About 18 months ago, in 2011, I was a brand new Residence Director, and my co-workers and I were passing out collateral assignments. Among other things, I wound up in charge of Topper Livin’, the RA Newsletter, which, at the time, was cobbled together in Microsoft Publisher and handed out on paper.
Karen Gibson, the Associate Director of Residence Life who supervises the project, and I kicked the idea of having some sort of blog instead of a paper publication. We thought it might save paper, and we thought it might be a good way to “meet RAs where they are.” This is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in Residence Life (ok, it’s “meet them where they’re at,” but I was raised by wild proofreaders, so I feel dirty when I end independent clauses with prepositions), and it means that we try to approach people in ways that they will receive well.
In my first post, I mentioned that I had taken some good practical advice from Eric Stoller. It was right around this time that I was first introduced to his blog, specifically this post. It’s a great, easy-to-follow guide to setting up a blog of your own. I followed his instructions, and I worked with Karen to tweak them to work for us, and voila, Topper Livin’ was born.
The guts of the blog are pretty simple:
- A Gmail account specifically for Topper Livin’. The only purpose for this email account is to link all the accounts related to the blog in one place. That way, when Karen and I win the lottery and I retire to my very own French chateau at the age of 30, someone else can take over with full access to everything they need to keep the blog running.
- A WordPress Blog, much like the one you are reading now.
- An account with an app called dlvr.it. Dlvr.it makes it easy to link your blog to a Facebook or Twitter. When I post to WordPress, Facebook and Twitter are automatically updated.
- A Facebook page for the blog (note: NOT a profile – running a profile for an entity other than a person is a violation of Facebook Terms of Service).
- A Twitter account for the blog.
I wrote Topper Livin’ for about a year. The content was similar to what we had in the old paper newsletter. I worked to find things that would be interesting to students, and I tried to link to pieces from other authors that I thought RAs would want to read. Near the end of the 2011-2012 academic year, I was sad to overhear an RA say “I really wish that there was a blog just for us.”
I’d tried so hard! I had visited the class all first-year RAs take and made them take out their phones and follow Topper Livin’ on Twitter. I had mentioned it to my staff regularly at meetings. I had put information about it in with RA Selection materials so new RAs would pick it up. Still, it was being ignored. One of our graduating RAs approached Karen and asked if she could maintain a blog and handle all the department’s social media as a job after graduation. Fortunately, when she learned that I was already working on this, she was willing to help out.
There is a “Secret RA Facebook Group,” that RAs post to that RDs can’t see but occasionally hear about. This RA asked the group what they would like to see in a newsletter or blog and put together the information in digest form for Karen and me to review. Perhaps the most helpful piece of feedback we received was that we weren’t meeting our RAs needs because our RAs weren’t generating the content. I could try to provide that content, but the words of peers were more relevant to the context.
Our department was in the middle of going through training on social media, so we had a couple of returning RAs who had attended a number of training sessions and seemed to be interested in participating. Both were relatively strong writers with unique styles. Karen and I agreed that it would be a great decision to offer them the chance to create Topper Livin’s content. WordPress stats proved us right:
Things the RAs blog about:
- Funny questions RAs all over the country hear over and over again during the new academic year
- The experience of balancing an RA job and academics
- Tips for students applying to be an RA from veterans
- “RA in the Spotlight” profiles of staff members who are new or who have done something cool or interesting
- The experience of using RA skills in unexpected situations
I read each post before it is published. I review for mechanics (though I rarely need to make a correction), and I check to make sure there’s nothing we wouldn’t want a parent or a provost reading. I assign a category and some tags, and if the writer didn’t include an image, I find one and upload it so things will be aesthetically pleasing.
I highly recommend a venue like Topper Livin’ for RAs. Its “by RAs, for RAs” feel makes it relevant and well read, it gives budding writers a blog credit to add to their portfolios, and it serves as a venue for recruiting new RAs.