RHA finds new ‘Heart’ in Donley/Thomas

Donley and Thomas said they hope to make RHA more approachable and increase sustainability and diversity.

Billy Donley and Rachel Thomas are the fresh faces of the Residence Halls Association.

The two freshmen were announced victorious as the new RHA president and vice president, respectively, at the RHA Ball on March 6.

The slate received 495 votes, while the opposing slate, which consisted of current RHA President Steven Chaffin and freshman Nina Ruhe, collected a total of 274 votes.

Last year, Chaffin and RHA Vice President Brooke Wiggins won with 378 votes, or 58 percent of the students who voted in the 2014 election.

The Donley/Thomas slate’s platform, “Heart Mizzou,” comprised four pillars: outreach, sustainability, foundation and service. They said they hope to develop a more approachable relationship with residents, increase sustainability efforts in the residence halls, reform the internal functions of RHA and promote service and leadership opportunities.

Thomas’s vice presidential emphasis will be on service. She said she looks forward to providing service opportunities to residents next year and wants to emphasize advocacy.

“Service isn’t just about raising money for charitable organizations, although that’s important,” Thomas said.

They want to start a new program with the Missouri Students Association and the Legion of Black Collegians called Tiger’s Leadership Initiative, which will be a leadership conference aimed at first-year students.

During their leadership, they said, they hope to attend every hall government meeting at least once a semester, along with hall events if invited by the president and vice president of the hall. They also want to work with MSA to promote the “It’s On Us” campaign, a nationwide initiative for sexual assault prevention and awareness.

To make campus safer, their platform states they want to pursue the implementation of 24-hour desk attendants in the halls. Donley said they will be working with Residential Life on logistics. They also want to promote the SafeTrek app that alerts the local police of one’s location in case of an emergency.

They also hope to increase the bike share program and reduce energy usage by installing standby software in computer labs.

Within RHA, they will work to provide housing compensation for all of the executive board and create a new position, the director of diversity, who will work with Four Front, LBC, the LGBTQ Resource Center and other social justice groups about how they can work with RHA to make residence halls safer and more inclusive.

During the RHA ball, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies Jim Spain stressed the importance of RHA to the MU community and the impact it can have on its students.

“If we lose a student from MU, they’re most likely to leave after their first year than any other time,” Spain said. “Where are most of our first year students living? That’s you. (You must) create an inclusive, supportive environment and cohesive community that makes a student more likely to be successful. Your leadership can leave a legacy.”

Donley and Thomas said they hope their strong communication skills will help them in their transition to this important role.

“Being approachable, understanding and able to form relationships with different organizations will be our greatest strength,” Donley said.

Chaffin, the outgoing RHA president and opposing candidate, agreed.

“They have a lot of energy and they’re very approachable,” Chaffin said. “They can really connect with students. They will be more able to get the pulse of the residents.”

Chaffin will help Donley transition into his role. Chaffin offered words of advice to Donley and Thomas when they enter their new positions.

“You have to be adaptable,” Chaffin said. “Things never go the way you think they’re going to go. There’s always something thrown in your way so you have to adjust your vision according to how things go.”

Thomas said she will also look to Chaffin and current Vice President Brooke Wiggins for support and advice when she takes office.

“They both have been such an inspiration to me,” Thomas said. “Steven has an incredibly hard work ethic and puts his 110 percent effort into everything. I’ll definitely go to him and Brooke about our ideas and initiatives. They gave me that fire inside myself to serve the residents.”

Together, Donley and Thomas are looking forward to working with each other. As personal friends, they know they can work well together.

“Rachel and I are a tag team,” Donley said. “She’s so dedicated and put 110 percent into this campaign. There was never a single point where she wasn’t right beside me. I’m excited to have her by my side next year.”

RHA advisor Luke Gorham said he sees a lot of potential in Donley and Thomas and looks forward to working with them next year.

“They’re very passionate and their platform speaks to serving the campus community,” Gorham said. “They’re very approachable so I think they’ll be able to get in the ear of a lot of students and get them excited about RHA.”

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