Departments merge to promote residential education

The Department of Residence Life and the Department of Student Life merged for the fall 2016 semester into the Department of Student Life. The Department of Student Life now oversees Campus Living—formerly Residence Life—the MacVittie College Union and specific co-curricular educational and assessment initiatives. Director of Student Life Charles Matthews is now also the head of Campus Living, taking over for Celia Easton. In this new position, Matthews hopes continue to develop a residential education program.

“SUNY is really looking to push applied learning, and we want to make sure what we’re doing outside of the classroom and around campus really provides students with an experience that incorporates what they’re learning in the classroom and gives them some practical implication,” Matthews said.

By bringing these high impact practices into the residence halls, Matthews said he aims to fulfill the school’s mission of creating a learning-centered environment. Matthews plans to achieve this goal by connecting the activities that Student Life and the MacVittie College Union have with the residence halls, all while keeping in mind the goal of making programs—such as internships—more accessible.

“Part of what is happening with residence education is making the programs more cohesive with what’s going on around campus,” assistant residence director in Erie Hall junior Shauna Ricketts said. “I think the purpose of this is to build a sense of community and to try and help students push themselves forward.”

Matthews also plans to improve the aesthetics and appeal of residence halls and to instill a sense of pride in students around campus. In order to accomplish this, a workout center may be installed on South Side in Suffolk Hall and furniture improvements are to be made in the residence hall lounges.

These new changes have brought some friction, however, particularly with the implementation of 24-hour duty on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for residence assistants. This policy requires an RA to be on call for a full day during the weekend with limited time allotted to leave their hall.

“The issue we had in mind was if something happens on a Saturday at 10 p.m. in a residence hall, who does a student go to for help if the Area Coordinator isn’t in their office?” Matthews said. “If an RA is on-duty, then we can help get somebody assistance in a quicker fashion.”

RAs are allowed to leave for a limited amount of time while on 24-hour duty due to the nature of the Wi-Fi-enabled on-duty phones. Matthews said the Department of Student Life is working to solve this problem by purchasing cellphones as replacements so an on duty RA can leave the residence hall.

Townhouse community organizer and former RA senior Ash Dean said that he does not think that the 24-hour on-duty cycle is an aftereffect of the Department of Student Life taking over Campus Living, but rather a step in the direction Campus Living was headed.

“I lived in Onondaga Hall for three years—being an RA for two of them—and I remember freshman year being locked out or someone needing help and not having anyone to go to, so I completely understand why they added the 24-hour duty,” Dean said.

According to Ricketts, some RAs are upset because they cannot leave the building while on 24-hour duty. These RAs are also worried about the compensation for working the extended hours.

Ricketts, however, was pleased with how Matthews and the Department of Student Life have been handling the controversy.

“They really are working with us to reach a solution,” she said. “We’ve had meetings where people can voice their concerns, and we’re hopeful as a group that everything will get better."