RAs play an influential role in the lives of their residents. Your residents watch you to see what the more experienced students on campus are doing and many times follow your examples. Sometimes this influence can extend far past their years in college into their lives in the “real world.” One of the most meaningful ways I’ve found to influence my residents is to empower them. Empowering your residents can be somewhat challenging work in the beginning but your job will become easier in the long run. In addition to becoming easier, you will find rewards that are more fulfilling than any successful program or flashy bulletin board.
What exactly does it mean to empower your residents?
Empowerment can mean a few different things. I see empowerment as promoting the awareness of your residents of their potential and providing them with the means to understand this. Empowerment can show in your residents in many ways. Your residents might call out other residents who are breaking policy or they might decide the hall needs a full-length mirror and take the steps to get one installed. Empowerment can even be as simple as the residents coming to you and telling you that they have decided to apply to be an RA for the following year.
Why exactly is this so important?
Empowerment is important because the realization of potential is something that will help your residents for the rest of their lives. Your residents could feel that they can make a difference in situations and be the person who steps up and fixes problems around them throughout their adult lives. Empowerment is probably the longest lasting impact you can have on your residents. Programs on campus organizations, cooking with the microwave, and picking the correct major are very useful to your residents now, but focusing on empowerment is one skill that will last a lifetime. In my experience empowerment has been the most important skill I have found growing in my residents.
Ways you can empower your residents:
It is clear that realizing their potential is of great value to your residents, but how can you help your residents become empowered? The following are things I’ve tried and how they worked out on my floor.
Be empowered yourself
There is no better way to influence your residents than to be a good role model. If you would like to see your residents become empowered, show them ways in which you are empowered. Let your residents see that you are responsible for yourself, that you want to fix a problem, that there are causes you are concerned about. Talk to your residents about what you do and the steps you’ve taken to improve situations in your life.
Point out empowered people
Your campus is full of empowered people! You know who they are: the student body president, a person involved with a crisis hot line, the resident two doors down from you. Point out these people when you see them acting in positive ways. Your residents may see you, but the more people that they see acting in these ways the more real it becomes for your residents, and the more likely they will be able to act in this way as well.
Take advantage of one-on-one time with residents. You can use this time to talk about the empowered people around you and to inquire about your residents’ lives. Maybe they are already on the path to realizing their potential, but they just need a little push. Maybe they are already thinking about ways they can have a positive impact on those around them. One-on-one time will give you a chance to encourage the personal empowerment of your residents, and to let them know that you are excited for them.
Create opportunities for your residents
Sometimes residents want to act in their community, but they don’t know how to go about it. If you hear a buzz on the hall that the folks would like to have new desks in the study lounge, recycling on the floor, or better housekeeping then encourage your residents to act. You are in a great position to offer information, advise your residents as to which steps they should take, and provide feedback regarding how others have dealt with similar situations. You don’t even have to be an active participant in your residents’ cause, just be a support and advisor for them.
Offer informal programming
If you hear that there is going to be a march for Take Back The Night, a marathon for AIDS, or a safety walk around campus let your residents know! You can do this through formal programming or as informal programming. (You might even have more success if you invite your residents spontaneously on your way out the door.) There are many opportunities around campus that just need people to show up, try and get your residents involved in these planned activities.
You can also allow your residents to play a very active role in residence hall life. One way to do this is with floor committees. Some committees that have been successful include birthday, recognition, recycling, yearbook, and hall decorations, but committees can be formed as the ideas come up. In my experience this works best if the committees start informally. My floor didn’t even hold elections, we just allowed those who wanted to be involved start and lead their groups. Remember to recognize these hard workers; a little reinforcement goes a long way!
By Lauren Pressley, Resident Advisor, North Carolina State University