Building community is one of the most difficult challenges that a Resident Assistant faces, particularly when it comes to building relationships with individual residents, versus the floor as a whole. I offer five simple strategies that I found to be very helpful in building relationships with individual residents. They worked well for me, and I hope that you may find them to be useful.
Strategy 1: Talk to Them!
I know that it sounds funny to say this, because that seems pretty self-explanatory, but I have seen many RA’s in the past that did not do this. It is important to talk to them as much as possible, even if it is simply saying hello in the hallway, or asking them how their day was. Make sure that you are having friendly and informal conversations with your residents, don’t make all of your conversations be centered around policy violations. If you are communicating with your residents then, they are going to feel comfortable coming to you with problems or concerns.
Strategy 2: Put Yourself Out There/Be Available
If you ever hope to establish a strong and positive relationship with your residents, then you have to be willing to invest some personal time in them. Don’t let this consume your life, but it is important to really make a strong and visible effort, particularly in the first part of the year, to get to know them. When you are on the floor, walk around and talk to them. If you are in your room, keep your door open as much as possible. This will make your residents feel much more comfortable, and you should see a big difference in the overall community of your floor.
Strategy 3: Show A Genuine Interest In Their Lives
Find out what your residents like to do when they are not on the hall. Find out the kind of things that they are involved in. An easy way to do this is to simply pass out a survey asking them about their hobbies and interests, as well as their involvements. For example: If you find out that one of your residents plays in a band, find out when they might be playing, and go and see them. If one of them plays on a club sports team, go and watch them play. These types of things could easily turn into programs, where you invite other floor residents to attend these events with you. It can do wonders for your relationships with residents. You are showing them that you care enough to invest some of your time, in something that means a lot to them.
Strategy 4: Be Real With Your Residents
It is not necessary to always have a good day. I think that many times there are RA’s who feel that they always have to put on a happy face for the residents on their floors. Since RA’s are trained to help students with problems, they are sometimes afraid to talk about their own, particularly with their residents. I say, don’t be afraid to do this. It will show your residents that you are a real person, who is going through some of the same things that they are facing. If you are having a bad day, or a tough problem, let your residents counsel you. You don’t need to go through RA training to help a person through a difficult spot. Don’t be afraid to show them your human side. They will more than appreciate it, they will value it.
Strategy 5: Go Beyond “Your Residents”
Your residents have a lot of special people in their lives. This could be friends or family, but these are people that mean a lot to them. If you see their friends on the floor, or if a parent visits on a weekend, make an effort to get to know them. Show an interest in their lives, and offer them the same kind of attention that you would offer your residents. I am sure that we all have those people who do not live on the floor, but they are always there. Make them feel welcome. They will appreciate it, and the residents of your floor will as well. This will show them that you want to know not only them, but you also want to know the people who are important in their lives.
Submitted by Brian Boyer, Resident Director, Appalachian State University