country are facing.

“There’s no question that it presents a challenge in getting people to attend programs,” Berthiaume said. “We have to double our efforts in making sure we have programs that interest the residential community.”

At Miami, Residence Services is undergoing some changes on what they want students to gain and learn from living on campus. Bell-Robinson said it’s narrowed down to four topics: diversity, academic success, interpersonal development and community engagement.

At Kent State, the traditional programming model is still used, but it’s not uncommon to see events like Guitar Hero, video game tournaments and swing dancing lessons now.

“I think you just have to be creative,” Joseph said. “You young folks, you’ve grown up being entertained.”

Another way RAs program at Kent State is passive programming. Instead of having an event, RAs might create a bulletin board or hand out fliers on a topic they want to educate residents about.

More RAs are also using Facebook to advertise programs. Joseph, Bell-Robinson and Berthiaume said they have seen more events advertised through the site. It’s not uncommon for residence halls and residence hall organizations to have Facebook groups.

Although it’s more difficult to get students out of their rooms, Jeffrey Child, assistant professor in the School of Communication Studies, doesn’t think technology will replace face-to-face interaction.

“I don’t think people will ever not need human interaction,” said Child, who specializes in interpersonal communication. “It’s fundamental to who we are.”

Contact room and board reporter Brittany Moseley at [email protected].

Do you attend programs in your hall?

“No. They don’t seem as important as schoolwork or other events on campus.”

– Kevin Grace, sophomore, physical education

“I attend some. I’m a nursing major so it keeps you busy. I like all the educational ones and the relaxing ones, too.”

– Yanilsa Mendez, junior, nursing

“I do (because) I’m on hall council, and I have to. But I like to because they’re fun.”

– Mackenzie Graening, sophomore, communication studies

“No. I see the signs and stuff, but I always have other things to do like chill with friends or go to the rec.”

– Jason Peters, freshman, justice studies

“Last semester, I went to a couple hall council meetings because it was just something to do, but not this semester.”

– Staci Lobaugh, freshman, nursing

“No I don’t go to programs. I don’t know about them.”

– Devin Jacobs, sophomore, education