Spill the TeaLearning About the Housing Process with Residential Education

Welcome to our first ever “Spill the Tea” feature. Each month, I will dish out some “tea” from different departments on campus. This month, I had the pleasure of sitting down with members of Residential Education (Res Ed) to talk about what has been brewing over in their department.

The Res Ed department is comprised of Director Mary McLaughlin, Assistant Director Karin Berthiaume, Area Coordinators Michael Brown and Jocelyn Howard and 22 Resident Assistants (RAs).

Mary handles most of the roommate matching, and she explained that she always tries to honor the demands of entering students who request their own roommates. There are, however, situations where she has to spend a lot of time and energy matching random students together. Although this process is time consuming, Mary explains that she knows it’s important to make as good a match as possible, to help students transition into life on campus, smoothly and easily.

Mary does not just pick two people out of a hat to be paired together as roommates - it is a bit more complicated than that. Those who come in without an idea of whom they want as a roommate are required to fill out an online housing application, answering different questions about themselves. She then uses the computer to make preliminary matches based on the questions and the responses. Then, unlike many other colleges, Mary does the majority of the matching herself. “It’s worth the effort. I often have alumni contact me years later to say things like ‘The roommate you placed me with was just the maid of honor at my wedding,’” Mary explained.

So, what’s the most popular residence hall? With first-year students, there is usually a competition between Best Hall and Lawson Hall. Upperclassmen may put up a fight to try to get into Rooke or the houses, but what really is the most requested residence hall? Jocelyn Howard explained that this was a tough question because each hall suits different types of people. She explained, “Some students prefer the community feeling and the single use bathrooms of Lawson and Danforth, whereas some like the classic charm of our older halls with wooden floors and dormers, and some of our female students appreciate the female only aspect of Abbey.”

Overall, our residents pick their living spaces based on a multitude of things, such as how stylish it is or how close it is to the dining hall. But one thing is for sure, the residents of each hall are able to build a community with their friends and neighbors. When it comes to building community in Residential Education, Res Ed relies on the residents within the hall, as well as on the RAs of the building as well.

Michael Brown says that there three things that make up a good RA. One being dependability, another being someone who can connect with residents, and lastly, someone who is a good listener and able to respond to different feelings. “A good RA is someone who can connect with others on campus, in big or small ways, and who can be a role model on campus for their peers,” Michael explained.

RAs connect with residents in a multitude of ways but most prominently, through hall programs. The various halls really appreciate different types of programs. Universally, game nights and movie showings are pretty popular, but most first-year students respond well to time management and campus resource programs, whereas upperclassmen enjoy relaxing events. Overall, a good RA program has some sort of snack, and that is a universal fact. To be an RA, or any member of residential education, you have to have some amount of patience in your everyday life.

Karin says, “It is important that I pay attention to ways I can be helpful, to provide a pathway or a light, to know when to step in, or step back. To not do for others what they need to do for themselves. To not try to fix things that are not mine to fix.” Karin says this is the most difficult part of her job. Fixing situations is one of Karin’s strengths. When students are having issues with their living situations, whether it be roommate related or just wanting to live in a different building, Karin is the go-to person.

For Karin, her favorite part about working in residential education is the opportunities for growth, both for the students but also for all of Colby-Sawyer. Karin explains that she could go on and on about the different confidence intervals and persistence that she has seen, because every student has a different story, but the idea of growth is something that she loves. Karin says, “The common themes of personal growth and achievement are prevalent in residential education. And to be a part of this, even in a small way, is a pretty great thing to experience as a part of a lifetime career.”

by Cheyann Ellis ’20