Though each Resident Assistant job description is different, almost all RAs are expected to develop positive communities on their floors. While communities take various forms on each floor, there are some important first steps that you can take as an RA to ensure that the community in your area is a positive one. Spend some time thinking about things that your previous RAs may or may not have done to contribute to the community on the floors where you have lived. Then, take some time to really think about what kind of atmosphere you would like to develop in your community and how to best create that atmosphere.
Helpful hints for starting out on the right foot:
Meet your residents – Opening week is the best time to meet your residents and begin to learn their names. But, make sure you take the time to learn more than just their names. Try to learn a few unique things about each person on your floor. As the year goes on, continue to build on your knowledge of each resident. Knowing your residents will help you more effectively meet their needs through programming and peer helping. Also, plan an activity for the first night to get your residents out of their rooms to meet each other. That first night will set the tone for the rest of the year.
Floor Meeting – At your first floor meeting, introduce yourself but also have each resident introduce him/herself to the others. This allows the students on your floor to begin to figure out who has common interests and to develop friendships. Your first floor meeting is the time when you will establish yourself as the RA and begin to develop your yearlong relationship with your students. Use this opportunity to set community standards, brainstorm program ideas, and explain your role as the RA.
Community Standards – Some schools allow students to decide the quiet hours for their floor. Other schools ask the residents to vote on whether they want to permit overnight guests on their floor. Even if your school already has set policies to address quiet hours and overnight guests, you can use time during your floor meeting to set some additional community standards. These additional standards could include:
- How will we, as members of this community, address issues (i.e., loud music, personal concerns, disagreements, etc.) with our floor mates?
- Who is responsible for cleaning the floor kitchen?
- Will use of the laundry room be “first come, first served” or by sign up sheet?
- Can you do your dishes in the bathroom? If so, what sink and what do you do if someone leaves dishes in it?
Once you set the community standards, publish them somewhere that all floor members will see and remember them. Be sure to revisit them at least once each semester to determine whether they need to be revised.
Role Model Respect – Sure, you want your residents to treat you with respect. But, you should also want them to treat each other with respect. Developing a community of mutual respect starts with you. If students see that you don’t treat all residents equally and respectfully, they will be likely to follow your lead. You can role model respect for your students by using “please” and “thank you” when asking someone to turn down his/her music.
Be Inclusive – To help all of your residents feel a part of the community, be inclusive in all that you do. This includes your language, programming, floor decorations and actions. When you decorate the floor make sure all types of people and activities are represented. When planning programs, ask yourself, “Who might this event be excluding?” Once you answer this question, you can then adapt your plans to try and reach out to everyone. When going to dinner with some of the people from your floor, remember to stop and ask the resident who might be a little shy if he/she would like to join you. Pay attention to who is spending time with whom. If you notice that your floor has students who are “loners” work extra hard to draw them into group activities or to get to know them on a one-on-one basis. As the year progresses, you may begin to notice sub-groups forming on the floor. Develop relationships with the sub-groups that have formed and intentionally create connections and opportunities for the groups to interact. Continual interaction between sub-groups will strengthen the overall community.
Your community development responsibilities do not end after the first week of school. Building a great community is a constant, yet very rewarding project. At several points throughout the year, take some time to re-evaluate the atmosphere on your floor to see where you may need to spend some extra effort. One last tip: Have fun! If you are having fun and enjoy living on your floor, chances are that your residents will enjoy it as well.
Submitted by Carolyn Golz, Complex Director, Minnesota State University, Mankato