As resident assistants (RAs), you will not only be a student, but — at the same time — a staff member to this university. The position you will hold will be an important one, a bridge between the administration and the students….” Over half a dozen students, including myself, totally doe-eyed and engrossed looked on, grasping each last word our supervisor said, as if he possessed the secret of how to be a RA. Not just any RA, but a remarkable and impacting RA. I was going to be a RA…
As the assistant director of housing and residence life continued his speech, I realized that throughout the application process and interviews for the position, I had yet to fathom what being a RA was all about. Yeah, I heard testimonies and experiences from the existing RAs, but a sinking feeling gestated inside. My situation and adventures as a RA for the upcoming school year would be different.
First, one would have to understand what a resident assistant is. We deal with more confrontations, real-life situations, and — yes — sometimes more drama. Even then, this is the just the gelatinous film on top of the soup. As the position description states, we are selected on the basis of our interests, skills, and abilities, which enable us to assist and advise students in obtaining the most from their experience on campus. I guess the relationship we create and build with each resident isn’t a one-way street; I would learn as much or more from my resident than those just learning from me.
And how do we prepare ourselves as representatives to Rutgers-Newark’s Housing and Residence Life? A two-week training with full accommodations consisting of: innumerable ice-breakers, guest speakers, conflict management seminars, and — my favorite — a whole day in the Pennsylvania mountains, where I climbed 30 feet up a tree, secured only by a self-fastened polyester belt harness.
Then came the day I dreaded — Move-In Day. For the two weeks I had trained to be a RA, Move-In Day seemed to be far away, but steadily, slowly drifting to shore. But for a brief second, the fourteen stimulating and encouraging days of preparation submerged in a whirlpool of doubt. How would my residents accept me? What if they knew I was the only sophomore, the youngest, on staff? What if I flopped to a bad start and for the rest of the year, became the despicable, weak RA? Did the fact that I was ten feet shorter than the rest of my floor (of plentiful athletes, and me at five foot one and a half) matter? Should it?
All the panic in the world seemed to thrash the self-confidence I had so delicately sculpted, a sandcastle of trust that I had never understood before.
Only I didn’t let it. Niccolo Machiavelli’s famous “Seize the day” quote undulated through all the fear I psychologically fabricated, and I figured out that if I walked around as a RA with self-doubt all the time, those fears I cringed at most would come true. I was chosen as a RA for a reason. I was about to understand why, and I finally looked forward to it.
It has been almost two semesters since I’ve officially been a mentor, a policy enforcer, a friend, and a part of the Residence Life team, and it has been an enlightening, frustrating, and meaningful two semesters. And through the bonding and laughter, feelings of disappointment and tearful breakdowns, I have grown insightful. Not really wiser, but I’ve learned.
My supervisor may not have held the secret of how to be a good RA. No “how to” book does either. Not even the psychic from TV. You just have to be the person you were when you applied for the job, the person people said things like “she has great potential to be something” and meant. Because that’s what being a RA is about. That’s what being human is all about.
No one has the guide to being a successful RA. It’s up to the individual. (Kissing up, fearing your residents, or even being a doormat sure wouldn’t help, though actions of appreciation and adoration, like making jolly rancher leis for each of your residents or dinner and a conversation for those don’t’ go home for the weekends, do.) But I have a self-created key to be triumphant- faith. I have faith in my residents, in my fellow staff members, and at last, in myself.