The life and insight of UVic Community Leaders

Students in UVic housing are 18-year-old first-years and middle-aged grad students. Some are ready to party; others wish their neighbours would shut up. Some long for a kitchen; others wonder why their cluster roommates never clean the kitchen they share. Students in UVic housing are diverse, but there is one group among them whose experience is especially unusual, because they must pay attention to everybody.

UVic calls them CLs (Community Leaders). Other universities call them Residence Advisers. Several CLs recently met with the Martlet and chatted about CL life.

“The overarching role of a CL is obviously to build community in the establishment, and basically create a sense of family, and really create a place where UVic can differentiate itself as a place where we build lifelong learners,” says Mike Wilson, CL in Cluster, Block 59.

CLs have an interesting relationship with their residents. They’re not permitted to have romantic relations or drink alcohol with non-CL residents, and they are the first line of rule enforcement. “You tread a certain line between authority figure and also like their friend who helps them,” says Brody McDonald, third-year student and CL in Ring Road Hall.

“At the same time, at the end of the year,” says Meghan Reiser, “. . . you are able to have a closer friendship relationship, and I was amazed at how easily that transition happened.” Reiser, a third-year student, is now a Senior Community Leader (SCL). UVic has seven SCLs, one for each residence neighbourhood, while there is a CL in every residence building. All SCLs have previously worked as CLs. While CLs monitor individual buildings and are the first responders to behavioural issues, SCLs monitor the residence community on a larger scale and deal with particularly difficult issues. SCLs also program events for the larger residence community, while CLs focus more on their own building.

Says Nathan Gates, a fifth-year student and CL in Trutch, “I’ve had residents, or ex-residents from the past two years — literally, some of them have called me up and been like, ‘Hey, can I talk to you about this thing?’ Or I’ve had them literally show up at my door and be like, ‘Hey, I need to talk to you’ . . . and it’s like years and years later.”

All CLs — who must have either lived in residence before or had similar experience — train for 10 days at the end of August. They do work around peer helping, active listening, community building, safety training, first aid, mental health, sexual assault response and suicide prevention. Throughout the year, there are other paraprofessional development workshops and seminars. Wilson describes the training, which often involves role-playing.

“They usually have a returner CL or an SCL . . . kind of guide you in the right direction . . . it kind of shows you the gravity of certain situations . . . and it doesn’t take you by surprise if something really unorthodox hits,” says Wilson.

“I think that everything we learn in August training is very applicable to real situations that you experience, surprisingly often,” echoes McDonald.

The CLs did not find that CL duties hurt their academic or social lives. In fact, they found the opposite. “When you become more time managed . . . everything improves,” says Slevin Garfinkel, second-year student and CL in Sir Arthur Currie.

“I’m taking courses with my residents . . . or co-workers . . . so it’s so much easier to co-ordinate studying,” says Michelle Dumont, third-year student and CL in Emily Carr. “I got way more connected to my campus community,” she adds, “because compared to before I now know so many people, and I’m more connected to the university as a whole, just because everywhere I go, I know somebody.”

What are some necessary CL qualities?

“Even though there are some qualities that may be very important and probably come up probably more often in CL populations, we all have different ways of dealing with things,” says Chelsie Hart, second-year student and CL in Ring Road Hall.

“Knowing you don’t know everything, but having the drive to learn how to be better, is so important,” says Gates.

“I think the one common thing that every single person has is that they generally care very deeply about people,” says Dumont.

Wilson echoes this. “The rewards you get just from seeing people grow and seeing people come out of their shell or just become the people you can tell they want to be . . . you sometimes find that, and it makes it totally worth it.”

To read the full interview transcript with eight UVic CL, check out “‘We still have a bond even after the end of the year’: A Q& A with UVic Community Leaders.”

The next application period for CL positions will take place in December
2013 for the following September. See housing.uvic.ca/winter/rl-staff.php#jobopportunities for updates on possible positions.

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