Community Advisors help build connections in residence halls

Hayden residence hall is quiet as students shuffle to and from classes with assignments in their bags and legal arguments on their minds. 

Then a voice breaks the silence: “Would you like some candy? You can just grab and go!” 

The booming voice belongs to Maria Kim ’20, who sits in the Hayden lobby with a stash of licorice, chips, and chocolates for students in need of a sugar boost and a friendly face. 

“I’ll be walking down MacDougal and someone will say, ‘You’re the one who gave me candy the other day!’” Kim says. “A lot of people are really glad that I reached out to them, so I think it’s about getting to know people, and that’s the best part about this job.”

Kim is one of an inaugural team of community advisors (CAs)—peer leaders in NYU Law’s residence halls who serve as program planners, mediators, and crisis responders, but foremost, as community builders. According to Nancy Mah Chau, director of residence services, the program launched last June as a way to strengthen ties among students to help ensure their success, reflecting a key goal of the Law School’s strategic plan

Students at a Korean Dinner
CA Maria Kim hosted a Korean dinner for residents.

“The conversation started with building community, and how do we give students the experience they deserve, how do we engineer students connecting to each other out of the classroom to find common interests and goals, and how do we give them emotional support as they go through this journey together?” says Mah Chau.

She selected the team of Kim, Aaron Haier ’19, Adwoa Hinson ’20, and Clarence Okoh ’20 for their experience as student leaders, including serving as admissions ambassadors and organizational chairs. Mah Chau says she aimed to have the CAs bring their leadership skills, problem-solving abilities, interpersonal skills, and empathy to a population of law students seeking opportunities to connect with each other and escape daily academic pressures. 

“If all you ever see is a Vanderbilt classroom and the library, you are going to go insane,” says Haier. “People can get so wrapped up in academics that they forget to build real friendships and real relationships, and I think that for your life and for the profession we’re going into, that’s so critical. Your human connection with the next person is more than the statute you’re interpreting or the tort theory you’re trying to argue.”

All of the CAs are 2Ls and 3Ls. “I think that…we have a better understanding of some of the needs of students at certain times, and that shows through the programming that we put together,” says Hinson.

With more than 700 residents in Hayden and D’Agostino Halls, the CAs host at least three programs a semester in the areas of wellness, diversity and inclusion, and community building. The advisors have already provided residents with activities that include Korean dinners, trips to sports events and comedy clubs, a “feast for finals” breakfast, spa days, movie nights, study breaks, and a trick-or-treating event for students and local families. 

Princess Umodu ’20 says that the community advisor program has created more social activity in residence halls. “I love meeting and getting to know new people, especially those outside of my class, and that's exactly what the programming in Hayden and D'Agostino has allowed me to do,” she says.

The CAs have established in-room visiting hours and also spend time in the lobbies and resource centers where they are available to students who may want a chat or a snack or referrals for health and wellness resources.

Mah Chau says that she’s been extremely pleased with the program’s first year, citing the trust and support among the group of CAs. “I think sometimes [the CAs] forget or don’t recognize the reward they give me,” she says. “As a group, they have never worked together before, and they took a leap of faith with me to build a more cohesive and connected community. As a new team we really value this experience, and our litmus test for success is when we become so integrated that having CAs in the community becomes the norm and valuable connections are expected.”

Posted March 6, 2019