Education in Residence Halls, Part 1
Whether you have dormitories, suites, houses, on-campus apartments, or even a yurt (all of which for simplicities sake I will collectively refer to as residence halls), those residence halls are home for any resident students that you have on campus for the 8+ months per year that they live there. As such, students in those residence halls are going to have recycling and waste to discard. That means that at some point you are going to need to do recycling education in the residence halls. The question is how.
There are two main components to residence hall education: information (the what, when and where) and promotions (the why). I have written other posts about the informational facet, including location, images, and even using things like QR codes to convey information. And I have written previously about the why.
What is less obvious in the residence halls is who. Who delivers the message? Who prepares it?
Many campuses have resident assistants (RAs) or resident counselors within the residence hall. RA’s are often a main point of contact to a variety of campus services (both counseling and entertainment), and the position often includes some sort of peer-to-peer educational function. Unfortunately, from my experience, no matter how important I think the issue of recycling is, from an RA perspective it is one cause of many they are dealing with, all of which are important to expose students to. As a result, if you rely too heavily on RAs to develop and deliver a recycling message, that message too often gets lost amid other issues, and in some areas only delivered with a modicum of enthusiasm.
Another increasingly popular choice on many campuses is some sort of student environmental liaison in each residence hall with some variation of a title representing their focus (eco-rep, earth rep, sustainability rep, etc.) – for the sake of this post let’s call them an enviro-liaisons (ELs). The concept is designed to use the “greenest” students in each residence hall or even on each floor to provide this issue-specific education to their peers. This typically resolves the enthusiasm issue, but often creates others.
What I would propose to you is that the most effective system is a hybrid system. Such a system takes advantage of the existing network of the RAs, and their access, and bolsters their role with a smaller group of expert and enthusiastic ELs working in more of a support role.
One of the big advantages of this hybrid system is that it resolves the distribution of reps issue. The theory of the enviro-liaison is typically that there will be one EL in each residence hall or on each floor who can do peer-to-peer education to their fellow residents. Unfortunately, I have typically found that the distribution of students does not support this theory. Let’s say that you have 50 residence halls, clustered in residential areas that range in nature from the more sylvan to the more urban. Will your fifty greenest students be equally distributed one to each residence hall (doubtful) or are you more likely to have several enthusiastic students in one hall (or area) and a dearth of students in others. If you use a hybrid system it matters less if the ELs are disproportionately distributed across campus because they would be providing services in several halls or areas.
Check out part 2 of this post later this week for more advantages of this hybrid system.