The aroma of fresh paint drifts through the empty residence halls, which used to be bustling with the RA’s and students of yesterday. It won’t be too long before the emptiness will be filled with the presence of freshman and upper classmen, who are eager to live out their college experience. The birth of a new and diverse residence community summons each universities innovative and energetic residence life team to develop a unique and cohesive community. Such a highly developmental task requires the unification of each and every RA’s individual talents and strong work ethic, which includes you, to build a unique staff and a genuine community.
Reflecting back on my first year as a freshman RA, I learned very valuable tips that weren’t explained in any handbook or illustrated in a self help guide.
#1. Greet everyone with a fresh smile
One role that RA’s assume is as a customer service representative. Dealing with problems and answering questions is our specialty. Customer service means greeting everyone with a smile and handling any situation effectively, while still keeping your cool. It is important to remember that that 7th lockout of the day may be the one that irritates your last nerve, but to the resident, it may be their first lockout ever. You may be serving yourself justice by loosing your temper with that 7th resident, but know that resident now sees both the RA and the university as uncaring and unprofessional. Keeping a good attitude will brighten those around you. By greeting everyone with a smile and keeping cool in any situation, a RA may effectively solve any problem.
#2. Cater to your resident’s niche
Every resident has different goals, interests, and personalities, and it is up to us RA’s to figure what they are and use them to your advantage in developing a community. Finding out what your resident’s interests are will make programming and planning a piece of cake, and you will have more people paying attention to your bulletin boards and attending your events. You may consider handing out interest surveys or having conversations with your residents to find out what they are interested in. By providing your residents with programs and information they are interested in, you will be sure to build strong relationships with your residents and within your hall.
#3. Have an open door policy
With both you and your resident’s demanding schedules, it is difficult to find time to talk and get to know your residents. To build a stronger line of communication between you and your residents, keep an open door policy. This will make your room more inviting and will encourage residents to come to you to hang out or speak about a concern. This worked very well for one of my colleagues, Barry. Whenever he was in his room doing homework or hanging out, he would always have his door open to make his resident’s feel welcome at anytime. The number one problem in any business establishment is lack of communication. So break the communication barrier and open your door to create an inviting community.
#4. Be a valuable teammate
Being a RA involves working with many people to form a large team. I remember attending a weekend trip with my staff at a leadership camp to build relationships. In less than three days at the camp I built valuable relationships with my colleagues by sharing in conversation and hanging out. So, to be a better team member, I try to spend personal time with my colleagues to build trusting relationships that will be valuable to the future of the team. Spending personal time with your teammates will also allow them to see your talents and how you will be an important member of the team. The hardest challenge in being a member of a team is finding a solution. To overcome such a challenge, learn to compromise. The important thing to remember is that the team goal has to be accomplished. So, evaluate everyone’s unique ideas and allow those that will successfully complete the goal play a part.
#5. Dream of unlimited possibilities
The wonderful thing about being a RA is that there are no limits to the amount of greatness you can achieve. There are financial and time restrictions, but they can always be worked around. During the first few months that I was an RA I was kind of intimidated to share my ideas with my staff members, because I was afraid of rejection. After the first semester, I had overcome my fear of rejection and I asked one of my colleagues if she would like to coprogram a Super Bowl party. The event ended up being a huge success. We had a great turnout and everyone had a splendid time. From this experience I learned that maybe my ideas aren’t that bad after all. If you believe in something go for it and others will follow. If you don’t think your idea is solid, present it in an individual or group forum to receive feedback that will result in an improved idea Ultimately, you set your own limits.
#6. Be flexible and manage time effectively
Any college student can tell you that there isn’t enough time in one day to complete all homework assignments and social events. As a RA it is even more difficult to manage time effectively. However, by planning ahead and using your resources, you can find time when you are in a bind. During the last month of school, I planned three events in my hall. I invited two speakers to come to our residence hall and I planned an end of the year pizza party. I was studying for the finals in my five classes, working 18 hours at my off campus job, working 4 hours a week as a tutor, and working in the residence hall office during the nights I was on duty. To make sure that I had everything ready for the three events I was planning, I asked other RA’s for help and as a team we were able to get everything ready for the events on time. With the help of my colleagues and by keeping close track of everything in my daily planner, I effectively completed all of the things that I needed to do. The best advice that I can give is that your daily planner or calendar is your best tool. Don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues for help.
#7. Promote diversity
College campuses are comprised of people from around the globe with different ethnic and religious backgrounds and sexual orientation. In the process of building a community it is important to recognize everyone’s uniqueness as a value rather than a burden to the community. It isn’t practical that as RA’s we go around telling all of our residents who make discriminatory remarks that they are bad people and that they should think a certain way. However, there are effective forms of education that will teach people with stereotypes the truth or allow them to think in a new direction. Last semester, I invited our Residence Director to come in and discuss the myths and facts about homosexuality. Out of the 350 students that live in the residence hall, 15 people came to the event and experienced a very educational program. I don’t know what the intentions were for those who attended, but I truly believe that they left the event with a better understanding of homosexuality and sexual identity. It is very important to promote diversity in the residence halls, because no one should have to live in an environment where they feel intimidated because of who they are. Incorporate diversity educational events into your programming schedule to build a stronger community. Also, if you know of your own prejudices or limitations that may affect your role as RA, be sure to speak to someone so that you can begin overcoming or manage those challenges.
#8. Be a leader
Many of us have head the phrase “lead by example”. The truth of the matter is that it is the simplest way to define an effective leader on college campuses. In the beginning of the semester, I noticed several students at a standstill, looking for someone to guide them in any direction. They came to college knowing no one and were looking for a group to call their “friends”. This is a pivotal point if you just happen to be a RA to mainly freshman, develop relationships and lead them in a positive direction. Otherwise, be positive and keep active in your community and others will follow.
#9. Open yourself up to change and grow
The ideas and lifestyles of several different residents and staff members may be unparallel with the current personal beliefs of oneself, but some change is good. Sometimes it is difficult to believe that there is any other way from our own, but learning does not only occur in the classroom. We can learn some of life’s most important lessons right in the residence halls. You are most certainly not required to accept everything you hear as your own view, but at least listen to what others have to say to better play the role of the facilitator in your hall community.
#10. Have Fun
Above all, have fun as a RA. You have the opportunity to develop a unique community and establish great relationships with very talented and intelligent people.
Submitted by Derek Larson, Resident Assistant, Philadelphia University