Photo by Oliver Chapin-Eiserloh
This semester, three new experiential-learning halls have been instated: Sustainability Hall, Afro-Affinity Hall and Gender-Inclusive Hall. As the semester ramps up, residents and the Office of Residential Life are trying to work together to create inclusive, student-based and student-led halls.
Sustainability Hall aims to increase education and efforts around environmental sustainability. Gender-Inclusive Hall and Afro-Affinity Hall were created for students of specific identities to have a space and a community on campus. Like all experiential-learning halls, the three halls would require some educational programming.
Rachel Toppel, assistant director for residential education in Residential Life, was in charge of implementing these new halls, starting with the Sustainability Hall. There are 34 students on the hall.
“A group of seniors, two years ago, as their final project, created really the blueprint for this entire hall down to the leadership structure, job descriptions, everything. It’s led to a lot of success in the hall already because it was very well thought through and thought out. Plans were made before the hall became a hall and so there was just a little more structure going into it,” Toppel said.
Next, the idea for Afro-Affinity Hall was brought by a group of students in conjunction with Alli Roman, director of the Diversity and Inclusion Office (DIO). Currently, there are about twelve students in the hall.
“Those meetings were a little more nebulous just trying to narrow the focus of the hall and what the students wanted it to be. So, from those conversations, it was decided that the programmatic leader on the hall would actually be out of the DIO office, so Alli [Roman] has hired a peer educator who lives on the hall to really lead that programming. So, my involvement and res life’s involvement is a little more hands-off,” Toppel said.
Members of PRIDE brought the idea for the Gender-Incusive Hall to ResLife staff last year. Now, ResLife hopes to allow student leaders in the hall to shape the future of the hall. There are about 20 students on the hall.
“With that hall specifically, we didn’t want to put the cart before the horse and have us, as ResLife, come in and apply a false structure to a hall just based on what I thought would work well. So, instead, we’re letting it develop organically with of course the support of res life,” Toppel said.
The location of the Gender-Inclusive Hall can’t be disclosed.
“That’s just for privacy for the hall. It is [different from other halls] due to the nature of the hall,” Toppel said.
Though students were able to sign up for the Afro-Affinity Hall and Gender-Inclusive Hall last semester, there was no leadership team in place to handle hall programming. Many students wondered whether residential assistants would be assigned to the hall to lead programming. But, due to the size of the halls and the established process for hiring RAs, non-RA students have been placed in charge of programming.
“The issue that we were running into was that we selected RAs first and then figured out what the numbers actually were on the hall. We’re not opposed to the idea, but we hired the RAs first, as RAs, and not as particular individuals. Based on the identity of an RA, I wouldn’t place them in a role that they wouldn’t want,” Toppel said.
Chikanma Ibeh, sophomore and Afro-Affinity Hall peer educator, is in charge of hosting events and creating a sense of community in the hall. Ibeh was made the hall peer educator after applying through the DIO earlier this semester.
“I think Afro-Affinity Hall is a key part of supporting that initiative because it allows [not only] people of African descent but [also] people who understand the African diaspora and the culture around it to find community. Because I think it’s easy, as a person of color at Trinity to feel isolated and feel like ‘Where are all the other people of color?’,” Ibeh said.
Ibeh was disappointed with the hall when she first moved in due to the lack of African-style decorations on the hall and lack of community.
“I was really disappointed because I felt like they were really going to put a lot of pressure and a lot of work on the students themselves to create their own environment. I didn’t know I was going to be the afro-affinity peer educator when I came in, so I thought the RA was going to be aware that he was going to be in Afro-Affinity Hall and would decorate it accordingly. I would like res life to be more hands-on in the creation process, as in helping us host our events and organize our events,” Ibeh said.
Morgan Rosen, sophomore and liaison for Gender-Inclusive Hall, has been communicating with ResLife about how to best support the hall. The biggest problem so far has been dealing with residential life systems that don’t accommodate for the needs of transgender and nonbinary individuals. Specifically, the housing portal does not allow for individuals to include their preferred name or gender identity.
“Honestly ResLife has been a great help to us throughout this whole process. The issue has been dealing with the ResLife systems more than anything. We are fundamentally challenging a core trait of how housing at Trinity works and even though we have a lot of great people on our side, there are processes and utilities (like the housing portal) that haven’t been updated to accommodate that yet,” Rosen said.
Although there was an issue with preferred names not being placed on door name tags, Rosen is optimistic about fixing this in the future.
“There were issues with the door name tags, but again, we’re doing things that we’d normally do for a normal Trinity hall and didn’t realize that that really wouldn’t work out so well for us. We’ve proposed a couple of different ways of doing that for next year, and we’re just going to have some more discussions about those,” Rosen said.
Julia Kiley, junior and president of sustainability hall, works with the student-led leadership team on the hall to organize hall events and volunteer opportunities. Kiley tries to make living in the hall a more environmentally sustainable experience.
“Sustainability Hall is important because everyone should learn how to live in a manner that does not take away from our future’s ability to live. Now is a critical time to take action against climate change, and there is no better place to learn how to do this than sustainability hall,” Kiley wrote in an email interview.
Kiley and the rest of the leadership team lead programming. Because the ratio of residential assistant to first-years is about 20, there are two RAs on the hall.
“First years on the hall have their own [residential assistant] who is just for them. The upperclassmen on the hall share an [residential assistant] with hope hall and one other group of upperclassmen too,” Kiley wrote in an email interview.
Toppel hopes to work with students to better experiences as the halls continue to develop.
“I hope that, especially in Afro-Affinity and the Gender-Inclusive Hall, that this year we figure out what students living in those communities really want from the community so that we can continue to grow and develop that in the future,” Toppel said.
| Class of 2021 | Majors: Sociology and Economics |