We Can Be Heroes, For More Than a Day
Submitted by Peter Brooks, Residence Hall Director, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
You’re walking to class one morning. Nothing in particular is occupying your brain. All of a sudden...ZIP...you zoom up to the cloudless sky. You’re floating, not falling. Everything is below your feet, but you’re calm, confident. You defy gravity. Somehow you have been granted superpowers. What will you do with them now?
The question is shared by an ever-growing group of characters on the TV show Heroes. In entertainment value this show rivals Lost. There are complicated conspiracies, the classic good guys vs. bad guys struggle, and something not often seen in your standard monthly comic book: powerful heroes grappling with their new role in the world.
In an effort to discover how their role fits into society, they reinvent themselves. The time traveling Hiro tries to go back in time to save the life of a young woman, only to realize his limitations. The ambitions Nathan Petrelli, who absorbs other’s powers, wants to do what is right, despite not being accepted by his brother. Claire, the indestructible cheerleader, selflessly saves a life in a fire, and then gets chastised for hanging out with the wrong people.
Their lives are filled with great hope, that they can make the world a better place. While some around them fear them, others don’t realize the good that they’ve done. One the show, the heroes become stronger as they start to confront their personal fears. Having mostly painted pictures of despair and doom, the prophesying artist Isaac kicks his drug habit anyway, channeling his power freely. John the telepathic police officer works through hearing the fears of his wife and co-workers, but helps calm a young girl’s insecurities.
At times, there is no rest; their job is not always done. However, each time they attempt to help out, they start a ripple of hope that spreads subtly through the world they occupy.
In the month of August, a very small percentage of college students return to empty residence halls. They have sacrificed two weeks of summer vacation, losing out on sunny socializing or more fiscal opportunities. They attend long days of training, learning about multiple intricate policies, and specific emergency protocol. These legendary heroes are known by different titles: Resident Assistant, Community Advisor, House Fellow, Peer Liaison. Regardless of their nomenclature, they work together in a chaotic world of change to ease the fears of neophyte students, while simultaneously instilling hope in small communities.
These leaders come from all walks of life, initially interested in the RA position for many reasons. Some want to meet new students; others see it as a way to help pay for college. There are those seeking a strong leadership experience. And of course, my favorite, some who just like doing creative projects like door decorations and bulletin boards. Regardless of their origins, like the characters from Heroes, these student leaders discover their powers during serendipitous moments of courage.
These moments of individual growth and heroism are special. A CA listening to someone talk about a bad break up. A House Fellow helping a depressed student. A Peer Liaison educating his/her floor about eating disorders and wellness. Listening, helping, educating. These seem like small deeds to staff members, but are actually large contributions to a student’s life.
Their fears are just as real as those Zen moments of leadership. All heroes, regardless of their super ability, find obstacles. Maybe it’s a student who doesn’t respect authority, lashing out at the hero for confronting a policy violation. Or an unexpected false fire alarm waking the hero from much needed sleep. Even a hero’s own insecurities start to show when transitioning to the RA role.
Similar to Suresh, who gathers the heroes in hope of preventing many disasters, at times the question crosses even the best RA’s mind: is it worth it?
I currently supervise 17 RAs in the same building I was an RA in almost a decade ago. Generations may change, technology may enhance the job, but the role is still the same. It is full of triumph and tragedy. Despite having friends and family not understand what it is that a RA does, or having nacho cheese thrown on your door for telling someone to be quiet, there are former RAs who are now fantastic teachers, nurses, business leaders, artists, and community volunteers. They kept going. They knew that obstacles would occur throughout life, but have an inner fire that drives them toward success.
My inspiration to become a CA and drive to stay a CA was my sister. As a deaf child she grew up in a hearing world where folks didn’t respect her. When she entered college her community took her in, welcoming her as an individual full of dreams and hope. She became an RA and confronted her insecurities about her self-esteem. She saved lives. She made many more lives feel the same comfort she felt. All from a woman who was once told she wouldn’t amount to anything.
The road is long and hard as an RA. Like most heroes they have the dual identity of being a student and a leader. My advice to any RA, rookie or veteran, is confront your fears, challenging yourself for future obstacles. Additionally, retreat to a fortress of solitude every once in a while, going home on a weekend off, or taking some time for your self away from the job.
As the people in Heroes start to face a threat somewhere in the not to distant future, they rely more on their humanity, their ability to learn and grow as people, to remain courageous. As RAs across the country prepare for another semester, they too will face obstacles; for those who see the weight of these problems as a challenge, they will learn to defy gravity and soar to a new level of growth and success.
About the Author
Peter Brooks is the South Scott Residence Hall Director at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. He holds a Masters of Education in Higher Education from Arizona State and an American College Personnel Association Residence Education Certificate from the University of Missouri. Peter has been a keynote speaker and program presenters for leadership conferences. His company Kick Butt Productions supports his ongoing dream to share inspirational and humorous stories. Peter originally hales from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin where many of his stories come from, reads and writes in his spare time, and is a huge dog and wolf fanatic despite not currently owning either.