The Student Lead­ership course held in August trains student leaders in building campus com­munity. Student Activ­ities Board | Instagram

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.