Did you ever have that fear when you were a little kid that noone was going to come to your birthday party? Maybe you feared that even your own parents would forget. That’s how it feels when you put hours of work into a program and then nobody shows- not even your own roommate. And instead of just being a five year old nightmare, this time it’s for real. Suddenly the 30 cupcakes you baked and had to resist eating don’t taste so good.
Unfortunately, this scenerio may be all too familiar for upperclassmen RAs, and especially RAs of apartment-style housing. Programs serve the purpose of building and educating a community, but in order for them to work, you need to have residents who are interested in being a part of that community. Otherwise, they’ll just grab some food and run, maybe making some awkward small talk along the way.
The good news? You’re not the first ones to have this problem, and Brian McGowan, a Residence Life Coordinator from Rutgers University has created a six-step approach to programming specially designed for aparment RAs. If you’re not an apartment RA, don’t stop reading though– these steps have some great ideas for other RAs as well.
1. Collaborate: You’re not alone when it comes to programming, so why try to go at it alone? Collaborating with other RAs, hall council, organizations, or offices on campus both divies up the work of planning for a program and increases attendence by drawing people who are associated with the partner organization
2. Relate: Realize that the people who choose to live in apartments are different from those who live in halls. Find out why your residents decided to live in apartment-style housing and program to that. Is it because of the extra parking? Do a car maintence program. Because of the kitchens? Do a cooking program. Because they’re sophomores and it was the only place they *could* live? They’re probably missing the hall atmosphere, so maybe try a passive program that encourages them to meet the other people in their building (like ghosting, or apartment buddies).
3. Educate: Unlike many other RAs, educational programs may actually be some of your most successful programs rather than the bane of your existence. Those people living in Ludwell aren’t going to want to walk all the way to the Career Center, so see if you can bring someone from the Career Center to them. The seniors living in the Randolph Complex and Tribe Square are freaking out about how to survive in the real world, and so a representative from the Career Center could be helpful to them as well, or perhaps a budget workshop to help them learn how to manage that grad school dept (and FAFSAs and tax returns, and all that other stuff they need to learn how to do, if they haven’t already). Think to yourself “If I were a busy upperclassman, what would I think was useful enough to take time out of my schedule to go to?” and you’ll be golden.
4. Advertise: Things people don’t pay attention to: bulletin boards in stairwells. Location of most of the public and RA posting boards in our apartment housing: stairwells. What this means for you is that you’ll have to be more creative in your advertising as well as more aggressive. If you think you’ve advertised so much that even the maintence people know exactly where and when your program is, advertise more. Put it in e-mails, post it on Facebook (be really annoying and friend all your residents, then post it on their walls), put it in the apartment/hall council email, put flyers on the door hanger of every single door, heck, maybe even create a catchy YouTube video about it. Most importantly, start advertising as early as possible so that residents can put the program in their calendars before they get booked up.
5. Timing: You may have a stellar program idea, but it’s not going to be successful if it’s at a time when no one can come. Try to avoid programming around midterms or days of major campus events (this will help you as well, since who really wants to plan a program when they have 3 exams to study for?) and take into account what the whether might be like when picking a location (program outside as much as possible during late spring and early fall in order to attract passers-by). Of course, also pick a time of day that makes sense for what you’re doing. If you’re serving a meal, choose dinner time. Educational programs should go right after dinner so that they’re not an interruption to homework, and dessert programs go later so that they are that perfect homework break snack.
6. Evaluate: After you have your program, don’t just move onto the next thing. Think about what worked and what didn’t so that you can adjust as necessary for next time. And don’t forget to put it in the programming database as a suggestion for other RAs.