My College:
Housing & Residential Life

Making a Personal Connection in the Residence Hall

LaTrina A. Rogers, MS Ed.


Since I began working in Residence Life as a professional, I’ve been referred to as “The Dorm Mom.” In recent years I've fully embraced this title because alumni told me what I meant to them while they were students. I don’t have biological children, so at first I wasn't sure the name fit, but the more I talked to my own mother, the more I learned I do behave as a mother to my students. The fact that I consider them “my” students was the first indicator.

Reaching out to students as a professional can be difficult. Aside from being older, I’m viewed as a disciplinarian and the enforcer of policy — essentially the person you see when trouble happens. If I stop a student, text, call, or visit, they immediately think they're in trouble.

The reality is I check in with students more often than I contact them because of an issue. Online as The Dorm Mom and in person, I encourage students to lean into independence and responsibility. However, I'm aware that I'm working with what I call “beginning adults.” The road requires adjustments, so I reach out to students about several things in several ways.

Homesickness

Homesickness is common even for students who don’t live far away. Students live in an enclosed community of strangers. Everyone one quickly learns someone else’s actions can impact their life. Home is nothing like the new environment they’re encountering.

Years ago, I would visit students after the dust from the move settled. Those students lived more than three hours away from campus. We’d talk about what they missed about home and why they chose the college. I wanted the student to be reminded why they chose to move and that their feelings were not only valid but completely natural. We'd talk about the best ways to remind themselves of home and also remember the breaks aren’t very far away. They could also call and talk to family.

My favorite homesick moment was with an out-of-state student. His mother and I got acquainted over the summer as he prepared to attend school. One night she messaged me on social media (we weren’t connected on social media) after working hours, explaining her son was crying about being homesick. They lived five hours from campus.

I replied that I'd check on him and went to his room. A 6’2” former linebacker answered the door wiping tears from his eyes. I told him about the message from his mom. He burst into tears and hugged me! My heart ached for him because I remember that feeling being 12 hours away from home when I went to college.

We talked things through — the reminder of why he attended, and that he was going home for a long weekend in just two weeks. I encouraged him to navigate the new environment using the resources in place. He did very well. He graduated (six years ago), has a great job, and is now a homeowner, married with a one-year-old son!

Making Friends

This in my opinion is the toughest part of living on campus for students. It doesn’t matter if a student is an extrovert or introvert — it’s hard to make new friends.

I watch students like an anthropologist. Students will make friends first by proximity. This could be based on where they live or the classes they're taking. The friend groups tend to change mid-semester due to students realizing they don’t like the behavior of some of their new pals. This is a good thing because students learn more about who they are and the people they’d like to surround themselves with as they progress through school.

When I speak with students about making friends, I encourage them to attend events or join clubs based on their interests. They will meet like minds at the events and/or meetings. It takes the pressure off making the initial move because the situation is set for interaction. At that point it's up to the student to engage consistently to develop friendships.

Campus Resources

I am a champion for resources! I acknowledge everything at my disposal is a resource. Students need campus resources for all types of reasons — academics, mental health, physical health, spiritual development, etc. Although we can easily research topics online, many students want to talk to someone in person about their experiences.

This is one of the few times where my age is equated with wisdom for students. I talk to students about resources on campus for their needs and how to navigate them. Many students have never completed any of their own paperwork before attending college. Those are skills I teach along with self-advocacy.

We discuss how to approach resources based on their individual communication skills and style. Students with social anxiety now have the benefit of email and text to initiate a process to gain access to resources. I also remind students that their ability to access and use resources is not only important short-term but necessary to accomplish the goals in their lives.

My approach is motherly, but I emphasize accountability. I’m loving but stern, because students need to know someone believes what they say they want and will hold them to their stated goals. I remind them that this is their journey, and I can’t accomplish their goals for them. I can only support, encourage, and guide them on their path.

Ask your new college student if there's a dorm "mom" (or "dorm dad" or sibling figure) in their residence hall — an RA or Res Life staff person they can confide in and lean on.

I’ve embraced my title so much; I created a brand and soon a coaching business around it. I’ve learned from colleagues my approach is somewhat uncommon but appreciated by parents. The best part of it: I’m just being myself and students can benefit.

There are many students I stay connected with and they’ve made me part of their lives. My “babies” now have babies and they call me TT Trina. The beauty of the reach is it’s gone farther than I could’ve imagined.

LaTrina A. Rogers, MS Ed. (she/her/hers) is Director of Residential Life at Ranken Technical College in St. Louis. She holds a master's in College Student Personnel Administration from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and has over 15 years of experience in student affairs across a number of functional areas including admissions and degree completion programs as well as residence life. LaTrina is The Dorm Mom — connect with her on Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest and @thedormmom on Instagram and Twitter!
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