Campus News

UGA enhances residential belonging initiatives

Residential Belonging Assistants build a sense of belonging through mentorship, support

When first-year students move into the residence halls this August, they’ll meet a new cohort of peer leaders whose sole purpose is fostering a sense of belonging. The residential belonging assistant (RBA) role is an evolution of University Housing’s long-standing mentoring, support and inclusion efforts, springing from the Division of Student Affairs’ focus on student wellbeing.

Rising second-year student Alex Straub will be one of the 12 new RBAs beginning their work this fall. He is excited to launch the program and to help first-year Bulldogs form connections with peers. “It’s like knowing that there’s always someone on campus who will be in your corner and wants to help you succeed,” he said.

Linda Kasper, executive director of University Housing, agreed. “We’re proud to offer another program that supports student success and creates thriving residential communities,” she said. “Our residents will continue to have advocates in roles focused on community building, wellbeing, interpersonal skills and social awareness.”

Straub also recognizes how the experience he’ll gain as an RBA will benefit him in his future career as an engineer. “Working as an RBA will help me develop my skills when it comes to working with a team. That’s a really important skill to have as an engineer.”

One fundamental advantage of the RBA program lies in the comprehensive support it offers residents involving collaboration with partners from departments across campus. In addition to connecting first-year students to campus resources focused on a range of personal identities, these offices and departments will also assist in preparing RBAs with the necessary skills, knowledge and elevated emotional intelligence to positively engage with students from diverse backgrounds.

Third-year student Skylar Poole—who currently serves as a C.L.A.S.S. advocate (CA) in the University Village East community—will shift to the RBA role next fall and is looking forward to helping students build relationships with each other and with campus partners.

“[RBAs will be] a bridge between the many campus resources here that go unnoticed,” she said— “so both academic and social experiences are optimized.”

A key goal of the initiative is to continue the personal connection and individual support that were hallmarks of the C.L.A.S.S. Advocate program while also expanding the support and resources it offered. In addition, the RBA program will directly address the goals outlined in the Student Affairs 2025 strategic plan.

“As we continue to prioritize community and support for the entire student body, the RBA program directly aligns with our commitment to building connections,” noted Michelle Cook, vice president for Student Affairs. “By leveraging campus-wide resources, it enhances our ability to meet the multifaceted needs of our students so that every individual feels valued and supported throughout their journey at UGA.”

University Housing has hired 12 RBAs—seven current resident assistants (RAs) and CAs, as well as five students from an applicant pool of more than 100. The RBA team next year represents diverse backgrounds and experiences, and each student will receive a room on campus, a stipend and an optional meal plan.

In an effort to recognize the critical role of student staff members, University Housing will feature RBAs, RAs and desk staff on the housing Instagram account throughout spring and summer with a goal of introducing these students to incoming first-year students.

When he started his own journey as a first-year student last fall, Straub quickly realized the importance of belonging and community on campus. “I thought it was fascinating,” he said, “that no matter what kind of person you are, everyone’s a Dawg!”