College is an eye-opening experience for many young adults, especially first years that stay in the residence halls on campus. Often, this is the first time they've lived in a dorm away from home with people who are complete strangers.
A resident adviser (RA) is a staff member who's a higher-level student. They're assigned to a specific area of the residence and their duty is to oversee the students that live there. Part of an RA’s role is to plan activities that help the new students get to know and learn about one another.
The Need for RA Diversity Programs
Many diverse people attend college and live on campus together, so it’s important for RAs to help them get along with each other and enjoy their time in residence life. Some students may not have encountered people who differ from them, let alone lived with them.
As a result, a diversity program can help to break the ice and help students find common ground among their differences. This is an important part of student affairs.
Diversity itself comes in many forms:
- Sexual orientation.
- Socio-economic status.
- Religious beliefs.
- Political beliefs.
- Many more.
Before implementing any diversity programs, reslife staff and student leaders should receive diversity and inclusivity training so they're well informed and prepared to teach others about the topic. Staff meetings such as these are crucial to build a solid base for campus life and help student staff become good role models.
Finding Common Ground
Resident assistant program ideas for diversity include community building activities. These are designed to help the students work together to complete a common goal. This can help to build camaraderie and friendship across any preconceived divisional lines.
Creating Games and Learning Opportunities
A team photo scavenger hunt is a good way to help diverse students get to know one another. Create a list of items around campus or the residence hall that the teams have to find and then take a picture with. The first team that manages to get pictures of every item on the list wins a team prize, such as a pizza dinner and gets their picture on the hall social media.
Holding an “Adulting 101” seminar is also a way to help students see eye to eye. Many students come to college without knowing certain skills that can help them when they live away from what's familiar. Topics such as budgeting, financial aid, laundry, grocery shopping and accessing healthcare can be useful to a diverse array of students. The RA can run the workshop themselves or they can divide the students into small groups and assign each topic to a group to research and then present to the rest of the students.
Other ideas for the residential community to get to know each other include a trivia night, egg hunt, ice cream social, and other information sessions and initiatives that might be useful to build a sense of community while answering important campus-wide questions about meal plans, the quad, winter break, and dorm living.
Learning About Differences
Understanding the different lives of their peers is an important goal of RA diversity programs. The activities should invite questions and conversations in a safe and welcoming environment. Celebrations are a great way to bring people together while learning about their differences.
Ask the students which cultural, religious or other holidays they celebrate with their families. Create a calendar with all of the students’ holidays listed on it. Together, decide how you want to celebrate each holiday. Students may wish to bring treats for their peers or share a story about the holiday.
Other RA Diversity Program Ideas
Creating a “Take What You Need” wall in the residence can help students that are having a hard time feel more at home. Have each student write encouraging messages on sticky notes, and stick them on a wall or bulletin board in a common area. Whenever a student is feeling down, let them know they can take an encouraging message off the wall to lift their spirits. Invite students to post uplifting messages year round to keep the wall full.
It is vital that professional staff create an environment for students that feels safe and fosters wellness for the academic year. The ra role should not be taken lightly, as these people may end up being a college student’s lifeline for personal well-being during their stay in residential life.
Anam Ahmed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. She writes on everything from business to parenting, travel to technology. Learn more at www.anamahmed.ca.