The Colgate Scene
January 2006

Facilitators and mentors

Dave Reiner and Casie Sullivan, residential education coordinators, work together to supervise and support the student staff in the Broad Street community houses. [Photos by Timothy D. Sofranko]

As the transition from rules to responsibility has taken hold in residential life, Colgate has made a parallel shift in staffing

Staffing in the residence halls now also supports the residential education plan. On Broad Street, student staff members in each house are called community coordinators (CCs) and are trained as mentors and facilitators.

Richard LeBeau, a senior from Rome, N.Y., is one of two CCs for the new townhouses that opened this fall on Rt. 12B south of campus.

"The biggest part of my job, besides being the liaison between students and the administration on paperwork and maintenance, is helping facilitate programming," said LeBeau. Rather than adding new events to the campus calendar, LeBeau often helps to rethink existing ones, thereby helping to combat the syndrome some call overprogramming. For example, in addition to holding events related to their own theme of study abroad, his townhouse has been used to host his senior creative writing seminar. "We're bringing different aspects from up the hill into the residences, which is nice. We're constantly meeting new people that way."

In Greek-letter houses, the community coordinator position is held by a chapter member. Because the position is a new administrative link between the houses and the university and includes some responsibilities normally held by already-established officer positions, it has taken a bit of adjustment on all sides.

Mike Chase, the CC for Delta Upsilon, said that he was apprehensive going into the year. "I was worried about finding even ground between my friends — the kids I'm loyal to — and the responsibilities of my school job," said Chase, who is from Portland, Maine. But, he said, this year as CC he has been able to use his judgment as to whether he should bring an issue to the university's attention, or can take care of it within the house himself as he did last year when he was house manager.

When asked what is different about living in his fraternity house now that it is owned by Colgate, Chase, among other students, noted that the biggest adjustment was to the additional paperwork involved, such as work orders for repairs. Residents must now also call campus safety when someone is locked out of a room.

"For as bad as we thought it was going to be, there really isn't much difference," said Chase. "And our two custodians are great. They respect us, and we respect them."

Although buildings and grounds staff members need to be able to enter Greek-letter houses (as with any other facility on campus) without advance notice in response to work orders, they do call ahead when they need to enter sleeping floors of sorority houses or chapter rooms where private organizational materials are kept.

Chase said that he often turns to DU alumni for advice and assistance, including their alumni association president, Tom Dempsey '72, and Hamilton resident Lee Woltman '65, among others. "The alumni are willing to listen and they are so helpful if we have a real issue that needs to be worked out," Chase said.

"Mike and the other officers at DU have done a great job of embracing the transition," said Dempsey. "They have worked hard at being football players, students, brothers, and responsible 'businessmen' running a budget. As alumni we want them to have fun, be responsible for the mistakes they surely are going to make, and respect the property just as if it was still owned by the alumni corporation."

Kelly Opipari, director of fraternity and sorority affairs, also noted the opportunity for growth that the CC job offers, saying specifically of Chase: "Mike has become much more self-confident in his position. He's been doing a really good job."

Mansfield, director of residential life, outside of Drake Hall

Connecting the dots

Supervision and mentoring for the CCs (and other student residence hall staff) is provided by professional staff members in a new position known as residential education coordinators (RECs). Tim Mansfield, director of residential life, said that he sees the RECs, who live on campus, as pivotal to translating the principles of Colgate's vision into practice.

Casie Sullivan, a 2005 graduate of Hobart-William Smith, is one of two RECs for the Broad Street houses. She describes the job as "gauging student interests, helping them to articulate them and understand that there is support, and helping them connect the dots to make things happen." The RECs also work with students on holding each other accountable when communication breaks down; for example, if one group dominates a co-sponsored event without consulting the other.

"Rather than me saying to them, 'hey, you left them out,' we want the groups to work it out," said Sullivan. "That way, the students learn to advocate for themselves."

When the students of Creative Arts House moved in last fall, they discovered the meal plan had been changed and were unhappy with it. The CAH residents, who have a cook for five meals a week, had expected a pantry, which had been available last year.

They turned to their REC, Dave Reiner, a 2005 Hamilton College graduate, who explained that the plan had been changed because last year's students had been unhappy, but suggested that they had an opportunity. He helped them to form a committee and pointed them toward the administrators with whom they would need to work.

The group snapped into action, said Stephanie Wortel, a senior from North Syracuse. "Dave explained that we had signed a contract, so we got a copy of the original. Somebody went to meet with President Chopp in her office hours. I met with several deans to find out what the appropriate avenues to take were. We drafted up something that said, 'this is why we feel shortchanged'." The committee also asked for the Student Government Association's help in meeting with Sodexho (dining services), and in the end, their legwork and proposal paid off. Sodexho and Colgate worked out a new meal plan for the house and in the future pledged to talk to incoming residents before altering meal plans.

"That was a great example of students working with their REC, but then going out and obtaining operational change for themselves," Jennifer Adams, assistant dean, noted.

Going through the process taught them how to effectively work out an issue as a group, said Wortel, an aspiring actress. She loves the exchanges that happen when living with a community of musicians, visual artists, and performing artists. "People literally will come to the dinner table with an art catalogue and will say, 'will you believe this piece?' And we'll talk about it while we're eating our scalloped potatoes."

As supervisors, the RECs also work with community members to ensure they know how to successfully organize a party, by supervising the registration process and providing training to ensure the safe and legal distribution of alcohol.

"We tell students, we're not trying to police Broad Street," said Reiner. "As recent college grads, we know what college is like. We can come down and help you make sure things go safely and smoothly."

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