Changes to Residential Life Aim to Better Support Students

More staff and focus on community building and relationships are among the enhancements coming this fall.

March 28, 2019

Residence Hall Room

The university is making several changes to residential life to best support students' academic and personal growth, officials said. An on-campus room is pictured in this file photo during Move In in 2017. (William Atkins/GW Today)

In an effort to improve students’ residential life experience, the George Washington University this fall will add more than two dozen resident advisors as well as staff and faculty support roles while offering more student programming and strengthening peer-to-peer relationships in residence halls.

The ultimate goal is to create an environment that best supports students and their academic and personal growth in the GW community, said Laurie Koehler, senior vice provost for enrollment and the student experience.

“GW’s on-campus residential experience is key to the overall student experience, especially for undergraduate students,” Ms. Koehler added. “Beyond the physical improvements to our residence halls, we are ensuring that we have the right framework for staff and faculty support to continue to provide the community-building opportunities that define the GW experience.”

Adding 27 more resident advisors (RAs), one faculty guide and two community directors will increase support and allow for more individualized attention for students, Ms. Koehler said. In particular, adding RAs—25 percent more than GW currently has—will improve the RA-to-resident ratio, allowing RAs to develop closer relationships with the residents on their floors.

At the same time, RA expectations will evolve, said Assistant Dean of Residential Engagement Stewart Robinette, with enhanced focus on “connections, support and community”—being a role model, peer counselor, resource, programmer and community-builder for other students. RAs will also now conduct regular rounds on their floors, allowing for more interaction and peer-to-peer relationship opportunities with students, a model that encourages discussion and accountability rather than punishment, Mr. Robinette added.

Those who serve as RAs will not be charged for their room and board. Previously, RAs were given a modest stipend as well as their room. This change, which aligns more closely with the approach at other universities, is intended primarily to encourage additional RA peer-to-peer interaction with fellow students.

Some RAs will live in doubles with a roommate of their choice or a suite with suitemates of their choice this fall, rather than the traditional single, which will show positive roommate modeling for their peers and encourage students who want to become RAs but not lose connection with friends to apply for the position. Several other institutions have a similar approach, Mr. Robinette said.

Meanwhile, area coordinators—full-time staff who oversee residential communities, including RAs—will become more involved in student behavior concerns and collaborate closely with hall councils and the Residence Hall Association to enhance the experience of students within GW’s residential life.

Among programming enhancements, GW will continue to operate the popular District Connections program, which connects students to D.C. through unique events with peers, staff and faculty, and allow all undergraduate students to sign up for events.

Additionally, earlier this semester all current first-year residents received GWorld access to all first-year residence halls on the Foggy Bottom and Mount Vernon campuses, which aims to enhance residential communities by allowing students to have greater opportunities to connect with peers who live in other halls.

The changes to residential life support and programming come after an assessment of other university programs and a review of best practices that “provide a preeminent residential experience with students’ needs as our foremost concern,” Ms. Koehler said.

“We feel strongly that these changes will benefit students through more support, strong residential communities and active programming opportunities that best serve students’ academic and personal growth,” Dean of the Student Experience Cissy Petty said. “This is a tremendous step forward in enhancing the overall student experience at GW.”