It’s been 50 years since Tonopah Hall opened. In the grand scheme, that’s not far to go from first residence hall to School of the Year, but then again, UNLV has had a tendency to grow up quick.
The UNLV Residence Hall Association captured the National Association of College and University Residence Halls’ top honor May 29 in a ceremony at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. It’s the first such national award in school history and notable considering UNLV’s relatively small resident population.
“Seeing how hard the students have worked over time, I felt like Whoopi Goldberg at the end of Sister Act 2 when she’s holding up the trophy,” said Orlando White, assistant director of residential education.
A team of five students, including newly elected RHA President Robert Evans, put together a bid for UNLV to enter the regional competition, where the university beat out Northern Arizona University, before advancing to nationals.
Designed by Angelyn Tabalba in the style of Time Magazine’s Person of the Year issue, the bid is a 33-page magazine highlighting the RHA’s accomplishments in the past year — from organizing debate watch parties to the formation of the Stonewall Suites floor in the South Complex, specifically for LGBT students.
“There's a lot of energy that came around hosting the debate. A lot of national attention on UNLV, and the RHA having to rise to the occasion to meet those needs and expectations,” White said. “It's not every year there's a presidential election where you're hosting a debate. This was the year to strike.”
The RHA’s accomplishments, not only in the debate, but with activities like a body-positive Undies Run; sustainability initiatives focused on reducing the school’s carbon footprint; and facilitating an open discussion after an ugly incident involving racist graffiti, helped paint a picture of a robust and active organization for NACURH judges.
That overall story, combined with an eye-catching bid that made use of a hefty dose of original content from student-penned articles and high-quality photography, helped set UNLV apart from the pack.
When RHA representatives from around the country converged on Purdue, there were some 2,000 students from 250 institutions. UNLV beat out seven other finalists for School of the Year.
UNLV had competed for School of the Year in 2016, ’15, ’11 and ’93, only once advancing past the regional stage. Winners tended to be from major research universities with large on-campus populations, like Arizona State University (2015) and Syracuse University (2002). With UNLV ascending to that level, it’s a boon for the school’s Top Tier ambitions.
A win like this, White said, sends a clear signal to prospective students that there’s more to living on campus than just a roof over your head.
“We have some credibility with this award to say hey, we also have the educational component that gives credibility to a university, residential life program.” White said. “We may be small, but we have some credibility now.”