Before Move-In Day
The first step in the process of beginning the RA-resident relationship begins before your residents even arrive. When you go visit someone’s house you expect good hospitality and a welcoming atmosphere. In the week before your residents arrive, try to duplicate that atmosphere on the floor. You can do this by hanging up posters in the hall, decorating the residents’ doors, leaving a small gift in their rooms before they arrive, and even putting fun scented soaps in the bathroom to outdo the school’s brand.
Make sure that you give yourself ample time to complete in-hall tasks that you might be asked to carry out. If you rush the night before move-in day, you will not get a good night sleep and consequently start the semester off on a bad foot. You might consider doing some welcome posters with other members of your staff to cut down on the workload so that you can spend your time doing other things. If you have any spare moments in the summer, consider doing your door decorations then and planning a few programs. Remember, that being overly prepared and having extra time for yourself at the end of the summer is always a plus!
The First Week
One of the most important ways to make that first connection with your residents is move-in day. When your residents arrive, shake their hand (and their parents) and escort them to their room. This first step is very small, but is highly appreciated because your residents will put your face to the title of their RA.
The next most important step in making a good relationship with your residents is your first floor meeting. At the meeting you want to be friendly and show them that they can confide in you, if they don’t see that they can trust you, they will blow you off for the rest of the year. At the meeting try to be firm yet gentle, you do not want them to think they can walk all over you. On the other hand, you do not want them to think that you are the “bad-cop” because they will keep their distance.
After everyone is settled in and you have solved all of the surprise problems that might have come up such as the toilet that won’t stop flushing or the vending machine that eats student IDs, stop and take some time for yourself. It is ok to remove yourself from your residents for a day, don’t feel guilty. The first week is often the most difficult because not many people know each other, many freshman may feel homesick, and it seems that there is constant knocking on your door because the residents down the hall forgot “this and that” and want to borrow yours.
How To Survive The Semester
The most important policy that you can establish on your floor is an “Open Door Policy”. An open door policy is a RA’s version of office hours in their rooms. At your first meeting inform your resident of the times that you will always be in your room. For instance, you can tell your residents that you will be in your room every other day for an hour from 10-11pm. When you are in your room, leave the door open so that your residents do not have to knock. With the door open, your residents can feel free to just come right in and talk to you. This is the best way to establish a good rapport with your residents. If they see that you make an effort to be on the floor to serve their needs, they will have positive feelings towards you and the community that you are trying to build.
If you feel that you cannot have an open door policy, being visible for the first few weeks will leave a lasting impression on your residents. Trust me, I know that RAs are very busy people and may not have the time to spend on an open door policy due to work, class or sports. If you are visible at the end of the semester and not very visible at the beginning, you will be trying to play catch up and your residents will always remember that you are never around and seek other means of solving their concerns.
There is also the concern going through some RAs’ minds that no matter what, their residents will not like them. Well, you know what, that might be true. Residents may not like you because of gossip that they might have heard or because of an incident that you might have encountered with them. RAs and residents do not have to be best friends with each other, and actually that is not the relationship you are striving for on the floor. You should strive for a livable, civil and welcoming community. It does not have to be a Utopia, just courteous.
Submitted by Susan Tomchak, Resident Assistant, Elizabethtown University