ResLife Myth #1: Food is Necessary for Program Attendance

 

res-life-myth-1-001We’ve all heard it before: Residents won’t attend a program, particularly an educational program, unless there is food. While I’m not naive to the fact that food is a great draw, I do believe that we rely on food too much and that it often gets in the way of educating residents. Don’t get me wrong. I love food more than anyone. Ask any one of my friends on Facebook how often I post about food.

There are many benefits to food in a community environment. Food is an excellent way of bringing individuals together. A common way to meet or have a discussion with someone is over food. Food is also cultural. By trying new cuisines, and truly engaging with the food (and the person who cooked it) we are often treated to cultural insights. Food can also be fun. One can have cotton candy at a carnival or popcorn at a movie. Food doesn’t need to be “significant” all the time. Sometimes it can just be celebratory.

But what happens when we have food at educational events as an excuse to boost attendance? I find this problematic for a number of reasons.

We rely on food too much in our programming efforts.

Too often, food is viewed as the central component of programming. The knee jerk reaction that food is required for a program is often a sign of laziness in designing and creating an engaging learning opportunity. There are many ways to add mystery, surprise, and excitement around a program besides using food. One can also design content that is so relevant and attuned to residents needs that they will attend it out of their own self-interest. In my own programming efforts, I consider it a challenge to design a program that’s so compelling that food is either not needed or is ancillary to the program itself.

Relying on food too heavily also fails to recognize that education need not occur just in programmatic forms. There are a number of ways to engage a resident outside of the traditional programming paradigm. Through discussions, inventories, articles, and conversations, there are many strategies one can deploy. Programs should be used when the outcomes they attempt to meet are best suited to that method of delivery. In other words, the outcomes should drive whether or not holding a program is the best strategy in the first place.

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Food gets in the way of educating residents.

I also believe that food can actually work against some of the outcomes we seek to achieve. The best example of this is when food is used as a lure, so disconnected from the content of the program, that residents simply stop by to grab food and bring it back to their rooms. By endorsing this, we are in effect admitting that our programs may be unappealing. If we don’t even want to go to our own programs, why would our residents?

Food can also be an impediment when it becomes primary element in a program. For example, the idea of ordering a pizza, watching a movie with a diversity-related theme, and somehow expecting learning to occur is relatively naive. In essence, this is food with a program built around it. The main reason programs like this occur is because someone wants to have food and they have to figure out a way to get the food paid for. It’s unfortunately an all too familiar formula.

Summary

For these reasons, I believe the idea that food is necessary to ensure attendance at programs is a myth. Programs, if planned and executed well, can stand on their own without the need for food. When there is food, it should be incorporated into the fabric of a program in such a way that it enhances the experience of the program itself. Using food as a little extra motivation isn’t necessarily problematic, but when it becomes “food with a program built around it,” there is a larger issue at work.

Key Questions

  • What are the necessary components for building a successful program without food present?
  • What other strategies could you use outside of a program for educational opportunities?
  • How can you discourage “food with a program built around it” behaviors?

 


Roompact-(simple_icon_blue)This post originally appeared on the Roompact On Duty Blog. Roompact is the creator of residential education software for colleges and universities that allows housing and residence life programs to track their educational efforts and make their administrative work more efficient. As the Director of Curriculum, Training, and Research for Roompact, I frequently contribute to the blog and occasionally cross-post my articles here.