Dear RAs… I want you to STOP PROGRAMMING!

Roompact “Perspective” posts are opportunities for individual staff members to work out ideas and provide their individual thoughts and opinions on a given topic.

It’s time for an intervention.

PUT DOWN the glitter.
STEP AWAY from the construction paper.
DO NOT OPEN the pizza boxes.


I don’t really want you to stop programming, but I do want to stop putting on programs that are not developed with a strong set of learning outcomes and an associated lesson plan that seeks to further those outcomes. In fact, I want you to revisit the idea that holding a program is the most effective method for delivering on these outcomes. Part of this is “giving up” on some problematic “program clichés.”

Here are two examples:

The Mocktails Program

The Mocktails Party

This is a classic program cliché. Invite your residents to a party and have simulated alcoholic mixed drinks (minus the actual alcohol). You can put “alcohol facts” on the cups, maybe play a few drinking games, have campus safety bring the “alcohol goggles,” and if you’re really feeling crafty, have someone go around and try to drop skittles in someone’s drink simulating the act of slipping them a drug like GHB.

What you think you are teaching your residents…

  • Important facts to know about alcohol.
  • The dangers of date rape drugs and being aware of your surroundings.
  • How to have fun without alcohol.

What you are actually teaching your residents…

  • A fact about alcohol they are likely to forget in 5 minutes.
  • How to make cocktails.
  • How to play beer pong.
  • That you need to have alcohol to have fun.
The International Dinner Program

The International Dinner

The next example is of the international or “around the world” dinner. Have residents bring dishes to an event that are indicative of their culture of origin. Have them share and eat these dishes with attendees and discuss aspects of culture and different national identities and practices.

What you think you are teaching your residents…

  • Awareness and knowledge of different cultures.
  • How to interact with those that are different than you.
  • That we live in a global society.

What you are actually teaching your residents…

  • How to eat food in five minutes while talking to your friends.
  • How much leftover food can fit in a mini fridge.

* It should be noted that this type of program can work in very defined and controlled circumstances. If it is a part of an international student orientation program attempting to build community within the incoming international students, it can be effective. In a general residence hall environment, however, it’s more likely to just be an excuse to eat food.

Programming is not a menu

Ultimately, what we need to do is move away from the idea of programming from a menu. Broad categories of program types (such as social, multicultural, educational, etc.), while they do focus learning by attempting to provide some structure, inevitably lead to disjointed programs that are treated as one-off learning opportunities with little to no regard for meeting a student’s needs or aligning it with their developmental level. Furthermore, programming structured like this is often more subject to the whims and interests of the staff member than created to meet a known specific student need. This is often why similar programs get repeated from year-to-year without regard to their assessed effectiveness.

So do I really want you to stop programming? No. But I do want you to stop programming in an unplanned way that is not guided by learning and developmental theory. It is the outcomes that you hope to achieve that should drive how you achieve them, and not the other way around. Sometimes a program may not be the most effective way of achieving your desired ends.

It’s time to retire some of the old programmatic clichés.

Key Questions

  • Are your learning outcomes driving your program or vice versa?
  • Are your programs really achieving your desired outcomes?
  • Are there some programmatic clichés on your campus that need to be retired?

Comments are closed.

Up ↑