Finding Community Where it Matters Most

selfie of a young woman smiling with a tree and building in the backgroundOne of the most important tasks for college students is finding and preserving a sense of community. Without it, we lose a fundamental element of our nature and can suffer heavy consequences.

Aliyah James, a current resident advisor (RA) for John England, Jr. Hall, is acutely aware of that fact. Aliyah was the sole graduate of her Mobile, Alabama high school who chose to attend The University of Alabama; not only that, but she also started her collegiate journey during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, when isolation – rather than socialization – was the expected societal norm. Because of this, she experienced far more loneliness during the first chapter of her undergraduate career than most students do.

Despite this unwanted solitude, Aliyah persevered and found solace in her neighbors, fellow residents and her RA at England Hall. Aliyah lived in the Lucy’s Legacy Living Learning Community – a collaborative partnership between Housing and Residential Communities and the Capstone Center for Student Success. From game nights with everyone on the floor involved to girls-only movie nights filled with popcorn and gossip, this was how she formed her community in a digital period where classes and clubs only met through online video calls. Aliyah is thankful for her freshmen year there.

“John England houses a diversified collection of students. It’s a hall built on the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Now, Aliyah herself is a resident advisor who strives to establish with her residents the same sense of community that helped her push through an unordinary freshman year. She’s loving the job, and she’s finding that with this position comes some unexpected learning opportunities.

“You tend to think you know everything when you’re in a position of authority, but I’m actually learning a lot from my residents. They’re having a much different freshman year experience than I did because they don’t have to worry about the super restrictive COVID policies. They’re getting more involved than I was ever able to, and they even tell me facts about campus every nowand then that I didn’t even know about.”

photo of two young adults holding up a peace sign with a building in the background

It’s not easy being an RA. They juggle a full class schedule, office duties, managing and assisting a floor of residents and, sometimes, they even must respond to important issues extremely late into the night. All of that coupled with the community-building events they plan can make for a heavy workload. Fortunately, the Housing and Residential Communities provides RAs with the resources to ensure they can properly fulfill their goals in unique ways.

“As an RA, your mind expands to think, ‘what can I do for my residents to build that community?’” Aliyah said. “HRC gives us the resources that we need to do that. Being able to build programs by giving us a budget allows you to explore and get creative with the different things you can do.”

One of Aliyah’s favorite activities she plans on a semi-regular basis is a pizza party, complete with movies, blankets and plenty of friends and residents to make sure no food goes to waste. It makes her happy to see a good turnout for any of the events she plans.

“It’s very rewarding to see your residents forming bonds at your events,” she said. “It’s nice see that they’re listening to you and they’re keeping up with what you’re doing for them. It allows you to see that what you’re doing isn’t a waste of time or just like any other job. I’m actually helping them create lifetime friendships and memories.”

photo of four students flashing peace signs while sitting at a table