Q&A: Meet Aretha Milligan, Rhodes' New Director of Residence Life

Aretha Milligan on the Rhodes College campus.

After thirteen years moving up the ranks of residence life at The University of Memphis, Aretha Milligan has joined the Rhodes College community as the new director of residence life. She hopes to create more on-campus programming and revitalize the residential common areas in order to bring students together and make living on campus an integral part of the student experience.

What’s your background? How did you come to Rhodes?

I’m originally from Memphis and had a great experience growing up here. I have two undergrad degrees. My first is from Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee, and my other undergrad is from Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri. I got connected to higher ed there, which was great because that’s where I found my passion. I then received my masters at IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania). 

Right after graduation I said, “O.K., it’s time to go back home.” When I came back, I got my first position out of grad school at the University of Memphis and I was there for thirteen years. I started out as an area coordinator, went to assistant director, then was associate director. I have a personal plan that says, "wherever you are, you either are growing or going." This position at Rhodes came available and I knew I could definitely grow here. Being at Rhodes is a perfect opportunity for me to expand my experiences and stay in Memphis-- because I do love Memphis! 

What drew you to Rhodes?

One thing I think that draws me to Rhodes is the difference in culture. Wherever you go, students are students. But the culture at a small residential campus is very different. I like the honor system. I wasn’t accustomed to it, but now I feel comfortable setting my things down and leaving them. That says community. That says we care. I appreciate that. 

The other day I was having lunch. Somebody said, “Can we join you?” I said yes and looked up. It was the president. She remembered me and that I was new and we talked a little bit about my experiences so far. It wasn’t scheduled. It wasn’t anything formal.  It’s those type of connections that are going to happen at a small campus and you may not get those at larger institutions. 

What’s your vision for Rhodes? What are you hoping to accomplish?

I just recently did a tour of some of the halls and in hearing from the students and seeing for myself, I know there are some opportunities in terms of freshening up the common areas and social spaces. We can repurpose the spaces and make them more inviting and make students want to use them more. I also want to hear more feedback from students. What would they like to see different? I would also like to see people know who residence life is and what we have to offer. We are going to do more programming for the community and we are also reviewing our current programs to assess if they are quality programs. We want to make sure what we’re doing in our residence halls is purposeful. 

People may think we’re going around looking for issues. We’re not. We’re looking for solutions to problems. In addition to solving the problems, we want to make sure to communicate about what is going on. 

What else do you want the Rhodes community to know?

I am so happy to be here. I’m looking for great experiences. Reach out to me if you want to plan a partnership in terms of a program, be it large-scale or small-scale. Residence life is here and we want to be connected and get involved as much as possible.

I am a fan of supporting our students— whether it’s on the field, it’s on the stage, it’s in a concert—because they live with us. They need to see us out there cheering for them and encouraging them.