As the fall semester draws to a close, students reflect on the semesters, years, and memories for which they are thankful. For one group of juniors in Forbes College, one good memory stands out among the rest: their freshman year advisee group.
“I think definitely my ’zee group was just very, very tight,” said Hyejin Jang ’19.
“We had a wonderful time our freshman year. I feel like for everyone it was a great way to transition into Princeton.”
Jang’s ’zee group is somewhat of an anomaly on campus. This academic year, two members of the 13-strong group are residential college advisers, two are assistant residential college advisers, and two are peer academic advisers. Six members were PAAs last year. The number of students from this relatively small ’zee group involved in residential college life is indeed remarkable. However, to Jang and the other members of her ’zee group, it comes naturally.
“I had a very close ’zee group my freshman year, and I would say most of that was due to my RCA,” said Samvida Venkatesh ’19, now an ARCA in Forbes. “I wanted to give that back to incoming first-years in Forbes because I realized that not everyone has an equal experience, and since mine was so good, I wanted to make sure that other first-years could have something similar.”
All ’zees shared this motivation, several said, even those who didn’t become RCAs, ARCAs, or PAAs. Michael Hecht, head of Forbes College, said he was unsurprised by the group’s involvement in residential leadership and more than happy to have them aboard.
“I was not surprised when they applied to be RCAs, and I was delighted when they got it. They’re all four of them outgoing people, and fun too,” Hecht said.
“How meaningful my RCA’s presence was” provided “an awesome first-year experience and an unusually close ’zee group, and also a motivation to want to forward that to other incoming students who might feel like they’re not prepared and are searching for someone to connect to,” said Fares Marayati ’19, another former ’zee turned ARCA.
Hecht added that the group’s first-year experience not only gave them the motivation to become RCAs but also helped develop them into people who were great candidates for the job.
“They were a group in their freshman year who developed a sense of community and a sense of belonging,” said Hecht. “Those are the very same things we look for in RCAs, because those are the people who set the tone for the next generation of the community.”
Consistently, when the juniors spoke of what motivated them, many of them mentioned their RCA Jordan Lubkeman ’16, whose own motivations came from her less-than-impressive freshman experience and left her determined to make that introduction to the University better for others.
“What prompted me to be an RCA was really a host of negative social experiences I went through as an underclassman, and how I felt that if I had a community or a mentor to which I could have turned, those could have been avoided,” said Lubkeman. “It’s the RCA’s task to be able to forge a community from very different people.”
Lubkeman specified that her tactics in fostering community involved having discussions about issues on campus, making sure everyone had their voice heard, and having those discussions nearly every week. In addition, Lubkeman made intentional attempts to encourage her ’zees to support each other.
“I get to be there for a year, but it’s the community that I build [that] hopefully lasts four years,” Lubkeman said.
According to the now-juniors, there’s little doubt of Lubkeman’s success.
Many of her former ’zees have learned from Lubkeman’s example to foster community naturally and warmly.
“What I think Jordy did really well that I try to model is just sometimes having your door open and letting people just come in. Naturally a great conversation will get going and that sense of community will be fostered really well and really strongly if you just let people, who are good people, interact with each other and get to know each other better,” said Colin Yost ’19, now an RCA in Forbes.
The members of her ’zee group have not only gone on to be leaders in the Forbes community but have also stayed very close to each over the last few years; eight members even took a trip to Puerto Rico together last fall break.
“What I think Jordy did so well was she didn’t just build a community where everyone felt welcome and everyone felt accepted, but she also built a community where we could support each other,” said Yost. “She not only fostered an inclusive community that year, but she fostered an inclusive community that was strong enough that we still continually support each other now and help each other years after.”
For Jang, the closeness of the ’zee group is the natural byproduct of their common, positive experiences.
“A lot of my group members were invested enough to take the time to stick together,” said Jang. “It just kind of naturally happened. I’m not consciously thinking ‘I need to keep in touch with my ’zee group.’ They’re my friends.”
Although many in the group credit their cohesion to how special their RCA was, they also agree that making an active effort to stay close was essential to the results they achieved.
“Obviously a big part of why we’re so close is because of our RCA, but the rest of it is just because all of us were very committed to making sure that we had a good ’zee group dynamic, and even those who hadn’t put as much time into it made an effort to reach out,” said Venkatesh. “I think everyone as a group has been really supportive, and that’s what helped us all go beyond being supportive for each other and extend that to other groups on campus like RCAs and PAAs.”
According to Lubkeman, their closeness and leadership roles were definitely no surprise: She could see something special in them from the beginning.
“I’d say there’s definitely an interest in all of them to make an impact at Princeton, and I’m not at all surprised that so many of them are being campus leaders in their own ways,” said Lubkeman. “It’s sweet of them to give me a lot of the credit, but in their own right I just really lucked out with a really incredible group of men and women.”
As an ARCA, one way Venkatesh tries to foster community and follow Lubkeman’s model is to host weekly study breaks that are activity-oriented, like building gingerbread houses or writing letters, rather than just getting together and eating food.
“Coming home at the end of a long day, having my door open, and having people pop in to say hi and be friendly…. It’s just nice to see those comforting faces over and over again,” said Venkatesh. “If I had just been living in a single my junior year, I wouldn’t have been as social, but this is just like going home.”
Lang attempts to apply these same social principles to his PAA duties as well. He chooses to focus on three main aspects: having actual knowledge of University resources, being able to convey those resources and advise adequately, and — what he says is most important — making sure first-years know he’s there for them. He recommended reaching out to ’zees for one-on-one meetings or during study breaks, going beyond just talking about academics to create a deeper connection.
“The most important [quality] is being a peer and letting your ’zees know you’re there for them,” said Lang.
According to Marayati, as an ARCA he gets to take the work of an RCA one step further, making sure the community and connections that happen freshman year continue for his sophomores.
“I think my favorite part of the job so far has been [being] able to reach out to sophomores who I feel like think that they are not necessarily cared for in the traditional ’zee group way,” said Marayati.
Ultimately, the mentoring experience at the University for both Lubkeman and her former ’zees has proven to be a two-way street: It grows and cultivates advisers and advisees alike.
“I think one of the great things about being an RCA is that you get as much as you give. I was being brought into this community myself, totally new people with different passions, and I got to learn just as much from them as they did from me,” said Lubkeman. “I think about my time at Princeton. Getting to be an RCA was definitely the most meaningful experience I got to have.”
The leaders that Lubkeman helped develop also attest to the idea of the two-way-street: acting as a leader in the University community may stretch them, but it’s because of those challenges that they grow and become better mentors themselves.
“I feel like when you’re in the RCA or ARCA role, you carry the weight of other people with you,” continued Marayati. “Your responsibilities are so much greater than just yourself.”
Yost explained that being a good leader in the residential college community is an inherently transformative experience: The more one reflects and grows through their leadership experience, the better a leader they will be.
“While advising often feels like a lot of talking to other people and telling other people what to do, you need to really sort out your own thoughts and emotions and feelings and really do a lot of internal reflection in order to be the best possible advisor,” Yost explained
All the juniors in the group agreed that their various roles in the student community certainly were not without their stresses but were more focused on their joys. When it came to what was most important for leaders in the residential community, according to ARCA Matthew Barrett ’19, the best gift a community leader could give is their time.
“Be available. Be around. Genuinely want to be involved in someone’s life,” said Barrett. “If you have a strong desire to facilitate a welcoming community for incoming freshmen, be as available as possible.”
Just as this ’zee group copied their RCA, it will be up to the next generation of residential college leaders to do the same.
Ultimately being present and giving time and effort to the community is what made these juniors’ experiences, their now-alum RCA’s experience, and no doubt the experience for so many others a gift that keeps on giving.
“I’d really like to thank them for being who they are and doing what they do, and, I know it sounds corny, but for making me so proud,” said Lubkeman. “I honestly don’t think I would’ve gotten through my senior year if it wasn’t for my ’zee group.”