Sashay Away: A Long Time On-Campus Housing Professional Packs His Bags

I wasn’t supposed to live on campus originally. I had checked a box when I applied to the state institution 15 minutes down the road from my parents as a senior in high school. That checkmark could have very well shaped the next two decades of my life. Little did I know that by checking that box I would be assigned a housing space on campus and, perhaps unfortunately for me, I would soon find myself with not only one place to live but two. The second location was not an exotic summer home, but rather a rather spartan off-campus apartment that I had signed a lease on with some classmates from my graduating class. I had never lived with roommates and somehow we ran the math of making 2 bedrooms into 3 by having one of us pull the short straw and live in a closet like Harry Potter. As that summer after my high school graduation wore on, I found myself doubting this decision significantly. Then a housing assignment letter arrived—that checkmark I had made many months before had dropped in to make things interesting. I rushed over to the housing office on campus and inquired how I could drop my on-campus housing. After filling out an appeal it was promptly rejected some days later. I needed to break my lease quickly. It wasn’t an easy process, but thankfully I was able to divorce myself from the animal house. 

On move-in day, the on-campus version, I found myself overwhelmed with the queue of cars, golf carts, and polos. If you’ve ever worked in residence life (and I’m suspecting many of my readers here have) you know exactly what I’m talking about. I was ushered to the floor lounge to sign more paperwork and carted down to my room. I had met my roommate a few days earlier at an open mic night. He had been in town for something else and we had connected and begun the long roommate courtship that would unfold over the next 9 months. 

Skipping a little further ahead, little did I know that fall quarter I would apply to be a CA (Community Advisor), not be hired, then later be hired, and go on to serve three tours of CA duty followed by two years as a graduate hall director with an ACUHO-I internship in between and four years as a full-time hall director. I would then make a move from on-campus housing to off-campus housing and neighborhood relations, an office entirely dedicated to supporting students living in the surrounding community and those commuting into the college town my university was located within. I had moved to the dark side of housing. 

This position was exciting for me. It combined many of the things I had come to love about residence life with programming, community building, and education with a broader community. I found unique ways to translate my experiences as a Hall Director such as helping students understand they were going from having a floor of 42 neighbors to an entire city block of permanent residents and fellow students. Being too loud didn’t mean an RA was knocking on your door to turn down the music—it probably meant the local police were stopping by for a crucial conversation. On my first full day on the job, I received a phone call from a local beat reporter asking for comment on a new bear ordinance that was soon to take effect. (We have roaming bears here in Colorado and if a renter leaves out open trash cans…) This immediately put me on edge since as a housing professional I have been dutifully trained not to speak to the media. Ever. And to immediately refer it up the many levels within the chain of command. Fortunately, I knew a thing or two about this ordinance, having been asked to create a design mockup explaining the ordinance to student renters as part of my interview process. In my first year in this new role, I was responsible for managing many of the communications aspects of our office—social media, copywriting, working with the university strategic relations office, and liaising with city officials and neighbors.

In the next five years with the office, I came to discover so many new skills, opportunities, and research interests including what would ultimately later become the focus of my dissertation research with the development of a peer mentoring program for first-year commuter students. I found my passion for working with post-traditional learners, transfer students, and military-connected students. All of these experiences help prepare me for the role I now hold as a Dean of Students and the offices and units within my portfolio including counseling and wellness/accessibility services, campus and residential life, Title IX, student accountability and advocacy, CARE team, and new student experience.

For housing professionals who might be looking to make a change in their careers, I share with you some words of encouragement and tips below:

  • Think about how you can turn your hobbies or interests into a new opportunity. For me, this meant taking my love for communication and design from a collateral assignment (we didn’t have a comprehensive marketing and communications team for on-campus housing at the time) to another full-time opportunity at the same institution
  • Don’t count yourself out. While I was not a graphic designer by trade or training, I taught myself several design programs and honed my eye for design by reviewing many books, webinars, and speaking with professional colleagues in the field
  • As housing professionals are “jacks of many trades,” you possess many more skills, talents, and qualifications than you may think. Many organizations are looking for these valuable and sought-after skills. Greek life organizations, senior and group housing, hospitality management, and property management are just a few pathways that many housing professionals may explore following their time working with on-campus housing

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