Up and Away, RHA
by Taylor Synclair Goethe | published Oct. 16th, 2017
It’s official: the Residence Halls Association (RHA) is no more. Students were surprised as they walked in the tunnels between the Grace Watson and Gleason Halls to see the RHA office permanently closed. This change is a part of the Student Government’s (SG) overhaul of student organizations, known as the “SG Refresh.” The RHA brand will be retired and absorbed into the responsibilities for the Center for Residence Life (ResLife).
What was the RHA?
Before the restructure, the RHA was one of the Major Student Organizations (MSOs) on campus dedicated to providing events and services for students in the residence halls. The RHA was most known for approving murals, providing DVD rentals in their video library, providing subsidized hockey tickets and its endless stock of free candy. These services and more were a part of the RHA’s overall mission to make students living in the residence halls feel at home at RIT.
SG Refresh Governance
The decision to implement the “SG Refresh” was initiated last spring by former SG President Andrea Shaver and Vice President Amar Bhatt. SG operates under a “governing model” and student organizations were re-evaluated to see if they served an essential governing purpose.
“SG is what we call an advocacy organization, which means we’re here to represent student needs and come up with solutions to address those needs," current SG President Farid Barquet said. "Some organizations under us followed that model, some did not and were more what we call service organizations."
Barquet was not directly involved with the revamp of SG but was present during the meetings and talks as a cabinet member when the Refresh was presented. He believes that the new structure will create a more consistent image of SG as an advocacy organization for students. The goal is to increase dialogue and cooperation among organizations for underrepresented students.
“Last year everything was called a major student organization, MSO. We divided that category into RSOs and SSOs. So RSOs are now representative student organizations and SSOs are service student organizations,” Barquet said.
The RHA was declared an SSO and therefore was no longer under the direct gaze of SG. Instead, the Center for Residence Life was entrusted with the operations of RHA. However, ResLife has its own plans for restructuring as well.
“We realized we can [provide the same services] just as efficiently or even more efficiently with a student employment model," said Harold Fields, director of ResLife. "It’ll allow students to earn some income because RHA was a previously student-compensated position."
Absorption Into ResLife
The purpose of ResLife is to support student learning outside the classroom by offering a healthy environment for students in residences halls. ResLife employs 24 full-time professional staff members as well as 130 residence advisers — both graduate and undergraduate. Once the merger is complete, previous student roles in the RHA will become student employment positions in ResLife. Fields cited an employment model similar to RITchie’s where students serve as managers and assistants.
Retiring The Brand Redundancy
“The decision to retire the brand RHA was not a Student Government decision," Barquet said. "We only removed them from our governance model but kept them as an organization. When they moved under Residence Life it was the decision by ResLife that the services provided could be easily provided by other organizations and it wasn’t as necessary to have RHA as a whole organization."
It is stressed that the retirement of RHA, in theory, won’t take away from student representation in the residence halls. The SG Refresh will focus more on committees so student representation for residence halls will be transferred to the Housing and Dining committee. The newly elected president for RHA, Marc Billow, will chair the committee and be evenly compensated for his would-be tenure.
“We knew that moving forward, no matter what the RHA looked like, it shouldn’t be repetitive and redundant in regards to the Housing and Dining Committee," said Fields. "Looking at the programs and services we realized our center has services they already provide."
Redundancy is the main reason why the RHA is packing it in.
Redundancy is the main reason why the RHA is packing it in. However it doesn’t make the transition any easier for students who worked hard to keep the RHA alive. The elected president and vice president, Marc Billow and Ram Zallan, were on co-op over the summer when they received the news that their positions were being retired.
“Making the shift over the summer definitely wasn’t ideal when those students weren’t here for us to talk to them about the outcome," said Fields. "We didn’t want this to negatively impact students. I had a Facetime talk with Marc and Ram — they were on co-op this summer — and shared with them what our thoughts were."
The SG Refresh is a major change in the handling of student advocacy; particularly with its emphasis on committees being more fully integrated into the senatorial processes. Committee chairs are now a paid position and are required to attend all senate meetings. Then, the newly-defined RSOs have weekly meetings with the SG president and are under SG's direct supervision. Since it’s only the first few months of the SG Refresh’s implementation, only time will tell how successful these changes really are.
“There might be some tweaking we need to do going forward and how to better integrate those organizations into SG,” Barquet said.
For now, as new roles for students are being defined, it is ResLife’s challenge to uphold the greatness of RHA, cotton candy machine and all. Fields cited some new projects ResLife is heading, such as moving the video library into RITchie’s to have a centralized entertainment and gaming space. They are also revamping care packages by cutting out the middle man so RIT directly assembles all gifts to students. Fields made it a point to emphasize ResLife’s goal to be good stewards of the new resources available to them.
“I’m sure there was some level of hesitancy because they’re used to what they’re used to. Obviously whenever something changes there’s a sense of loss but the things that made RHA great we hope to continue,” Fields said.