At The Class of 2020 we have worked extensively towards our goal to provide a more open, professional, and effective student housing market. Whilst working with investors, developers, and university officials it has become clear that to achieve our objective, the strategic business and planning sides must be paired with providing practical skills and tools needed to successfully run a student accommodation. The result? Our “Practical Approaches to Student Residence Life: the good, the bad, and the inspirational” programme, which took place in Amsterdam on May 15th, 2017. Thanks to the support of Kences, we were able to create a seminar with residence life and student services experts – with the people that deal on a daily basis with students’ needs, worries, and crisis. The aim of the programme was to create a safe space where community managers could share their experiences, and our experts could discuss practical tools to best approach student living. With more than 80 people attending our event, it was clear that the subject is extremely relevant within the student accommodation business.
The session began with presentations by our panel of international experts. Ian Jones, Head of Accommodation Services at the University of Sheffield started off the event by presenting Residence Life as a concept. He highlighted the fact that it is both in the students’ and university best interest to provide an effective Residence Life programme, as it is a factor that shapes the personal and educational development of the students. Grant Walters, Director of Educational Programs, Association of College and University Housing Officers, of ACUHO-I, successfully depicted the American way to do “Residence Life”, mentioning the parent-like role the university takes in their students’ lives. American Residence Life programmes are extremely organized and well developed, community manager positions are seen as a short term job due to the high personal involvement in the students’ lives. In comparison, Camplus, presented by their international relations manager Susanna Graziano, presented a programme that is much more focused on creating a long lasting community of individuals that will develop into a useful professional network for the future.
Following a short break, real- life scenarios were discussed, and the stage opened for an honest conversation on the implications that come with the role of being a community manager. Firstly, Martine Ipenburg and Daniëlle van der Tol, both community managers at DUWO, shared their opinion on Residence Life in the Netherlands under a social housing perspective, and their struggle to organise the resources to support students better. Robbert Van Helsdingen, students affairs coordinator of Emerson College’s European Center presented a very different image, as Emerson College is a US school that focuses on exchange students. He focused on the importance of community building, and not leaving any student behind. Lastly, Sophie Speelman from The Student Hotel shared very personal insights on her own experience with crisis situations. Her frank words opened the stage to the audience – community managers who had to deal with similar situations of students being depressed, suicidal, or even dangerous to others. It was clear that in an attempt to maintain the highest standard of professionalism, these employees do not share these situations as they are considered something that comes with the job. It became clear from the seminar that indeed, they are. However it is our aim to make it easier, and to provide these managers with the right tools to successfully face these issues. We hope the conversation continues, and that this was only a pilot to it. We invite all our attendees, and anyone interested in the subject, to share their feedback and keep on talking. Ultimately, we can create a community of people that can support each other with the multiple layers Residence Life programmes entail.