2.2 Community Development Theories

In the field of student affairs and organizational leadership, there are a number of community development theories that may help you better understand the dynamics and changes a community experiences over a period of time. Please continue reading in this section for suggestions for how to apply these theories and knowledge into your work as a Resident Assistant.

The following theories are covered in this section:

  • Group Behavior (Lewin, 1952)
  • Marginality and Mattering (Schlossberg, 1989)
  • The 6 I's of Community Development (Kamhi and Thompson, 1997; Minor & Schroeder, 1998)
  • Stages of Community (Peck, 1987)
  • Group Development (Tuckman, 1965)
Group Behavior (Lewin, 1952)

The outcome of Lewin's research in the 1950s can be simplified to this: "People support what they help create." Students are far more likely to accept and support ideas and change if they participated in the decision-making process or helped conceive the idea in the first place.  The implications of Lewin's research for our work in the residence halls is to involve students in the creation and maintenance of their communities.  Essentially, your residents are more likely to want to participate positively to and support the community if they feel they helped to create it. 

As a Resident Assistant, you can involve residents in the community in a number of ways, including:

  • At the start of the year asking your residents to create a "community covenant" (similar to the covenants you may have created in the classroom)
  • Encouraging residents to participate in campus and housing leadership organizations, like the Greener Organization, NRHH or the Geoduck Student Union
  • Ask residents to help you plan programs! Seek their input for ideas, give them tasks, and encourage them to host events in their spaces
Marginality and Mattering (Schlossberg, 1989)

Schlossberg (1989) theorized that the success or failure of a student's transition (e.g. from their hometown to Evergreen) is directly related to the level to which they feel they matter in their new environment. In this model, mattering is the feeling that one belongs and matters to others; marginality is the feeling that one does not fit in. If a student feels they belong in the community or at the institution, Schlossberg proposed they are more likely to be successful and persist in their education. If a student feels marginalized, however, they may be unable to perform at their usual ability level and their success at the institution is compromised. Students who feel marginalized are also more likely to leave the community and/or institution.

Schlossberg (1989) found students feel like they matter when they are noticed in positive ways and feel cared about, needed and appreciated by others. As a Resident Assistant, you can help students feel like they matter in a number of ways, including:

  • Learn the names and important information about all of your residents within the first few weeks of the term. Being able to recall this information in conversation will make individuals feel like someone at the institution notices them and cares
  • Seek out specific residents for their talents and involve them in the community. For example, "Hey Carol, I noticed your sketches hanging around your room. You're really talented! Can you help me with this poster for an upcoming program?"
  • Talk to residents one-on-one and express care for them when you are concerned about them. This will show someone at the institution cares and notices them.
The Carnegie Foundation’s Six Principles of Community (1990)

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching initiated a study on campus communities in 1990. The foundation defined six principles they believed were essential to any college community:

 

  1. Purposeful: A place where faculty, students, staff and administration share in their living experience to strengthen each resident’s experience. Where each students is encouraged to be creative, not conforming, and inspired to go on learning long after college. Where relationships are formed and grow.
  2. Open: A place where freedom of expression is uncompromisingly protected and civility is powerfully affirmed. Where integrity is expressed through the use of symbols, both written and oral. Where there is freedom of action and speech, but not at the expense of others.
  3. Just: A place where the sacredness of the person is honored and diversity is aggressively pursued. Where prejudicial judgments are rejected, diversity is celebrated, and each member’s needs are taken into consideration. A place where racial, ethical, and religious differences are honored and celebrated.
  4. Disciplined: A place where individuals accept their obligation to the community and where well-adjusted governance procedures guide behavior for the common good. Where residents are informed of appropriate rules/policies and standards so that they can live up to them.
  5. Caring: Where the well being of each member is sensitively supported and where service to others is encouraged. Where residents learn to relate to each other in healthy and appropriate ways. Where residents discover the reality of their dependence on each other and understand the benefits of both giving and the whole overall Residence Life experience.
  6. Celebrative: Where the heritage of the college is remembered and where rituals affirming both tradition and change are widely shared. Where through ceremonies and traditions students gain a sense of belonging to something worthwhile and enduring. Where students feel connected to the campus community as well as their individual hall communities through both formal and informal celebrations.

You may notice that the six principles influenced Residential and Dining Services' mission statement and Evergreen's Social Contract. These principles help us define what kind of community we would like to create in our collective work.

The 6 I's of Community Development (Kamhi and Thompson, 1997; Minor & Schroeder, 1998)

The term authentic community describes one model of a healthy, or true, community. According to this model numerous elements are involved in fostering a sense of authentic community. The most fundamental components include similar interests, common purpose, peer influence, social interaction, stability, and self-determination. Also, community is nurtured when members collaborate to create their own standards and commit themselves to maintaining satisfactory interactions among members through personal contact, not through rules and regulations (Schroeder, 1998).

Authentic communities are present when the group exhibits the six I's: Introduction, Interaction, Involvement, Influence, Investment, and Identity:

  • Introduction: “When students enter a new community, they are unfamiliar with the physical setting, policies, and practices. Older members of the community, or those in a position of authority, are responsible for welcoming, orienting, and teaching the norms, values and rules of the community, to the new members” (Minor, 1993).
  • Interaction: “Interaction provides residents the opportunity to bond together by sharing common experiences. As students interact, they are exposed to differing levels of development, knowledge, and experiences that allow them to both teach and learn" (Minor, 1998).
  • Involvement: “A true community encourages, expects, and rewards member involvement characterized by a high degree of interaction, with students, not staff, assuming a multitude of roles…Everyone is important and everyone is needed" (Schroeder, 1998).
  • Influence: “Control is vested in members. [Members expect] to develop a social contract whereby group standards are affirmed, both individually and collectively… Students feel important, their perspective is valued, their contributions are essential to the welfare of the group” (Schroeder, 1998).
  • Investment: “Students care about one another and their group” (Schroeder, 1998). Interactions between members are characterized by gentle confrontation. The members appreciate the need for open, honest communication, and rewards are provided
  • Identity: “[Communities] characterized by a high degree of identity are ones that focus on transcendent values. Students in such [groups] have shared symbols. Members describe themselves in collective terms such as we and us, not I and they, thereby reflecting their emphasis on common purposes and unity" (Schroeder, 1998)

As a Resident Assistant, you help create authentic communities in several ways, including:

  • Welcoming new students into the community and orienting them to the Evergreen campus
  • Role modeling positive and healthy behaviors
  • Providing opportunities for students to interact and build interpersonal relationships
  • Encouraging residents to be involved on-campus
  • Helping your residents create a community covenant
  • Helping your residents develop the skills to confront each other constructively (for example, encouraging a resident to ask their neighbor to turn down the music instead of calling for an RA)
Stages of Community (Peck, 1987)

Imagine the concept of each group or organization you’re in as a community.  Individuals function concurrently in many different kinds of communities.  Thinking of each of your formal and informal groups as a community provides a frame for the interdependence of the RA and their residents.  

Knowing about community, philosophically believing in the worth of community, and being skilled at developing and sustaining community are essential aspects of the RA position.  Realistically, perfect communities rarely happen.  We all live, attend class, work, and learn in imperfect communities, which, when they are striving to be better, become supportive environments for individual and group growth.

Based on his experience with community building workshops, Peck says that community building typically goes through four stages:

  • Stage One - Pseudocommunity:  In this stage a group may feel like things are just fine, people seem to be getting along, relationships are courteous, but it is in reality a superficial, underdeveloped level of community. Conflict is avoided and seen as wholly negative.
  • Stage Two - Chaos: When pseudocommunity fails to work, the community experiences chaos as different members begin to openly vent their frustrations and disagreements. In this stage, community members realize that differences cannot simply be ignored or conflict avoided. Chaos is a challenging stage that makes many people just want to give up - but really it is the first step towards an authentic community.
  • Stage Three - Emptiness: Community members learn to empty themselves of ego-related factors and embrace the needs of the group. The needs of the individual are balanced with the needs of the community. 
  • Stage Four - Authentic or True Community: In this stage individuals grant each other empathy and understanding. 

Many groups never get past pseudocommunity and find ways to courteously interact and get their work done.  That may be sufficient for their purposes, but ongoing groups like residents that are doing difficult task of attending college would benefit from recognizing Peck’s stages and work towards “authentic residential community. “

Residential communities that engage in this developmental process and reach a stage of authentically functioning as a community often error by not recognizing that being a community is a process, not an end state.  Communities are not static - they constantly change! New residents join the group, external crises cause new levels or types of conflict, and key residents leave who had been instrumental to nurturing community.  Communities and RAs must recognize when they need to attend to the cycle of rebuilding a genuine community.

Group Development (Tuckman, 1965)

Through understanding the stages of group development, leaders are able to asses the needs, plan the direction and prepare for the future of the group.  Also, understanding the theory of group development aids leaders in determining realistic expectations about group behavior.

According to the Tuckman Model of Group Development, a group’s growth is:

  • Sequential: Stages occur in a specifically stated order
  • Developmental: Issues and concerns in each stage must be resolved in order for the group to move to the next stage.
  • Thematic: Each stage is characterized by two dominant themes, one reflecting the task dimension and one reflecting the relationship dimension.

The five stages are as follows:

  • Forming: Task behavior is an attempt to become oriented to the goals and procedures of the group. Relationship issues revolve around resolving dependency issues and testing, which can be sped up by making leadership roles clear and getting the group acquainted.  In this stage, information and structure are critical.
  • Storming:  In this stage, participants are resistant to task demands and members challenge the group's leadership.  Excessive storming leads to anxiety and tension whereas suppressed storming leads to resentment and bitterness.  Leaders should provide clarification about roles and helping the group build conflict management skills are key.
  • Norming: This stage is characterized by cooperation.  Task themes include communication and expression while cohesion is the relationship theme.  Teambuilding efforts increase group unity and increase shared responsibility
  • Performing: At this stage, the group is functioning efficiently to achieve group goals.  Group members will assume roles that are necessary to achieve goals, learning independence with dependence.  It is beneficial to encourage a continued developmental theme for the group to stimulate new problems for their problem solving.
  • Mourning: At this stage, the group comes to the realization that they will not be functioning together as a group for much longer.  Teambuilding efforts should be towards giving the group a sense of closure and allowing the opportunity to reflect on the time spent together.
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