Tori Ruiz has seen a decade worth of Willamette students come and go from her desk in Residence Life. This small-but-mighty department supervises community mentors (formerly resident assistants), orchestrates ample residential programming and handles student conduct issues. Ruiz knows what makes it all tick (the ubiquitous blue masking tape and coffee, among other things) and why living on campus can be such a good developmental step for young people.
If you were to live on campus today, where would you choose? What spots are most popular, generally?
The east side is endearing to me because there’s a lot of activity over there and that’s where most of the first-year students tend to live. My son is a freshman in Matthews, and I just think it’s a neat community. The Haseldorf apartment building has interesting history to it, too. It’s such an old building, but it always fills up immediately. It’s so strange.
Why is that?
Well, it’s a ways off campus. It’s a little bit of freedom but still an arm’s reach away from Goudy and everything else — sort of a happy medium.
The new Kaneko apartments are sought after, as are Lausanne and Doney. Those always have been. There’s a culture of “moving west” on campus, and these halls tend to be the destinations for on-campus upperclassmen. Everything looks bigger over there. And people squat once they’re there — they’ll stay for several years, so it makes it harder to get in.
What’s a typical challenge students have today?
For a lot of students, this is the first time they’ve ever had to share a room with anyone. Parents always want to do better for their kids than they had, so sometimes when students get to college and have to share a space, that’s a challenge.
It’s hard on everyone whenever there’s vandalism or little damages, actually. If no one wants to admit to doing something, then the cost has to be spread out throughout the building and folks get upset. But we have to recover the costs somehow. People say, “My son or daughter didn’t do this,” and we understand that, but unless someone steps up and takes responsibility for it, it has to be spread out. It’s tricky for people sometimes.
What’s changed in residence life over the last few years?
One of the biggest changes conductwise is that we used to assign students restitution hours if they were caught doing something they shouldn’t, but we’ve moved away from that now. We want to move to a more restorative approach.
It’s restorative versus punitive, in other words. We try and talk to students and ask them, “Where in your decision making did things go wrong, and is there anything that could have helped you make a better one?”
What do you think would surprise an alumnus from, say, 1970?
Well, there are no longer any phones in the residence hall rooms. [Laughs] Everyone has cell phones.
Next year we’re going to a commons-style system where all of the residence halls will share a big budget pot; they’ll use that for their community programming. Research shows that a commons approach is better developmentally and programmatically — it challenges students to think in terms of the larger group, and it helps facilitate discussion and mediation skills. There will be a commons council with representatives from each building, and it’ll fund requests as they’re brought in.
What’s been most rewarding for you working in Residence Life?
One of my favorite things about this job is that I get to be the person people come to for advice — the office mom, in a way. Over the years I’ve built up a little history around here. I get to ask students the “Are you sure about that decision?” questions. Nowadays my son will come into the office with his friends and they’ll ask him what he’s doing — he’ll say I’m his mom and I’m immediately cool somehow. It’s kind of nice.
The biggest compliment I receive is when a student wants to introduce me to his/her family at graduation. It’s rewarding to see the ones who have struggled at some point but make better choices as they go along — you really get to see that progress and development. It’s part of their education.
Office Coordinator, Residence Life