ASRA Spotlight: Chris Gremillion
ASRA hears from our friend across the pond, Christopher Gremillion, Community Director of Residence Life at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia
What does your role at George Mason University involve?
I oversee two residence halls housing over 600 students and supervise 20 undergraduate staff. I also provide guidance and pastoral care to US and international students in and out-of-hours. Daily operations include successful planning and implementation of our residential curriculum, education on and enforcement of hall policy, follow up on health and safety protocols (PEEPS, incident reporting, etc), and responding to emergencies in a 24-hour duty rota.
Additionally, I support university in committee work like student staff recruitment and training, and our residential curriculum planning teams. I work in a collaborative assignment with our Disability Services office, and have learned a lot about supporting students with disabilities. I co-lead a section of the university Life Strategic Planning work group and I teach a section of our student leadership course.
What do you enjoy most about working in student accommodation?
Generally, the most enjoyable and rewarding part of working in student accommodation is having considerable impact on the experiences of a large number of students. I also get face-to-face interactions through supervising a team of undergraduate staff, advising student leader groups, and in informal connections while passing in the halls. I’ve seen students in their happiest moments, graduating or securing their first big job and been able to know that I played a part in that, however small.
Of course, I’ve also met some really great professionals from all over the world. I met a group of folks that I play dungeons and dragons with, and people who pushed me to seek and achieve more professionally. I’ve met mentors and mentees. I’ve made friends and acquaintances that I look up to.
Can you provide details about a specific student accommodation project that you’ve been involved in, that you’re really proud of?
Recently, I co-lead a group in the planning and proposal of two student engagement boards, which will have the purpose of involving students in the feedback process on their experiences in housing. One of the boards will target student staff, providing a space where they can lead conversations around their positions. The second board, both are currently unnamed, will be for our residential students to provide a similar understanding of what they want and will be turned into data for larger scale initiatives. These are great opportunities to start making data driven decisions about how we work with our students, and will hopefully bring about strong, positive change in our halls.
What do you believe to be the main similarity and difference between the UK and USA in terms of student accommodation?
It may sound obvious but in conversations and connections that I’ve made with peers in the UK and in the US, students are experiencing many of the same challenges like mental health, relationship troubles, and figuring out who they are (or are going to be). Students want to build an independent identity and find places and people they belong to, they want to be successful in a meaningful way to them. Students want to feel safe, and valued.
Additionally, the role of PBSAs is interesting as outside of university halls run by private management companies, I’ve rarely seen rental companies in the US attempting to recreate the student life experience. I’ve also seen PBSAs involved in not just administration of student wellbeing initiatives but even in the research on those initiatives and others, something that in my experience is limited if non-existent in the US. That’s a really neat difference in the UK.
You recently presented at our October ASRA Hour – what was the topic and how did you find the experience?
I really, really enjoyed presenting at the October ASRA Hour and met some incredible professionals doing great work for students across a variety of roles in the UK. My presentation was on my experience as a US based higher education or Student Affairs professional on a few topics including student health and wellbeing, diversity and inclusion, what students want from their time in uni, as well as key issues such as the pandemic and burnout. It was a good opportunity to reflect on my own career and to hear from UK professionals on what they are seeing.
What does ASRA mean to you?
ASRA means connecting and building collaborative relationships with peers to grow the field and better serve our students. Its also a welcoming home for professionals across the spectrum of student services that touch on student accommodation.
Thoughts on the future (general accommodation)
As long as there are students attending university, there will be a need for student accommodation. However, who attends is increasingly diverse. Accommodation providers will need to look at keeping costs reasonable while leveraging, or even providing, other resources both at the university and locally to support those students. Providers may need to think about housing students with partners, carers, or children? How do we prepare for those students? Additionally, as demands of those working in accommodation provision increase, how do we support and retain staff? These are questions that ASRA can help answer. As peers or partners tackle some of these challenges, ASRA is a great place to share results and best practices.
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