Starting as a RA can be difficult. However, replacing a RA can be far more challenging. With a previous staff member in place, your residents may be accustomed to a style and approach that is not your own. The good news is this: many residents will be interested in learning about you, and probably have similar concerns to who you are. In essence, it is the bug rule: They’re as worried about you as you are about them.
Here are a few quick tips to start on the right foot:
Introduce yourself ASAP – You don’t want Residents to meet you the day of the first floor meeting. It comes across as too formal at times, and if you’re only telling them administrative stuff, you may not get their attention. Don’t be afraid to take initiative! If you can, go room to room and say hello. If you’re starting the night off with television or dinner, invite them over, and chew the fat for a bit. The sooner your residents know who you are, the sooner you’ll be comfortable with them, and vice versa. Some students may be moving onto your floor this semester. Make sure they feel at home by giving them a warm welcome.
Gauge your population– In many cases, residents have good ideas, and interests that you can help develop. Overall, it’s important to make sure that they have control in what’s going on for the floor. By asking them what they are interested in at first, you let them know that this is their floor as well as yours. Make sure that you learn what you can about them, so that you can get them on board with your own goals (programming and otherwise).
Ask other RAs on your staff about their impressions of the floor – Some of your fellow RAs – through friends on the floor, and duty – may know things that you should learn sooner rather than later. Don’t be afraid to pull fellow staff members aside and ask for insights or advice.
Get your residents on board – If you have residents on your side from the beginning, they can be an invaluable resource for your programming, and everything else. By allowing them to help, they’ll want your programs to be a success, so they’ll work better with you. Allowing them to help make decisions, or even design the program, you can probably convince them to recruit residents for programming as well, which will help massively as the day of the event approaches.
Be Straightforward, and Be Consistent, Be Consistent, Be Consistent – As a newcomer, your best bet is to make yourself clear from the beginning. Establish who you are, and what you expect from the beginning, and hold your residents accountable. If anything, doing this will help them understand what will and won’t fly with you.
Overall, the experience of starting mid year is not profoundly different from starting in the fall. The key difference is you have less time to become familiar with the staff. Fortunately, you have a wealth of resources and people to help you get through the semester with success. So use them! Between fellow RAs, graduate and administrative staff, and even some residents who’d like to help, there’s no reason why you can’t do good work from the beginning. Above all, don’t get stressed out. The learning curve is difficult, but you’re already on your way to success!
Submitted by Dennis McIver, Resident Assistant, Loyola College of Maryland