This is the full transcript for an interview with eight UVic Community Leaders (CLs) — students who provide leadership in UVic’s residences. To learn more about the role of CLs on campus, read JP Zacharias’s article “The life and insight of UVic Community Leaders.”
The following abbreviations are used for interview subjects throughout this transcript:
M.R.: Meghan Reiser
S.G.: Slevin Garfinkel
M.D.: Michelle Dumont
C.H.: Chelsie Hart
T.G.: Timothy Gensey
N.G.: Nathan Gates
B.M.: Brody McDonald
M.W.: Mike Wilson
MARTLET: So, can someone describe what a CL does?
T.G.: The big idea here is that we’re trying to build a community that not only is safe for all members, but it encourages the members to really better themselves and come out of their own shells and establish themselves in what’s really the beginning of their lives after they’ve left the nest.
MARTLET: Okay. What about specific day-to-day activities?
S.G.: We are students ourselves, so I think a day would start off with us going to class — well for me, going to class — coming back, eating a dinner. Sometimes I like to eat with staff members, sometimes I like to eat with residents [at the caf]. It’s nice to kind of mix and match. In between, if you see residents at lunch, it’s always nice to eat with them. Or any time you see residents when you’re walking back, just saying hello, kinda just keeping it friendly. And then when it comes to a nighttime, if you’re on duty, you’ll go to an in-night meeting, and then you’ll go out to your certain communities, and you’ll do however many rounds need to be done on whatever specific night it is.
MARTLET: So every night you’re on you go to a night meeting?
MARTLET: And that’s with all the CLs?
C.H.: All the CLs who are working that day go in together. We basically just check in, and take attendance, and talk about anything that might be coming up that night.
T.G.: A lot of times we patrol our respective areas. Basically we group the buildings in areas that are fairly homogeneous. Like, we’ve got the Gordon Head buildings that consist of Wilson, Haig Brown . . . The Landsdowne complex is one area, the Craigdarroch complex is another. And we usually pull two or three of the CLs from each homogeneous area to patrol. We basically just walk through the buildings, make sure everything is kinda, you know, within the letter — like, checking in, and hanging out with the residents while we’re doing that.
MARTLET: All the CLs patrol their own building?
M.R.: Within their neighbourhood.
C.H.: The only time you’d be removed from your neighbourhood is in an emergency situation.
M.R.: Or if other staff just need coverage, which is not always emergencies. Yeah, so depending on the neighbourhood you have a different number of buildings. Landsdowne, you have six smaller buildings, so you would work in a specific building and generally most peer helping situations and things like that would usually be in that one specific building. But then for an in-night, you would do rounds in all six of those buildings.
MARTLET: So you guys generally know residents from all over res, then?
M.D.: Walking to and from class or to the caf, it’s —
C.H.: “Hi, hi, hi, hi, hi.”
M.D.: Yeah, there’s some of that. It generally takes me an extra five to 10 minutes to get somewhere.
N.G.: You definitely see three to five people on a given day that you know, and you’re like, “Hey how’s it going!” Then you book it.
N.G.: Because we know so many people, if you’re studying, for example, in the BiblioCaf, people come in all the time. You get no studying done. You want to be social. That is a ginormous part of our role, being social, being open, being, you know, approachable.
M.R.: I was in Biblio today, and, between staff members from last year and this year, I saw six CLs. I was only in there for like 10 minutes.
M.D.: I was taking the bus downtown too, and it’s just everywhere.
T.G.: It’s really weird, when you’re like down in front of the Bay Centre at like 8 o’clock on a Saturday night, you see like 10 of your residents go by, and you’re not quite sure what level of sober they are. And they’re like, “Heeyyyyyyy!”
MARTLET: That brings up something else I wanted to ask. How much distance is there between you guys and the non-CL residents? Do you feel like there’s a social distance?
C.H.: We try to make it so there isn’t, but it could vary depending on what group of residents you have. If it’s people you frequently have to deal with, then they’re obviously going to feel a bit more uncomfortable around you. And then there’s the whole stigma that, like, “Oh, CLs are against drinking.” Unless they can understand exactly what your role is, they usually are a little bit hush-hush about their social lives.
M.D.: I think the biggest thing, though, is that a big part of the first-year student experience, for many people, involves alcohol; maybe not every weekend, but it is a big part of it. We can’t drink with them at all. That’s where a lot of bonding experiences are. We get to hear the stories when they come back, but —
C.H.: Well, there are residents who choose not drink or do other stuff. It might be something like I watch movies or play video games with some of my residents. Different groups of people might socialize better with you.
T.G.: The classic one is we’ve got residents from so many different cultures, and intrinsically, different cultures have different levels of power difference. Especially with a lot of the eastern cultures, they’ll see us just as kind of a security guard. It’s like, “Okay, what do you want me to do?” Not such much, “Hey, who are you, how are you?” North Americans generally have a very low power distance.
N.G.: Definitely at the beginning of the year, some of them see us as a sort of on-campus police force. That’s usually in September, October, but as we develop a personal relationship with them, through programming and through peer helping, they see us still an authority figure, but less authoritative. And while we can’t do certain things with them, like have relationships with them or go out and drink with them, for example, there’s still chances to have fun and for them to get to know you as a person. But I definitely know that the first time that your residents sort of see you outside of the hoodie, they do a double-take and they’re like, “You’re human?”
C.H.: It’s like when you see your teacher at the grocery store.
S.G.: I think there’s two things about the beginning of the year that I’ve noticed. The first thing is, in any typical viral video or Hollywood movie, the RA is depicted as that, you know, that crazy, all-over person; and you’re like, okay, step off. So they have an idea of what the RA is going to be like — or the CL in our case. And that’s one of the reasons that they’re very distant from us at the beginning of the year. The other thing is it’s their first time away from home, so they’re out into the real world. And they’re like, oh, no parents, no nothing. There should be nothing that can stop me. But they’re still living in a community, and we have to uphold that community.
B.M.: It’s an interesting dynamic. You tread a certain line between authority figure and also like their friend who helps them. You do have some who just see you sort of in that stereotypical hall-monitor role.
M.R.: I know for me one of the most rewarding parts of working as a CL last year was the relationship I’ve been able to have with my residents after that. And I think that that’s something that really shows where that line is for me, between friend and authority figure; being able to, throughout the year, deal with situations effectively; making sure that they respect you, and that they understand. I find that was a really big part of it, making sure that they understand why the things that you’re kind of talking about are important.
MARTLET: So, being an authority and being able to be their friend at the same time, I guess?
M.R.: Yeah, absolutely. And making sure that they know — okay, so you can’t play drinking games or whatever; why is it that you cannot do that? And I find that that really helps to build that respect up. At the same time, at the end of the year, you know, or the year after or whatever that looks like, you are able to have a closer friendship relationship, and I was amazed at how easily that transition happened. And I think that really showed, kind of, that that line really is a close one sometimes. You know, despite the fact that you are there to kind of enforce behaviour, you also can be really close to them at the same time.
N.G.: Yeah, just to speak to that. This is my third year. 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 I’m like, “Okay.” And it’s years and years later, kind of a thing. We still have a bond even after the end of the year.
MARTLET: So, you guys are all in second year or more, right?
C.H.: Or more . . .
B.M.: You have to be at least second year to apply.
MARTLET: So how does it compare to being a non-CL in res?
T.G.: It’s totally different.
N.G.: You see things in a different light. It’s not just a “this side of the fence–this side of the fence” kind of thing. It’s just the way you perceive events that’s completely different.
C.H.: As far as the CL role goes, I didn’t know that it was required for my CLs to do programs, and their success was dependent on my attendance.
B.M.: You go from being a student with less concerns to being sort of a student professional. You have to kind of balance those two things.
M.D.: I guess for me it changed in two ways. I got way more connected to my campus community, 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. So that was one big change. And then, also, my free time has gone away.
C.H.: What is free time?
M.R.: What?! I have free time sometimes.
T.G.: I found that it forced me to be more efficient with my time management. It’s funny, because you learn a lot from the role, through programming, and you learn ways to just better structure your life. The role challenges you to structure things, and it’s learning how to be efficient so that you have the time you need to adequately spend time with your residents once you have every other thing done. Like, last year I was able to do this role, five courses and also have a second job on top of it.
N.G.: Through paraprofessional development sessions we do learn how to effectively time-manage programming. Throughout the year we’re required to do a certain numbers of hours of paraprofessional development, which can help us with things like that. I remember, in my first year, all it was was class, soccer, homework.
MARTLET: So it takes a lot of extra time to be a CL. Would you say it’s like a full-time job?
B.M.: It’s an interesting position because it’s where you work and where you live. So, if you’re not even on duty, and you’re just hanging out in your room doing homework, you can get a knock on the door and people need to talk to you for three hours.
M.D.: And you’re hanging out in your room, and the fire alarm goes off. All of a sudden, you’re on call.
T.G.: Or, like, the guys on duty are pinned down somewhere else. Then, all of a sudden, some guys start playing drinking games in the lounge. And you know that they’re [the CLs] are currently indisposed somewhere else, so you just throw on that sweater, deal with it, and tell them, hey, this is what needs to be done.
MARTLET: Right. And you’re always wearing the sweater when you’re on duty, I guess?
M.R.: When you’re on duty, yeah.
N.G.: Another part of the job? So much free swag. For example, we get these hoodies for free at the beginning of the year. So many free t-shirts from events that we run —
Several: Being voluntold to run.
N.G.: Being voluntold. We do get free swag.
S.G.: The big thing that I’ve found is that you do have a lot of free time, I find, although you are always on. As Tim was saying, time management is a big thing. It’s very important to effectively manage your time. As this was my first year, in the first month, I didn’t really know how to manage my time, because I was new to the role.
C.H.: I still don’t know how to manage my time!
S.G.: But the interesting thing about ResLife staff at UVic is that a lot of the schools in Ontario and in eastern Canada call their CLs dons, or RAs, or whatever it is. We’re called Community Leaders. And the job that we do really does fill that role. We’re not just room advisors, dons, residence advisors, whatever. We build community and we are the leaders of that community and we have to lead effectively and lead by example. And that’s the big thing about being on call basically all the time, managing your free time effectively: it’s very big to fulfil that name, that job title, of being a Community Leader.
N.G.: Just to go off that: because we do tell people, like, you can’t drink in the hallways, they sometimes see us as a sort of unable-to-have-fun kind of people. When we do go out and have fun, it’s important to make sure we sober up before we come back, just because as soon as we’re on residence, we’re on display.
MARTLET: Do you ever go out off campus with your residents, or is that not allowed?
T.G.: I’ve taken them for pho.
N.G.: We do go off campus for programs, yeah: going for pho, going to Boston Pizza, or places where they could serve alcohol. But then we remind everybody that it’s a res event, and you can’t have alcohol at a res event.
M.R.: You can just hang out. That was something that I know I did quite a bit last year. “We’re going downtown today!” Not necessarily a formal program, but yeah.
N.G.: For example, if we’re going downtown on a Friday night, and they’re going downtown on a Friday night, and we happen to be in the same club, we sort of play a dodging game. They’re at one end of the bar. You’ll be at the other end of the bar.
S.G.: At the same time, if they do recognize us, you know, we are human. So if they come up and they acknowledge us, it’s okay to say, “Hey, how’s it going?”
MARTLET: You don’t have to pretend you don’t see them.
S.G.: Yeah. I mean, for us it is a little awkward to see them. So, yes, we do kind of play a little dodging game. But if they do acknowledge us, you know, hey, how’s it going, how’s your night going, we try to have a small chat.
T.G.: As long as you’re not making a jerk of yourself, and not doing anything that would compromise the image of someone who does promote that image of a safe community. As soon as you give any credence that dissupports the idea that you’re a role model, you’re no longer a role model. And once the illusion is shattered, you’ve pretty much tainted the building. And that’s why, a lot of these rules about staff discipline, there’s no wiggle room. We have to be disciplined.
MARTLET: Okay. This thing about time and stuff, do you think your academic work has suffered, or has it maybe actually improved because of better management?
M.R.: Honestly, I know for me, but I’ve heard from other people as well, that it can really improve. I’m someone who certainly enjoys being busy, because when I have a lot of time I just kind of sit around. “Oh, look at how much time I have!” I’m probably least productive during exam season because I don’t have that much to do. So, the busier I am, the more it just forces me to use the time that I do have. You know, like today: this is a really, really busy day. That means that the couple hours when I do have time, that’s what I’m doing, and just scheduling other things in as well. Also I find it’s effective because — not only in terms of academics — but it means that you actually are required to time-manage other things. So, maybe like spending time with your partner, or with your friends, or whatever that looks like. That’s time that a lot of the time now would be scheduled in. Like, this is my day to do this, or this is the couple hours we’re having dinner together, whatever that looks like; which, you know, is kind of nice, making sure that you get everything in. You don’t just forget about something and let it go by the wayside.
S.G.: I think for me it’s definitely improved, for a couple reasons. When you become more time-managed, when you learn better time-management skills, everything improves, just generally. I’m a second year, and I switched my major, so I do have to jump back in my program and take a first-year course. So I’m in first-year courses with some of my residents. One big thing is they see you as a leader. So you kind of want to be in class, be answering questions, be on your game. The other thing is, when you’re on an in-night on a weekday, one of the requirements is, when you’re not doing rounds, to either have your door open or to be in a lounge doing homework; or whatever — you don’t have to be doing homework, but to be open. And, a lot of the time, it’ll be filled with doing homework, and a lot of residents will actually come study with you, and it’s kind of like a study group. So even on nights when you might want to do nothing, that, for me, is big, because it kind of forces you to do something. Yes, sometimes I will take a night off to just play video games. Because, you know, everyone needs a night off. But other nights, it’s “Hey, I’m going to be in the lounge tonight, do you want to study?” And whether that person’s in my class, whether that person’s not in my class . . . The other cool thing is, I’m a Geography major, but someone might be really good with math, and I’m taking a Math 100 course, but they’re taking a Geography 100 course, so we can swap knowledge. And that’s another big thing: you can tutor them, they can tutor you. It’s really nice to have that ability. So my academics have definitely improved.
M.D.: All of a sudden I knew everybody. I’m taking courses with my residents. Or I’m taking courses with current co-workers right now. So it’s so much easier to co-ordinate studying when you live on campus, instead of going to the libraries.
M.R.: Also, you have this built-in support network, and that helps in terms of academics and in terms of just everything. Like, you have 90 people you work with who all understand. Just working with other RPLs and SCLs and CLs, and the professional staff as well, you have this built-in support network that really understands, I think, what it means to be working as a student and to be working here and the different complications and challenges that can come with it. So that’s really great too, to be able to support themselves.
B.M.: I would add to that I think everybody involved in ResLife is very busy and involved with things outside of ResLife on top of everything. But you do help support each other. And one of the things I really take away from the training that we do for this job is, if you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t take care of your building. So that’s really important: sort of the self-care. And you do get that through the team, like Meghan was saying.
T.G.: If you crack open the books, and residents see you, they don’t even have to be studying the same thing. I was studying and it was like, “Yeah, I saw you studying and I wanted to study,” and it’s like this guy who never comes out was like, “Yeah, I wanted to study.” He busted out all his philosophy books and went to town.
C.H.: Even if you’re not studying something that someone else is studying, you can bring another perspective. Like, I know my resident was working on a project for some class — I don’t even remember what class it was — and I was like “Well, what if you did this this way?” and this way and he was like “Okay! That’s awesome!”
S.G.: Another thing is when you are doing rounds. I had finished four midterms before reading break. For some reason that’s how they were all scheduled. Now, going into reading break, I was just like, oh, pff, I’m not going to do anything, I just had my midterms. But, walking in, I saw people studying on reading break. And I was like, know what? I’m going to go ahead, and I’m going to get ahead on my studies. So sometimes seeing other people when you’re taking an off-night, they can push you. Subconsciously, they can push you to work.
MARTLET: And probably vice-versa too?
S.G.: Oh, absolutely.
N.G.: It depends on the CL, but there is a learning curve with the demands of the job and the demands of the academics. And depending on the person, it can either be a steeper learning curve or a more seamless learning curve.
T.G.: Or a horizontal one.
N.G.: Yeah, exactly. It really depends on the person. It’s very varied. And that’s what’s great about this position: we have so many different people coming together and making a community and supporting each other. Right now I’m in a class with Michelle, and if I’m like, okay, I cannot make it to class because I have all of these other things to do, I know I can text Michelle and be like, “Hey Michelle, I’m really sorry about this, but can you take notes?”
C.H.: Even doing the most minimal thing, just being a part of the team, being a CL in residence — even just saying hi to someone, not even another CL, but just a resident — you can make that much of a difference. It can be something that small that can do so much. It’s not just sharing notes and stuff. It’s being able to be like “Oh, hi, how are you?” to your co-workers and other residents who maybe are more closed. It lets them know that someone notices them.
M.R.: That’s huge.
MARTLET: So, what kind of qualities are important for a CL? You said people have different learning curves and stuff like that. Are there any qualities that all CLs need to have?
S.G.: I would say that the most important, for me, would be communication. And that’s for all aspects of the job. First, with residents, being able to communicate effectively a message towards them, whether it be towards student conduct, whether you’re communicating in a friendly way, whether you’re communicating some advice to them, that’s huge. With other staff members, communicating in the sense that, hey, if there’s a problem that needs to be dealt with, you have to communicate effectively. What channels of communication are you going to use to approach the situation? And then, coming back on the other side of this, is feedback. If someone gives you feedback you have to take that in. And for me, it’s at least give it one shot. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but you have to listen to what people are saying. Because, if there’s a conflict with staff, with residents, there are 90 members of the staff team and everyone has their own style. So taking in feedback might work. There’ve been strategies that returner CLs have told to me and I’ve given a shot and I was like, hey, yeah, I really don’t like that. And there’s been others that people have told me and I was like, wow, that really works. So, listening to feedback, and also giving feedback. So if someone had given me that strategy, I tried it and said hey it didn’t work, I will not just say it didn’t work. First of all, I will tell them it didn’t work, and then I will tell them why.
M.D.: In terms of qualities, I don’t think there’s a set list, or mould, that the office goes through. I kind of assumed it’s all going to be a bunch of extroverts: you know, crazy, big people who are involved in every single thing. And there are definitely people like that. But we also have people who are a lot more introverted. We’re quiet, more like a quiet glue that holds community together. So there isn’t a set type. There’s a whole lot of variety. I think that’s important. And I do agree with communication. I think the one common thing that every single person has is that they generally care very deeply about people. Because I don’t why you’d take this job if you didn’t care about making sure everyone else was happy.
M.R.: I would totally agree in terms of there’s not a set mold. I really think that most qualities that are kind of important in this role are trainable. As long as you care about the resident experience, wanna help people out, wanna be involved in your community. A really common one, I think, is “I’m worried about addressing the heated situations. I’m worried I’m not going to be assertive enough, I’m worried that people are just going to walk all over me.” That’s such a common thing that people are so worried about, and it’s something we work on a lot. There’s lots of training, we practise tons, we do lots of role-playing and stuff, so I really think the most important thing is just wanting to be here and wanting to be involved.
C.H.: It’s sort of a coat-of-many-colours situation. Even though there are some qualities that may be very important and come up probably more often in CL populations, we all have different ways of dealing with things and ways of being, because we have such a wide variety of residents. Some people are more assertive and are good for these situations. Some people have more creativity for programming. Some people are more — well, I wouldn’t say not assertive, but, like, compassionate, and they’re calming. So, while this person’s going to deal with this situation, this person’s over here dealing with whoever’s the victim, and going, you know, “Are you okay? It’s going to be fine. Did something happen?” Even though it’s sort of just one role, within that role there are different parts that some people can fulfil better than others.
T.G.: There are two qualities that I think everyone absolutely needs, though. You need integrity. There’s some things you can do wrong that will destroy your community. And that’s something that’s absolutely crucial. Integrity is a must. And pride is the other one. You have to be able to step outside of your building, look at it, and be proud of what you’re doing. Because if you’re not proud of what you’re doing, you’re not gonna do it well. And people are going to see you aren’t tuned into your building, and they’re going to pick on that.
C.H.: Yeah, with the pride there’s a certain amount of confidence that comes with it. We have to be able to step outside of our comfort zone or try new things like a lot. And residents, when you’re talking about programs and things, without even you saying it, they really notice if you’re enthusiastic about something. So, even if you don’t really feel it, you have to be able to show this enthusiasm towards the things that you’re doing and the choices that you’re making, or else it’s not gonna build the right sort of feeling.
MARTLET: Well, how do you do that? How do you step outside your comfort zone? Is it just inspiration from what’s going on around you?
C.H.: I just hope my residents jump in!
T.G.: Sometimes, what you gotta do is, in the immortal words of Colin Powell, you gotta jump off the cliff and find your wings on the way down.
N.G.: Sometimes you’ll definitely need a push from one of your co-workers. “I’m not comfortable with this.” And it helps just having them being there, being supportive. “Okay, let’s go, let’s do this.” But the qualities that are really important to me? Empathy and a willingness to learn. Because if you don’t have empathy, you can’t see situations from other people’s points of view. You won’t be a good peer helper. “Yeah, yeah, you got problems, okay, yeah.” No. So you have to have empathy. And it’s so important. It goes back into feedback. Knowing you don’t know everything, but having the drive to learn how to be better, how to improve in the position, is so important.
MARTLET: Okay. So, going back to training, what kind of things do you train for?
M.R.: Ten days. It’s extensive.
B.M.: Ten intense days at the end of August. But then on top of that there’s all kinds of paraprofessional development workshops and seminars that you go to. Some of us went to UBC for the student leadership conference. There’s lots of opportunities offered by the ResLife office for professional development in the role. So it is that constant learning that Nathan was talking about.
M.D.: We have our SCLs to provide guidance, and some of us are also returner CLs. We also come in providing mentorship, at least for the first month, to the new CLs on the team. The training doesn’t stop.
C.H.: SCLs are mentors and returners are like examples.
M.R.: And in terms of training, it’s incredibly extensive, honestly. We do work around peer helping, active listening, we do work with programming, building community, safety training, first aid, fire safety, all those kinds of things. We do sexual assault response, we do mental health and suicide prevention. It’s one of those things that you come to the first day of training and you’re like “Oh my goodness I’m never going to be able to do this, I have no idea where I’m even going to start. How am I even going to be close to doing this?” And then after those 10 days, you’re like, yes, okay, I can do this.
B.M.: By day 10 it’s just instinct.
T.G.: And I think one of the things is, yes, you’re training for all of these, but, in training, one of the big things is team building. Because you’re meeting people you’ve never met before, and you’re going to have to work with them for the rest of the year and you’ve got to get comfortable with them. And they’re going to become almost family to you.
M.D.: And I think the big thing is — they stress constantly — you are never alone. It’ll never just be you. You’ll always have somebody.
C.H.: They’re your family, they’re your backup, they’re the people you trust, they’re the people you depend on. It’s so important to be able to have, like, the team.
N.G.: They’re the Robin to your Batman.
MARTLET: Have you had to apply any of this training, for suicide prevention, or sexual assault, or . . . ?
C.H.: We’ve had to delve into it, but it’s not as frequent as you’d think.
B.M.: Well, without speaking to any examples, I would say at least — and I think Michelle can echo this, and Nathan too, being second year and so on — I think that everything we learn in August training is very applicable to real situations that you experience, surprisingly often.
T.G.: Things happen and we have to be able to deal with it.
N.G.: And — not being able to speak about this directly — we have been trained in suicide prevention and, unfortunately, there have been incidences, depending on the CL. Yes, one CL could have had to deal with a suicide prevention occasion, and then another CL won’t have to do anything like that for the rest of the year. It varies depending on the CL. But sometimes, unfortunately, we do have to use that training.
MARTLET: Are you aware how frequently such cases arise?
B.M.: We don’t really know that.
C.H.: Even amongst the team, if there’s one person in the building who’s dealt with it, we don’t always hear it.
N.G.: If you’re on an in-night, and you have to deal with a situation that entails something like that, and then you come back and someone says, hey, where’d you go? I’d be like, yeah —
T.G.: Toilet overflowed!
MARTLET: So, if you had to say a few words about why to become a CL?
C.H.: If you want to learn more about yourself and other people, I guess. If you want to improve yourself and to have a job at the same time. Be a part of a community.
MARTLET: Any favourite parts? Sound bites.
S.G.: Being there. Working with some amazing people, developing and improving skills. Just being around ResLife and just meeting and just having so many new experiences.
M.D.: For me it just comes down to the people. I’m just feeling so much more of a connection to my community, that I never felt before.
MARTLET: How would you describe what a CL does?
M.W.: The overarching role of a CL is 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, and help facilitate that process. In that I’d say there are three main roles. Building community is the most important aspect. Within that I’d also say there’s having programs. Ensuring that those programs help to foster that community as well. And the last one is behavioural intervention. So, using restorative justice to ensure that students are following some sort of code of conduct and ensuring that students feel as if, if there is a problem, that we’re keeping them safe at the same time. I think it’s kind of that threefold mentality, although students only see the one part of it, which is — well, they see all three, but the main part, if they think of us, what usually comes across is the behavioural intervention. But that’s a third of what we do.
MARTLET: So is being a CL is Cluster a similar experience to being a CL in the dorm residences?
M.W.: I’d say it’s a fairly different experience. Our goal is still to build community. A lot of times the cluster residences are split into first years, international students and older-year students, upper-level students. And what we see is that there’s different experiences for each person. A lot of times the upper-year student doesn’t need that first-year experience, so we kind of try to tailor our programs, tailor our community building, to what we need in our certain areas. So if you have a high density of international students you’d probably run different programs than you would for a first-year. But I’d say that the dormitory experiences are slightly different in the sense that, assuming you have a single room, you’re concentrated in your own space, and you’re in the same boat as a lot of people, so it’s a high concentration of students with you. So you have a much more of that first-year kind of stereotypical experience. Whereas, Cluster residence is more for the place where you kind of gain that independence, you can kind of trial living with four roommates as you would in an apartment-style unit. So it’s a different experience; there’s different aspects to each.
MARTLET: Who does the tailoring of programs in Cluster?
M.W.: It’s our job [as CLs] to look at the unit. We’re looking at that and seeing how their dynamics would fit into certain programs. I’d say for the first month it’s really general programs, kind of targeted to first-years, but that would also be somewhat conducive to upper years, if they really wanted to get involved. Whereas, once I got to know my units it became a lot more evident that there were certain specific issues that they were interested in, so I kind of tailored my programs to that.
MARTLET: What were the hardest parts of being a CL, in your experience?
M.W.: I’d think one of the hardest parts of being a CL — like, don’t get me wrong, it’s one of my favourite experiences, and I’m coming back as an SCL next year, so it’s something that I really am passionate about and really enjoy doing — but I think the hardest part is really balancing everything: balancing your school work, balancing your social life, balancing your work. I run two businesses as well, so running that on the side, there’s not a lot of time for me-time. But at the same time, 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, is super rewarding. As a CL, you sometimes find that, and it makes it totally worth it.
MARTLET: How does staying in res as a non-CL differ from being a CL?
M.W.: I didn’t actually get the most out of my first-year experience [as a non-CL], honestly. I was much more introverted in first year. I think that the CL job really helped me become more extroverted, kind of find the balance that worked for me. I think in first year I was more nervous when talking to groups of people. Whereas the CL job has kind of helped me open up and become a lot more — like I was always good at public speaking in the sense that if I had something in front of me I could speak to a large group of people, but if I was to go to a networking session or a party or something, it’d be really hard for me to just network and talk to people. But once the CL job came, the amount of people and density of students you have to deal with, it just kind of starts to come easy for you. And I think that’s a huge benefit to anyone who’s kind of introverted at the start and wants to see themselves improve in that sense. It’s a great opportunity.
MARTLET: Any other reasons you might recommend someone become a CL?
M.W.: Yeah, whenever I talk to people — I can give you a laundry list of things, but the main three things are, one, to kind of grow. For me, there’s the extroversion. If you took a snapshot of me now versus a snapshot of me in first year: night and day. But you see that in other ways too. I know friends of mine who’ve not been the best academically, but that fact that you have to schedule your time as a CL made them improve their grades by two or three grade points. Which you wouldn’t necessarily think are correlated, but the job is conducive to that. The second is the networks that can be built. The job itself is awesome, but what makes it awesome is the people who you meet. And at that point it doesn’t become so much — like, in HR, there’s terms like “direct compensation,” which is the wages you get. And there’s “relational compensation,” which is like organizational culture, the networks that you make and those things you take away from the organization even after it’s done, and that’s what huge. It’s definitely not about the money. It’s about creating those networks and ties that’ll serve you later. And not necessarily for the purpose of networks and ties, but just making new friends . . . it’s just an amazing experience, and the people who work here are like-minded, they want to see residents and UVic become the best they can be, they really are into that community atmosphere. So I think that’s a huge benefit. And the last one, as I said, was just seeing the progression and growth of certain students. Like, back in my first year of CL-ing, some of my residents started out being very introverted, I had to help them out a bit more, and by the time the school year had ended, they’d become so much more active, so much more accepted by their peers and everything. So just seeing the progression of students is something that makes it completely worth it. That’s probably what I’ll remember the most.
MARTLET: Do you feel that there’s a distance between you and the other students?
M.W.: You always have to keep that professionalism, that kind of barrier, where it’s like, yes, somewhere where they look up to you. Now, this year it’s a little less of a barrier, because a lot of the students in Cluster are upper-level; we do have graduate students in Cluster. So they don’t really see us so much as enforcers or anything like that. They see us more as facilitators, because they’ve dealt with us before; they know we’re here to help. It’s a different experience. Back in my first year [as a CL] when I was dealing with the dormitories, what I found was that students — they told me this time and time again — I’m not really — I definitely have that professionalism and that, but I definitely don’t try to come across as an enforcer. You know, I understand where they’re coming from. I try to empathize with their situations as well a lot of times. Like, I know they are in first year, and I’m trying to make sure that they understand the rules, but at the same time, not so much that they’re punished, but understand what they do and try to remedy it. Right, so, they can remedy it right there. I’m usually okay with that situation. Like, if I saw someone dump a bunch of stuff in front of someone’s room as a joke, and I’m like, “That’s not cool. If he walks out, x, y and z will happen. Clean it up,” the situation’s done in my opinion. Some people — I mean, it’s just a matter of opinion, how you deal with it; and if you were to report it, that’s fine, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But what I find is a lot of students expect you to be like a security guard at that point. And I think that you definitely need those people in a team. But the one thing I found more for the facilitator, for that restorative justice, why they push restorative justice, is because it builds so much better connections for the students, and then it becomes less of a barrier between you. They understand you are in a position where you do have to be professional, you have to follow the rules; but they don’t see you as just out for blood all the time. So I definitely agree with ResLife’s position on restorative justice, and I think it’s a very helpful mediation tool.
MARTLET: Is that kind of a new thing, the restorative justice approach? Was it the same approach last year, for example?
M.W.: I think they were just kind of piloting it in my first year. It became kind of a full-blown approach when I first became a CL. I think it’s great. And — I’ve only taken a couple of sociology courses, but when you’re looking at that — the punishment method, I think they figured out in the ’50s, it doesn’t really work. You need something more than that, right? I think their idea of moving into the restorative justice aspect is really, really quite an intelligent move on their part. And I think it’s something that’s conducive to community, really. Because you’re not looking as ResLife necessarily, or the CLs, or anyone as the bad guys or anything like that. You’re looking at us like we’re just people who are trying to make your community work. I think by asking questions rather than pointing the finger, we’re able to allow people to come to the conclusion without telling them how they’re supposed to get to that conclusion.
MARTLET: So, you guys have done quite a bit of training. Like, in August there’s a 10-day session. Do you find that the training is really helpful for being a CL?
M.W.: Oh, absolutely. If we’re just talking about solely the ties you make, training’s huge for that. You’ll meet people in training who will become your co-workers, your friends and even you social group throughout the entire year. So that’s huge. In addition to just a training standpoint — it’s always important to learn the job specifications and duties — but your paraprofessional development program does ensure that you understand the importance of cultural diversity. There’s different walks of life on campus. Without actually being too academic about it, they teach you about intersectionality and really open your mind to that aspect, and to being careful of what you say. It’s really easy to let a couple words here or there slip because you don’t really understand the meanings of them. But some people might take offence to that. And that’s huge. It’s something that I never really thought about when I was in first year. So, as you can imagine, there’s certain words that you can use in the English language that people use all the time, and it becomes a colloquial expression, almost. You almost become desensitized and don’t understand where it came from. But then when you think about it, you know, there’s a lot of people who, for example, are of a different sexual orientation, and so calling something “gay” or something has very different connotations than you’d naturally think, and I think a lot of people don’t think about that until it’s brought up to them, and shown in a PD [paraprofessional development] session. And you go, “Oh.” And I think it opens your eyes to what actually is happening. It sounds tiring. I mean, people go, like, okay, so you’ve spent 10 days doing training, the same 10 days doing training the second year. And I’m like, yeah, you basically learn the same thing, but I never regret going through the training process.
MARTLET: And in addition to issues related to awareness, you also do conflict resolution and stuff like that?
M.W.: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a big one. I mean, the ability to practise scenarios and — I know in sports, in any major sporting events that I was in, visualization would be huge. The ability to motivate yourself through those visualization exercises is a great opportunity. You put yourself into those shoes and practise, in your mind, right? Well, the ability to put yourself into a situation and physically practise it, during conflict resolution sessions, that’s huge. Like, we have certain training sessions that are hands on, and the ability to do that so you’re not going into the program cold turkey — it’s definitely more helpful to certain people than others; I mean, some people come in and already have maybe worked security, or worked in a similar situation, but just to have that sort of baseline for everyone — it adds so much benefit to the job, and ensures that when you step out in your hoodie for the first time, it’s almost second nature what you’re going to do and what the protocols are.
MARTLET: So how do they do the hands-on stuff? It’s, like, role-playing and that kind of thing?
M.W.: Yeah, exactly. They usually have a returner CL or an SCL who’s like a supervisor facilitate the role-play, so that they kind of know what you’re supposed to do and they can kind of, at the beginning, they can guide you in the right direction, in a way. But at the same time you have a couple of these sessions, and as the number of sessions progresses, they become more difficult. Basically, you’re put into these situations where they’re so atypical that it happens on residence, but likelihood would dictate it might happen two or three times within the entire year for the team. So you might get put into a similar situation. But it kind of shows you the gravity of certain situations you’re put into. So you’re not taking it lightly, and it doesn’t take you by surprise when something really unorthodox hits, and you’re not like “How do I deal with this?” kind of thing.
MARTLET: Without mentioning any specifics, can you give examples of the kind of things you have to deal with?
M.W.: Yeah. Just practising the kind of things you would find in residence: like deeply depressed people, and how you would deal with the thoughts they might have; practising how to deal with thoughts relating to suicide, or sexual assault; to being a first responder to that.
MARTLET: So how do you deal with, for example, sexual assault?
M.W.: So basically the first thing is you call a higher-up, because, frankly, we’re not trained to do that. And in reference to that, I don’t know if we can actually explain our step-by-step process, but essentially what it is is you’re going to act as a support system for them. So you obviously have to call a higher-up for liability purposes, but at the same time you’re going to try to support them through their process and try to help them, and be basically that person who’s there for them when they need it the most, essentially. And so, if that means helping them to the clinic, usually it would be someone who is similar gendered, who they feel comfortable asking to do that. Or just running through the situation with them, taking part of the burden off by listening to them, is huge. I mean those kind of atypical situations definitely happen on campus. I’ve personally dealt with a couple, and I found that, because of training, because of that, I knew exactly what I was doing. I was like, okay, I’ve kind of dealt with this before, I kind of know what I’m doing, it’s okay. And it kinds of takes more of the shock value out of it and you kind of just go into auto-pilot mode. It really helps to have that basis that you’re able to draw from, and be like, “I did this in training, and it really seemed to work. I did that, it didn’t get as good a response.” I’m in the BCom program, right? We do case studies. Some of the decisions you make in case studies, you make a wrong decision. It’s in a case. You’ve learned the mistake you made. Next time you see that problem, you know kind of where you went wrong and how to improve it. The analogy is you’re not actually touching any businesses; there’s no real negative impact for you to make the mistake [in the training]. The worst is that you made the mistake and you learned from it. So, let’s bring it to the real situation. Let’s say you come to a similar situation. In the training process or in those case analyses, you’ve made those small errors already, so you know exactly what you’re supposed to do, and when you come to those complicated situations, you’re able to piece them apart, peel back the layers, without actually doing anything wrong. It just prepares you so that you’re ready, and you’re super productive, and you ensure that you’re a support system, and you don’t add to the problem at the same time.
MARTLET: So it’s probably a similar approach with — you mentioned potential suicide issues — again, you’d take it to a higher level, I guess?
M.W.: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, if you feel comfortable doing it, you can be the first responder and handle it yourself — not handle it yourself — you definitely have to call for support — but you can be their main line of support if you want. With that being said, the support is there for them, but it’s also there for you. Because it is taxing dealing with situations like that, and it does take a toll on yourself and sometimes it will take a toll on the community. Definitely, having that support system in place, and also just letting the higher-ups know, so they know maybe they do need to tell the CLs to put a little extra time in the building, etc. The higher-ups have dealt with this time and time again, and I can’t say enough about them; they’re great. They know what they’re doing. They’ve been through this before. All of them have been in our position before, or a similar position, at least, in different universities. I think, honestly, ResLife picks great people to work for them, especially their higher-ups. I mean, I haven’t had a problem with any of them. They’re top-notch in my opinion.
MARTLET: When you’re talking about the higher-ups, are you talking about the SCLs?
M.W.: A lot of the time it’s both: it’s the SCLs and the RLCs [ResLife Co-ordinators]. Generally, the SCLs will come for smaller issues that might not be as heinous as assaults or suicide, but they’re definitely an important resource for us as well, because they’ve been here for two, maybe three, years as CLs, and they’ve progressed to SCLs. So in my opinion it’s nice to have someone you can call and talk to in certain circumstances.
MARTLET: So, obviously CLs all have different personalities, but are there any qualities you think all CLs pretty much need to have?
M.W.: I’m not going to necessarily say all CLs, but if you were to have an archetypical “here’s what you’d want to be as a CL,” you generally want to have someone who’s kind-hearted. It doesn’t have to be shown in the same way; you definitely need someone who shows that they want to help the community, and shows that they are committed. And that commitment can come in numerous different forms. It can as a person who is more of the rough-and-tumble security-guard type. Or it could be the person who is a facilitator. I think that the biggest thing as a CL is that they need to be able to work as a team and adapt to different situations. I mean, it’s great if you can act as that rough-and-tumble person who, if need be, is able to clear out a balcony, or clear out a party if it has to happen; it’s great to have that person, but they need to be able to adapt to certain situations. They need to be able to understand that certain situations don’t necessarily warrant the amount of that sort of persona. I think the biggest thing for a great CL is that they can adapt to different situations and they can reframe situations in their own mind and don’t necessarily come to a conclusion right away. They kind of know what they have to do but at the same time they’re willing to hear the story, because on residence certain things look one way and a lot of times they’re the opposite of what you think. So basically, keeping an open mind, being adaptable, being likeable. And teamwork is huge.
MARTLET: Actually, when you were talking about that it made me think of something else. How do you go about — if one person says one thing, another person says another thing, how do you mediate that?
M.W.: I can only speak for myself. Because obviously, there’s different styles, different protocols. What I like to find — usually the baseline is correct. You’ll have someone say, “This happened.” And the person will agree that happened. And you’ll get to a point where the communication breaks down, and that’s where there are different things that someone will say. So it might be like, “Yeah, we were at a party. Yes, there was drinking involved. No, he threw the first punch. No, he threw the first punch.” Then it comes to a point of, number one, kind of gauging the situation. Usually you wouldn’t have them together at that point, but try to find other witnesses who can give you insight into the situation. The other thing is calming them down usually helps, because, you know, usually they are enraged at that point, they’re not really thinking clearly. So, explaining to them that you really just want to get to the bottom of it and understand the facts really helps. That was probably a bad example, because you wouldn’t want to sit them down and mediate it, probably; you want to get two separate stories. But in certain situations where you can mediate them and sit them down, you kind of want to explain that you’re not here to judge, you just want the facts and you want to figure out a resolution between the two people. So it’s more not jumping to conclusions, more acting as facilitator between person A and person B, and trying to get them to agree on a certain situation that happened; and then, once they agree, trying to help them, not by telling them, but more by prodding them and asking questions; finding a way that they can both benefit from the situation and feel as if the situation was remedied.