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Holly Sims and Karissa Ng announced as co-chairs of Housing and Residence Life

The co-chairs will direct a group of 240 resident staff members

<p>The pair will replace Mj Smith and Jayla Hart, current co-chairs of HRL and fourth-year College students.</p>

The pair will replace Mj Smith and Jayla Hart, current co-chairs of HRL and fourth-year College students.

Third-year Batten student Holly Sims and third-year College student Karissa Ng have been selected as the new co-chairs of Housing and Residence Life student co-chairs for the 2022-23 academic year. During their tenure, Sims and Ng plan to centralize the importance of HRL staff acting as a “united front” amidst COVID-19 challenges and stress the importance of valuing each and every one of their staffers. The pair will replace Mj Smith and Jayla Hart, current co-chairs of HRL and fourth-year College students.

The responsibilities of HRL student co-chairs include working with HRL professional staff to select, train and promote resident staff members, supervise resident staff throughout the year and bring the feedback of student workers to University administration. Prior to becoming the HRL student co-chair, applicants are required to have either served as a resident advisor for two years or a senior resident for one year. 

The 240 staffers that make up HRL include resident advisors housed on each floor in resident dorms and senior advisors who oversee an entire dorm building. Over 7,000 students live in on Grounds housing, ranging from first-years in dorms to upperclassmen in apartment-style housing. 

Sims was a resident advisor in Kellogg dorm her second-year and is the senior resident of Lile-Maupin dorm this year. Sims is also a member of HRL’s Accountability Council, which meets with staffers to evaluate performance and implement plans for improvement, if necessary. She also serves as chief of cabinet for Student Council. Sims said these experiences have provided her with opportunities to negotiate with administrators and lead a team. 

Meanwhile, Ng was a resident advisor in Page-Emmet dorm her second-year and is the current senior resident for Dillard dorms this year. Ng was also a selections assistance vice chair for HRL, meaning she assisted the current co-chairs with resident advisor selection and promotion processes. 

In interviews with The Cavalier Daily, Sims and Ng said they are already strategizing on how best to implement necessary changes. 

“We want to get to a point where staffers don’t feel obligated to remain in the program, but where they feel a genuine desire to stay to continue to grow as people,” Sims and Ng said in a joint statement to The Cavalier Daily. “We want to encourage staffers to continue to create bonds and take the relationships they have established over the years and their experiences of growth in leadership beyond college, applying it to their everyday lives as members of this society.” 

One issue highlighted by the pair is food insecurity among staffers. Right now, each resident staffer receives a partial resident staff meal plan, made up of 100 meals per semester, as well as $140 Plus Dollars per semester to be used at any U.Va. Dining site. Sims and Ng said this only equates to about one meal per day, which leaves lots of staffers facing uncertainty as to how best to feed themselves — a problem that is exacerbated by the fact that resident advisors live in dorm-style rooms without immediate access to a kitchen.

“Our current co-chairs did great work to enlarge these meal plans, but they’re still not sufficient in making sure that staffers are consistently well fed,” Sims and Ng said. 

Both Sims and Ng said they were inspired by their own first-year RAs to apply for the co-chair position.

“My resident advisor made a big impact in helping me to adjust to life in college and to be reassured in the fact that homesickness was a completely normal aspect of college that many go through as they venture onto a new chapter in life,” Ng said. “Having someone to support me through both times of joy and times of hardship helped me to be more grounded in being a part of the U.Va. community and I had a desire to give back all that I had received to other future first years and residents.”

The application process to become the HRL student co-chairs consists of a written application and two rounds of interviews. The first interview is held virtually with 30 members of resident staff. The second interview is conducted with a panel of nine individuals involved in HRL administration, including Robyn Hadley, vice president and chief student affairs officer, Gay Perez, vice president of student affairs, Eleni Fafoutis, vice chair of professional expectations and promotions, a graduate student intern within the program and the current HRL co-chairs.

“It was reinvigorating to be able to share my goals for HRL to all those peer staffers at once,” Sims said, thinking back on her first interview.

The second interview gave Sims a sense of the gravity of the role, and she noted that entering into a room with such high-level administrators and student leaders solidified the weight of the role in making decisions impacting all students.

During their term, Sims and Ng would like to create a more gender-inclusive model for housing. Right now, all future residents have to select either “male” or “female” on resident applications and then are placed in either an all-male or all-female dorm. 

“This delegitimizes the broad and lively non-binary and gender queer community at U.Va.,” Sims and Ng said. “We want to make sure that everyone in HRL has the ability to live in a space that is affirming and safe–a space that encourages them to grow into themselves as they emerge as adults in college.”

Sims and Ng would ultimately like to adapt the program to be more sustainable for all resident staffers, including vastly expanding access to mental health resources. 

Both incoming co-chairs acknowledged that incoming staff must confront the “unpredictability of the student staff roles.” Each hall — made up of around 20 individuals — comes with its own set of challenges and Sims and Ng want to make sure that every resident staffer is fully supported and provided any resources they may need. 

“We’d like to ensure that there is a strong support system for all members of resident staff throughout the year with an emphasis on self-care, encouragement of continual growth and acknowledgment of the hard work that goes into building this community at U.Va.,” Sims and Ng said. 

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