We ask our resident assistants to do Knock and Talks every four to six weeks. They are means to an end, a process that allows that RAs to have face time with each resident while also completing a task. Early in the fall semester, the RAs went to each room to hang a laminated copy of the college's revised sexual misconduct policy on the inside of the room door. Closer to semester break, they visited to review closing procedures and find out how classes were going.
The rules are simple - they cannot key in to the room at any point and they must actually talk to the residents of the room while they are there. We provide them some general conversation starters, which vary depending on the time of the year and what we know about the cycle of the college experience. The RAs follow up in their supervision meetings with their residence directors about what they learned and are asked to file student of concern alerts if needed, something they are trained to do.
The RAs either hate or love this activity -- there is no middle ground. It sounds time consuming, but it's a feasible project to accomplish while on duty in the evening or during a weekend. If they need an icebreaker to feel more comfortable, such as providing baked goods or candy, we help them out with that. When we train the RAs on this activity, we focus on vulnerability. We remind them that by being vulnerable in their own work they allow their residents to be vulnerable with them. We talk to them about the importance of social connectedness as it relates to success, whether measured by satisfaction or persistence. We intentionally place more emphasis on the basic human connection over large scale programming.
I got the idea for Knock and Talks two years ago after reading this post by Glennon Doyle Melton. Her son's teacher asked the students every week to share who they wanted to sit with the following week. By tracking these weekly requests, she could see which students were being left out, which students were getting frequent requests, and who was being overlooked. We get some of that information via the room change and room selection processes; however, those happen less frequently. These periodic snapshots let us know what is happening socially in the residence halls and on campus.
It's an imperfect system, the Knock and Talks, because it relies on a student feeling comfortable talking to their Resident Assistant in that moment. I hope, though, that it also serves as a reminder for the student that the RA is there and is a resource. And while the moment the RA knocks might not be the perfect one to share a concern or start a longer discussion, it's -- literally -- the opening of a door.
We start our next round of Knock and Talks this week. It's timed to follow the first week of room change, which allows us to find out how roommates who were left behind or left out may be feeling. It also gives us an opportunity to start the conversation about next year's room selection process and help students start to formulate a plan for what kind of community best supports their academic and social goals.
I never know if our programming model is the right fit in any moment. And I don't know how much bulletin boards and door decorations are contributing to a sense of community. But I know that the simplest outreach -- a knock on the door asking how you are from someone who genuinely wants to know -- is the very basic start to meaningful connection.