With the new initiatives to foster and increase community spirit in UCD residences recently introduced, Emer Sugrue examines community life on campus.

Going to college can be a daunting experience, but it is particularly tough if you are also leaving home for the first time. After eighteen years of being looked after you are suddenly left to fend for yourself, in a new city, maybe even a new country, sharing a small apartment with complete strangers. New students can often feel isolated during their first weeks away from home but it is also an opportunity to create a new home, a new community with your fellow residents.

Social provisions for a residence community used to be practically non-existent, with students obliged to forge their own way through campus-wide clubs and societies, and their own social initiative to befriend their neighbours. In the last few years however, the culture of UCD residence has expanded with the establishment of Res Life, a program created by the Students’ Union and the residences management with the very aim of promoting community spirit. Students’ Union Welfare officer Rachel Breslin is one of the strongest advocates of the program, her interest in the scheme stemming from her own experiences living on campus.

“I’ve lived on residence for 3 years and I’ve certainly felt, particularly in my first year when I wasn’t really involved in anything else, that the lack of community spirit in residences that I felt existed at the time can make you feel a bit more isolated. The biggest proportion of residences is first years, there’s over 800 of them, and a lot of them come from schools like I did in Donegal, not knowing anybody else in college. If there isn’t a built-in spirit of community in residences then it can actually add to your isolation rather than make you feel better about being in college.”

On the front line of the campus community initiative are the three Residence Representatives, who assist students with campus issues and represent residents in the Students’ Union council meetings. They have become heavily involved in fostering this sense of community and are working to increase awareness of the various programs and events available. Danielle Curtis, a second year Res Rep, explains how they have worked this year to increase their presence on campus.

“It was one of our aims, myself and the two other Res Reps, to get to know people. We have gone around and knocked on doors and introduced ourselves, we’ve lecture addressed in the main buildings where there would be a lot of country people on Res like Ag and Science and told people who we were. Even when we went lecture addressing about the march we introduced ourselves as Res Reps so the people who were sitting in lectures knew who we were. Its kind of us trying to get our name out there, to show people that there is somebody who represents them in council because not many people do know about that.”

One of the big projects planned for this semester is a formal Res Ball especially for the students living on campus, held in the Burlington Hotel later this month. “We have got a market of about 2,600 students to sell to, so hopefully it’ll go off”, Danielle explains. “The hitch is that it’s the first year it’s running in UCD … but hopefully we can start something small that will continue through the years.” Though the first of its kind in UCD, there have been hugely successful Res Balls held by other colleges, for example Trinity College.

The second big initiative planned is the residence magazine – a free monthly magazine put together by students and delivered to each apartment in UCD. The hope is that this will increase the community identity of residences as they become more informed about events and their fellow Res students.

“The magazine is really to make people aware of the events that are being run anyway” explains Breslin, “so L&H events, Ents events, any sort of talks that might be going on, even careers events. So kind of a calendar of events that are going over the month in the college itself to make students aware of some of the offers the campus outlets have got on … ways to save money in residences and then also to do things like, the Res Reps wanted to organise a Come Dine With Me competition. It’s difficult to organise over social media and Facebook but if we get everyone with the same leaflet going through their door and the same offer; like maybe we’re going to do an offer that week in the shop where you can buy tea for less and everyone kind of knows about it, then it will be easier.”

“We were thinking of doing a description of meals that you could cook with suggested recipes but then have house competitions so you might not get everyone knowing about the house if it’s online but if they all get a magazine they can get the house together and also post photos to the website, and then they would be in the next magazine.”

Those currently living in UCD residences have a less optimistic tale to tell of SU initiatives however. Fiona Brown, a first year Arts student living in Belgrove, feels that there is little community spirit in her building, “There’s not really a community feel, everyone just keeps themselves to themselves … I know the ones across the hall though, we can’t get rid of them! They’re over here drinking tea now”, she jokes. “It’s a big change, but I live with nice people.” Although there are parties and nights out among the group, the SU-planned events have sparked little interest. “Well they tried at the start of the year, it didn’t seem to work. There was a sports day organised but no one really went to it.”

Others paint a more positive picture of the resident community, “All my roommates are so nice” Catriona Daly, a first year Roebuck Castle resident affirms, “Half of them are exchange students only here for the semester and half of them are here for their whole course and I just think its really nice that we’re all getting to know each other, we’re all intermingling. I know a lot of people in Roebuck Castle, I’d say I know most of them because we eat together, we all have meals together. I know people from my course as well but not as well as I’d know the people in Roebuck Castle. There’s always parties going on in different apartments and people are free to come and join in so I’d say it’s definitely a community.”

Catriona agrees that there is little participation in organised Res events however, and feels the SU involvement is largely unnecessary. “I think that people are fairly good at organising their own events and stuff a lot of the time. There was an attempt to have a Roebuck Halloween thing but only a few people showed up because most people wanted to go out and stay out.

“I don’t think it’s necessary for the SU to get more involved. If they wanted to I’m sure people would be happy but at the moment we’re happy to organise our own stuff.”

Breslin however, feels that the SU drive for a residence community is very beneficial for students, particularly for those who may not be as quick to connect with classmates and neighbours. “I think that natural community on a residence, it depends on the people in the apartment, so if you have people in a block who know each other already then a community spirit builds up very quickly, but if you have people who are more shy, less confident, who maybe don’t know anybody then they don’t feel part of that community spirit unless there’s an event they can go to or unless someone makes an effort to bring them into the community, which is what I really want to do. I want to make sure that there’s an event for everybody, so that everyone feels comfortable going to at least one event during the year or doing one activity through Res Life.”

Getting to know your neighbours is not an automatic process and Rachel Breslin has found that residents are more self-contained than people realise. ”When I put in my manifesto last year … I was surprised how many students when we went round to the door, even casually when we asked if the person next door was in they’d say, ‘no, I don’t know them’ – within their own house. There’s more of that than even I was aware of.”

The feedback for the upcoming initiative has been very positive so far, with even those who feel support to be unnecessary expressing huge interest in involvement in the projects. “When an event has happened students have been really quick to say that it was really good. So rather than outwardly demanding it, when it has happened they’ve always come back saying that was a really good idea. There were lots of people attending so it shows there is an appetite for it here.”

Living on campus can be invaluable for a new student. It removes many of the pressures of living on your own for the first time; cutting out landlords, transport and depending on where you live, perhaps also cooking, which even final years seemingly struggle to master. Living in the centre of the action with so many people doing the same thing is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and these initiatives should help residents experience what UCD offers to the full.

Reflecting on her experiences as a resident, Danielle Curtis echoes Rachel in her support. “The community feel is there in every sense, I know everyone in my building this year. You just see people walking on the stairs, you introduce yourself and stuff like that. I think there is a community feel in each res and it’s pretty much the same vibe in each res. It made my first year, living on res.”