Featured Stories

Training Student Leaders

In the fall of 2019, 95 Resident Assistants (RAs) and more than 100 student leaders from a variety of different Residential Commons leadership positions gathered before the semester began for student leadership training. I was one of those RAs this past year who, for the first time, attended student leadership training and I was excited to develop my skills as a leader in the SMU community. O. It was a lovely introduction to what would be the next five days of RA-specific training before the rest of the student leaders arrived.

The next few days consisted of enlightening presentations on a variety of topics: policy enforcement, community building, and how to develop a strategic plan for your individual Commons. A great thing about these days for me was that no two presentations were alike in the way they were actually presented to us. I remember distinctly loving the facilities policy presentation as it consisted of Faculty-in-Residence and Residential Community Directors (RCDs) acting out scenarios in skits. We were all laughing as Dr. Liljana Elverskog and Dr. Alice Kendrick dressed up in funny outfits and were caught by an RCD for having an animal in their room! The week continued on with detailed information regarding how to form an inclusive community (taught to us by SMU’s Hidden Scripts) and what to do in times of serious mental health trouble for our residents.

By the end of RA training, I felt like I had been given the knowledge to not only do my job to the best of my ability, but also to be the best resource and friend for my residents as possible.

The last remaining days of student leadership training consisted of not just the RAs, but the entire leadership team of each Commons. Commons Council members, Peer Academic Leaders, Peer Honors Mentors, Student Wellness Champions, and Housing Unification Board Directors were all a part of the same training session. The biggest thing I learned that came out of these next few days was how to effectively work together as a group to achieve the goals you set for yourselves. We were taught many skills and ways to work as a team through learning how to provide great programming, how to make connections with residents, and how to create a welcoming home for others. Outside of the time we were in the auditorium sitting with one another, we were back in our own individual communities bonding and getting to know one another.

My leadership team and I went out to eat with one another every night and by the end of the week we were all great friends with one another. Since this experience, I’ve come to find out that most schools don’t have a component of student leadership training that isn’t just limited to RAs which surprised me–this was one of the most invaluable aspects about my experience with student leadership training. It made everyone closer. In fact, I know I speak for the rest of the student leaders when I say that most of the time our roles never feel like work! Instead, we are able to see each other’s passion for providing a wonderful community for every resident, and that continually inspires me in my role as an RA.

If someone was to ask me what my favorite time of the school year is it would have to be the week or two right before classes start. There is something great about student leadership training where you are brought together with your peers and you’re able to discover a vision for your Commons and determine how that vision can be realized. I have regularly gone back to my time during training when confronting a variety of situations in the RA role. I was lucky enough this year to also have served on the Student Leadership Training Committee within Residence Life and Student Housing. I never realized until then the collective effort it takes from the entire unit to pull it all off. Looking forward to the future, I am excited for next fall’s leadership training as I’m sure it will prove to be just as great for others as it was for me.

Cole Fontenont (’22) is a History, Philosophy, and Economics major from Franklin, TN. His Commons affiliation is Morrison-McGinnis.

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