Beginning this fall, the Integrative Core Curriculum changed the way the Office of Residential Life runs its First-Year Residential Experience program. The resident assistant’s role, which used to be focused primarily on building a sense of community for the residential floor, now extends to the building-wide implementation of one of the six ICC themes: Identities; Inquiry, Imagination and Innovation; Power and Justice; Mind, Body, Spirit; The Quest for a Sustainable Future; and A World of Systems.
As an RA for the Power and Justice theme in East Tower, I am responsible for organizing four theme-related programs per semester, in collaboration with another RA and the theme’s faculty adviser, Michelle Rios-Dominguez. This is in addition to eight programs I will organize over the semester specifically for residents on my floor.
Last year, FYRE RAs were responsible for a total of just eight floor programs per semester, with themes tailored to the needs and interests of the floor residents. This allowed for more creativity on the RA’s part, but it also meant that educational activities were rare and not always suited to the interests of the residents.
Certainly, the FYRE RA job description involves more work and commitment this year than in years prior, and I knew all of this before I decided to continue working in FYRE. I was willing to take on the extra work only because I felt that incorporating the ICC themes into residential-life activities would be educational and engaging for our first-year residents.
Having witnessed residents’ reception of these themes, however, I worry that this is not what students want. Our most recent program, “The House We Live In,” explored the topic of institutionalized discrimination, with a focus on the U.S. housing market. It featured two six-minute documentaries and time allotted for conversation. Despite our efforts in organizing and advertising the program, which included pizza and refreshments, attendance was low. Only one student remained at the event long enough to watch the documentaries, and students were not engaged. This was not an anomaly; the first Power and Justice event in West Tower was similarly unsuccessful, with only six out of a total 22 residents in the theme choosing to attend the event.
All incoming first-year students are required to attend three theme-related events per year. So far, it appears that students are more concerned with for-credit activities, undermining equally important knowledge they can obtain from attending events outside of the classroom. The theme requirement means that students go to these events out of obligation rather than interest, and I doubt that such an attitude will encourage the type of “innovative, holistic, and visionary” thinking cited by the college’s website as one of the ICC’s outcomes.
While I do agree with the reasons behind incorporating themes into residential life, I also believe that the ICC’s goals of promoting innovation through residential life programs will not be met in practice. The enthusiasm and motivation students have for student organizations and extracurricular activities they are involved with stems from their freedom to choose to be involved at all. I am certain that the wider set of interests these organizations cater to can better promote innovation in first-year students than the required theme-based programs organized by Residential Life.