Residence Halls Association (RHA) is a Student Housing and Residential Life student organization with a focus on improving the on-campus experience through programming, providing leadership opportunities, and serving as residential governance for all students on campus at the University of Houston. Like all campus organizations, RHA has had to pivot to virtual programming due to COVID-19. Graduate Assistant for Leadership and Learning Programs, Monica Flores, explained the process of planning a virtual semester.
Coming into this semester knowing it was going to be fully virtual, how did you and the RHA board members decide what events would translate well virtually?
“RHA was fortunate enough to be able to continue providing programs for residents this past spring. RHA knew that in order to deliver high-quality programs to students this fall it was going to take a huge amount of planning and work. Luckily, the programming provided in the spring has helped set the foundation for this fall. In the spring we did a lot of tracking on our events, whether those were virtual or passive, we tracked the number of students that were engaging in our posts and events so that we could use it as a starting point when planning events. RHA essentially took that collected data and pulled out events that had higher attendance/engagement and have turned those into their larger monthly programming events for residents. Some of those events include traditional programs such as RHA Karaoke and Mega Bingo with the addition of some holiday-themed programs to get residents in the holiday spirit.”
How has the RHA board responded to this transition?
“RHA has transitioned very well in continuing their responsibilities virtually. Things did start out pretty rough at first, but through consistency, they have been able to remain stable throughout the virtual shift. When the transition first began there were a lot of doubts in the abilities to continue to provide engaging opportunities for residents. How were they going to communicate with them? Would residents still want to engage with each other with everything that they might have going on individually? How would our turnouts be for these opportunities? What platforms will we use? These were just a few questions brought up when the transition initially began and with this came a lot of trial and error in trying to figure out what would ultimately work best for RHA and our residents. Just as COVID has brought many unknowns, RHA has also had to deal with these unknowns, but their ability to take on those challenges and overcome them has ultimately brought them together and made them a stronger group.“
“Students are already fatigued from sitting in front of a screen and to log into an RHA event might just feel like another added stress to residents. We cannot make residents log into an event, but the one thing that RHA can do is continue to provide a meaningful experience for those residents that want to engage with other residents. RHA has kept this mentality and will tell you that if they can provide a meaningful experience to eight residents, then they have successfully completed their job. It’s not about the number of residents that join an event, it’s about the quality experience given to those that do.”
What has been your most successful event so far?
“Our most successful event thus far has been RHA Karaoke. Obviously, we are not bringing in the same number of residents that this event would bring in if it were to be held in person, but the turnout for this event has been one of our most prominent. There is just something about this event that brings residents together from all our residential communities.”
Can you explain how you would typically plan a virtual event?
“Typically, the first thing that RHA does is to create a game plan. This pretty much lays the foundation for the event. They ask themselves questions like: What kind of experience do we want to deliver? Who will our audience be? Will we require RSVPs prior to the event? This allows us to start with a clear goal and concept so that the planning experience can relate to what we are trying to accomplish. Once we have created a game plan, we have to choose the right time for our event. Is this going to be a morning, mid-day, evening, or nighttime event? We have learned that late evening events have worked pretty well for residents right after dinner time. This allows them to take a mental break from virtual activities and grab dinner. Once we have completed that we begin promoting our event and encouraging residents to engage in our events. Are we posting it on social media, sending an email, posting flyers? We also have to consider any tech issues that might occur throughout events. Therefore, we have set an ‘on-call’ procedure where one of our other RHA members who is not the host of the event is on-call in case the primary host is unable to get the event going. With this, the on-call member is aware of what to do and how to execute the event given that they will have to step in. Once we get the program going, we always try to start out with either an ice breaker or introductions, this all depends on the number of residents participating, in order to facilitate an open space and encourage resident engagement throughout the event. While these steps seem tedious, they have proven to be very successful in our planning of events for residents. They really help up in achieving our overall goal for each event and help in the planning for future events.”
What can residents look forward to from RHA?
“Some of our upcoming programs for RHA include a Scott Pilgrim Movie Night, Virtual Tetris, and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark as we near Halloween. We want to provide residents with the opportunity to get into the Halloween spirit safely while still getting to experience some of the spookiness. To close out the semester, RHA is hosting their signature event, MEGA BINGO. RHA is in the process of planning for an in-person event and residents should keep an eye out for some cool prizes that will be up for grabs. Residents should also continue to look out for events that their Hall Council might be hosting, they have all been working on some great programs that they won’t want to miss out on.
We really want to continue to provide meaningful programming and RHA is constantly collecting feedback from residents in order to gauge what the broader communities want to see from us.”