RHA hosts Midwest conference for residence hall governments, addresses leadership and social justice

The theme for this year’s MACURH conference, “be the change,” aims to help schools improve the social environment on their campuses.

From Oct. 30 to Nov. 1, RHA hosted the annual Midwest Affiliate of College and University Residence Halls Regional Conference, an event that brought residence hall governments from across the Midwest to MU to discuss leadership and issues on college campuses.

MACURH is a part of the National Association of College and University Residence Halls, and 32 NACURH affiliates attended this year’s conference.

NACURH is an organization that “empowers, motivates and equips residence hall leaders by providing them with skills and resources in order for them to excel and positively impact their campus communities,” according to its website.

Residence hall associations must apply to become affiliates of the national organization. This allows them to have representation in the organization, get discounted prices at regional and national conferences, network with other residence halls and access training resources provided by NACURH, according to its website.

In order to host MACURH, the MU Residence Halls Association had to bid for the conference a year in advance.

“We got this whole staff together, worked for months and we bid for the conference and we got it,” said Billy Donley, RHA president and budget and finance chairman for MACURH. “I think we noticed that one, nobody was going to host it, and two, we haven’t hosted a conference in quite a while. We have this great campus that we could really showcase; not only the spaces on campus but also just the different leaders on campus and everyone that’s sponsoring our conference.”

This year, the theme of the conference was “Be the Change,” which focused on issues such as social justice, sustainability, diversity practices, the advancements of educational programs, equality struggles regarding sexuality and more. Each university had delegates speak on these topics during conference.

“The theme, ‘Be the Change,’ was sparked by the founding group of conference team members to host a conference that is meaningful and not just fun,” said Colleen Burns, vice conference chairwoman and head of entertainment and ceremonies for MACURH. “We wanted to do something that would apply to everyone’s daily lives and campus communities. Mizzou works hard every single day to be a national model and leader of progression, so we felt that it would be fitting if we proposed this theme for the Midwest region, but I do recognize that we still have a lot of work to do.”

In addition to spreading MU’s vision of change, the goal of the conference was also to hear other universities’ practices and perspectives, Burns said.

“Every year you have anywhere from six to 12 delegates come from all of these affiliated universities, and they have programs and socials and networking opportunities and leadership activities,” Donley said. “It’s this great opportunity for people to really step outside of Missouri or step outside of their city and get a chance to meet other RHAs, figure out how they work structurally, what their organization is like and their leadership styles.”

There were nine categories for programs at the conference, including leading the change, changing the environment, changing the tide, programs for residence halls, working with campus partners and more.

The conference also included two keynote speakers. The first speaker, Ryan Sallans, is a transgender man who shared how his transition story has affected transgender rights and awareness during his keynote titled “A Personal Journey’s Influence on a Movement.”

At the closing banquet on Oct. 31, the closing keynote speaker, MU Chief Diversity Officer Noor Azizan-Gardner, spoke about problems with inclusivity that affect college campuses.

Planning for the conference occurred before recent events of discrimination on MU’s campus, such as the Legion of Black Collegians incident and Missouri Student Association President Payton Head’s Facebook status.

“They are examples of the types of problems we want to address, learn about, alleviate and eliminate,” Burns said.

On Oct. 24, the weekend before the start of the conference, Gateway Hall was vandalized with an image of a swastika drawn in feces. This was the second incident within the past year where anti-semitic graffiti was found in residence halls on campus. Incidents such as these have prompted RHA to address issues of discrimination across other campuses.

“There has been a lot of talk about the issues on Mizzou’s campus, and because of that a lot of people are aware of what’s going on on our campus,” Donley said. “I’ve been talking to presidents, just trying to inspire them to make sure that they’re addressing every issue on their campus.”

A large part of the conference focused on philanthropy, and each university participated in philanthropic events leading up to and during the conference.

“Each delegation tries to collect as many pull-tabs as possible,” said Rachel Thomas, RHA vice president and philanthropy chairwoman for MACURH. “All of those are collected and will be sent to a local recycling place. That’s a MACURH tradition. Then, the philanthropy at the conference itself is making blankets for the Children’s Hospital.”

All of the funds collected from pull-tabs will go to a local Ronald McDonald House. During the conference, about 400 people will be working on making blankets, Thomas said.

Overall, many hope that the conference will not only help change MU, but that it will also influence the environment on other campuses.

“Hopefully every person who comes to this conference will learn something that will affect their leadership style and the way that they run their organization and we’ll bring positive change, to be the change on campus,” Donley said.

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