UB’s Residence Hall Association has been named NACURH School of the Year, the “highest honor member schools can attain,” according to the National Association of College and University Residence Halls.
The NACURH School of the Year Award recognizes “outstanding achievements on the campus by a residence hall organization and affiliated groups, as well as contributions on regional and NACURH levels.” UB RHA was honored, among other things, for its resident involvement, programming, purpose, communication and structure.
“Being school of the year on a national scale is such an honor for UB’s Residence Hall Association,” incoming RHA president Hailey Syperski said. “The acknowledgement is a clear sign that hard work and dedication pays off and, as a result, the bar continues to rise pushing us to do more as an organization.”
UB was previously recognized as Northeast Affiliate of College and University Residence Halls (NEACURH) School of the Year, beating out schools from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.
UB’s Residence Hall Association celebrated its 30th birthday during the 2020-21 academic year, and is the second-largest student organization at UB. The association has two advisors, five executive board members and an advocacy chair. UB had 4,150 on-campus residents during the fall semester, according to a UB spokesperson.
RHA was led by president Matt Taboni; vice president Brennan Gorman; Syperski, who served as treasurer; secretary Charity Nwadike; national communications coordinator Judy Mei; and advocacy chair Liz Stippel during the 2020-21 academic year.
“Starting off the fall semester, the RHA Executive board and I knew we were going to have to do everything we could to be innovative, different and engaging to ensure RHA was going to make the impact that we had set for ourselves,” Taboni said. “As soon as opening weekend began, we were ready to hit the ground running and discover ways to engage students but also offer opportunities for them to learn something new.”
Taboni pointed to the organization’s 12 hall and village councils — each composed of a six-person executive board and a council advisor — as reason for RHA’s success. These councils advocate for residents, host programming and provide leadership opportunities for involved students.
As the primary representative of RHA, Taboni was responsible for delegating responsibilities to e-board members, presiding over the RHA Senate and serving as the primary liaison between the e-board and Campus Living staff.
He said RHA was one of the “most active organizations on campus” during the unusual, COVID-19-filled year. He referenced four key focuses — “collaboration, organizational growth, active programming and increased advocacy” — for the 2020-21 academic year and called “advocating for real change” his favorite part of the year.
The RHA e-board has a $25,135 budget. Residence halls and apartment complexes have a $11,425 budget, according to the bid RHA submitted to NACURH.
“It really felt nice having that acknowledgment that we did something right,” Ciara Burke, RHA’s incoming secretary, said. “Especially when you know that times are so hard for students right now, and all we want to do is right by them.”
RHA attempted to do right by students in a number of ways.
During UB’s move-in weekend, RHA hosted a seven-part Discover UB Challenge and campus tours for new residents. The organization also ran virtual programming, from a book club to the tournament-style council feud to weekly game nights to Trivia Tuesday, during the primarily remote semester.
RHA also took a lead on advocacy issues, through its work on RHA Votes, a five-week initiative that included a voter registration drive, presidential debate watch party and mock election; #RHAWearsAMask, a social media campaign promoting COVID-19 best practices; gender-neutral housing and restrooms; and quarantine support, among others.
The organization also virtually hosted the 2020 NEACURH Regional Leadership Conference, which included four conference preparation sessions and an open dialogue about the death of George Floyd.
“So much of what we did over the last year was based on adapting to the circumstances we were facing and continuing to provide a welcoming and fun environment for residents,” Syperski said. “In the face of the challenge of COVID-19 we focused on keeping residents engaged and connected and really worked on advocating for the needs of students. The growth we’ve seen this past year in student leadership is immense and will continue to grow at an exponential pace in the future.”
Justin Weiss is the managing editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Justin Weiss is the The Spectrum's managing editor. In his free time, he can be found hiking, playing baseball or throwing things at his TV when his sports teams aren't winning. His words have appeared in Elite Sports New York and the Long Island Herald. He can be found on Twitter @Jwmlb1.