Thursday, May 25 marked the last meeting of the school year for the Pentland Hills Residence Hall Association (RHA) committee. Without having an agenda as their meetings usually would, Pentland Hills building president and second-year environmental sciences major Martin Liu took up the opportunity to do something a little different. After performing their usual announcements regarding achievements made that week and upcoming events such as their end-of-the-year banquet, he passed around flashcards to the 15-20 members seated and explained, “I want you to write something nice to another member at this table and at the end, we will read them all out loud.” For 40 minutes, the Pentland Bearcave — their usual meeting place — was completely silent as all of the members intently wrote down their letters on the flashcards.
One of the most accessible organizations to first-year dormers is RHA, a largely resident-run body that works closely with Resident Life and Housing Services to guarantee that the needs and desires of residents are met. Consisting mostly of first years who live in the residence halls, RHA in the last few years has accomplished major advancements to the residential hall experience, including free Wi-Fi everywhere in all residential communities, including Glen Mor, and putting up signage for Pentland Hills (which every other hall had up until that point). Because it acts as a platform for students to be active in their community, it also resonates largely with the members themselves, for as vice president of administration and finance and first-year plant biology major Lucian Knock describes it, “It’s an opportunity for growth that takes the form of gaining skills relevant to leadership and professional knowledge on how organizations run.”
Within each residence hall, including Glen Mor, is a council run by senators, chairs, building presidents and vice presidents — most of which are positions that are readily available to students at the beginning of the year when their elections are conducted. Each council varies slightly because they are run autonomously and reflect the personalities of each individual leadership. For instance, Pentland Hills is divided into buildings instead of halls, therefore rendering two senators per building and a difficulty in unifying residents for programs.
The way that RHA is structured opens up many positions to students, for not only are there senators who act as the lifeblood of RHA and directly work and live closely with residents, but there are also chair positions elected by building presidents, such as those for publicity, programming and facilities, as well as executive cabinet positions. General members are also allowed to attend meetings, participate in open forum, help out with programs and, on the rare occasion, be endowed voting rights proxied by a senator.
One of the major concerns of RHA, however, is the retention. According to Kushagra Singh, vice president of technology and second-year computer engineering major and business administration minor, “At the beginning of the year, many residents are very excited to get involved but then they get discouraged if they don’t get a position.” Extensive efforts in locating the solutions behind retention have been performed by senators through data collection and surveys because, as Knock believes, “The more senators that are involved, the better the programs.”
To fill the void, RHA occasionally joins forces with program coordinators (PC’s), who are more independent but greatly enhance turnout in program collaborations. For instance, the top-scoring program for Lothian’s RHA council this academic school year was in alliance with PC’s, which was a haunted halls-themed event two days before Halloween. 365 people attended, which was over a third of the residents of Lothian, when the regular attendee count for RHA-held events alone ranges from 150-200 residents, which is still considered a sizable amount.
A long-term solution that was proposed by the housing administration and will be implemented next year is the merging of RHA and Campus Apartment Resident Association (CARA), an organization that is exclusive to UCR and suffers even lower retention rates because of the spacing out of the campus apartments. The idea was proposed to connect students who were familiar with RHA in their first years with the new neighborhood association when they move to an off-campus apartment. Some members, however, have expressed the concern that the removal of exclusivity could lead to titleholders putting less respect into their positions.
I would say that, because of RHA, I’ve had what I would call the ideal college experience.
Other advancements that RHA is actively working toward is the maintenance of study rooms in the residential buildings, which have been converted into classrooms in place of what students previously used as quiet study places. Now, residents no longer have access to these rooms even during non-school hours, but there are a few that still remain, such as the Bearcave and Foxhole in Pentland Hills and two large study rooms in A-I. Even so, these rooms are not very ideal for studying, chair of publicity of Pentland Hills and first-year biology major Natalie Taby explained, “because they’re large and tend to be noisy and they’re often booked for events. A lot of them are also unequipped with writing surfaces so many students write on the windows with dry-erase markers instead.” Recognizing how inconvenient the reallocation of study rooms is to students’ routines, RHA plans to buy whiteboards for these rooms next year to increase the amount of writing surfaces.
Within RHA, what seems to stand out the most to each member is the transitional stepping stone RHA has served as during their first year in college. Chair of publicity for Lothian and first-year environmental science major Timothy Hughes revealed, “It’s a really, really great way for people to gain leadership experience and allow individuals to grow. RHA serves as a springboard for many to become RA’s or PC’s later on.” Many elected RHA council members often don’t get re-elected because of the intent to lend the opportunity to a new resident the following year.
Chair of facilities for A-I and first-year political science international affairs major Michael Seley, who established a recycling competition within A-I to provide a fun motive to engage residents in beautifying the halls, shared, “I would say that, because of RHA, I’ve had what I would call the ideal college experience. RHA is a community of people who care about where they live and care to love it. My goal for the coming years is to help incoming first-years get the experience I got.”
When it was finally time to place the flashcards in the bowl and read out loud one another’s letters, not only were compliments shared but also words of appreciation regarding the impact that the other person had on their first year of college: “You always managed to brighten my day,” “Even though you were hard on yourself, I’ll never forget you for the great things you did for RHA,” “You never failed to make me feel welcome in my own home.”
Piles of flash cards stacked up, as many members had gone through the lengths of writing a card for each person at the table. What could have been a brief activity evolved into the creation of more and more letters as each one was read aloud, serving as an opportunity for members to close their year of RHA by expressing their gratitude toward those who had made their first year memorable.
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