A key figure in student development at the University of Essex has stressed the importance of the first six weeks of a student’s experience at university.
Victoria Frost, the head of Residence Life & student support at the University of Essex, spoke of the crucial first few weeks of a student’s life at university, which can define how a student’s university experience will be shaped, and why the Residence Life programme is so important at the university.
Victoria said: “A students first six weeks is a really key retention point
“If a student gets to week seven and hasn’t really made friends, or don’t feel like they fit in here, they are much less likely to make it through their first year.
“It’s all about building a sense of community and feeling at home here.
“Students are more likely to graduate with a higher level in their degree if they feel at home, have a sense of belonging, and feel like they really matter.
“And the RA’s are the key to making sure that happens.”
Residence Life is an accommodation-based service available to all students at the University of Essex across all campuses. It was designed to help students gain a positive experience of living and learning.
There is a Residents’ Assistant (RA) in each area of accommodation, whose role is to get to know their residents, encourage communication and organise a range of social activities for the residents to get involved in.
The Residence Life team are responsible for being ‘on call’ during evenings, where between 5pm and 9am, they answer a phone to a range of enquiries, from noise complaints to students being locked out of their room.
Victoria added: “It’s also very common for students to struggle at some point in their university experience, whether you’ve come from Ipswich or China, there will be unfamiliar feelings and adjustment issues.
“The RA’s provide that listening ear and peer to peer support, that could be more comfortable than talking to a lecturer or another staff member.
“The support is also available 24/7, so there is always peer to peer support available to a student.”
The University of Essex is one the most culturally diverse universities in the UK, with over 5,000 international students are studying at Essex – close to 40% of the student community.
And Residence Life also helps foreign students to settle in and feel at home during their stay at the University.
Victoria said: “At the start of the year, the RA’s conduct flat meetings to set ground rules for how to live together in a communal way.
“This is particularly useful for students who are coming from different backgrounds and cultures, so doing this from the very beginning helps everyone to get off on the right foot.
“RA’s also hold events throughout the year that engage with the global community, for example taking students to a British themed event to help international students learn British culture.
“We all see a lot of international dinners being held in halls, and events around Christmas and Halloween”
A Residence Life co-ordinator, Josh Huck, also stressed the importance of needing to create a homely atmosphere while living at university, and up-keeping that all times.
Josh said: “Residence Life is about giving every student the most enjoyable and positive experience of living in halls of residence.
“I want every student who comes to live here, to remember their time spent in halls as a great experience where they made new friends and had unforgettable memories.
“Residence Life’s aim is to make Essex home and I strongly believe in this.
“One of the more important aspects that we bring to the University, is that Residence Life enables the University to offer Student Support, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
“This include Christmas Day and New Years Eve!
“We have staff ready to respond to any incident in halls but also to serious incidents which occur off-campus involving university students.”
RA’s are looked after by a Community Assistant (CA), who are in charge of a group of RA’s to ensure that not only the students in the halls are coping well, but the RA’s themselves are not put under too much stress.
Second year Politics student, and Community Assistant Nathan Casteler, spoke about how members of Residence Life cope while holding the role and still continuing their studies
“We are students first and foremost; and the permanent staff from Residence Life makes it perfectly clear that we should not sacrifice our studies or any part of our life on campus for the position
“This makes it very flexible to work for Residence Life.
“Residence Life is so important if you have an issue, and if students are aware of the programme and keen to use it, which we’ve found they usually are, then it proves itself to be a very worthwhile addition to what the university has to offer.
“I would find it very difficult now, having used and then worked for Residence Life, to imagine the campus community without it.
“It plays such a small, yet so crucial role in the support of students that study here.”