Clifford agrees that “residence life today is very student-centered. In the past—as recently as when I was a freshman—the RA played more of a police role, stepping in when there was conflict,” she says. “Today, we empower students to handle their own issues with other students. This prepares them for problem solving in the real world.”
      During his first weeks in Shaw Hall, Jared Green ’01, a civil engineering major in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science, picked up some valuable conflict resolution skills. “I had always shared a room with my brother, so I knew the frustration of being distracted when I was working,” says Green. “At floor meetings, I learned there’s a constructive way to approach people who get rowdy when you need to study. Instead of banging on their door and yelling at them, you can quietly say, ‘I have a test tomorrow. Could you please tone it down?’”
      Rebecca S. Dayton, a clinical psychologist who directs SU’s Counseling Center, applauds the focus of such floor meetings. “So many issues emerge when you’re living with other people,” she says. “Our culture doesn’t do much to help young people negotiate conflict. Many young adults either think way too much about themselves and don’t care enough about others, or they let others take advantage of them. Most students don’t yet know how to balance those situations. That’s a developmental skill you need to work on in college.”
      Last spring in The New York Times, critics called the trend toward more structured residence halls “a kind of infantilization of the student body.” Dayton disagrees. “I admire our residence staff for helping students tackle issues like handling conflict,” she says. “Over the past 10 years, studies show a steady decrease in college students’ confidence in their own emotional health and a steady increase in their levels of psychological stress. By increasing our support, we give students the confidence to deal with more problems on their own.”
      Residence halls are also getting into the business of leadership development and community service. Case in point: the Office of Residence Life’s popular GOLD (Growth Opportunity and Leadership Development) Experience, a six-week leadership course based on the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. And last spring Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw honored two residence hall groups, the DellPlain Hall Community Service Club and the Booth Hall Council, with Chancellor’s Awards for Public Service. “Today’s students are more service-oriented,” reports David Brown, former assistant director of residence life. “Things are going well in our society, and students want to give something back.”
      To continue to meet its objectives, the Office of Residence Life has a professional staff of 26, plus 152 student RAs, who play a far greater role than hall monitors and Code of Student Conduct enforcers. “I feel responsible for creating a community out of the 32 girls on my floor,” says Lawrinson Hall RA Donna Cameron ’01, who pays special attention to first-year students. “You’re a guide for students, especially during their first year. The first few weeks can set the tone for an entire college career.”
      Shaw Hall RA Clifford enjoys serving on the front lines of residence life. “You can’t solve every problem,” she says, “but you can put your hand out there and let students know you’re available. You touch people’s lives, and they touch yours.”


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