Today's offering is, again, a sample from the Building Campus Community book. This passage is from Chapter 4, Proactive Community Circles:
Creative Ways to Engage Residents in Proactive Community Circles
While supervisors will most likely provide RAs with topic ideas and guidelines about how frequently to hold community circles with residents, experience shows that flexibility is really important, too. RAs who adapt circles to suit their personalities, their residents’ needs and attributes, the unique circumstances of each living situation and the common space available for meetings tend to have the best success.
An RA who had been running circles for several years during youth summer programs and with campus residents before learning the term “restorative practices” helped develop a training workshop about creative ways to engage residents. When she first became an RA she oversaw an environmental cooperative on campus, a community of 24 students wholly committed to learning everything they could about ecology, the environment and how people can effect positive change. Naturally, the circles she ran revolved around these concepts. She provided articles for the group to read about a variety of relevant topics, and these became the jumping-off point for circle discussions in which people met and exchanged opinions.
For a community meeting in a hall where residents lived in eight-person suites, this RA gave each group a blank sheet of paper and some M&Ms (the old candy incentive), and asked them to use those materials to lay out a representation of the ideal way to use their suites. This method stimulated a lot of conversation among the residents, particularly in terms of how they wanted to set up and use their common spaces.
When it came time to lead a discussion about sex and intimate relationships, which seemed to make residents nervous and anxious, this RA organized games of Texas Hold ’em using condoms as gambling chips. This relaxed the students and they ended up continuing to play throughout the entire discussion, which 33 of her 40 residents attended. The RA noted, “Since I started doing more creative and hands-on projects, I’ve had a lot better attendance."
But RAs could also take a more bare-bones approach to community circles by cultivating lists of simple but relevant discussion starter questions such as:
- How do you think things are going in the hall so far this year?
- What’s working?
- What’s not working?
- What do you think are the most important issues for us to work out as a community?
- What’s one thing each person could do to help people be more connected on the floor?
The possibilities are endless, and simple questions often lead to great discussions.