When I was a resident, I enjoyed helping my Resident Assistants (RA) in running their programs and advising their residents. For those that know me, this is no surprise. Whenever something is going on, whether it’s a school function, a charity event, a community outreach program, or an athletic event, you can bet that I’ll be there. I was looking for a job where I could help people as well as take on greater responsibilities. Through the university’s Work-Study program, I was placed in the Office of Housing and Residence Life. It was here that I learned about the RA position and the impact they have on the student body. The more I thought about it, the more perfect the RA position sounded.
I applied for the RA position, and after an extensive interview process, was one of six applicants selected out of forty-eight. I have heard that during the interview process, when asked why they were applying, some applicants responded that free room (single) and board were their motivation. I thought that being an RA would provide me the opportunity for personal growth.
Suddenly, I was placed on a 24-hour quiet floor in the middle of the semester as a replacement for an RA who had resigned his position due to a personal dilemma. With no formal RA training, I was expected to fulfill the obligations of an RA to his residents and fulfill the expectations the Office of Housing and Residence Life had of me. With the support of my fellow RA’s and staff members, I went in to the position with confidence. I knew that I had nothing to worry about. I just reflected on the notion that if the University’s housing director felt I wasn’t qualified for the position, he wouldn’t have offered it to me. I think this is the most important ideal for an RA to remember. RA’s are selected based on their proven abilities displayed throughout the application process. This helped me get through my first semester as an RA.
I was excited to meet my residents and anxious to see how they would greet me. I held a floor meeting to introduce myself and also get to know my residents. There I learned that the community life had already been established, which made for an easy transition. As an RA, I had the opportunity to work with a diverse group of people, being that Rutgers-Newark is the most culturally diverse University in the United States. Initially, I spent a lot of time helping my residents from other countries with their continual transition to the fast-paced American lifestyle. Just as I have taught my residents many things, I have also learned a great deal from them. From the nights I have shared with the “after midnight crew” to the all night cram sessions, my residents and I have grown, developed, and learned from each other by sharing our cultures, customs, experiences, and traditions.
It is important to build a strong relationship with your resident’s. This will encourage them to be more open to share ideas, problems, and concerns with you. I prop my door open during the day and I encourage my resident’s to come in at any time to talk about whatever is on their mind from school, to concerns, or just to talk. My resident’s and I have become very close in the short amount of time I have been with them. We have developed a mutual respect for one another. It is important to remember that your friends won’t expect preferential treatment. A friend is someone who won’t take advantage of you or expect special favors. A friend will understand that if he doesn’t obey the rules, he will have to face the consequences that come with breaking them.
The best advice I can give to future RA’s is be confident, be honest, and to just be yourself when dealing with your residents. The RA position was given to you based on your personality and your ability to get along with others. I will tell you in advance that you aren’t going to be able to handle every situation or conflict by yourself. It’s important to remember that you have a strong line of support in the Office of Housing and Residence Life and in your fellow RA’s. Chances are, you will receive advice or pointers from someone who has already been through the same situation.
The best parts of being an RA:
• When a resident tells you that something you have done has made a difference in his life
• Working with others
• Listening to residents and giving advice when asked for it
• Always having someone to talk to, and I do mean ALWAYS!!
• Establishing a community-oriented floor that allows residents and RA’s to form a unique relationship of trust and mutual respect
• Having a lot of control of the development of your floor
• Decorating your own floor
• Getting the inside scoop on everything from staff to residents issues
• Making dinner for residents
• Hanging out with residents late at night, (my residents know what I mean!)
• The fun in inventing unique programs
• Having the ability to influence numerous lives
• Having the ability to make sure new students don’t make the same mistakes you and your friends have made. RA’s are human too!
• A smile from a resident
• Making many new friends
• Continually learning from residents
• Increased maturity and responsibility
• Increased qualities of wisdom and understanding
• Being a “parental figure” to almost forty residents
• Enhanced leadership skills
• Better time management skills and impeccable organization skills
• Being a role model
• A simple thanks.
I could go on forever writing about how rewarding my RA experience has been even though I haven’t had much experience as an RA. The things I have experienced and the situations I have encountered in less than one year has made a tremendous impact on me. I have learned many valuable life lessons and will take with me the many memories my residents and I have shared throughout my first semester as an RA.
Though I have many great memories, I am not trying to mislead you into thinking that the RA position is a breeze. The RA position is extremely demanding and time consuming. Being an RA means sacrificing your weekends to cover duty shifts. It means sacrificing over two weeks of your summer for RA training. RA’s are the first to arrive on campus in the fall and the last to leave in the spring. There is no pay for being an RA. However, the compensation is free room and board, a meal stipend, basic telephone services (all which differ from campus to campus), and all the experiences and personal satisfaction you get from the position. Many residents take the RA’s enforcing of rules personally, and do not understand that we are actually nice people and students like them, but it’s our job to enforce the rules. Being an RA means being left out of many residential activities for fear of “having an RA around.” One of my goals for next year as an RA is to break the long-held beliefs and fear of friendship that has been a barrier between an RA and his residents.
I recommend that anyone who is considering being an RA pursue it wholeheartedly. It has been one of the best experiences of my life and I’m sure it will have a strong impact on yours. I believe the positives far outweigh the negatives. Despite what many people say, it can be really fun. I have made many “lifetime” friends in my residents and fellow staff members. As a final thought, I would like to tell you to make sure that you can dedicate yourself to the RA position and to your residents. You will get the most satisfaction seeing the reflections of yourself in the residents you have influenced.
Submitted by Brian Stern, Resident Assistant, Rutgers-Newark