A million things go through the minds of RAs about what to expect in the coming year. Before you get too overwhelmed with all of those “things,” take a deep breath and remember; you were only hired because your college or university felt you had the necessary skills to succeed with their support.
Now that you are breathing again, let me provide you some helpful hints on how to manage your floor. Often you will find information available to help you program or answer your questions about policies, but it is a little harder to script out how you will create a welcoming environment on your floor or in your building.
Your first step is to think about yourself
Think about your personality traits, your values and how others perceive you. This will help you understand how you will relate to the residents as situations come up and how they will react to you. Realize your limitations or concerns. If you are someone who mainly keeps to yourself, think about how you will overcome this as the person charged with getting your residents together. Utilize your supervisor and staff for assistance and ideas whenever possible.
Make sure you know your “stuff”
Read over your housing policies, ask questions of staff to clarify any concerns and most importantly, take ownership of your college or university’s mission. In order to feel confident when talking to your residents about any topic, you have to feel as though you have the necessary information and that you know where to find it when you do not. You know how it feels to ace a test or paper when you have really done your homework, your RA position is no different. You have to spend some time during training and before your residents arrive to begin building your confidence.
Think about what it means to be a RA
Now that you have done some of your “homework,” think about what it means to be a RA each day. There are going to be days when you are more on top of things than others and that is to be expected. Overall, though, you know going into the position that you are expected to be visible in your community. Visible can mean many things and often times, it means paying attention to the activities of your floor, not just having your door open a few hours each night. Residents have to develop respect for you and your actions in order to come to your door while it is open.
Floor Postings: Pay Attention
To help you in this area, pay attention to the things posted on your floor. Take note of things beyond your bulletin boards and door decorations. Look at memo boards outside residents’ doors, flyers that organizations are posting and the things residents add to the floor to show their personality. Make eye contact with residents as you walk the floor and regularly ask how they are doing, following up on a test or a date. Make sure you visibly look at your floor each day. It may sound redundant, but residents always seem to notice when the one new controversial thing shows up on your floor or the first signs of vandalism appear. If you do not notice or ignore the issue, then you never know how long a resident will have dealt with a prejudice remark in his/her community or how long an inappropriate picture has been up. Nothing will break down the community on your floor or lead to further incidents faster than ignoring issues.
Pay attention to new issues and promptly address them
By knowing your floor, you are able to realize when a new “issue” arises and you can promptly address it. An immediate response or notification to your supervisor demonstrates to residents that you, your staff and your college or university will not tolerate such behavior and will hold students accountable. Residents will respect you for your immediate attention and most importantly, for you supporting an environment they can feel comfortable in.
The way you begin your year is very important
While you certainly cannot be there for every resident as every issue occurs, the manner in which you begin the year and the ways you initially connect with your residents will set the tone for how they feel they can act and if they will utilize you as the resource you are for them. Know upfront that some residents will have a hard time separating friendship from responsibility with you and that is okay. Keep in mind, though; you were hired to serve as a RA, in all its roles, not to be a friend to every resident, no matter what the cost.
Trust yourself, value your abilities and act ethically. All you can do is be the best RA you can be and that starts with managing your floor. Good luck and enjoy your experience, it could be life altering!
Submitted by Jason Rigsbee, Assistant Director of Residence Life for Facilities and Operations, Philadelphia University