Attending the Central Atlantic Affiliate of College and University Residence Halls (CAACURH) Regional Conference this weekend was one of the fastest weekends of my life but I was lucky to be able to sit down with Coty Behanna, the Associate Director for the National Residence Hall Honorary (AD – NRHH). CAACURH is an organization that aims to improve the experience of students living in College or University Residence Halls in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Qatar, Washington D.C., and West Virginia by bringing together the students involved in the Residence Hall Association (RHA) and NRHH.
Coty’s role in CAACURH is to be a resource to all of the individual NRHH Presidents and Chapters however Coty is also an Undergraduate Student. He attends Mansfield University in Pennsylvania, which is located near the New York State Border with a student body the size of 3,400 students total and 1,200 on campus residents, it is reasonable to assume that some of the issues that challenge students at Mansfield are very different from the issues we face at Rutgers.
Coty explained that despite its small size, there are many opportunities to get involved with over 100 different student organizations. Coty has been involved in the Student Government Association and Residence Hall Association in the past and is currently on the Executive Board of Mansfield’s Chapter of NRHH, a Resident Assistant for Upperclassmen students and a member of the CAACURH Regional Board of Directors.
Coty identified some of the issues that Mansfield students in general face on campus. One is the lack of a First Year Experience. Currently, first year students are housed on first year only floors but are within different buildings, mixed with upperclassmen. The major issue with this stands that there is no focus on how to improve the experience of first year students. During his first year as a Residence Assistant, Coty lived on an all first-year floor but was never given specific training and was not prepared for the troubles that first year students often face. This was bit striking to me because I always felt a smaller school would be able to better address the needs of first year students.
The second issue that Coty identified was the lack of accommodations within the residence halls for Non-Gendered or Transgender students. The student population is open and accommodating to all students however the Housing and Residence Life Department has not yet enacted and students are left to just try to find someone they feel comfortable living with. While gender-neutral housing is not spread fully across the country, Coty and myself hope it is something that will continue to expand.
As mentioned before, Coty is also involved in the organization CAACURH, which faces its own set of challenges. Since the organization is made up of students from colleges and universities across multiple states, much of the interaction takes place over email, Facebook, or Skype. The NRHH Representatives are only interacting with Coty three times per year, in November, February, and in June. In the meetings during conference, the NRHH Representatives are immensely productive while in person but when you are being held accountable by someone you do not see on a consistent basis, it is easy to ignore an email or a question that someone may ask.
I felt it fitting that when I asked Coty what he felt was a possible way to overcome this challenge in our organization that his response was that this years Regional Board wants to work towards building a culture that makes the individual leaders from each institution feel invested and empowered in their role as NRHH Representatives, RHA Presidents, or National Communications Coordinators as members of CAACURH for two reasons.
First, I believe that working towards this culture has already made changes and will continue to make more. When I first stepped into my role in June, I felt very disconnected and did not know how to get more involved. Not even counting the constant opportunities to engage more with the Regional Board and take on more within CAACURH so far this semester, this weekend has shown their dedication to making this happen.
The second reason I felt this was so fitting is because so much of what we talk about in our course, Unconventional Strategies for College Student Leadership is how crucial the culture of a company or an organization is to their success and because of our discussions and my experiences, I have come to see how truly important culture is and when an inclusive and empowering culture is developed, the organization can benefit exponentially.
Having the opportunity to speak with Coty left me inspired and ready to take all of the opportunities that CAACURH has to offer this year. I have seen such a difference in the way that the Regional Board communicates with the NCCs, NRHH Representatives, and RHA Presidents and I cannot wait to see what else is to come for our organization this year.
The CAACURH RBD heard what their members wanted and were willing to “Sizzle Like Bacon” in the middle of a business meeting this weekend! #CougarSnapsJar