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ResLife prepares to train new staff as campus returns to normal

May 14, 2021

This past year, student ResLife staff faced new responsibilities and challenges as their role on campus changed, from providing support for first years in a new and sometimes isolating environment to enforcing COVID-19 safety guidelines. Next year, both administrative and upper-class student staff on ResLife are considering how to prepare the rising sophomores new to staff, who have yet to experience a normal semester on campus, for the return to a different Bowdoin in the fall.

Emily Hovan ’21 has been on ResLife for three years and has seen how the roles of proctor and residential advisor (RA) have changed this past year.

“We had to be a little bit more vigilant on our job than we normally would in a normal year because our job is to maintain campus safety, so we were really just trying to keep our eyes open about COVID[-19] safety as well as mental health safety, too, because this was a very challenging year for a lot of residents,” Hovan said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “Our job description shifted a lot in the fall, compared to what it was three years ago, because the needs of the campus changed with community agreements’ guidelines.”

Hovan was a head RA this year and a senior interviewer for the Office of Residential Life’s hiring process for next year’s student ResLife staff. A higher number of first years applied to ResLife this year than in past years, which many ResLife staff did not expect given the challenges the first years saw current staff face during their one semester on campus.

“The first years saw all that we had to do, and it was hard work at times and it was a lot of work because we were always there with them,” Hovan said. “So we were really pleasantly surprised to see that so many first years were interested in joining staff on a year where staff had to do more, or even just joining ResLife without knowing what a normal year at Bowdoin looks like.”

Current ResLife administrative and student staff are having conversations about how new staff will not be familiar with what being a proctor or RA entails in a normal social scene without COVID-19 guidelines.

Next year, Bryant Ung ’24 will be an RA in 84/86 Federal, which will return to use as student housing after a three-year break. While he is excited to be part of ResLife after having positive experiences with ResLife staff in the fall and at the Brunswick Hotel during the spring, he feels there will be some gaps in his social knowledge going into the fall.

“One of the most challenging parts would be knowing what Bowdoin is supposed to be like. There are certain questions or certain concerns that I couldn’t address because I, myself, don’t really know [Bowdoin] as well,” Ung said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “Obviously if there are challenges related to schoolwork and all those things I can direct them to staff and resources on campus. But there are certain types of questions like ‘What do people do at Ivies?’, where I don’t know what it is.”

ResLife is planning to accommodate this gap in experience by training students to address scenarios they may not have encountered or heard about as first years. These include contacting and working with security, alcohol-related incidents and roommate conflict.

Alice Hawkins ’22 was a head proctor this year and will be a head RA next year. She said that, while ResLife staff is focusing training on catching up rising sophomores about how Bowdoin normally functions, in many ways next semester will also be unlike any other.

“A big hurdle that there is is that we don’t want to get stuck in the rut of saying, ‘Oh, back when things were normal,’ because that’s not necessarily what Bowdoin is going to go back to, we don’t want to necessarily just prepare rising sophomores for that Bowdoin, because that’s probably not the Bowdoin that it’s going to be,” Hawkins said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.

“No rising sophomores will have had roommates before, so we’re expecting to see an increase in roommate conflicts, not just with first years but with sophomores, too. Campus is going to be so full, which I think will be a big change,” Hawkins said. “Lots of people are saying that people are going to party more and be more into the social scene, but you could also have an alternative argument that actually being back on a full campus with a full, in-person course load is going to be really overwhelming for people socially, and that social fatigue is going to be another thing we’ll have to face.”

Given all the new elements and challenges that ResLife will face next year, staff training is focusing on basic, broadly-applicable skills, such as informing staff about all the resources to which they can direct their residents, conflict resolution and active listening.

“We’re really hopeful for what’s to come in the next year, and we’re hoping that these steps that we’re taking now with revamping our training will help everyone feel prepared because we know that the new staff members are definitely equipped and able to do this,” Hovan said. “And we just want them to feel supported.”

Director of Residential Education and Associate Director of Student Life Whitney Hogan is confident in the abilities of next year’s sophomore staff, particularly due to their unusual first year experience.

“I think that what the sophomores don’t have in terms of ‘normal Bowdoin experience,’ they have in resilience and grit,” Hogan said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “They went through a pretty amazingly challenging and unique semester, and so I’m not worried at all about their ability to be full and competent staff members.”

Rebecca Norden-Bright contributed to this report.

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