MARTHA model aims to engage students with residence halls

Eric Zuniga, Campus Carrier staff writer

Heath Hucheson, Campus Carrier staff writer

The Office of Residence Life has introduced a new engagement model to encourage and improve residents’ involvement and connection with their residence hall communities. The Making Personal Connections, Academic Success, Responsibility, Transitions, Healthy Living, and Appreciation for Diversity (M.A.R.T.H.A) model is composed of six pillars that resident assistants (RAs) are encouraged to focus on in planning events and forming relationships with residents: making personal connections, encouraging academic success and responsibility, facilitating transitions and fostering healthy living and an appreciation for diversity. Lindsay Norman, associate dean of students, said that the new model was primarily introduced to allow RAs to form more authentic, personal relationships with their students. 

            “A couple of years ago, we decided the model that we had—we called it a programming model; we had four learning outcomes. It was dated, and we wanted to reimagine new expectations for our RAs,” Norman said. “It’s allowing RAs to be more authentic. Our RAs are a diverse group of students serving a diverse group of students, and it makes more sense to have them do something that’s authentic to them, more relevant to their residents.”

            Norman added that while in the past RAs would be assigned a topic to discuss with their residents, now they would be encouraged to talk about subjects over which they genuinely share interests. 

            “So we said, hey, every RA, we want you to have this specific conversation with every resident this year. Well, RAs were like, that’s weird. I’ve never spoken about this topic with my residents, and now when I come by, it feels very artificial,” Norman said. “If you’ve already talked about video games with this resident, like you are excited about what video games came out last week. If that’s what you connect with your residents about, bring that up.”

            Residents can also expect to see more hall events under the new model. Norman said that in addition to the late nights that have been traditionally planned by residence halls, signature events such as the bonfire organized by Mountain Campus in October have been introduced as part of the model’s focus on expanding event programming. 

            “Signature programs actually started last year before we introduced this model. The new model involves that,” Norman said. “With us adding a signature program in addition to the late night, we can contribute to having more fun things for people to do that will keep them on campus.”

            Additionally, RAs also plan their own, smaller scale events that they think their residents would enjoy. Such events are made public on the Berry Connect website. According to Karen DiRuggiero, area coordinator, RAs are now encouraged to emphasize healthy living and other tenants of the new model in the events they plan. 

            “We’ve always given them freedom but I think it reminds of the things research and science shows that college students are seeking out, are learning to grow in,” DiRuggiero said. “[The model] also says, healthy living is great at any age, but how can you continue to make that a priority that students don’t just forget about now that they’re maybe not home with mom and dad or whoever was their caregiver before they came to Berry?”

            Appreciation for diversity is one of the core pillars of the M.A.R.T.H.A model. Lauren Watson, area coordinator, said that RAs’ training now includes diversity awareness to further this aim. 

            “We talk about appreciation for diversity and use some of those resources from their office in our RA training and resident training. That’s been a big piece of it; it all starts with training,” Watson said. 

            Watson added that RAs are encouraged to use bulletin boards in their halls to educate students about diversity issues.

            “Bulletin boards that are on halls can often be educational,” Watson said. “We’ve had some RAs utilize those pieces as well to push for the M.A.R.T.H.A. model of appreciation for diversity.”

            RAs seem to be encouraged by the changes introduced by the new model. RA Benjamin Dixon said that the new model will help foster a positive culture and sense of community on Berry’s campus. 

            “I think, from an RA’s standpoint, the M.A.R.T.A model is kind of a baseline for the kind of community we want to create in our residence halls,” Dixon said. “If we succeed in [the pillars of the model], we know that we’ve cleared the land and laid the foundation for the culture that we want to build at Berry, because ultimately the culture stems from the places where we live. If you have good residence life culture, you’re going to have a good campus culture.”

            Sophomore RA Robbie Rusciano said that it is ultimately up to students to uphold the tenets of the model and create the kind of community they want to live in. 

            “When we’re speaking the M.A.R.T.H.A. model, [the students] are carrying it out, and just spreading the word of it and living it in Berry life, just around campus, in friend groups, in class,” Rusciano said. “That’s the biggest purpose I think the M.A.R.T.H.A model goes to. We can say all we want, but unless people are taking it and running with it, I think the biggest strength is students.”

            According to Norman, the Office of Residence Life is committed to supporting students in this goal. She said that the office as well as RAsare always available to help students with any issues they have. 

            “I think making sure students always know that there is somebody available to help them should they ever face a challenge, whether that’s an RA, whether that’s the professional staff—one of us is on call 24/7,” Norman said. “If we can’t know them before they face that difficulty, there’s going to be somebody to accept them unconditionally and help them in whatever way.”

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