Willamette University, Students at the Mill Stream

Residential life: getting the most from living in the dorms

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With its office tucked away in Doney Hall, Residence Life can seem to have little influence on the daily lives of students. Saying ‘hi' to the RA on the way to class can be the only contact a student has with Residence Life.

The office, however, plays a crucial role in campus life. Michael Seals, director of residence life, says "everyone struggles with at least something in this environment." Residence Life is here to help students acclimate to the college experience and overcome the struggles they might confront.

Communicating with a roommate can be a challenging experience for many students, especially if they did not share a room growing up. "We find that when it comes to the expectations for their living area," Seals says, "students may be scared to talk to their roommates, unsure of how to talk to them or it just doesn't occur to them." A living situation can often be improved simply by finding a way to talk with a roommate about what's working and what's not. RAs are there to help students overcome these communication challenges.

The mission of Residence Life, however, goes beyond simply helping students live with their roommates. "One reason I came to Willamette," says Seals, "is I saw an opportunity to be involved with the academic environment and create programs that influence the culture on campus."

Over the next two years you can expect to see enhanced residential programs developed in consultation with students. "The Kaneko Commons model has been a big success," says Michael. Expanding that model to both Eastside and Westside residence halls will allow students to be more involved in hall governance and give them more say in how their dorm fees are allocated.

Students will also have a chance to shape new living communities around general themes. For example, communities of 15 to 30 students focused on themes such as sustainability, international living, women in leadership, sports & culture or academic disciplines might be organized. "Residence life has been trending this way nation-wide for a while now," says Seals, "and schools that provide students these opportunities show improved retention rates and academic performance."

Developing residential programs like this is one way Residence Life implements their philosophical approach of "Challenge & support." "We want students to have enough support so they have the confidence to seek challenges that help them grow as productive and responsible community members. The biggest obstacle to this," Seals continues, "is that students often surround themselves with too much support" so they never have to face the challenges.

Living in the residence halls is an experience almost everyone remembers about college. For students who take the initiative to enhance their living environment, residential life can be a highlight of their college experience.