September 8, 1998
Volume 51, No. 3
Res Life training/simulation program gives resident advisors a taste of the 'Real World'
Three years ago Emory's student-residential community went through a crisis that, painful and difficult as it was, forced Residence Life to search for--and find--its soul. Now the department seeks to instill that spirit in each and every one of its staff.
The crisis involved an alleged assault in a residence hall. All the usual suspects in stirring up a campuswide controversy-charges of racism, of sexual misconduct, of violent threats--were involved. The resulting discontent spurred other demonstrations of frustration and anger, and the entire situation could have been very divisive in the Res Life community.
But the office decided to turn the crisis into opportunity. Now, through its "Real World" training program, residence hall directors (RHDs), resident advisors (RAs) and sophomore advisors (SAs) are all trained not only in how to recognize a potentially charged situation, but in how to respond.
"We basically redesigned the entire education and orientation program for the staff," said Angela Horrison-Collier, Res Life assistant director. "We took a close look at ourselves and went through a reformation period."
And she enlisted help from other offices on campus like Multicultural Programs and Services and the Counseling Center. Andrew Fleming, program director for the Center for Ethics, worked with officials not only in Res Life but throughout the Campus Life division all the way up to Dean Frances Lucas-Tauchar. Fleming helped them identify a core set of values that they could incorporate into their training programs.
"We mostly worked with the Res Life staff and drew on their own experiences," Fleming said. "We asked, 'What makes for a healthy college residential community?' It was a very participatory kind of process."
The result was a list of five values:
Horrison-Collier's staff began designing a training program oriented toward these goals in philosophy and, more importantly, in action. The Real World program puts RAs and other advisors in role-playing situations where they must deal with problems and conflicts as they are apt to occur in real life. The situations range from dealing with intoxicated students at a mock party, to handling difficult parents on moving day, to moderating a severe roommate conflict.
"We created and implemented protocol statements for responding to various issues that might occur in a residence hall," Horrison-Collier said. "Now our staff feels confident that, when an incident occurs, they know what's expected of them."
"The Real World is the most effective part of Residence Life training," said Dan Gordon, a senior RA in Longstreet and Means halls. "It ties everything together that we learned and puts us on the spot to handle it in a pressure situation."
Gordon's own experience in the Real World program included dealing with a suicidal resident. To make the program more realistic, not only are the prospective advisors given a set of circumstances for their residents, they are also given their own personal problems to add in the equation, such as needing to study for a test themselves the next day. And Gordon said, with an RHD and a few other RAs in the room watching how the trainee performs, the simulations can carry a lot of pressure.
"The RAs really challenge you," he said. "A byproduct of all this, even though this is not the program's focus, is that it really brings the staff together because they're all pulling for you. They're very supportive."
Also key to the program is that it continues to evolve. Gordon said Res Life staff are very open to suggestions from RAs for how to continually improve the training. Horrison-Collier said this was the plan from the beginning.
"We knew this was something that had to be ongoing, that it had to evolve over a period of time," she said. "I like to think our program has had an effect on relationships in the halls and an overall decrease in the overall number of incidents in the residence halls."