Solving problems in the dorm is part of the Resident Assistant job description. But this August, Hillsdale College RAs and other student leaders went a step further.
Every January and August, student leaders including RAs, sports team captains, and student security employees spend six days taking an interdisciplinary course called Theory and Applications in Responsibility and Leadership at the college’s Rockwell Lake Lodge in Luther, Michigan. The course included a group project to brainstorm ideas for campus improvement, like a student-athlete support system and a supper club.
Students also brainstormed how to make Hillsdale College “the best version of itself,” said Executive Director of Career Services Ken Koopmans.
At the workshop, Koopmans and other Hillsdale staff members encouraged students to focus “on the topics they’re passionate about” and taught them to dig into a “root cause analysis.”
Vice President of Hillsdale’s Dow Leadership Center Jack Oxenrider started Student Leadership Weekend in the fall of 2005. At the time, it was an off-campus leadership training for business executives. The course was refitted for Hillsdale student leaders after Dean of Women Diane Philipp attended the program and knew that Hillsdale’s student leaders would benefit from the knowledge it offers, according to Assistant Dean of Women Rebekah Dell.
When Oxenrider retired, he asked Dell, then a senior and Suites Residence RA, to serve as coordinator of the first Student Leadership Weekend in 2005.
Managing the social dynamics of 1,500 students is daunting for a few dozen peer leaders. Sophomore and swim team member Katherine Heeres narrowed her focus to strengthen the group she knew best: female athletes. Two swimmers, two tennis players, and a hurdler are now working to establish the Student-Athlete Support System, or SASS.
“We’re focusing on trying to connect student-athletes with all the services the college has, because we feel like there’s a lot of ignorance in the athletic community about Career Services, the health center, counseling, sports psychology, that sort of stuff,” Heeres said.
The students from this summer’s leadership class also tackled a more basic divide — the divide between men and women — with inter-dormitory dinner clubs. Simpson, Galloway, and other residences planned to host the women of Olds Residence for home-cooked dinners, to return the hospitality of Olds girls who often share their kitchen with underclassmen.
Dell sees these dormitory dinner clubs as an opportunity to develop healthy relationships between men and women in “a family-like environment.”
Senior Josh Bailey, head RA of Simpson Residence’s south side, said he would love to see the dinners happen but is skeptical about the logistics.
“So many of these ideas are so good, and I’d love to see them happen,” he said, but added that “you have a finite amount of time to work with.”
Bailey also serves as the CEO of A Few Good Men and a member of Omicron Delta Kappa. He said he has a full plate already.
Bailey said his takeaway from the weekend was improved relationships.
“I benefited most from connecting with other head RAs and other leaders across campus, because that dialogue has continued,” he said.
Bailey and his fellow head RAs made a Facebook group chat bridging different dorms, as well as the athletes and non-athletes.
The men of Simpson usually walk down to the home football games together, but for the first football game this year, Bailey coordinated with the head RAs from other dorms to assemble a group of residents from each dorm to walk down to the stadium together. He said the turnout was incredible.
“The student section was huge, and the walkdown was enormous,” he said, “The biggest I’d ever seen.”
Though this year’s supper club project hasn’t materialized, and the Student Athlete Support System is still in its infancy, the relationships forged at Student Leadership Weekend have endured, and student leaders are taking action.