A resident assistant takeover: UNI’s 32nd Annual Midwest RA Conference

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  • Each year, the RA conference brings hundreds of RAs to UNI’s campus to connect with each other and to learn professional development skills to implement in their own lives and resident communities.

  • RAs across the midwest attended this year’s RA conference to be inspired and grow as leaders at their universities.

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This past weekend, the University of Northern Iowa hosted the 2023 Midwest Resident Assistant Conference. This gathering, which was the 32nd annual meeting set on UNI’s campus, provided a wide array of sessions, team-building and fun experiences for RAs to experience en masse. Over 500 RAs are expected to have attended this gathering, which took place Friday, Feb. 27 – Sunday, Feb. 29.

In total, resident assistants from 45 colleges and universities across 10 Midwest states

that included Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin attended. 

For accommodations, resident assistants and advisors were housed in Bender, Dancer and Rider Halls, as well as local community hotels. The conference committee hoped that housing visiting resident assistants in UNI dorms would

provide a new perspective to reflect on their residence life system back home.

According to a news release provided by UNI’s Assistant Director of Communications

Adam Amdor, this conference was designed to, “provide RAs the opportunity to experience a variety of programming typically focused on personal growth and professional development. Guests are also encouraged to network and connect with one another, as well as to venture out and explore and support the community.” Overall, this conference is seen as a way that these RAs connected by similar experiences can share and grow as professionals and students.

This conference was first held on the UNI campus in 1991, and it has only grown since then, thus providing more and more services each year. Programming at this year’s conference mainly revolved around teaching skills in professional development, mental health, overall life skills, engagement and resident inclusion. The conference also provided a case study activity which allowed visiting groups of resident assistants 15 minutes to present on current issues and problems facing their resident life systems and systems around the Midwest. 

The chair of this year’s conference is UNI’s Assistant Director of Residence Life and Engagement Jordan Rockwell. “Overall, the goal of the conference is to create stronger RAs, not only for our university, but for colleges all around the Midwest,” Rockwell stated.

“Being an RA, you’re working and living in a unique set of circumstances and challenges that not a lot of people get to experience. So, the conference provides the opportunity for RAs to really connect, share some really great ideas and inevitably take that experience with them back to their colleges, so their campus communities are also positively impacted,” Rockwell added.

Different events and services held during this conference included residence life educational group sessions at the Schindler Education Building, wellness activities at the WRC, an award ceremony at Lang Hall Auditorium and even a closing party Saturday night at the Maucker Union Ballrooms.

Another main event of this conference was keynote speaker Sara Lowery. Lowery is known as an experienced and knowledgeable public speaker in areas regarding leadership, mental health support and self-love and support. Lowery currently serves as the assistant director of fraternity and sorority leadership & learning at the University of Delaware.

Resident assistants are a large part of any university’s residence life system, as they help bridge the gap between residence life leadership and students. University resident assistants also help administer dorms and strive to keep them as safe and inclusive environments. Another potentially overlooked element of the RA system is that they help students develop in ways that will help them transition to more independent living at later times in their academic career.

Regarding his prior experience as a RA, conference chair Jordan Rockwell said, “My mantra when I was an RA was ‘we comfort the challenged and we challenge the comfortable.’” Rockwell continued, “And really, what it boils down to is how can we better comfort and support the students who may be struggling, whether that be academically or personally, and then how can we challenge those who are a bit more comfortable and encourage growth, and we try to provide them both learning and programmatic opportunities to make them better people as a whole.”

The record number of participants in the conference was 572 in 2014, and the university hopes that this year’s conference will rival or surpass the previous record. The University of Northern Iowa was honored to be able to host this year’s conference regarding the professional development of the Midwest’s college resident assistants. The department of Housing and Dining is looking forward to being able to carry on this tradition for a 33rd year in 2024.