For some students, living in the residence halls is about more than just having a roof over their heads. It’s about working with others to form a cohesive and fun community.
More than 5,600 students live in the residence halls, and each year residents elect peers to represent them in individual hall associations and Associated Residence Halls (ARH), the overarching student government body for the residence halls. The governing groups meet weekly or biweekly.
In addition to serving their constituents and passing residents’ concerns on to University administrators, the elected officials pick up valuable skills.
“Students learn a lot about group dynamics, how to run meetings, and setting policy,” says Sean Hesler, manager of residence life for student engagement at University Housing and advisor to ARH. “They also learn about event planning—from renting rooms to ordering food.”
Ashley Hildebrand, a pre-pharmacy sophomore from Dundee, Iowa, who serves as vice president of marketing for Associated Daum, says she has learned how to entrust others with responsibility.
“I tend to do things myself to make sure they’re done right, but it helps to delegate responsibilities,” she says.
Jesse Chiu, a sophomore in biology from Taiwan, wasn’t a self-starter when he arrived on campus, but that changed.
“When I first came to Iowa, I was really passive. I wouldn’t have become a floor rep if my resident assistant hadn’t asked me,” says Chiu, who this year actively petitioned to become an ARH senator.
As ARH senator for OSCAR (Organized Stanley Currier Associated Residents), Chiu says he sees parallels between campus and national governments.
“I understand politics a lot better,” he says.
Ashley Updegraff, a junior in sociology and religious studies from St. Louis, Mo., says she got involved in residence hall government on a whim her first year. She says that her work at ARH—as outreach director this year and vice president of campus affairs last year—has given her the chance to interact with students across campus and with UI staff.
“You learn how to work with all types of people and how to make decisions based on what would be best for the majority of UI residence hall students—not just your own narrow interests,” she says.
University Housing, in turn, takes to heart student opinion. Last year, for example, it started using only cage-free eggs across campus after ARH voted for the change.
“Ultimately, without students we wouldn’t have residence halls,” says Von Stange, director of University Housing. Stange meets with ARH a couple of times a year to discuss a handful of topics, but Updegraff says ARH is fairly autonomous.
“I love it. There is a lot of independence involved, and it is truly student-led and student-based,” she says. “Ultimately, residence hall students are behind the wheel, and that’s how it should be.”
Although building community through residence hall government takes effort, representatives say they enjoy the reward.
“I went into it thinking of what I could do for Daum Hall,” says Hildebrand. “But after being involved, I realize I’m going to come away with more than what I’ve given.”
by Po Li Loo