Iowa City Stories

May 9, 2010

A Resident Assistant with a Lot of Moxie.

Getting some studying done while he can.

“Well, you have to like people, and you have to be able to put up with a lot of dumb shit, and I mean really dumb stuff,” said Nick Colsch,  as he put down his coffee while reading at the Java House.  It’s all a part of the job of being what students call an “R.A.,” or Resident Assistant in University of Iowa student housing.

Colsch has been an R.A.  for three years,  working in Currier Hall and now Mayflower.   After three years on the frontline, Colsch is full of stories.  One of the more ridiculous experiences he has had to tolerate involved a case of oranges.

“I was compacting trash, and some f***er-resident decided to take out their screen and throw oranges at me.  It’s January.  I saw this orange crushed.  They were throwing oranges from their window,” says Colsch.

Colsch notices a difference in the atmosphere between residence halls.  “In Currier the demographic is radically different than Mayflower.  A lot of kids often sign up for Currier and Hillcrest largely because of the quiet atmosphere.  It’s more of a studying environment.  Mayflower is the last kids to register.  We have a large number of international students.  It’s a zoo more than a residence hall.”

Both residence halls were searched back in April, and at least 13 students from both Currier and Mayflower were found to be in possession of marijuana.  This doesn’t come as any surprise to Nick, who as an R.A. has had to intervene in rooms where students have drugs and alcohol against dorm rules.  “[The] discipline level is a lot worse out in Mayflower, partly because they have kitchens, and can hide stuff.  They want to seem older, so alcohol appeals to them.”

Colsch says the R.A. program has changed since he started working severak years ago.  Instead of being focused on programs or activities for students living in the halls for participation, he says the training relies more on instructing R.A.s how to be more sociable, and have a hospitable presence when talking to students.

However, R.A.s can still use programs if they’d like. “It really depends on your style as an R.A.  Some R.A.’s kind of program like crazy, and the residents like it, and that just works for that floor,” says John Komdat, an R.A. on Currier’s second floor.  Komdat has worked with Colsch before in R.A. training, and says Nick’s style wouldn’t work for everyone. “The way that he makes the job work for him takes intelligence, and intentionality.  He’s a character.  I think most people would agree.”

Favorite movie:

-Joe Dirt

Favorite book:

Lamb by Christopher Moore

Favorite music:

I’ve been getting into really old Motown.  The Four Tops and the Spinners, the Supremes

Favorite activities:

“I’ve been running a lot.”

Favorite food:

Coffee (if you call that a food)

Nick has a wicked sense of humor that gets him through most on-the-job challenges.  He thinks with a little more practice, those irritating residents in Mayflower hurling oranges out the window at him could become “bombers.”  Still, while Nick has a personality that almost any resident can get along with, there is a stereotype that he knows makes him stand out.  Being an R.A., says Nick, “pulls you out of a normal life for a year, because you’re looked at like a fish.  You’re introduced first as an R.A. rather than by your name.”

While Nick says he has enjoyed the experience of being an R.A. he says he feels burned out from the experience and plans to get an apartment next year.  After that, Nick plans to graduate and is optimistic he will find a job in his major:  Accounting.  At least as an accountant, no one should be throwing oranges at him.

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Recycling To Go Further in the Future for UI Residence Halls

Without Recycling

Many Things discarded in the East side Residence Halls can be recycled

Most Iowa City neighborhoods have been recycling for years, but there has been one big exception.  University of Iowa residence halls are just now “going green,” implementing a new program that encourages students to recycle at every dorm across campus.  Most students see it as a welcome and overdue change.

Currently, west side neighborhood residence halls Quadrangle, Rienow, Slater, and Hillcrest all have blue bins located throughout the buildings for students to dispose of their plastic, paper, and bottle waste.  So far students in this neighborhood are very appreciative of the blue bins, and don’t find separating their trash to be an extra chore.

“It was more annoying not to have one, bottles aren’t filling up your garbage.  We had a bag for water bottles anyway,” said freshman Delanie McAndrews, who lives in Rienow Hall.

While students are enjoying this program on the west side of campus, students on the other side of the river are still throwing out their trash the old-fashioned way.  Recycling bins are noticeably absent from the east side residence halls of Currier, Burge, Stanley, and Daum.  However, there is a plan to implement the new recycling program beginning in the Fall 2010 semester.

The Roadblocks

Students on the East side of campus have wanted a recycling program just as much as the students on the West side, but their frustration will last a few more months.  It has left students like Currier resident Jim Duff asking, ‘what’s the holdup?’

“I don’t recycle anything right now because I don’t have the option,” says  Duff.  “I don’t think it would cost that much.”

But according to the University, a full-scale recycling program is expensive and complex.  “While it may seem pretty simple to offer these receptacles throughout the residence halls, it’s more difficult than it may seem,” says  Dr. Von Stange, the director of University of Iowa residence services.  He wanted to implement a recycling program as a small test in order to gauge the resources necessary to successfully move to a full-scale recycling program for thousands of students.  Stange said, “We needed to make sure we were doing it well, and that our vendor, City Carton and their collectors could handle the recycling going on.  It could mean adding additional routes.”

Dr. Stange said he isn’t trying to delay a move to go green on campus, and he understands the desire of students to do their part to recycle.  Stange said he also sees the environmental need to implement recycling at University residence halls.   While all those are good goals, he said, diverting tons of potential trash to a separate stream of recyclables has to be accomplished so it’s effective, economical and so the program can be managed by current staff.   Stange says that’s no easy task – and it’s taken a long time to get this far.

When Dr.  Stange started his job of Director of Residence Services six years ago one of the first issues he was confronted with concerned a recycling program.  He says at that time there wasn’t a recycling system good enough to handle all the residence hall garbage.  Not only that, there was no idea how much a recycling program would cost to put in place.   “We needed to know what it was going to take to establish this financially,” said Stange.  Dr. Stange estimates it may cost $3,000 to implement the program, but ultimately, it’s too soon to say how much it will cost altogether.

Putting a Plan into Action

It takes more than money to make a recycling program work.  Dr.  Stange says he understood from the beginning that the program was going to need the cooperation of the people who have been asking for it: the students living in residence halls.

Rather than raise room and board fees for students by $50 a semester to pay for recycling, Stange came up with the idea of employing students as  workers in the new recycling program.  While some students were recruited for part-time recycling jobs, there are also additional temporary positions in place to make sure things run smoothly during the test period.   By being a little creative in shuffling the staff to meet the demands of the new recycling plan, Stange says the University may be able to avoid raising room and board fees at the residence halls.

However, there may still be a fee to pay at the end of the year.  No one knows exactly how much money it’s going to cost to collect and process the recyclable waste generated by the dorms.  The worst case scenario, says Stange, is that students might have to pay an additional fee to keep the program up and running, but he expects it would be less than $50 a year.

So, why did it take so long to get recycling going in the first place?  “The hold up was making sure we had the facilities, the staffing, and the vendors to help do this,” said Stange.

Looking to the Future

Now that the pilot recycling program is operating in the west side dorms, Stange says it also uncovered a few other snags.  Students had to be trained and reminded how to properly recycle.   Some residence hall staff were very conscientious, said Stange, and others were “hit and miss” when it came to enforcing new recycling rules and reminding students.  Developing the recycling habit will be a constant effort because each year there is a new crop of dorm residents who must learn the system.

Nonetheless, Dr. Stange still plans to move forward, and put the program in the east side residence halls next year, and the larger apartment based halls, Parklawn and Mayflower, too.   The program will remain labor intensive, and it could even spawn some new jobs as recycling is extended across campus.  “One of the things we’re looking at is the student labor at this point, and hiring full time custodial staff to increase management,” said Dr. Stange.

Still, it’s anyone’s guess as to exactly how much this could all add up to by the end of 2010 when the recycling program becomes more widespread, and more management jobs are added to keep it running smoothly.  Students, however, seem to think it is money well spent.  They see the benefit of recycling versus throwing everything in the trash.

“It’s interesting to see it change form then to now.  I’m glad its there, cause it is something I use,” said Bret Scofeild, a resident living in Quadrangle.

The easiest solution, says Stange, may not be the best solution in the end.  The simplest and cheapest thing to do was to ignore recycling.  “Financially we found we could throw our trash away instead of recycling.  But as an institution of higher learning it’s the right thing to do, not because it’s the most financially prudent model.  I think we’ll find a program down the road that is strong, but not without some bumps in the road first.”

April 1, 2010

Residence Halls Consider the 21 Ordinance



The ARH is looking for help from students for improvement, and positions for next semester.

They could be new lyrics to an old tune: “How you gonna keep ‘em down at the dorm after they’ve seen the bars?”

With one more reading, The Iowa City City Council is poised to pass the so-called 21-ordinance for Iowa City bars.  It would restrict people under 21 from being in downtown bars after 10 p.m.  The city council is under pressure to curb student binge drinking, and proponents of the ordinance say it’s a step in the right direction.

But it’s an unpopular idea with students under the age of 21 who frequently go out to the bars on Thursday nights or weekends to socialize.  Students have argued to the UI student council that preventing underage students from entering a bar after 10 p.m.  will simply make them go to house parties or other places in Iowa City to find alcohol and drink.

Enter the Associated Residence Halls

With thousands of under-aged drinkers under their roofs, campus dorms are ground zero for the movement opposing the 21 ordinance.  It’s not that the UI doesn’t try to keep dorm residents sober and out of trouble.  Activities sponsored by the University have always been in place around campus to offer alcohol free alternatives to hanging out at the bars.  The Associated Residence Halls group has sponsored events in the dorms to promote these alternatives.  While some students attend these events, many, like 19 year old sophomore Yani Anastis, are skeptical.

“Kids are definitely not going to do that,” said Anastis, who lives in the Currier residence hall.  He doesn’t believe there are many activities at the dorm that could compete with going downtown to hang out on the Ped-Mall with friends on a bar crawl.

“No one wants to stay in the dorms during a Friday night, and there’s not much to do around.  It’s just kinda hard,” said Anastis.  He said he goes out to bars at least once a week , usually on the weekend.  What non-alcoholic fun could the dorms offer to keep him entertained?  “I’m not too sure,” said Anastis.  “I can’t really think of much.”

The Associated Residence Hall organization admits that it struggles to keep students interested in their events, and they’ve recently begun talking about plans to beef up their programs to keep students coming back for more.  ARH member Mark Schwenker works with all the other members of ARH and the student governments in each residence hall.  He says ARH members have started to talk about the 21 ordinance, and they are trying to create a contingency plan if it passes next week.

“ARH is working with all of the individual hall governments on preparing for the 21 ordinance. Discussion with any others outside of residence hall government has not occurred,” said Schwenker.

The Next Course of Action

While the Associated Residence Halls hasn’t actually sought the advice of students outside their group, there are flyers being distributed at the residence halls’ dining facilities encouraging students to get involved in ARH, and to become members.  Students I talked to had ideas, but they were not positive these would make any sort of difference in terms of curbing the appeal of a house party with alcohol.  “Maybe more movies, cause back home we’d do that.  I don’t know – it’s Iowa –  so people are going to go around the rules,” says Samantha Nasca, an under-age student who lives in Rienow Hall.

The residence halls coordinators are well aware that students will still leave the dorms if the 21 ordinance is passed and find a way to party the night away with an alcoholic beverage in hand.  But with a “zero tolerance” of alcohol in dorm rooms, the ARH’s Schwenker says they will continue issuing fines to students who break the rules.  The dorms are committed to being “dry.”

The Plan So Far

While ARH is just beginning to consider what to do in order to offer alternative activities for students, it may be too early to say what will actually happen.  “One idea is to provide more late-night events for residents going from about 11pm-2am,” said Schwenker.  ARH believes that if students are able to have an enjoyable time at an event that goes later into the night, there won’t be as much interest in leaving the dorms to go looking for other activities in Iowa City.

However, students are doubtful about any plans the dorms come up with.  “Nothing’s going to top going out,” said freshman Hannah Thompson, who lives in Rienow.  When asked how to appeal to students like Hannah, who opt for Iowa City’s night life over the residence hall events, Schwenker said, “I ask how can we make it interesting.  ARH is asking itself, ‘what makes residents want to go downtown?’”

Looking Ahead

The ARH is also aware that it needs more money to sponsor events that are more frequent and consistently fun for students.  How to raise those funds is another problem.  Ideas include reallocating housing contract money, or even applying alcohol fines to sponsor “dry” social events.   However, students seem ambivalent towards the efforts made by ARH.

The Iowa City City council’s final reading of the 21 ordinance is scheduled for Thursday, April 6.  If it passes, it goes into effect June 1.  However, it could be repealed later next fall.   Dorm resident Samantha Nasca was clear.  “I hope it gets repealed in November,” she said.

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