Remember to take time for yourself – to eat, to sleep, to study, to hang out with your friends when you feel like it. Know that it’s always okay to ask for help. Be prepared for the unexpected.
EVENT: The second week of school I was already behind in my schoolwork. Things on my floor were going great, but in the process, time for my schoolwork had been compromised. So that Thursday night I shut my door and sat down with my books to get some real studying done. This was the first time my door had been shut since move-in weekend – apart from times I was getting dressed or asleep. About twenty minutes into me being productive, there was a knock on my door – one of my residents (whose name had completely escaped me) stood there with one hand at the back of her head. She looked at me and said, “Umm … I’m bleeding.”
How I dealt with it: I stared at her for a moment before I asked her what was wrong. She took her hand off her head and dripped blood all over my carpet. She said she had been rocking her desk chair, rocked too far back and hit her head against her roommate’s chair. Her skull had cracked open about two inches. I guided her to my chair, sat her down, threw a clean washcloth at her and then called 911. The paramedics said she needed to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance for some stitches/staples. Being the second week of class, she didn’t know very many people and so another RA and I followed the ambulance to the hospital. She asked me to hold her hand through the whole thing and then we brought her back home.
In retrospect: I definitely felt good about the fact that although I had only been her RA for a couple of weeks, she felt comfortable enough to come to me and ask for help.
I love my residents and taking the time to accompany them to the emergency room is something I gladly do. Be sure to check your department’s policy on this. Some schools require that RAs accompany residents to the hospital. If this is not the case, and you have a huge exam the next day, it may be okay to have a friend or roommate, or another RA , accompany your resident to the hospital.
Be intentional in conversations and remember the small things. I believe it’s the details that make the difference. Being consistent, reliable and honest is crucial to a healthy relationship.
EVENT: All RA’s on campus this year were required to partake in a program called “Taking Stock.” It entailed having access to the resident’s freshman seminar and college composition grades and having intentional conversations with them about academics. Initially I was not very excited at the prospect of having to have conversations with my residents about their grades – I thought it would take time that I did not have and I did not feel very comfortable having academically oriented conversations with my residents.
How I dealt with it: I put notes with lollipops on them in all their mailboxes reminding them that they had volunteered for the program and that they should sign up for a time to talk with me. All my conversations were very informal – we talked about classes, what they liked and didn’t like about college, how things with the roommate were going, family and friends – I let the conversation take it’s own path. In the beginning not all my residents had signed up for slots but as the conversations began, the word spread and I heard the girls encouraging the rest of the floor to talk with me. Some of the conversations were over dinner, others in the bathroom or in the hallway – just whenever we got a chance to touch base. It did take time out of my schedule but I tried my best to stay ahead of the game by being organized and allocating time everyday for me to study, run errands and get stuff done.
In retrospect: I can honestly say that this program was the best thing that ever happened to my relationship with my floor. Through these conversations I let my girls know that they could trust me. They also found out that I knew of resources that could help them excel at college whether they be the tutorial hall, a mentoring program or intramural sports. We have now reached a stage on my floor where my girls openly discuss classes and grades with me, they ask for help with homework – we have study groups that meet before exams, they talk about scheduling classes, financial aid, career choices, etc. The conversations helped them open up to me in a realm that would otherwise have not been possible. Whether a school has a program like Taking Stock or not, I would definitely encourage RA’s to be intentional in conversations and help residents realize that they have all the support they need.
It’s okay to ask for help. Trust your fellow RA’s and know that there is someone out there to support you in all that you do. “You are not an island.”
EVENT: Monday morning, I woke up with the flu and just knew that it was not going to be a fun day. I called in to work and let them know that I would not be coming in. I had just lain back down to sleep when there was a knock on my door. I opened it to find the RA from the floor below me standing there with a note in her hand. She would not say anything at all. I pulled her into my room, closed the door and snatched the note out of her hand. There was a printed note on the top and then blood splattered across the rest of the page. All she could say was “XXX.” I grabbed my phone and dialed 911. The first time I read the note was while reading it to the dispatcher over the phone.
How I dealt with it: We were directed to meet a police officer at the front desk of our residence hall. We took him to the floor that XXX lived on and knocked on the door but there was no response. The police officer radioed in and asked her room to be called – we heard the phone ringing but no one picked up. I have never been this scared in my entire life. The officer keyed into the room to find XXX sitting up in bed. She was awake but not coherent enough to answer all the questions she was asked. The officer asked her about the blood on the note to which she rolled back her sleeves to show us superficial cuts on her arms. There were empty prescription bottles on her floor but she said she had only taken the regular dosage. XXX is on anti-depressants and sleeping aids. Paramedics were called and after examining her they took her to the hospital in an ambulance.
In retrospect: This experience is definitely the scariest that I have had to deal with so far as an RA. The fact that someone had to go to such extremes to call for help is unfathomable to me. I’m glad that my co-RA had enough trust in me to ask for help. I believe that we did all that we could to get her the help she needed. She asked for help, albeit in an extreme manner and now she has it. And she’s alive for right now. Documenting the situation was very, very hard. They asked us to include the note in our write-up. After we were all done, we ate some candy to cheer us up and then I called my mum – I’m glad there’s a person out there who loves me unconditionally and can give me all the support that I need.
Not every story is a success story …
EVENT: One of my residents just doesn’t seem to be able to do things the way most people do. She leaves her trash bags out in the hallway for someone else to pick up, is noisy on nights when she doesn’t have class early the next morning, expects perfect silence when she’s in bed and continues to leave her alarm clock set on when she’s gone for the weekend. She once told that I was slacking on my job as my floor meeting was too short and I had a blank bulletin board up for a couple of nights. Apart from her, her boyfriend who attends our rival school has trouble following the rules on my floor – he walks around in his underwear, picks fights with my residents, brushes his teeth in the drinking fountain and has even used the women’s bathroom instead of going to across the hall to the men’s side.
How I dealt with it: I documented the trash and the first time her alarm clock went off for which my Hall Director assigned her community service. I talked to her about her alarm clock and she told me that she had just learnt how to turn it off – I was not sure how to respond to that one. But every weekend I still key into her room and turn it off after one of her very annoyed neighbors has complained to me. Her boyfriend was told by my hall director that he needed to follow the rules or a restraining order would be placed against him and he would not be allowed on our campus anymore.
In retrospect: Dealing with this resident is a continual struggle for me – I’m just never quite sure what to do. I’m not sure how to get my point across to her anymore. How one could continue to be a nuisance to people around him/her baffles me. I believe in being consistent with all my residents and treating them equally and I can honestly say that it gets harder for me to do so each day with her.
In conclusion, I believe that the RA position is what you make of it. Have fun with it and be yourself. Come in with expectations for yourself – I would say not for your floor and/or your staff because that leaves room for disappointments, which would turn the whole experience sour. Be prepared for the unexpected and try to be as organized as you can. Make things easy for yourself – club floor meetings and dinners (that way you make sure you eat), tag on to events on campus, recycle bulletin boards among staff from different buildings, organize a birthday committee (they’ll have a lot more fun decorating doors in the middle of the night) and if you have a community bathroom, write a Stall Street Journal – a one pager with events for the week, announcements, birthday wishes, funnies, news – just something to read! Go big or go home!!!
Submitted by Tara Shelke, Resident Assistant, Colorado State University