Community Is…

Rockin' in O'Donnell Hall

By Ryan Manning — I finished graduate school at Marquette in May. Since then, I have devoted a large chunk of my daily life to finding a new job — a process which has been, as it has for many Americans in today’s economy, especially difficult. However, after a long 107 days, I am so excited (and pretty relieved) to announce that on October 3rd, I’ll be beginning my first day of work with the Department of Residence Life at the University of Maryland, College Park.

This job has always been a standout as the perfect opportunity for me. For me, it marks my return to a college football campus, with an added bonus. College Park is a mere 10 miles away from Washington DC, home of a thriving food truck scene and one of my favorite MLS soccer teams, not to mention all of the excitement of the nation’s capital. Also, only a few minutes up the road is Baltimore, where I can actually buy reasonably-priced tickets to see the Red Sox play the Orioles.

Most importantly, though, the job is simply a good fit.

I am honestly looking forward to going to work every day as a Resident Director. One of the biggest reasons for this is the philosophy that will be guiding me and the Residence Assistants in our community development efforts.To sum it up, a community development model guides how staff members in a residence hall facilitate creating a healthy and educational environment for residents, working off the concept that a community is a social environment where members are interdependent and invested in shaping and upholding common expectations.

Some universities rely on a programming model, where RAs plan activities that focus on target educational areas (such as diversity, academic excellence, etc.). Other departments rely on a more curricular approach to residential education. What excites me so much about working in Maryland, and what I loved so much about working at Marquette, is that the department maintains that a truly rich educational experience in a residence hall comes from a student’s connections with other members of his/her residence hall community, not just from a set series of programs put on by the hall staff. Instead of program planning, RAs instead are encouraged to focus on getting to know residents as individuals and in small groups, so that they may be better able to facilitate a cohesive community “Identity.”

What is important to understand about community development is its flexibility, and how much it takes into account that each residence hall, every residence hall floor, and every individual resident is vastly different from one another. No one community, or staff member, is better than the other just based on how quickly that community develops. Developing a community is a process, and every community will encounter their own highs and lows in coming into their own as a close-knit group. This could be a roommate conflict or other issue that pits community members against one another, maybe a common concern for one resident’s well-being, or possibly some negative policy violations. What matters is not whether or not these issues occur in a community (in some cases, these may even be indicators of a community that is stronger than a more “peaceful” one), but what sort of learning comes from them. In this sense, I am a strong believer that learning comes so much more from your relationships with your roommates, or others in your community, than someone I as a Resident Director may have to teach you.

While I cannot say that a community development model is any better or more successful than a residential curriculum, or a traditional programming model, it’s a framework that I enjoy working in. As a student affairs educator, I believe it is important to notice that I am not the sole source of education. Learning happens all around us: from the playground, family room, to the classroom, to the workplace. What’s most important is how we teach students to see that for themselves.

My next blog post is coming up on October 7th, where I’ll be sharing with you just how well my first week of work went!

1 Response to “Community Is…”

  1. 1 billhenk September 23, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    Congratulations on your new job, Ryan! Whether you know it or not, I had confidence that it was only a matter of time until a thoughtful, talented, hard working student affairs professional like you would land a position. And I can tell you from firsthand experience that you’re going to an excellent institution to boot.

    I’m glad that there are so many desirable aspects to your new life including a working environment that continues to celebrate community building.



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