Working in a residence hall full of freshmen is quite an experience for any Resident Assistant. It is much like working and living in any other residence hall. However, you may be surprised at some of the major differences.
I first lived in a building with residents who were just about all upperclassmen. The following year, I was moved to a building composed of nearly all freshmen. It was quite an eye-opener for me to see how different the two living situations were.
Here are eight tips to keep in mind when working in a freshmen residence hall.
1. Don’t treat them like babies.
As much as you may feel like you have to talk down to college freshmen, avoid doing so at all costs. Treat your freshmen residents like the adults that they are – even if they don’t always act like adults.
2. Expect questions.
You should expect your residents to come to you with questions about not only policies, but also academics and social life. Freshmen are more likely to seek advice about what classes to take and which to avoid from their RA. Take advantage of the opportunity to give freshmen residents advice and information that they obviously don’t know yet.
3. Be prepared to deal with dumb mistakes.
Freshmen have a habit of breaking a lot of minor policies. You should constantly remind your freshmen residents of these policies. Also, remind them that they have a handbook of rules (even though they probably will not read it). It’s fair to let a freshman resident slide the first time when they play sports in the hall. But there comes a time though when you have to stick to your guns.
4. Be prepared to deal with inexperience.
There’s no other way to put it. Freshmen lack the sneakiness and experience that an upperclassman has acquired over the previous year or two. Therefore, you will have many, many more policy violations, especially when it comes to alcohol and visitation, than you would working in a residence hall of upperclassmen. You’ll deal with childish pranks, ranging from shaving cream fights in the hallway to water balloon battles in the lobby – things that come sparingly among upperclassmen.
5. You will be tested.
It’s very important to remember that you’re dealing with residents who still don’t really know you as a RA. So they will test you repeatedly. They will see how loud they can play their stereo before you say something. They will want to see exactly how much you will tolerate before “flipping out.” Always remember to be consistent and, as noted before, stick to your guns.
6. Encourage academics.
Most freshmen students do not have a study habit established for themselves yet. Some may totally blow off studying in exchange for a nightly social life. Part of your job should be to encourage studying and academics. You won’t be able to force feed the idea, but you can help. Try to encourage study groups in your building. Show your residents that you study. Keep other residents from distracting those who are studying. Often the number one complaint in a residence hall is that there is too much noise to study. And, believe me, freshmen are very, very noisy.
7. Encourage a social life.
It is very difficult for a lot of freshmen students to adapt to the college atmosphere, not only academically but socially, too. Freshmen are often overwhelmed at the idea of extracurricular activities, intramurals, or hanging out in the student center. It only takes a little encouragement by a RA such as yourself to get your freshmen residents to bloom into social butterflies.
8. Be a friend.
Don’t exclude your freshmen residents when you yourself are looking to just hang out. While upperclassmen residents are more apt to do their own thing whenever and wherever they want, freshmen may not have that independent feeling yet. So, if you’re making a late night run to the convenient store, ask one of your freshmen residents if they’d like to go along for the ride. Be there for your residents when they need someone to talk to or hang out with, not just when it’s time to reprimand them for something done wrong. No one said you had to be best friends with your residents, but treat them better than as if they were “just freshmen residents.”
By Brian Root, Resident Assistant, University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg