The University’s goal is to steer at least 25 percent of its 7,000 residential students toward learning communities or theme floors. Students who opt for more traditional living quarters—a room, suite, or apartment in one of the University’s North Campus residence halls, houses, or South Campus complexes—may also notice a more hands-on approach to their living experience. Across the nation, universities are concluding that—in contrast to the laissez-faire approach that Rosner experienced in the 1970s—a more closely guided residential experience accelerates learning and personal growth.
      Much of SU’s emphasis is on first-year students. “For students away from home for the first time, the major issue is a need to connect with a peer group,” explains Barry L. Wells, vice president for student affairs and dean of student relations. “If they don’t find that peer group, they become anxious and sometimes dysfunctional. It’s hard for students to make these connections on their own. Committed faculty and residence life staff can make a world of difference.”
      When School of Social Work student Summer Sheridan ’01 moved into Lawrinson Hall as a freshman, her energetic RA, Kristin Refkofsky ’99, planned plenty of activities to calm and connect the new residents. “The first night was a welcome meeting with getting-to-know-you games,” Sheridan says. “You had to hook up with someone who wasn’t your roommate. Then we all painted our study lounge. These activities continued until the end of the semester, when Lawrinson RAs organized study groups for students taking the same courses.”
      As a result of this togetherness, Sheridan reports, “seven of us from that floor really clicked, and we’ve lived together ever since.”
      Often there’s more to floor activities than meets the student’s eye. “These are what we call ‘intentional’ experiences, structured to produce very specific learning outcomes,” explains Office of Residence Life Director Thomas E. Ellett, who designed a detailed Community Action Plan to unobtrusively teach such skills as diversity awareness and conflict resolution. “The Community Action Plan gives us a framework for conducting weekly floor meetings and accomplishing tasks like setting community standards,” says Shaw Hall RA Alicia Clifford ’02. “Students wouldn’t recognize it by name, but the Community Action Plan is an important tool for RAs.”
      In past decades, the Office of Residence Life worked to keep students safe, but had no grand plan for accelerating personal growth. “In the old world of residence life, we told students: ‘These are the rules.’ Not much thinking was required on their part,” explains Stephen St. Onge, assistant director of residence life. “We still have rules, but we also have conversations with students about larger issues like what it means to be a community.”




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