1. That I would have to deal with situations where I did not end up agreeing with the outcome.
The Resident Assistant is just the reporter of incidents, not the judge and jury of the outcome of that situation. The results of an incident may not turn out the way you had envisioned, but those decisions are made by higher powers than yourself (hall director, campus judicial board, etc.) Nevertheless, you must make sure to report any policy violations or difficult situations. As long as you are consistent about the way you perform the duties of your position, you can feel confident that you are doing the right thing.
2. Never ever be afraid to introduce yourself to anyone.
The position you hold will allow you the opportunity to meet a wide variety of people. From custodial crew to campus security, it helps to get to know some of the people you will call upon to help deal with situations. Also, some of your life-long friendships may be those you make while serving as a Resident Assistant—whether they are other residence life staff members, residents, or a part of other groups you interact with on campus. It is important to get to know residents within your own community, but do not hesitate to introduce yourself to residents from other floors and halls. People will know who you are, as a Resident Assistant, but it makes others feel valued if you take the time to get to know them. You never know whom you may end up making an impact on by just taking the time to say “hi.”
3. The situations that are often the most difficult to deal with are not the conduct related incidents involving alcohol or marijuana, but are the drama related incidents like roommate conflicts, a resident who doesn’t shower, etc.
Be aware that the most frustrating and difficult situations you will have to address with residents may not have a clear-cut resolution. In dealing with a roommate conflict, give both sides a chance to share what they are feeling and TAKE notes. It will help you when trying to find points to compromise on with the residents and also in informing your supervisor about the situation. Yes, it is very likely that will have to deal with a resident’s hygiene issues at some point. As awkward as that may be, it is important for that resident to be aware of your concerns. Be tactful and give the resident options—times they can shower when no one is usually in the bathroom, times when washers and dryers are usually available, etc. The “drama” related situations may be hard to deal with at times, but it is important that they are addressed as soon as possible.
4. “You will be overworked and underpaid.”—Will Keim, motivational speaker
Will Keim said it best when he said that as a Resident Assistant you may have to do a lot, but you won’t be monetarily paid back for that work in return. Although you may be on duty in the halls once a week or once every other week, you are always “on duty” as a Resident Assistant. Since you live where you work and you work where you live, residents can come to you any time of the day or night—and will! But, being underpaid as a Resident Assistant only means that you will be underpaid monetarily. The experiences and ways you will grow as a person by taking on this position are worth more than any salary.
5. Residents only seem to need to study when you try to get them to come to one of your programs.
Sometimes you will put a lot of time and energy into putting on a program and then suddenly all of your residents have other things they “have” to do. Things come up—they always do, but if you personally ask your residents to come to a program, they will be more likely to attend than if they just read one of your posters. In addition, plan programs around the needs and wants of your residents, not just the programs that sound interesting to you. Also, if you can get residents to come to programs from the very beginning of the year, and they have a good time while they are there, then they will be more likely to come to those last few programs at the end of the year. Be excited about your programs, and there is a good chance that your residents will be enthused about attending.
6. You need to remain impartial on controversial issues when interacting with your residents and the decisions they are trying to make.
Let the resident come to his or her own conclusions as to how to solve their problems. As a Resident Assistant, you can be a sounding board for an individual’s situation, but you need to let the resident work through the issue on his or her own. They may just need someone to listen to them! Keep an open door and let him or her know your door is always open if they just want to talk. Then, follow up and make sure the resident is doing okay. It will make them feel like you really listened to what they had to say, even if you couldn’t make the decision for them.
7. Leave the past in the past! Start fresh and go with the flow.
“I am human and I am fallible.” Saying and believing this about yourself is important when it comes to not only the Resident Assistant position, but also life. As a Resident Assistant, you WILL make mistakes and you WILL forget things, but you cannot dwell on those wrong turns, but only on moving forward and learning from them. Everyone makes mistakes (even returning Resident Assistants), but you just need to learn from them. Move forward and make the most of the situation.
8. Communication with your staff and supervisor is essential.
The key to successful relationships with your staff and supervisor is to communicate to them what is going on in your community and your life. If those you work with know you are struggling with a difficult situation—within your community, academically, or personally, they can provide support and understanding to you. Granted, you don’t have to be best friends with those on your staff, but working together effectively requires an open line of communication. Don’t leave your staff and supervisor guessing about what you need from them—tell them! Your staff and supervisor are there to support you!
9. Not every student is going to appreciate the things you do for them, and sometimes they will judge you unfairly.
As much as we would like to be appreciated and on friendly terms with each and every resident, that is an unrealistic vision. As Herbert Swope once said, “I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure which is: Try to please everybody.” People in the halls may not like you. People in your own community may not like you. These views may have nothing to do with you personally, but the role you have as a student authority figure. Being a Resident Assistant puts you in a position to not be liked. Even the little things you do for your residents throughout the year (treat bags, door decorations, etc.) may not be enjoyed by all, but the majority of residents WILL appreciate the little things you do—whether they tell you or not. Be fair, kind, and caring towards others, and you will find that the majority of residents will respect and care about you in return.
10. Nine months goes so fast, but being on staff can be one of the most fulfilling experiences you will have ever have.
Anyone can tell you that you get out of the Resident Assistant position what you put into it. If you do not extend yourself to your residents or are not available to them with an open door, then do not expect your residents to be excited about coming to community programs or make you feel like they value you. But, if you are accessible, friendly, and excited about what you do as a Resident Assistant, then your residents will see that and be more supportive of your programs and the position you have. In general, if you respect them then they will respect you. The time on staff also flies by, so make use of it and enjoy it as time passes—this once in a lifetime opportunity will go quickly. Know that you can make a difference in the lives of your residents and that they will remember you as being the one individual that was there for them if they needed anything—whether it is their first year of college or their last. Be that person people can count on and show that you love doing what you do. It will make a difference in not only the lives of others, but your own.
Submitted by Marika Schneider, Resident Assistant, Western Oregon University in Monmouth