Resident Assistants from colleges across the state gathered at the College of William and Mary over the weekend for the annual conference for the Virginia Association of College and University Housing Officers.
VACUHO, according to their website, is “dedicated to the education and professional development of housing and residence life staff.” The annual conference is created to allow residence life staff from a variety of colleges and universities to come together, share ideas and learn as a community. This year, Head Resident Serena Saffarini M.P.P. ’15 helped organize the program with a certain goal in mind.
“It takes a lot of energy to be a good ResLife staff person to begin with,” Saffarini said. “[The conference is] kind of like a renewed energy to keep going for the rest of the semester.”
The conference began Saturday morning with a keynote speech by Associate Vice President for Health and Wellness Dr. R. Kelly Crace and closed with an address by Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler ’88 Ph.D. ’06.
The bulk of the conference included programs that visiting RAs could choose to attend throughout the day. These sessions were not only put on by the College’s ResLife staff, but by participants from visiting schools. Topics ranged from easy programming for upperclassmen and freshmen to issues RAs may face in the future, such as how to successfully market the skills they learn.
Alba Evans ’15, another head resident and a conference organizer, said Van Black’s ’75 presentation was her favorite. He asked the audience what RA skills they thought would carry over into the real world.
“A lot of people said leadership, dependability, reliability — the big buzz words,” Evans said. “It ended up being that he surveyed about 100 people or so who had been RAs in the past and almost all of them said one of two things: listening and … empathy.”
Other sessions involved more personal issues. Torey Stockwell, a hall director at Virginia Commonwealth University, gave a presentation that focused on coming out and how new gay marriage laws in Virginia could impact people at any university. Another session included an activity with the “true colors” personality quiz. Framed in terms of problem solving, the RAs defined themselves by colors — gold, blue, green or orange — and learned how to deal with the colors with which they may clash. Evans said she understands how this exercise could be useful for RAs.
“If you’re one thing and if you’re clashing with another person, just [by] being able to assign them a color, you might be able to understand them a little bit better,” Evans said.
Connecting on an individual level is one action Evans said she thinks RAs at the College do well, even better than staff at larger schools.
One-on-one interaction is something residents value as well. Nathalie Moore ’17, a first year RA in the Eco-House, joined ResLife for that reason.
“I really care about creating an environment where someone feels like they’ve been at home because I think that William and Mary was my first home, and I want it to be a safe place for a lot of people,” Moore said.