☰ In This Section

Q&A: Jim Benjamin

Q&A: Jim Benjamin

Jim Benjamin, associate dean for residence life

For over 1,600 undergraduate students, Bethel University isn’t just their college, but also their home. Associate Dean for Residence Life Jim Benjamin leads a team of students and staff whose main goal is to create safe, fun, beautiful spaces where students can live in community and thrive during their college years. We sat down with Jim to hear about his unique role and vision for residential community, his words of wisdom for parents, and why living with roommates is one of the most formative and memorable parts of college. Here’s what he had to say:

What brought you to Bethel, and what do you love most about this community? 

I was working in the field of student development for 10 years before coming to Bethel, and I just love working with college students. The life development that happens at that age is just incredible! Bethel has an excellent reputation, and I had always wanted to work at a Christian institution so I could bring my faith more closely together with my work. I was in a similar position elsewhere, so when this job opened up it was a no-brainer. There’s such a sense of belonging and connection here at Bethel, and you can feel it the moment you set foot on campus. I’ve worked with some amazing people here who see their work as ministry—no matter their role—and their care and connection with students is just incredible. Helping students grow and develop not only in their chosen profession, but as Christ-followers, is a tremendous privilege.

Who’s on your team?

I work with a team of assistant deans, housing specialists, and resident directors in each of our eight residence halls or areas. Under each of those resident directors (RDs) are a team of student resident assistants (RAs) with diverse backgrounds, interests, and skill sets. About 70% of our undergraduate student body—or 1,600 students—live on campus, and our RAs are really invested in those students’ lives and success here at Bethel. At our leadership retreat this past fall, I encouraged our student leaders and staff to step into relationships with students and really view their roles and interactions as ordained by God. I told them that our biggest goal as a team is to know—really know—every one of our residents, to see them, to appreciate the gifts they’ve been given, and recognize the potential they have to do amazing things.

What role does residential life play in the overall Bethel experience?

We love creating a sense of belonging here on campus. It’s one of the top reasons our retention is so high at Bethel—and one of the top things alumni remember after they graduate. Residence halls are often where students build some of their first and most lasting college relationships, and become part of a really high-quality, Christ-centered community that supports them long after they leave this place.

Clearly one of the most important components of college is what students learn in the classroom. Students experience a breadth of things, become excellent citizens of the world and committed Christ-followers, and gain specific skill sets in their courses and learning experiences. But the majority of our students’ time is spent outside of the classroom! In our residence communities, there’s such opportunity for growth and development, and it’s a natural set-up for great conversations to happen that just spill over from or into other campus settings. Students learn how to live with and respect other people, with a supportive staff to help them when that gets tough.

National statistics show that, in general, students who live on-campus have higher GPAs and greater campus engagement than students who live off-campus. Of course that’s a generalization and many of our commuter students are very well-connected on campus, but it’s easier for students who live on campus to take advantage of the amazing resources, social events, and amenities. They live in the heart of it all. Residential students are all in the same boat, with their focus on the same things. Our RAs get it, too, and they create touch points that make sense for students. Like when the first big tests happen and everyone’s stressed out, they might have coffee and donuts waiting in the residence hall lobbies. Our staff has a lot of fun with students, but they also know how to step in with resources or encouragement when it’s needed.

What are your words of advice/wisdom to parents who have students at Bethel?

Bethel’s website is an amazing resource. Navigate our site and learn about the resources that are available here on campus. We have amazing health and counseling services, tutoring, and spiritual support that are built into the student experience here at Bethel.

Even the most confident and studious students sometimes get overwhelmed as they’re easing into college—it’s a lot to take in, and a lot of change all at once. Your son or daughter is going to call with questions or when they’re facing hard things. Students are navigating their independence and still need their parents, but sometimes that’s more about listening than giving advice. If parents are aware of what’s available on campus, that can be really helpful in getting students the help or confidence they need. Look through resources together, make a plan, and then check back in after a few days. Ask, “How did that go?” or “Did you have a chance to reach out?” Finally, if a student is in crisis, have them reach out to the Office of Student Life. We’re here to help.

What are you most excited about for the coming year?

One of Bethel’s distinctives is Welcome Week for new students, and we’re launching similar “wow” experiences for returning students. We’re making it more of an event when students come back, having food, music, and dollies and laundry carts available to make moving in easier. We’re making sure students and families have a great “welcome back” experience, just like they did when they first started here.

And we’re working better than we ever have with departments and leaders across the university so that we can support students better, holistically. We have key folks all across the campus working to identify when students are struggling and get them support as quickly as possible. We’re focusing more on wellness, building intentional learning-living communities, and identifying practical ways to not only keep students safe and feeling at home, but thriving. That’s really what we’re all about.

Find out more about Bethel’s on-campus housing and the residence life team. If you have questions, contact the Office of Student Life.