It’s always inspiring to witness fellow Wolverines taking ownership of their communities. What’s even better is when the University trusts students enough to encourage the process.

Welcome to Stockwell Hall: a real-time experiment in self-governance.

When Stockwell Hall reopened last year after undergoing major renovations, all the talk revolved around how much money had been spent, how beautiful the building was and how, for the first time since the building’s opening in 1940, men could join women in calling Stockwell home. But as a proud member of the Stockwell community, I submit that what’s really worth talking about is the Second Year Experience program.

SYE is a collaborative effort between residents and University Housing to create a self-governing community that addresses the needs of second-year residents, which make up approximately three quarters of Stockwell’s population. The decisions regarding how these needs should be addressed, along with what types of programs should be put in place, are left completely to the residents. This stems from the common-sense philosophy that nobody knows second-year students better than — well — second-year students. But with such a strong focus on building inclusive communities, there was also a realization that the traditional hall-council model needed revisiting.

Enter SYE.

SYE’s new model of self-governance, which began this year, includes five committees: a programming board, an outreach committee, an academic development committee, a civic engagement committee and MOSAIC, SYE’s multicultural council. With the exception of the elected members of the programming board, involvement on all committees is volunteer-based. Each committee has its own mission and defines its own structure. For example, the academic development committee connects second-year students with academic resources to help them be successful, whereas the civic engagement committee provides an opportunity for community service and political activism. This allows residents to better match their interests with the goals of a specific committee.

Committees often cooperate with one another on programs. The programming board helps to coordinate and improve these activities while simultaneously ensuring their success by connecting them with the necessary funds. So far, this more decentralized and cooperative structure seems to have induced greater participation among Stockwell’s residents.

It’s too early to completely assess the merits of the new SYE model. Nevertheless, all signs seem to point in the right direction. The programming board just drafted and ratified a constitution and all five committees will be putting on a diverse set of programs over the upcoming weeks. And, most importantly, SYE is helping the University better understand the needs of second-year students.

Consider, for example, a recent survey conducted by SYE’s academic development committee. The survey garnered approximately a 40-percent participation rate out of Stockwell’s 400 residents — an impressive amount for any such endeavor. More importantly, it found that the needs of Stockwell’s residents differ from those traditionally found in academic research concerning second-year students. Namely, Stockwell’s residents seem most concerned about finding internships, compiling a resumé and acquiring interview skills. Conversely, much of the academic literature suggests that selecting a major should be of highest salience – yet Stockwell residents seem relatively confident that they will be able to handle the task. These results are being combined with assessment reports for every SYE program and will likely prove to be an invaluable resource for years to come.

This is a clear example of how a student-run and self-governing community is helping the University learn more about its students and their needs. While only time will tell if SYE is a model that deserves expansion, at least it’s getting a chance to prove its value. For that, University Housing deserves much praise — it has taken a hands-off stance from the very beginning, conveyed a sense of trust in residents’ abilities and actively encouraged self-authorship. It has recognized that our residence communities should be kept malleable so that residents can ultimately shape the environment in which they live and interact with one another. And, so far, it seems to be working.

Perhaps a couple of years from now the SYE model will have become the new paradigm. I surely hope that’s the case. In the meantime, as I return to my role as resident advisor in Stockwell, I’m very much enjoying letting residents take the driver’s seat. It certainly makes my job easier, and what’s more, they seem a whole lot happier for it.

Tommaso Pavone can be reached at tpavone@umich.edu.

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