The dull blue light of unread emails blinks on the iPhone sitting on the paper-infested desk. A whole spectrum of colored Post-it notes line the edge of the desktop computer, framing the screen. Scribbles of phrases and names litter the chalkboard on the wall beside the desk as the air conditioning unit hums its own song to fill the office. The pulsing light is ignored by Stephen for the moment as he focuses on a conversation with a resident assistant, or RA, on his staff about how one of the laundry machines in Davis Hall is not working. Again.
Stephen Palombo is a student hall director.
Along with being a senior middle childhood education major, Palombo supervises a staff of RAs and manages the overall residence hall facilities of the specific buildings they are assigned to. Hall directors assist RAs with any duties or conflicts along with helping residents, all while being on-call 24/7 in case an emergency happens. It is easy for the 15-hour-per-week position to be packed full, especially with inconsistent washing machines in Palombo’s case.
The student hall director position is unique and different from that of an RA in the fact that the hall director does not necessarily live in the facility they are overseeing. Palombo looks over a first-year residence hall, Davis Hall, while living in the Home Street Commons apartments. The on-campus apartments, Home Street Commons and Park Street Commons, do not have RAs so the student hall directors act as the RA-type figure for residents living in the apartments.
Student hall directors do monthly room inspections and take care of issues that arise for residents in the apartments.
The position of student hall director is a relatively new role for students, opening in Spring 2017. The staffing structure of residence life has changed multiple times over the years according to Director of Residence Life Tracy Benner. The current structure bases roles on levels of education. It consists of two master-level assistant directors who supervise seven hall directors. Five of the hall directors are students and two are bachelor-level staff members who take on the title of hall director and residence life coordinator. The two bachelor-level hall directors maintain responsibilities within the student affairs office, setting them apart from the student hall directors.
The structure within the past few years consisted of strictly administrative staff members, but when several staff members left in the spring of 2017, the structure needed to take a turn, and it turned towards students.
“We wanted to provide more leadership opportunities to students,” Benner said. “This was the perfect opportunity for students to broaden their experience, especially if they are interested in student affairs and higher education.”
The move from RA to student hall director was easy for someone like Palombo who was an RA for two years and is considering taking his education degree to the next level by going into higher education and getting involved with administration. He uses the opportunity to test his own administrative and time-management skills, preparing himself for a job after graduation.
Time management is crucial in performing any job while being a student, and being a student hall director is no exception. The student hall directors face similar challenges of balancing academics alongside residence life duties like the RAs, according to one of the assistant directors of residence life, Brent McNulty.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s definitely been a change of pace as far as switching from an RA to a hall director,” Palombo said. “I’ve gotten used to it now and am able to balance all of my school work and activities with it. It’s just one of those things you have to figure out along the way.”
With the new responsibilities and more required hours of being a student hall director come new benefits as well. RAs typically are provided with free housing and a stipend of $500 at the end of the school year, meaning they receive $55 a month. Student hall directors are provided free housing as well but get a raise in stipend to $3,600 for the school year, receiving $400 a month.
The benefits are not just monetary. Palombo says he gets a completely different perspective on how residence life is run and how to best manage his peers. Since he often is working among and overseeing them, Palombo said he is able to get a better hand on how to deal with situations involving his friends.
“Through my time as a student director so far, I feel like handling situations with people that may also be my friends has actually become one of my biggest strengths,” Palombo said. “It was always one of my biggest struggles when I started out as an RA, but now I know how to deal with that thin line.”
Residence life plans on keeping students in the hall director position in the future. According to Benner, the students themselves will dictate how long the structure involving students will last because of the level of interest students have in taking on the role of hall director. Benner says they hope to also make sure the needs of residents will be met by having students in that role. Since there is a limited amount of training that can be given to an undergraduate student, residence life will evaluate after each year to make sure the student hall director structure is effective. The strong leadership skills in the student hall directors like Palombo this year have instilled confidence in the new structure.
“We wouldn’t have restructured if we didn’t feel like the new structure had longevity to it,” Benner said.
Any RAs with a year or two of experience are eligible to apply for the student hall director position, which is similar to the RA hiring process in that there is an application and interview process. So like the washing machines in Davis Hall, it looks like students as hall directors are here to stay for now.