Few places provide for the kind of experiences, conversations, conflicts, and lasting memories as a residence hall. Most of us can recall some of our best moments in college around the events that took place on our floor, in the quad, or some other event that happened because we lived on campus. The possibility for these kinds of experiences only happen because we are living with people who are not just like us! While these differences in people allow for great things, they also require we work to try and understand others as we develop as individuals.
As our students arrive back on campus and we all watch the events in Ferguson, Missouri (as well as other places around our nation) some of our students may wish to discuss a variety of related topics as they spend time on their floor, in the hall lounges, and hopefully in the classroom. As a RA the first thing you must know is that you should not feel obligated to bring this subject up with students. While some students and staff may develop programs or activities around the events in Ferguson, and certainly a college or university campus is an ideal venue for examination of the issues that are on display over these past days, this is not something you should feel you must do.
Engaging in these kinds of discussion is critical to our communities; however, you should not run blindly into trying to lead such an organized activity if you don’t have the training or skill set to deal with the anger and feelings that can quickly escalate from these types of discussions. If you do discuss this subject, please keep some of the following guidelines in mind. Some suggestions for facilitating discussion regarding events around Ferguson, or any controversial topic, include the following:
· Make sure that residents feel physically and emotionally safe in all aspects of the discussion
· Establish ground rules
· There will be times we will agree to disagree, etc… This is not wrong
· Define respect
o No use of derogatory language or labels
o No singling out individuals to speak for an entire group of people
o Listen to what is being said rather than formulating a response to how they are wrong
o No monopolizing the conversation – consider establishing a maximum amount of times each individual can comment so that all can be heard
· Know your level of influence and responsibility in this community; you occupy a unique role with your residents and should work to foster respect
· Overly emphasize or assume drama for those residents who identify as being from St. Louis or Ferguson area
· Ask a resident directly for their experience or assume any one student speaks for the entire group
· Abuse your influence in the community by using this as an opportunity to inform your residents as to your opinion and beliefs on this subjectWe encourage any of you who might have questions or concerns about this subject to reach out to others. The best example you can set as a staff member is to acknowledge where you don’t have an answer and ask for help. If you find yourself unsure, that is a clear sign you should reach out for help.
Adapted from notes and discussion with Southeast faculty & Staff, Dr. Debbie Below, Dr. Kendra Skinner, and Tiffany Parker.