I am oftentimes asked, “What does it feel like to live in a residence hall many years after graduation?” In fact, many are surprised to hear that living on-campus is a requirement for my role as a Hall Director in University Housing Residence Education.
What is my response? Typically, I mention that my current position is more of a lifestyle, rather than a job. I do not work 8am to 5pm, because work and life are more blended. And no - there’s really no “typical day” in the office.
The work is multifaceted and highly involved. My favorite part of my role? The interactions. I have many meetings with student staff and residents to make sure that I stay connected to what is happening in our residence hall. It is not only a responsibility, but a passion to cultivate a community that is welcoming, inclusive, and thriving. I want to make sure that our professional staff, student staff, and residents can function to their best potential.
A central tenet of the work is meeting individually with our resident student staff members, or ResStaff. In Housing, we have a multitude of different student positions. Along with our Community Center managers (professionals who oversee the administrative operations of our halls), I supervise Resident Advisors, who help build a sense of community in the hallways; Diversity Peer Educators, who support social justice advocacy and education in our halls; and Peer Academic Success Specialists, who educate on academic and digital literacy initiatives).
Along with student staff leadership and supervision, I co-advise our Hall Councils and Multicultural Councils who plan programs, hall improvements, and solicit feedback from our residents - all to ensure our residents are having the best possible experience. This collaboration is a great way to support students because it helps us think creatively about ways we can demonstrate our care and commitment to our residents, while allowing our council members to engage in professional development opportunities.
While there are plenty more aspects to the life of a Hall Director, it is the interactions mentioned above with students and my colleagues that keep me energetic and passionate. I worked diligently to enter the Student Affairs field so that I can give active support to U-M students and help them be the best versions of themselves. I strive to listen to, advocate for, and connect students to campus resources, so that they can achieve whatever goals they have set for themselves.
While the hours are long and I see a variety of emotions day-to-day, this opportunity has gifted me a multitude of skills that I can not only apply to my career, but also to my life. Here are three lessons I have learned about the work and life blend as a Hall Director:
- The best learning opportunities come from the most difficult experiences.
Undergraduate life is complicated; it is a time period where a significant amount of identity development occurs, from identifying a major to one’s own values. For many, this can be a painstaking process that involves a lot of internal questioning and missteps along the way. While it can be difficult to coach students through these challenges, I have been privileged to see students rise to meet them. Many alumni have told me that the greatest test of their U-M experience was identifying who they were and what they stood for, and how this self-awareness translated to their career (and life) trajectory.
- Authenticity is important/Walk Your Talk.
In our lives, most of us serve as a role model for at least one person. Our ResStaff are role models for 30-500 individuals and do not have the luxury of walking through public spaces without being associated with their staff positions. This makes it imperative that they are modeling healthy behavior. For instance, if our RAs are spreading themselves too thin with their academic, social, and professional responsibilities, their residents will take note and do the same. This has also been important for me - I must be able to not only practice what I preach, but I should be genuine in developing rapport with students so that I can be taken seriously, and better influence their lives.
- We all need self-care.
Working in a residence hall means that you must manage multiple demands at once. Additionally, in our field, you are exposed to all aspects of student life. Having difficult conversations about students’ conduct and managing crisis situations involves a significant amount of emotional currency. One thing that I tell many of our student staff is, “To advocate for others means you must advocate for yourself.” I have to take time to care of myself and find an outlet for the less positive situations in order to be there for students. Having a large social support system and creating art has helped me manage my own emotions and achieve personal well-being.
But, Drew. . . I want to know more. If this is something on your mind and you are interested in serving as a Hall Director or working somewhere within Student Affairs, I am happy to be a resource for you.