RA’s winter training focuses on social justice

For all new and returning Resident Advisors, the start of the spring semester begins a few days early.Before students are admitted back, Resident Advisors (R.A.’s) are expected to attend a three-day Winter Workshop designed to sharpen their skills and ready them for the next five months in the Resident Halls.”Winter Workshop is a time to reconnect and reflect on how things went in the fall,” Senior Assistant Director of Residential Life, Kathy Cook, said. “We ask ourselves two questions,” she said. “What areas need more attentive training and how much deeper can we go?”Each year there are six main topic areas that R.A.’s are expected to address in the Resident Halls: academics, alcohol and drugs, wellness, global responsibility, social justice, safe sex, and sexuality.This January, the board of Residential Life decided to launch a sole concentration on social justice and diversity. Cook assures that no incident in the fall semester particularly sparked this focus; it is standard.”This is nothing new,” she said, “I have been the chair of R.A. training for three years, and we have been concentrating on social justice for a while.”Training related to social justice and diversity is so important because it helps R.A.’s to build communities that include every type of student, according to Cook. “We want everyone to feel valued, comfortable, and affiliated because research has shown that the more affiliated a student feels, the more he or she will succeed in college,” she said.According to the Department of Residential Life, the social justice curriculum includes six different programs designed to promote understanding and awareness. Some of the programs included are self-discovery, inclusive language and hate/bias related incidents, and taking action and becoming an ally/advocate.Each R.A.’s program will be each be designated to one of the six programs and expected to create educational bulletin boards that pinpoint specific parts of the program.The programs also aim to provide Community Develop?ment Activities (CDA), such as floor meetings, dinners and snowball fights, Cook said.”I think the message they want to send is important,” said senior R.A. Rachel Welicky. “There is not much diversity on campus here at UVM, but making people more aware is a good step.”Another senior R.A., Averill Earls, agrees. “It’s good to educate students about social justice especially those that come from sheltered upbringings. “I am excited to see what kind of variety each program will have,” she said.There are students who agree with the social justice and diversity focus, while others are unsettled. “I don’t know if it will help,” freshman Ian Altendorfer said. “We already have to take six credits of diversity classes. “We are going to flood ourselves with information until we stop caring,” he said.Still, according to Cook, the intent of the social justice and diversity focus is to further show UVM students how to become more accepting and tolerant.”Education in topics like diversity gives individuals no reason to question the experiences of other people, especially because most that come to UVM have similar backgrounds,” Cook said.