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Residential Life Programs Welcome Students

Amanda Grazioso and Chuck Crawford oversee Residential Life for 2,300 students living in campus dorms and apartments, and they say their work is about much more than “heads in beds.”

“Students spend two thirds of their time outside the traditional classroom, and it’s our responsibility to pick it up from there,” says Grazioso, director of residential life and dining services. “Our staff are educators. Their classroom is the residence halls.”

Crawford, associate director of residence education, adds, “We help create an educational environment where students learn and grow as individuals. We support our academic mission through strategic community development.”

Just as academic courses are guided by curriculum, so, too, is Residential Life. About five years ago, Plymouth State University began reshaping its Res Life program, creating a 56-page document that outlines a comprehensive community development model. At the core—aside from safety—is a program for all residential students aimed at helping them feel welcome, regardless of their race or sexual identity.

Also key in the plan is the recruitment, selection, and training of 60 community advisors, or CAs. Along with PSU staff, these student leaders are trained in problem-solving, recognizing other perspectives, and matters of equity, diversity, and inclusion. They help create inclusive residential experiences.

“Students take ownership for their own education and growth,” Grazioso says.

In the most recent training for CAs, staff dug deep on issues of social justice and oppression, introducing the concepts of privilege, micro-aggressions, unconscious bias, and intent versus impact. “We’ve really moved into the next phase of supporting students on a predominantly white campus,” Crawford says.

To further acknowledge and celebrate differences, PSU also created and refined two unique housing options. The most well-known—because it was launched 10 years ago—is The Q, where roughly 30 students who identify as LGBTQ+ live. Along the same lines, through the Affinity Housing program, students in the same clubs or organizations, or students with similar academic or extracurricular interests can live together in clusters.

The concept is popular with students, who can apply to create their own affinity group if one does not exist. “We’ve seen our applications for Affinity Housing triple this year. We had 20 applications of groups for 2022 and over 60 coming up for 2023,” Grazioso says.

Carsen Moffett ’24 moved into an affinity community this year with three friends; the four are all from Canada, and they all play winter sports. Moffett, who plays Women’s Ice Hockey, says living in her chosen foursome helped her feel at home at PSU. “We are able to learn about each other’s passion for our sports and get to know each other outside of school and form a family,” she says.

As a lesbian, Alexandra “Alex” Petro-Stone ’22 opted to live in The Q as a first-year because she knew she would be respected and supported. Her CA saw how empathetic Petro-Stone was and encouraged her to become a CA in her sophomore year. She jumped in to support others and build relationships, even surveying her peers to assess their needs.

“Giving students a safe and private outlet to express themselves and talk about things going on in their lives enhances their education as they may not be as distracted after talking things out,” she explains. “Living in The Q set me up for success at PSU. I came into a community where I knew I was not going to be judged for figuring out my identities and who I am as a person.”

Another resident of The Q, Kayla Orthman ’24, says her housing choice helped her make friends and put herself out there. “I met people just through hanging out in our common area,” she says. “It feels good to know that PSU cares about our safety and comfort in our living situations.”

Between them, Grazioso and Crawford have nearly 40 years of experience in collegiate life and have a passion for helping students feel both welcomed and welcoming. “Students come from all over with very different backgrounds,” Grazioso says. “Some are very aware and attuned to differences while others are not. We want to make sure they have the information to create community and foster a sense of belonging and know what the resources are should issues arise.” ■ Janice Beetle