Evaluating residential leadership

While we at the Record applaud the administration for critically examining the weaknesses of the Baxter Fellow position, we are unconvinced that the recently announced changes to the system, which include creating a Neighborhood Leadership Team (NLT) of Neighborhood Directors and Housing Coordinators, effectively reform the system. The duties of a Housing Coordinator, which include serving as a liaison between custodians and floor residents, wellness intervention, diversity inclusion and establishing house standards, sound remarkably like the duties of a Baxter Fellow. While we understand that the NLT will have a clearer hierarchy and perhaps more coordination amongst Housing Coordinators, we believe the duties of a Housing Coordinator do not significantly differ from the duties of a Baxter Fellow.

One important change from the Baxter Fellow model, however, is that Housing Coordinators will be unpaid. Baxter Fellows did not need to be paid for the services they actually provided, and many Baxter Fellows only accepted their positions because it was a paid position. As an unpaid position, however, being a Housing Coordinator is less enticing for students. The Baxter Fellow position was unpopular even when it guaranteed students a regular paycheck; without monetary compensation, it seems likely that few students will be interested in becoming Housing Coordinators.

While it is possible to recruit a high volume of applications for Junior Advisors (JAs), Housing Coordinators lack the historic social prestige of JAs, which will limit the number of applications to become a Housing Coordinator. We propose that in order to recruit applicants that will have meaningful ties to the houses they serve, the house communities could elect their own Housing Coordinators. All houses could hold a meeting in the spring after room draw occurs to determine who will serve as Housing Coordinator in the following semester. This would ensure Housing Coordinators are the natural leaders of the student communities in their houses.

It is also important to note that while Housing Coordinators are not paid, if they are to serve the same community-building purpose as Baxter Fellows, they must receive the same level of professional training as Baxter Fellows. If Housing Coordinators are to focus on well-being, they must have adequate training to accomplish the tasks expected of them.

The second significant difference between Housing Coordinators and Baxter Fellows is that there will be fewer Housing Coordinators than there were Baxter Fellows and that Housing Coordinators will work more closely with Housing Coordinators from other houses. We think this is an appropriate move. From the conversations that led to these housing changes, it is clear that Baxter Fellows were rarely called on to provide emotional support or to actually build a community within a house. Many Baxter Fellows were unfortunately absentee after creating door signs at the beginning of the year. Because students find emotional support in other resources that the College has provided, however, the demand for similar support from Baxter Fellows is low. By the time students are sophomores, they have achieved a level of independence that should enable them to seek out resources in their friends, former JAs, administrators, Peer Health and the Health Center for emotional support. As many students enter their sophomore year not knowing their Baxter Fellow/Housing Coordinator, it makes sense that the aforementioned avenues are more popular in addressing well-being than conversation with a Baxter Fellow or Housing Coordinator.

While we understand that the administration feels more comfortable having a student who has been trained in diversity inclusion and facilitation living in a dorm, we think that a realistic role for a Housing Coordinator is a reduced role. Housing Coordinators should be concerned with housing issues: making sure housemates are respectful of one another’s space, keeping a good relationship with the custodians and enforcing community standards about noise are just a few examples of housing concerns that can and should be delegated to a Housing Coordinator. If we give Housing Coordinators tangible duties, we can ensure that Housing Coordinators perform their jobs, which will help upperclassmen respect and assist their Housing Coordinators.

Finally, we must recognize that we cannot recreate the entry system after freshman year. The success of the entry system depends on its ability to create a strong community of 20 to 30 first-years who had few community ties to begin the year. Once that community is formed, it is in the interest of the College to deepen the communities that have been built, not to complicate them and try to force the creation of new ones. The College does a good job of seizing the opportunity to create community when it can – when students are new to campus and are seeking precisely the social community that entries provide. This is not a viable model for sophomores or upperclassmen, as they already have their communities and niches on campus. This is a flaw of the Neighborhood system at large, and we believe that this conversation of upperclassmen housing should extend to a critical examination of the Neighborhood system.

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