Dal’s new community assistants: RA support for non‑res students
Ryan McNutt - September 3, 2014
Dalhousie has 2,200 students who live in residence, and each of them has access to a residence assistant, or RA — someone who’s available to answer questions, offer support and build community through the year.
But what of the university’s other 17,000 or so students, those who don’t live in residence? These students may be first-years living off campus, or perhaps they moved out of residence at some point in their studies. Some may even be from the area originally and living at home. But unlike residence students, they don’t necessarily have that one-stop resource to call upon, or a space on campus to call their own.
Enter Dal’s new CAs.
No, not “chartered accountants”; these students aren’t there to help with math homework. They’re “community assistants”: sort of like an RA but for students living off-campus, available five days a week in the Student Union Building (SUB).
Housed in the new Dal Off-Campus space in the SUB’s fourth floor, five student staff members will be hosting office hours weekday afternoons and early evenings through the school year. If off-campus students have questions about resources on campus, or issues they run into living in the neighbourhood, the CAs are there to help. They’re all trained to help with academic referrals as well as offer peer counselling.
But their space is more a lounge than an office: with comfy couches, a microwave, board games and more, it’s a place to chill out, to have lunch, or to check out some of the many events the CAs will be planning.
“I’m really excited about creating a space like this,” says Landon Getz, a second-year Microbiology and Biochemistry student and one of the CAs. “Even if you don’t need anything from the CA on duty, it’s a place to kick back and relax on campus.”
A space for off-campus students
Dal-Off Campus is organized by the Student Life office, and Student Life Manager Melissa MacKay says the idea for the initiative has been around for some time.
“This year, the timing was right: between the Restorative Justice Pilot and our Dal After Dark events, there’s been a real appreciation building among our team, and our partners like the DSU, of the need for more support for off-campus students,” she explains.
The plan is for the CAs to organize events through the school year: evening activities like the Dal After Dark series, study skills workshops, social events for special occasions and more.
“It’s going to be a diverse and engaging set of events, I think, because we’re all quite different,” says Jack Bennet, a second-year Music and Sustainability student. “We all have different approaches.”
“It’s like a living room for off-campus students, but with support,” adds MacKay. “Sometimes, students just need someone they can talk to low-key, someone who’s able to connect more casually than, say, booking a formal appointment somewhere.”
Events, support and more
To say the student CAs are eager to get going would be an understatement: they’re all incredibly keen to start working with off-campus students and hosting events.
Zahraa Cherri, a fourth-year neuroscience student, saw the job posting for the CAs and was excited by the opportunity to form more of a community among students who live outside of residence.
“For students in residence, campus is like home to them, but often for off-campus students it’s more just ‘going to school,’” she says. “This is a way to help form that community, and building community is something I’m really passionate about.”
“I lived in residence, and I wanted to bring that kind of experience to students who were off-campus,” adds Rebekah Boscariol, a third-year kinesiology student.
Brianna Smith, also a kinesiology student, says the students she’s talked to so far are eager to learn more about the Dal Off-Campus team: “They’re excited about being able to have more students reaching out.”
The CA team will be hosting an official opening for its lounge space on the SUB’s fourth floor later this month. They’re also hoping students drop by and share their ideas for what the space, and the CA team in general, can offer off-campus students in the weeks and months ahead.
For more info, or to keep up-to-date with the Dal Off-Campus team, like them on Facebook at dal.ca/daloffcampus or follow them on Twitter @daluoffcampus
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