Office of Residence Life takes root
The above image is taken from a 1975-1976 Student Handbook and is the first description of the Office of Residence Halls in any student handbook. The Office of Residence Halls, today the Office of Residence Life, was built over the first half of the 1970’s and took on many roles from housing assignments to RA hiring and training. Before 1973 residence life affairs were scattered between the Dorm Mother, Dean of Students, and Housing. Also before 1972 Dorm Mothers acted as the local authority inside the building, but with the creation of the Office of Residence Halls the position of Dorm Mother was eliminated. During this time, the Office of Residence Life took shape in administrative and policy structure. It is also during this time that the student handbook began using language of “Residence Hall” instead of “Dormitory.”
The position Director of Residence Halls was created along with the department and the first department head was Mike Webb. The 1976-1977 student handbook describes this position as, “responsible for total operation of the resident hall system.” It was also at this time that the campus residence halls were grouped and staffed according to areas. The amount of residence halls had grown too many for there to be only one head of all the halls, so the responsibilites were divided up between Area Directors. The Office of Residence Halls was also a starting place to a few popular people around campus. The most notable to come from this department is former president Dr. Linwood Rose. Dr. Rose’s name can be seen in the image above as the Assistant Director of Bluestone Area.
Along with creating these top positions, Resident Advisers and Head Residents (today Hall Directors) became official residence hall staff members paid under Madison College’s payroll. Although no change in the administrative aspect of residence life can compare to the elimination of Dorm Hostesses and the creation of Head Residents. Dorm Hostesses, or Dorm Mothers, were older retired ladies who were often widows living permanently in the dormitory. The Dorm Hostess position was filled by young graduate students often less than half the age of the Dorm Mother. However some Dorm Hostesses remained in the dorms and became Head Residents. Dr. Mark Warner, who also got his start in the Office of Residence Halls, remembers that even in the later half of the 1970’s the original Dorm Mothers of Chappalear and Frederickson, who by this point were in their sixties, had transferred over into Head Resident positions. Dr. Warner started as an RA, became Head Resident, and then became Area Director of the N-complex or Village area dorms. Dr. Warner joking remarked, “Really? I’m going to supervise these women who have forgotten more than I’ve ever learned?” (Warner, 2013). Dr. Warner made sure to mention that he was joking and the older Dorm Mothers were very nice. However this presented an interesting relationship between the older Dorm Mothers and the graduate students who held the same position as Head Resident.
Dr. Mark Warner, currently Senior Vice President of Student Affairs and University Planning, started his career in the Office of Residence Life. Dr. Warner began as a Resident Adviser in 1976 in White Hall, in the Village Area, and remained an RA fro two years until becoming a Hall Director. Dr. Warner was a Hall Director in Hanson Hall, also in the Village Area, for three years and eventually became the Area Director of the Village residence halls.
To attract students to the RA job ads were placed in the Breeze defining some of the requirements and the responsibilities of the job. An article in the Breeze volume 51 number 28 from 1975 outlines some important facts of being an RA:
1) Be a rising Sophomore, Junior, Senior, or graduate student.
2) Have at least a 2.5 quality pt. index.
3) Some group living experience.
1) Assist students in their development.
2) Establish a desirable living-learning environment.
3) Serve as a resource person for individuals and groups.
4) Involve students in development programs.
This article does not describe the Resident Adviser training, but in order to carry out these responsibilities RA’s were trained to deal with emergency situations and community building skills. This article also boasted a key benefit to the position. First time Resident Advisors in 1975 were paid $96.00 per month, roughly $404 a month in today’s dollars, with a yearly promotion for each year returning to the department. Despite the rapid inflation going on in the later half of the 1970’s, JMU Office of Residence Halls was able to bump up the RA’s salary. By 1978 the pay for RA’s had increased to $130 per month, or about $451 a month today. JMU was trying to expand in just about every way possible in the 1970’s, and what better way to increase residence life staff than raising the salary.
Sulllivan, Joann. “RA Applications Outlined.” The Breeze, January 28, 1975.
Smith, Paige. “JMU Student Employment is Extensive.” The Breeze, September 15, 1978.
1975-1976 Madison College Student Handbook, Office of Residence Halls section
1976-1977 Madison College Student Handbook, Office of Residence Halls section
Robertson, Emily. “The Transformation of Madison College into James Madison University: A Case Study.” Doctoral dissertation, College of William and Mary, 1991.