If you’re just now chalking up your first six weeks worth of experience as a new Resident Assistant, congratulations! You made the social, emotional and mental leap to become an RA, and the start of the semester gave you time to break in your “RA shoes.” What new experiences have you had? What did you encounter that you hadn’t expected? While each school and every environment breeds different trends, some first-month expectations transcend these differences.
Here are some things almost any new RA can relate to: Roommate Conflicts, Freshman Homesickness, Being a Role Model, Challenges to your Authority, and arranging Residence Hall Programs.
“My roommates and I just don’t click!”
If residents have already come to you with grievances and complaints about their roommates, you know how many ways humans can get annoyed at each other. Usually these conflicts smooth over with time, but some situations involve irreparable conflict.
A constructive approach to a resident with a roommate complaint is to just let them talk. Chances are they’ve been annoyed or upset for a while, and it’s better for them to vent to you completely than explode in front of their roommate. By hearing their side of the story you also get a feel for whether this is a one-sided conflict or if both roommates have contributed to the problem. After letting them talk, ask what they would like to see happen. It helps to give your residents peaceful, civil suggestions for working it out on their own with their roommate, but sometimes sit-down talks between the parties are necessary.
“I just want to go home!”
You’re probably not surprised by the disparity between the all-involved, ambitious freshman and the reclusive, homesick freshman. When you came to school you probably knew a variety of people in each category. Even though you cheer on the new student who joined seven campus clubs, remember to pay special attention to homesick freshmen: your help could determine whether or not they stay at school!
Students who feel uncomfortable or out-of-place can give up on their college experience because they “just want to go home.” Hopefully they just need some help getting adjusted, and leaving school isn’t absolutely necessary. To help, seek out and talk to students who are quiet or shy, and interact especially with those who say they want to go home. Try introducing homesick students to other residents, let them talk to you about their old high school or their family, and emphasize how fun school can be and how happy you are to be there. Seeing an RA be enthusiastic about school can help them find their own ways to be happy about being in college.
“Who do I see as a role model on campus? Probably my RA…”
When you’re a new RA it might feel awkward to be looked at as a “Role Model.” Half the time we don’t have our own lives figured out, let alone feel like experts other people can turn to! The unavoidable truth, however, is that RAs are seen as “Role Model Students.” Freshmen copy our behavior because they think we know what we’re doing, and older residents know what it takes to be successful and hold us to higher standards.
How do you handle this abstract responsibility? Be a positive person, do your work and pay attention to how others perceive your behavior. There is an elusive balance between being your self and trying to look perfect in front of everyone. Role models are students with normal student problems, but they do give an example of the best approach to college life.
“Why should I listen to you? You’re just an RA…”
Confrontation with other students can be very intimidating to new RAs. You’re usually not much older, maybe no bigger, and not always smarter than other students around you, yet you have authority over them. What do you do when that authority is challenged?
Most residents will prefer to cooperate with you instead of a higher authority. If someone challenges or confronts you and argues with you, it leads to problems much more often than when you say “well, do you want to talk to the police about it instead?” The vast majority of students will respect you as an authority when they realize you are backed by a slew of other RAs, Hall Directors, and, ultimately, police officers.
As far as awkwardness after a confrontation, residents may avoid you for days or weeks after you step in as an authority over them. One of the best ways to handle this is to keep smiling or saying “hello” when you see them, and talk it over when they are ready.
“Go to a residence hall program? Yeah right!”
Few things are as disappointing and ego crushing as arranging an elaborate, creative program, and having almost no one show up. You can feel unappreciated, unpopular, even avoided. The biggest culprit in low program attendance, however, is insufficient or ineffective advertising.
Telling only three people how exciting and amazing a program will be does not work. Neither does slipping a boring flyer under every single door in the building. If you want people to show up at your programs, nothing works better than inviting every person you see in the residence hall from the time you start planning it to the day of the event. Residents will feel personally invited to attend, they will have the chance to ask you for details about where and when it is, and they will tell their friends that one of the RAs invited them.
Many more months to come…
Hopefully you enjoyed getting your feet wet this first six weeks as a new RA. As you’ve probably seen, school changes after the first three or four weeks. Professors settle into a routine, campus groups get more active and involved, and everyone starts running on their own schedules. Your role as an RA will also change from a beginning-of-the-semester resource and guide to the positive role model who is a constant figure who looks over the established community in your hall. Good luck with the rest of the semester, stay positive about how important you are to the residents around you, and enjoy being an RA!
Submitted by Jason L. Dunlap, Resident Assistant, University of Rhode Island