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Dick Justice was a one-of-a-kind friend and mentor to the Resident Advisors he supervised at the Florida Avenue Residence Halls in the early 1980s.
The lessons they learned from Dick “are lessons that have stayed with us the rest of our lives,” said Laura Jennings, class of 1983, and one of Dick’s RAs. “They’re applicable to work situations; they’re applicable to life. The training we got was valuable beyond just that immediate year as a Resident Advisor.”
Laura and her husband Mark, entrepreneurs who now live in Seattle, are honoring Dick’s legacy by offering to match up to $50,000 in gifts to the new Richard W. Justice Student Educational Leadership Fund at the University of Illinois.
They’re challenging others to step up and contribute whatever they can to the fund that will be used to provide training and professional development for RAs and other students who work for Student Affairs.
As the man in charge at FAR, Dick knew he couldn’t predict exactly what kinds of situations his RAs would encounter with their residents. So he emphasized training that would equip his staff to quickly and appropriately deal with nearly any problem that arose.
“He was extremely interested in training: how do you diffuse aggression or violent situations?” Laura recalls. “He had us all do a lot of serious role-playing, but he could also be spontaneously fun. And I think that’s what made the group of RAs really gel and become closer.”
Within the group of 24 RAs Dick worked with that year, six couples eventually married. The RAs’ work was intense – and immensely rewarding – as they helped students resolve interpersonal problems, underage drinking issues and more.
Along the way, the RAs developed skills they didn’t fully appreciate until many years later.
“The idea that you tackle these issues straight-on, you provide training, and that training can help your leadership deal with those situations and spread messages on campus – that’s an enduring model, even though the issues change” from year to year, Laura said.
The Justice Fund was established with flexibility in mind, so that as the educational needs of student-employees change, it can respond with training on the most critical issues facing each cohort of students.
Mark, class of 1984, believes one of the most valuable things the fund can offer is “a safe environment to explore those issues and what they mean. That doesn’t happen enough outside of those (collegiate) settings, maybe because there isn’t a framework to have those conversations.”
Dick had "always been a connector – and in the end, it’s the people you connect with that makes an experience real and personal. Anytime you have a chance to recognize and honor that, it’s a great thing,” Mark said.
“We met at the University, and made lifelong friends there. It was an important transformational experience for us. And we have a desire to give back in some way. It just made sense for us to try to continue Dick’s work and honor his legacy” with the new fund.
Sadly, Dick passed away on October 21, 2014. Read the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette's article on his life and legacy here.