Dorm Sweet Dorm

August 21, 2023

In this episode of The College Access Chronicles, we talk with Juliana Burch, who is an Area Coordinator at Champlain College in Burlington, VT. They share with us about what the move-in process is like on a college campus, how to live with roommates, and what it’s like to live in a college dorm, as well as get a little sentimental about when they first moved into college and met their best friends.

Listen to the episode!

Today’s episode of The College Access Chronicles included the joke, Why was the student who was always late a perfect candidate for a fraternity? and tune into two weeks from now to learn the punchline in our next episode.

This week’s guest is Juliana Burch, an Area Coordinator at Champlain College in Burlington, VT. An Area Coordinator is part of the Housing and Residential Life (HRL) Office on a college campus. They oversee the dorm buildings in certain areas on campus; they supervise students who work for Housing and Residential Life (HRL), known as Resident Assistants or something similar; and they are a resource for any college student living on-campus for whatever residential needs the student might have.

Juliana has some experience working in the housing office at three different colleges, as an Area Coordinator and as a Residential Assistant. They shared that although housing looks different on every college campus, there’s a general process that takes place once a student accepts the offer of admission and lists that they’ll be seeking on-campus housing.

“Right around April or May, [a student] will start doing the housing preference form,” Juliana explained. First, the student will register for housing at the college, and then they’ll fill out a questionnaire about themselves and their preferences. They can learn about different dorm options, some which are themed to bring students with similar interests and/or identities together, and indicate their top choices. But most importantly, they tell the Housing and Residential Life team about themselves so that they can be matched up with a roommate who they’ll get along with throughout the year.

“Some of the best advice that I can give to incoming students,” Juliana shared about the housing preference form, “[is when] you get to the section where you’re talking about yourself and your living habits, be honest. Talk about who you are now, not who you want to be in three years. And don’t let your parents fill it out for you.” This section is meant to help folks like Juliana place you with a roommate who you can befriend, and if you don’t tell the truth about yourself, you might not be paired with someone you like or can live with, which makes for a long, miserable year.

But that’s not to say you can’t dorm with someone you already know. “Every college I’ve ever heard about has the opportunity for incoming and current students to […] request who their roommates are,” Juliana explained. You can request to live with your best friend, someone you met at an Open House,
anyone–but they need to request you, too, so that the HRL team knows that you both consent to live together.

And sometimes, that means that you can house with someone with a different gender identity than you. Many colleges do stick with putting folks of the same gender into a room together as a default, and some do adhere to that rule closely in thinking about the comfort of students. But more recently, colleges have
started to move in a direction where people of different genders can room together, whether that be a girl rooming with a boy she’s asked to room with, a boy and his non-binary partner rooming together, etc.

“Higher education is moving in the direction of having gender inclusive housing,” Juliana shared. “And what gender inclusive housing means, is that regardless of what your gender identity is or what your sexual orientation is, you can live with whoever you are comfortable living with.” But this is a voluntary
choice on the part of the student. Most colleges revert to pairing students with those of the same gender, unless otherwise indicated on the housing application the student submits.

Usually by August, someone from the HRL team at the college will reach out and let the student know where they’ve been placed, who their roommate is, and what day they’ll be able to move in on. In the time between then and move-in, students are encouraged to connect with their roommate and make plans to move into the campus.

“Move-in day for First Years is I think the biggest day of any college campus, with the exception of graduation, of course,” Juliana shared. Colleges want First Year students to have time to get comfortable with the campus, and so First Years will move in before returning students. Once everyone is moved in, there’s often informational sessions for parents/caretakers and a welcome from the college’s
administration, but then, once parents/caretakers have left, the fun starts. There are a ton of activities for students to get involved in and the chance to explore the campus and all it has to offer.

Once you’re settled in, dorm life offers a unique experience. “You get real close to the folks you share a building with. You can get really close with your roommates and floormates,” Juliana explained. Residential Assistants (RAs) will often have events in the evening you can attend, like a movie screening, a paint night, a video game tournament–anything fun you can think of, an RA may have an event for it. These activities help you find a home with the people on campus and learn to love this new way of living.

But creating fun events isn’t the only thing that RAs do in the dorms. “An RA is someone in the community who’s there to help support and foster the community,” Juliana shared. This means that while they make all these fun things happen, RAs also have this responsibility to make sure the community is an inclusive space for the residents who live in it.

If a student is having a tough time adjusting to college life, an RA might lend a helping hand to figure out some strategies for that student to have a better time. If a student is struggling with a class or burnout or something else related to mental health, an RA will help the student find the best avenue to help themselves and find the resources to give them. If roommates are having a problem they can’t solve on their own, an RA will step in and try to mediate the situation so that everyone feels heard.

But if they can’t, an Area Coordinator like Juliana will step in to see how the students can resolve the issue, whether that’s by trying new strategies in the shared living space or by parting ways and finding new people to room with. But don’t worry–if you can’t resolve an issue with a roommate and need to leave the situation, the HRL team will make sure you have a place to sleep at night that’s best for you.

And if you are a student who’s nervous about living in the dorms and you’ve sought help from an RA but their strategies haven’t helped you adjust, Juliana shared some advice: “Don’t be afraid to be who you are. This is the opportunity to be who you are or whoever you’re comfortable being at this time in your life.”
They shared that when they first started college, they didn’t know anybody, but they took the opportunity to go to a hall meeting their RA had in the lounge to meet others. They wore cat slippers and Pokemon earrings, which are things they love, and they met their best friend at that same meeting. Because they were being their wholehearted self, they made a friend, and sometimes that’s all it takes.

The joke of our last episode was, What do scholars snack on when they’re hungry? and they snack on “Academia-nuts.” Like macadamia nuts, but make ‘em studious. Come back next week to hear the punchline of this week’s joke about why the student who’s always late is great for a fraternity.

Tune into our next episode in two weeks to learn more about college access and career planning. But in the meantime, follow us on social media and subscribe to The College Access Chronicles wherever you listen to podcasts.

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