The Office of Residential Life is addressing resident assistants’ concerns about new responsibilities that will come as part of the college’s IC 20/20 strategic plan.
The changes to the First Year Residential Experience include new events that RAs will organize for incoming freshmen next year. The events are based on six themes that provide structure to the IC 20/20 plan. However, some RAs have voiced concerns that the new events will increase their workload, which is already demanding.
Residential Life worked with Educational Affairs to coordinate how the themes would impact first-year students’ residential and academic experience at the college. Each student will select a theme at the beginning of the year and take Integrative Core Curriculum classes for credit. They will also attend events based on the six themes, organized by Residential Life.
The themes are “Identities,” “Inquiry, Imagination and Innovation,” “Mind, Body and Spirit,” “The Quest for a Sustainable Future,” “A World of Systems” and “Power and Justice.”
The scope of the IC 20/20 residential policies has evolved since administrators, professors and students first discussed the plan two years ago, Bonnie Solt Prunty, director of residential life and assistant dean of the FYRE, said.
“From a Residential Life perspective, we have worked hard for many years to try to integrate opportunities for students to interact with faculty and to continue their learning outside of the classroom,” Prunty said. “Other campuses have general education requirements for students. … It’s based on that kind of a concept, but it’s around themes instead.”
The new program will be mandatory for next year’s incoming freshmen, who will live in the Towers, Boothroyd, Rowland, Tallcott, Holmes and Hilliard. By 2014, the college will expand FYRE further, adding Bogart, Eastman, Hood, Landon and Lyon halls to the freshmen housing pool.
Ron Trunzo, associate director of Residential Life, said the college became interested in remodeling the residential system because a good first year experience helps students integrate into the community and gives them a reason to return the next year.
“One of the goals is to overall create more of an academic connection with the First Year Residential Experience,” Trunzo said. “It’s a way of building another kind of sense of community and connection outside of the classroom around themes. We see it as a positive direction of growth.”
The funding for the new FYRE program comes from money set aside for IC 20/20. A large portion of the money will be allocated to hiring professors for the Integrative Core Curriculum classes, paying resident assistants and event programming, Trunzo said.
To assuage RA’s concerns about the workload, the college is trying to keep the workload of the new responsibilities within the same workload as in the previous years. The college will also be hiring more RAs by the beginning of the Fall 2014 semester, Prunty said.
“First and foremost, we’re looking for RAs who are interested in working with a first-year student population,” Prunty said. “Particularly, we hear pretty strongly from First Year RAs that they’re concerned, because they feel like they already have a very high workload given the population they work with.”
Junior Mary Kate Fain, a resident assistant on the 11th floor of East Tower, said the themes are broad and will allow RAs to still be creative. However, she said she is concerned there will be no increase in pay, despite a bigger workload. Fain brought these issues up at a staff meeting several weeks ago.
She said Residential Life officials were cooperative and listened to the RAs’ reactions.
“The college is really responsive,” Fain said. “They have little task forces that are working on each and every part of [the new plan]. ResLife as a whole is really good with working with RAs.”
She also said she is willing to negotiate with the college.
“I try to be pretty open-minded with things,” Fain said. “I think the way we’re doing things is fine, but that doesn’t mean that this will be better just because it’s new.”
The task forces, which consist of RDs and their supervisors, are comparing the amount of compensation for RAs at the college and with other benchmark colleges, Fain said.
As a part of the program, the semester will begin with a kickoff event for each theme. Students will be required to participate in at least two events in the fall semester and two events in the spring. If students want to switch themes, they will be allowed to do so at the end of the fall semester, Prunty said.
Fain said the college does a good job of allowing RAs to incorporate their own creativity into designing events. RAs are already used to working within the requirements of the college, Fain said, and the new themes are a welcome innovation in the FYRE.
“These six different themes pretty much cover everything we would want to be doing anyway, so I can’t think of anything that wouldn’t fall into the themes, because the themes are really broad,” Fain said. “And RAs are creative people. … I think we might have to be creative to work within this new system, but I think it’ll be possible.”